Post Summary: The Most Photogenic Destinations In The American Southwest
A road trip through the Southwest United States is arguably one of the most iconic road trips in the country.
From the natural bridges of Arches National Park to the red rocks and stunning trails of Sedona to the amazing hoodoos of Bryce Canyon, there’s never a shortage of amazing places to see!
Last March, Berty and I took our own American southwest road trip and we were amazed by the sheer amount of diversity in each and every stop.
In this post, we’re sharing our exact southwest USA road trip route to help you plan your own epic drive through Utah and Arizona!
This includes all 5 of the Utah National Parks, iconic monuments, amazing hikes, and vast open awesomeness.
Let’s get started!
The Top 15 American Southwest Destinations You Must See
What’s So Great About The American Southwest?
The American Southwest is filled to the brim with some of the most iconic and beautiful national parks in the United States. The sheer diversity of landscape, climate, and color bring millions of people every year to experience it for themselves!
Here is our American Southwest destinations route on Google Maps! We’ve also made a road trip route through all 5 of the Utah National Parks, so if that is a trip you’re interested in as well, click on this blog post to find out more information!
Getting Around The American Southwest
Are you planning to go camping on your Southwest road trip route? Make sure you download the #1 camping app, The Dyrt! The Dyrt is one of the best road trip planner tools, with tons of features to help you find the perfect camping spots on your trip!
The pro membership gives yous essential tools like their Road Trip Planner (to find the best campsites along your route) and the offline search features to find camping spots without cell service. Use our code MANDAGIES to try the app completely free for 30 days!
Ready to make your American southwest road trip the best ever? Read these posts:
- The Perfect 10-Day Southwest Road Trip Itinerary
- 101 Road Trip Questions To Uncover Your Friend’s Secrets
- 30 Road Trip Essentials For Your Next Trip
- 20 Brilliant Car Camping Hacks You Need To Try
- Car Camping 101: The Complete Guide To Sleeping In Your Car
- 10+ Easy Camping Meals To Make On Your Next Adventure
- 10 Insanely Useful Road Trip Planner Tools For Your Best Trip Yet
1. Arches National Park
Erosion AND preservation at its finest examples, Arches National Park is an essential stop on any epic American southwest road trip.
With over 2,000 natural arches in the park, the adventure possibilities are endless in Arches NP.
Give yourself a few days to experience as much as you can here. Hike Delicate Arch during sunrise to beat the crowds, explore the Devil’s loop for some incredible natural arches, and take a scenic drive through the entire park road!
Pro Tip: Arrive early at the park (ideally before 10:00 am) during the busy season (May-September) to avoid sitting in the long line of cars at the entry.
Read More: 10 Amazing Hikes In Arches National Park
2. Canyonlands National Park
Canyonlands is informally known for the many ways to experience the sky. (Hey, maybe that’s why the most popular section of the park is called “Island in the Sky…?)
If you are watching the sunrise at Mesa Arch, basking in the sun at several of the viewpoints, or star-gazing at this “Dark Sky Park”, rest assured that every angle of this park will provide stunning views!
Just make sure to pack plenty of water and sunscreen because shade here is pretty much non-existent!
Pro Tip: Not a heat person? Come at night during the summertime for stunning Milkyway displays. Bring your camera and tripod to capture the magic (and read this article to see what photography gear we bring on trips like this!).
Don’t forget a flashlight!
Ready for more stunning images? Discover Canyonlands National Park during sunset!
3. Moab, Utah
This little adventure city is the perfect hub for climbers, campers, adventurers, and explorers on their own southwest road trip.
Not only does it provide basics like accommodations and food, but you can also sign up for awesome tours and guided adventures to lesser-known spots in the area.
If you’re looking for activities besides the national parks nearby (Arches and Canyonlands) try taking one of the many bike trails or explore Manti-La Sal State Park for camping and lake days!
Pro Tip: Planned your trip last minute? Check out our car-camping post to discover some free camping spots and places to sleep in the Moab area. Just FYI, most of these back roads require a high-clearance vehicle!
Discover All The Utah National Parks In This Utah Road Trip Route
4. Monument Valley
Owned and run by the Navajo Tribe, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park is the ultimate destination to take amazing photos and feel like you’re in an old Western movie.
The area is split on the border of two states – half in Utah, half in Arizona, so pay attention to things like time zone changes and sunrise times (we got confused when we visited!).
National Park passes are not accepted here, so bring $20 for the admission charge and consider booking a private tour with a local if you want to get photos of hidden spots in the park.
If you’re looking for that iconic road, drive east from the park for about 20 minutes until you find a pullout that frames it how you want!
Read More: Packing For Utah with Paige Denim
5. Grand Canyon
Considered one of the seven natural wonders of the world, this is an iconic stop on any American southwest road trip.
