Road trips are by far my favorite way to explore the USA. There is so much vast and remote beauty which is impossible to fully explore without really getting into nature. Given the sheer size of the country, this often involves driving for a few hours. For me the drive is just as much the fun as the destination! With endless roads disappearing over the horizon, roadside diners and classic motels, a road trip will transport you to all these places and more.
One of the most iconic road trip destinations is the Southwest of the US. You can find some of the most beautiful scenery and Instagram-worthy views here. If you’re ready to get out there on your great American road trip, here are our favorite Southwest USA road trip destinations from Utah, Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico. Include these destinations to create the Southwest road trip of a lifetime!
This post takes you through the most incredible places you should visit on your road trip to Utah, Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico. We're sharing our best tips when visiting all these places, the best time to visit, what to pack, and what to know before you go.
Why You Need to Visit the Southwest USA
The Southwest has all these natural wonders you usually only see in high gloss travel magazines. Think Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, Arches National Park, Route 66, and more! You probably already know all of these from popular movies and TV shows but there is nothing better than experiencing these destinations first-hand doing a Southwest USA road trip!
One note when driving through the Southwest, a lot of these places are very remote and require a fair amount of driving. You will get to see some incredible and untouched parts of nature but on the flipside, gas stations, restaurants, and hotels, are less frequent. It helps to bring a road trip planner with you so you are always prepared.
Make sure you fill up on gas before leaving a town if you don’t know where the next gas station will be. And the worst thing to happen on an iconic American road trip is to run out of gas!
Best Time of Year for a Southwest Road Trip
You will generally find the best weather in the Southwest between December and April or in fall between September and October. This area of the USA can get incredibly hot and dry and hiking to some of these places will become extremely strenuous in the heat of summer.
Since some of the places in Utah are at relatively high elevation and could be covered in snow, I would recommend planning your Southwest USA road trip for March or April at the earliest. During this time, temperatures are going to be around a comfortable 65 F (18 C) in the northern areas and 75 F (24 C) in the south.
As most of the US Southwest road trip destinations are in the desert, it may get very hot during the day, but cool down substantially during the night. Make sure you bring a warm sweater or hoodie and a scarf for when the temperatures drop at night.
Map of the Southwest Road Trip of a Lifetime
There are so many different attractions throughout Utah, Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico that it is hard to decide where to go. The below map helps you plan the Southwest road trip of a lifetime and includes all of our favorite attractions and the order in which we recommend seeing them in on your Southwest USA road trip. You can use this map to plan out and to figure out the best order these road trip destinations fit with your travel plans.
Utah Road Trip Destinations
Utah is one of those states that I had incredible expectations for, and you may too. It was the last state I visited out of all 50, and easily became one of my top favorites. You can read about our story on how we crossed into Utah and saw our last state here. These Utah destinations will make your Southwest USA road trip unforgettable.
Reflections at Bonneville Salt Flats near Salt Lake City
The Bonneville Salt Flats are exactly what the name suggests; an area with densely packed salt. They are located on Interstate 80 just outside of Salt Lake City, close to the Nevada border, and the perfect start for any Utah road trip.
Given the huge flat area, the salt flats make the perfect background to take photos and be creative. Get out there and have fun! Think about working with different perspectives, play with the reflection off the water, and just enjoy the view.
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Tips for visiting the Bonneville Salt Flats:
- Given that the ground is covered in salt, don’t wear your favorite leather shoes or anything else that could be easily damaged by the salt. Salt can be extremely difficult to remove from clothing and fabrics afterwards. I recommend wearing rubber shoes or boots.
- Keep in mind that the salt flats are covered in water which is also extremely salty, but more importantly there may be no dry place to set down a bag or anything you bring with you.
- Temperatures on the salt flats vary greatly. In Summer, they often reach over 100 F (38 C) degrees and can drop below freezing in winter. Make sure you wear protective clothing and sun screen.
