For most adventure lovers, Southwest USA is considered a love affair. Boasting such a varied landscape, this region of the United States is home to some seriously jaw-dropping natural scenery.
If it’s your first time visiting this fabulous region, chances are you want to tackle as much of it as possible, but with so many incredible destinations to choose from, how do you even start narrowing down where to go and what to see?
Here’s the trick: Start with the main highlights, see what you like, and start plotting your return as soon as you get back home (seriously: you’ll get addicted to the region and will definitely be back for more).
From the historic dwellings of Mesa Verde to Moab’s desert magic and Sedona’s unbeatable hiking trails, these are the places in Southwest USA you need to visit at least once in your life.
6 Places You Need to Visit in Southwest USA
1. Moab, Utah
Think sandstone spires piercing right through the clouds, red rock canyons as far as the eye can see, and other-worldly-looking rock formations lining the sky to get a pretty good picture of what a trip to Moab is all about. Simply put, a visit to this region of Utah will get you feeling as though you’ve completely left earth and somehow wandered right into the heart of Mars.
From hiking in Arches National Park to tick off as many natural arches as possible to backpacking The Needles District at Canyonlands National Park and rock climbing at Dead Horse Point State Park, there’s no shortage of incredible things to do in this desert oasis.
Whether you’re up for some easy trails to get a taste of what hiking in the desert is like or you’d like to challenge yourself and do some serious backpacking, what makes Moab so special is the fact that there’s a little something for everyone to do.
2. Sedona, Arizona
Way, way back in time, geological forces cut deep rifts into the Colorado Plateau and Sedona’s majestic landscape was born. Desert spires towering high above the landscape, dreamy river canyons, and mazes of red rock formations are just some of the spectacles that make Sedona such an unforgettable place to visit.
While visiting, make sure not to miss out on hitting a few of the hiking trails on offer (there are more than 100 of them available!), camping under a billion stars, or learning about the history of the area at the endless array of museums and cultural centers in town (the Sedona Heritage Museum is a must!)
3. Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada
A trip to Valley of Fire will transport you into a world of red Aztec sandstone outcrops, ancient petroglyphs, petrified trees, and vistas that come in all shades of pink, red, and orange.
What’s best? Valley of Fire is one of the top spots to get a taste of hiking in the desert because most of its trails are short and sweet. Two of the must-do hikes in the area are the Fire of Wave and Rainbow Vista. If you’d rather not break a sweat, though, you can easily explore Valley of Fire from the comfort of your car by making your way through Mouse’s Tank Road, which provides some of the most sweepingly beautiful viewpoints in the park.
4. White Sands National Park, New Mexico
Don’t let its small size fool you: White Sands may be one of the easiest national parks to cover in a day, but it certainly isn’t short of incredible things to do. During your visit, don’t miss out on walking along the Interdune Boardwalk to discover the unique flora of the area, buy a sled to slide down the sea of sand dunes, and dive deep into the park to witness the most striking sunset across the mountains.
5. Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
The Southwest is an extremely complex region, and Mesa Verde National Park is a wonderful place to begin learning about the native history of western Colorado.
Nestled high in the cliffs, the ruins of complicated structures and dwellings built by Ancestral Puebloans can be found. Even though no one really knows why this society collapsed, you can walk through the ruins today and take a step back in time to start learning about the native history of the area.
6. Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
Even though it’s one of the smallest National Parks in the USA, there’s a myriad of wonderful things to see in Bryce Canyon.
Hoodoos are what Bryce Canyon is most famous for, and the ultimate way to see them is by braving the Queen’s Garden to Navajo Loop trail, which will have you winding your way through pine forests, insanely-looking rock tunnels, and iconic sandstone hoodoos that will make you feel as though you’re in an entirely different planet.
If hiking isn’t your jam, though, you can also explore the park on a drive. Bryce Canyon’s scenic road provides access to some of the best viewpoints in the park, which makes it super easy to explore without having to break a sweat.
I hope this list of the best places to see in Southwest USA helped you start plotting the perfect itinerary for your adventure! Even though an entire lifetime wouldn’t be enough to finish ticking off places from your Southwest bucket list, these destinations are utterly epic and a wonderful way to get started exploring the area!