The Southwest US is an area of extreme beauty. From jagged peaks to unusual hoodoo formations, there are some unique places to go in the Southwest. The Southwest USA is a huge area encompassing Arizona, Utah, Nevada, New Mexico, and parts of California and Colorado.
It’s an epic place to explore that is well worth a few months of an American road trip if you have time!
Get A US Parks Pass To Visit Some of These Southwest USA landmarks
To enter many of these Southwest landmarks, you must purchase a Parks Pass. Pass prices vary by destination, but in general, they are similar as follows:
- 1-7 Day Vehicle Entrance: $35.00
- 1-7 Day Motorcycle Entrance: $20.00
- 1-7 Day Individual Entrance (foot or bicycle): $20.00
- The fee includes unlimited use of the free shuttle bus that runs from late May through early October.
If you are visiting multiple Southwest US tourist attractions, purchasing an America the Beautiful Pass for $80 for the year is best, which grants you access to all registered parks. At just $80 for a year, it’s quite a steal, and you won’t have to worry about stopping at park gates to pay!
Best Places to visit in the Southwest USA
1. Canyonlands National Park, Utah
With striking desert landscapes shaped by the mighty Colorado River, Canyonlands National Park in Southeastern Utah is the biggest national park in the state and the one not to miss if you want to get off the beaten path.
Some of the most notable attractions in the park include the Island in the Sky Mesa, The Needles, The Maze Canyons, Mesa Arch, Grand View Point Overlook, and Druid Arch. Ancient Native American rock paintings can be seen in Horseshoe Canyon. Hiking, stargazing, rock climbing and whitewater rafting in Cataract Canyon are some of the activities that are popular in the park.
2. Monument Valley, Utah
Not many places in the world are more photogenic than Monument Valley in Southeast Utah. This sprawling, remote area is part of the Navajo Indian Nation and features sandstone rock structures, some of which are 1,000 feet tall.
The drive through this scenic park is 17 miles, but some areas off the beaten path can only be accessed with a guided tour.
3. Grand Canyon, Arizona
At 277 miles long, 18 miles wide, and with depths of more than a mile, The Grand Canyon in Arizona is one of the most iconic natural attractions on earth. Besides many outdoor activities, including hiking and rafting, there are many other attractions in Grand Canyon National Park, including Havasu Falls, Mather Point, Yavapai Observation Station, and Desert View Watchtower.
The Grand Canyon Railway is a train that takes visitors on a scenic ride to the South Rim, and Grand Canyon Village is where you’ll find shops and hotels.
4. Capitol Reef National Park, Utah
Capitol Reef National Park is located in the desert of South-central Utah in an area renowned for its stunning landscapes of red rock formations, sandstone domes, canyons, and ridges. Within this park, which is 60 miles long, you’ll find many attractions, including Chimney Rock Pillar, Hickman Bridge Arch, Capitol Reef, and Cathedral Valley.
There are also many hiking trails, including Frying Pan Trail and Grand Wash. Notom-Bullfrog Road and Cathedral Road are two of the most scenic driving routes in the park.
5. Joshua Tree National Park, California
Located in Southern California on the edge of both the Mojave Desert and the Colorado Desert, Joshua Tree National Park is more than just Joshua Trees, although they’re quite the sight to behold.
As you explore this park, you’ll see a diverse landscape full of incredible rock formations and many popular attractions, including Skull Rock, Cholla Cactus Garden, Keys View, Barker Dam, and Ryan Mountain.
Climbing and birdwatching are popular activities in the park, and a lack of light pollution makes it one of the best places in the region to watch the stars. Some of the hiking trails in the park include Hidden Valley Nature Trail and Lost Palms Oasis Trail.
6. Badwater Basin, California
Badwater Basin is one of the most intriguing places in the United States. This basin, located in Death Valley National Park in California, is also the lowest point in the country, at 282 feet below sea level.
After heavy rains, water fills the basin, and when the water recedes, it leaves salt flats behind. These salt flats have been created over millennia to form the unique landscapes you see today.
7. Montezuma Castle National Monument, Arizona
Regarding well-preserved ancient buildings in the United States, few are as well-preserved as Montezuma Castle. This incredible building is located about 90 feet up a limestone cliff in Camp Verde, Arizona. It should be a stop on any Arizona road trip!
Currently, visitors are not permitted to enter the building due to safety concerns, but you can view the exterior via a short trail that leads to the base of the cliff where it and several other ancient structures are located.
A museum and visitor center are on-site, where you can learn about the Sinagua people who built these ancient structures and see many artifacts, including stone tools and gemstone ornaments.