Hours: Open 24 hours a day. The Bonneville Salt Flats are managed by the Bureau of Land Management and open to the public most of the time. During events and/or filming projects, there might be restrictions. You can check out the event calendar here.
Facilities: There are no washrooms at the Bonneville Salt Flats.
Cost: Visiting the salt flats is free!
Location: Bonneville Salt Flats
Visit Zion National Park
Possibly one of the most famous national parks in the US is Zion National Park. It is the home of some incredible hikes, including Angels Landing and visiting this stunning park cannot be missing from your Utah road trip.
Zion National Park is a climber’s paradise as it is known worldwide for it’s 2,000 feet sandstone cliff walls. Even if you are not a climber but like to hike or explore stunning scenery, visiting this park is a must. It is recommended to spend 2-3 days to visit Zion National park to make sure you have enough time to hike some of the most famous trails such as Angels Landing and the Narrows.
The best time to visit Zion National Park is in spring or fall when the temperatures are more moderate. April, May, September, and October are your best months to visit as it doesn’t get as hot throughout the day. Make sure you pack enough warm clothes for occasional cool and/or rainy days.
Tips for visiting Zion National Park:
- If you are looking to hike to Angels Landing, go very early in the morning. The hike is extremely popular and the later in the day you go, the more likely it is that you will have to fight the crowds.
- Hiking in Zion National Park should not be taken light heartedly. Some of the hiking trails in the park are incredibly demanding as paths are narrow and drop offs are very steep. Make sure you bring very good hiking shoes with good grip.
- If you are planning on hiking the Narrows, think about renting aqua shoes as you will be walking through water for a large portion of the hike. Be aware that the water temperature can be very cold.
- It can get extremely hot at Zion National Park even in spring and fall. Make sure you bring enough water on your hikes and wear UV-protective clothing.
Hours: Open 24 hours a day and all year-round.
Facilities: There are two visitor centers in Zion National Park with public washrooms, maps, and visitor information.
Cost: You need to get a national park pass in order to visit Zion National Park. The pass is $25 per vehicle for a 7-day pass.
Location: Zion National Park
Watch the Sunset at Sunset Point Bryce Canyon National Park
Another must do on your Utah road trip is watching the sunset at sunset point in Bryce Canyon National Park. It is only 1 hour and 15 minutes to drive from Zion to Bryce Canyon National Park and with both parks being so close together, it is easy to combine both in your Utah road trip itinerary.
Bryce Canyon is famous for having the largest collection of hoodoos in the world! Hoodoos are unique rock formations and are basically tall and thin spires of rock. Seeing the sun setting over a sea of hoodoos at Sunset Point in Bryce Canyon is a must when you visit.
Bryce Canyon National Park is relatively compact, and you only need 1-2 days to explore most of the viewpoints and do one or two hikes. If you only have one day, you can easily drive to all the viewpoints and hike through the garden of hoodoos. You can then easily spend the second day going back to your favorite viewpoints or do some incredible hikes around the park.
Tips for visiting Bryce Canyon National Park:
Get up early! Bryce Canyon National Park gets super busy and also incredibly hot. In the summer months, it can easily be around 100 degrees F (38 C) at 11:00 AM so you are best advised to get up early and finish any hikes you like to do before then.
- Stay up late! This is not just to witness the beautiful sunset at Sunset Point but also to do some star gazing. With its distance from larger cities, Bryce Canyon National Park is a great place to do star gazing as there is almost no light pollution.
- Map out your favorite viewpoints before you go. It can get incredibly busy at Bryce Canyon and having the place all to yourself might not be possible. Your best bet to beat the crowd is to be up early and visit your favorite or the most popular viewpoints first.
- Stay hydrated! Between the high elevation and the hot temperatures, your body will need a lot more water than usually. This is especially true if you are planning on hiking as well. Make sure you bring enough water with you. A suggested amount is one liter per every 2 hours.
