From the turquoise Pacific Coast to the golden deserts, pueblos and rugged mountains of New Mexico, this road trip from San Francisco to Santa Fe is dotted with stunning scenery in national parks like Yosemite, Death Valley and Grand Canyon and iconic cities such as Las Vegas for an unforgettable drive.
The 1,260-mile road trip from San Francisco to Santa Fe will take 19 hours to drive. En route you can visit Mammoth Lakes, Las Vegas, Monument Valley, Albuquerque and Flagstaff as well as Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Death Valley and Zion National Parks.
This is going to be the road trip of a lifetime through the American West. Read on below to learn more about the exciting routes, best places to stop, top highlights, and the best seasons to travel.
How far is Santa Fe from San Francisco, and how long will the road trip take?
|Grand Canyon Route
The Grand Canyon Route from San Francisco to Santa Fe covers a distance of 1,260 miles in approximately 19 hours and 20 minutes without accounting for any detours.
Alternatively, the Yosemite Route is a longer but equally captivating drive, stretching 1,520 miles and taking around 26 hours.
Although it's possible to complete either route within a couple of days, the wealth of sights and experiences along the way means that a 5-6 day journey would be perfect.
Best road trip route from San Francisco to Santa Fe
While both the Grand Canyon and Yosemite Routes are full of history, culture, and endless natural beauty, both have their own unique charms. Which one you choose will depend on what you want to see the most.
The Grand Canyon Route takes you through the majestic Sierra Nevada Mountains, the vast Nevada and Arizona deserts, and the awe-inspiring Grand Canyon itself.
This route is a celebration of natural diversity, passing through famous national and state forests. If you have a bit more time, we recommend taking detours to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.
The Yosemite Route is a picturesque journey through central California, where the landscapes transition dramatically from towering mountains to colorful deserts as you approach Santa Fe.
Keep in mind that this route uses the Big Oak Flat Entrance to take you into the national park and the Tioga Pass Entrance to exit. The latter closes during winter, so you will need to use another entrance gate to exit.
To find out more about entrances to Yosemite, you can find our detailed guide here.
Be sure to have your camera ready for this visually stunning route. It includes a stop in the city of Las Vegas, known for its dazzling lights and entertainment, and offers breathtaking views of Monument Valley, known for its iconic sandstone buttes and Native American culture.
For an added experience, we suggest taking a detour through Albuquerque. You'll love its unique cultural and historical sights and it's not too far from Santa Fe.
How to drive from San Francisco to Santa Fe
The map above shows our suggestions for the best road trip routes between San Francisco and Santa Fe. Keep reading for detailed descriptions of both routes, where to stay on either, and the best things to do on the way.
Grand Canyon Route
For the Grand Canyon Route, begin your journey in San Francisco, heading southeast on Interstate 5 (I-5) towards Bakersfield. This leg of the trip takes you through the rural Central Valley of California.
After Bakersfield, continue eastward, where the desert landscape unfolds. Merge onto I-40 east and travel through Barstow and then into the Mojave National Preserve, a vast expanse of desert wilderness.
As you proceed, you'll arrive in Arizona. Continue driving east and take the exit onto AZ-64 North for a detour to the mighty Grand Canyon National Park. This majestic natural wonder is a highlight of the route, offering breathtaking views and unforgettable experiences.
Leaving the Grand Canyon, head into Flagstaff, a charming city nestled in the mountains. From here, I-40 leads you directly into Albuquerque, New Mexico, where you can experience the unique blend of Native American and Hispanic cultures.
Finally, you will arrive at your destination in sunny Santa Fe.
Starting in San Francisco, head east across the San Francisco Bay. Continue driving east and take Highway 120 to Yosemite National Park and use the Big Oak Flat Entrance to enter the park.
After getting the most out of this natural wonder, use the Tioga Pass Entrance to exit and get back on the route heading northeast. You'll cross the mighty Sierra Nevada Mountains and some of the most beautiful forests in the USA.
Soon, you'll arrive at the beautiful Topaz Lake. From here, drive south along US-395 to Mono Lake.
From here, drive south through Inyo National Forest and stop at Mammoth Lakes. This incredible destination is famous for its hiking and world-famous winter sports.
Hop back on US-395 to Lone Pine, a city steeped in history and natural beauty. From here, you will drive through Death Valley National Park, one of the hottest places on earth.
After your visit to Death Valley, drive to Las Vegas. As you leave Sin City, you will merge onto I-15 and drive east to the majestic Oljato-Monument Valley. Continue en route past the iconic Shiprock rock formation. Soon, you'll arrive at your destination in Santa Fe.
Best places to stop between San Francisco and Santa Fe
With so much to see and do along both routes from San Francisco to Santa Fe, you're going to want to break the trip up a bit. Below are our favorite places to stop, rest, and explore this incredible part of America.
Desert landscapes and majestic canyons in Flagstaff
Flagstaff, Arizona, is an ideal halfway stop on The Grand Canyon Route from San Francisco to Santa Fe, located roughly 13 hours and 35 minutes into the drive. This is one of the best places you can base yourself in as you explore the awe-inspiring Grand Canyon.
