The American Southwest is home to some of the most stunning natural landscapes imaginable. Canyons, hoodoos, and dwellings left behind by ancient inhabitants are just some of the amazing things to do in the Southwest and every last one of them is bucket list-worthy. Consisting of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, and Utah, these incredible states are jam packed with incredible places to visit. Whether you’re planning a classic Southwest road trip like so many travelers before you or just looking to explore one area, the places – and photos! – on this list are sure to ignite your wanderlust.
- 1 Arizona bucket list items
- 1.1 Visit Grand Canyon National Park
- 1.2 Tour Lower Antelope Canyon
- 1.3 Hike to gorgeous Havasu Falls
- 1.4 Take a hike to The Wave
- 1.5 See the famous Horseshoe Bend
- 1.6 See the rainbow colors of Petrified Forest National Park
- 1.7 View the massive Meteor Crater
- 1.8 Hike the beautiful Painted Desert
- 1.9 Step back to the Wild West in Tombstone
- 2 Colorado bucket list items
- 2.1 Visit the top of Pikes Peak
- 2.2 Explore Rocky Mountain National Park
- 2.3 Ski Colorado’s most famous resorts
- 2.4 See Pueblo cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde National Park
- 2.5 Explore the Breckenridge backcountry
- 2.6 Visit the Garden of the Gods
- 2.7 See the largest sand dunes in North America
- 2.8 Have tea at Miramont Castle
- 3 New Mexico bucket list items
- 3.1 Attend the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta
- 3.2 Visit White Sands National Park
- 3.3 Tour ancient dwellings from the Chaco culture
- 3.4 Look for UFOs in Roswell
- 3.5 Explore underground at Carlsbad Caverns National Park
- 3.6 See ancient dwellings in Bandelier National Monument
- 3.7 Tour one of the oldest houses in the United States
- 4 Oklahoma bucket list items
- 5 Texas bucket list items
- 6 Utah bucket list items
- 6.1 See the stunning hoodoos of Bryce Canyon
- 6.2 See the stunning natural arches of Arches National Park
- 6.3 Hike the famous trails of Zion National Park
- 6.4 See the Spiral Jetty in the Great Salt Lake
- 6.5 Explore the wilderness of the San Rafael Swell
- 6.6 Take a tour of Temple Square
- 6.7 Hike Coyote Gulch in Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument
- 6.8 Drive the scenic Burr Trail
- 6.9 Enjoy the perspective tricks of the Bonneville Salt Flats
- 7 Bucket list items crossing state lines
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The Southwest region is full of some of the country’s best National Parks, so if you’re planning on hitting several of them (and you should!) you’ll want to snag an America the Beautiful pass, which covers admission to all of them plus lots of Federal lands for one year. It currently costs only $80, so it’s a great deal! Grand Canyon National Park alone costs $35/vehicle to enter, so you can get your money’s worth in just a few stops.
Arizona bucket list items
Visit Grand Canyon National Park
The southwestern United States is full of incredible natural wonders, but the Grand Canyon is perhaps the most awe-inspiring of them all. It’s a mile deep at some points and 18 miles across at its widest point so the views are unlike anything else. The sheer size of it is hard to imagine unless you’ve seen it for yourself. Formed by the Colorado River over the course of millions of years, this natural wonder is an absolute must see when visiting the Southwest. Grand Canyon National Park is home to some of the most famous hiking, lodges, and views and should be on every outdoor enthusiast’s bucket list.
Casual visitors can enjoy scenic drives along the rim, while experienced hikers can tackle the challenge of hiking down into the canyon itself. Mule trains are also available for those who’d prefer to ride down. Rafting along the Colorado River is popular with thrill seekers as is skydiving. Flights over the canyon for an aerial view depart from the nearby Grand Canyon National Park Airport or several other smaller airports in the area. You can also test your nerve on the glass-bottomed skywalk operated by the Hualapai Tribe outside of the National Park.
Tour Lower Antelope Canyon
East of Page, Arizona
Antelope Canyon is a breathtaking natural slot canyon created mainly by flash flooding. It is divided into two parts called the Upper and Lower Antelope Canyons. These wonders are located close to Page, Arizona in native Navajo Tribal Park land. These canyons are federally protected and can only be entered through guided tours. Tour slots sell out pretty fast, so advance reservations are recommended if you plan on visiting these canyons.
Lower Antelope Canyon is a beautiful natural rock formation that must be added to your Arizona bucket list. There are only two tour operators that provide guided tours to this canyon namely Ken’s Tours and Dixie Ellis Lower Antelope Tours run by siblings. The official Navajo nation parks website gives more information about available tours.
This canyon shows off exquisitely created sandstone arches that spiral up majestically into the sky leaving small slots for light to get through. The walking tour through Lower Antelope Canyon takes about an hour and a half with plenty of photo stops. The guides help you with the best photo settings for iPhone and cameras, and even take your pictures at certain spots in the canyon.
There are stairs at different sections of the canyon and some flights of stairs are pretty steep. Naturally, this tour is only for those who are physically fit to tackle the stairs. But as the pace of the tour is slow, even young children can climb the stairs easily. At the end of the canyon when you climb up through a narrow gap and come out, you would be shocked to see the fissure-like openings in the ground from where you emerged. It is hard to believe that there is a whole wide world of amazing canyon rocks down there.
By Priyadarshini from Glorious Sunrise
Hike to gorgeous Havasu Falls
Hiking Havasu Falls isn’t for the faint-hearted, but it may just be one of the most rewarding hikes you ever embark on. When you arrive, you’ll be greeted by one of the most impressive waterfalls you could ever see. The famous Havasu Falls are 30m of bright blue water, set against a backdrop mountains and reddish colored rock. It’s a sight unlike any other and its secluded location on the edge of the Grand Canyon only adds to the awe.
The total trek from the Havasupai trailhead to the famous blue waters is around 9 miles altogether. The first part of the hike is the longest at 8 miles in total, taking you from the trailhead all the way to the village of Supai. You begin by descending into the canyon, and then the hike takes you through a beautiful slot canyon. The hike takes around 3-5 hours in total and, during that time, you’ll see very few signs of life other than the odd mule train or fellow hiker. It’s then just a 1-mile hike further to reach the famous falls and the main camping area of Havasu Falls.
If you’re not into hiking, you can take a helicopter out. But if you’re up for a challenge – especially the uphill climb at the end! – the Havasu Falls hike is an incredibly rewarding experience you won’t want to miss.
Find out more on the official website.
By Jodie from Alajode
Take a hike to The Wave
Coconino County, Arizona
One of the most unique sites on earth is The Wave, located in Arizona just south of the Utah border. This sandstone rock formation looks out of this world. The formation is believed to have formed during the Jurassic Age. It was created by wind and water erosion. It is located in the Paria Canyon-Vermillion Wilderness and because of its fragile nature, only 20 people are allowed in to see it each day. Ten permits can be booked online 4 months in advance, and another ten are available the day prior at the visitor center via lottery. It is known to be one of the hardest hiking permits to obtain in the United States. In the summer months, there can be over 300 people hoping to get selected in the lottery process for a permit. The best time to visit is in the spring or fall. Weather in the summer can be over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The hike is about 5.5 miles (9 km) round trip and is difficult to navigate. There is little to no signage to ensure that only visitors with permits can find it. The penalty for going illegally can be up to $10,000 USD!
