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OVERVIEW OF THE AMERICAN SOUTHWEST


Organ Pipe Cactus Welcome to Las Vegas sign Bell Rock, Sedona scenery

Welcome to the Bigroads.com overview of the American Southwest!

Buttes, mesas, domes, hoodoos, & spires…pictographs, petroglyphs, kivas, cliff dwellings & ancient ruins...slot canyons, balanced rocks, sand dunes, natural bridges & arches. The American Southwest is a place of deep history and immeasurable beauty. Its historical sites and scenery lure millions of visitors each year from all over the world. But where should YOU go in the Southwest? There are a lot of attractions to choose from, so we have constructed this web-page to help introduce you to the most significant wonders of this magnificent region.

While Arizona, Utah and New Mexico are most commonly associated with the American Southwest, portions of Colorado, Nevada and California are also generally considered to be a part of this region.

The map we designed below highlights the major areas and attractions of the American Southwest.

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Attractions of the Southwest Map

NATIONAL PARKS OF THE SOUTHWEST

There is a lifetime of nature parks to explore in the American Southwest. If you haven't been to this region before, your first visit should focus on some of the its officially-designated national parks. There are fifty-nine national parks in the United States, and the Southwest can proudly lay claim to sixteen of them. Each of these national parks is cherished the world over, so you should try to squeeze a few of them into your travel plans whenever you are in the region:
Saguaro National Park, Arizona Zion National Park, Utah Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

NATIONAL MONUMENTS & RECREATION AREAS OF THE SOUTHWEST

The national parks aren't the only attractions worth visiting in the Southwest. There are also many excellent national monuments, national recreation areas, and a national preserve. Here are our selections for the best of these types of parks in the Southwest. All of these parks are unique and worthy of consideration for your trip itinerary.
Canyon de Chelly National Monument Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument Cedar Breaks National Monument

STATE PARKS OF THE SOUTHWEST

In addition to the federally-managed parks, the Southwest also offers many outstanding state parks. Some of these state parks could easily qualify to be a national monument or national park, assuming the state was actually willing to relinquish control over their beloved parks. The parks listed below represent our favorite state parks in the Southwest.
Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park Snow Canyon State Park Valley of Fire State Park

FAVORITE TOWNS & CITIES IN THE SOUTHWEST

There any many great small towns and cities scattered throughout the Southwest that can serve as a base camp for your travels and adventures. These towns and cities all offer excellent accommodations, great food, and access to stand-out attractions nearby. The list below represents our selections for the best towns and cities in the Southwest:
  • ARIZONA
    • Bisbee
    • Flagstaff
    • Page
    • Phoenix
    • Prescott
    • Scottsdale
    • Sedona
    • Tucson
    • Williams
  • CALIFORNIA
    • Borrego Springs
    • Julien
    • Palm Springs
  • COLORADO
    • Durango
  • NEVADA
    • Las Vegas
  • NEW MEXICO
    • Albuquerque
    • Santa Fe
    • Taos
  • TEXAS
    • Marfa
    • Terlingua
  • UTAH
    • Kanab
    • Moab
    • Springdale
    • St. George
    • Torrey

FLYING INTO THE SOUTHWEST

To reach the Southwest, most people will opt to fly into the major international airports of Las Vegas or Phoenix since flight prices are often very reasonable and have convenient arrival and departure times. However, cities like Albuquerque, Denver, Salt Lake City, Los Angeles, and San Diego can also be used, and they sometimes offer better times and/or rates. When flying into a city, consider the cost of renting a vehicle, including any "drop fees" if you plan on picking up a rental vehicle in one location and dropping it off in another.

When we travel to the Southwest, we prefer to fly into Phoenix and out of Las Vegas (or vice versa). This allows us to explore a large chunk of northern Arizona and southern Utah in one trip without the need to backtrack all the way back to the same airport. Again, though, watch out for "drop fees" on rental vehicles if you pick-up and drop-off in different locations.

