12 Best Things to Do in the Southwest USA

by Flora Backup
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Are you thinking about visiting the American Southwest? Here are some of the most incredible places in the Southwest USA to visit this year. Gear up for an unforgettable trip!

Welcome to the vibrant and diverse landscapes of the Southwest USA! Trust me, this region is a treasure trove of natural wonders, cultural richness, and unforgettable adventures. From the awe-inspiring Grand Canyon to the mystical vibes of Sedona’s Red Rocks, every corner of the Southwest tells a unique story.

Whether you’re a nature enthusiast, a culture seeker, or just in for some fun, there’s something here for everyone. I’ve explored these parts extensively and can’t wait to share my top picks with you. Get ready to discover places that will not only fill your camera roll but also your soul!

Let’s embark on this journey together and uncover the coolest things to do in the Southwest USA. Adventure awaits!

Here's all the best things to do in the Southwest USA that you should know about.

Unmissable Attractions in the Southwest

Eager to discover the best things to do in the Southwest USA? From the majestic Grand Canyon to the vibrant culture of Santa Fe, the Southwest is brimming with unforgettable experiences.

Whether you’re exploring the mystical Antelope Canyon or marveling at the red rock formations in Sedona, there’s an adventure for every traveler. Here’s your ultimate guide to the top attractions in the Southwest. Let’s dive in!

1. Marvel at the Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon is an epic spectacle of nature that you’ve got to see to believe! Standing at its edge, you’re greeted with a vast, colorful expanse that stretches as far as the eye can see. It’s a view that’s both humbling and exhilarating.

I recommend catching a sunrise here. Watching the first rays of light spill over the canyon walls is a moment of pure magic. If you’re into hiking, the trails along the South Rim offer stunning vistas. For the adventurous souls, descending to the Colorado River is a thrilling challenge. Just remember to pack plenty of water and snacks!

Embark on a uniquely Southwest adventure by taking a helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon—an extraordinary experience awaits.
Embark on a uniquely Southwest adventure by taking a helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon—an extraordinary experience awaits.

One of the most unique things to do in the Southwest is to take a helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon. It’s an unforgettable way to witness the grandeur of the Grand Canyon from a whole new perspective. And for a touch of the unique, a mule ride through the canyon is a fun and traditional way to explore.

Take it from me, the Grand Canyon is one of the best places to visit in the Southwest USA. It’s an adventure that will leave you with memories to last a lifetime!

2. Discover Zion National Park

Zion National Park is a paradise for nature lovers and adventurers alike. Its towering cliffs, emerald pools, and stunning canyons are a feast for the eyes. Hiking here feels like stepping into another world.

One of my favorite trails is The Narrows. It’s unique because you’re actually walking in the Virgin River! The water level varies, so waterproof gear is a smart choice. For breathtaking views, Angel’s Landing is a must-try. It’s a bit challenging, but the panoramic vistas at the top are worth every step.

Whether you're trekking, camping, or immersing yourself in the vistas, Zion promises to leave you utterly captivated.
Whether you’re trekking, camping, or immersing yourself in the vistas, Zion promises to leave you utterly captivated.

Don’t miss the chance to see the Emerald Pools. It’s a serene spot with waterfalls and lush greenery – perfect for a relaxing afternoon. And for photographers, the Canyon Overlook Trail offers some of the most iconic shots of the park.

Visiting Zion National Park is definitely one of the coolest things to do in the Southwest USA. Whether you’re hiking, camping, or just soaking in the views, Zion will leave you awe-struck. Get ready for an adventure you won’t forget!

3. Explore Antelope Canyon

Antelope Canyon is a hidden gem in the Southwest that’s sure to leave you spellbound. This slot canyon in Arizona, with its wave-like structure and light beams, creates an almost otherworldly experience. It’s a photographer’s dream come true.

I recommend booking a guided tour, as it’s the only way to access the canyon. The guides are fantastic, sharing stories and helping you capture the perfect photo. The play of light and shadow here is simply mesmerizing. Trust me, you’ll want to keep your camera ready at all times!

Antelope Canyon's undulating formations and captivating light beams deliver an almost otherworldly experience, fulfilling every photographer's dream.
Antelope Canyon’s undulating formations and captivating light beams deliver an almost otherworldly experience, fulfilling every photographer’s dream.