See more about hiking The Wave from Yana at Beard and Curly Adventures
See the famous Horseshoe Bend
Southwest of Page, Arizona
As I walked the last little way out to the point and the first peek of this natural beauty came into view, our little group grew quiet and I wondered how had it taken me this long to visit Horseshoe Bend. I truly had been missing out. I had visited the Grand Canyon twice and even lived in the state of Arizona for a few months (many years ago) so it was completely my own fault.
The grandeur of this natural horseshoe-shaped curve in the Colorado River is vast. Imagine walking out to an overlook that opens into a 1,000-foot drop. The striking color of the blue/green water against the red rock is eye candy and the dramatic scenery commands silence as evidenced by the hush it put over the visitors seeing it for the very first time.
Horseshoe Bend is located near Page, Arizona off Highway 89. There is a 1.5-mile round-trip hike (3/4 mile each way) to get to the overlook from the parking lot. Part of the way is uphill and part is in soft sand. Since we visited in November, heat wasn’t an issue. However, in the summer be sure to wear a hat, sunscreen and have plenty of water as there is no shade.
TIP: There is an ongoing debate about the best time to visit but mid-morning to mid-day seem to be most popular. The overlook faces the west. We were there right before sunset and although beautiful, we were facing into the sun and the bend was in the shadows.
By Heather from Trimm Travels
See the rainbow colors of Petrified Forest National Park
Petrified Forest, Arizona
Petrified Forest National Park is a hidden gem of the Southwest. It gets far less attention than its neighbor, the Grand Canyon, which is actually a good thing. National Parks are getting busier by the year, but solitude is still yours for the taking at under-the-radar parks like Petrified Forest.
The park has one 28-mile road running north-south. On this road you can find everything from overlooks to historic structures to hiking trails. The road takes a little less than an hour to drive in its entirety, without stopping (which you’ll do, of course)!
If you’re interested in fossils and seeing the famous petrified wood, check out the south end. Its Rainbow Forest Museum is extremely well-maintained and laid out by a team of paleontologists. There’s a short trail just behind the museum called Giant Logs, and two more longer trails leave from the parking lot. All of the trails showcase the park’s petrified wood. I can’t recommend these trails enough, especially on a slightly rainy day when the fossilized tree colors are most vibrant!
The Northern end of the park is known for scenic vistas, in an area called the Painted Desert (also the name of the North Visitor Center). It feels like there’s a new view of the striking red rock desert every 50 feet. You can hike a spectacular (if windy) rim trail along the side of the Painted Desert, if you just can’t get enough of the views.
There are no campgrounds in Petrified Forest National Park. However, if you are a somewhat experienced backpacker, they allow backcountry camping with a permit. Otherwise, the nearest town is Holbrook, which has a couple hotels. Plenty of other nearby National Forests and National Monuments, such as Canyon de Chelly and El Morro, have nice campgrounds.
By Kaisa from Glam Granola Travel
View the massive Meteor Crater
One location to stop at while visiting Arizona is the Meteor Crater close to Winslow. For those taking Route 66, it is perfect as you pass right by it. The estimated impact was about 50,000 years ago. The size is really impressive, as it is one mile across, 2.4 miles in circumference and more than 550 feet deep. It’s truly hard to imagine without seeing it in person.
We easily spent an hour to two hours here, which includes the museum visit and a tour. They have some great locations as viewpoints to view the Meteor Crater. There are also telescopes that are fixed, allowing you to view specific things such as the mining entrances from previous research. One awesome thing to spot when you are there is the small airplane that once crashed at the bottom. You can hardly see it with your own eyes so you need to use the telescopes!
We highly recommend that you get there for one of their tours, as you can access the rim of the crater only with the tour. It’s great to learn about the crater from one of the employees who works there, allowing you to openly ask questions as well. Plus this is at no extra cost!
See more about visiting Meteor Crater from Zoe at Together in Transit
Hike the beautiful Painted Desert
Many trips to Arizona center around the Grand Canyon. It is a bucket list item for sure, but when you are there it is more than worth your effort to drive just a few hours to explore the Painted Desert. The Painted Desert fills a huge area. It extends from the east side of the Grand Canyon all the way to the northern side of the Petrified Forest National Park. In different areas of it, you will find uniquely vivid colors, hence the name of the Painted Desert. The easiest way to access the Painted Desert is by crossing the highway at the northern border of Petrified Forest National Park off of the famous Route 66. At this entrance you will find an old Studebaker, rusting in the desert sun and a perfect photo op. Right after you enter that way you will find the Painted Desert Inn which was a trading post and now contains a museum about the area. Before planning my visit, I hadn’t heard of this area, but now it is one of my favorites in the US. Read this post for more information or to plan your trip to the Painted Desert of Arizona.
By Jamie from The Daily Adventures of Me
Step back to the Wild West in Tombstone
There’s no place that epitomizes the Old West better than Tombstone, Arizona. A little over an hour’s drive south of Tucson, as soon as you park your car you are smack dab in the middle of the type of one-horse town seen in any western movie. Cowboys (actors) hang out on the Main Street, leaning against the wooden beams holding up the various storefronts, saloons, and diners.
A few times a day, they reenact the most infamous gunfight of all time as Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp take on the McLaury brothers at the OK Corral. In fact, there are a few different places to see shows depicting bad guys and sheriffs, all with plenty of shoot outs. Some are more humorous and some downright historical; no matter when you are there, you can watch one or two.
While you are in town, you can mosey up to a bar in the saloon, take a comedic cable car tour through town, eat some southwestern fare, and of course get yourself a shiny new pair of cowboy boots. The whole day is spent enjoying the feeling of being in the wild, wild west, and everyone will love it.
See more about visiting Tombstone from Corinne at Roving Vails
Colorado bucket list items
Visit the top of Pikes Peak
Colorado Springs, Colorado
Summiting a fourteener (a mountain more than 14,000 feet tall) is considered to be quite an accomplishment. But why hike it when you can drive or take a train? Pikes Peak is a fantastic place to visit because you can actually drive right to the top of the mountain. The road to the top twists and turns through curves and slightly-scary switchbacks, but the views are definitely worth it – unless you’re the one driving in which case you might want to keep your eyes on the road. The day we visited, we were looking down on puffy white clouds, which is something I’d only done from the window of an airplane before.
If you’re looking to reach the top with even less effort, sit back and ride the inclined railway to the top instead. The beautiful red trains arrive at a station right at the summit, allowing you to get out and look around before riding back down. If you’re in better shape than I am, you can hike or bike to the top as well, but I was quite content behind the wheel of my car, cruising along “America’s Highway” as the park has named the road. Check out my guide for more tips and info for making the drive up Pikes Peak.