BEST CAVE TOURS IN THE SOUTHWEST

The Southwest isn't particularly famous for its caves, but some of the most fascinating caves in the United States are indeed found here. All of the caves listed here offer guided cave tours. Carlsbad Caverns National Park also has two cave routes that you can explore without a guide. If you would like to take a guided cave tour, make advance reservations well in advance since these tours are very popular:
  • ARIZONA
    • Grand Canyon Caverns
    • Kartchner Caverns State Park
    • Colossal Cave
  • NEVADA
    • Lehman Caves, Great Basin National Park
  • NEW MEXICO
    • Carlsbad Caverns National Park
  • TEXAS
    • Caverns of Sonora
Big Room, Carlsbad Caverns National Park Caverns of Sonora, Texas Big Room, Carlsbad Caverns National Park

WATERFALLS & SWIMMING HOLES OF THE SOUTHWEST

Don’t assume that because much of the Southwest is desert that there isn’t much water. There is plenty of water, but you do have to know where to look. Some of America's most beautiful waterfalls and swimming holes are found in the Southwest. Here are our selections for the best waterfalls & swimming holes in the Southwest:
  • ARIZONA
    • Beaver Falls, Havasupai (reservations required)
    • Bear Canyon / Seven Falls, Sabino Canyon Recreation Area, Tucson
    • Deer Creek Falls, Grand Canyon National Park (typically done as part of a backpacking trip with a permit)
    • Fifty Foot Falls, Havasupai (reservations required)
    • Havasu Falls, Havasupai (reservations required)
    • Mooney Falls, Havasupai (reservations required)
    • New Navajo Falls, Havasupai (reservations required)
    • Ribbon Falls, Grand Canyon National Park (typically done as part of a backpacking trip with a permit)
    • Slide Rock State Park, Sedona
  • UTAH
    • Left Fork, BLM land, Moab
    • Lower Calf Creek Falls, Grand-Staircase Escalante National Monument
    • Mossy Cave Falls, Bryce Canyon National Park
    • Upper Calf Creek Falls, Grand-Staircase Escalante National Monument
Havasu Falls, Arizona Lower Calf Creek Falls, Utah Mooney Falls, Arizona

FAVORITE MOUNTAIN PEAKS TO HIKE IN THE SOUTHWEST

There are some beautiful mountain hikes in the Southwest. Here are some of the best:
  • ARIZONA
    • Camelback Mountain, Echo Canyon Recreation Area, Phoenix
    • Humphrey’s Peak, Coconino National Forest
    • Mount Wrightston, Coronado National Forest
    • Picacho Peak, Picacho Peak State Park
    • Piestewa Peak, Phoenix Mountains Recreation Area
    • Wasson Peak, Saguaro National Park
  • CALIFORNIA
    • Ryan Mountain, Joshua Tree National Park
    • Telescope Peak, Death Valley National Park
    • Wildrose Peak Trail, Death Valley National Park
  • NEW MEXICO
    • Wheeler Peak, Carson National Forest
  • NEVADA
    • Wheeler Peak, Great Basin National Park
  • TEXAS
    • Emory Peak, Big Bend National Park
    • Guadalupe Peak, Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Looking for more hikes in the Southwest? Visit our top 25 day hikes in the Southwest page.

Guadalupe Peak, Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas Camelback Mountain, Phoenix Emory Peak, Big Bend National Park

SLOT CANYONS IN THE SOUTHWEST

Slot canyons, or narrow canyons that are typically much deeper than they are wide, are one of the most fascinating geologic features in the Southwest. There are hundreds of these canyons in the Southwest, but many of them are "technical" in nature and require rock-climbing and/or advanced scrambling skills. Other slot canyons require extended drives down 4WD high-clearance roads. However, there are some excellent slot canyons that just about anyone in reasonable shape can drive and hike to. These accessible slot canyons include:
  • ARIZONA
    • Antelope Canyon-Upper (take note that a Navajo guide is required; reservations recommended)
    • Antelope Canyon-Lower (take note that a Navajo guide is required; reservations recommended)
    • West Fork of Oak Creek, Sedona (make sure to continue hiking upstream in the river after the official trail ends)
  • CALIFORNIA
    • Mosaic Canyon, Death Valley National Park
    • The Slot, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
  • NEVADA
    • White Domes Trail, Valley of Fire State Park
  • NEW MEXICO
    • Slot Canyon Trail, Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument
  • UTAH
    • Buckskin Gulch, Vermillion Cliffs National Monument (the easiest access is via Wire Pass)
    • Jenny's Canyon, Snow Canyon State Park (this trail is typically closed in Spring)
    • Little Wild Horse Canyon & Bell Canyon, BLM land, San Rafael Reef
    • Peekaboo & Spooky Gulch, off Hole-In-The-Rock Road, Grand-Staircase Escalante National Monument
    • Wire Pass, Vermillion Cliffs National Monument
    • Zion Virgin River Narrows, Zion National Park
Upper Antelope Canyon, Arizona White Domes Trail, Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada Buckskin Gulch (near Wire Pass), Utah