At the heart of Flagstaff's appeal is its stunning natural surroundings and rich Native American culture. The city is a gateway to outdoor adventures and exploration, with Walnut Canyon National Monument offering a glimpse into ancient cliff dwellings.
For those interested in astronomy, a visit to the historic Lowell Observatory is a must. This famous observatory is known for the discovery of Pluto!
For your stay, we recommend the Little America Hotel Flagstaff, set on 500 acres of Ponderosa Pine Forest, offers a peaceful retreat with beautifully styled rooms. The hotel's on-site dining at Little America Restaurant and cocktails at the Bar cater to all your culinary needs.
After your drive, we highly recommend taking a dip in the fabulous outdoor pool on-site and enjoying the quiet natural surroundings by relaxing in the outdoor seating and lounge areas.
Once you are ready to continue exploring, another highlight in Flagstaff is the Wupatki National Monument, just a 30-minute drive from the hotel. Here, you can immerse yourself in the ancient Puebloan culture and visit the ruins set against a backdrop of striking desert landscapes.
Hit the slopes in Mammoth Lakes
Mammoth Lakes, California, is a beautiful stop in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and makes the perfect stopover on The Yosemite Route, about 9 hours into your journey from San Francisco.
This charming ski town offers not just exceptional skiing but also proximity to natural wonders like Rainbow Falls, Mono Lake, and Yosemite National Park.
You'll be close to popular outdoor sports areas such as Mammoth Mountain and Devils Postpile National Monument. Whether you're looking for thrilling ski slopes or unique geological formations, this town has it all.
For your stay, we recommend the highly-rated Westin Monache Resort in Mammoth Lakes. This resort, nestled in the mountains, provides a perfect blend of modern comfort and natural beauty.
The resort is conveniently located less than five miles from the Mammoth Mountain Ski Resort, offering easy access to some of the best skiing in California.
Besides skiing, the resort is equipped with a variety of amenities, including a fitness studio, a delightful resort restaurant, and a heated outdoor pool. Your stay will be as enjoyable inside the resort as it is exploring the surrounding landscapes.
Nearby attractions include Yosemite National Park, just an hour's drive from the resort, where you can see some of the most iconic natural scenery in the United States. Also, the Mammoth Mountain Ski Area is a mere 5-minute drive away, or even accessible directly by the resort's gondola.
Where to stay when you reach Santa Fe
Santa Fe, the capital of New Mexico, is a city steeped in history and culture, nestled in the Sangre de Cristo foothills. Known for its historic districts and Pueblo-style architecture, Santa Fe is an international center for the creative arts and southwestern history.
Begin your time by visiting museums such as the New Mexico History Museum and the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture. Here, you'll learn about and experience the city's rich Native American culture and heritage.
Then, head to the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi. This architectural marvel is one of the most important landmarks in the city.
If you love art, check out the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum. Then, drive to the nearby Museum Hill to see world-class art museums and the popular Botanical Garden.
For your stay, why not treat yourself and choose the luxurious and hugely popular Inn on the Alameda? Its proximity to the famous Canyon Road art galleries, just a 5-minute journey, places you in the heart of Santa Fe's artistic scene.
The Inn's rooms, a blend of traditional and modern Santa Fe decor, provide a comfortable stay. Make sure you book yourself a table at the fantastic restaurant on-site to try out some of the local flavors during your stay.
Things to see on a road trip from San Francisco to Santa Fe
Get ready for the ultimate adventure through the American Southwest. To help you plan, we've included our favorite highlights below.
Grand Canyon Route
- Livermore, California - A vibrant city in California's wine country, Livermore is known for its world-class vineyards, historic downtown, and cultural attractions like the Livermore Valley Opera.
- San Luis Reservoir - A large artificial lake in central California, the San Luis Reservoir is a popular spot for fishing, boating, and bird watching, with scenic surroundings ideal for camping and hiking.
- Bakersfield, California - A hub of agriculture and oil production, Bakersfield is also known for its rich country music heritage, featuring museums and live music venues.
- Barstow - A desert crossroads with rich railroad history, Barstow offers intriguing attractions like the Route 66 Mother Road Museum and the nearby Calico Ghost Town.
- Yermo - Home to the Calico Ghost Town, Yermo is a historical town offering a glimpse into the Old West, with its restored buildings and mines.
- Mojave National Preserve - A vast expanse of desert wilderness, the Mojave National Preserve features Joshua trees, volcanic cinder cones, and canyons, perfect for hiking and wildlife viewing.
- Topock - A small town located along the Colorado River, Topock is known for its outdoor recreation opportunities, including fishing, boating, and bird watching in the Havasu National Wildlife Refuge.
- Kingman, Arizona - Often called the "Heart of Historic Route 66," Kingman offers rich history, museums, and nearby natural wonders like the Hualapai Mountains.
- Seligman, Arizona - A classic Route 66 town, Seligman is filled with nostalgic charm, historic diners, and quirky roadside attractions.
- Williams, Arizona - Gateway to the Grand Canyon, Williams is a picturesque mountain town with a historic downtown, the Grand Canyon Railway, and outdoor activities like hiking and fishing.
