Today’s post is brought to you by Emma Neely, a Michigan State Alum and our newest Marketing Executive. Emma is well traveled having been to 18 countries (and counting), but today she shares some tips about the ultimate national park road trip in the Southwestern USA!
The desert is always calling and here in the Southwestern United States, we have some of the most photographed and most visited sites in the country. Here’s our picks for the Top 10 Southwest National Parks you need to add to your bucket list. Ready to start hiking? Check out the AllTrails App for great hiking reviews.
1. Zion National Park
While there are many spots to hike in this awe-inspiring national park, Angels Landing is by far the most famous and well-worth your time. The trek to the very top has varying degrees of incline, steep drop offs, and is rated difficult, with the most challenging part being the optional route to the summit where you hold onto chains to pull yourself up. Despite this, the views you get are so worth it! Top tip- Avoid the massive crowds and hot temperatures by going outside of peak season.
2. The Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon is a firm favorite as far as national parks go and for good reason. It is immensely vast and accessible from numerous points each with their own amazing views and activities. Ever wonder where to find those famous postcard views of the Grand Canyon? The South Rim is where it’s at. Here you’ll find loads of activities like guided hikes, art studios, biking, camping, shops and even an IMAX theater! This side is best for both people wanting to hike to the bottom or just check out the sweet vistas. The North Rim will provide you with similar activities like hiking, biking and camping, but with noticeable differences. Because it is a whole 1,000 feet higher in altitude than the South Rim, it is cooler (an essential for hiking in the hot summer time) allowing plants and wildlife to thrive there and is much less crowded. It’s a dramatically different experience, but still awe-inspiring. You can also ride mules! Lastly, but certainly not the least, we have Grand Canyon West. Visiting here is perfect for those adventurers without a fear of heights – here you can step onto the famous Skywalk which juts out 70 feet over the canyon.
3. Horseshoe Bend
This impressive geological formation overlooking the Colorado River is located just 7 miles away from the “official” Grand Canyon, and is often referred to as Grand Canyon East. It is fairly easy to access by driving, but still involves a moderately challenging (and completely unshaded) hike.
4. Havasu Falls
Ignore TLC, get out there and chase those waterfalls! This spot near Grand Canyon West is home to five world-famous and insta-worthy ones to marvel at. We can see why it’s referred to as a modern day “Garden of Eden.” This trip is not for the average hiker – its 12-mile trail will require camping and permits as it is located on tribal lands.
5. Arches National Park
Fancy hiking Indiana Jones style? This red-rock wonderland was featured in “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” and will surely amaze anyone who visits. When in Arches there are two trails, we’d highly recommend the Devil’s Garden Loop and the Delicate Arch Trail. The former is a difficult hike which involves Spider-Man climbing up rock walls over water pools and the latter is a bit shorter and more moderate than the Devil’s Garden Loop. Here you’ll find the iconic arch that’s also featured on Utah license plates!
6. Bryce Canyon
Home to the famous spire-shaped rock formations, Hoodoos, it’s hard to do Bryce Canyon justice on your camera. There are so many things to see and do here there’s something for everyone. Whether you prefer hiking and horseback riding, staying in camp grounds, moonlit hikes, telescope stargazing, there’s nothing quite like Bryce Canyon anywhere else in the world!
7. Monument Valley
Always wondered what the American Southwest looks like? This is it! Monument Valley has been the setting for countless movies and advertisements. This place is about as tricky to get in as backstage at a concert. They only let 20 people in a day as it’s within the Navajo Reservation. If you can’t get in, driving down US-163 is your best option to witness these monumental structures. It’s on this highway you can snap some classic road trip selfies – you won’t be disappointed.
🇫🇷Monument Valley, l’un de mes endroits favoris durant ce road trip. Si vous y aller, soyez sûr de profiter du lever de soleil. Il y a quelque chose de magique dans cette lumière… • • 🇬🇧Monument Valley, one of my highlight so far (as well as Zion and Sequoia). Be sure to enjoy the sunset if you visit this place. There is something magical about it. Isn’t @blolmscheid ? • • 📸 : @travelstansaz 💁🏻♀️ : @brooklyn_madden ⠀⠀
8. The Wave and Antelope Canyon
These geological beauties are made from vibrant Navajo sandstone and although nearby offer starkly different experiences. The Wave, made famous due to its selection as a Microsoft desktop background, is an incredible sight to see. But instead of staring at your computer screen, go see it with your own eyes (if you should be so lucky). It is strict about the number of visitors they let in, so be sure to plan this trip waaaaay in advance as there are incredibly competitive and confusing permit processes including an online and in person lottery. If you can’t see this, Antelope Canyon, the most famous slot canyon in the world, is also in it of itself a bucket list item and only requires a guide be present. Both are equally beautiful and worth a visit.
9. Capitol Reef National Park
Full of white sandstone domes and cliffs (reminiscent of and named for the United States Capitol building), colorful canyons, and bridges -this place is a hiker’s dream! The park is known for its indigenous history which is shown in the many pictographs (painted on rock surfaces) and petroglyphs (carved or pecked into the rock surface) on rock surfaces. The top three rated trails (per AllTrails, any hikers go to app) in this park are: Hickman Bridge Trail, Cassidy Arch Trail, and Grand Wash trail via Northeast Trailhead, and Capitol Gorge Trail. Hungry after all that hiking? Capitol Reef National Park has orchards to pick fruit in. Best enjoyed stargazing at night because this park doubles as an international dark sky park!
Despite being Utah’s largest national park, Canyonlands is one of the most underrated and least crowded. Take a scenic drive to the Island in the Sky district for the best views, go boating in the Rivers, or break out the four-wheel drive for some backcountry off-roading in the Maze. If you’re keen to work those legs, try the easy 2-mile hike ‘Grand View Point Trail’ for incredible panoramic views along the cliffs edge.
Keen to get started on your list? Check out our 7 Day Southwest Highlights and National Parks tour here.