Explore Rocky Mountain National Park
Estes Park, Colorado
Some of my favorite hikes I’ve ever done are in Rocky Mountain National Park. Visitors can find hikes suitable for all skill levels from easy walks around paved trails to summiting the park’s tallest peak. My favorite was the Dream Lake Trail which falls somewhere in between, but includes the reward of the gorgeous view pictured above. Alberta Falls is another relatively easy trail with a nice payoff in the form of the small but impressive waterfall – and you can keep going to visit places like Sky Pond if you’re a more serious hiker.
If you’re more into scenic views that you don’t have to work for, take a drive along Trail Ridge Road, which winds from the Estes Park side in the east across the Continental Divide. It’s the highest continuously paved road in the US and a feat of engineering in and of itself. Plan your visit for the summer or early fall if you want to check it out – it closes for the winter and typically doesn’t reopen until late spring depending on the amount of snow.
Ski Colorado’s most famous resorts
Colorado is home to some of the best skiing and snowboarding resorts in the United States, and a chance to ride the slopes at its top resorts is on the bucket list of many winter enthusiasts. Iconic ski resorts are scattered among the state’s Rocky Mountains, and places like Aspen, Vail, Breckenridge, Steamboat Springs, and Telluride are enough to make skiers drool. All of them offer excellent world class skiing and are great destinations for a weekend trip or more.
Beginners will still be able to enjoy some of the terrain, as each resort features green level runs. Take a lesson at one of the fantastic ski schools to brush up on your skills and get comfortable on the mountain at the beginning of your trip. Eventually you may work your way up to a blue level run. Vail and Telluride both have beginner terrain near the top of the mountain, so you can enjoy the views too. If you still want the Colorado skiing experience without the hefty price tag, check out budget-friendly Cooper Mountain, just a short drive from Vail. Checkout some of these amazing ski packages at Colorado’s top resorts.
See Pueblo cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde National Park
West of Durango, Colorado
For an incredible look into the life of the ancient Pueblo people, Mesa Verde National Park is a must-visit. Located in the Four Corners area in Colorado, the park protects 600 cliff dwellings and more than 4,300 archaeological sites dating from 600 -1300 CE. The Pueblo cliff dwellings are some of the best preserved and most notable in the United States, and the park is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The best time to visit Mesa Verde National Park is during the summer and fall. While the park remains open in the winter, frequent snowfall makes many of the roads impassable and the hiking treacherous. The biggest attractions at Mesa Verde are the incredibly preserved cliff dwellings, which you can tour during a ranger-led hike. Tours include Cliff Palace, which is Mesa Verde’s largest cliff dwelling, Balcony House, and Long House. All of the guided tours are rated as strenuous, as hikers must walk up and down ladders at the cliff dwellings.
There are several self-guided tours of archaeological sites available that are easier on the knees, and you will also find more than 20 miles of hiking trails and two informative museums. Lodging is available within Mesa Verde National Park at Far View Lodge, or you can pitch your tent at Morefield Campground. Because of the delicate nature of the historic sites, backcountry camping is prohibited. Mesa Verde National Park makes a great addition to any Southwest road trip, as it is very close to Monument Valley and the Four Corners Monument.
By Tara from Back Road Ramblers
Explore the Breckenridge backcountry
Breckenridge Nordic Center offers a dual cross country ski and snowshoe rental for around $40/day. The idea is that you can swap out between skis and snowshoes halfway through the day and try both activities in a single day.
For those of you who want to experience a backcountry winter wonderland but aren’t quite up for the thrill of downhill skiing, Nordic skiing is the perfect alternative. You really break a sweat out there because you’re mostly propelled by your own efforts. Cross country skiing is the slow, contemplative cousin to downhill skiing.
Then, you have snowshoeing, which is even more mellow. That’s better for the second half of the day when you’re winding down and want to relax a bit. The Breckenridge Nordic center has perfect trails for both activities. You’re in a somewhat secluded, wooded and snowy area, yet you can get back to the lodge to warm up within a half hour of most trails. There are a few fun things to see on the trails, such as a historical house. You are allowed to take the gondola up to the alpine skiing area as well to say hi to the downhill skiers. All in all, there is a lot to explore in a single day, and for just 40 bucks, it’s a steal.
By Renee from Renee the Wanderess
Visit the Garden of the Gods
Colorado Springs, Colorado
Garden of the Gods was one of my favorite Colorado attractions – and to make things even better, it’s free to enter. The park is full of incredible red rock formations that were formed over years and years of erosion, leaving fascinating shapes and opportunities for hiking and rock climbing. The most popular area of the park is the Perkins Central Trail. Most of the area is paved and relatively flat, and it allows you to see features like the Kissing Camels – a rock formation that really does look like two camels smooching.
My favorite trail at Garden of the Gods was the Siamese Twins trail, which is a bit more difficult, but not too challenging for a couple of out-of-shape Midwesterners. The payoff is a view of Pikes Peak through a natural rock window, in addition to the alien-like rock structures. After hiking that trail, don’t miss out on Balanced Rock, located right along the road nearby. This massive boulder seems like it should’ve toppled over ages ago, yet remains balanced in a spot great for photo ops. You can easily spend a day hiking in the park, so either bring a picnic lunch or check out the on-site restaurant that was serving up impossibly cheap buffalo burgers the day we visited. Find out more on the official website.
See the largest sand dunes in North America
Great Sand Dunes National Park is one the 4 National Parks in Colorado and located in the southern part of the state (about a 4-hour drive from Denver). These are the tallest dunes in North America, and the highest one is Star Dune (755ft/230m). In the backdrop you can see the Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range, the combination of the Sand Dunes and the Mountains is one of the most spectacular sights you’ll ever see.
There are lots of fun things to do in the park, and the first thing on your itinerary should be a visit to the Visitor Center to learn more about the park, how the Sand Dunes came to be and the fragile ecosystem that keeps them intact.
At night you can join a free tour led by rangers to stargaze and even spot Saturn if you are lucky. In the early morning you can climb High Dune (699ft/213m), but be sure to bring enough water and to wear closed toe shoes. Also, don’t attempt to do this hike in the afternoon as you’ll risk burning your feet or getting struck by lightning from the afternoon thunderstorms (July/August).
After your hike, cool off in Medano Creek or relax at the beautiful Piñon Flats Campground ($20/night for a maximum of 8 people and 2 vehicles).
By Lotte from Phenomenal Globe Travel Blog
Have tea at Miramont Castle
Manitou Springs, Colorado
When it comes to visiting Colorado, Manitou Springs is often an overlooked location. The town is a beautiful, scenic getaway with numerous attractions, one of which is Miramont Castle. Miramont Castle was built in 1895 by French Catholic Priest Jean Baptiste Francolon. Visitors can tour the house and learn about the castle’s importance in the Manitou Springs community and how the church across the street greatly shaped how the castle was perceived in the community.
The castle is a large stone mansion, rightfully called a castle, nestled in downtown Manitou Springs. The castle is surrounded by luscious gardens that separate the castle from the city’s hustle and bustle and offers visitors a little escape.