There are many ways to experience the canyon! The adventurous traveler can opt for a helicopter ride through the vast crevice, Colorado River below, or take a donkey down into the canyon on a dirt trail.
If you are looking for a smaller-scale adventure, you can walk the rim trail for multiple perspectives of the Grand Canyon, or drive to its many scenic overlooks for beautiful photos.
Read More: Spending A Day At Grand Canyon National Park
6. Horseshoe Bend
Horseshoe Bend was once a local spot, but since the boom of social media, it has become a hugely popular tourist attraction.
Glen Canyon State Park received around 2 million visitors in 2010, and that number has skyrocketed to 4.6 million just last year.
Don’t let that deter you from visiting, though! The natural 180-degree river curve is a beautiful sight to see! As long as you expect to share this experience with a crowd, you won’t be disappointed.
For incredible photos, we recommend visiting during sunset.
Not An Early Riser? Here Are Our Essential Tips For Waking Up Early For Sunrise
7. Zion National Park
Zion National Park is another park that has seen an increase in visitors over the years. And it’s no surprise. Zion is known for its richly colored canyons, spectacular views, and epic landscapes!
Come ready for adventure by reserving camping spots early, waking up before sunrise to hike your favorite trails, and bring patience for shuttle wait times if you’re coming during peak season.
Must-do activities include hiking Angel’s Landing, The Narrows, and taking the shuttle for the entire scenic road.
Pro Tip: Reserve early early early because campsites, hotels, and nearby Airbnbs fill up FAST. Click here to reserve campsites and click here to get $40 off your first Airbnb booking!
Read More: Conquer Zion’s Dangerous Angels Landing Hike
8. Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon National Park is known for its towering spires, incredible hoodoos, and gorgeous sunrises/sunsets.
This park is often paired with trips to Zion because of their close proximity to one another.
Come to this park to hike through this amazing natural phenomenon! We recommend the Queen’s Garden Loop for up close and personal encounters with the hoodoos, and waking up for sunrise to capture the landscape in its full glory.
Need Inspiration For Utah? Here Are 5 Amazing Activities In Bryce Canyon National Park
9. Capitol Reef National Park
Capitol Reef National Park is quite possibly the least accessible national park in Utah, but don’t let that deter you from paying it a visit.
This hidden gem is full of secret backroad monoliths, towering spires, and epic sunsets in the wilderness of Utah. Grab your friends, your camping gear, and your high-clearance vehicle to explore where few men have gone before!
Pro Tip: If you plan to camp in Utah, make sure to check out our car camping post for the ultimate night under the stars! We’ll share free places to sleep, the difference between national park land and BLM land, and many more camping goodies!
Read More: Discover Secret Locations In Capitol Reef National Park
10. Cathedral Rock (Sedona, Arizona)
Cathedral Rock is one of the most popular trails to take in Sedona, Arizona. It’s most famous for its picturesque sunsets and incredible views of the red rock valley below.
Depending on what time of year you visit, refer to our Sedona packing list to make sure you’re packing the correct layers for the weather. The desert can still get quite cold in the winter!
Read more about our amazing trip to Cathedral rock during sunset to find out what to expect on your own beautiful hike here!
Want More Beautiful Hikes? Here Is A Sunset Hike To Cathedral Rock In Sedona, Arizona
11. Devil’s Bridge (Sedona, Arizona)
Devil’s Bridge is another amazing hiking trail in Sedona, Arizona. Here, you are allowed to walk across a natural sandstone bridge with incredible views of the vast desert in the distance.
We recommend visiting this place in the early morning for fewer crowds and a chance to get this magical place all to yourself.
Read More: 5 Amazing Hikes In Sedona, Arizona To Take This Weekend
12. Cholla Cactus Garden (Joshua Tree National Park)
The Cholla Cactus Garden Trail is a very easy nature walk located in Joshua Tree National Park. Here, you can get up close and personal with these seemingly fuzzy cacti – but beware! They are sharp!
Along with this picturesque walk, there are many amazing hikes in Joshua Tree National Park to explore. Some of our favorites include Hidden Valley, Arch Rock, and Split rock loop!
If you desire to stay in Joshua Tree for more than a day (and you should!), there are so many amazing Joshua Tree Airbnbs to choose from! With a southwestern flair, these cabins and retreats are the perfect cozy getaway in the desert.
13. Badwater Basin (Death Valley National Park)
Badwater Basin is located in Death Valley National Park. It’s the lowest elevation point in North American and it’s a record holder for having the hottest temperature ever recorded!
That being said, take caution if visiting in the daytime during the summer. This place is HOT! We recommend coming during sunrise or sunset for a more pleasant walk on the dried-up salt lake basin.
