Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon National Park

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Majestic vista of the Grand Canyon at dusk.

Monument Valley
Monument Valley Tribal Park

2/3

The Navajo Nation's Monument Valley Tribal Park is a great place to practice Leave No Trace principles.

Saguaro
Saguaros of Arizona

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Saguaro cacti, like any living thing, deserves respect and space from travelers.

New to Nature: Spend a Week Practicing Your Outdoor Skills in Arizona

This nine-day road trip takes you through some of Arizona’s most unique and spectacular destinations. From hiking the rim of the Grand Canyon to viewing a 200-million-year-old petrified forest, you’ll return home a verified outdoor expert who knows how to handle things like trail etiquette, trash management, and more.
Prepared By:

Whitney James

Adventurer & Photographer

New to Nature Arizona Itinerary

Start / End

Las Vegas, Nevada

States Covered
National parks

Grand Canyon National Park, Petrified Forest National Park, Wupatki National Monument, Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument & Walnut Canyon National Monument

Total Distance

635 Miles (1,022 KM)

Suggested Days

At least 9 days

Suggested Seasons

All seasons, especially spring and fall

#ThisIsMyRoute

Overview

The route that we have chosen for this American west road trip is a loop that leaves from and arrives back in Las Vegas, Nevada. It takes you to six national parks and multiple national monuments. This trip is ideal for people visiting the US for the first time, families with children, hardcore adventurers or honeymooners. There’s really no perfect itinerary–just follow the general route and make it your own! It can be adjusted to fit any need that your group is looking for.

Preparation

While you could technically take this American West road trip at any time of the year, spring and fall seasons have the most moderate weather, but larger crowds. If you choose to visit in the quieter summer or winter, just be prepared to deal with the heat or possibly the snow, and make sure you’ve brought appropriate clothing and gear. That being said, the desert looks incredibly beautiful when it snows!

Ideally, you would give yourself at least 14 days for this trip. There’s not a ton of driving, so it could be done in less than 14, but you might regret quickly passing through many of the stops.

Itinerary

Get Prepared in Flagstaff

Young couple on vacation in countryside, they enjoy in summer. They are walking through forest, exploring nature and drinking hot coffee from travel mug

 

 

Tie the primary principle of Leave No Trace, Planning Ahead and Being Prepared, into your first day in Arizona. While many visitors will typically catch a direct flight into Phoenix and then drive to their destination, there is another option—taking a connecting flight straight to Flagstaff, Arizona! (Pro tip: travelers from Dallas, TX and Denver, CO can fly direct to Flagstaff.) The airport is located only 5.6-miles away from historic downtown and Route 66, making this an especially stress-free way to start your trip. 

Once you’ve secured your rental car, spend your first day getting prepared. At 7,000-feet feet elevation, it’s no wonder Flagstaff is an outdoor mecca. You can find craft breweries on almost every corner, great eateries, and a solid number of options for stocking up on outdoor supplies for your upcoming trip. (You’ll find staples like sunblock and bug spray at Mountain Sports Flagstaff.) That evening, settle down with a map and a local IPA and plan the details of your trip. We love to support local businesses in conjunction with following LNT principles!

EXPLORE THE NATIONAL MONUMENTS IN FLAGSTAFF

Young couple hiking outdoors on a trail at Phoenix Sonoran Preserve in Phoenix, Arizona.

The next day, embark on your journey right in Flagstaff’s backyard and follow the second principle; Stick to the Trails. There are a nearly overwhelming amount of options in Flagstaff to discover: Wupatki National Monument, Oak Creek Canyon, Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, San Francisco Peaks, Coconino National Forest, and Walnut Canyon National Monument are all within reach. Craft your perfect day by picking two or three of these natural wonders––just be sure you include either Walnut Canyon or Wupatki national monuments. Here, you’ll discover ancient cultures of the Pueblo people.

It can be particularly tempting to wander beyond the pathway to more closely inspect the petroglyphs and ancient sites, but please refrain! These are incredibly sensitive areas. By protecting them during your visit, you ensure they will remain intact for generations to come. For an even closer look at why Leave No Trace principles are important, view the short video at the visitor center at Walnut Canyon National Monument.

JOURNEY TO PETRIFIED FOREST NATIONAL PARK

Woman picking up litter in mountain.

1 HOUR, 43 MINUTES – 115 MILES/185 KM

Anyone on a road trip has surely noticed the disappointing number of discarded items on the side of the road. Plastic bags strung up on barbed wire fences and in cacti, empty soda cans rolling by like tumbleweeds, the odd armchair. As you journey from Flagstaff to Petrified Forest National Park, this is a great time to think about principle number three: Trash Your Trash. We think it’s great to have a road trip organization system in your vehicle so that the trash is collected and ready to be sorted out for recycling, if possible, at your destination. No one wants to accidentally litter when opening your car door in a windstorm! (Trust us, it happens.)

Petrified Forest National Park is hands-down one of America’s most unique natural areas. Home to a 211-million-year-old petrified forest, this place is not to miss! In addition to the beautiful and fragile petrified wood, you have the opportunity to hike through a stark landscape where wildflowers bloom each spring. Remember to stay on the trail during your visit, of course!

