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American Southwest Road Trip

The American Southwest road trip explores the surreal landscapes of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. You’ll visit each national park in all three states to uncover rocky canyons, rugged mountains, sweeping dunes, and more!

Where to Go

Big Bend National Park

Your road trip starts at Big Bend National Park. Situated on the border of West Texas and Mexico, Big Bend National Park is where the Chihuahuan Desert meets the Chisos Mountains. The Rio Grande cuts sharp canyons through rugged limestone, and steep cliffs peer over the vast desert grasslands. Soaring rock walls engulf its rivers and streams for adventurous rafting trips. Hikers have over 150 miles of trails that either follow the waterways or climb the highest peaks of the Chisos Mountains. At 7,832-ft, the trek to Emory Peak gives you a heart-racing panoramic view of the wild terrain. Your journey from the Rio Grande to the mountaintops reveals one of the country’s most diverse ecosystems. Discover dozens of cacti species, hundreds of bird species, thousands of insect species, and one of America’s best places to find bats.

Guadalupe Mountains National Park

The next stop along your road trip, the Guadalupe Mountains are a hiker’s paradise featuring the highest peaks of Texas and thrilling backcountry trips. From brisk strolls through beautiful desert grasslands to challenging treks along immense canyons, there are trails for every skill level. The 2.3-mile Smith Spring Loop is a fantastic warm-up that climbs from desert lowlands to verdant woodlands. Seasoned hikers can summit the roof of Texas by venturing through coniferous forests to reach Guadalupe Peak. With 10 campsites scattered around the park, serious backpackers can find solace after a challenging day’s hiking along scenic ridge lines. McKittrick Canyon enchants visitors with its colorful fall foliage that deeply contrasts with the harsh desert. Tackle the nearby Permian Reef Geology Trail to discover hundreds of prehistoric fossil species.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Your road trip continues at Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Stay in the Chihuahuan Desert a little longer to plunge into the hundreds of caves beneath the arid landscape. Just past the Texas-New Mexico border, the Carlsbad Caverns stands out for its mesmerizing stalactites clinging to cave roofs. There are over 100 caves and the trail at Carlsbad Cavern provides entry into the immense cave network. The Big Room Trail is the network’s greatest spectacle that astonishes visitors with calcite formations of all sizes. At nearly 4,000 ft long and 255 ft high, the limestone chamber is the largest cave in America. Above ground, spend time wandering the desert to gaze at rocky canyons, desert scrub, and diverse wildlife.

Grand Canyon National Park

Your next stop is the magnificent Grand Canyon, one of the world’s geological masterpieces that has inspired visitors for generations. Standing at the South Rim gives you breathtaking vistas of the mile-deep and 18-mile wide canyon. The colorful red rock canyons and sandstone cliffs reveal eons of erosion that have shaped the landscape. Some of the miraculous viewpoints include Mather Point and Shoshone Point. Grand Canyon Village is the ideal starting point for your adventure if you choose to venture into the canyon. Bright Angel Trail takes you from the South Rim to the mighty Colorado River, and Rim Trail accommodates most hikers. You’ll need a prior reservation, but visiting the Havasupai Indian Reservation gives you access to the canyon’s plunging waterfalls and turquoise pools.

Petrified Forest National Park

Moving on to Petrified Forest National Park, this remote section of the Arizona desert provides the best opportunity to find colorful pieces of petrified wood. Wander the Black Forest to find enormous chunks of wood upwards of 50 feet in length. The logs split apart long ago, and areas such as Onyx Bridge have formed natural bridges along backcountry trails. Other treks reveal multi-colored hues of Badlands that show the effects of erosion over millions of years. The Painted Desert Rim Trail gives you remarkable views of the ancient fossils and desert wildlife. Native Americans established settlements here thousands of years ago, and the park maintains ruins of pueblos and petroglyphs.

Saguaro National Park

Continue driving just outside of Tucson to reach Saguaro National Park, which preserves one of the timeless symbols of the American West. Saguaro cacti grow upwards of 40 ft tall in the Sonoran Desert, and nowhere else in America produces dense forests of the desert plants like this. Located west of Tucson, the Tucson Mountain District lies at a lower elevation but has a higher density of cacti. The eastern Rincon Mountains boast hills soaring to heights over 8,000 ft and offer more hiking expeditions. Cacti within the Rincon Mountain District are similar in size compared to the Tucson Mountain District and are more sparsely populated with greater biodiversity in the region. Whichever district you prefer, don’t leave without experiencing a dreamy desert sunset with cacti dotting the landscape. 

White Sands National Park

The final stop along your journey is White Sands National Park. The sparkling white dunes of New Mexico’s Tularosa Basin received the upgrade from national monument to national park in 2019. Encompassing 275 square miles, the wavy dunes create the world’s largest gypsum dune field. The region is home to hardened plants and animals who’ve adapted to the unforgiving landscape. Hiking trails crisscross the sea of sand and let you feel the isolation of wandering the desert. The Interdune Boardwalk is an ideal place for novice hikers to gaze at the white, sandy hills and colorful skies along the horizon. Search for signs of wildlife on the Dune Life Nature Trail and look for gypsum deposits in Lake Lucero. White Sands National Park finds itself surrounded by military bases, and the park faces routine closures due to missile tests.