For a truly magical experience, visit during midday when the sun is high. This is when the light beams are at their most stunning, illuminating the canyon’s walls in a spectrum of colors. It’s one of the most beautiful places in the Southwest to visit that you just can’t miss.

Remember, Antelope Canyon can get busy, so booking your tour in advance is a smart move. You’ll be amazed by this natural wonder in Arizona!

4. Visit Monument Valley

Monument Valley in Arizona is a landscape straight out of a movie – literally! Its towering red sandstone buttes have been the backdrop for countless films. When you visit, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped into an epic Western.

One of the best experiences in the Southwest USA is to take a guided tour of Monument Valley. The local Navajo guides share fascinating insights about the area’s history and culture. For photographers, the valley offers some of the most iconic images of the American West. Sunrise and sunset here are not to be missed – the way the light plays off the buttes is incredible!

Experience the unforgettable by camping under the stars in Monument Valley, where nature's beauty and tranquility surround you.
Experience the unforgettable by camping under the stars in Monument Valley, where nature’s beauty and tranquility surround you.

Don’t forget to check out the scenic drive. It’s a 17-mile journey that takes you up close to the valley’s most famous formations. And for a unique experience, consider staying overnight. Camping under the stars in Monument Valley is unforgettable.

Visiting this iconic location is one of the best Southwest USA things to do. It’s a place that captures the spirit and beauty of the American Southwest like no other. Get set for an adventure that’s both awe-inspiring and humbling!

5. Experience Santa Fe’s Culture

Ever thought about a city where every street corner tells a story? That’s Santa Fe for you! New Mexico’s state capital is a vibrant mix of Native American and Spanish cultures, offering a unique experience at every turn. Known for its Pueblo-style architecture and vibrant arts scene, Santa Fe is one of the best New Mexico towns to live in if you’re an artist or art enthusiast.

A walk through the historic Plaza is essential. It’s the pulsing center of the city, brimming with lively markets, art galleries, and restaurants. Here’s a tip: savor the local chile dishes – they’re a culinary delight! And the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum? It’s a must for art lovers, showcasing the works of an iconic American artist.

Santa Fe awaits! New Mexico's vibrant capital blends Native American and Spanish cultures, promising a unique experience at every corner.
Santa Fe awaits! New Mexico’s vibrant capital blends Native American and Spanish cultures, promising a unique experience at every corner.

The local markets are full of handmade crafts and colorful textiles, perfect for finding that special souvenir. For an evening to remember, the Santa Fe Opera offers performances in an open-air setting. Imagine watching opera under the stars!

Exploring the culture of Santa Fe is one of the most fun things to do in the Southwest. It’s a city that will engage your senses and leave you with lasting memories. Are you ready to experience the charm of Santa Fe?

6. See Arches National Park

Have you ever seen natural stone arches that look like they belong on another planet? That’s Arches National Park in Utah for you! This park in Moab is home to over 2,000 natural stone arches, and trust me, they’re a sight to behold.

Start your adventure at the park’s visitor center, near Moab, Utah. It’s the perfect spot to plan your visit. I recommend the Delicate Arch trail. It’s a moderate hike that leads to one of the most famous arches in the world. Don’t forget your camera; the views are incredible!

Discover Arches National Park in Utah, home to over 2,000 natural stone arches—a truly breathtaking sight to behold.
Discover Arches National Park in Utah, home to over 2,000 natural stone arches—a truly breathtaking sight to behold.

For something less strenuous, the Windows Section offers easy trails with stunning arch views. And if you’re visiting in the summer, try to catch a ranger-led program. They’re fun and informative – great for the whole family!

If you can, try and visit Arches National Park after dark. Stargazing here is one of the best things to do at night in America’s Southwest. The night sky here is a stargazer’s dream, with clear views of the Milky Way. It’s a wonderful experience in Utah that’s both awe-inspiring and grounding.

7. Admire Sedona’s Red Rocks

Sedona, Arizona, is a place where the beauty of the desert truly shines. The Red Rocks of Sedona are not only a feast for the eyes but also a haven for the soul. The vibrant red and orange hues of these sandstone formations create a mesmerizing landscape.

One of the best things to do in Sedona is a hike on one of its many trails. My personal favorite is the Cathedral Rock Trail. It’s a bit of a climb, but the panoramic views at the top are spectacular. For a more relaxed experience, the Red Rock Scenic Byway offers breathtaking views right from your car.

