16 Top Destinations in the Southwest US You Must See
The American Southwest features incredible natural wonders and landscapes that cannot be missed. This list of the 16 top destinations in the Southwest US will inspire to visit the American Southwest. To plan your Southwest Road Trip read our 10 Day American Southwest Road Trip Itinerary. A road trip is the perfect way to see the Southwest as many of the destinations aren’t close to an airport. Where will you travel to next?
1. Grand Canyon National Park
A 277 mile long canyon, up to 18 mile wide and a mile deep, the Grand Canyon is breathtaking. To truly experience how vast and deep the canyon is, spend time hiking down the canyon on one of the trails. Remember that whatever you hike down you will have to hike back up, so plan accordingly. The best trails at South Rim are South Kaibab Trail and Bright Angel Trail. If you are unable to hike down the canyon, you can also walk along the Rim Trail.
2. White Sands National Park
White Sands National Park is located in southern New Mexico. At White Sands you can drive the eight mile Dunes Drive and stop at different spots to enjoy the sand dunes. Make sure to spend time at the furthest end of the road where the largest sand dunes are located. One of the best things to do at White Sands is hiking on the dunes following one of the marked trails or creating your own path. Another highlight is sledding down the sand dunes, so don’t forget to bring your own plastic disk or purchase one at the monument gift shop.
Plan your trip to White Sands with our article about the Best Things to Do in White Sands National Park.
Sedona is a town in Arizona surrounded by beautiful red rocks and one of the top destinations in the Southwest US. Located two hours north of Phoenix, Sedona offers the perfect getaway in the United States for a relaxing trip away from the city or a stop on your Southwest Road Trip. Spend time hiking, exploring the shops and galleries, and dining with a view. Access our guide to the best hikes in Sedona to learn about the best hiking trails including Soldier Pass Trial, Broken Arrow, Devil’s Bridge, and Bear Mountain.
Continue to our Sedona Weekend Itinerary for the best things to do in Sedona in a weekend.
4. Petrified Forest National Park
Petrified Forest National Park is one of the best destinations to visit in the Southwest US. The landscape here was shaped by wind and water, leading to all the natural wonders that we see today. This national park has the largest deposits of petrified wood in the world. You can see some of the largest petrified logs in the park along the Giant Logs Trail.
To learn more about Petrified Forest National Park and start planning your trip to this natural wonder, continue to our guide: Best Things To Do in Petrified Forest National Park in One Day.
5. Zion National Park
Zion National Park is located in Utah and is known for its canyons including a 2,000 foot deep canyon created by erosion. Two of the most popular hikes are Angels Landing and The Narrows. Angels Landing takes you up to a mesa with a view of the canyon below. The hike is 5 miles with about 1,600 foot elevation gain. The trail has a gradual ascend until the top where the trail becomes so steep that there are chains to help you get up to the top. The Narrows is the narrowest section of Zion Canyon, with walls a thousand feet tall. The Narrows begins with a paved 1 mile walk and if you continue after this first mile you will be walking in the Virgin River.
6. Antelope Canyon
Antelope Canyon is a slot canyon formed by erosion from wind and water. There are two parts of the canyon: upper canyon and lower canyon. Both upper and lower canyon require a tour guide. Visiting Antelope Canyon is one of the top destinations in the Southwest as it is an incredible natural wonder. Upper Antelope Canyon is most well known for the light beams that come through gaps in the canyon and shine on the sand. The light beams can only be seen during certain hours, typically around noon in the summer months. Lower Antelope Canyon has thinner canyon walls and is a longer canyon. This canyon requires you to climb up and down ladders and stairs, so comfortable walking shoes are recommended.
To plan a trip to Antelope Canyon, visit our guide to a Weekend in Page, Arizona.
7. Arches National Park
Visit Arches National Park in Moab, Utah to see the densest concentration of stone arches in the world, with over 2,000 documented arches. The arches were created by water, ice, extreme temperatures, and underground salt movement. Some of the most well known arches include Double O Arch, Turret Arch, Landscape Arch, and Delicate Arch. You can see these arches on hikes throughout the park, including Devil’s Garden which is a unique trail featuring several popular arches.
For more detailed information on Arches National Park, checkout the best hikes in Arches National Park.
8. Horseshoe Bend
Horseshoe Bend is a horseshoe shaped part of the Colorado River with an overlook that has a dramatic 1,000 ft drop. The view is breathtaking and makes up one of the top destinations to see in the American Southwest. It costs $10 per vehicle or $5 per motorcycle to enter the parking lot. Parking on the side of the road is no longer allowed, so if the parking lot is full you would need to come back. There is a 0.6 mile trail to get to Horseshoe Bend from the parking lot. Comfortable shoes are recommended as there are many stairs that you will need to go down and then back up. As it can get very hot here in the summer make sure to bring water with you.
