Taking a road trip to Santa Fe has been on my radar for some time but the logistics of planning a route and finding enough time to stop several times along the way has stalled me…until recently. I had a few destinations in mind but didn’t calculate an itinerary until I mapped out the driving distances between each spot. Ideally, I needed almost two weeks, but settled on eleven days with stops in Sedona, Santa Fe, Monument Valley, and Antelope Canyon. Departing from Southern California with my husband in tow, we set off on a 1,926 mile road trip through the scenic Southwest.
First Stop: Sedona, Arizona – 7 hours/472 miles
For the first leg of the trip, we needed to cover close to 500 miles to reach our destination in Sedona. It would take a little over seven hours of driving, so with that in mind, we knew we would want to stay put for a few days once we arrived. We planned three nights in Sedona, allowing plenty of time to hike, explore and be away from the car. Sedona is gorgeous. Its unique location surrounded by red-rock buttes and pine forests is hard to beat. The signature red landscape is visible long before your arrival and becomes even more stunning up close when you’re encompassed by the steep canyon walls.
We stayed at Enchantment Resort located in Boynton Canyon, a box canyon just outside of the hustle of the town of Sedona. Its setting is incomparable to other options in the area. With access to trails directly from the property, we didn’t need to go very far to enjoy several amazing hikes. Outside the gated entry is a labyrinth of additional trails for hikers, bikers, ATVs and jeep tours.
We ventured into town once to see the architectural landmark, Chapel of the Holy Cross. The church is literally built directly into a butte with floor to ceiling windows offering sweeping views of surrounding red rock. It was much smaller than I had envisioned but pretty spectacular, especially considering the time it was designed (1932) and completed (1956).
Second Stop: Santa Fe, New Mexico – 6 hours/412 miles
Well rested after three nights in Sedona, we headed out on our six-hour drive to Santa Fe. Along the way, we made a stop at Meteor Crater. The massive impact of a meteor traveling 11 miles per second crashing into Earth some 50,000 years ago was pretty cool to see. Although the stop added an extra half hour or so to the drive, it was worth it, especially knowing we were not planning on repeating this stretch of highway.
The drive to Santa Fe wasn’t much in the way of scenery with lots of barren desert, scrub, billboards (sadly, once in New Mexico they popped up everywhere) and the occasional detour for Route 66. Our goal throughout the entire trip was to arrive at every destination before sunset, so we made no additional stops. Having a daylight approach provides an awareness, perspective and appreciation to an unfamiliar area that would be missed if it were dark.
We stayed at the Rosewood Inn of the Anasazzi and can’t recommend it highly enough. Beautiful decor with a modern sensibility to southwest style combined with attentive service made for an elegant oasis right in the middle of town. We loved the convenient location and walked to shops, galleries and restaurants exclusively. The only time we used our car was on a day trip to see Taos.
Santa Fe was everything I had hoped for with fantastic food, history, architecture, and museums. From Canyon Road to the Santa Fe Railyard, we covered a lot of ground in just a few days. The chilly weather with snowfall added to the experience and allowed us to appreciate the warm kiva fireplaces in many of the old adobe buildings that housed boutiques and restaurants around the plaza.
Third Stop: Monument Valley, Utah – 5.5 hours/360 miles
I couldn’t imagine coming to Santa Fe without a visit to Ghost Ranch. Located in Abiquiú, we decided to make a stop there on the way to Monument Valley. After breakfast at Rosewood Inn, we got an early start allowing us a few hours to explore the property and take a short hike to Chimney Rock.
The landscape at Ghost Ranch, made famous by Georgia O’Keeffe, was beautiful and well worth the visit. Aside from hikes and trail rides, the ranch also serves as a retreat and educational center with courses in painting, writing, photography, wellness, spirituality, and more.
Following Google Maps from Abiquiú to Monument Valley was not as straightforward as our previous routes, and we ended up on a couple of random stretches with beat up roads and no service. However, the scenery got more interesting and dynamic along the way. We detoured slightly and approached Monument Valley from Mexican Hat in the north. I’d read about this often photographed stretch of road with awesome panoramic views of the massive buttes in the valley.