ARCHES & NATURAL BRIDGES IN THE SOUTHWEST

It would be a crime to visit the Southwest without seeing a few of its famous arches and natural bridges. There are literally thousands of these geologic wonders throughout the Southwest. Here are some of the finest ones in the region:
  • ARIZONA
    • Devil’s Bridge, Coconino National Forest, Sedona
    • Hole In The Rock, Papago Park, Phoenix
    • Tonto Natural Bridge, Tonto Natural Bridge State Park, Payson
    • Window Rock, Window Rock
  • CALIFORNIA
    • Lathe Arch, Alabama Hills Recreation Area
    • Mobius Arch, Alabama Hills Recreation Area
  • NEVADA
    • Elephant Rock, Valley of Fire State Park
  • NEW MEXICO
    • La Ventana Arch, BLM land
  • UTAH
    • Rainbow Bridge, Rainbow Bridge National Monument
    • Broken Bow Arch, Grand-Staircase Escalante National Monument
    • Corona Arch, BLM land, Moab
    • Delicate Arch, Arches National Park
    • Double Arch, Arches National Park
    • Double O Arch, Arches National Park
    • Druid Arch, Canyonlands National Park (Needles District)
    • Grosvenor Arch, Grand-Staircase Escalante National Monument
    • Jacob Hamlin Arch, Grand-Staircase Escalante National Monument
    • Kachina Natural Bridge, National Bridges National Monument
    • Kolob Arch, Zion National Park
    • Landscape Arch, Arches National Park
    • Mesa Arch, Canyonlands National Park (Islands In The Sky District)
    • Owachomo Bridge, National Bridges National Monument
    • Sipapu Bridge, National Bridges National Monument
    • The Windows, Arches National Park
    • Tower Arch, Arches National Park
If you are interesting in finding even more arches & natural bridges to find, visit our guide to the arches & natural bridges of the United States.

Corona Arch, Moab Arch Rock, Joshua Tree National Park Druid Arch, Canyonlands National Park, Utah

BEST MUSEUMS IN THE SOUTHWEST

It’s not all about the scenery in the Southwest. There are some world-class museums here, too:
  • ARIZONA
    • Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Tucson
    • Heard Museum, Phoenix
    • Musical Instrument Museum, Phoenix
    • Phoenix Art Museum, Phoenix
    • Pima Air & Space Museum, Tucson
    • Titan Missile Museum, Green Valley
  • NEVADA
    • Mob Museum, Las Vegas
    • National Automobile Museum, Reno
    • Neon Museum, Las Vegas
    • Pinball Hall of Fame, Las Vegas
  • NEW MEXICO
    • International UFO Museum & Research Center, Roswell
    • Museum of International Folk Art, Santa Fe

ANCIENT RUINS & CLIFF DWELLINGS IN THE SOUTHWEST

Ancient ruins and cliff dwellings abound in the Southwest, and many are relatively easy to find and visit:
  • ARIZONA
    • Canyon de Chelly National Monument
    • Montezuma Castle National Monument
    • Navajo National Monument
    • Tonto National Monument
    • Walnut Canyon National Monument
    • Wupatki National Monument
  • COLORAADO
    • Mesa Verde National Monument
  • NEW MEXICO
    • Bandelier National Monument
    • Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument
mesa Verde National Park, Colorado Bandelier National Monument, New Mexico Tonto National Monument, Arizona