To plan your visit to Horseshoe Bend, visit our guide to a weekend in Page, Arizona for more information.
9. Monument Valley
Monument Valley is a must-see destination in the Southwest US, with incredible rock formations formed through erosion by wind and water. Book your stay ahead of time at either The View Hotel or Goulding’s Lodge. Spend time driving along the 17 mile loop through Monument Valley, stopping at different points to take photos and enjoy the view. Hike the Wildcat Trail around Left Mitten Butte rock formation and stand between the rock formations. Don’t forget to wake up early Sunday morning to see the beautiful sunrise over Monument Valley.
Continue to our Weekend in Monument Valley Guide to start planning your trip to one of the best destinations in the American Southwest.
10. Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon National Park is an amphitheater where you can find the largest concentration of Hoodoos on earth. There are four popular viewpoints you can drive to called Bryce Point, Inspiration Point, Sunset Point, and Sunrise Point. To further explore Bryce Canyon you can hike down Navajo Trail and up Queens Garden Trail to make a 2.9 mile loop. If you feel up for a challenge and started the day early enough, you can continue to Peek-a-Boo Loop after you get down Navajo Trail, which will add about 4 miles.
11. Joshua Tree National Park
At Joshua Tree National Park you can hike, rock climb, boulder, and relax in the Mojave Desert with the funny looking trees. Throughout the park there are numerous pull outs from the main road where you can park your car and walk around. Between the West Entrance and Hidden Valley is the most unique part of the park where a high density of Joshua Trees are located. You can get out and hike for miles, climb rocks, and relax with a beautiful landscape.
Plan your visit to Joshua Tree National Park with our guide to a weekend in Joshua Tree.
12. Canyonlands National Park
Offering incredible canyon views, Canyonlands National Park makes you feel like you are on a different planet. The canyons were formed by millions of years of erosion of sedimentary rock. The Green River and Colorado River carved into the rock and thunderstorms eroded the softer rock creating the canyons you see today. I recommend visiting the Island in the Sky district, a mesa that is about 1,000 feet above the surrounding land. This is the easiest region to get to and allows you to visit the park in just one day. You can drive on Grand View Point Rd to get to many hiking trails and viewpoints including Grand View Point Overlook and Green River Overlook.
For more detailed information, check out our guide to visiting Canyonlands National Park in one day.
13. Saguaro National Park
Saguaro National Park is one of three national parks in Arizona. Here you can hike in the Sonoran Desert and see many Saguaro cacti. The Saguaro cactus can grow up to 40-60 feet tall, and is the largest cactus in the US. There are two parts of Saguaro National Park, the Rincon Mountain District is located east of Tucson, and Tucson Mountain District is located west of Tucson. Some of the hiking trails you can find on the east side include Loma Verde Loop (3.8 miles), Hope Camp and Ridgeview Trail (2 miles), and Garwood Dam and Wildhorse Tank (6.4 miles). For more ideas on which hikes to do, you can check the Saguaro National Park website or ask at the visitor center.
14. Dead Horse Point State Park
Dead Horse Point State Park is located about 2,000 feet above a bend in the Colorado River. The canyons below were carved by water, ice and wind. The park has 7 miles of hiking trails that connect eight overlooks. Dead Horse Point State Park is located near Canyonlands National Park, and the views are worth the detour on your way to or from Canyonlands.
15. Hoover Dam
The Hoover Dam is a concrete arch-gravity dam built in Black Canyon which dams the Colorado River. It is 726 foot tall and was built between 1931 and 1936. When visiting the Hoover Dam you can walk along the bridge on top of the dam, learn more about the Hoover Dam at the visitors center ($10/person), or do an organized tour. Make sure to check the Hoover Dam website before going to see what is open that day as there can be scheduled maintenance that would prevent the tours from happening.
16. Imperial Sand Dunes
The Imperial Sand Dunes are located in the southeast corner of California, and extend for more than 40 miles. The dunes were formed by sand blown from an ancient lake. Imperial Sand Dunes offers a great chance for recreational activities, as some dunes can reach up to 300 feet above the desert floor. You can ride an off-highway vehicle, hike, or just enjoy the dunes and take photos. Note that during the peak season (October-April) there is a fee, but you can also rent a off-highway vehicle to ride on the sand dunes during that time. During the off season (May-September) there are barely any people and no fee, but temperatures do get up to 110. It is worth sticking around for a beautiful sunset.
Are you feeling inspired to travel to the American Southwest? Plan your Southwest US Road Trip with our American Southwest Road Trip Itinerary.
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