Explore Sedona and marvel at its Red Rocks—an exceptional attraction ranking among the best in the Southwest USA.
Explore Sedona and marvel at its Red Rocks—an exceptional attraction ranking among the best in the Southwest USA.

Sedona is also known for its vibrant arts community. The Tlaquepaque Arts & Shopping Village is a charming spot to explore galleries and local crafts. And let’s not forget the energy vortexes! They’re said to be centers of energy that are conducive to healing and meditation.

Visiting Sedona and admiring its Red Rocks is one of the best Southwest USA attractions. Whether you’re hiking, meditating, or just soaking in the views, Sedona offers a unique blend of natural beauty and spiritual rejuvenation. Believe me, you’ll be captivated by Sedona’s enchanting red landscapes!

8. Wander Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah is a place where nature’s artistry is on full display. The park’s famous hoodoos – tall, thin spires of rock – create a landscape that’s both surreal and spectacular.

For the best experience, I recommend the Navajo Loop and Queen’s Garden trail. This hike takes you down among the hoodoos, offering an up-close look at their intricate formations. The views are simply out of this world! And if you’re into stargazing, Bryce Canyon is the place to be. The night sky here is incredibly clear, which makes it perfect for astronomy enthusiasts.

Hiking among hoodoos or stargazing, Bryce Canyon presents a distinctive and unforgettable adventure in the Southwest.
Hiking among hoodoos or stargazing, Bryce Canyon presents a distinctive and unforgettable adventure in the Southwest.

Winter in Bryce Canyon is a magical time. The snow-covered hoodoos look like something from a fairy tale. Just make sure to dress warmly and check trail conditions. The park’s visitor center, near the entrance, is a great resource for maps and information.

Without a doubt, exploring Bryce Canyon is one of the top things to do in the Southwest. If you’re hiking through the hoodoos or gazing at the stars, Bryce Canyon offers a unique and unforgettable adventure in the Southwest. Don’t miss it!

9. Tour the Hoover Dam

Wondering where to go in the Southwest? Head to the Hoover Dam. Straddling the border between Arizona and Nevada, the Hoover Dam is a testament to human ingenuity. This massive structure, built during the Great Depression, is not only a historical landmark but also an engineering marvel.

Visiting the dam, I highly advise taking the guided tour. You’ll learn about the dam’s history and get to see the power plant and passageways within the structure. The views from the top of the dam are spectacular – the Colorado River on one side and Lake Mead on the other.

For history and engineering enthusiasts, the Hoover Dam stands out as one of the most enjoyable Southwest USA destinations.
For history and engineering enthusiasts, the Hoover Dam stands out as one of the most enjoyable Southwest USA destinations.

For a different perspective, take a walk along the Mike O’Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge. The view of the dam from this vantage point is truly impressive. If you’re into kayaking or boating, exploring the waters of Lake Mead offers a unique way to appreciate the dam’s grandeur.

If you’re a lover of history and engineering, the Hoover Dam is definitely one of the most fun places to visit in the Southwest USA. It’s a scenic place in Las Vegas where you can marvel at what humans are capable of achieving.  Get ready to be awed by this monumental piece of history!

10. Journey through Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree National Park, located in southeastern California, is a place where two distinct desert ecosystems, the Mojave and the Colorado, come together. It’s a land of fascinating contrasts, with a variety of plants and animals adapted to this unique environment.

One of the best ways to experience the park is by hiking some of its trails. I recommend the Hidden Valley Nature Trail. It’s an easy loop that showcases the park’s stunning rock formations and the iconic Joshua trees. For a more challenging hike, try Ryan Mountain for amazing panoramic views.

Engage in hiking, rock climbing, or simply savor the scenery—Joshua Tree epitomizes the desert's rugged beauty.
Engage in hiking, rock climbing, or simply savor the scenery—Joshua Tree epitomizes the desert’s rugged beauty.

Don’t miss the chance to explore the Cholla Cactus Garden. It’s especially beautiful during sunrise or sunset when the light makes the cacti glow. If you’re into stargazing, the park’s dark skies offer some of the best views of the Milky Way.