When to Go

Summer in the American Southwest is brutally hot and temperatures soar well above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Lots of safety precautions are required to protect yourself, but the intense heat is too much for many visitors. Despite the high temperatures, crowds at the Grand Canyon are busiest during the summer. Winters are frigid in the desert regions, and it’s possible to encounter snow or adverse driving conditions. The spring and fall shoulder seasons provide the ideal combination of fewer crowds and comfortable temperatures. You’ll find blooming wildflowers during spring, and some areas boast colorful foliage in the fall.

Watching Wildlife at the Grand Canyon

Although the Grand Canyon is most visited for the spectacular site of the canyon crater, there are still plenty of amazing animals that call this terrain home. The Grand Canyon and surrounding regions are home to desert bighorn sheep, mule deer, mountain lions, coyotes, gray foxes, and a large variety of reptiles, birds, and rodents.

Since the canyon is so vast, with steep drop-offs and hard-to-access land below, it’s recommended to bring a pair of binoculars with you. These will aid in your ability to see animals across the canyon, as well as far below the lookout points.

The Grand Canyon’s Top Animals

  • California Condor
    • The California condor, a black and white spotted bird with a bald head, is the largest bird in North America with a wingspan of 9.5-feet. Populations have declined during the 20th century due to hunting, egg collection, and lead poisoning. Landing themselves on the endangered species list in 1967, the species is now recovered with three different condors calling the Grand Canyon home.
  • Ringtail
    • Known for being the state mammal of Arizona as well as the most common animal in the Grand Canyon, the ringtail is rarely seen by humans since it’s highly active at night. They have great hearing and eyesight for nighttime hunting, working as solitary creatures, except during mating season.
  • Abert’s Squirrel
    • Acting as a genetic barrier between Abert’s squirrels on the South Rim and Kaibab squirrels on the North Rim, the Grand Canyon is home to a healthy population of a squirrel known for its spiky ear fur. Spending most of their lives in or around ponderosa pine, you’ll surely see these critters on your trip.
  • Elk
  • Bighorn Sheep
  • Bats
  • Bison

Viewing Locations

House Rock Valley Road: California condors
North Rim: bison, bighorn sheep, California condors
South Rim: Elk

When Should You Go?

The Grand Canyon is open year round, although the months of June, July, and August can be too hot for visitors. Temperatures can spike over 110 degrees, making it a dangerous climate for those hiking without proper gear. If you visit the canyon in the summer, be sure to hike and view wildlife during early morning and late evening hours.

For the rest of the year from late September through May, the park is at its busiest. Do note: the last ticket of the day is sold at 4:30PM. If you plan to view wildlife after that time, be sure to buy your ticket first so you don’t get locked out of the park. Make sure to pack plenty of water and have some kind of covering for sun exposure!

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How to Spend a Weekend in Grand Canyon National Park

Located in northern Arizona, the Grand Canyon is one of the United States’ most iconic national parks. Carved out over millions of years by the Colorado River, the Grand Canyon is now one of the 7 Wonders of the World. The largest canyon on earth, people come from all over the world to experience the majesty of this fantastic monument. If you’re headed to the Grand Canyon for the weekend, you’ll want to hit the highlights to make the most of your trip.

What to Do

South Rim

The South Rim is the most popular part of the Grand Canyon as it’s easily accessible and offers magnificent views of the canyon and Colorado River. For that reason, the South Rim attractions can get a bit crowded. The Grand Canyon Visitor Center is also located here, which you can stop into to view a 20 minute informational video, and enjoy the shop and cafe. 

North Rim

Located on the other side of the Grand Canyon, the North Rim offers phenomenal views of the canyon but is more remote and therefore less visited. North Rim roads are only open during the summer, so make note of that when planning your trip. The major viewpoints here are Bright Angel Point, Cape Royal, and Point Imperial. There is a North Rim Visitor Center here as well. 

Havasupai Indian Reservation and Hualapai Indian Reservation

These two Indian reservations are located in the western and southwestern regions of the canyon and can be interesting for a visit. There are no day hikes allowed on the Havasupai Indian Reservation, but you can make a reservation to stay in one of the lodges there overnight. On a trip to the Havasu Canyon here, you will experience fantastic waterfalls. 

The Hualapai Indian Reservation offers a variety of organized tours and activities, including river rafting trips, pontoon rides on Lake Mead, and helicopter tours to various West Rim canyon viewpoints.

Hiking

There are a variety of hiking trails ranging in difficulty throughout Grand Canyon National Park. Some of the park’s most popular trails and vistas include the following: Bright Angel Trail, Rim Trail, Havasu Falls, West Rim Trail, South Kaibab Trail, and Mather Point. 

Whitewater Rafting

A popular activity in the Grand Canyon, summertime whitewater rafting trips down the Colorado River depart daily from Lee’s Ferry. The majority of these trips are multi-day but there are several tour companies providing single-day rafting tours. 