- Dress in layers. Temperatures can vary dramatically between the early morning hours and noon. Make sure you bring lots of layers to make your hikes more comfortable.
Hours: Open 24 hours a day and all year-round. There are exceptions for holidays and other seasonal exceptions. Make sure you check the National Park Service website when you plan your trip.
Facilities: There is a visitor center in Bryce National Park with public washrooms, maps, and visitor information. Additionally, some of the more popular viewpoints also have outhouses.
Cost: You need to get a national park pass in order to visit Bryce Canyon national Park. The pass is $35 per vehicle for a 7-day pass.
Location: Bryce Canyon National Park
Peek-A-Boo Slot Canyon and Spooky Slot Canyon
Have you ever heard of two slot canyons called Peek-A-Boo and Spooky? Me neither until I went there. These canyons completely live up to their names, are a lot of fun to explore, and definitely worth adding to your Utah road trip. The canyons are closest to Escalante, Utah and are a 3-hour hike round-trip from the parking lot. The hike starts off on a flat sandy trail and continues to a climb down into the dry canyon area. The steep climb down is over smooth slick rock.
The best way to hike these two slot canyons is in a one-way loop, starting with Peek-A-Boo, traveling cross-country to reach Spooky slot canyon, and then exiting Spooky in the original canyon area near the Peek-A-Boo entrance.
Once you reach Peek-A-Boo Slot Canyon, you need to climb up about a 12-foot (3.7 meter) rock face to enter the canyon. I am 5’5” (1.7 meters) and managed to get up there on the first try. Once you start walking through, you quickly understand where the name Peek-A-Boo comes from.
The canyon has some fun rock loops you can climb through and each corner is hidden – providing the best peek-a-boo game! As the slot canyon is not overly deep, you can also play peek-a-boo with people in the canyon, while walking along up top.
When you reach the end of Peek-A-Boo Slot Canyon, there is an easy to follow trail that travels cross-country to the entrance of Spooky Slot Canyon. The canyon very much lives up to its name. It is incredibly narrow! In some places, we could only pass by taking off our backpacks, and shuffling sideways.
Spooky Slot Canyon also has one technical section halfway through where you need to climb overtop some car-sized boulders, and then crawl back underneath them to continue through the slot canyon. As a warning you will need to be fairly flexible, and not claustrophobic as it is a tight squeeze, but still manageable once you figure out the best path. These canyons will definitely make your Utah road trip more interesting!
Tips for hiking Peek-A-Boo Slot Canyon and Spooky Slot Canyon:
- Please don’t visit these canyons if you’re claustrophobic! Both canyons have some very narrow spots and are dark at times.
- Bring enough water but carry a small backpack. A large backpack is much harder to squeeze through the tight corners of Spooky Slot Canyon.
- There is weak to no cell reception on the hike with T-Mobile.
Hours: Open 24 hours a day
Cost: Visiting Peek-A-Boo and Spooky Slot Canyon is free.
Facilities: There are two outhouses at the trailhead.
Location: Peek-A-Boo and Spooky Slot Canyon. The slot canyons are located along Hole-In-The-Rock Road, and require driving about one hour on dusty gravel roads - the perfect adventure on your Southwest USA road trip. The roads are fine for a car when dry, but do not attempt to drive when the ground is wet as it instantly turns to slick mud. Hiking in slot canyons when it is raining, even many miles away, is also extremely dangerous.
Grosvenor Arch, Utah
If you love arches but don’t feel like battling the crowds at Arches National Park, Grosvenor Arch is your destination. It is a unique double arch about 150 feet (46 meters) tall and is located within the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah. The double arch is an easy 5-minute walk from the parking lot and is extremely impressive to look at! You can’t climb around or on top of the arch but the view you get from the bottom is definitely worth it!
Tips for visiting Grosvenor Arch:
- Grosvenor Arch is easily reachable by car but you will mostly drive on a gravel road. Make sure you fuel up before hitting the road as there are no gas stations anywhere close.
