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Explore The Best Things To Do In The Southwest USA | Travel Guide

Looking for things to do in the Southwest USA? Explore the best , , , , natural formations, food and drinks, music festivals, and wildlife viewing in this comprehensive travel guide. Plan your adventure now!

National Parks in the Southwest USA

When it comes to natural beauty and breathtaking landscapes, the Southwest USA is home to some of the most iconic in the country. Whether you’re an outdoor enthusiast, a nature lover, or simply seeking a memorable adventure, the in this region offer a diverse range of experiences that will leave you in awe.

Grand Canyon National Park

No visit to the Southwest USA would be complete without exploring the majestic wonder that is the Grand Canyon National Park. Carved by the mighty Colorado River over millions of years, the Grand Canyon is a true testament to the power and beauty of nature. As you stand at the rim of the canyon, you’ll be greeted by a vast expanse of colorful rock formations, deep gorges, and dramatic cliffs that stretch for miles. The sheer size and grandeur of the Grand Canyon are simply awe-inspiring.

To fully experience the Grand Canyon, there are several activities you can partake in. Hiking is one of the most popular ways to explore the park, with trails ranging from easy walks along the rim to challenging multi-day treks into the canyon itself. For those seeking a bird’s-eye view, helicopter tours offer a unique perspective of the canyon’s immense scale. And if you’re feeling adventurous, whitewater rafting down the Colorado River is an exhilarating way to see the canyon from a different angle.

Zion National Park

Nestled in the southwestern corner of Utah, Zion National Park is a true gem of the Southwest USA. Known for its towering sandstone cliffs, narrow slot canyons, and lush greenery, Zion offers a striking contrast to the rugged desert landscapes found elsewhere in the region. As you venture into the park, you’ll be greeted by a kaleidoscope of colors, with vibrant reds, oranges, and pinks dominating the landscape.

One of the highlights of Zion National Park is the famous Zion Canyon, a deep and narrow gorge carved by the Virgin River. Hiking through the canyon is a must-do activity, and there are trails for all skill levels. The most renowned hike is the Narrows, where you can wade through the river itself, surrounded by towering walls of rock. For those seeking a bird’s-eye view, the Angels Landing trail offers a thrilling ascent to a panoramic viewpoint.

Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon National Park is a place unlike any other. Known for its unique geological formations called hoodoos, Bryce Canyon is a surreal landscape that seems straight out of a fairy tale. As you explore the park, you’ll be greeted by a sea of towering spires, carved by erosion over millions of years. The vibrant colors of the rocks, ranging from reds and oranges to pinks and whites, create a mesmerizing sight that is truly unforgettable.

One of the best ways to experience Bryce Canyon is by hiking along the rim and descending into the amphitheaters. The Queen’s Garden and Navajo Loop trails offer a fantastic introduction to the park, taking you through a maze of hoodoos and offering stunning views along the way. For a more challenging adventure, the Fairyland Loop trail takes you deeper into the canyon, allowing you to immerse yourself in the otherworldly beauty of Bryce.


National Park Location Highlights
Grand Canyon National Park Arizona Vast expanse of colorful rock formations
Hiking, helicopter tours, whitewater rafting
Zion National Park Utah Towering sandstone cliffs, slot canyons
Hiking through Zion Canyon, Angels Landing
Bryce Canyon National Park Utah Hoodoos, surreal landscapes
Hiking along the rim, descending into canyons

Outdoor Activities in the Southwest USA

The Southwest USA is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts, offering a wide range of activities that cater to all adventure levels. Whether you are an avid hiker, a thrill-seeking rock climber, or a water lover who enjoys the rush of river rafting, this region has it all.

Hiking and Backpacking

Hiking and backpacking in the Southwest USA is an experience like no other. With its vast and diverse landscapes, this region offers endless opportunities for exploration. From the iconic Grand Canyon National Park to the stunning Zion National Park and the otherworldly Bryce Canyon National Park, there are trails that cater to hikers of all levels.

One of the most popular hikes in the Southwest USA is the Angel’s Landing hike in Zion National Park. This challenging trail takes you along a narrow ridge with sheer drop-offs on both sides, rewarding you with breathtaking panoramic views at the summit. If you prefer a less crowded hike, consider venturing into the lesser-known trails of Bryce Canyon National Park, where you can marvel at the unique hoodoos and rock formations.