The main purpose of Miramont Castle was to incorporate nature in all elements of the house. Throughout the house, there are expansive picture windows that look out on the Rocky Mountain vistas. The house is filled with warm-toned woods, which juxtapose perfectly against the regal artwork and fabrics. Though the house aims to invite nature in, it maintains its regal feel with Renaissance-style and Gothic-style architecture. The house is nothing short of fabulous and immaculate.
A beautiful tradition that Miramont Castle has upheld over the years is inviting visitors to enjoy an afternoon tea in the house’s large dining room. Tea is held throughout the year and is a highly coveted event by locals and other fellow travelers during the winter season. Regardless of the time of year, Miramont Castle is an ideal destination all year long.
By Martha from Quirky Globetrotter
New Mexico bucket list items
Attend the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta
Albuquerque, New Mexico
The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is the largest annual balloon fiesta in the world and it takes places each year in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The festival normally takes place over 10 consecutive days in October each year. During this time, visitors have the opportunity to watch hundreds of colorful hot air balloons take to the skies.
Each day of the festival, different events take place. The most popular are the morning mass ascensions where hundreds of balloons go up within a couple of hours. Balloon glows are another popular event that take place in the evening where hot air balloons are inflated and their burners are lit, but they stay grounded. These are usually accompanied by a fireworks display and/or light show. Other events usually include hot air balloon competitions, concert events, and chainsaw carving. At the festival, there are also food vendors, rides and games for children, a craft tent, local business demonstrations, and gift shop stalls.
The event is one of the most colorful and most photographed festivals in the world and I am lucky to have been to the event three times so far. It is good to plan well in advance for the event as accommodation prices rise during this period and many hotels sell out. If you want to do a hot air balloon ride, you’ll want to book these in advance as well. You can pay for parking and purchase entrance tickets on site or in advance. Read more tips to plan your trip in our Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta guide.
By Jessica from Independent Travel Cats
Even if you can’t make it for the Balloon Fiesta, you can still take a ride in a hot air balloon in Albuquerque. Find out more here!
Visit White Sands National Park
Southern New Mexico
If you find yourself in El Paso, Texas near the US/Mexican Border make sure you head 1.5 hour’s drive north to discover White Sands National Park in New Mexico. During our three month USA road trip we were told to make sure we visited this national park by a man in a Home Depot parking lot back in Austin. He wasn’t wrong when he said this area was very impressive.
White Sands National Park, and the military area around it, form the largest gypsum sand dune in the world. In total there are 275 square miles of dune fields and these dunes seem to appear out of nowhere when you approach it from the south. You can explore the monument by car since most of the roads are paved, but I’d highly recommend getting out every now and again to hike some of the shorter trails. If you do hike then make sure to take plenty of water with you – it gets extremely hot in the dunes!
One of the best times to view these super white sands is at sunset when the sky goes through a series of beautiful colors and everything’s a little cooler too!
By Hannah from That Adventurer
Tour ancient dwellings from the Chaco culture
Northwestern New Mexico
Home to one of the most famous archaeological sites in the American Southwest, Chaco Culture National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the few International Dark Sky Sites. It stands to reason, since it sits in the middle of nowhere, far from any towns or inhabited area, on the Navajo Reservation at the end of a dirt road. To experience the darkest skies you can imagine, set up camp for a night in the Gallo Campground. You will not only see the Milky Way like never before, but you will camp by a cliff dwelling, surrounded by petroglyphs, in a high desert environment.
Stop at the Visitor Center and the enclosed museum to learn about the ancient Chacoans and the site’s significance, then visit the park by driving through it on a nine-mile loop. Stop at each structure and walk through it. You’ll get to experience a few big houses, called so because they have over 100 rooms each, some of them reaching four stories high. The highlight of the site is Pueblo Bonito, where you get to walk through the rooms, some of them covered, and one with the ancient plaster still on the walls. You might not realize walking through it, but this structure alone has over 650 rooms, and 35 kivas, that you get to walk around. And if you are so inclined and have the time, climb up on the mesa top, where you get a great view of the site.
Find out more about Chaco Culture National Park by Emese at Wanderer Writes
Look for UFOs in Roswell
Roswell, New Mexico
For years, I had wanted to go to Roswell, New Mexico. Call it a pilgrimage for an avid conspiracy theorist. The city certainly did not disappoint. The entire town has not only claimed its alien reputation but embraced it with a fervor that one would expect to see in theme parks. Wandering downtown, I was met by giant aliens at storefronts, aliens painted on the walls, even alien eyes on the streetlights. The biggest highlight for me was the International UFO Museum: a sizeable building dedicated to not only documenting the crash of a UFO (or weather balloon or top secret surveillance balloon if you believe what the government says) but the alien and UFO phenomena in general. As an added bonus, the museum is dog-friendly as are many of the gift shops, and I even found a cafe where my dogs could sit inside with me.
For those that aren’t interested in (alleged) government cover-ups, there is still lots to do around Roswell. Bottomless Lakes State Park has a series of trails for hiking and mountain biking as well as several lakes for fishing. You can also watch for lights in the sky if you decide to camp out there overnight. Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge provides an excellent place to bird watch without even leaving your car but there are trails that will take you far from the road and are easy to hike.
Whatever your reason for going to Roswell, it is truly a special place to visit.
Read more about visiting Roswell from Kristal at Adventure Dawgs
Explore underground at Carlsbad Caverns National Park
Carlsbad, New Mexico
Carlsbad Caverns National Park is home to more than 100 caves full of unique limestone features. Carlsbad Cavern, the park’s most visited area, features The Big Room, which is a spectacular 255 feet high and is the fifth largest known cave chamber on the continent. The caves in the park were formed when groundwater combined with hydrogen sulfide to form sulfuric acid. The acid then dissolved the limestone deposits leaving behind the many chambers.
Visitors to Carlsbad Cavern can hike down into it from its natural entrance on the surface or ride down in one elevators from the visitor center. If exploring underground isn’t your thing, there are plenty of hiking trails and an unpaved scenic drive that takes you through the desert portions of the National Park. It’s also officially designated as an Important Birding Area due to its large colony of cave swallows.
See ancient dwellings in Bandelier National Monument
Los Alamos, New Mexico
Less than an hour from Santa Fe, New Mexico’s Bandelier National Monument is a must-see destination you definitely want to make time for while traveling in the Southwest US. When I visited this 33,000-acre desert park, I was wowed by the canyons and cliffs, but what makes Bandelier a bucket list destination are the cliff dwellings and other centuries-old ruins you can explore firsthand.
About 11,000 years ago, the Ancestral Pueblo people lived in the area that is now protected as Bandelier National Monument. They carved homes into the sides of the cliffs, and you can climb wooden ladders to actually step inside these ancient dwellings. They also left behind stone buildings, where you can peek inside the toppled ruins and imagine what life was like so long ago.
If you’re not scared of heights—or, if like me, you’re terrified of them but refuse to let your adventures be limited by a little ol’ phobia—continue another half-mile past the Main Loop trail to the Alcove House. Here, you’ll climb 140 feet up the canyon on a series of four ladders to a large dwelling carved into the cliff face. I was shaking by the time I reached the top, but the views and the experience were well worth the challenge.