We arrived at The View Hotel with plenty of time to walk around before perching ourselves in a comfortable spot to take in an epic sunset. From my research on the area, this was the best lodging option, but in all honesty, it was far from the quality and standards of the previous hotels. However, the amazing location and one-of-a-kind view made up for any negatives, because I’d return simply to spend more time in this crazy gorgeous area.
We started our next morning with a Navajo led private tour of Monument Valley. There’s a 17-mile unpaved road in the park open to the public, but if you don’t have a 4WD, I don’t recommend it. You’re car will get beat up. Instead, take a tour with one of the Navajo guides to comfortably drive you to the scenic spots in the valley. Plus, they have access to roads not open to the public to the many landmark sites only reachable by 4WD. We used Dineh BeKeyah Tours and enjoyed the incredible scenery accompanied with stories and history of the Native Indians from this area.
Fourth Stop: Page, Arizona: Antelope Canyon – 2 hours/122 miles
The drive to Page, Arizona wasn’t very long so we had the luxury of a relaxed schedule. The whole purpose of including Page on the itinerary was to visit Antelope Canyon. I’d seen its unreal beauty photographed numerous times and was more than excited to experience it first hand.
There are two canyons, Lower and Upper, and both are only accessible with a Navajo guided tour. I couldn’t decide between the two canyons, there are pros and cons to each, so I booked us on both. In a nutshell, Upper Antelope Canyon is more popular because of its easy access, but that also means it’s more crowded. Fewer people tour the Lower Canyon because it requires a descent down five flights of stairs, 120 feet deep, into narrow, twisting passageways. Not ideal for anyone who’s claustrophobic (me!).
After a half-mile long hike through the twisting base of Lower Antelope Canyon, we climbed ladder type stairs to exit through this narrow crevice in the ground. I almost cancelled our reservation several times throughout the day from anxiety, but am so glad I didn’t. It was one of the highlights of the trip.
With one night in Page, I wanted to allow time to take the short hike to the overlook at Horseshoe Bend. It’s another stunning location, best visited at sunrise or sunset. We got there about 45 minutes before sundown and the visitor parking lot was almost full. People perch themselves along the edge of the cliffs for unobstructed, gorgeous views of the sunset. Clouds were passing quickly overhead and the wind was whipping furiously, but it simply added to the ambiance.
In Page, there are numerous average hotels in town (we stayed at a Marriott) and one exceptional property, Amangiri, located about 40 minutes away from Antelope Canyon. With only one night, including a late arrival and early departure, it didn’t make sense to splurge on Amangiri. We’d barely have time to enjoy it. We’re saving it for another trip and will make it a destination on its own.
Fifth Stop: Ivins, Utah: Red Mountain Resort – 2.45 hours/160 miles
We could have booked it all the way to Las Vegas at this point, shaving a couple of hours off our final drive home, but I wanted to milk the scenery as long as possible. So instead, we drove almost three hours (through an unexpected snow storm) to The Red Mountain Resort outside of St. George, Utah. Nestled against the red sandstone of Snow Canyon State Park and the surrounding black lava fields, it’s another picturesque spot. Although the hotel is marketed as a fitness resort, we just wanted to use it as a last stop to unwind before coming back to reality. We took our final hike and enjoyed massages, which were greatly welcomed after ten days of driving.
Final Drive: Southern California: Home – 6 hours/400 miles
Departing early in the morning rewarded us with beautiful lighting from low sunlight for the first couple of hours of the drive. There were some unexpected, incredibly scenic stretches where the highway twisted through the Virgin River Gorge passage with steep limestone cliffs on both sides of the road. Long shadows on the terrain with bright pops of sunlight through the clouds allowed for a final, gorgeous drive on the road back home to Southern California.
There’s so much more to share about each spot on this itinerary and I’ll follow up with posts on the hotels, restaurants, sites and tours I enjoyed the most, plus planning and packing tips specifically for a road trip.
Thanks for reading!