12 Must-See Places in the American Southwest

Must-see places in the American Southwest
Christina and I have had a love affair with the American Southwest since the beginning of our relationship. The American Southwest was the first trip that we took together. We rented a car in Las Vegas and drove through Nevada, Utah, and Arizona. Every day was a new adventure of the must-see places in the American Southwest. And each day whet our appetite for what we would be experiencing next.

How To Start Your Tour of the Best Places in the American Southwest

Although you can easily start an American Southwest road trip from many places in Arizona, New Mexico, or Utah, if you are flying in from outside the region or outside the country, usually the most economical launch point for the southwest is in Las Vegas, Nevada. Family tourism in Vegas is booming, and because of that, there are often great low-cost flights into Las Vegas.

Las Vegas Hotwire Hotel Flash Sale

We’ve been lucky enough to go back to the southwest a few times and can’t wait to go back and see even more! So without further ado, here are 12 must-see places in the American Southwest!

Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area

Red Rock Canyon National Conservation area is just 24 km (15 miles) from the Las Vegas strip. The park features amazing red rock cliffs up to 900 m high! The area is popular with hikers, many of whom climb to the peak of La Madre Mountain (2,485 m high).

Red cliffs and mountains framed through desert leaves - things to see in the American Southwest

Valley of Fire State Park

The oldest park in Nevada, Valley of Fire State park was first established in 1968. The park has brilliant red sandstone rock formations that appear to be ablaze when lit by the setting sun. Located just 80 km (50 miles) from Las Vegas, Nevada, Valley of Fire State Park is a great addition to any road trip through the American Southwest.

A natural rock formation resembling an elephant in Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

Zion National Park

Zion National Park, near Springvale, Utah hosts Zion Canyon, which is an epic 24 km long and 800 m deep! Some of the greatest hikes in Zion National Park include the hike up to the Angels Landing overlook, hiking through the river in the Narrows and immersing yourself in the Subway, a slot canyon with circular walls.

United States - Utah - Zion National Park


Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

Designated as a National Monument in 1996, Grand Staircase-Escalante is a relatively young National Monument but covers the largest land area at almost 1.9 million acres. The area features incredible landscape features such as Devils Arch, Wills Creek, and Spooky Gulch.

An arch high up in beige cliffs in Grande Escalante National Monument, Utah - things to see in the American Southwest

Bryce Canyon National Park

Situated in southwestern Utah, Bryce Canyon National Park is not actually a canyon at all. Bryce Canyon stands out rather, due to its amazing hoodoos or tall stone towers. Erosion and weathering through time formed the towers. It makes for an incredibly unique landscape. With lots of hiking trails and incredible seasonal changes to the views, surprisingly Bryce Canyon National Park receives relatively few visitors each year. The lack of visitors is due mostly to its remote location.

A field of towering red rocks in Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah - things to see in the American Southwest

 Antelope Canyon

Antelope Canyon is a slot canyon. It is located on Navajo land near Page, Arizona. It is separated into upper Antelope Canyon and lower Antelope canyon. The sandy bottom and colorful walls make for amazing shafts of light when the midday sun breaks through the holes in the roof of the canyons. If you are looking for some must see places in the American Southwest, make sure Antelope Canyon is on your list!

a shaft of light beams down over a the sandy bottom of a slot canyon - things to see in the American Southwest

Horseshoe Bend

Horseshoe Bend is part of the Colorado River. It’s located near Page, Arizona, and is an easy visit in combination with Antelope Canyon. Visiting the bend requires a 2.4 km hike from Route 89. The overlook is about 300 m above the river offering an amazing panoramic of Horseshoe bend.

The green Colorado River bends around a tall red rock cliff in Utah - things to see in the American Southwest

Sedona and Red Rock State Park

With its incredible red sandstone mountains, Red Rock State Park in Arizona hosts some of the most breathtaking things to see in the American Southwest. The sleepy town of Sedona is an artist’s paradise as well and worth a visit for some cultural growth.

