The Getaway
The Perfect Southwest National Parks Road Trip

The National Parks in the Southwest of the U.S. are the perfect setting for a road trip. Deserts, amazing rock formations, cacti, and rainbows of geological colors characterize an otherworldly terrain that makes an incredible backdrop for your ride.


01 Zion National Park

Rocks and canyons in Zion Photo by Frances Gunn on Unsplash

Zion National Park feels almost like a sanctuary, with its beautiful combination of red cliffs, waterfalls, and meandering rivers to explore as you venture out into the landscape. The trails here range between accessible and challenging, so make sure to pick one that suits your experience and fitness level.


02 Canyonlands National Park

Just two-and-a-half hours from Capitol Reef, you'll find the Canyonlands - an enormous national park divided into three parts: Maze, The Needles, and Island in the Sky. National Geographic's Guide to National Parks suggests you focus on the more car-friendly terrain of Island in the Sky if you're on a limited schedule. Exploring the Maze and the Needles requires more time - at least a full day.


03 Bryce Canyon National Park

People riding on horses in a rocky landscape Photo by Amy Humphries on Unsplash

Bryce Canyon National Park is a two-hour drive from Zion. Characterized by strange shapes and rock formations, this is a place that spurs the imagination. An abundance of Native American tales about this area further adds to the mystical and magical vibe. The experience of hiking to Bryce Amphitheater, the park's most famous point, is well worth the effort. You'll need a full day on foot to experience this park.



04 Capitol Reef National Park

Road against a backdrop of mountains in Capitol Reef Photo by Tracy Zhang on Unsplash

Capitol Reef National Park is one of the most beautiful parks in Utah. The classic Utah red rock is ever-present and showcased in magnificent canyons and other intriguing structures. Drive the Utah 2, a beautiful road winding through the park, and you'll come across countless striking photo opportunities. There are plenty of trails for trekking, but this park also offers an exceptional experience if you prefer to stay on the road.


05 Great Basin National Park

Great Basin stands out from the rest of the Southwest terrain. Instead of the typical red rock and desert foliage, you'll find mountains, caves, and lakes surrounded by lush tall trees. A tour through the caves is a memorable experience. You can also follow the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive for an overview of the entire area.


06 Arches National Park

Sandstone arch against blues skies Photo by Moriah Wolfe on Unsplash

Arches National Park acquired its name from ancient sandstone arches that are among the most unique attractions in this area. You can hike through the desert landscape to Delicate Arch or stay on the road and still experience the striking scenery. The arches are fragile, so be sure to understand and follow the rules to protect the park.


07 Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

The name Black Canyon comes from the volcanic rock that gives the walls of this formation their darker shades. Molded through centuries by the flow of the Gunnison River, this canyon has turned into one of nature's masterpieces. The easiest way to explore the park is by going to the South Rim. Here, the trails are beginner-friendly, and you have a good chance of spotting wildlife.


08 Mesa Verde National Park

Cliff dwellings in mesa verde Photo by Alec Krum on Unsplash

This park has an interesting history, as an ancient culture once inhabited it. Many archeological sites are scattered through the park, allowing visitors to experience unusual artifacts like cliff dwellings (yes, you'll recognize them from the Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade). These old settlements are still engraved in the rock and have remained remarkably intact through time.


09 Petrified Forest National Park

Petrified Forest National Park another of nature's wondrous phenomena that you don't want to miss. The park also has a lot more to offer than the world-renowned petrified logs. This area is approximately three and a half hours from the Grand Canyon, and it is widely considered an excellent park for families. Explore the fossils, badlands, buttes, and mesas, and learn about ancient petroglyphs. If you crave some quiet time, the Painted Desert is perfect for contemplation and walking meditation.


10 Grand Canyon National Park

Vast landscape of rocks and canyons Photo by Saad Chaudhry on Unsplash

Grand Canyon National Park one of the most well-known and visited sites in America. You can choose to follow the crowds and head to South Rim, where you'll find a visitors center and great outlook spots. Or, venture to the North Rim and be rewarded with more solitude and an overall different experience. This is excellent advice for visitors who've already been to the South Rim and want to see something new.


Scroll Down

for the Next Article

The Getaway Badge
Sign up to receive insider info and deals that will help you travel smarter.