For those looking for a multi-day adventure, backpacking through the Southwest USA offers the opportunity to immerse yourself in the beauty of the region. The Havasu Falls hike in the Grand Canyon is a bucket-list experience, where you can witness the awe-inspiring turquoise waterfall cascading down the red rocks. The Bright Angel Trail, also in the Grand Canyon, is another popular choice for backpackers, offering stunning views and the chance to camp overnight at the bottom of the canyon.

Rock Climbing

If you’re a thrill-seeker looking for an adrenaline rush, rock climbing in the Southwest USA will not disappoint. The region is known for its world-class climbing destinations that attract climbers from all over the world.

One of the most iconic rock climbing spots in the Southwest USA is Moab, Utah. The towering red sandstone cliffs of Moab provide a playground for climbers of all skill levels. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced climber, you’ll find routes that challenge and inspire you. The Fisher Towers, with their unique rock formations, offer a surreal climbing experience that feels like you’re in another world.

Another popular rock climbing destination in the Southwest USA is Joshua Tree National Park in California. Known for its granite monoliths and iconic Joshua trees, this park offers a variety of climbing routes that cater to different abilities. From crack climbing to bouldering, there is something for everyone in Joshua Tree.

River Rafting

For those who love the thrill of navigating through rapids and experiencing the power of rushing water, river rafting in the Southwest USA is a must-do activity. The region is home to some of the most exhilarating and scenic rivers in the country.

The Colorado River, which runs through the Grand Canyon, offers a range of river rafting experiences. From calm stretches where you can soak in the beauty of the canyon to adrenaline-pumping rapids that will get your heart racing, there is a trip for every type of rafter. The multi-day rafting trips allow you to fully immerse yourself in the grandeur of the Grand Canyon, camping under the stars and exploring hidden side canyons.

If you’re looking for a more challenging river rafting experience, the Taos Box on the Rio Grande in New Mexico is a popular choice. This section of the river features technical rapids and breathtaking scenery, making it a favorite among experienced rafters. The exhilaration of navigating through the narrow canyons and dropping through the rapids is unmatched.


Activity Location
Hiking and Backpacking Grand Canyon National Park, Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park
Rock Climbing Moab, Utah; Joshua Tree National Park, California
River Rafting Colorado River (Grand Canyon), Taos Box (Rio Grande)

Cultural Sites in the Southwest USA

Taos Pueblo

Taos Pueblo is a vibrant and historically significant cultural site located in Taos, New Mexico. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the oldest continuously inhabited communities in the United States, with a rich Native American heritage that dates back over a thousand years.

Visiting Taos Pueblo is like stepping back in time. The adobe buildings, some of which are still inhabited, showcase traditional Pueblo architecture that has remained largely unchanged for centuries. The multi-story structures, made of sun-dried mud bricks, are a testament to the ingenuity and craftsmanship of the Native American people who built them.

One of the highlights of a visit to Taos Pueblo is the opportunity to interact with the local community. Many residents still practice their traditional way of life, maintaining a deep connection to their cultural and spiritual roots. Visitors can explore the village, admire the intricate pottery and artwork created by talented local artisans, and even attend traditional ceremonies and dances.

Mesa Verde National Park

Mesa Verde National Park, located in southwestern Colorado, is a treasure trove of ancient Native American history. This remarkable archaeological site is home to over 600 cliff dwellings, making it one of the largest and most well-preserved collections of its kind in the world.

The cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde were built by the Ancestral Puebloans, who inhabited the region from approximately 600 to 1300 AD. These impressive structures were constructed within the natural alcoves of the canyon walls, providing shelter and protection for the people who lived there. Today, visitors can explore these incredible dwellings, marvel at the intricate stone masonry, and gain insight into the daily lives of the Ancestral Puebloans.

In addition to the cliff dwellings, Mesa Verde National Park offers a range of other archaeological sites and hiking trails. The park is also home to a museum that showcases artifacts and provides educational exhibits about the history and culture of the Ancestral Puebloans.

Chaco Culture National Historical Park

Chaco Culture National Historical Park, located in northwestern New Mexico, is a remarkable testament to the ingenuity and architectural prowess of the ancient Pueblo people. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is renowned for its well-preserved ruins, which include massive stone structures and intricate masonry.

The centerpiece of Chaco Culture National Historical Park is the Great Pueblo, also known as Pueblo Bonito. This massive structure, consisting of over 600 rooms, was once the center of a thriving civilization. The precise alignment of the buildings with celestial events, such as solstices and equinoxes, suggests a deep understanding of astronomy and a complex system of religious and cultural beliefs.