The setting sun lights up the rocky cliffs of Sedona Utah with brilliant colours - things to see in the American Southwest

Montezuma Castle National Monument

Montezuma Castle National Monument is filled with incredibly preserved cliff dwellings located near Camp Verde, Arizona. Early Americans named the site for the Aztec emperor Montezuma. However, it was the Sinagua people who built the houses on the site between 500-900 years ago.

Native dwellings are carved into the cliff face at Montezuma's Castle in Arizona

Grand Canyon National Park

Located in Northwestern Arizona, Grand Canyon National Park is considered one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. It covers an incredible area of over 1.2 million acres! Grand Canyon National Park is one of the few places we’ve seen that are absolutely incapable of being captured in its full glory in a photograph. It is simply larger than life. This park is truly one of those destinations that must make it on every US bucket list.

The Colorado river is a shining blue amidst the multi-hued rocks of the Grand Canyon - things to see in the American Southwest

These are just a few of the countless amazing locations in the American Southwest. If you’ve explored this amazing region of the United States, we would love to hear about your must-see places in the American Southwest!


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12 amazing things to see in the American Southwest

About the Author

Kevin Wagar is a professional traveler and family travel expert living in the Greater Toronto Area. His beautiful wife Christina impressed on him her love of travel and they have made exploring the world an integral part of their life. With the birth of their two boys, Kevin and Christina have made it their mission to show others that traveling with children isn't as scary as it sounds and that kids can benefit from experiencing the world outside of their front door and beyond.

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        1. I think that would be something to put in a new post. It was pretty was a pretty extensive trip. If you shoot me an email I’d be happy to answer any specifics.

  1. This is the road trip that my sister and I need to do! Every place is just so breathtaking. I really would love to see Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area & Antelope Canyon. Bookmarking this post!

  2. I want to see every single one of these. Can you believe that I’ve only ever see the Grand Canyon from the plane on the way to Los Angeles? I really need to get it in gear. Antelope Canyon is at the top of the list right now, but all of these seem like places that Andy and I would love to explore. So much majestic beauty in the American Southwest, and I’ve seen so little of it!

  3. Such stunning rock formations. Beautifully photographed as well. You certainly saw some natural wonders during your six day trip. Fantastic!

  4. Wonderful post, Kevin, and I’m pleased to say that I’ve visited most of the sites you have listed. I LOVE the American Southwest, and these beautiful natural sites are part of the reason why.

  5. These are my dream places in the US! add to that, Yosemite and Yellowstone. Nature is so amazing! I dream of taking pictures of Antelope, Horseshoe, Grand Canyon and the rest. Is Red Rock also the same Red Rock where they hold concerts?

  6. Are these pictures for real? Horseshoe bend looks stunning! I can confidently state it as a winner in this list. Have you been to all 12?

  7. This is a part of the world I’ve never really considered travelling to so this was a really interesting read! The pictures are stunning. Will have to add to my bucket list now!

  8. I have always wanted to go to Horse Shoe bend! I still have not really had the opportunity to travel the US. Beautiful photos, btw.

    1. Into the Wild is an incredible book and movie! If you love those locations, you should make your way up to Alaska. Just make sure to check which berries you eat …

  9. Wow this is brilliant, thanks for the inspiration guys. We’re wanting to plan a US road trip next year to see a lot of the sights you’ve mentioned .. Will be bookmarking your post thanks!

  10. I’m seeing Red Rocks in October and our family vacation next spring is going to be to Utah to get those biggies! Bryce Canyon has been on my USA bucket list for years!

  11. The area has such spectacular landscapes, no wonder you fell in love with it. The sheer natural beauty is something that touches you deep inside and you can just marvel at the sheer artistry of nature.