8. White Sands National Park, New Mexico
White Sands National Park is a strikingly beautiful place in the Tularosa Basin in Southern New Mexico and one of the best places to visit in the Southwest USA. The main feature of the 145.762-acre park is the white sand dunes formed from gypsum.
This incredible dune field is the biggest in the world and can be viewed along the eight-mile Dunes Drive. Several hiking trails in the park include Dune Life Nature Trail and Playa Trail. Other attractions in the park include the Interdune Boardwalk, Lake Lucero, White Sands National Park Visitor Center, and Holloman Lake.
9. Raft the Colorado River
For many avid rafters, rafting down the Colorado River is a must-do. It’s an experience you’ll never forget, and few places on earth deliver an equally thrilling experience on the water.
From calm waters to raging rapids, where you launch from and how far you go will depend on your rafting experience. Traveling down the river, you’ll see the Grand Canyon and its stunning scenery from a unique angle.
10. Taos Pueblo, New Mexico
Situated in New Mexico, Taos Pueblo a is historic town that’s among the oldest, continuously inhabited communities in the United States. The town was built about 1,000 years ago and featured traditional adobe structures.
Some of the top attractions in the town include Harwood Museum of Art, Kit Carson Home and Museum, Couse-Sharp Historic Site, Wilder Nightingale Fine Art, Millicent Rogers Museum, the Taos Art Museum, and the Downtown Historic District. Today, the town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
11. The Wave, Arizona
The creation of the rock formation in Arizona known as The Wave started more than 190 million years ago. Today, this fascinating sandstone formation in the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument is one of the most photographed in the region.
To get the best view of The Wave, hike along the six-mile return trail that passes through a beautiful wilderness area.
12. Valley of Fire, Nevada
The Valley of Fire State Park is known for its stunning scenery that looks like something from another planet! The park covers 46,000 acres in Nevada and features red sandstone structures that look on fire when the sun hits them just right.
As you explore this park, you’ll see many attractions, including Native American petroglyphs, Lost City Museum, Elephant Rock, and hiking trails such as Fire Wave, Rainbow Vista, White Domes Trail, and Canyon Trail. If you prefer to enjoy the scenery from the road, Mouse’s Tank Road and White Domes Road are two of the best scenic drives in the park.
13. Goblin Valley State Park, Utah
Located in the San Rafael Desert in Utah, the remote location of Goblin Valley State Park is worth the detour to see a unique and fascinating landscape featuring thousands of mushroom-shaped hoodoos, some of which are several meters high. Hiking is a popular activity in this park; hiking along the many trails is the best way to enjoy the picturesque landscape.
Carmel Canyon Trail, Entrada Canyon Trail, and Little Wild Horse Canyon & Bell Canyon Trail are just some of the trails in the area. Other notable attractions include Crack Canyon, Wild Horse Butte, and Mollys Castle.
14. Garden of the Gods, Colorado
Whether you’re into hiking, wildlife viewing, photography, or just admiring stunning landscapes, there’s something for everyone in the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs.
The main feature of this 1,300-acre park is the contrasting scenery where the plains meet the mountains and the huge sandstone formations. Other popular activities in the park include rock climbing and horseback riding. No matter how you explore the area, you’re likely to spot some wildlife, including deer, bighorn sheep, fox, and over 100 species of birds.
15. Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico
Carlsbad Caverns National Park is home to more than 100 caves in the Guadalupe Mountains of the Chihuahuan Desert in New Mexico. The top attraction in the park is the Carlsbad Cavern which features a huge limestone chamber called the Big Room.
This chamber is the biggest in North America and is 4,000 feet long and 255 feet high, so it certainly lives up to its name. Explore Rattlesnake Springs, where you’ll see a variety of reptiles and birds, or take a drive along Walnut Canyon Desert Loop and enjoy the stunning vistas.
Take a hike along Juniper Ridge Trail or visit a range of other popular attractions, including Slaughter Canyon Cave, Bat Flight Amphitheater, and Carlsbad Cavern National Park Visitor Center.
16. Bandelier National Monument, New Mexico
Bandelier National Monument is a 33,000-acre wilderness area known for its striking natural features such as mesas, canyons, and waterfalls. It’s situated in the Jemez Mountains of New Mexico and features various wildlife habitats.
The best way to explore the area is by hiking along the trails, including Main Loop Trail, Frey Trail, Alcove House Trail, Falls Trail, and Frijolito Loop Trail. Another interesting feature of the park is the Ancestral Pueblo structures dating as far back as 1150.
17. Albuquerque’s Hot Air Balloons, New Mexico
While many places worldwide have conditions good enough for hot air balloon rides, Albuquerque, New Mexico, is the top hot air ballooning destination. The city’s weather conditions and temperatures are just right often.
