The California to Arizona Road Trip is definitely a bucket list drive. It’s scenic and easy, with plenty of unique stops to break up the drive. You’ll see incredible landscapes from canyons to desert lands, enjoy amazing foods, and have memories to last a lifetime. This itinerary includes two iconic National Parks (Joshua Tree & Grand Canyon), the famous Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon, and more!
This itinerary is driving intensive, but manageable if split amongst two or more people. I designed this California to Arizona Road Trip Itinerary for 5 days, but you can tweak and modify however you see fit!! Feel free to skip what you want, but I promise everything is WORTH IT. Here is a general overview–
First Day: Los Angeles to Joshua Tree & Palm Springs
Second Day: Palm Springs to Scottsdale, dinner and drinks, drive to Sedona
Third Day: Sedona Devil’s Bridge, 1 more optional hike, sunset at Grand Canyon, Drive to Page
Fourth Day: Horseshoe Bend, Antelope Canyon, Lake Powell, Las Vegas
Fifth Day: Valley of Fire, Las Vegas, Home
Both California and Arizona, in all their beauty, continues to take me by surprise every time. Hope you love this Road Trip as much as I do!!
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
Best Time to Visit: My personal recommendations would be spring or fall, as summer is too hot to be enjoyable in the desert landscape (both Joshua Tree & pretty much all of Arizona!) We did this road trip towards the tail end of March and it was wonderful.
Weather: The weather in both CA and AZ are both pretty clear year round. Scorching hot and sweltering summers in the Arizona desert, but mild and enjoyable evenings during the spring and winter time. Palm Springs & Joshua Tree are about the same.
Getting Around & Transportation: If you have your own car for the drive, that’s perfect! But if need to rent a car and can budget for an upgrade, I highly recommend renting a 4 Wheel Drive with high clearance. You’ll find this advantageous when driving around Sedona (especially the Devil’s Bridge hike)!. Plus, it’ll be more comfortable on a driving intensive road trip. We ended up getting a Jeep for the trip, and it was perfect!! So much fun to drive, and think of the photo opportunities!!
Airport: So many different airports to choose from, but LAX is the major international airport. Otherwise, you can fly into Orange County (SNA), Palm Springs (PSP), or Burbank/ Ontario (BUR).
Tickets: Buy your tickets to Antelope Canyon as soon as you know what date you’ll be going! Because both Lower and Upper Antelope Canyons are located on Navajo land, you’ll need an authorized tour guide to enter. We bought our tickets a week in advance for a Tuesday, and almost all of the time slots were booked. Thankfully, there are multiple tour companies and we found one that still had times available.
Food: Food is a little scarce once you get towards Page (Horseshoe Bend & Antelope Canyon), so if you are a vegetarian or vegan, just know that you’ll be looking at a lot of fast food restaurants. (For example, McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Wendy’s, might be your only option on certain days/hours.) Stock up on snacks and groceries in big cities like Los Angeles or Scottsdale, before you head out towards the Grand Canyon and Page!
Currency & Language: USD & all major credit cards accepted — English speaking
Now that we’ve got all the details and logistics out of the way, let’s move straight into the CA to AZ Road Trip Itinerary! I’ll be leaving hotel recommendations at the end of each day 🙂
Day 1 of the CA to AZ Road Trip
DAY ONE OVERVIEW
Start in Los Angeles
Drive to Joshua Tree | Drive Time: 2 Hours, 30 Minutes | 150 Miles
Stops: Cap Rock, Cholla Cactus. Optional: Skull Rock and Key Point
Drive to Palm Springs | Drive Time: 50 Minutes | 40 Miles
Overnight in Palm Springs
Total Drive Time: Rough Estimate 4 Hours
Day One is always the most exciting for me, for any road trip. I like to stop by a Trader Joe’s before we hit the road– get a little cooler of all my favorite snacks and coffees for the drive. Once the car is locked and loaded, it’s time to head out! There’s no rush on the first day because Joshua Tree & Palm Springs are in the desert. Unless you get there in the early hours of the morning (like before 9AM), it’ll be hot regardless. For me personally, I know I would rather spend the hottest hours of the day driving in the car! Depending on where you start, I would aim to get to the park closer to 3PM.
JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL PARK
You can drive the entirety of Joshua Tree National Park in under 2 hours. To be honest, a lot of the park looks the same, so I don’t think you should feel the need to explore every corner or hike every trail. Here are my top 3 spots that are worth a photo opportunity!
1. WINDING ROAD ENTRANCE
I don’t know the exact location of this spot, but it’s about 15 minutes into the drive when the road starts to get windy. I love this spot so much because it has the two massive Joshua Tree’s framing the road. Almost like nature’s own welcome sign!
2. CAP ROCK
To me, Cap Rock is a hidden gem in Joshua Tree. It’s a super quiet, super scenic half mile trail. There’s even picnic benches out front and so you can enjoy some food there. Don’t forget, no waste gets left behind!! Please pick up after yourself. The trail is filled with jumbo rocks and beautiful Joshua Tree’s. And because it’s such a short hike, it never gets too crowded. (Perfect photo opportunity, if you ask me!)
3. CHOLLA CACTUS GARDENS
I don’t LOVE the Cholla Cactus Garden, because the cholla’s are jumping cactus, which means they’ll jump out and stick to your skin. AWFUL feeling. Make sure you don’t get too close to the cactus and stay on the trail! However, the gardens are beautiful to enjoy and a nice scenic walk. It’s also a pretty iconic part of Joshua Tree. I’ve never been during sunset, but I’ve heard that it’s beautiful here.
OTHER NOTE WORTHY STOPS
Another notable mention is the Arch Rock and Skull Rock. Both locations, however, are just SO busy at all times because they’re the tourist hot spots. Just know you’ll be seeing dozens of people waiting in line for a photo if you trek to either rock. At this point in the itinerary, you can either stay in Joshua Tree for sunset, or head to Palm Springs. I will say, the pink and orange hues in Joshua Tree are absolutely incredible!
My all time favorite place to stay in Joshua Tree is the Lazy Sky Retreat. It’s a super unique glamping experience to spend the night in a teepee, but they also have very modern & clean amenities for comfort! If you can spare the expense, or feel like you want a unique experience, check out my blog below!
WHERE TO STAY IN PALM SPRINGS
$$$$ – The Colony Palms Hotel & Bungalow | L’Horizon Resorts & Spa
$$$ – Parker Palm Springs | Korakia Pensione (a DREAM of a stay!)
$$ – Ace Hotel & Swim CLub | The Saguaro Palm Springs
$ – Skylark Hotel | Vagabond Motor Hotel
These photos are from Sonder V Palm Springs, which is very clean, new, and quite affordable ($)– unfortunately at this time, it’s a 2 night stay minimum. If you’re planning on staying in Palm Springs or Joshua Tree longer, I would highly recommend this hotel for a budget-but-feels-luxurious stay!
Day 2 of the CA to AZ Road Trip
DAY TWO OVERVIEW
Wake Up in Palm Springs
Grab Coffee & Pastries at Cartel Coffee Lab
Stops at the famous Palm Springs Houses & Moorten’s Botanical Garden
Drive to Scottsdale | 4 Hours, 20 Minutes | 280 Miles
Stops: Enjoy Dinner at the Scott Resort, Explore Scottsdale, Old Town Area
Drive to Sedona | 2 Hours | 125 Miles
Total Drive Time: Rough Estimate 6.5 Hours
Today is a VERY driving intensive day, so just keep that in mind and plan accordingly to what is best for you! I would stop by my favorite little coffee shop, Cartel Coffee Lab. I love their oat milk lattes! They also have delicious pastries and scones too so grab some for the road.