SCENIC DRIVES IN THE SOUTHWEST

There are many paved and unpaved not-to-be-missed scenic drives in the Southwest. Here are our favorite paved scenic drives in the region:
  • ARIZONA
    • Mt Lemmon Scenic Byway / Catalina Highway Scenic Drive
    • South Rim Drive, Grand Canyon
    • US 191 through Monument Valley (best driven heading in a southwest direction from Utah)
    • US 89A / Oak Creek Canyon Scenic Drive
  • NEVADA
    • Mt. Charleston / Spring Mountains Scenic Loop
    • Valley of Fire State Park park roads
  • UTAH
    • Kolob Canyons Road, Zion National Park
    • Scenic Drive, Capitol Reef National Park
    • UT 12 from Panguitch to Torrey
    • UT 24 through Capitol Reef National Park
    • US 95 from Hanksville to Blanding
    • US 9 through Zion National Park

TRAVEL SUGGESTIONS: ARIZONA

Looking for some Arizona travel ideas? We've compiled a list of great attractions that are within a few hours of some of Arizona's major destinations:


WHILE YOU ARE VISITING: TRY TO ALSO VISIT:
GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK:
NORTH RIM
• Vermillion Cliffs National Monument
• Upper Antelope Canyon (a Navajo tour guide is required)
• Lower Antelope Canyon (a Navajo tour guide is required)
• Horseshoe Bend, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area
• Lake Powell, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area
• Grand-Staircase Escalante National Monument
• Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park
• Zion National Park
• Best Friends Animal Sanctuary
GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK:
SOUTH RIM
• Lava River Cave, Coconino National Forest
• Walnut Canyon National Monument
• Meteor Crater
• Havasupai / Havasu Falls (reservations are required)
• Lowell Observatory
• Wupatki National Monument
• Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument
• Humphreys Peak, Coconino National Forest
• Oak Creek Canyon Scenic Drive / US 89A
• city of Williams
• city of Flagstaff
• city of Sedona
PAGE (town/city) • Vermillion Cliffs National Monument
• Upper Antelope Canyon (reservations highly recommended)
• Lower Antelope Canyon (reservations highly recommended)
• Horseshoe Bend, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area
• Lake Powell, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area
• Grand-Staircase Escalante National Monument
• Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park
• Dinosaur Tracks, Tuba City
• Grand Canyon National Park-North Rim
• Rainbow Bridge National Monument
• Navajo National Monument
FLAGSTAFF (town/city) • Grand Canyon National Park-South Rim
• city of Williams
• city of Sedona
• Montezuma Castle National Monument
• Red Rock Scenic Byway (AZ 179)
• Slide Rock State Park
• Oak Creek Canyon Scenic Drive
• Wupatki National Monument
• Walnut Canyon National Monument
• Meteor Crater
• Petrified Forest National Park
• Havasupai / Havasu Falls (reservations are required)
SEDONA (town/city) • Montezuma Castle National Monument
• Red Rock Scenic Byway (AZ 179)
• Slide Rock State Park
• Oak Creek Canyon Scenic Drive
• Wupatki National Monument
• Walnut Canyon National Monument
• Lava River Cave
• Grand Canyon National Park-South Rim
• city of Flagstaff
• city of Williams
• city of Phoenix
• city of Scottsdale
• city of Prescott
PHOENIX (town/city) • city of Scottsdale
• city of Sedona
• city of Tucson
• city of Prescott
• Picacho Peak State Park
• Lost Dutchman State Park
• Montezuma National Monument
• Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum
• Saguaro National Park-Tucson Mountain District
• Musical Instrument Museum
• Desert Botanical Garden
• Heard Museum
• South Mountain Park
• Mt. Lemmon Scenic Byway / Catalina Highway Scenic Drive
TUCSON (town/city) • Saguaro National Park-Tucson Mountain District
• Saguaro National Park-Rincon Mountain District
• Kartchner Caverns State Park
• city of Tombstone
• Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum
• city of Scottsdale
• Picacho Peak State Park
• Lost Dutchman State Park
• Musical Instrument Museum
• Desert Botanical Garden
• Heard Museum
• South Mountain Park
• Mt. Lemmon Scenic Byway / Catalina Highway Scenic Drive

In addition to the above list, visit our list of the top 25 attractions in Arizona.