During a hot air balloon trip over Albuquerque, you’ll see the city and surrounding landscapes from above and enjoy an adventure of a lifetime! Some local companies offering these adventures include Rainbow Ryders Inc, Above and Beyond, Enchanted Winds Hot Air Balloon Company, Four Corners Balloon Rides, and World Balloon.
18. Mono Lake, California
There are plenty of places in Mono County to take a refreshing dip on a hot day, but no dip is quite as unique as the one you’ll have in Mono Lake! The water in this lake is so salty that you’ll be able to float leisurely without worrying about sinking to the bottom.
Some older folk claim swimming in this lake will cure all that ails you. True or not, you’ll feel relaxed and refreshed after a dip. Surrounding the lake are limestone formations called Tufa Towers.
19. Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
In Southwest Colorado, Mesa Verde National Park is one of the most intriguing places in the state. The well-preserved Ancestral Pueblo cliff dwellings are the most intriguing.
Cliff Palace, Balcony House, Spruce Tree House, Long House, Square Tower House, and Step House are some cliff dwellings you’ll see as you explore the park. Care to take a hike to see some more scenery and ancient petroglyphs?
Try Petroglyph Point Trail or Mesa Top Loop. The Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum is where you’ll see exhibits showcasing Native American culture.
20. Saguaro National Park, Arizona
Head to the wonderful Arizona city of Tucson to see some epically large Saguaros. Saguaro National Park flanks the city to the East and West. Although you can see the saguaros elsewhere in the American Southwest, the park is one of the best places in Arizona to find the famed icon of the Southwest, the saguaro.
So what is a saguaro? The saguaro is a massive cactus that can reach heights of up to 50 ft tall, and they dominate the landscape in the national park! It’s a prime spot to reconnect with nature and explore an interesting biome with unique flora and fauna. There are a few hiking paths, but driving around the park is one of the best things to do! Head here for sunset to get some epic photos.
21. Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah
The Booneville Salt Flats in Northwestern Utah feature large salt flats 12 miles long and hold 147 tons of salt. While exploring and photographing these flats are the most popular activities in this park, there are other interesting attractions to check out, including Danger Cave State Park Heritage Area and Lamus Peak.
22. Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah
If you’re looking for somewhere with plenty of scenic views, look no further than Dead Horse Point State Park in Utah. This 5,362-acre desert park features several scenic overlooks, including the Colorado River Overlook, Rim Overlook, Meander Overlook, and the iconic Thelma and Louise Point. It’s easily one of the best places to visit in the Southwest USA and should be on everyone’s travel radar.
There are several hiking trails with fabulous views as well. A visitor center, coffee shop, and picnic areas are also on-site, and if you wish to stay in the area overnight, there are two campgrounds and a yurt area.
23. Great Salt Lake, Utah
If you’re seeking a place to take a refreshing dip as you explore the beautiful state of Utah, head to Antelope Island State Park, where you’ll find the best access point to the Great Salt Lake and its sandy beaches.
This is where you’ll also find showers and other facilities. The lake area is home to many other attractions, including Lagoon Amusement Park, Spiral Jetty, Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, and Cherry Hill.
Did I mention this body of water, also known as America’s Dead Sea, is the biggest saltwater lake in the Western Hemisphere? It’s a big lake in a big area with many things to see and do.
24. Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, Utah
It’s the most remote land in the country, and that’s just one of the things that makes the 1,880,469-acre Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument in Southern Utah such a fascinating place.
Some of the best hiking trails in the state are in this park area, and these trails highlight the spectacular scenery of this rugged and diverse landscape, including desert and forest areas.
25. Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, Nevada
Situated in the Mojave Desert in Nevada, Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is a popular destination for visitors wanting to see stunning landscapes and participate in various outdoor activities.
The area is mostly known for the tall red sandstone formations, but as you explore the park, you’ll see various other attractions, including Native American Petroglyphs, Keystone Thrust Fault, Ice Box Canyon, Red Rock Canyon Visitor Center, and La Madre Mountains Wilderness.
The park’s 13-mile Scenic Drive is a great way to see much of the landscape, but you can also go on a hiking adventure on one of the many trails, including Moenkopi Loop, Calico Hills, Turtlehead Peak, and La Madre Springs Loop.
26. Page, Arizona
Page, Arizona, is a small city of just 8000 people in Coconino County near the Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell. It’s less than 10 miles away from the Utah/Arizona border. Page was founded in 1957 when the Glen Canyon Dam was constructed, and the workers needed nearby community housing.
Now Page serves as a tourist destination in Arizona and is most well known for its access to Lake Powell, Antelope Canyon in Navajo Nation, and the iconic Horseshoe Bend. We recommend staying a few days in the area to see all the fun things to do in Page and eating at Birdhouse – one of the best Page restaurants!
