Road Trip | The Best National Parks in the Southwest

Visit the Best National Parks of the Southwest


The western part of the United States is filled with amazing National Parks, and there is no better way to enjoy these destinations than to take a road trip. While driving across the country you can see much more of the country and can choose exactly how much time to spend at each destination. Here are a few destinations that are great options for a two week road trip across the American West.

In two weeks it will not be possible to visit all of these parks, so it is important to plan your road trip. If you want to see some of the national park's in northern Arizona, you can plan an itinerary that includes some of New Mexico's parks and some of Colorado's parks also. If you decide to visit some of the park's in Utah, it might be a good idea to stay in Utah to explore some of the many amazing parks throughout the state. Another option is to explore the park's of California. It may not be possible to enjoy all of California's parks at once, so perhaps you can plan a trip for the parks in northern and central California or maybe a central and southern California road trip.

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

One of the most amazing natural wonders you may ever see, the Grand Canyon is a true must-see canyon destination. The enormous canyon at its widest is 18 miles wide and at its deepest is a mile deep. During the summer months both the South and North Rim are open. The South Rim is busier, but the lodges and other sights along this side are worth the time to explore. The North Rim is much more rural, and offers some great backcountry options. The Desert View Drive is a great car tour option, the 26 miles of road travel between the Grand Canyon Village and the parks east entrance. You can enjoy hiking, Mule trips, scenic drives, and for those that planned well in advance rafting trips on the Colorado River through the inspiring vistas of the Grand Canyon.

Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

Arizona has excellent examples of some of the ancient history the Americas. One place to learn about this and see it in person is at Petrified Forest National Park. This park has an amazing concentration of petrified wood, giving visitors the chance to envision the forests that once covered the land. The park also has beautiful scenery, archeological sites and a collection of fossils.

Saguaro National Park, Arizona

Saguaro National Park is dedicated to the preservation of the stunning Saguaro cactus. The amazing, towering cactus only grows in a select part of the world. Visitors to the Saguaro National Park will have the opportunity to see much more than just the Saguaro. There are guided programs and many opportunities for recreation within the park. Saguaro National Park is an especially good location for wilderness hiking.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico

Located in southeastern New Mexico this park is one of many amazing locations in New Mexico. Throughout the summer visitors can enjoy the night sky events hosted at the park. Carlsbad Caverns are a great place to explore an amazing cave. The cavern has guided tours as well as areas open for self-guided tours. Carlsbad Caverns also has Ranger led programs emphasizing astronomy and nocturnal creatures.

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

Mesa Verde National Park is an excellent spot to spend time hiking and enjoying some amazing archeological sites. The mesa can be seen from a long way off when approaching the park, it looks like a broad cliff. Mesa Verde National Park celebrates the history of the Pueblo people in the southwestern United States. The park has over 4,000 archeological sites, which includes 600 cliff dwellings. Some of the best cliff dwellings including Cliff Palace, Balcony House and Long House require the purchase of tickets for guided tours. Visitors to the park will see how the people created homes in the cliffs, with cut out doors and windows, some of the dwellings are several stories high. The Mesa Top Loop Road is another great way to enjoy the park. The scenic drive takes travelers to overlooks offering views of the dwellings. Visitors can also enjoy a wide range of amazing hikes, some of which culminate in cliff dwelling overlooks.

Arches National Park, Utah

The park preserves many sandstone arches, created through millions of years of exposure to the elements. A car tour of Arches National Park is a great way to enjoy many of the parks amazing vistas and arches. The park also offers opportunities to get even closer to the most amazing arches in the park, visitors can even hike out and stand beneath the Delicate Arch. For an even better understanding of the parks features visitors can take one of the ranger-led tours, including the Fiery Furnace Tours.

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Bryce Canyon is one of Utah's amazing natural features. The Canyon extends down 2000 feet in elevation, and has unique rock formations called "hoodoos" which are spires formed by the freeze and thaw cycle. Visitors to Bryce Canyon National Park can drive to scenic viewpoints to see the amazing spires, or can enjoy hiking through the canyon. In addition, Bryce Canyon is an amazing destination for stargazing, which can be enjoyed on full moon hikes, at the Night Sky Program or at the Bryce Canyon Astronomy Festival.

Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Canyonlands National Park is filled with canyons, mesas and buttes formed by the Colorado River. Within this desert atmosphere there are four districts, each formed in its distinct way by the Colorado River and its tributaries. Islands in the Sky mesa is the easiest district to reach, the mesa stands atop sandstone cliffs, rising over 1,000 feet above the surrounding terrain. Islands in the Sky district has excellent access, with paved scenic drive, views from many overlooks, hikes and four-wheel drive roads. Needles district is more backcountry than Islands in the Sky, it is an excellent site for hiking and four-wheeling. Sights in the Needles district is dominated by the colorful sandstone spires amid the extensive trail system. Maze is the most  remote district in Canyonlands, and it requires self-sufficiency and efforts from its visitors.

Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

Capitol Reef National Park preserves the amazing geologic formation called the Waterpocket Fold. The Waterpocket Fold stretches for almost 100 miles and is a warp in the Earth's crust. Visitors to Capitol Reef National Park will see the scenic sandstone domes in the Capitol Reef area, the free-standing monoliths in the Cathedral Valley, the lush vegetation of Fruita and much more. In addition, Capitol Reef National Park is filled with recreational activities, including backpacking, picking fruit in the orchards when in season, hiking, rock climbing and much more.

Zion National Park, Utah

Zion's greatest draw is its many canyons. Within this park you will find that you can participate in many outdoor activities throughout the park's many canyons. There are many places to hike and bike in the park, as well as many backcountry adventure opportunities. You can also enjoy the park on the Zion Shuttle, or you can take a car tour through certain parts of the park. The Pa'rus Trail is a paved bicycle path and the shuttle buses through the park have bicycle racks for increased biking access. Zion is also home to over 200 species of birds, making it a great bird-watching destination.

Death Valley National Park, California, Nevada

Death Valley National Park is home to the lowest, driest and hottest spot in North America, and it is a widely varied landscape. The narrow Mosaic Canyon, with the beautiful patterned rock walls is a fun and challenging hike. Death Valley's Twenty Mule Team Canyon has a great drive, and the Golden Canyon has excellent hiking options. In addition to Death Valley's canyons there are many other sights, including the pupfish found only at Salt Creek, the Racetracks where there are mysterious tracks left by rocks sliding across the lakebed, and Badwater Basin the lowest point in North America.

Joshua Tree National Park

Located in southeastern California Joshua Tree has some amazing sites to see, even the night skies, especially while camping. There are many nature trails, hiking trails, as well as options for mountain biking and rock-climbing. Visitors to Joshua Tree can enjoy the beautiful desert ecosystem. At Joshua Tree you can see the Milky Way with amazing clarity, using only binoculars. Using binoculars you can look into the dense star clouds of the Milky Way, and see clearly. These star clouds are especially dense and bright to the south near the horizon.

Lassen Volcanic National Park, California

The Lassen Volcanic National Park is a great park to view some of the volcanic areas of the Cascade Range. There are 30 volcanoes that have been active in the last 300,000 years located within Lassen Volcanic National Park. Lassen Volcanic National Park has many fascinating outdoor activities. There are miles of trails ranging from difficult to easy. Most of the time you can hike up to Lassen Peak. In the Lassen Volcanic National Park you can view many hydrothermal areas. There are steam and volcanic-gas vents, called fumaroles, as well as mud pots, steaming ground and boiling pools. One of the best areas to see the park's hydrothermal areas is at Bumpass Hell.

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park, California

If you are looking for a wide range of California's amazing natural sights all in one area, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park is a great destination. The Park varies from deep canyons to tall mountains, in fact within the park you will find the highest peak in the lower 48, Mount Whitney. The park also has some amazing specimens of the giant sequoias, be sure to stop and see the General Grant Tree in Grant Grove and the General Sherman Tree in Giant Forest. At Redwood Canyon you can visit the largest grove of sequoias in the world.

Yosemite National Park, California

Located in central California, Yosemite National Park is an amazing destination for recreational enthusiasts, especially rock climbers. Climbers travel from around the world to take on the challenges presented at Yosemite. If you want to enjoy some other recreational activities there are many activities to enjoy including biking, hiking, backpacking and much more. Yosemite Valley has a wide range of stunning sights, rock formations and waterfalls. Maybe you want to see the giant sequoias at Mariposa Grove. If you are looking for a less visited spot, Hetch Hetchy is a fabulous destination.

You are here: Home Hit The Road Road Trip | The Best National Parks in the Southwest