- There is weak to no cell reception at Grosvenor Arch with T-Mobile.
Hours: Open 24 hours a day
Cost: Visiting Grosvenor Arch is free.
Facilities: There are two outhouses at the trailhead.
Location: Grosvenor Arch
Devil’s Garden Escalante
Devil’s Garden Escalante is very much like a playground for grownups and offers so many photo opportunities. It is a perfect addition to your Southwest USA road trip. It is located in the Staircase-Escalante National Monument and known for its countless hoodoos and two small arches. Its location provides for some amazing views and given that it’s possible to climb onto the base of the hoodoos, you can let your creativity run wild.
Tips for visiting Devil's Garden Escalante:
- Devil’s Garden is easily reachable when driving down the Hole in the Rock road. Make sure you fuel up before your trip and bring enough water and food for the day.
- Cell reception at Devil’s Garden is spotty with T-Mobile. I had the best reception at higher points.
Hours: Open 24 hours a day
Cost: Visiting Devil’s Garden Escalante is free.
Facilities: There are two outhouses at the trailhead.
Location: Devil’s Garden This is located on the same road as Peek-A-Boo and Spooky Slot Canyons and is great to combine into the same day.
Visit the Iconic Forrest Gump Hill, Monument Valley
You may recognize this iconic place in Utah from the Forrest Gump running scene. It is the exact spot where Forrest (played by Tom Hanks) ended his run with the views of Monument Valley behind him. If you are looking to visit Forrest Gump filming locations, stopping here is a must. Even if you are not familiar with the movie, seeing Monument Valley from this angle is incredibly impressive and worth adding to your Utah road trip.
This specific viewpoint is located right on US 163 and is very easy to get to. There are several places to pull over on both sides of the highway, to take photos and take in the view. Depending on what time of the day you visit, there may be quite a few people enjoying the same view and trying to take photos. Specifically, there are frequent tour buses that stop here. To avoid crowds, make sure you visit early in the morning before 8:00 AM.
You will also find Native American vendors on the side of the road selling jewelry and souvenirs.
Note that the Forrest Gump Hill is located on the Navajo Reservation. Please respect the community and their rules.
Tips for visiting Forrest Gump Hill, Monument Valley:
- Please be aware that the Forrest Gump Hill is located on the Navajo Reservation. Respect the community and their rules.
- Highway US 163 is a busy highway with high-speed traffic. If you are trying to take a photo in the center of the road, please be very aware of traffic.
- For the least crowds and least traffic, visit early in the morning just after sunrise. You will have the best light to take photos.
- Cell reception at the Forrest Gump Hill is spotty at best. Drive into the small town of Mexican Hat if you are looking to for cell reception.
Hours: Open 24 hours a day
Cost: Visiting Forrest Gump Hill is free.
Facilities: There are no facilities here.
Location: Forrest Gump Hill
Camping at Valley of the Gods
If you are looking to escape the crowds from Monument Valley, camping at Valley of the Gods is an amazing alternative. Not only is the valley incredibly impressive with its rock formations – so-called buttes – but it also offers great places to camp.
The Valley of the Gods is a hidden gem with similar scenery as Monument Valley. The monuments in Valley of the Gods are free-standing, isolated buttes and they look incredibly impressive amongst the wide-open space.
A 17 mile (27 km) dirt road leads through the valley, taking you from butte to butte which all have their unique names. Some of which are easier to recognize than others. There are multiple places to camp in the wild here and park along the road.
Visiting this part of Utah is a must add to your Utah road trip but there are a few things to keep in mind. Valley of the Gods is very isolated, and it is necessary to be self-sufficient to explore this place. Make sure you have enough food, water, and gas before you visit the valley. There is no cell reception whatsoever which makes it a great place to relax and get away from the busy every-day life.
Tips for visiting Valley of the Gods:
- Make sure you are self-sufficient and have enough water, food, and gas for your trip. The area is very remote and there is no cell service in Valley of the Gods.