You’ll want to plan a half-day at Bandelier National Monument to hike its trails, explore the many cliff dwellings and see the petroglyphs left behind centuries ago.
By Catherine from To & Fro Fam
Tour one of the oldest houses in the United States
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Found by the Spanish in 1610, Santa Fe is the oldest state capital city in the USA, and also the oldest city in New Mexico. It’s a city we love to visit, and whenever we go to New Mexico we stop by. One of our favorite attractions in Santa Fe is the De Vargas Street House, which dates from around 1200 AD, when a Pueblo building stood here.
The house has undergone a few changes over time, although elements of its structure are known to date from at least as early as 1742, based on dating of the wood in the structure. It formerly had two stories, although damage in the early 20th century meant that that second story was removed. It has been inhabited by a number of occupants, including the Spanish Territorial Governor, who lived here temporarily from 1709 – 1710.
Today, this adobe structure is a popular visitor attraction in Santa Fe, and it can be found at 215 East de Vargas Street. It’s not a huge place, but the interior is well worth a visit, and there’s a little gift shop on site as well. Entry to the oldest house in Santa Fe is free of charge. If you’re planning on visiting Santa Fe, take a look at our guide to things to do in Santa Fe for more ideas!
By Laurence from Finding the Universe
Oklahoma bucket list items
Pay your respects at the Oklahoma City bombing memorial
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
As a native New Yorker, the first place I wanted to visit in Oklahoma City was the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum. The September 11th attack in New York City and the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building are the two deadliest terrorist attacks in American history. I wanted to go to the Oklahoma City Memorial to pay my respects to the dead and understand more about how this terrible event could have occurred.
I’ve been to the 9/11 Memorial in New York City, but I was unprepared for how devastating the Oklahoma City Memorial would be. The museum takes you through every moment of the attack. The exhibit begins with life in the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building before the bomb went off and continues through the trials of perpetrators Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols. For me the hardest part of visiting the museum was seeing the memorial to the young children who were killed in the attack. (There was a daycare center in the Alfred P. Murrah Building.) Each child is memorialized by one of his or her favorite toys.
I almost had to leave the museum several times because I felt too emotional. Yet I felt that I owed it to the victims and their families to stay and listen to their stories. When you are finally ready to exit the museum, spend some time in the outdoor symbolic memorial. Each victim is honored with an empty chair with their name on it. Even though it’s emotionally challenging, everyone should visit the Oklahoma City National Memorial – to remind us to never allow something like this to happen again.
By Stella Jane from Around the World in 24 Hours
You can purchase tickets to the memorial here.
Sample unique drinks at Pops 66 Soda Ranch
Pops 66 Soda Ranch is basically the epitome of the perfect road trip roadside attraction. It has a giant 66-foot pop bottle outside, more than 600 flavors of soda, and it’s in the middle of nowhere in Arcadia, Oklahoma. This is the perfect stop on Route 66 to stop and stretch your legs and get some crazy sodas at the same time. If you’re passing by and hungry, you can stop in to eat before you make your soda selections.
What kind of flavors are there you ask? Well, you can get a traditional cola, pear soda, bacon soda, chocolate soda, and even hot wing soda. They’re a little pricey at $2 and up so you’ll have to be choosy unless you really want to splurge. These are so fun to try and even if you aren’t a regular soda drinker, I’d recommend trying one or two. Hey, you might even find something you like. Pumpkin spice cream, anyone?
By Megan from Red Around the World
Texas bucket list items
Visit the famous Alamo
San Antonio, Texas
Everybody remembers the Alamo, right? I grew up watching Davy Crockett movies, so I’d always wanted to visit this historic site right in the heart of San Antonio. Originally built as a Spanish mission, it was eventually turned into the fortress and was the site of a famous battle during the Texas Revolution. Even though the Mexican army won that battle, their actions there turned the battle of the Alamo into a rallying cry for the eventually successful revolt.
Despite its notoriety as a battle site, the Alamo was originally constructed as a religious mission – one of several that make up a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the area. Modern day visitors can learn about both aspects of its history via a free independent tour or pay for audio guides or guided tours. There are also special tours geared toward kids available. Find out more about visiting the Alamo in my guide to San Antonio or check out this tour that takes you to the Alamo and other missions.
Explore Big Bend National Park
Big Bend National Park is an incredibly underrated national park. Big Bend is tucked away in rural southwest Texas just across the river from Mexico. Big Bend is the ultimate desert national park, in my opinion, because it truly has it all! You’ll find mountains, canyons and rivers all packed into one 800k+ acre park. In addition to having more than 100 miles of hiking trails you can raft the Rio Grande, check out Native American petroglyphs, visit a ghost town and even soak in a natural hot spring. Trails for day hikes here vary in length from less than a mile to up to 14.5 miles so there’s truly something for every level of hiker. Also, it’s the perfect destination for star-gazing, if you’re into astronomy or astrophotography! In addition to these amazing outdoor experiences, you can also get a unique cultural experience by taking a boat across the river. Within the national park is a small border patrol office and you can go across the river into Boquillas del Carmen for lunch or stay and explore a little longer, so don’t forget your passport. I would recommend visiting Big Bend between October and March when the temperatures are much more moderate, but remember the desert can get cold at night and the temperature can vary by up to 20 degrees up in the mountains. No matter the time of year, or your interests, you’re sure to enjoy a visit to Big Bend National Park.
By Paige from For the Love of Wanderlust
Indulge in Texas’ finest BBQ
All over Texas
Eating Texas BBQ is an essential US southwest experience. From the sweet, slow-smoked pork of East Texas to the dry rubbed briskets of Austin, you could plan an entire road trip around the Lone Star State’s famous smokehouses.
Starting in Lockhart, the birthplace of Texas-style barbecue, visitors can enjoy meats cooked pit-style. Here, the original Black’s BBQ serves up juicy brisket, sausages, and classic sides like they have since the 1930s: wrapped in butcher paper on a cafeteria tray. You can smell the smoke from Lockhart’s BBQ pits a mile away.
A short hour’s drive from Lockhart will bring you to Austin, the vibrant city known for live music and amazing food trucks. There are dozens of excellent BBQ options in the state capitol, from the upscale Lambert’s to the popular gas station/BBQ chain Rudy’s. But the most iconic spot is Franklin’s Barbecue. Aaron Franklin and his team of pitmasters serve BBQ so good, the line starts forming hours before they open at 11am. By 1pm, expect everything to be sold out. However, if standing in line all morning isn’t in your travel plans, try this local tip to get a much-coveted and affordable Franklin’s meal. If you arrive just before 1pm on a weekday, you could score a heaping plate of whatever random bits of trimmed meat and sides are left from the day’s rush.
Heading east to Houston, stop in at Pinkerton’s Barbecue for epic smoked meats and mouth-watering sides like jalapeno cheese rice. The restaurant may be huge, but this popular spot gets packed with locals and tourists alike for lunch and dinner.
