The best way to see the Western US in its most expansive glory is by car or VanCraft adventure van. Fact! Though one can’t road trip around the US without seeing California’s gorgeous coast, the United States’ Southwest Loop comes with its own set of unique experiences. From deserted towns to roadside diners, incredible hikes and everything else in between, this loop has it all.
While the VanCraft team spaced this trip out over a week or so, feel free to double this trip’s duration should you have the time to travel at a more leisurely pace.
We would recommend taking this road trip during the spring or fall months, to avoid the buy (and hot) summer season.. Winter, on the other hand, is an ideal time for avoiding big crowds, with an almost guaranteed chance to experience those beautiful snow-kissed desert landscapes.
DAY 1: Oceanside, California → Seven Magic Mountains → Las Vegas
Starting at our Oceanside offices, pick up you VanCraft campervan before making your way to the desert. This is a Southwest loop after all. Be prepared for about a 4hr drive before your first stop at Seven Magic Mountains, a roadside art installation just outside of Las Vegas that’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen.
Next up is “Sin City”, but if the name deters you, then keep on keepin’ on.
Otherwise, make sure to grab a frozen margarita at Fat Tuesdays before cruising up and down the infamous Las Vegas strip. Each hotel on Las Vegas Blvd has its own theme, providing endless hours of entertainment and people-watching.
If you don’t have time to walk off your margarita buzz before hitting the road, most casino parking lots are cool with adventure vans sleeping for free. The large LINQ Hotel parking lot (found under the 550-foot “High Roller” ferris wheel) is another place to catch up on ZZZs before what’s sure to be another jam-packed day.
Sunset crazy like us? Catch an epic showing at the Valley of Fire, where the red rocks light up into their own spectacular glow, all while setting up shop from one of our favorite campsites (found right at the waters’ edge of Lake Mead).
DAY 2: Lake Mead → Zion National Park
Rise and shine! There’s nothing like waking up to a swim right at your doorstep. Once revitalized, utilize our fully stocked Vista Sprinters to help with making the breakfast spread of your choosing. Day two is going to be packed with opportunity for adventure, so be sure to fuel appropriately.
The three-hour drive from Lake Mead to Zion National Park is one of the US’ most picturesque, with The Narrows and Angels Landing making for great hiking spots. Note that while these trails are breathtakingly beautiful, they’re also known to be particularly crowded during high tourist season.
Alternatively, if you’re looking to explore Zion in solitude, slot canyons can be found just off the roadside.
Since campsite reservations within Zion National Park sell out months in advance, make sure to reserve yours ahead of time. Otherwise, you will need to exit the National Park’s boundary and find off-grid camping elsewhere.
DAY 3: Zion National Park → Lake Powell
Today you’re camping at Lone Rock Beach, so do your best to avoid soft sand and only drive on the well worn paths. If you can’t avoid the sand, be sure to air down your tires to 20-30 psi, while remembering to air back up before re-hitting the pavement.
Antelope Canyon is another popular side trip around the Lake Powell area. Be sure to reserve a tour guide in advance, as you can’t explore the area without one.
We also recommend renting a boat to explore all that Lake Powell has to offer (psst, check out our friends at All In Boat Rentals for a variety of choices at affordable rates).
DAY 4: Lake Powell → Horseshoe Bend → North Rim Grand Canyon
Day four is all about getting that ‘gram.
Even after a full day on the lake, don’t miss stopping at Horseshoe Bend for impressive views surrounding the Colorado River. With more than 1.5 million tourists visiting in 2017 and close to 2 million in 2018, it’s become one of the most Instagramed destinations in the past two years.
Other things to note: even though this 1.5 mile walk is a quickie, always bring water and be careful not to venture too close to the edge of this 600-foot sheer cliff, as people have literally fallen to their deaths trying to catch the perfect selfie. Word to the wise…
The next stop on this itinerary is easily one of our favorites: The North Rim of the Grand Canyon (only open to tourists from May 15-October 15). While its sunsets can be incredible, prepare for unpredictable weather and mass crowds.
In case you can’t make reservations in advance, the National Forest barely outside the National Park boundary offers beautiful off grid camping amongst a dense pine forest. Need we say more?
DAY 5: North Rim Grand Canyon → Sedona, Arizona
Day five is dedicated to super groovy Sedona. Yea, we said it.
New age, super hippie, charged with tons of good energy…that’s Sedona. Named one of the ten most beautiful places in America, it’s a great desert town to escape everyday life. Sedona activities to include:
- Gallery Row (full of Sedona art galleries supporting many local artists)
- Red Rocks (hiking trails for both beginners and the more advanced)
- Verde River (year-round paddling just 30 minutes outside of Sedona)
- Spa services (many rooted in ancient healing practices)
With Sedona’s world-wide reputation for all things spiritual, it’s the perfect place to reflect on the journey you’ve had up until this point, and all that lies ahead.
DAY 6: Arizona → Oceanside, California
Unless you’re keeping this trip to under a week, take an extra several days to check out Joshua Tree on your way back. We put this sweet guide together covering its highlights.
In closing, there’s no better way to experience the Southwest Loop’s intense beauty than by doing so with one of our beloved Vista Sprinters equipped with everything you’d need to feel safe, comfortable and prepared. This is the ultimate itinerary for anyone looking to disconnect and really get down with all that nature, in its purest form, has to offer.
While our adventure vans are a great way to give #vanlife a try, once you experience the freedom of traveling in a van, it’s hard to look back. Rest assured we offer fully built-out Sprinter campervans for sale that perform just like our rentals.
Happy adventuring and don’t forget to tag #vancraft next time you’re on the road.