- Stay up late! Given how remote the valley is, there is almost no light pollution and the stargazing opportunities are incredible on a clear night.
- Drive a high-clearance vehicle to access the road. It’s a dirt road which is drivable by most cars during dry days. However, the road becomes difficult to navigate and very muddy when it rains.
Hours: Open 24 hours a day.
Cost: Visiting Valley of the Gods is free.
Facilities: There are no facilities here.
Location: Valley of the Gods
Arizona Road Trip Destinations
Similar to Utah, Arizona is home to some incredible natural wonders and trying to figure out where to go can be a daunting task. These are our favorite Arizona road trip destinations, some of which you may never have heard of and which you cannot miss out on your Southwest USA road trip!
Off the Beaten Path in White Pocket, Vermillion Cliffs National Monument
White Pocket is an area within the Vermillion Cliffs National Monument in Arizona. It has some of the most amazing rock formations. Think orange lined rocks like the Wave, white pillow-like rock surfaces and sliver thin rock layers. You are free to walk around and explore as much as you like.
The area is a 10-minute walk on a sand trail from the parking lot. It is one of the best kept secrets but a great addition to your Southwest USA road trip.
Getting to White Pocket is a bit more difficult.. It is a 3-4 hour drive from Kanab, UT or Page, AZ. The first hour of the drive is on a paved highway, followed by a maintained gravel road. The last 5 miles are in deeply rutted sand. A high clearance vehicle with four-wheel drive is highly recommended. That being said, most rugged SUVs and pick-up trucks with four-wheel drive should be able to make it without issue, however do not try to access this road with a normal car or small crossover without much ground clearance.
Tips for visiting White Pocket, Vermillion Cliffs:
- There are no facilities at White Pocket. It’s very remote so be sure to bring enough water, food, and sun protection.
- Don’t leave anything behind, not even personal waste. We recommend bringing bags designed to hold human waste.
- I had surprisingly good cell reception at White Pocket. I had 2 bars LTE with T-Mobile.
Hours: Open 24 hours a day
Cost: Visiting White Pocket is free.
Facilities: There are no facilities at White Pocket.
Location: White Pocket Vermillion Cliffs
Catching the Light at Antelope Canyon
There is nothing quite as magical as catching the sunrays as they shine through a slot canyon! Antelope Canyon is one of the most famous slot canyons in Arizona and a must see on your Southwest USA road trip. It is completely worth a visit. You will need to book a tour to access the canyon and I recommend booking far in advance as the slot canyon is incredibly busy, especially in Summer.
You may not know this but there is an Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon. Lower Antelope Canyon is slightly less busy and tours are cheaper. We visited Lower Antelope Canyon and loved the tour and the canyon itself.
Tips for visiting Antelope Canyon:
- The tour moves quite fast and taking a lot of pictures can be difficult. If you’re planning to take photos, consider booking a tour first thing in the morning or late in the afternoon.
- The light in the canyon is best around midday, which is also the busiest time to visit.
- The descent into the canyon is a very steep staircase. Make sure you wear good shoes.
- It was incredibly windy when we were there and we found orange sand in our pockets days after we walked through the canyon. Expect to have sand blown everywhere.
Hours: You cannot access Antelope Canyon without a tour. Tour hours are 7:30 AM – 5:45PM.
Cost: Costs for a tour at lower Antelope Canyon starts at $40 for a 1-1.5 hours tour plus $8 Navajo Parks fee. Cost for a tour at upper Antelope Canyon starts at $54 for 1.5 hour tour plus $8 Navajo Parks fee. If you decide to take a tour of both Upper and Lower, you only pay the Navajo Parks fee once!
Facilities: There is a visitor center at the Antelope Canyon with washrooms.
