A road trip from California to Arizona is one of the most epic and beautiful routes you could choose. Beginning in Los Angeles, your California and Arizona desert road trip will take you through some of the most pristine and untouched landscapes that the United States has to offer. Let’s dive into your unforgettable road trip from California to Arizona now!
Pin Me for Later!
A road trip from California to Arizona is one of the most beautiful drives you could choose. In fact, if you only do one big USA road trip in your entire life, it should be across the American Southwest.
Here you will see everything from desert parks filled with cacti and yucca, abandoned ghost towns, towering red rock formations, and even sprawling cities shooting up from the desert floor.
I have lived in both states during my life, so I know a bit about the best California and Arizona road trip attractions that are worth your time. Whether you are interested in nature, hiking, camping, historical sites, or city breaks, there are so many ways to customize this trip – but we’ll get to that.
This California to Arizona road trip itinerary below starts in Los Angeles, CA. If you don’t live in LA, LAX generally offers cheaper flights than Phoenix airport – but you could always reverse the order and start in Arizona, or start elsewhere in California like San Diego.
Good to know: Rental cars are plentiful from LAX (I always get the best prices here), and this itinerary is a circular drive – meaning you will end at the same place you started. This helps to keep car costs down rather than dropping the vehicle off at a location other than you rented it from.
When is the Best Time to Road Trip From California and Arizona?
With 284 sunny days per year on average, Southern California is beautiful all year round. However, since this road trip through California and Arizona primarily runs through desert climates, summer can get HOT.
If you are flexible, fall and spring are the best seasons to choose. Winter is also very nice, though it is possible to experience rain or even snow in California and snow in Arizona. Bet you didn’t expect that!
Note that I have taken this trip many times during the summer months, and if you are on a summer break and this is the only time-frame you have, worry not. You will survive the desert heat!
My biggest tip for anyone interested in outdoor hikes or activities in the summer is to follow the detailed suggestions in my post about desert hiking essentials for the American Southwest. This will set you up for a fun and safe time in the summer heat.
Now, onto the Arizona and California road trip!
The Epic CA to AZ Road Trip Route
The Overview: Los Angeles –> Joshua Tree National Park –> Phoenix –> Montezuma Castle National Monument –> Sedona –> The Grand Canyon –> Lake Havasu –> Mojave National Preserve –> Death Valley National Park –> Red Rock Canyon State Park –> Los Angeles.
CA to AZ Road Trip Route Total Miles (as listed with no modifications): 1,455
CA to AZ Road Trip Hours Behind the Wheel: 23h 6m
So obviously, that’s a lot. And believe it or not, these are only a selection of my favorite spots in CA and AZ, so there is still way more to see. I will add in some optional modifications below in case you want to explore any of these further. Let’s Begin!
Day 1: Los Angeles, CA
Los Angeles has so much to offer that it’s difficult to condense it to a small section. Feel free to peruse my Southern California Bucket List if either option below is not quite your style.
For the beach lovers, no doubt you picture sun and sand when you think of California. I recommend spending a full day in Malibu over the other highly touristic beaches in LA. It’s much more quiet and calm, and honestly more beautiful, with cliffs and rocks and sea creatures.
Check out my guide to the perfect one day in Malibu, covering where to eat, what beaches to visit, where to hike, and even some art or winery options. This is probably the best all around choice, if you ask me.
If you have more time in Southern California and love to hike, you may want to check out my 52 Hikes in Southern California guide.
I love helping my community plan amazing trips. When booking these services, consider booking them through our affiliate links. Without any extra cost to you, you will be supporting This Rare Earth.
Thank you so much!
🏠 Find the perfect place to stay.
🚣 Book your favorite tours and activities.
🚗 Get the best rental car prices.
💻 Shop my top Travel Essentials.
The great thing about LA is that there are literally endless things to do here. The drawback is that LA is so sprawling, it’s hard to fit a lot in unless it is all in the same general area.
Be flexible, realize that you will run into traffic, and try to choose options that are within the same general vicinity.
For sleeping, I always recommend using this site as they consistently give me the best hotel deals.
Days 2 & 3: Joshua Tree National Park
In the morning of Day 2, start your drive as early as possible toward Joshua Tree National Park. The drive will take roughly 2.5 to 3 hours, depending on where your exact starting point is.
Joshua Tree National Park is one of my favorite places on the planet. Meaning, not just one of my favorite places in California, but on the entire earth. So this is not a spot to miss during your road trip from California to Arizona.
So what makes it so special?
First of all, the landscape has a truly alien-like feeling; from the crazy spindly Joshua Trees to the bulbous and bloated rock formations, this park is truly special.
It also contains not one but two deserts inside of the park boundaries – the Mojave Desert and the Colorado Desert. These two differing elevations make one half of the park’s landscape completely different from the other. It’s fascinating!
Also, this park offers everything from hiking, camping, stargazing, and plenty of strange and unusual photo opportunities that you cannot miss.