For down home BBQ in the big city, travel north to the Dallas suburb of Grapevine for a meal at Meat U Anywhere. Here, slabs of oak-and-hickory smoked brisket, sausage, and ribs are served in a cozy, down-home setting. Try and save room for dessert: the banana pudding is delicious.
By Chelsea from The Portable Wife
See the spot where JFK was assassinated
There are so many different theories on who killed JFK. Why not go to the spot where the shots were fired to learn more about it? The Sixth Floor Museum tells the story of that fateful day in the Texas School Book Depository building.
The exhibit starts out by telling you about the time period and the plan for JFK’s trip to Texas. Next, you learn about November 22, 1963, the day the president was assassinated, in detail. Then, there is a lot of interesting information about the investigation. The artifacts in the museum bring the history to life.
You can also see the corner of the building where investigators believe the fatal shots were fired. They don’t allow anyone to stand in that corner, though, in order to preserve the crime scene. You can get a better idea of what the gunman saw on the seventh floor, where they let you stand in that corner. Notice the X’s on the road where the shots hit.
There have been a lot of theories about what actually happened – were there also shots from another location (the grassy knoll) and was this part of a larger conspiracy? There were five different formal investigations; the Warren Commission is the most famous. The museum does a good job of providing information so that you can you form your own opinion. It gives you a lot to think about!
The Sixth Floor Museum is popular so be sure to book online in advance to avoid the long line.
By Anisa from Two Traveling Texans
Hike in Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Many people may not be aware that Texas has two National Parks within its borders. Guadalupe Mountains National Park may be the lesser known of these two resident parks, but it has rugged seclusion, peaceful solitude, and stunning topography that easily rivals big sibling Big Bend.
The best way to appreciate Guadalupe’s ruggedness is by hiking through the forests, canyons, deserts, and mountains that make up this area’s uniquely varied topography. My top choice for a challenging yet rewarding hike is the Guadalupe Peak hike – 8.5 miles and 3,000 feet in elevation gain to the highest point in Texas. Along the way hikers pass expanses of desert shrubbery, ponderosa forests, and a rocky summit that looks out over the El Paso salt basin, peaks of neighboring mountains like El Capitan, and the entirety of Guadalupe.
If hiking up is not your thing, Guadalupe has a plethora of additional day hike options at lower grades. The Smith Spring Trail is a 2.3 mile hike that highlights the vegetation of Guadalupe, with the potential for wildlife sightings and a gorgeous water feature. Another great forest and lushly foliaged option is the Bowl Trail, a 9.1 mile long trail. The Devil’s Hall Trail is a 4.3 mile hike that highlights Guadalupe’s canyons, as visitors traverse rocky, narrow, “hallways” through the canyon walls of Guadalupe. Those looking for a desert-highlighting trail should check out the 11.3 mile long hike that makes up the El Capitan Trail, which traverses the shrub laden base of the mountain. For those looking for an easy, paved, 0.75 mile nature walk, visit the Pinery Nature Trail, which passes the historic remnants of Piney Station, an old stop on the Butterfield Overland Mail route. For a hike that transitions over multiple environments, take on the McKittrick Canyon Trail. This 5.7 mile long hike encompasses canyons, desert, forest, water features, a grotto, and moderate elevation gain.
As far as staying within Guadalupe’s borders, there are two designated, first come first serve, campgrounds, the Piney Springs Campground and the Dog Canyon Campground. Campsite fees are $8 per night. Unfiltered, unobstructed views of the Texas night sky are priceless.
By Kristen from Yonderlust Ramblings
Visit pretty pink Enchanted Rock
Enchanted Rock is the whimsical name for a mountain (or really big hill) made out of pink granite in the Texas Hill Country. The hill is so large that it can be seen for miles around. Conveniently located in the middle of Texas Hill country, it’s just to the west of Austin and northwest of San Antonio. The location makes Enchanted Rock an easy detour for anyone seeking out Texas BBQ, visiting the vineyards in the Hill Country, or going antiquing in the historic town of Fredericksburg.
Visitors to Enchanted Rock can snap pictures from the ground, or the more adventurous can hike to the summit which is about 400 feet above the ground level. If you are planning to hike to the top, plan on spending a few hours at the site and be sure to wear comfortable shoes and be prepared for a pretty steep climb. Unsurprisingly, the rock, which has a very smooth appearance, can be quite slick in places, particularly if there’s been a recent rain. From the top of the mountain there are even some narrow caves that the adventurous (and non-claustrophobic) can climb through. We enjoyed our morning visit to Enchanted Rock as part of our mini-moon after our Texas Hill Country destination wedding. The weather was perfect that April and after our climb we worked up an appetite for some Texas BBQ!
By Lindsay from Excursion Everywhere
Go glamping in quirky Marfa
Head far enough into Southwest Texas and you’ll come across one of the state’s coolest spots: Marfa. Despite its remote location, the arty hub of Marfa (population: 1,700) draws artists, celebrities and visitors looking for the perfect Instagram profile pic. Originally put on the map when the Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean movie Giant was filmed there, it grew in popularity thanks to minimalist artist Donald Judd, who filled the landscape with artwork when he moved here in the late 70s. Visits skyrocketed after Beyoncé was spotted here in 2012.
To get to Marfa requires some effort. The closest airport is in El Paso, which still leaves a three-hour journey by car to Marfa. You’ll drive for hours through flat desert and past ramshackle towns that you’ll speed by in the blink of an eye.
When you do finally arrive, you’ll want to shack up at El Cosmico, arguably Texas’ trendiest glamping spot. Here you can choose from teepees, safari tents, yurts or restored trailers. We chose the Royal Mansion trailer and loved the comfy bed and colorful furnishings. The trailer had a stove, fridge and a great deck to hang out on. The provisions shop has snacks, drinks and cool Marfa-branded clothing to prove you visited. Staff will heat up the outdoor wood-fired hot tubs, a perfect spot for chilling out with friends and a few drinks.
When you’re not enjoying your chic digs, there are plenty of things to do in Marfa. Head to the Prada store about 40 minutes outside of town. Snap a few pics in front of this faux store – an art installation erected in the middle of nowhere. Explore Donald Judd’s art at the Chinati Foundation, the highlight being “15 Untitled Works in Concrete” – large concrete works scattered across the desert. Or snuggle up under a blanket at Marfa Lights in the evening and see if you can spot UFOs. It’s possibly the most un-Texas-like place in Texas.
By Rebecca from Rebecca and the World
Utah bucket list items
See the stunning hoodoos of Bryce Canyon
Bryce Canyon National Park is home to hundreds of hoodoos – pinnacles of white and orange rock dramatically crowding a natural amphitheater. Seeing the “Silent City” of spires is awe-inspiring and getting up early to see them bathed in the soft light of early morning is well worth the effort. Inspiration Point, Bryce Point, Sunset and Sunrise Points are all great viewpoints. Even better than seeing the canyon from above is hiking among the hoodoos.