Flightseeing

A great way to experience the Grand Canyon is by flight! Airplane and helicopter tours are widely available, both from Tusayan at the Grand Canyon Airport and from Las Vegas.

Mule Rides

Mule rides are a popular way to explore the Grand Canyon from the inside. Mule trips operate from the South Rim year round, but must be booked well in advance as they tend to fill up quickly. 

Where to Stay

There are several lodges located inside Grand Canyon National Park where you can book your overnight accommodations. The South Rim offers a variety of lodges and hotels in Grand Canyon Village, and the town of Tusayan also has several accommodation options for Grand Canyon visitors. The North Rim also offers one lodge accommodation, which you should book far in advance. Phantom Ranch, which is located inside the canyon on the Colorado River, is another great lodging option and can be accessed by mule, raft, or on foot. 

Camping is another popular option for where to stay in Grand Canyon National Park. There are plenty of available campgrounds at both the North and South Rims, however reservations are necessary well in advance. 

How to Get There

The nearest airports to the Grand Canyon are in Flagstaff, AZ; Phoenix, AZ; and Las Vegas, NV. From there, it’s best to rent a car and drive yourself to whichever part of the Grand Canyon you’re planning to visit during your trip. You can also opt for a guided tour which will pick you up, drive you to the canyon, and show you the highlights. 

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Grand Canyon- Wiki Voyage

The Canyon Quest Road Trip

The Canyon Quest road trip will take you across Northern Arizona and Southern Utah, where you will visit the Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Arches, Canyonlands, Natural Bridges, and Glen Canyon!

If you are looking for a retreat from Spring through Fall, this road trip can be the perfect itinerary. Although the trip traditionally takes about two weeks to complete, we recommend more time if you want to camp and hike in every park. If you’re flying in, we recommend booking flights through Las Vegas in Nevada, Salt Lake City in Utah, or Phoenix in Arizona.


Grand Canyon National Park

If you have not heard about this National park, then you might well have been living under a rock. The Grand Canyon National Park is the most iconic natural treasures of the United States.

The Grand Canyon is widely admired for the extensive range of colorful rocks that vary in shape, size and depth. The lookout points across the park provide you with stellar views. We recommend hiking on your own or joining a ranger-led tour, which will often detail the full natural history of the Canyon.

Zion National Park

Follow the paths where ancient native people and pioneers walked. Gaze up at massive sandstone cliffs of cream, pink, and red that soar into a brilliant blue sky. Experience wilderness in a narrow slot canyon. Zion’s unique array of plants and animals will enchant you as you absorb the rich history of the past and enjoy the excitement of present day adventures.

Bryce Canyon National Park

Hoodoos, yes you read that correctly, are what make this national park a site to see. The national park is home to the largest cluster of hoodoos or more descriptively, irregular columns of rock, that are situated across the high plateau of the Grand Staircase. During your visit, explore one of the countless trails that exist in the park to discover the true beauty of the location. Like the Grand Canyon National Park, you can take part in ranger programs and camp in the outdoors. You can also take guided horseback rides or book ahead for a private horsing experience within the park.

Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef National Park is famous for its renowned orchards that stem over 2,000 trees including apricots, cherries, apples, peaches, mulberries, pears, walnuts, and almonds.

This park provides you with the unique experience of harvesting fruit. The staff at the park thoroughly maintain the large variety of orchard trees using traditional farming practices so that you can have the ideal fruit picking session during your visit. Familiarize yourself with the rules of the park so you can help preserve the orchards in the same manner they have been for decades.

Arches National Park

This park boasts vivid, abstract, and contrasting landscapes with formations that include massive balanced rocks and colossal fins. The most recognizable features of this park are stone arches that have been photographed countless times during the edge of dawn and dusk.

Canyonlands National Park

Although we have been discussing about the many daytime activities and places to go, the Canyonlands National Park has something for you during the night: stargazing. Canyonlands has preserved the night sky by keeping the light pollution levels low and the great air quality ensures that the stars are vibrantly on display during the night.

Natural Bridges National Monument

Three majestic natural bridges invite you to ponder the power of water in a landscape usually defined by its absence. View them from an overlook, or hit the trails and experience their grandeur from below. Declared a National Monument in 1908, the bridges are named “Kachina,” “Owachomo” and “Sipapu” in honor of the ancestral Puebloans who once made this place their home.

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

Glen Canyon has many sights, but perhaps the most iconic is Horseshoe Bend. Below the rim, the Colorado River makes a wide sweep around a sandstone escarpment. On its long downward journey to the sea, the river meandered, sometimes making wide bends, but always seeking the path of least resistance. Over 5 million years the unique twists of Glen Canyon are poignantly summarized by photos of Horseshoe Bend.


The Grand Circle Road Trip can be enjoyed throughout the year. Ideally, it is better to experience these parks during Spring or Fall. The summertime heat may be overwhelming, especially when you are doing physically straining activities such as hiking. Springtime also provides you with the opportunity to harvest certain fruits, such as apricots and cherries, in Capitol Reef National Park.