Southwest Road Trip

Unique Places for a Family-friendly Road Trip Across the Great American Southwest

When it comes to road-tripping across the American Southwest, the biggies always make the list. You know which ones I’m talking about:  Zion, Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, Route 66 and the like.  The southwest is literally covered with gems. There are so many wonderful places to see that will take your breath away and leave you wanting more. Well, no problem, because you'll probably run out of time before you run out of places to see in America's southwest.

As we make our home in southern California, we've had the opportunity to visit various points-of-interest in the southwest at different times. So when we were planning this most recent road trip for last November, we decided to bypass some of the biggies and head to some of the lesser-known spots. The following route includes some unique stops for a family-friendly road trip. It's incredible that in just a little over seven hours of driving, it's possible to be in four different states, see unusual natural wonders and even visit a National Park. Depending on where you're starting from, you could jump on this route from any direction.


Page, Arizona
Page, Arizona is one of the most unique places we’ve ever been and a spectacular stop on any southwest road trip. There are three points-of-interest not to be missed: Antelope Canyon, Lake Powell, and Horseshoe Bend. It’s possible to visit all three of these locations in one day if you start early. On our trip, we opted to book a morning tour of Lower Antelope Canyon with Ken’s Tours.

We spent about 60 minutes on this tour and then headed over to Lake Powell just a short drive away. We loved exploring the shoreline and also taking a boat tour which allowed us to see more slot canyons.

Our last stop was Horseshoe Bend where we got to see the famous bend of the Colorado River.

To read more details about our experience, check out our complete post How to Spend One Day in Page, Arizona.   We slept in Page at one of the many chain motels the night before and then headed to Monument Valley that afternoon.

Monument Valley
The drive from Page to Monument Valley is about 2 hours. After our FULL day in Page, we arrived at The View Hotel just as it was getting dark.

We chose this hotel because of the unique view from the balconies looking out toward the picturesque valley. The View Hotel is Navajo owned, and its location is within the Navajo Nation. Each guest room has a private balcony that is east-facing for this unique and one-of-a-kind view.


After getting settled into our room, we walked over to The View Restaurant. This casual, but busy spot boasts extraordinary views of the valley and has delicious southwest and Navajo inspired cuisine.  I loved the green chili stew, my husband enjoyed a delicious steak and the boys were delighted with the Navajo flat bread with honey. 

The next morning after breakfast, we spent some time shopping at the Trading Post – a gift shop full of American Indian arts and crafts as well as Hollywood memorabilia from movies shot on location. There is also a small museum with artifacts, geology and historical information located downstairs near the Trading Post.

If you want to spend more time here, check out the variety of guided tours available

Goosenecks State Park
Then we checked out and headed to our next stop, Goosenecks State Park. This small park located just off Highway 163 was a brief stop only 45 minutes away. Be sure to pull over and get some pictures as you leave Monument Valley. The views are spectacular!

Along the way, you’ll also see the famous Mexican Hat rock formation. Goosenecks State Park is in the state of Utah and has a fantastic view looking down at the meandering San Juan River. There is a small parking lot and payment to park there is requested. This is an excellent spot for a geology lesson! A “gooseneck” is used to describe a canyon with meandering valleys that resemble a gooseneck.  And indeed, when perched at the high vantage point over the gorge, you can see where it gets its name.

In fact, although goosenecks can be seen in several locations worldwide, this is considered to be one of the most tightly wound displays anywhere. Layers of limestone, siltstone, sandstone, and shale can be seen in these canyons that the San Juan River flows through.

Mesa Verde National Park
Our next stop was Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado. We were so excited to see this famous park with its ancient cliff dwellings. The drive from Goosenecks State Park to Mesa Verde National Park is just under three hours, and we knew we wanted to have a fresh new day to tackle this massive Colorado National Park, so we did a little research and found a lovely guest ranch to stay at halfway between the two. Canyon of the Ancients Guest Ranch was our home base for two nights and turned out to be one of those places that will go down in our memories of favorite places ever!

I’ve said it before, but our family loves the country and animals.  Staying on a working cattle ranch, helping to feed the cows, watching the sheep come in from pasture in the evenings, and all tucked in a cozy cabin of our own was spectacular.

Read our full post on Canyon of the Ancients Guest Ranch here. It turned out perfect to stay here two nights as we had a whole day (with only an hour’s drive) to explore Mesa Verde National Park.

We started at the Visitor’s Center located just outside the main entrance to the park. We talked to a ranger for recommendations for our visit. We also explored the exhibits and perused the gift shop. Once we entered the park, we drove directly to Chapin Mesa. It’s about 20 miles from the entrance, but because of the narrow and steep mountain road, it took us about an hour to get there. We spent another couple of hours touring the various places available to see at Chapin Mesa. This link from the NPS shows a map of the Chapin Mesa area. Cliff House and Balcony House were our favorites. We also enjoyed the Spruce Tree House and educational center.

Mesa Verde is open year-round, but some areas are seasonal. We knew this would be the case during our November visit and made the most out of what was available to see. The NPS was not running any tours in November that would have allowed us to see the cliff dwellings up close. We also found many of the hiking trails to be closed for the season. Although there was no snow on the ground yet, the temperatures were cold, and we had some rain and sleet.

Mesa Verde National Park by Susan Lamb is an excellent family guide for before and during your visit to Mesa Verde. The historical information, maps, and illustrations will help prepare your kids for what they'll see. Learning more about the Ancestral Puebloans who lived here during the late 1100's will be very helpful before and during your visit.

Four Corners

Our last stop was the famous Four Corners Monument. The drive from Canyon of the Ancients Guest Ranch was about one hour.  We had read that this spot can be anti-climactic compared to all its hype, and I would have to agree with that. But the idea of standing in four states in one instant compelled us to make the journey and have the experience.

Four Corners Monument is the only place in the United States where four states come together in one location. They are Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado. It is located in the Navajo Nation, and everyone is required to pay when driving into the parking area. It was $5 per person and had to be paid in cash.  There are bathrooms and a few Navajo vendors selling jewelry and crafts. We bought a Christmas ornament, waited in line to take our family picture and then were on our way. In all, we spent about 30 minutes there.

From Four Corners, our trip didn’t end! Obviously, we were still not back home in Southern California and so how did we make our way back? We made a few stops along the way enjoying Sedona, Jerome and Prescott to name a few. But that’s for another time.
The American Southwest has so much to offer and makes a perfect landscape for a family road trip. With the ease of a Google map and a little research, you can put together the perfect itinerary for your family’s interests.

Where are your favorite spots? Please share in the comments below.




Add Comment
Aleney says... (Reply)
"I'm so desperate to visit Arizona, its been on my wish list for years. Your photos are so amazing, I think we are going to need to fast track our visit." (11/21/17)
Dianne Sivulka says... (Reply)
"Hi Aleney, Yes! Arizona is such a unique place. The possibilities are really endless. I hope you and your family can make it out here soon." (11/22/17)