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These Are the Best Road Trips in the Southwest

Red rocks, stately saguaro cacti, and endless stretches of sand

There are few places in the country as scenic and wildly beautiful as the southwest. Though flying over the vast deserts, towering mountains, and winding canyons doesn't have a huge impact, driving through the region is a completely different experience. Seeing the bright red rocks, stately saguaro cacti, and endless stretches of sand is a road trip adventure unlike any other. If you're looking to explore the southwestern United States—which includes Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado—via car, here are some incredible landmarks that you absolutely can't miss.

Sedona to Scottsdale, Arizona

cathedral rock formation in Arizona

Start: Sedona, Arizona

End: Scottsdale, Arizona

Distance: 125 miles

If you're the kind of road tripper who needs a bit of fresh air—and a beautiful landscape to enjoy it in—a stop in Sedona is absolutely worth your time. Sedona is known for towering red mountains and more giant Saguaro cacti than you can count. There's no shortage of hiking trails, regardless of the difficulty you're looking for, and it's a serene place for you to relax and unwind.

While experiencing the wilderness of the deserts and canyons of the southwest is definitely exciting, you might be craving human interaction after awhile. Make a pitstop in Scottsdale, right outside Phoenix. The area is known as a wellness hub, perfect for travelers looking for a relaxing spa treatment, a round of golf, or a complete reset with daily guided meditations and yoga classes. Pro tip: Stay at retro-cool Hotel Valley Ho, and make sure you grab a show-stopping giant milkshake at their restaurant, ZuZu. Plus, the hotel is just outside of Scottsdale's Old Town, which is home to refurbished speakeasies and saloons from the 1900s.

Salt Lake City to Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah

Bonneville Salt Flats Utah Surreal Places in the U.S.

Start: Salt Lake City, Utah

End: Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah

Distance: 111 miles

Winter Olympics fanatics are sure to have the time of their lives in Salt Lake City. The old Olympic Park offers fun outdoor activities year-round, from bobsledding and luge to rock climbing and ziplining. And if you're looking for a unique hike, the community-funded Red Butte Garden is a beautiful place to go for a walk to admire Utah's stunning foliage. Then, 90 minutes west of Salt Lake City are the Bonneville Salt Flats, which look like something out of a dream. The endless white fields are even more majestic when there is water on top of them, creating a glassy, mirror-like finish. You can easily view the flats from the highway, but if you want to stop and look around, park your car at the rest area and proceed on foot.

Las Vegas to Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

striped landscape of valley of fire state park

Start: Las Vegas, Nevada

End: Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

Distance: 48 miles

In Vegas, try your luck at the blackjack table, or dance the night away at one of the city's many nightclubs. Check out the NoMad Las Vegas, which offers a smaller, more boutique hotel-style stay within the Park MGM resort. From the city, head an hour over to the Valley of Fire, one of the most scenic state parks in the region. The fiery red rocks that eerily tower over the sides of the highway will make you feel like you're driving through another planet. Plus, if you have time to stop for a quick hike, the Fire Wave Trail is a beautiful formation of rocks that, well, waves through shades of red, orange, yellow, and pink for a view that really will take your breath away. It's the perfect add-on to a Vegas trip if you're craving some time in nature.

Santa Fe to Taos Pueblo, New Mexico

the native pueblo in Taos New Mexico
Gimas / Shutterstock

Start: Santa Fe, New Mexico

End: Taos Pueblo, New Mexico

Distance: 73 miles

As the capital of New Mexico, Santa Fe features traditional Pueblo-inspired architecture and an impressive collection of Native American handicrafts. If you're an art buff, you definitely can't miss the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, which displays thousands of her works. New Mexico is known for its rich Native American history, and one of the best places to experience it first-hand is in Taos Pueblo, 70 miles north of Santa Fe. The 1,000-year-old adobe village has been certified a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and offers a rich cultural experience that you may not be able to participate in elsewhere.