TRAVEL SUGGESTIONS: SOUTHEASTERN CALIFORNIA

Here are some highly recommended attractions close to Palm Springs and Death Valley National Park in California:

WHILE YOU ARE VISITING: TRY TO ALSO VISIT:
DEATH VALLEY NATIONAL PARK • Alabama Hills Recreation Area
• Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area
• Mount Charleston / Spring Mountains Nat. Recreation Area
• city of Las Vegas
PALM SPRINGS (town/city) • Joshua Tree National Park
• Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
• Indian Canyons / Agua Caliente
• Tahquitz Canyon
• Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

TRAVEL SUGGESTIONS: SOUTHERN NEVADA

Too many people who visit Las Vegas never leave the city limits. That's quite disappointing to us because there are some spectacular attractions nearby.

WHILE YOU ARE VISITING: TRY TO ALSO VISIT:
LAS VEGAS (town/city) • Valley of Fire State Park
• Hoover Dam
• Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area
• Lake Mead National Recreation Area
• Mount Charleston / Spring Mountains Nat. Recreation Area
• Mojave National Preserve
• Death Valley National Park
• Snow Canyon State Park
• Zion National Park
• Cathedral Gorge State Park

TRAVEL SUGGESTIONS: NEW MEXICO

If you are headed to Albuquerque or Santa Fe, try to budget time to visit some of these great attractions:

WHILE YOU ARE VISITING: TRY TO ALSO VISIT:
SANTA FE (town/city) • Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument
• Bandelier National Monument
• El Malpais National Monument
• Petroglyph National Monument
• city of Albuquerque
• town of Taos
• High Road to Taos
• Sandia Peak Tramway
• Albuquerque Biological Park
• Casa Rondena Winery
• Museum of International Folk Art
• Santa Fe Opera House
• Ghost Ranch
• Puye Cliff Dwellings
• Sky City Cultural Center / Acoma Pueblo
• Wheeler Peak
• Vietnam Veterans Memorial State Park
• Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad
ALBUQUERQUE (town/city) • Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument
• Bandelier National Monument
• El Malpais National Monument
• El Morro National Monument
• Petroglyph National Monument
• city of Santa Fe
• town of Taos
• High Road to Taos
• Sandia Peak Tramway
• Albuquerque Biological Park
• Casa Rondena Winery
• Santa Fe Opera House
• Museum of International Folk Art
• Canyon Road, Santa Fe
• Ghost Ranch
• Puye Cliff Dwellings
• Sky City Cultural Center / Acoma Pueblo

In addition to the above list, visit our list of the top 25 attractions in New Mexico.

TRAVEL SUGGESTIONS: SOUTHERN & CENTRAL UTAH

Utah is known for it's "Mighty Five" national parks, but there are so many more attractions that shouldn't be missed:

WHILE YOU ARE VISITING: TRY TO ALSO VISIT:
MOAB (town/city) • Arches National Park
• Dead Horse Point State Park
• Canyonlands National Park-Islands in the Sky District
• Fisher Towers
• Corona Arch
• Negro Bill Trail / Morning Glory Bridge
• Wilson Arch
• Newspaper Rock
• Canyonlands National Park-Needles District
• La Sal Mountain Loop State Scenic Backway
• Natural Bridges National Monument
ZION NATIONAL PARK • Snow Canyon State Park
• Kanarra Creek
• Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park
• Cedar Breaks National Monument
• Best Friends Animal Sanctuary
• Bryce Canyon National Park
• Grand-Staircase Escalante National Monument
• Cathedral Gorge State Park
BRYCE CANYON NATIONAL PARK • Grand-Staircase Escalante National Monument
• Kodachrome Basin State Park
• Cedar Breaks National Monument
• Red Canyon / Dixie National Forest
• Zion National Park
• Capitol Reef National Park
• Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park
CAPITOL REEF NATIONAL PARK • Bryce Canyon National Park
• Grand-Staircase Escalante National Monument
• Goblin Valley State Park
• Little Wildhorse Canyon & Bell Canyon
• Canyonlands National Park-Maze District
KANAB (town/city) • Vermillion Cliffs National Monument
• Upper Antelope Canyon (reservations highly recommended)
• Lower Antelope Canyon (reservations highly recommended)
• Horseshoe Bend, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area
• Lake Powell, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area
• Grand-Staircase Escalante National Monument
• Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park
• Best Friends Animal Sanctuary
• Zion National Park
• Bryce Canyon National Park

In addition to the above list, visit our list of the top 25 attractions in Utah.




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