On the road again in search of the best road trip destinations in the American Southwest.
Last updated: March 11, 2022
Top 13 Road Trip Destinations in the American Southwest
The Southwestern United States, better known as the American Southwest, is an outdoor adventurer’s paradise full of the incredible road trip destinations. From deserts to canyons, waterfalls and unique sandstone arches, the region allures with the natural wonders that can’t be found anywhere else.
The American Southwest is a broad term. There are no strict boundaries of the region. Occasionally, geographic societies and other organizations try to give order to this large territory known as the American Southwest.
Despite their efforts, the number of definitions of the region doesn’t get any shorter. Overall, the American Southwest encompasses California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico. Some terms also include the southernmost parts of Oregon, Idaho, and Wyoming.
Regardless of the definition, there is no better place packed with the classic road trip destinations than the American Southwest. This unique area of the U.S. has gathered the deepest canyons, the vast deserts, and some of the most spectacular national parks and monuments.
THE 13 BEST ROAD TRIP DESTINATIONS TO EXPLORE IN THE AMERICAN SOUTHWEST
The Best Road Trip Destinations in the American Southwest: Arizona
1. Grand Canyon National Park
Symbol of the state of Arizona, Grand Canyon National Park is one of the best destinations it the American Southwest. The great abyss with its layered red rocks belongs to one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World. If it’s not enough, in 1979 the Grand Canyon was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Spanning 277 miles in length and up to 18 miles in width, the park offers plenty of outdoor adventures and jaw-dropping vistas. Since many visitors favor the South Rim with its popular Mather Point and Yavapai Point, the West Rim seems significantly quieter. Yet it doesn’t disappoint either. Here, the Grand Canyon Skywalk alone deserves all the rights to be called one of the best road trip destinations in the American Southwest.
2. Horseshoe Bend
Arizona tops the lists of many outdoor enthusiasts and adventure seekers for a reason. Home to ample natural attractions, it provides the world with such wonders as Horseshoe Bend. This picturesque meander of the Colorado River, located just outside of Page, gets lots of attention, though. Whether it’s due to its locations or free entrance, be sure to visit Horseshoe Bend early in the morning before crowds arrive.
3. Antelope Canyon
Following in steps of Arizona itself, the city of Page collects a number of the classic road trip destinations to explore in the American Southwest. A short drive from Horseshoe Bend takes you to another natural wonder, Antelope Canyon.
The famous attraction consists of two separate slot canyons: Upper Antelope Canyon and Lower Antelope Canyon. Both of these scenic sections deserve a visit. Yet due to required ladder climbing in Lower Antelope Canyon, the place may not suit every visitor.
Any road trip in the American Southwest should have a few surprise destinations to stretch your legs. Sedona, a beautiful desert town in Arizona, not only complies with this request, but also challenges you to trek along some of its panoramic trails.
Start your hiking journey here with exploring the Devil’s Bridge Trail. If time permits, venture out along the Doe Mountain Trail, Cathedral Rock Trail, and Soldier’s Pass Trail.
The Best Road Trip Destinations in the American Southwest: Utah
5. Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon National Park is one of the Utah’s top destinations to add to your American Southwest road trip itinerary. As the name suggests, the place astounds with its surreal canyon. Also known as Bryce Amphitheater, it’s home to the biggest concentration of spire-shaped rock formations or hoodoos.
6. Zion National Park
Utah is often referred to as the state of the Mighty Five. No, it doesn’t have anything to do with five 19th-century Russian composers. The Mighty Five destinations that allure the adventure seekers to the American Southwest are five national parks.
Zion National Park is the most popular among them. Located about one hour away from Bryce Canyon National Park, the place is famous for its steep red cliffs and Zion Canyon Scenic Drive.
7. Arches National Park
Arches National Park is another natural wonder to add to your your road trip itinerary. This 73,234-acre wonderland attracts with its contrasting colors, textures, and unique formations.
In fact, the place boasts more than 2,000 stone arches, hoodoos, towers, and balanced rocks. A great way to explore the park is to hike and camp. Nighty sky filled with endless stars is one more reason to visit this part of the Southwest.
8. Canyonlands National Park
Canyonlands National Park and Arches National Park are a set of road trip destinations to explore in the American Southwest in one day. It takes approximately 30 minutes to drive from one park to another. And just like its sister, Canyonlands National Park features unique natural formations. Some of the places worth seeing here are rock pinnacles or the Needles and canyons of the Maze.
9. Capitol Reef National Park
Among other prominent attractions in south-central Utah, a long wrinkle in the earth called the Waterpocket Fold is of most interest. The spectacular landmark runs from north to south for nearly 100 miles. It enriches the area with the canyons, rock formations, monoliths, and sandstone pinnacles. And it’s also home to Capitol Reef National Park, one of the epic road trip destinations and hiking places in the American Southwest.
The Best Road Trip Destinations in the American Southwest: California
10. Death Valley National Park
Salt flats, a remote dry lake bed, sandstone canyons, and sliding rocks… Death Valley National Park is one of the top California’s destinations to add to your road trip across the American Southwest.
Death Valley is the ultimate outdoor playground. Some of the places to explore here are Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America, and Zabriskie Point. The sliding rocks of the Racetrack are also quite the attraction. My most memorable landmarks in Death Valley, though, are Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes.
11. Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park has it all: scenic views, epic hikes, and boulder formations for rock climbers and mountaineers. Camping is what drives many adventurers to this deserted area, located just outside Palm Springs. And when it comes to glamping, there’re hardly any other road trip destinations in the American Southwest that can compete with Joshua Tree National Park.
12. Alabama Hills
Southern California enhances your Southwest road trip with one more epic destination. Located west of Lone Pine, Alabama Hills invites all outdoor lovers to explore its hills, rock formations, endless roads, and trails. And certainly keep an eye out for the Alabama Hills Natural Arch, the largest arch in the area.
The Best Road Trip Destinations in the American Southwest: Nevada
13. Valley of Fire State Park
Las Vegas can be one of the most entertaining road trip destinations in Nevada. But only its closest neighbor, Valley of Fire State Park, can be called the hottest one.
The park is located 50 miles northeast of Las Vegas and presents to its visitors many red rock formations of different shapes and sizes. On a sunny day, these natural wonders look like they’re on fire. So it’s not hard to guess that these illusions are responsible for the name of the park.