Location: Antelope Canyon
Enjoying the View at Horseshoe Bend
Horseshoe Bend is one of the most iconic places to visit in Arizona and on your Southwest USA road trip and definitely worth a stop! We visited Horseshoe Bend in 2017 and also just recently in March 2020. The river formation is just as stunning the second time we saw it as the first time. The area around it has completely changed though.
You can easily drive up to the parking lot and walk 5-10 minutes on a gravel trail to get to the bend. There are two covered areas where you can get some shade along the trail as it gets extremely hot here in summer.
Once you get to the very tip of the cliff, there are some areas which are fenced off for safety reasons. However, you are still free to roam around in other areas and the iconic “rock” is not fenced in and you can get one of the most Instagram-worthy photos from here.
Tips for visiting Horse Shoe Bend:
- Take a lot of water! Yes, the hike is short – only 5-10 minutes. However, it gets extremely hot and there is not a lot of shade. We visited in March and didn’t think we would need the extra water but we wish we had brought some.
- Apply plenty of sunscreen! Even if you’re not planning to stay very long, the sun reflects of the rock surfaces and is very intense.
- Horseshoe Bend is extremely popular and gets super busy. Consider visiting early in the morning or late in the evening for some amazing sunset photos.
Hours: Open daily from dawn to dusk according to the City of Page.
Cost: Entrance fee to Horseshoe Bend is $10 per car. You pay upon entering the parking lot.
Facilities: There are washrooms available at the parking lot.
Location: Horseshoe Bend
Grand Canyon Road Trip
Any Southwest USA road trip would not be complete without a stop at the Grand Canyon! I’m sure you have seen countless photos of the Grand Canyon and might be wondering if it’s worth going there given that you have already seen it in photos. It is absolutely worth it! Standing on the edge of the canyon and overlooking the entire area is an incredible feeling and very much worth a trip.
The Grand Canyon has a North and a South Rim. The South Rim includes all of the popular viewpoints and it is what people usually think of when you mention Grand Canyon. It is much easier to get to and unlike the North Rim, it is open all year round.
Getting to the North Rim is for those who like to take the road less traveled. It is generally closed in Winter and lodging is only open from May to October due to the snow. Make sure you make a reservation at the North Rim lodge or campground if you’re planning to visit the North Rim, as lodging options are very limited.
A Grand Canyon road trip can be as long or short as you like. The South Rim is a 4.5-hour drive from Las Vegas and you can easily see some of it in a day. If you’re short on time and only have one day to spend here, I recommend visiting the South Rim as it is much easier to access. Start your day at Mather Point which is a great place to view the sunrise or sunset.
Continue to Yavapai Point which is very close and make your way West. You can easily drive to all the viewpoints and if you have time, doing the South Rim Trail is an easy way to take in all the epic views. The hike is relatively easy with minimal elevation gain.
Other viewpoints which are easy to get to by car and have an amazing view are Maricopa Point, Powell Point, Hopi Point, and Mohave Point where you can see the Colorado River. If you’re looking for wide views of the canyon, Lipan Point is another great viewpoint.
If you have more than one day here and are planning a longer Southwest USA road trip, I highly recommend waking up early and enjoying a sunrise over the canyon and seeing the sun set behind this majestic landscape. It truly is an experience like no other.
Tips for visiting the Grand Canyon:
- There is a lot to see at the Grand Canyon, make sure you plan out your time here and know what you want to see.
- The South Rim viewpoints can get very busy. Being here early in the morning and later in the evening helps avoid the crowds.
- If you want to make the most out of your Grand Canyon road trip, bring water and food with you so that you don’t have to stop in the village but can chase the amazing views instead.
Hours: The South Rim is open 24 hours daily. The North Rim is closed to all vehicles from December 1 to May 15.
Cost: Entrance to Grand Canyon National Park is $35 per vehicle. Your pass will be valid for 7 days and includes both the North and South Rim.
Facilities: The South Rim has multiple visitor centers and is fully outfitted with facilities, restaurants, and lodging. The North Rim has one visitor center which is open from May 15 to October 15 and limited lodging.