Visiting Joshua Tree National Park is a must for anyone who loves the outdoors. Whether you’re hiking, rock climbing, or just enjoying the scenery, Joshua Tree captures the rugged beauty of the desert.

11. Walk White Sands National Park

Have you ever imagined walking on a sea of glistening white sand? White Sands National Park in New Mexico makes that dream a reality! This park is home to the world’s largest gypsum dune field, and the sight is simply surreal. Truly one of the most underrated national parks in the US.

Start your visit at the park’s visitor center, where you can learn about the dunes’ formation and the unique ecosystem. A must-do is the Dune Life Nature Trail, an easy loop that offers a close-up look at the plants and animals that thrive in this environment. Don’t forget to bring sunglasses – the reflection off the white sand can be bright!

Exploring White Sands National Park is a magical Southwest experience, standing out as a regional highlight.
Exploring White Sands National Park is a magical Southwest experience, standing out as a regional highlight.

For photographers, the park is a paradise, especially during sunrise or sunset when the light casts incredible shadows on the dunes. If you’re feeling adventurous, try sledding down the dunes – it’s a fun and unique experience!

A visit to White Sands National Park is a magical experience and a highlight of what to do in the American Southwest. If you’re hiking, sledding, or just soaking in the views, it’s a place that feels like another world!

12. Drive Historic Route 66

Last up on our list, but certainly not least, is the iconic drive along Historic Route 66. This legendary highway, stretching from Chicago to Santa Monica, passes through the heart of the Southwest, offering a slice of classic Americana.

Starting in Arizona, Route 66 takes you through quirky towns, retro diners, and unique roadside attractions. I recommend stopping in Seligman, Arizona. It’s like stepping back in time with its vintage charm. Don’t miss the Snow Cap Drive-In for a fun, nostalgic dining experience!

Explore Historic Route 66 in the Southwest USA for a family-friendly journey through rich stories and landscapes.
Explore Historic Route 66 in the Southwest USA for a family-friendly journey through rich stories and landscapes.

As you journey through, the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona is a must-see. It’s home to one of the largest collections of petrified wood in the world. And in New Mexico, the town of Tucumcari is known for its colorful murals and historic motels, perfect for those Instagram-worthy shots!

Driving Historic Route 66 is more than just a road trip. It’s a journey through history and culture. One of the best things to do in the Southwest USA with kids, it’s a chance to experience the spirit of the region, with its rich stories and timeless landscapes. So, hit the road and make some unforgettable memories!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about the Best Things to Do in the Southwest:

Looking for more content on the top things to do in Southwest? Here are some popular questions (and answers) I get that will help you plan your trip to the Southwest US.

What is the southwest of the US known for?

The Southwest USA is renowned for its stunning natural landscapes, like the Grand Canyon and Zion National Park. It’s a region where deserts meet mountains, creating breathtaking scenery. The area is also rich in Native American and Spanish cultural influences, evident in its art, architecture, and cuisine.

When should I visit the American Southwest?

Spring (March to May) and fall (September to November) are ideal for visiting the Southwest. The weather is mild, perfect for outdoor activities. Summers can be scorching, especially in desert areas, while winters offer unique beauty, like snow-dusted red rocks in Sedona. Always check local weather and park conditions before your trip.

The Southwest is renowned for seamlessly blending natural beauty, cultural richness, and a plethora of adventurous activities.
The Southwest is renowned for seamlessly blending natural beauty, cultural richness, and a plethora of adventurous activities.

Southwestern cuisine is a delicious blend of Native American, Mexican, and Spanish flavors. Dishes like tacos, enchiladas, and tamales are popular. My personal favorite is the New Mexican green chile – it adds a spicy kick to any dish. Don’t miss trying a Navajo taco; it’s a delightful local specialty!

What is considered Southwest USA?

Southwest USA typically includes Arizona, New Mexico, and parts of Colorado, Utah, Nevada, and Texas. It’s a region defined by its diverse landscapes, from the vast deserts of Arizona to the mountainous regions of Colorado. Each state brings its own unique flavor to the Southwest.

The Southwest is popular for its unique combination of natural beauty, cultural richness, and adventurous activities. It offers some of the most iconic landscapes in the USA, like Monument Valley and Joshua Tree National Park. The region’s history, art, and cuisine also attract visitors from all over the world.

The top things to do in the Southwest USA for all types of travelers
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