Check out my in-depth guide to visiting Joshua Tree National Park in one day. This guide contains details about every aspect of the park, from costs to enter, where to hike, how to camp, and what to do with limited time here.
I say it again: DO. NOT. SKIP. JOSHUA TREE.
More Joshua Tree National Park Resources:
- One Day in Joshua Tree National Park
- The Best Joshua Tree Sunrise Hikes and Locations
- The Best Hikes in Joshua Tree National Park
- A Joshua Tree Photography Guide
- All About the Joshua Tree: A Mojave Desert Staple
- Five Drawbacks of Joshua Tree – and How to Beat Them
- 10 Tips for Visiting Joshua Tree National Park
- A Los Angeles to Joshua Tree National Park Road Trip
- National Parks Near Los Angeles
- Desert Wear and Hiking Essentials for the American Southwest
- Ten Desert Hiking Safety Tips
For sleeping, camping under the stars is unbelievable (see the above guide on how to reserve). If camping is not your style, you’ll find some unique accommodations in this desert area. Check for hotels within Twentynine Palms as well as in Yucca Valley or Palm Springs and Desert Hot Springs.
Good to know: if you are in the mood for some relaxation or want to extend your trip, Palm Springs and Desert Hot Springs resorts offer mineral water baths (think hot tubs of varying temperatures that leave your skin extra soft!) It’s a very cool experience.
You May Also Like: The Best Things To Do in Palm Springs
Day 4: Phoenix, AZ
On Day 4 you will cross state lines into Arizona and it will take about three hours to get into the city of Phoenix. Along the way you will see some pretty awesome landscapes, as barrel cacti and tall Saguaro Cacti begin to dot the hillsides.
Like LA, there is a lot to see in only one day in Phoenix, but let me point out some personal favorites.
For the nature lovers, you have got to hike the Hole in the Rock hiking trail at sunrise. It is short and sweet, but offers a sweeping view of Papago Park below. Another option is the iconic Camelback Mountain, if you are looking for something a bit more strenuous. If you visit in summer, a friendly reminder – read the desert hiking essentials post to stay safe!
You will have plenty of great outdoors options. Check out all of the things to do in Phoenix for even more suggestions.
For the art lovers, Downtown Phoenix hosts an Art Walk on the first Friday of every month from 6pm-11pm. I have seen some really cool artworks on these nights, so if you happen to be there on the right day, keep this in mind. Otherwise the Phoenix Art Museum is always a hit!
More Phoenix Resources:
- Where to See the Saguaro Cactus in Phoenix
- A One Day in Phoenix Itinerary
- Things to Do in Phoenix, Arizona
- The Best Day Trips from Phoenix
- Hole in the Rock Hike in Papago Park, Phoenix
Day 5: On the Road to Sedona via Montezuma Castle
On Day 5, I highly recommend leaving as early as humanly possible. Though the drive to Sedona is pretty short if you drive straight there, that would be a mistake. There are a lot of things to see between Phoenix and Sedona, as well as great photo stops as you drive.
Montezuma Castle National Monument
First, head to Camp Verde, home of Montezuma Castle National Monument. Somewhat under the radar, Montezuma Castle is an incredibly preserved cliffside dwelling of the Anasazi tribe, discovered in the 1860’s. Many of the Hopi tribe can trace their ancestry to the very people who lived in this spot.
After exploring Montezuma, the next place worth a visit is the Sunset Crater National Monument near Flagstaff. The crunchy lava beds and the black ash hillside are beautiful, created by a volcano that erupted some 900 years ago.
On the opposite end of the same park are the Wupatki Ruins, which previously housed members of the Anasazi tribes.
Once you have your fill of pitstops, continue on from Flagstaff to Sedona. You will spend the bulk of your day in Sedona, so hopefully you woke up early!
Sedona is the kind of place that has something for everyone. From scenic hikes to massage and reiki to epic Jeep Tours, Sedona is so fun. Check out all of the noteworthy things to do in Sedona and pick your top three.
Or, if you’d rather spend one full day in Sedona, feel free to skip the pit stops and enjoy the red-drenched town to the fullest!
More Sedona Resources:
- One Day in Sedona Itinerary
- A Phoenix to Sedona Drive: What to See on Your Trip
- Easy Hikes in Sedona
- A Sedona 3 Day Itinerary
- The Best Things to Do in Sedona
- A Flagstaff to Sedona Drive
Day 6: The Grand Canyon
Sure to be one of the highlights of your road trip from California to Arizona is the world famous Grand Canyon National Park. Just a two hour drive from Sedona, enter the park as early as possible, before the crowds, so you can enjoy this natural wonder in silence.
I vividly remember the first time I saw the Grand Canyon. One of my good friends and I spent New Years Day here on a trip where exactly zero things went as planned. Actually, we wouldn’t have seen the Grand Canyon on the original itinerary, so we were not sad that everything went haywire.
Looking across the deep chasm at the canyon cliffs and folds in the distance is just unreal – I remember commenting that it looked like a movie green screen or a painting; it was just so hard to fathom the vastness. What a memorable New Years Day that was.