There are several trails around the valley, but the most popular (with good reason) is the Queen’s Garden/Navajo Loop trail. This 2-3-hour moderate hike is spectacular. Pass through arches carved into the hillside, and walk past hoodoos towering above you. At the bottom is a hoodoo shaped like Queen Victoria (there is a photo of her nearby for comparison). Then proceed through the ponderosa pine forest to the Navajo Loop. There are two choices of trails back up the rim – the narrow Wall Street or the stunning Two Bridges. Either way, there is a crazy steep series of switchbacks – take it slow and take lots of photos to save your breath.
Nearby Thor’s Hammer is perhaps the most famous of the hoodoos. To relax after the hike, hop in your car and drive for about 40 minutes to Rainbow Point at the end of the road, then slowly makes your way back via a series of lookouts over various side canyons. Bryce Canyon doesn’t take too long to experience (two or three days is most typical), but is one of the most spectacular national parks in the United States’ Southwest.
By James from Parks Collecting
See the stunning natural arches of Arches National Park
Near Moab, Utah
Located in eastern Utah near the Colorado border, Arches National Park is full of a lifetime’s worth of gorgeous natural rock formations, including – you guessed it – numerous natural arches formed by centuries of erosion. In fact, the park is home to the highest density of natural arches anywhere in the world with over 2000 in its boundaries. This was the first national park I visited in the Southwest, so my memories of the red rocks set against the bright blue sky are the most striking from that Southwest road trip we took.
Some of the must-see features include Delicate Arch, the park’s most famous formation. It’s accessed via a 1.5 mile-long trail, or it can be viewed from afar from a couple of lookouts along the road. Another top attraction is the Park Avenue trail, an easy mile-long trail through a canyon between monoliths, towers, and fins that include some of the park’s most recognizable features. Landscape Arch is a long, impossibly-thin arch in the Devil’s Garden area of the park. It takes a 3/4 mile hike along a gravel trail to view it up close, so don’t miss the chance to see it.
Hike the famous trails of Zion National Park
Near Springdale, Utah
Zion National Park in southwestern Utah is home to an endless array of striking scenery. Casual visitors will love the scenic drive that takes them through Zion Canyon and offers views of landmarks like the Three Patriarchs – massive rocky monoliths overlooking the canyon – and Weeping Rock – a rock that drips spring water giving the impression that it’s weeping (hence the name) and allows green moss and vegetation to grow on it.
More adventurous visitors should set their sights on one of the park’s premiere trails. The Angel’s Landing hike is a strenuous climb up one of Zion Canyon’s most recognizable landmarks. Its final ascent involves scrambling up a narrow rock ridge with sheer drops on either side, but the view of the canyon from the top is worth the effort. The other trail popular with hikers is The Narrows. It runs through a slot canyon, and most of the trail involves wading through the Virgin River. You can go 5 miles up the trail without a permit, but if you plan on hiking further you’ll need to secure one prior to beginning. If you’re planning to attempt either of these hikes, make sure you’re physically fit enough for them be sure to check the weather carefully, come prepared with proper equipment and lots of water, and check with park rangers at the visitor center for up-to-the-minute conditions.
See the Spiral Jetty in the Great Salt Lake
Northern Great Salt Lake, Utah
One of the great pieces of American land art happens to be in Utah, so if you’re in the area, don’t miss seeing the Spiral Jetty at the Great Salt Lake. It’s an earthwork sculpture made entirely of mud, salt crystals, basalt rocks and water, built in 1970 by artist Robert Smithson to jut out over the lake. It takes effort to see this kind of art; you’ll have to drive for a couple hours, including miles on a dirt road, but once you’re floating in the pink salty lake it will be worth it.
Be aware that the sculpture can be visible or submerged, depending on the water levels of the lake. If the lake happens to be too high, you won’t see it. If the lake is low, you will be able to see the jetty but also may have to walk a fair distance to the water.
For an ethereal experience, go at sunset. Pastel pinks and blues will surround you in the water and sky, offset by the crunchy white salt you must traverse to get to the lake. Warning: you know how walking on crusty salt crystals really tears up your feet? You don’t? Well, you will. This isn’t a powder soft beach. Make sure to wear sandals or water shoes.
If you swim in the Great Salt Lake (which you should: the high floating feeling is something special) you will emerge encrusted in salt. Be sure to bring along jugs of fresh water for rinsing yourself. For more tips on visiting the Spiral Jetty, including how to get to this middle-of-nowhere attraction and why this is a great day trip from Salt Lake City with kids, visit Travel With Monsters.
By Suzi from Travel With Monsters
Explore the wilderness of the San Rafael Swell
The San Rafael Swell in southern Utah is an often forgotten about diamond in the rough. You won’t find this area on any maps or in many guidebooks. It’s a precious space that only the initiated desert dwellers truly talk about. And it is AWESOME!
There is plenty to do in the remote slice of desert paradise, from slot canyons (check out Little Wild Horse Canyon – on par with Arizona’s famed Antelope Canyon) to the inspiring hoodoos of Goblin Valley State Park. You’ll want at least three to four days to truly explore this magical place.
Take note, this area is remote. It’s important to leave nature better than you found it and always follow Leave No Trace principles when visiting an area like the San Rafael Swell. The nearest hotels are in Green River, approximately an hour-plus drive to Goblin Valley State Park. You can camp virtually anywhere where there is a previously established campsite, but please be sure to pack in all of your water, and pack out all of your trash (this includes toilet paper, which gets dug up and eaten by desert foxes). There are paid campsites in Goblin Valley State Park (including a few “glamping” yurts) that offer a bit more in the way of amenities (think bathroom and potable water).
The best time to visit is during the shoulder season. Temperatures soar in the summer and are quite cold in the winter. Although, you’ll have the place to yourself if you choose to venture to the San Rafael Swell in winter.
See more about the San Rafael Swell from Meg at Fox in the Forest
Take a tour of Temple Square
Salt Lake City, Utah
The history of Salt Lake City is inextricably tied to that of the Mormon church. With its most important sites located right in the heart of the city, it’s a great free attraction to visit in SLC. If you visit during the day, you can explore the visitor center to learn about the history there or take a free walking tour around Temple Square. I was a little hesitant to take one of the tours because I wasn’t sure how much recruiting my guides would do, but they were very low key and while they offered a copy of “The Book of Mormon” at the end, I didn’t feel at all pressured to take it.
Visitors are allowed to enter the Tabernacle when it’s not in use to look around. The demonstration of how well it’s designed acoustically was interesting and the sound really does carry without a microphone. You can also get tickets to see the famous Mormon Tabernacle Choir perform. Entry to the Salt Lake Temple isn’t allowed, but you can walk around the outside and appreciate its gorgeous architecture. The grounds are beautifully designed and very enjoyable to explore for a couple of hours.
You can book a city tour with a Tabernacle Choir performance here!