Visitors to Chaco Culture National Historical Park can explore the ancient ruins, hike the scenic trails, and gain insight into the daily lives of the people who once called this place home. The park also offers interpretive programs and guided tours, allowing visitors to delve deeper into the history and significance of the site.

Scenic Drives in the Southwest USA

When it comes to exploring the Southwest USA, there are few experiences as captivating as embarking on a scenic drive. The region is renowned for its breathtaking landscapes, and these scenic routes allow you to immerse yourself in the natural beauty that surrounds you. In this section, we will delve into three iconic drives that showcase the best of the Southwest: Route 66, the Pacific Coast Highway, and the Monument Valley Scenic Road.

Route 66

Route 66, also known as the “Mother Road,” is perhaps one of the most famous highways in the world. Stretching over 2,400 miles from Chicago, Illinois, to Santa Monica, California, this historic road traverses through the heart of the Southwest USA. Driving along Route 66 is like stepping back in time, with each mile revealing a piece of American history.

As you journey along Route 66, you’ll encounter a myriad of charming towns, roadside attractions, and stunning landscapes. From the neon lights of Las Vegas to the quirky Route 66 Museum in Oklahoma City, there is no shortage of unique experiences to be had. This drive is a true testament to the spirit of the American road trip, with its iconic diners, vintage motels, and classic cars.

Pacific Coast Highway

If you’re seeking a drive that combines breathtaking coastal scenery with the allure of the Southwest, look no further than the Pacific Coast Highway. This iconic route stretches along the California coastline, offering awe-inspiring views of the Pacific Ocean and rugged cliffs.

Starting in the north at Leggett, California, and winding its way down to Dana Point, the Pacific Coast Highway takes you through some of the most picturesque spots in the region. From the towering redwoods of Big Sur to the charming coastal towns of Monterey and Santa Barbara, there is no shortage of beauty to behold.

One of the highlights of this drive is the chance to witness the stunning sunset over the Pacific Ocean. As you cruise along the highway, make sure to stop at the numerous scenic viewpoints where you can capture the golden hues of the sun sinking beneath the horizon. It’s a truly magical experience that will leave you in awe of nature’s wonders.

Monument Valley Scenic Road

For a drive that immerses you in the enchanting landscapes of the Southwest, the Monument Valley Scenic Road is a must-visit. Located on the Arizona-Utah border, this iconic drive takes you through the heart of the Navajo Nation and showcases the mesmerizing beauty of the desert.

As you navigate along the winding roads, you’ll be greeted by towering sandstone buttes, vast desert plains, and expansive panoramic vistas. The iconic Mittens and Merrick Buttes, which have been featured in countless movies and photographs, will leave you in awe of their majestic presence.

To truly appreciate the grandeur of Monument Valley, make sure to stop at the designated viewpoints along the way. From these vantage points, you can marvel at the vastness of the landscape and witness the play of light and shadow as the sun moves across the sky. It’s a photographer’s dream come true.

Unique Natural Formations in the Southwest USA

The Southwest USA is home to some of the most unique and awe-inspiring natural formations in the world. From mesmerizing slot canyons to majestic rock formations, this region is a treasure trove for nature lovers and adventure seekers. In this section, we will explore three of the most remarkable natural formations in the Southwest USA: Antelope Canyon, Monument Valley, and Carlsbad Caverns.

Antelope Canyon

Antelope Canyon is a breathtaking slot canyon located in the heart of the Navajo Nation in Arizona. This natural wonder is famous for its stunning sandstone formations and narrow passageways, which have been sculpted by thousands of years of wind and water erosion. The canyon is divided into two sections: Upper Antelope Canyon and Lower Antelope Canyon.

When you step into Antelope Canyon, you are immediately greeted by a surreal world of light and shadows. The narrow walls of the canyon create a unique play of light, illuminating the vibrant hues of the sandstone. The sunlight filtering through the narrow openings above creates a mesmerizing display of colors, ranging from deep reds to vibrant oranges and soft pinks. It’s a photographer’s dream, as every corner of the canyon offers a new and captivating perspective.

