When we think of the southwestern United States, we imagine towering cliffs, breathtaking canyons and meandering rivers in the heart of the American West. You’ll want both Elvis Presley and Willie Nelson on your playlist for this western road trip. You might dip into the decadence of Las Vegas, trace a route through Utah’s eye-popping scenery, or national park-hop across a landscape of spire-like hoodoos and natural arches. The Desert Southwest is about sun, breathtaking landscapes and outdoor adventure. New Mexico, Utah, Nevada and Arizona have always been synonymous with adventure. This part of the United States maintains an aura of unlimited possibilities and untamed wilderness. Experience the natural wonders that you will not find anywhere else.
Grand Canyon, AZ
As one of America’s oldest and grandest national parks and officially designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site, the Grand Canyon leaves its 6 million visitors per year awestruck. A mile deep, 277 miles long, and up to 18 miles wide, the canyon is absolutely overwhelming in its grandeur, truly one of the great natural wonders of the world. The best times to visit the Grand Canyon are March through May and September through November when daytime temperatures are cool and the crowds are thin. The South Rim – home to Grand Canyon Village, and the well-worn Bright Angel Trail, is particularly popular for sightseers and hikers. It is on south side of the canyon that you’ll find the most amenities (and visitors). For a break from the crowds, head to the North Rim. This is the place for backwoods camping and hardcore hiking. Some of the best ways to experience the Grand Canyon are trail rides by mule or horse, a ride on the Grand Canyon Railway, jeep tours, or multi-day rafting or hiking trips..
Sedona sits at an elevation of 4,300 feet, almost midway between Phoenix and the Grand Canyon. It is known for its massive red rock structures called vortexes, where people claim to feel intense and powerful energy. In addition to magnificent scenery and the mystical quality of the vortexes, Sedona’s mild climate encourages visitors to experience and enjoy year-round outdoor activities. Nature lovers, hikers and mountain bikers find adventure on hundreds of miles of marked trails through isolated wilderness. For slightly tamer activities in Sedona, visitors enjoy a multitude of world-class restaurants, championship golf courses, one-of-a-kind shops and luxurious spa resorts.
Phoenix & Scottsdale, AZ
Phoenix—once a sleepy Sun Belt city—is now a bustling mini-metropolis of some 1.6 million people. It’s the center of the sprawling Valley of the Sun, which, with 4.6 million people, has become the 12th-largest metropolitan area in the U.S. The desert landscape and surrounding area boasts a multitude of golf resorts, unlimited hiking trails, a bustling art scene, creative restaurateurs, and a hopping nightlife. Due east of Phoenix lies Scottsdale, known as a high-end resort area and famous for Camelback Mountain, beautiful golf courses and the influential architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. For snowbirds, it is a perfect retreat in the sun for 8 months of the year when the average temperature is less than 100 degrees. For less frequent visitors, Phoenix offers the perfect respite in the desert for a little getaway from their daily routines back home.
Las Vegas, NV
Las Vegas remains one of the most-visited destinations in the world, with over-the-top casinos, boundless shops, world-class nightclubs, Michelin Star dining, not to be missed entertainment and fabulous outdoor opportunities. For first time visitors, it can be a sensory overload starting with the skyline which is a mélange of bright neon lights followed by themed casinos on every corner, lavish stage shows, big-name performers and restaurants by celebrity chefs. To complete the Las Vegas experience, it is also a great jumping-off point for outdoor activities including hiking in Red Rock Canyon, visiting the Hoover Dam via a helicopter tour or a bus tour, or taking in a round of golf at one of the many exceptional local courses. Las Vegas has something for everyone.
Utah Mighty 5 National Parks, UT
Stretching across southern and central Utah are five stunning National Parks which contain some of the most iconic landscapes in the United States. These parks – Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, and Arches – are collectively known as “The Mighty 5.” Each park showcases the iconic landscape of the Colorado Plateau. The surreal tableau of arches, alcoves, hoodoos, and epic canyons is so otherworldly, you may wonder what planet you’re on. The most famous of the bunch is Zion National Park known for its towering mountains, red canyons carved out by the Virgin River, and popular hikes like Angels Landing and The Narrows. Bryce Canyon boasts more hoodoos than any other place in the world. Arches National Park contains the highest density of stone arches in the world, including the iconic Delicate Arch, printed on Utah’s license plates. The rugged and remote Canyonlands, famous for its canyons and buttes, is known for its excellent mountain biking and hiking. And lastly, Capitol Reef is known for the cliffs and canyons in the Waterpocket Fold, an area described simply, as a “wrinkle in the earth’s crust.”
Santa Fe, NM
Santa Fe is the oldest capital city in the United States. Santa Fe’s crooked streets, combined with its stunning setting at the base of the rugged Sangre de Cristo Mountains, provide a sense of exotic sophistication. On its historic central plaza, you’ll see Native Americans selling jewelry, locals cruising along in souped-up low-riders and vintage pickup trucks, and people young and old just hanging out. Such diversity, coupled with the array of architecture—which ranges from Pueblo style to Romanesque to Gothic—prompted the local community to label Santa Fe, “The City Different.” In addition, Santa Fe’s art scene is one of the world’s finest, drawing from the rich blend of American Indian, Hispanic and Western artistic traditions. The works of artists like Georgia O’Keeffe, Peter Hurd, Miro Kenarov and Gustave Baumann fill the galleries. These pieces were largely inspired by the city’s dramatic, vibrant and evolving landscape. The same landscapes that spoke to O’Keeffe also call adventurous types year-round. Active travelers hike the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, test the powder skiing at Taos or explore the 1.6 million acres of the Santa Fe National Forest.