Today’s guest post comes from Kelly from the The Wandering Blonde. There are so many USA road trips I’d love to do, but after reading this post, road tripping the American Southwest is firmly on my bucket list! Kelly is a 20-something part-time traveler and blogger based in Houston, Texas. When she’s not using her vacation days, personal days and long weekends to venture across the globe, she can be found road-tripping around the US and seeking out the ultimate brunch locations in Houston. You can follow her latest adventures and receive travel inspiration on her Instagram @thewanderingblonde_
For anyone paying their first visit to the American Southwest, this region of the States can be a bit shocking—in the absolute best way possible.
Even Americans who have lived their entire lives within the United States will be blown away when visiting this remote and colorful corner of their own country.
Vast, vibrant landscapes stretch across the horizon beneath the clearest and bluest of skies. Outdoorsy types as well as those looking for a peaceful escape from city life will fall head over heels for the wide open spaces and jaw-dropping landmarks of the American Southwest.
By far the best way to explore this region is by car, so grab your keys, pack a map, and prepare to set off on one of the most epic road trips of your life.
Bryce Canyon, Utah
Bryce Canyon is the perfect introduction to the vastness and the grandeur of the American Southwest. Arguably one of the most scenic national parks in the United States, this park will offer a unique contrast to the stereotype that all deserts are flat and empty.
The colorful rock arches, pillars and plateaus will surely leave you breathless. Whether you’re here to hike, camp, horseback ride, or simply enjoy the spectacular red-rock views, there is something for absolutely everyone to enjoy at Bryce.
Zion National Park, Utah
If you’re seeking adventure and the chance to escape, Zion is the place to go. Located near the border of Arizona and Utah, this park is home to some of the most famous and scenic hikes in the country. Diverse landscapes and ecosystems give way to mountains, canyons, arches, rivers and forests.
Antelope Canyon, Arizona
Antelope Canyon needs to be seen to be believed. This canyon was formed by rainwater and flash flood erosion, and the result is seriously beautiful. The smooth, narrow, swirling canyon walls are almost otherworldly—in fact, it will be hard to believe that you’re still just near the Utah-Arizona border!
Monument Valley, Utah and Arizona
Despite being located relatively close to Bryce, Zion, and Antelope Canyon, Monument Valley really is a world of its own. This park is much more open and remote-feeling than the previous parks—something that you will surely fall in love with when you arrive.
Monument Valley is the kind of place that encourages you to imagine old Western saloons and cowboys riding off into sunsets. Its quintessential American Southwest at its finest.
Grand Canyon, Arizona
The Grand Canyon got its name for a reason—despite the views that the previous national parks will offer you, truly nothing can prepare you for the feeling you’ll have when you look over the edge of one of the largest canyons on earth. The sheer endlessness of this canyon will have you speechless; no matter how long you stare into the horizon, all you’ll see for miles and miles is row after row of colorful canyon walls.
After hiking, mountain-biking, horseback riding, and backpacking across the previously mentioned national parks, you’re bound to be in need of a little rest-and-recovery. Luckily, Sedona is less than two hours from the Grand Canyon, and is the perfect spot to relax and recuperate. In addition to the spas and retreats located here, you can get involved in some serious spiritual healing. Sedona is home to a number of “energy vortexes” which are thought to facilitate meditation and healing. You can also wander the shops to find bundles of sage, cleansing crystals, and calming essential oils. If you’re still feeling adventurous when you make it to Sedona, don’t worry—there’s plenty of action-packed fun to be had here, from hikes to ATV outings to sunrise hot air balloon rides.
Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona
As you make your way east of Sedona, prepare yourself for a serious change in scenery. Bid adieu to the red rocks and say hello to the West as you probably always pictured it—endless open highways, flat dry landscapes, scrubby trees and towering cacti.One must-see in this region is the Petrified Forest National Park. This often overlooked park is one of my favorites in the Southwest. While it may not have the colors and sweeping views of the other parks, it definitely has some of the most unique sceneries I’ve ever encountered. What it lacks in traditional beauty, it makes up for in utter vastness. It’s all but impossible to drive through this park without questioning if you’ve somehow ended up on another planet by mistake. The Petrified Forest is existing proof that barren can be beautiful.
Make sure to “get your kicks on Route 66”! This historic highway stretches across the span of the entire United States, but one of the best sections of the highway for driving is between Arizona and New Mexico. If kitschy roadside attractions are your thing, this highway is a must-see. Historic motels, diners, and tourist traps are speckled along the sides of this highway, and you’ll no doubt be tempted to pull over and re-live the glory of the 1950s and 60s.
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Santa Fe is one of those magical cities that so perfectly brings together a unique blend of art, architecture, food and culture. This city is one of the urban jewels of the Southwest, making it a wonderful stopping point for your Southwest adventure. You can tour the decorative and historic Catholic churches, shop for custom Southwest-inspired art at the farmers market, buy organic lemonade off the streets, sip cold margaritas at a sunny rooftop bar, or—my personal favorite—sample spicy Mayan drinking chocolates at Kakawa Chocolate House. Whether you follow this outline or map out your own road trip across the American Southwest, you’re sure to encounter the landscapes, history, and wide open spaces that showcase the absolute beauty of this region. All photos, unless otherwise stated, belong to Kelly at The Wandering Blonde.