For me, there are no better places to visit in the United States than those in the Southwest. From the iconic Grand Canyon to the unforgettable landscapes of New Mexico and Colorado, this road trip is perhaps one that covers the most unique and unexpected of all. Get off the beaten path with two-lane highways or arrive at your destination sooner on the more traveled interstates. Need a little guidance? These are my Southwest road trip tips and destinations not to miss.
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Southwest Road Trip Tips and Destinations Not To Miss
The Great American road trip still tops the list of most travelers’ bucket lists (including me!). A road trip Southwest USA is the best way to get up close and personal with the Southwest culture, scenic views, national parks, and just a fun time for all ages of road trippers. The Southwest Road Trip is one of my top vacations, whether traveling with the multigenerational family or road tripping on our Harleys with my husband.
Also if you are from another country and planning a road trip then you need to get an IDP at International Driver’s Association.
Jonesing for a road trip? Not sure where to start? Along with a little help from our friends at Moon Travel Guides and their Southwest Road Trip Guide, here are our southwest road trip tips and destinations not to miss.
Colorado Road Trip
You knew my first road trip destination had to be Colorado, right? The Monument Valley, Four Corners, and Mesa Verde provide candy to the eye of the road tripper.
My husband and I look forward to our southwest Colorado motorcycle road trips, and even after living here for more than 30 years, the views are still just as majestic as when I first arrived.
Must see places to visit in southwest Colorado include (of course) Mesa Verde National Park. This park is located near Cortez, Colorado. It was established in 1906 to preserve the Ancestral Pueblo people’s heritage and culture. The 600 cliff dwellings in this park are where they made their home for over 700 years, from 600 to 1300 CE. Today, the park protects nearly 5,000 known archeological sites.
New Mexico Road Trip
A short road trip from my Denver home base, New Mexico is an easy road trip getaway from Colorado.
Don’t miss the opportunity to visit Taos with the family. Read more about the best things to do in Taos, New Mexico with kids at TravelingMom including exploring its historic downtown, stopping at the Taos Puebla, and in the winter, skiing and snowboarding at Taos Ski Valley.
Every time I visit Taos I always make sure to take the short drive to the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge — although I haven’t yet been brave enough to walk across the bridge. Located just west of Taos about 10 minutes US Hwy 64 is the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge.
Cross over the second-highest bridge on the U.S. Highway system and fifth highest bridge in the U.S. Spanning 12,80 feet, the bridge reaches 650 feet above the Rio Grande. This bridge is also the “star” of several films including Natural Born Killers, Wild Hogs, and Terminator Salvation.
Utah Road Trip
I’ve had the Arches and Canyonlands National Parks on my travel bucket list for years — and so should you. (Both are on my list for 2020!)
According to the Moon Southwest Road Trip Guide, the two best views are 1) “from the Grand View Point (page 209) where you can see the Canyonlands spread out before you from high up on the Island in the Sky, and 2) the Green River Overlook (page 210) where you can watch the mighty river with a shock of color contrasting with the hard, red land, snake its way across the plateau.
Destinations Not to Miss in Arizona
To say that the Grand Canyon is awe-inspiring is an understatement. My first visit to this amazing geological wonder was on a motorcycle road trip. Arizona is home to much of the immense Grand Canyon, with its layered bands of red rock revealing millions of years of geological history. Viewpoints include Mather Point, Yavapai Observation Station and architect Mary Colter’s Lookout Studio and her Desert View Watchtower. Lipan Point, with wide views of the canyon and Colorado River, is a popular, especially at sunrise and sunset.
Southwest Road Trip Tips
Now that you are convinced that you have to plan your next southwest road trip, here are the road trip tips to make that vacation the best.
Read More: Simple Road Trip Tips for Families
When to Visit
If you’re visiting the national parks, May to September is high season, so expect to see crowds and higher prices for hotels. However, if you visit in the late spring and early to late fall, you’ll not only experience less traffic and crowds, but also hotels, B&Bs, and VRBO are in less demand, offering better accommodation pricing for your stays. The weather may be less predictable but your road trip budget will be more friendly.
Where to Stay
If you really want to maximize your southwest road trip, I recommend booking accommodations inside the national parks or within walking distance to your preferred activities. To follow are a few of my recommendations.
- Mesa Verde offers Far View Lodge (open April to October).
- Grand Canyon features multiple options in the park, including my favorite the Grand Canyon Best Western Squire.
- The Arches National Park also offers a hotel close to the park: Best Western Plus Canyonlands Inn.
- Stay in downtown Albuquerque for walkable access.
- For Taos, either stay at the Blake Hotel near the ski slope or Taos Inn near its historic downtown.
What to Pack
The southwest region can be fickle with the weather changing as constantly as your elevation. One minute you’re in the mountains; then the next your traveling through the desert. Check the weather forecast, and always pack a jacket and blankets. The best thing about a southwest road trip is that the backroads are not as crowded, which also means that if anything happens there won’t be much help from other motorists.
For your southwest adventures, be sure to pack layers to accommodate varying temperatures, hiking shoes or tennis shoes, and snacks. Everything else that is loaded in your car depends on the type of adventure you’re planning.
Riding a Motorcycle? Southwest Road Trip Tips
The open road. Exploring and experiencing new Southwest road trip destinations on two wheels. Oh yes, motorcycle road trips are magical, aren’t they? But you need to be prepared. Weather can turn on a dime. Read More: Tips for Motorcycle Road Trips
Southwest Road Trip Itineraries
The author of Moon Southwest Road Trip guide, seriously, offers amazing road trip itineraries including his 14-day Best of the Southwest itinerary. what are you waiting for? Go ahead and buy the Moon Travel Guide. You’re welcome!
For motorcycle riders searching for the perfect biker itinerary, email me for pricing info, and I will create your epic Southwest road trip itinerary on two-wheels. My husband and I have road-tripped through the Southwest multiple times on our bikes. We’d love to make your next motorcycle road trip unforgettable.
What are your favorite Southwest destinations and road trip tips? Share with us in the comments below.