Hike Coyote Gulch in Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument
Coyote Gulch in Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument is such an underrated gem. However this is one of the best things about it, because this means that for most of your hike, you can get it all to yourself, much unlike comparable hikes in the national parks nearby. Accessing Coyote Gulch is possible in several ways, including hiking in through Hurricane wash, camping overnight, and hiking back out, taking it on as a through-hike and getting a pick up at Crack in the Wall, or the sneaker route which allows you to do it in one day, which is what I did. In order to do this, you’ll need to bring a rope and rappel down the side of the canyon wall. Upon landing, you will see the incredible Jacob Hamblin arch. From there, walk along or through the river to see several more arches and small waterfalls. Be sure to bring along waterproof hiking boots, plenty of snacks, and something to purify the water. If staying overnight, you can camp underneath the archway, but prepared to leave absolutely no trace. Happy hiking!
See more about hiking Coyote Gulch from Kristin at Be My Travel Muse
Drive the scenic Burr Trail
The Burr Trail is a scenic backway in Southeastern Utah. It connects Bullfrog Marina at the north end of Lake Powell to the hippie ranching town of Boulder just outside of Grand Staircase Escalante. The whole of Burr Trail is 67 miles passing through Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, Capitol Reef National Park, and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. Talk about top-notch scenery!
There are a couple campgrounds along the way, but you can camp pretty much anywhere. You will also find a few hiking trails like Pedestal Alley, Halls Creek Overlook, Surprise and Headquarters Canyons, and Lower and Upper Muley Twists. Take a full day to do the drive and enjoy the hikes along the way. You’ll drive through some of the best scenery in the area in Long Canyon and The Gulch. Without stops, plan about three hours for the drive. In Boulder, both Burr Trail Grill and Hell’s Backbone Grill are delicious options for food. This is still one of my favorite scenic drives in Southern Utah, even after driving it a dozen times. It is a must-do if you’re in the area.
By Megan from Red Around the World
Enjoy the perspective tricks of the Bonneville Salt Flats
Did you know that you don’t have to travel all the way to Bolivia to visit Salt Flats? What if I told you that a 30,000 acre salt pan resides just west of Salt Lake City, Utah? Believe it or not, Ancient Lake Bonneville dried up ages ago and left a massive salt deposit behind, creating the Bonneville Salt Flats. The flats cover about 46 square miles and estimates put the total salt crust volume at about 147 million tons, with 90% of the salt being comprised of common table salt.
The Bonneville Salt Flats is home to the Utah Salt Flats Racing Association and racing events are often held throughout the year. Land speed records have been set on the Salt Flats and it is known by locals and visitors alike as the “Bonneville Speedway.” The property is under the care of the Bureau of Land Management, and is subsequently free of charge to visit.
One of the most popular things to do on a visit to the Bonneville Salt Flats is to take fun perspective pictures. Visitors can walk for minutes in one direction, but feel like they haven’t traveled anywhere…only to turn around and see the rest of their party far away. Perspective is everything and can lead to some amazing photo shoots. Pay the Salt Flats a visit and trick your senses!
By Rachelle from Adventure is Never Far Away
Bucket list items crossing state lines
Road trip historic Route 66
Chicago, Illinois to Santa Monica, California
It’s the most famous road trip of all time and it travels through some amazing Southwestern US states including Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. Route 66 has many names – the Mother Road, Historic Route 66 and even Main Street of America, and it played a vital role in the movement of people across the country in the 1920s and 30s. In later years it was used for road trip vacations to the west coast and back again, and to capitalize on the traffic, many of the towns tried to entice road trippers to stay a while by having quirky attractions, motels and shops.
Many people have fought for the road to stay in people’s minds as it was decommissioned and people began to use the interstates more, and thankfully there has been a revival in recent years. Although there are still ghost towns on the road, a reminder of hard times gone by, there are many more thriving towns who enjoy the tourism that Route 66 is bringing. You can still stay in wigwam motels, still see the neon lights and still enjoy weird and wonderful roadside attractions. Most of all you can still enjoy small town America.
If you don’t want to plan a Route 66 road trip from beginning to end it’s really easy to pick a section of the road and explore it there. Each state has some amazing highlights from the gorgeous architecture of the U drop Inn in Shamrock, Texas to natural wonders like the Petrified Forest in Arizona. While the history makes the road special, the people there also made the trip amazing for me and we met some great characters there all who want to keep the spirit of the old road alive.
By Kirsty from Lost in Landmarks
If you want to have the full Route 66 experience, check out this incredible tour that has you driving your own car in a guided caravan along the entire length of the road.
See iconic Monument Valley
Monument Valley is one of the most recognizable landscapes in the United States. Located on the eastern border of Utah and Arizona, Monument Valley has been a popular location for filming and has been in several famous films, most notably Forrest Gump. The tall orange-red buttes make for a perfect western background. The hotels, restaurants and visitors center are immersed with Navajo Tribe culture, which is apparent the minute you enter the area. You can even eat some of the delicious food at The View Hotel Restaurant. I recommend the Navajo Taco Sampler.
One of the most popular things to do at Monument Valley is to do the loop drive. This drive features many of the popular views most people have seen in movies over the years. Some of the most popular stops are Three Sisters Overlook, The John Ford’s Point Overlook, and Artists point. You can easily drive to all these areas, but taking a tour from the Navajo Tribe can help with learning the history of the area.
Another favorite activity is the Forrest Gump Point. The point is where in the film Forrest Gump ends his long-running journey. The location has gotten popular due to the views of the Buttes in the distance from the road. The GPS coordinates are 37.101393, -109.990973.
See more about Monument Valley from Michelle at The Wandering Queen
If you want to catch a photo of Monument Valley like the one in this post’s featured image, check out this sunset/sunrise tour!
Explore gorgeous Lake Powell
At the point where the Colorado River crosses the border between Arizona and Utah is Lake Powell is one of the largest lakes in the USA and a perennially popular location for hiking and water sports in the heart of Navajo nation. Located in Glen Canyon with the backdrop of the great sandstone rocks that define this part of the States, a boat journey along the river towards the Rainbow Bridge, one of the world’s tallest natural arched bridge, is an essential part of any trip.
The outdoor enthusiasts among us are very well catered for regardless of experience and stamina. Hiking trails of different lengths are available for those who go for just a day trip or a bigger overnight camping adventure. Opportunities for sailing and embracing the houseboat lifestyle or a more adrenaline filled jet ski excursion are aplenty. Fishing, scuba diving or even just a gentle dip of your toes in the shallow end of the waters are other fun ways to enjoy the water.
Also, whilst sailing along you can also do a bit of wildlife spotting and birdwatching. The western grebe and blue heron are among the most frequent visitors. Staying in the nearby town of Page, AZ is the perfect location that not only overlooking Lake Powell but also close to Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon, without doubt two of the most photographed locations of the Southwest.
By Jonathan from Journey Maxx
You can pre-book a Rainbow Bridge boat tour here so you don’t miss out!
If you’re looking for more incredible bucket list activities in the United States, check out the other posts in this series:
- See the Best of the Midwest with this Ultimate Bucket List
- The Ultimate New England Bucket List
- The Ultimate Mid-Atlantic Bucket List
- Fifty Bucket List-Worthy Things to Do in the Southeastern United States
Don’t forget to save this list on Pinterest for future inspiration!