PALM SPRINGS NEIGHBORHOOD
Swing by some of the famous Palm Spring Houses for some amazing photo opportunities once you’ve got your coffee fix!! I like to visit the houses early in the morning because I don’t want to disrupt the people who are living in the neighborhood. And PLEASE, keep in mind that these are people’s homes. If they have a no photography sign, respect their request! To navigate to this neighborhood, you can type in “That Pink Door” into your GPS or go to 1100 East Sierra Way. The Pink Door owners are examples of homeowners who do not want their home photographed. Once you get here, you’ll be able to freely wander and explore some of the beautiful architecture!
MOORTEN BOTANICAL GARDENS
Next up is the Moorton Botanical Garden which opens at 9AM. Admission is $5 per person. Their hours have been drastically effected due to Covid, so double check with their website. It’s pretty small and you can walk through it within 30 minutes. If you are visiting, I highly recommend supporting by purchasing a small succulent or a knick knack on your way out!
Once you wrap up with Moorton’s, grab a quick bite to eat and begin heading to Scottsdale! Elmer’s and Cheeky’s are both great and quick options. Stopping by the windmills on your way out of Palm Springs is definitely an option if you’re keen, but not a must-see in my opinion. Now it’s time to blast some of your favorite songs, grab your favorite chips, and enjoy the 4 hour drive ahead. (I would try to head out of Palm Springs around noon, latest!)
Once you arrive into Scottsdale, I’m sure you’ll be ready for a late lunch/early dinner! I love eating dinner at the Canal Club at the Scott Resort & Spa. It’s the dreamiest little hotel with amazing boho and beach inspired decor. The food and drinks are also delicious and you can explore the property while you’re there!
From Scottsdale, you can either stay the night, or head another 2 hours up north to Sedona. It really depends on how tired you are and where you want to spend sunrise. If you are more into exploring the city, Scottsdale night life is super fun and you can go to Old Town Scottsdale and bar hop! Some of my Scottsdale recommendations for good eats include–
- Henry’s — upscale brunch
- Farm and Craft — upscale brunch
- Anhelo’s — contemporary American
- Teaspressa — cute cafe with matcha + coffee
- Diego Pops — yummy tacos and margaritas
WHERE TO STAY IN SCOTTSDALE
However, if you can make the drive safely, I personally would recommend going to Sedona so you can begin hiking in the morning and get all the amazing views in ASAP! The most affordable area to stay overnight in Sedona would be the Cottonwood area. It’s only a quick 15 minute drive into the heart of Sedona. But if you find good deals on hotels in Sedona though, I would pick one of those!
WHERE TO STAY IN SEDONA
Day 3 of the CA to AZ Road Trip
DAY THREE OVERVIEW
Drive to or Wake Up in Sedona
Stops: Devil’s Bridge, Seven Sacred Pools, Cathedral Rock
Drive to South Rim Grand Canyon National Park | Drive Time: 2 Hours, 10 Minutes | 115 Miles
Stops: Mather’s Point, Moran Point
Drive to Page | Drive Time: 2 Hours, 20 Minutes | 130 Miles
Total Drive Time: Rough Estimate 5 Hours
DEVIL’S BRIDGE, SEDONA
If you managed to make your way over to Sedona the night before, definitely head over to Devil’s Bridge in the morning for sunrise. If you didn’t, drive over to Sedona and enjoy a slow and easy hike when you can. Devil’s Bridge is an easy hike but can be time consuming, so this is where the 4 Wheel Drive comes in handy. With a 4WD, you can drive straight to the foot of Devil’s Bridge and walk right up to the iconic view point. Super great for those short on time! If you don’t have a 4 wheel drive, it’s a 2 mile trek (very easy though– pretty flat until the end!)
To be honest, the hike itself is much easier than what I originally thought in my head considering how insane the view of Devil’s Bridge is. The hardest part is the mud, and my feet just kept slipping and sloshing all over the place. After about 1.5 miles of flat terrain, you’ll hit a small uphill scramble, and then the view opens up to the Bridge. You’ll still be able to get clean shots without people in it no matter what time of day you visit, because a line typically forms at the end of the bridge! (One is the many reasons why I love the hiking culture, everyone is just so nice!!).