Be sure to stop in the Visitor’s Center, because they will list the day’s programs. These can include history, astronomy, you name it. A ranger will speak on any variety of interesting topics and these can be fascinating.
Walk the Rim Trail, visit the Grand Canyon Village, and just take everything in. It’s just so incredible that you need to see it to believe it. This is a good place to spend an extra day if you want to do any of the more strenuous hikes or exploration.
Day 7: Lake Havasu
Lake Havasu will literally be your oasis after all of the desert days. Particularly in summer months, this will be a well appreciated day. Lake Havasu will take approximately 3.5 hours to drive from the Grand Canyon. Once again, start fairly early so you can enjoy all day on the lake.
Fun Fact: the bridge you see over Lake Havasu is actually the rebuilt London Bride. The bricks were bought from London in 1967 when the bridge in England got a facelift, so now this unassuming location holds a piece of history!
London Bridge Beach is a great place to hang out for the day, with grassy fields, sandy shores, playgrounds and canoe rentals. Tons of interesting restaurants and breweries are nearby, so it’s a great spot to take a day to relax if you’ve been hiking and driving for days.
Day 8: Mojave National Preserve
In less than 1.5 hours, you will cross from Arizona to California on your road trip, with your first destination being the Mojave National Preserve. This often overlooked park is a hidden gem!
Once again, you have traded your saguaros for Joshua Trees, with their spindly arms reaching for the sky. But compared to Joshua Tree National Park, Mojave National Preserve is much less sparsely visited. But that doesn’t’ mean that there is nothing to see.
My favorite spot in the whole park is probably Kelso Dunes. The dunes begin a short hike from the parking area, but once you cross the first peak and lose site of your car, you’ll feel like you’re in another world. Not quite as majestic as my beloved Arabian Desert, Kelso Dunes is still a great site to see.
Mojave National Preserve has a ton of hiking options and they do allow camping (check current details on camping information.)
Day 9: On the Road to Death Valley (With an Optional Nevada Stop)
If you drive straight from the Mojave National Park to the nearest Death Valley National Park entrance, it will only take around 1.5 hours. If you’re up for a quick trip across the Nevada border, I have a colorful suggestion to add to your itinerary!
Seven Magic Mountains is a public art installation by artist Ugo Rondinone. It sits in the middle of the Nevada desert and is simply breathtaking to observe, contrasting greatly against the dry desert background.
I’ve compiled a detailed post about this work of art, linked above, in case you’re interested in adding it to the road trip itinerary. Visiting this exhibit will add another hour to your driving time, but in my opinion it’s worth it.
After that stop, continue towards Death Valley National Park through Pahrump . Depending on the time of day, you can either begin exploring Death Valley immediately or you can grab some food and check into your hotel or set your campsite for the evening.
Day 10: Exploring Death Valley National Park
Death Valley is pretty amazing. It is the largest National Park in all of the contiguous United States and the mix of landscapes covering this vast park is stunning.
Artist’s Palette. A 9 mile road to drive or bike with various pulloffs and photo points. The peaks are various colors due to natural minerals – yep! This formed in nature.
Badwater Basin. The lowest point in North America at a jaw-dropping 282 feet below sea level. Salt deposits make this picturesque location look almost snow-covered, but it’s actually one of the hottest spots on the planet.
Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. If you liked Kelso Dunes, here’s another treat for you. These dunes are equally as gorgeous and very fun to climb (though not at midday in the summer months!).
Zabreskie Point. The coolest spot for sunset. Watch the suns rays disappear over the numerous peaks as a reward at the end of your day.
As far as accommodations, Death Valley National Park offers everything from campsites to luxury lodges if you want to stay inside of the park boundaries.
Day 11: Red Rock Canyon State Park
I’m willing to bet that this under-the-radar park is another place you probably never heard about. It will take just under 2 hours to reach if you exit Death Valley at the Panamint Springs exit, and it sits in the quiet town of Cantil.
I was blown away by this park. It’s not huge, but it offers some pretty impressive and unexpected towering red cliffs that are quite a sight! I’ve now been there many times and it’s another park that seems to be nearly empty on most days.
Here are all of the details about hiking and camping in Red Rock Canyon State Park, It’s the perfect “last stop” on your trip.
Good to know: The nearby Jawbone Canyon offers ATV rentals if you are looking for adventure.
Day 12: Back to Los Angeles
Just because Day 12 is the official end of your road trip from California to Arizona (and back again) doesn’t mean you can’t explore along the way.
If you drive straight, it will take under 2 hours to get to Los Angeles. If you have time to spare, explore the famous Hollywood sign lookout or Old Muscle Beach in Santa Monica.
Then, return your car, or catch your flight, or lay your head down at your hotel to end the adventure.
Whatever you choose, I hope that this road trip through California and Arizona is one to remember – in fact I’m sure it will be! And by the end, I believe you will agree with me that the American Southwest is truly breathtaking.
Let me know how it goes below!
Pin Me for Later!