If you’re looking to plan a trip where natural beauty and desert landscapes make you feel like you’re on another planet, then the American Southwest is your next destination. A road trip is a perfect way to experience everything these parks have to offer, check out our guide to Southwest US National Parks and hit all of the main sites!
Zion National Park, Utah
The first national park in Utah, Zion is a great place for all levels of outdoor enthusiasts.
Impressive sandstone cliffs, natural rock arches and jaw-dropping canyons make this a popular hiking and climbing spot for adrenaline junkies. If these are your types of activities, it is important to note that the famous ‘Angels Landing’ hike requires a permit, which is granted through a lottery system. This was recently implemented as a safety measure to control the number of hikers on the strenuous and narrow hiking trail.
If you prefer to keep both feet on flat ground, do not worry as the beauty of the park can still be observed without going to great heights. A shuttle runs throughout the park and leaves directly from the Visitors Center. The full trip takes approximately 45 minutes and allows you to take in all of the views and get off at any stops that pique your interest. Be sure to check the schedule before your visit if you intend to use the park transportation.
This park is massive and depending on your plans, you may wish to spend multiple days visiting Zion. This is something to consider when planning your itinerary, but this park is definitely a must-do!
Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
Before you visit Bryce Canyon, an important geological lesson is required. What is a hoodoo? If you are not familiar with this term, a hoodoo is a tall, thin rock formation that is formed through erosion. Bryce Canyon National Park happens to be home to the largest number of hoodoos on Earth! These red rock towers make you feel as if you’re in another world.
With many spectacular viewpoints, most of the trails are interconnected so you can see many along the same hike. There are no strenuous hikes through the canyon, but a great selection of easy and moderate options. By the end of your visit, you will be a hoodoo expert!
Arches National Park, Utah
A park full of natural rock arches, (2,000 reported in total), towers and balancing rocks, Arches is a park you will definitely want to visit. Either on foot or by car, there is so much to see and endless arches to be spotted.
If you choose to drive through the park, the scenic drive can take anywhere between 1.5-4.5 hours depending on the route you pick. Keep in mind that parking will be limited at the stops.
For anyone wanting to hike and get up close to these incredible arches, there is a variety of easy-to-moderate hikes to choose from. These hikes will allow you to access viewpoints that are not visible by car and some of the routes take less than 15 minutes to walk.
One very important point you need to be aware of before visiting Arches is the time entry ticket requirement. Visitors entering the park will need to purchase one ticket per vehicle in addition to their park entry pass. This timed entry ticket will grant you entrance to the park within a one-hour window, you only need to arrive between this time period and once in the park, you can stay as long as you’d like. For more information on this ticketing system, refer to the park website, Arches National Park Timed Entry Pilot.
Canyonlands National Park, Utah
A half-hour drive from Arches, Canyonlands is a great national park to add to your itinerary. Open year-round, this is Utah’s largest park and there are many activities available for visitors. Photographers flock to Mesa Arch at sunrise for the perfect shot of the sun rising through the opening. There are numerous day hikes available ranging from easy to strenuous, as well as backpacking trails for longer hikes.
The park is split into three land districts: Island in the Sky, The Needles and The Maze.
Depending on how much time you have to spend at Canyonlands, the park website has a great suggested schedule to help plan your time Trip Itineraries – Canyonlands National Park (U.S. National Park Service)
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
There’s a reason it’s called the ‘Grand’ Canyon, this canyon is not only a national park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site but also one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.
There are two points to enter the Canyon, the North Rim and the South Rim. The North Rim is higher in elevation and tends to get more snow in the winter. Due to this climate, the North entrance is closed to visitors between October to May. The South Rim has the greatest number of viewpoints making it the most visited area. Reservations for the South entrance are strongly recommended during peak season.
The park offers tons of activities for people of all ages and there are also many ways to take in the view. You can walk along the rims, take a helicopter ride above or a mule trip into the canyon. No matter what you choose, the sights are sure to impress!
Whether you decide to visit all or only a few of these parks, you are guaranteed to be blown away by the stunning landscapes and incredible canyons. Make sure to pack your camera and be ready to capture all of the natural phenomena the Southwest offers!
By: Sydney Williams
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