Nevada and New Mexico Road Trip Destinations
You may not think of Nevada and New Mexico when planning your iconic American road trip. Trust me when I say that both states have some beautiful road trip destinations you absolutely need to add to your Southwest USA road trip!
Loneliest Road in America in Nevada
The Loneliest Road in America, also known as U.S. Route 50, goes straight across Nevada. It very much deserves the name of being the loneliest road as there is little to no civilization along the way, other than the odd ghost town. This is exactly why it’s the perfect Southwest USA road trip destination!
Fueled up and with plenty of water and food, you can hit the road and explore the vast countryside of Nevada which ranges from salty flat areas to mountains, and grass lands full of hidden hot springs. The road itself goes straight for a large portion and offers incredible photo opportunities, sharing the vastness of the state.
Stopping in a ghost town is a must if you like the idea of traveling back in time and seeing America as it used to be. I can particularly recommend Austin, Nevada which is full of old-school houses, store fronts, and signs.
Other fun activities along the way include enjoying a sunset on Sand Mountain, horseback riding through the wide grass lands, and searching for hot springs. Because of its remote location, the Loneliest Road in America offers the perfect opportunity for some stargazing.
Tips for driving the Loneliest Road in America:
- The Loneliest Road in America used to be only travelable by people with survival skills. While it’s definitely easier to drive these days, make sure you fuel up before you leave and get gas every opportunity you get. Gas stations are few and far in-between.
- Make sure you bring plenty of water and food with you.
- Nevada has an incredible amount of hot springs and no road trip across the Loneliest Road would be complete without taking a dip. Make sure to stop at the popular Spencer Hot Springs or smaller heart-shaped Bartine Hot Springs.
- There is surprisingly good cell reception along the Loneliest Road in America. I had 2 bars LTE with T-Mobile.
Hours: Open 24 hours a day
Cost: Driving the Loneliest Road in America is free.
Facilities: There are only few facilities along the Loneliest Road in America, whenever you hit a ghost town.
Location: Loneliest Road in America
Visit the Fire Wave at Valley of Fire
The Valley of Fire in Nevada is known for its breathtaking panoramic views of red sand stone formations. It is only about an hour drive from Las Vegas, Nevada and a 1 hour 30-minute drive from St. George, Utah and a great destination to add to your Southwest USA road trip itinerary.
The Valley of Fire State Park is relatively compact which makes it a great destination to visit if you only have one day in the area. However, you can easily spend a few days here, hiking all the trails, and exploring the incredible rock formations.
One of the highlights at Valley of Fire State Park, which is a must see for everyone who visits, is the Fire Wave. The Fire Wave at Valley of Fire is an incredibly impressive rock formation which very much reminds of the Wave in Arizona. Instead of orange-colored rock, the Fire Wave appears in bright red and burgundy stripes, making it an incredible sight to see. The hike from the parking lot to the Fire Wave is relatively short an easy. It’s a 1.5 mile (2.5 km) trail return to see the beautiful Fire Wave.
If you are visiting the Valley of Fire in the summer months, be aware that it gets incredibly hot here. Temperatures can easily reach over 100 F (38 C) by 11:00 AM. Make sure you plan on doing all of your hikes early in the morning or later in the evening to avoid the dangerous heat.
Tips for visiting the Fire Wave at Valley of Fire:
- Get there early! If you are visiting in summer, it can get incredibly hot early in the day. The hike to the Fire Wave hardly has any shade. Make sure you get there early to avoid the heat.
- Stay hydrated! Because this area can get incredibly hot and is quite dry, drinking plenty of water is very important.
- Bring sun protection! There is not a lot of shade in the Valley of Fire and getting out of the sun can prove difficult. Make sure you bring enough protective clothing and sunscreen.
Hours: Open daily from sunrise to sunset.
Cost: $10 per vehicle for day-usage and $20 per night if you are looking to camp at Valley of Fire.