27. Sedona, Arizona
Sedona is a beautiful Arizona desert town almost smack dab in the middle of the state, just 120 miles north of Phoenix. It’s one of the most popular places to visit in Arizona and has people traveling from around the country to stand in awe of its beauty. It’s truly a dream destination!
Sedona is nestled perfectly amidst stunning Red Rocks. The town is famous for its arts scene with nearly 100 art galleries. There are impressive festivals throughout the year, including the Sedona Jazz Festival and Sedona Arts Festival.
There is something for everyone in Sedona: fantastic hiking opportunities, mountain biking experiences, off-road jeep tours, a great shopping scene, and wonderful restaurants. We spent three wonderful days in Sedona and left wishing for another week – it’s that gorgeous and easily one of the best places to visit in the American Southwest and one of the most charming small towns in the USA.
28. Zion National Park, Utah
Zion is Utah’s oldest National Park and dates back to 1919. It’s most known for its central feature, a large canyon cut by the Virgin River over millions of years. Now visitors enjoy the Zion hikes from the valley bottom and stare in amazement at the sheer red sandstone canyon walls. They are believed to be the tallest in the world.
I’m certain that the park can impress just about anyone with its scale and scenery. Zion has naturally increased in popularity over the years as more visitors sing its praises. The vast majority will visit the central canyon around the Virgin River. However, that is not all that comprises the 146,600 acres of Zion National Park.
Zion has some incredible trails, including the famous Angels Landing hike, which is often described as the scariest hike in the US. The Narrows is also an iconic hike that visitors travel worldwide to experience.
29. Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
Bryce Canyon National Park is one of the world’s greatest natural wonders, and hiking here is one of the best things to do in the American Southwest. Within its 35,000-acre grounds, you can discover a spectacular series of multicolored amphitheaters, arches, and sandstone walls.
You’ll find yourself face-to-face with the most heavily concentrated number of hoodoos. There are treks for any skill level, and you can even take advantage of the free shuttle service in the park.
The vibrant striations range from bright oranges to deep reds and soft pinks, resulting from oxidized minerals, including limestone, iron, and manganese. Bryce Canyon is easily one of North America’s most mystical and magical national parks, with some amazing hikes among the hoodoos.
30. Arches National Park, Utah
Arches National Park is an enchanted wonderland of red rock formations near Moab, Utah. It boasts the world’s largest collection of natural arches creating grandeur you won’t find anywhere else.
Exploring this otherworldly landscape is a captivating experience, and there are so many things to do in Arches National Park. The Arches Scenic Drive is 19 miles long and travels through the entirety of the spectacular Arches National Park from Highway 191 to the Devil Garden Trailhead.
Along the way, you can get out and hike to many arches. Our personal favorite is the Delicate Arch.
31. Moab, Utah
Moab is a charming town in Utah and the gateway to Arches National Park and Canyonlands. It’s situated in the red rock country on the Colorado River and makes a great base for all adventure activities in the Southwest.
Rock climbing, hiking, rafting, mountain biking, and sky diving are available here. If you’re not into adventure sports, don’t worry. Moab has plenty of charming boutique shops to enjoy as well as some amazing restaurants.
32. Havasupai Falls, Arizona
The northern parts of Arizona feature some of the most breathtakingly beautiful scenery the state has to offer. The whole area is one of the best places to visit in the Southwest USA. Havasupai Falls are close to the Grand Canyon as the crow flies, though it’s a bit of a trek.
The Havasupai, or Havasu Falls, are located in Havasu Canyon. The land belongs to the Havasupai Native American tribe, and getting a permit to hike here is incredibly difficult. However, consider yourself extremely lucky and in for an adventure if you get one.
Havasu Falls are one of the five main waterfalls and the area’s star. It is a bright blue color that will take your breath away. It’s an oasis of sorts in this beautiful and barren landscape. If you want to embark on the most beautiful hike in Arizona, this must be on your bucket list.
Plan For Your Trip
- Protect Your Trip: We don’t travel without travel insurance, nor should you. You never know what can happen while traveling, so it’s best to be prepared. HeyMondo provides excellent short-term and long-term travel insurance plans.
- Travel Adapter: Make sure you find a good adapter to keep your personal electronics charged. Otherwise, you may be paying for a cheap one once you land. Purchase one here.
- Travel Backpack: We like the Nomatic Travel Backpack for our travels. Check the price here.
- Our Favorite Travel Shoes: Our answer to this question is always ALLBIRDS! Check them out on their site!
- Get a Travel Credit Card: We travel worldwide for free because we have leveraged our spending into points. See why you should get a travel credit card and how you can do the same with our favorite travel credit cards.