  12. All these places look amazing Wagars. This part of the USA is the only are that really interests me in the states. I would love to see Monument Valley it also looks amazing. It all reminds me of watching cowboy movies when i was a little kid

  13. Amazingggg! Wanting to do a big American tour right about now. The Grand Canyon and Antelope Canyon have been on my bucketlist for so long. So beautiful!

  14. Wow! I see why you both fell in love with the Southwest. The photos are so unbelievably beautiful. Looking through them, I realized that I managed to miss that part of the US. I know the Coasts and the Northwest pretty well, crossed the US, from Maryland to Seattle, but never been to Arizona or Nevada yet. More additions to my bucket list.

  15. Officially motivated to take a serious road trip in the Southwest! I’ve been to Bryce, Zion, and the Grand Canyon before, but that was years ago! I’d love to get back there and also discover the other places you highlighted, particularly Antelope Canyon (that photo is incredible!) and Horse Shoe Bend.
    Thanks for the inspiration!

  16. I agree with all of these but would love to add a few. Arches National Park is a must for any visitor to Utah. I loved Great Basin National Park in Nevada. I love the southwest so much.

  17. These are all stunning! I’ve actually never been to any of them, even the Grand Canyon. But I have only traveled in New Mexico in the Southwest, which also has a lot of wonderful destinations like Carlsbad Caverns!

  18. Great list! We love the southwest, as well! We have been to several of these spots, but still have quite a few we need to visit! Horseshoe Bend is a spot we definitely want to see sometime, as well as Bryce Canyon. Did you do a photo tour at Antelope Canyon? We did the regular tour and there were so many people there–I would have loved to have a clear view of the sun ray like you did! Great shot!

    1. I was very new to photography on our trip, so I hadn’t even thought of a photography tour. If I do it again, I would definitely do that. As it stood, there was a lot of people on the tour, but there were breaks where a good angle got me the chance to make it look like I was there by myself 🙂

  19. The forms of these rocks are amazing. I am particularly taken with Grosvenor arch. It would really make you wonder how the hell did that hole come about. And that top view photo of the Bryce Canyon looks so surreal, kinda like a painting.

  20. I would really love to check out all of the above mentioned places, because everything looks just so amazing, especially the canyons. Amazing Photos man! 🙂

  21. Never been to the US but I have to say that this list is really awesome!! I love the idea of going Montezuma Castle area, it must be really grean and it does not happen every day to see 900 years of houses.

  22. Woooow these pictures are just amazing, I can’t believe this entire blog post just want me to sap straight to the grand canyon!

  23. These pictures are SO incredible beautiful! I really love this post because it reminds me that I still have so much more to see in my home country! Although we are living in Austria now, at least I know when we move back, the exploration can continue! I can’t believe these places are real. Thank you so much for sharing 🙂

  24. I’ve just read about National Parks in Utah and now this! Oh God, please just help me decide, haha! I guess 6 days to cover all these 12 places is not that bad at all. Would love to take a photo of me standing and looking up under that sunlight in Antelope Canyon!

  25. Being from Vancouver, flights to Nevada are very very cheap so I’ve been to Las Vegas probably 5+ times (starting from when I was a baby!). While I’ve been to the Grand Canyon, I have yet to visit the other spots on your list, and wow… what a list! I can’t wait to get back to North America and check out some of the incredible beauty in the States. I’ve always been fascinated by the colours of the American Southwest… so beautiful!

  26. I absolutely adore this post! I have a dream of driving a Winnebago to all the National Parks and many of them are in the southwest. I’ve only been to two on your list so I better get going.

  27. I’m not sure Montezuma’s Castle should be on this list. You can’t get anywhere near the ruins but can only view it from far below on a short trail at the visitors center. It was very disappointing.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts Dave. Yes, we weren’t able to enter the ruins at Montezuma Castle, but I believe the unique view of the cliffside dwellings are pretty unique and amazing. A short walking distance away is Montezuma’s well which has some spectacular views of it’s own and you are able to enter those ruins.

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