Inexpensive, Five-Day, American Southwest Road Trip

Are you looking for a short, inexpensive road trip across the United Stated that also provides incredible views and experiences? Sounds too good to be true, I know. But, based on experience, this type of road trip is easily accessible.

As Spring Break approaches and summertime emerges, make sure to plan the following road trip itinerary as your next travel plan with a budget.

Day 1: Denver, Colorado to Durango, Colorado

Starting in Denver provides you with ample opportunity to plan and pack for a five-day journey. With plenty of local adventure shops, you’ll find incredible deals and friendly people. Stop at one of Denver’s microbreweries and fill up your growler for the journey ahead.

Then, take Interstate 25 south until you nearly reach the New Mexico border. You’ll drive West through the Rocky Mountains and witness low-traffic backroad highways, where you can find snow foxes and moose to your heart’s content.

Stopping in Durango allows you to rest up and gather any necessary supplies that you may have forgotten. Really, Durango is just the closest town to the first major adventure along this road trip.

Day 2: Durango, Colorado to Grand Canyon National Park

Leave Durango early in the morning so that you can be the first person to enter Mesa Verde National Park, an accomplishment that’s awarded with a free sticker. Spend as much time as possible exploring every nook and cranny of the 900-year-old cliff dwellings of the Anasazi civilization. Climb through these ancient cities and explore current archaeological sites, just like Indiana Jones.

Once it hits high noon, leave Mesa Verde in order to make your day’s ending destination before dark. But, along the way, don’t forget to stop at the Four Corners. Located in Navajo Country, the Four Corners are more of a window into modern-day Native American living conditions.

After leaving the Four Corners, you’ll drive to Grand Canyon National Park, where you can stay in a small room, or camp, depending on your adventure style. Arrive before dark and watch out for deer, moose, and elk, who have grown accustomed to cars on the road.

Day 3: Grand Canyon National Park to Moab, Utah

Spend the morning hiking around the Grand Canyon’s Southern Rim on miles and miles of trails. Be sure to bring your camera and wake up early to capture the sunrise.

Once breakfast time is over, the main tourist areas will fill with RVs and families, so be sure to get your nature walks and photos in before then.

Again, when noon hits, leave Grand Canyon National Park and make your way North to Moab, Utah. Take the detour through Kayenta and stop to appreciate Monument Valley. If you happen to catch it at sunset, stop and take 1,000 pictures and send one to The Adventure Tribune for nostalgia's sake.

When you arrive in Moab, be sure to visit the Moab Brewery for dinner and a pint. Then, get some rest, because Day 4 makes sure that you’re out of the car.

Day 4: Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park

You’ll spend this entire day near Moab because the town contains two national parks whose entrances are across the street from one another.

Start at Arches National Park. Spend some time hiking along the trails through the famed Martian landscape that embodies Arches. As you drive in, bypass the first few “viewpoints”; you have to hike to the cool arches and they’re in the back of the park, so work your way forward.

Once you’ve had your fill of arches, move across the street to Canyonlands National Park, where you can investigate and hike around dozens of canyons (hence the name). Though you’ve already seen the Grand Canyon, appreciate the wind-blown details in these canyons.

Day 5: Moab, Utah to Denver, Colorado

After hiking dozens of miles, wake up whenever your legs will let you. Drive from Moab to Interstate 70 and turn East. You’ll pass through Colorado peach country, and then drive along the Colorado River until you start to climb the Rockies.

If you’re feeling up to it, stop at Hanging Lake and hike the short-yet-awe-inspiring trek. Then, continue your drive. As you descend the mountain range, stop in Idaho Springs for the best barbecue in the state.

When you return to Denver, you can continue your trip to wherever you call home, and know that you accomplished an epic road trip.

Tom Malone is the Editor-In-Chief of The Adventure Tribune and author of adventure novels, like Across Americana. He is based in Denver, Colorado, where he adventures through the Rocky Mountains while not traveling abroad.
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