14. Alabama Hills
Alabama Hills is a protected area of land located at the base of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Here, you will find strange and beautiful round rock formations, lots of climbers and most important FREE CAMPING!
One of the most picturesque locations in Alabama Hills is pictured below, on Movie Road with the Sierra Nevada mountains in the background. Drive your car down this road for a memorable southwest USA destination!
Read More: Exactly How To Find Movie Road In Alabama Hills
15. Other Amazing Stops
Unfortunately, we only had a few weeks in the American southwest. There were many more stops to see on our list, so I’m going to share more stops for you to take below.
We also are wanting to explore more of the states of Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico! Come back to the post in the future, because when we return, we’ll update this article with new pictures and thoughts as we explore. In the meantime, here are gorgeous places to add to your list:
- Leprechaun Canyon
- The Birthing Cave Trail – Sedona, Arizona
- Antelope Canyon
- Goblin Valley State Park
- Grand Staircase Escalante
- Mystic Hot Springs
- Arizona Meteor Crater
We know this won’t be our last time taking an American southwest road trip!
We spent a few weeks in Utah and Arizona, but there’s so much more to see in this area! We’re excited to continue to add to this post as we return to these special places and discover more along the way.
We can’t wait to share more with you! Follow us on Instagram at @themandagies to find out when we will be returning!
What are some other adventurous places you would recommend on an American southwest road trip? We want to come back and see more of this amazing part of the US!
Read More Utah Adventure Posts
10 Amazing Hikes In Arches National Park
Delicate Arch Hike During Sunrise
How To Spend 24 Hours In Arches National Park
Utah’s Best Kept Secret: Capitol Reef National Park
Conquering Zion’s Dangerous Angel’s Landing Hike
5 Things To Do In Bryce Canyon National Park
Sunset In Canyonlands National Park
The Ultimate Utah National Parks Road Trip
Interested in more inspiration for your own American southwest road trip? Follow our Southwest Road Trip Board on Pinterest for more ideas for your next adventure!
12 thoughts on “Top 15 Epic American Southwest Destinations That Will Blow Your Freaking Mind”
You two have enegerized my soul thru your writing’s and photos.
Greg and Althea Bardon
Also use [email protected]
I’m so happy we could inspire you Greg! Thank you so much for taking the time and reading our post!
Oh wow!! You guys have me craving a Southwest road trip after seeing all of these beautiful photos!
That’s so great Jayde! I hope you get a chance to experience it someday! 🙂
Thank you for visiting and sharing your experience of these parks! I find it so helpful. We just got back from a two and half week road trip from Dallas, Tx to Sonora Ca. We went through so many State and National Parks!! You two got me so excited about Death Valley and we listened to your advice about star gazing and the sunrise! We ended up sleeping in our van at Devil’s Gate based on the advice of an employee at Stove Pipe Wells Village. She told us it is one of the only places to view sunrise over the valley without crowds. It was amazing, and so peaceful we slept with the back hatch open enjoying the cool winds that keep Devil’s Gate at comfortable temperatures. Thank you for encouraging people to take time to adventure through these parks!! We did not listen to you and have learned our lesson: we saw too much and missed too much because we hurried through it.
An unplanned stop was in Santa Rosa NM. We camped at Santa Rosa State Park and swam at Blue Hole. It is a small natural swimming hole 81 ft deep and around 61F. They also have a Wibit course set up in a lake next to Blue Hole. If y’all are into being ridiculously silly i would so recommend it! We needed some activity and this obstacle course did the trick. We got there when it opened at 10am to have some time before the crowds arrived, and by the end of our time people were asking to race through parts and do tricks! A very small town a few hours outside of Taos/Santa Fe with not much to offer, however we found ourselves close by and thoroughly enjoyed our time! We would love to pass through again.
We don’t eat out when we van travel, preferring to plan our provisions by keeping the cooler stocked with fresh foods from stopping at Farmer’s Markets all along our route…if you need any farmer’s market tips we would love to share!!
The boyfriendo grw up going to Moab, Arches, and Canyonlands frequently, and we are hoping to visit those three in September or October! The rest of your trip I am dying to do, including my best Forrest Gump impression along the road in Monument Valley, but think we’ll have to make it two trips to fit in all of the hiking we want.
I’ve been to a handful of these parks but want to go to more. The desert is such a fabulous place to explore and the landscapes are unreal.
Yesss Angela! We totally agree! We’re already trying to figure out how we can return asap. haha
Ahh! This is SUPER helpful. Saving for future trip planning! Great post!
I’m so happy Allie! Hope it inspires you to visit this beautiful part of the US!
Your photos are always insanely awesome! This sounds like an epic trip and I’d love to do it with my kids in a few years!
You should do it! I was so happy to see that many of these parks are extremely family friendly! It would be such a fun trip!!
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