SEVEN SACRED POOLS & CATHEDRAL ROCK
Unfortunately, we didn’t make it out to the Seven Sacred Pools or Cathedral Rock on our trip due to poor weather conditions. But if you have time and great weather, I would definitely add these to the list. I don’t believe they are challenging hikes, either!
Up next, it’s time to visit the Grand Canyon! It’s about a 2 hour drive from Sedona, so try to head out at a decent time to catch sunset. I’d suggest being there at least 2 hours before sunset begins. Take your time with the drive though, as there are so many beautiful scenic overlooks along the way!
MORAN POINT, GRAND CANYON
If you’re tight on time, visiting Moran Point and Mather’s Point will be great to get a feel for the Grand Canyon. Both are so beautiful and dreamy during sunset.
FUN FACT: Trey and I met through Instagram, and the first time he ever FaceTimed me was from Moran Point. He was hiking during sunset and thought it was something I would want to see. So he called me for the first time hehe. Another sweet and serendipitous moment for us to return to this spot together!
From Moren Point, make your way to Mather’s Point! It is significantly more popular and touristy, but the layers of the Grand Canyon there are just unreal. Mather’s Point is almost entirely fenced in, but if you keep hiking down, it gets more quiet and open. (No need to trespass, there is a trail of rocks to go down!)
LAKE POWEL VIEW HOUSE
Once the sun sets, begin heading to Page. It’s a 2 hour drive, and the best place to stay is hands down, the Lake Powell View House. We loved staying here because it’s only 15 minutes from Antelope Canyon AND Horseshoe Bend, with miles and miles of endless views!
Day 4 of the CA to AZ Road Trip
DAY FOUR OVERVIEW
Wake Up at Lake Powell View House
Horseshoe Bend | Drive Time: 20 Minutes | 10 Miles
Antelope Canyon | Drive Time: 20 Minutes | 10 Miles
Lake Powell | Drive Time: 20 Minutes | 10 Minutes
Begin Heading Home– Stopover in Vegas | Drive Time: 4 Hours, 30 Mins | 270 Miles
Drive Time: Rough Estimate 5 Hours Total
Horseshoe bend is ICONIC and lives up to the hype. I designed this road trip so you go for sunrise, and I promise sunrise is better than sunset here. This is a graphic that will help you decide when you want to visit, but I think the pre-dawn pink hues are simply the best.
We allocated ourselves from 6AM to 9AM to enjoy sunrise. It’s a 15 minute walk from the parking lot to the Bend, and now there’s a trailhead which makes the walk significantly easier. If you have the option, visiting early in the morning is another way to beat the crowds and find a parking spot. Even if you don’t make it in the morning, Horseshoe Bend is so big that you’ll be able to get a dreamy solo shot.
Outfit Details: Shop White Booties HERE, my Lack of Colors Hat HERE
UPPER ANTELOPE CANYON
Next on the list is the infamous Antelope Canyon! Upper Antelope Canyon is more known for the light beams and thus, the more popular canyon of the two to visit. Because the Canyon is Navajo Land, you cannot enter either canyon unless you are part of a tour group led by a guide. Each tour group averages about 15 people, and YES, they are always full and almost always sold out. Plenty of tours are operating though, so make sure you look around!
The earlier you go, the less crowded it will be, but you won’t have ideal light beam conditions. The sun needs to be pretty high up and strong for bright light beams to peep through the canyon. We chose to visit the Upper Slot at 10:30AM for those dreamy light beams. We figured that the sun would be high enough to get good light conditions within the canyon! It’s also important to check the conditions for the corresponding month you’re going. The first time slot of the day is around 7AM. If you go at this time, you’ll most likely have an emptier canyon, but you’ll also most likely be looking at a much darker canyon.
