Flexible Itinerary for a Whirlwind Southwest Road Trip
For a grand Southwest adventure through Arizona & New Mexico, drive or fly to Albuquerque. Feel free to add or subract to this whirlwind adventure!
Note that this is a very compressed trip with a lot of driving, designed to maximize seeing as much as possible. Some COVID closures are noted.
Day 1: Explore, or hit up the ABQ BioPark Zoo, Botanic Garden, and Aquarium in Albuquerque. The Aquarium is currently closed due to COVID.
Check out Old Downtown Albuquerque and start enjoying the amazing Southwest food. I recommend the historical Church Street Cafe!
Day 2: I highly recommend a hot air balloon ride with Rainbow Ryders. Hot air ballooning is an adventure you won't soon forget!
Although the disclaimers look scary, hot air balloons are considered safer than all other forms of air travel. A sunrise trip is absolutely magical.
Albuquerque has several museums. I recommend the Anderson Arbuzzo International Balloon Museum, esp. if you pair it with a hot air balloon ride!
Drive to Alamogordo and stay overnight there. Along the way, visit the world's tallest pistacio and buy goodies at McGinn's Pistacioland.
Also, go for a sunset stroll at White Sands National Park. During non-COVID times, park rangers do guided tours.
If you make good enough time, you can do a little exploring and also sled on the sand dunes. The gift shop sells saucers and wax, or bring your own.
Day 3: Explore White Sands NP a little more, or else head straight to Carlsbad Caverns, another epic National Park 181 miles away from White Sands.
During the summer months, you can gather to see thousands of bats leave Carlsbad at dusk to hunt for bugs. No cameras are allowed during the viewing.
Day 4: Explore Carlsbad Caverns. It is otherworldly. You can walk the Big Room trail on your own. Some rooms are only accessible via tours.
However, ranger-guided tours are suspended due to COVID. I recommend checking the NPS website before your trip to avoid disappointment and plan ahead.
It is also super important to pack clothes and accessories that have NOT been worn in other caves, to help protect the bats from disease.
Next, drive 95 miles to Roswell, New Mexico. Eat at the flying saucer-shaped McDonald's and then drive 3.5 hours to Santa Fe.
In Santa Fe, check out the bizarre and beautiful interactive art experience Meow Wolf, House of Eternal Ruin. It is only open Friday to Monday.
Before heading to your accomodations and dinner, enjoy some drinks at the Secreto Bar and Lounge. Eat dinner wherever you'd like.
Day 5: Take time to Explore Santa Fe, whether it be San Miguel Church and other historic places, or going to the spa and shopping.
Loretto Chapel has a "miraculous staircase" that according to legend was built by St. Joseph. The chapel is also an example of Gothic Architecture.
As a special treat, get gourmet chocolate and drinks at Kakawa Chocolate House. Then start the 6-hour drive to Monument Valley.
Along the way, check out Canyon de Chelly and see the famous spider rock. Currently the canyon is closed due to COVID.
Day 6: When Monument Valley and lodging there reopens, watch the sunrise at Monument Valley. It is an unforgettable and magical experience.
The cabins are the perfect place to chill out alone and catch the sunrise. The valley and lodging might reopen soon, depending on COVID.
Although there is part of the valley you can drive alone, due to car rental rules and towing costs, I recommend booking a private tour.
A private tour will give you so many details and facts you would otherwise miss, and allows you to access places you aren't allowed to go to alone.
Afterwards, see Forrest Gump Point from the highway, then drive 193 miles to Flagstaff, Arizona. Flagstaff is a good home base for a few days.
Day 7: Today you will drive a little under 2 hours to the Grand Canyon to see the public overlooks and viewpoints.
If you want to hike or see more than just highlights, amend your trip to stay nearer to the Grand Canyon and/or to spend multiple days there.
Day 8: Take a romantic day trip to the nearby Sedona. Good food, shopping, gorgeous views of red rocks, and hiking await you in this romantic town.
The Tlaquepaque Arts and Shopping Village is fun for small business shopping and Instagram shots. Pretty night or day!
If you have the time, pick a fun hike, or else just hit up viewpoints like the Sedona Airport overlook and the Red Rock Scenic Byway
For ultimate luxury, eat at the Cress on Oak Creek. Fun fact: we got engaged here! Whether you visit a day or a week, Sedona should not be missed.
Note that the luxury restaurant just mentioned is currently open for lodging guests only due to covid. Keep it on your watchlist!
Day 9: Leave Flagstaff and drive 2 hours to Page, Arizona. There is a ton to do here, like checking out Horseshoe Bend (pictured).
You also can do things like boat or kayak on Lake Powell, or else book a boating tour for ultimate convenience.
Definitely visit Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon, gorgeous slot canyons only accesible via tours. They are currently closed due to COVID.
Next, you can return home, or if you do what we did, extend your trip and hit up national parks in South Utah and then head to Las Vegas at the end!
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