AVOID THE CURSE OF THE PETRIFIED FOREST

Petroglyph Site, Near Gila Bend, Arizona

After overnighting in nearby Holbrook, return to Petrified Forest National Park for another opportunity to stretch your legs. Puerco Pueblo Trail takes you to an ancestral Pueblo site, while Giant Logs Loop takes you to some of the largest and most colorful logs in the park. All the trails are relatively short, so you can spend a quiet morning sauntering along a handful of them.

This park offers a terrific example of the fourth Leave No Trace principle: Leave What You Find. A crucial principle for all of Arizona, this is especially relevant at a place like Petrified Forest National Park. We understand, it can be tempting to stash a piece of petrified wood in your pocket—especially for the kids! But there is a minimum $325 fine for removing wood from the park. Perhaps even more convincing is the well-known and documented “Curse of the Petrified Forest.” It’s known to be terribly bad luck to remove anything from the park—a superstition we wholeheartedly support. Desperate to take a piece of your experience home? You can purchase petrified wood from private landowners and gift shops just down the road.

CONTINUE TO MONUMENT VALLEY TRIBAL PARK

A campfire brings warmth to a camper overlooking Grand Canyon National Park from Kaibab National Forest, Arizona

3 HOURS – 186 MILES/299 KM

 
With ever increasing wildfire danger in the West, it’s always a good idea to Be Careful with Fire, which happens to be the fifth Leave No Trace principle. This is true even in the desert. Continue on to Monument Valley Tribal Park, one of the most beloved destinations for many who visit the American Southwest. (Please check current travel regulations before planning your trip!)
 

Upon pulling into the park you will surely think, “Ah, this seems familiar.” Indeed, the sandstone masterpieces within the valley are some of the most photographed points on earth. In fact, many iconic movies have been filmed here, including The Searchers featuring John Wayne! Make your own movie magic as you drive the 17-mile scenic loop throughout the park. Those who elect to camp overlooking the famous formations are almost guaranteed to enjoy a stunning sunset, but no campfires are allowed.

ONWARDS TO PAGE

A Gila monster (Heloderma suspectum) sitting on a rock south of Tucson, AZ.  This is one of two poisonous lizards in the United States.  It ranges in parts of California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, and northwest Mexico.

2 HOURS – 121 MILES/195 KM

The following day, head onwards to Page, Arizona. This is the town made famous by iconic Southwestern destinations including Horseshoe Bend, Antelope Canyon, and Lake Powell. It’s also a great place to practice the sixth Leave No Trace principle, Respect Wildlife.

While visiting Arizona, you aren’t likely to encounter much large wildlife, but this landscape is home to a number of smaller, more camouflaged creatures. Pronghorn antelope, rabbits, scorpions, lizards, owls, bobcats, coyotes, and porcupines are all residents of this landscape and can be spotted by the discerning eye (or ear). The best way to respect their habitat is to remember to stay on the trail, not make campfires in undesignated areas, and pack out your trash. It really goes to show how all the principles of LNT come together for the ultimate lesson in human-wildlife reciprocity!

SEE ANTELOPE CANYON & HORSESHOE BEND

Horseshoe Bend in Arizona

Page is a treasure trove of outdoor adventure—so spend the day exploring! We recommend beginning the day with a tour of Antelope Canyon followed by sunset at Horseshoe Bend. Of course, it can be ideal to avoid peak tourist times so that you get to enjoy these scenic areas in their most natural state. Antelope Canyon takes reservations (all tours are guided), whereas Horseshoe Bend is a short walk from the parking lot and can be visited anytime during daylight hours. If the lot is full, consider returning at a different time for the best experience possible and to prevent off-trail use. See some trash on the side of the trail that doesn’t belong to you? Extra points for packing it out.

GRAND FINALE IN THE GRAND CANYON

Group of hikers chatting on the trail in Arizona

2.5 HOURS – 134 MILES/216 KM

Finally, show off your Leave No Trace knowledge by putting the seventh principle to use: Share the Outdoors. There are many different types of trail users in Arizona, and the Grand Canyon offers a prime example of this. Here, outfitters take travelers down from the rim of the canyon by mule. There are also bike paths (although no singletrack mountain biking is allowed within the park), which can make for confusing encounters to those who are just getting familiar with trail etiquette in the outdoors! 

It goes like this: horses or mules always have right-of-way, followed by hikers, then lastly, cyclists. This applies to all trail situations, whether you’re in a national park or on your local trail. (In addition, remember that downhill bikers yield to uphill bikers.)

RETURN TO FLAGSTAFF

Saguaro National Park at sunset.

1.5 HOURS – 79 MILES/127 KM

Enjoy a morning hike on the southern rim of the Grand Canyon with staggering views. The Rim Trail is paved and travels 13 miles along the edge, while Mohave Point or Monument Creek Vista offer sub-2-mile excursions. Once you’ve spotted a California Condor soaring on the thermals rising out of the canyon (bring your binoculars!), you can check the Grand Canyon off our list. Journey southwards towards Flagstaff, a mere hour and a half away. You’re sure to have a lifelong grasp of the Seven Leave No Trace Principles after this tremendous Northern Arizona road trip!

 
The Arizona Office of Tourism is continuing to monitor the evolving COVID19 situation. Before traveling to or throughout Arizona, check Visit Arizona.com/COVID-19 for important travel and tourism updates.

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