It’s about a 20 minute drive from the tour location to foot of the Canyon. When we arrived, there were dozens of SUVs/small tour buses parked outside the canyon with a line to enter —which was incredibly intimidating. I thought, no way would we get any photos without people in it. But if you’re fast, you’ll have lots of empty pockets and 10 second windows to get a shot. Be prepared to quickly adjust your camera settings!
THE TOUR EXPERIENCE
To be honest, the tour guide’s job is to shuffle you in, point out all the amazing formations, and shuffle you out. We asked to stay at one spot to take a couple more photos (I specifically said “can I just take two more photos here”) in which I was aggressively denied. It’s hard to blame the tour guide–I’m sure it’s his job to keep the traffic moving so there aren’t too many people in the Canyon at one time. Even so, it’s frustrating to be paying almost $100 to not get an extra second in there. If you book a photography tour, I was told they’ll stop traffic for you and give you the chance to take the photos you want with clear shots!
All the tour guides also know a great deal about photography and iPhone photography and will help you capture all the colors of the Canyon, which is a nice bonus. But what ends up happening is, you get in line, and he takes your phone or camera, and tells you exactly where to snap your pictures. There’s no freedom or flexibility, and for sure no wandering on your own.
The Tour Company we used was Antelope Slot Canyon Tours. There are a ton of great companies out there so if the time and date you’re looking for isn’t available, look at other groups! Prices do vary, and they go up based on peak hours! But definitely buy tickets as soon as you can!
Finally, it’s time to visit the Lake!! If you spend about 10AM to 1PM on the Lake, you’ll be able to still enjoy much cooler weather before it gets too hot. Lake Powell is perfect for anyone who wants to dip their toes in the water and relax on the lake, but it’s even better for those who love water sports. You can rent kayaks, stand up paddle boards, and even boats to jump in the water! From as low as $30 a day for kayaks, and SUP for $45, Kayak Lake Powell has got you covered!
DRIVE TO LAS VEGAS
Depending on how tired you are by the end of a day at the lake, you can wrap up and spend another night in Lake Powell to prepare for an extra long drive the following day, or break it up by heading to Las Vegas!
I personally recommend heading to Vegas. Realistically, you should be wrapping up Lake Powell in the early afternoon. By the time you get coffee, lunch, and head to Vegas, you’d still make it there by dinner. Plus, you can also squeeze in Valley of Fire the following day, if you decide to head out of Arizona!
If you’ve never been to Las Vegas before, then it’s definitely worth hitting the strip, grabbing a Fat Tuesday, and enjoying all the craziness the strip has to offer. And if you’ve already been, then it can be a chill night in of hitting the casino and going for fine dining. We personally always love to stay with the MGM Grand hotel group.
*Also, please note that you can swap the order of Valley of Fire State Park with a visit to Las Vegas, as I know it’s back tracking by 30-45 minutes. I only have Vegas as a stop first because by the time you get to Valley of Fire, it might already be dark and you’ll miss daylight & sunset. If you can make it by 3-4PM, then I would advise going to Valley of Fire first, then wrapping up in Vegas!!
Day 5 of the CA to AZ Road Trip
DAY FIVE OVERVIEW
Go Home Day!
Drive from Lake Powell to or already be in Las Vegas
Visit Valley of Fire State Park
Las Vegas back to Los Angeles | Drive time: 4 Hours, 10 Minutes | 270 Miles
Total Drive Time: Rough Estimate 4 Hours
VALLEY OF FIRE STATE PARK
I LOVE Valley of Fire State Park! I feel like it’s very underrated but so incredibly beautiful. My favorite is the iconic Mouse Tank Road, from both the road and from the boulders at the end.
Other notable locations in Valley of Fire include the Beehive, the Wave, and Atlatl Rock!
Time to wrap up the entire trip and head home! From Las Vegas, it’ll be another 4 hours back to Los Angeles. I know, I know– this itinerary has got you DRIVING. But I’ve done it myself and it is WELL WORTH the drives. Every stop is breathtaking and so much fun. If you get the chance to take this road trip, please let me know! I want to hear all about your trip, from what your favorite was to what you decided to skip, or how I can make it better!