- Grand Canyon National Park - One of the world's natural wonders, the Grand Canyon offers awe-inspiring views, hiking trails, and the opportunity to explore its vast and rugged landscape.
- Flagstaff - A mountain town with a blend of small-town charm and outdoor adventures, Flagstaff is surrounded by mountains, desert, and ponderosa pine forests, and is a gateway to the San Francisco Peaks.
- Winslow, Arizona - Famous for the iconic "Standin' on the Corner" Park, Winslow offers a slice of Americana and Route 66 history, along with nearby attractions like the Meteor Crater.
- Gallup, New Mexico - Known as the "Indian Capital of the World," Gallup is rich in Native American culture, with arts, crafts, and traditional ceremonies.
- Buck Meadows - A serene and picturesque location near Yosemite, Buck Meadows is known for its stunning natural beauty and peaceful atmosphere, making it an ideal stop for nature lovers.
- Yosemite National Park - Renowned for its majestic waterfalls, giant sequoias, and vast wilderness, Yosemite National Park offers an unforgettable experience with its breathtaking landscapes and diverse wildlife.
- Tenaya Lake, California - Nestled in Yosemite's high country, Tenaya Lake is a sparkling alpine lake surrounded by granite domes and lush meadows, perfect for picnics, swimming, and kayaking.
- Mammoth Lakes - A year-round adventure hub, Mammoth Lakes is famed for its ski resorts, hiking trails, and natural hot springs, set against a backdrop of stunning mountain scenery.
- Bishop, California - Situated in the scenic Owens Valley, Bishop is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts, offering activities like rock climbing, fishing, and hiking in the nearby Sierra Nevada mountains.
- Death Valley National Park - Known as one of the hottest places on earth, Death Valley National Park features unique landscapes like salt flats, sand dunes, and colorful badlands, offering a surreal desert experience.
- Rhyolite - A captivating ghost town near Death Valley, Rhyolite's abandoned buildings and artifacts provide a haunting glimpse into the region's gold mining past.
- Las Vegas - A dazzling oasis in the desert, Las Vegas is world famous for its nightlife, luxurious casinos, and extravagant shows, making it a must-visit for entertainment seekers.
- Mesquite, Nevada - A charming small town in Nevada, Mesquite offers a variety of recreational activities, including golf courses, spas, and casinos, set against a picturesque desert backdrop.
- Zion National Park - Known for its steep red cliffs and scenic canyon views, Zion National Park is a paradise for hikers and nature lovers, with trails leading to emerald pools and hidden waterfalls.
- Page, Arizona - Page is a gateway to natural wonders like the stunning Antelope Canyon and the expansive Lake Powell, offering opportunities for boating, fishing, and photography.
- Lake Powell - A man-made reservoir on the Colorado River, Lake Powell's crystal-clear waters and surrounding red rock landscape provide a spectacular setting for boating, swimming, and camping.
- Vermilion Cliffs National Monument - This monument is famed for its striking, colorful cliffs and unique geological formations, including the renowned Wave, a dream destination for hikers and photographers.
- Kayenta, Arizona - A small town in Navajo County, Kayenta is a cultural gateway to Monument Valley and offers insights into Navajo heritage and traditions.
- Monument Valley - Iconic for its towering sandstone buttes, Monument Valley's dramatic landscapes have been the backdrop for numerous films, offering a quintessential American Southwest experience.
- Albuquerque - New Mexico's largest city, Albuquerque is known for its historic Old Town, stunning balloon fiesta, and unique blend of Spanish, Native American, and Anglo cultures.
Best time to go on a road trip from San Francisco to Santa Fe
The road trip from San Francisco to Santa Fe will take you through some of America's most iconic landscapes, with each season offering its unique charm.
On The Grand Canyon Route, spring is a delightful time to travel, with moderate temperatures in Santa Fe averaging from the high 50s to low 70s Fahrenheit. You can experience the Flagstaff Shakespeare Festival in May.
The Yosemite Route in spring is also beautiful, with the Sierra Nevada Mountains thawing from winter. On this route, don't miss the Mammoth Film Festival in March.
Summer is hot in Santa Fe, typically ranging from the high 70s to mid-80s Fahrenheit. This season is ideal for exploring the city's outdoor attractions and summer festivals.
If you're following the Grand Canyon Route, don't miss the Route 66 Summerfest in July. For those on The Yosemite Route, the journey through the desert is sun-drenched and scenic.
In fall, Santa Fe's temperatures range from the 50s to the high 60s Fahrenheit. If you're here during this time, check out Santa Fe Fiesta in September.
Winter in Santa Fe can be chilly, with temperatures often ranging from the high 20s to mid-40s Fahrenheit. While The Grand Canyon Route remains accessible, North Rim of the national park is closed during this season.
The Yosemite Route, however, requires more caution, as the Tioga Pass and Tioga Road in Yosemite National Park are closed due to snow. Along both routes, you can enjoy winter holiday celebrations, with Las Vegas' New Year's party being the biggest and loudest of all.