Facilities: There is a visitor center at the entrance of the park with washrooms, wifi, maps, and visitor information. There are also outhouses at most larger parking lots throughout the park.
Location: Valley of Fire
White Sands Monument in New Mexico
White Sands National Park is everything you think of when you hear the name. It’s in the Chihuahuan Desert in New Mexico and is covered in rare white sand. While you may have never heard of it, White Sands is extremely beautiful and definitely worth adding to your Southwest USA road trip.
The white gypsum sand is like nothing I have ever seen before. As you enter the park, you will notice how incredibly quiet it is. There is no sound other than the wind forming new sand dunes.
You can easily access the dunes on the Dunes Drive which is a looped road from the visitor center to the dune field. We were able to park almost anywhere we wanted and just get out of the car to explore the area. If you would like to spend more time in New Mexico, you could visit White Sand National Park in the morning and then head to Albuquerque for a weekend.
Tips for visiting White Sands Monument, New Mexico:
- The White Sands National Park is a desert and as such extremely dry and hot. Make sure you bring plenty of water.
- You can easily get lost wandering around the dunes as there is not a lot a variety in landscape. Make sure you don’t visit alone and follow trail posts.
- The sun reflection off the white sand is very intense. Make sure you use sunscreen with high SPF and wear protective clothing. Visiting in the early morning is best to avoid the afternoon heat.
- There is poor to no cell reception at White Sands National Park.
Hours: The White Sands National Park opens at 7:00 AM daily. Closing hours vary depending on the time of the year and are generally between 6:00 PM -7:00 PM in winter and 8:00 PM - 9:00 PM in summer. Make sure you check the current operation hours on the official website as there might be closures for missile testing.
Cost: Entrance fee to the park is $25 per vehicle and $15 per person if there is only one person in the vehicle.
Facilities: There is a visitor center at the entrance of the park with full washrooms.
Location: White Sands National Park
The Next Trip Top 5 Tips for Your Southwest USA Road Trip
1) Prepare for the Heat
The weather in the Southwest US is very dry and hot. Especially during the summer months, temperatures often rise over 100 F (38 C) and spending time outside can be unbearable. Make sure you are prepared for the heat during your Southwest USA road trip. Make sure your car has air conditioning and if you plan to visit in summer, plan accommodation with air conditioning as well. I would recommend doing your Southwest USA road trip in March or April when temperatures are more pleasant.
2) Stay Hydrated
Staying hydrated is key during the heat for safety but also to stay energized. Many of these incredible destinations are very dry and windy and you will end up needing more water than you expect. Make sure you bring plenty of fluids. I add Hydralyte to my water for extra hydration on all of my hikes to make sure I don’t get de-hydrated.
3) Bring Good Hiking Shoes
A lot of these Utah and Arizona road trip destinations are in rocky and sandy terrain. Make sure you bring good hiking shoes with great grip on the sole to get around easier. I have done some hikes in normal sneakers which slowed me down a bit as I wasn’t able to climb down rocky sections as easily.
4) Bring a Good Camera
You will undoubtedly see some incredible landscapes on your Southwest USA road trip. Make sure you bring a good camera and have it fully charged. You will want to look back on this iconic road trip years down the road and will want photos to remember all the incredible places you have seen. On our trip, we took thousands of photos of the amazing rock formations and continue to enjoy looking back on them.
5) Plan Around Sunrises and Sunsets
Generally, the best time to explore these places is early in the morning or late in the afternoon. Temperatures are not as hot, there will be less people on the road, and the golden hour provides for amazing photos. Make sure you know your sunrise and sunset hours as traveling in the dark can quickly get very dangerous. I would especially recommend to not do any off-road driving or hiking in the dark.
Have you ever taken a Southwest USA road trip? Let us know if we missed any places we should be adding to our list! We love to explore more and hear from you! What have been your favorite road trips to date?
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