The Grand Canyon to Antelope Canyon, Arizona

sunset at horseshoe bend at the grand canyon

Start: The Grand Canyon, Arizona

End: Antelope Canyon, Arizona

Distance: 125 miles

No southwestern road trip would be complete without a stop at the Grand Canyon. One of the seven natural wonders of the world, it's a landmark worth visiting over and over again. For spectacular views, check out Hopi Point on the south rim and Point Imperial on the north rim. But the panoramas don't stop here. A little over 100 miles down the road is Page, the gateway town for two of the most stunning natural landmarks in the southwest—Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend. Antelope Canyon is known for its smooth, rippling walls, narrow walkways, and of course, the stunning purple, orange, yellow, and pink colors that filter through tiny cracks at the top. Just make sure you book your tour well in advance, as they tend to sell out pretty quickly. Then, Horseshoe Bend is a 20-minute drive away from Antelope Canyon, and offers a killer snapshot of a giant rounded gorge. Pro tip: Book a suite at Amangiri right across the border in Utah. The ultra-luxe resort—which is camouflaged in the desert landscape—is often frequented by celebs like the Kardashians, Shay Mitchell, and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley.

Roswell to White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

White Sands National Monument New Mexico Magical Destinations

Start: Roswell, New Mexico

End: White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

Distance: 132 miles

Regardless of whether or not you actually believe in aliens, a stop in Roswell is a must on your road trip through New Mexico. In addition to the world-famous International UFO Museum & Research Center, there are many other historic museums that you can visit while you're there, including the Anderson Museum of Contemporary Art and Roswell Museum & Art Center. Once you've had your fill of Roswell, make your way over to White Sands National Monument, the world's largest gypsum sand dune field. The sand really is as white as the pictures portray, and the bright blue skies offer a uniquely beautiful contrast. Plus, the dunes are tall enough for you to sled down, so you can embrace your inner child and truly run free while you're there.

Rocky Mountain National Park to Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

rocky mountains in colorado, smarter facts

Start: Rocky Mountain National Park

End: Mesa Verde National Park

Distance: 537 miles

Touted as a nature-lover's paradise, Rocky Mountain National Park is truly one of the most stunning places in the country. If you're feeling particularly brave, climb the summit to Longs Peak, which stands at a towering 14,000 feet. And if you're looking for moose, head to the North Park of State Forest State Park, which is known as Colorado's moose capital. Plus, you can rent out a cabin for an epic camping experience surrounded by the state's beautiful mountains and grassy fields. Along your way to Mesa Verde, you'll drive past ski hubs like Keystone and Breckenridge (and Avon and Vail are only a quick detour away). If you're not visiting in the winter months, the scenic drive will be lush with greenery, and you can enjoy all of Colorado's mountainous terrain. Mesa Verde National Park is an incredible place to explore some of America's rich native history. The cliff dwellings, built by Ancestral Pueblo people in the 1190s, are one of the most well-preserved ruins in North America.

Zion National Park to Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Bryce Canyon Utah state natural wonders

Start: Zion National Park, Utah

End: Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Distance: 72 miles

If you're any kind of outdoorsy person, you've probably fantasized about trekking through Zion National Park. The views all around the park are beyond gorgeous, but Angel's Landing often tops the list for hikers' favorite. It's definitely not an easy journey—it has an impossibly narrow ridge that can prove to be quite difficult—but the view at the end is well worth it. To continue on your nature-filled adventure, head to Bryce Canyon, which has the highest concentration of hoodoos (irregular columns of rock) in the world. The Bryce Amphitheater is an absolute must-see, of course, and if you have the time, definitely take a look at the hiking trails for the routes you can take to explore beyond the plateau's rim.

Black Rock Desert to Goldwell Open Air Museum, Nevada

lone car in the middle of black rock desert

Start: Black Rock Desert, Nevada

End: Goldwell Open Air Museum, Nevada

Distance: 424 miles

Home to Burning Man, Black Rock Desert is worth visiting even when it isn't around festival time. The dark, cracked sand and endlessly flat landscape that disappears into the horizon is the perfect setting for you to completely unplug and unwind. Try taking a mountain bike around the desert during the day, and lay out and stargaze at nighttime.

From Route 95, you can admire all of Nevada's gorgeous rock formations, including the peak of Mount Grant. Once you arrive at The Goldwell Open Air Museum you'll notice the ghost town, the giant sculptures, and great views of the Mojave Desert. The sculptures in the museum were built onsite by a group of Belgian artists in 2000, and they're definitely worth a pitstop so you can stretch your legs and explore a bit. The best part? The museum is totally free and open 24/7, so you can stop by anytime during your trip.

Kristin Corpuz
Kristin Corpuz is a freelance beauty, travel, and fashion editor and writer. Read more
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