Exploring Antelope Canyon is an otherworldly experience. As you make your way through the narrow passageways, you can’t help but feel a sense of wonder and awe. The smooth, curving walls of the canyon seem to have a life of their own, as if they are whispering ancient stories to those who listen. It’s a place where time stands still, allowing you to connect with nature in a profound and meaningful way.

Monument Valley

Monument Valley is an iconic symbol of the American West, with its towering sandstone buttes and vast desert landscapes. Located on the border of Arizona and Utah, this majestic valley has served as the backdrop for countless movies and photographs, capturing the imagination of people around the world.

As you drive through Monument Valley, you can’t help but feel a sense of reverence for the sheer scale and beauty of the natural formations. The towering buttes, some reaching heights of up to 1,000 feet, stand like ancient guardians of the land. The red sandstone formations, sculpted by wind and water over millions of years, create a dramatic and unforgettable landscape.

One of the best ways to experience Monument Valley is by taking a guided tour with a local Navajo guide. These guides share their knowledge and stories about the land, giving you a deeper appreciation for the cultural and spiritual significance of this sacred place. You can also embark on a scenic drive through the valley, stopping at various viewpoints to marvel at the breathtaking vistas.

Carlsbad Caverns

Deep beneath the surface of the Chihuahuan Desert in New Mexico lies a hidden world of wonder: Carlsbad Caverns. This vast underground cave system is a natural marvel, with its intricate limestone formations and stunning underground chambers. Exploring Carlsbad Caverns is like stepping into a different realm, where darkness and silence create an atmosphere of mystery and intrigue.

The main attraction of Carlsbad Caverns is the Big Room, which is the largest single cave chamber in North America. As you descend into the depths of the cavern, you are greeted by a breathtaking sight: massive stalactites and stalagmites, delicate draperies, and sparkling crystal formations. The sheer size and beauty of the cave chamber are truly awe-inspiring, leaving visitors in a state of wonderment.

To fully experience the magic of Carlsbad Caverns, you can join a guided tour led by park rangers. These tours provide fascinating insights into the geology, history, and ecology of the cave system. You can also witness the incredible sight of the evening bat flight, as thousands of bats emerge from the caverns to hunt for insects.

Table: Southwest USA Unique Natural Formations

Natural Formation Location
Antelope Canyon Arizona
Monument Valley Arizona and Utah
Carlsbad Caverns New Mexico

Southwest USA Food and Drinks

When exploring the Southwest USA, one cannot miss the opportunity to indulge in the region’s diverse and flavorful cuisine. From the unique flavors of New Mexican cuisine to the thriving craft beer scene and the rich traditions of Native American foods, this region offers a culinary experience like no other.

New Mexican Cuisine

New Mexican cuisine is a delightful fusion of Native American, Spanish, and Mexican flavors. It is known for its bold and spicy dishes that will tantalize your taste buds. One iconic dish is the green chile stew, made from locally grown green chilies that are roasted and then simmered with tender chunks of meat, potatoes, and other vegetables. The result is a hearty and comforting stew that is perfect for chilly evenings.

Another must-try dish is the enchiladas, which come smothered in red or green chile sauce and are often filled with cheese, chicken, or beef. The red chile sauce is made from dried red chilies that are ground into a paste and then cooked with various spices to create a rich and flavorful sauce. The green chile sauce, on the other hand, is made from roasted and pureed green chilies, giving it a slightly tangy and fresh taste.

To complete your New Mexican culinary adventure, don’t forget to try the famous sopapillas. These fluffy and pillowy fried pastries are often served with honey and can be enjoyed as a sweet treat or even as a side dish to complement savory dishes.

Craft Beer Breweries

The Southwest USA is home to a vibrant craft beer scene, with numerous breweries that offer a wide variety of unique and flavorful brews. Whether you are a beer aficionado or simply enjoy a cold one every now and then, exploring the craft beer breweries in the Southwest is a must-do experience.

One popular brewery in the region is located in Albuquerque, where you can find a diverse range of beers, from light and refreshing lagers to hoppy and bold IPAs. Take a tour of the brewery to learn about the brewing process and sample some of their finest creations. The friendly and knowledgeable staff will guide you through the tasting experience, ensuring that you find the perfect beer to suit your palate.

If you find yourself in Santa Fe, make sure to visit another renowned craft beer brewery. Here, you can enjoy stunning views of the mountains while sipping on a cold beer. From traditional ales to experimental brews, this brewery offers something for every beer lover.

Native American Foods

The Native American tribes in the Southwest USA have a rich culinary heritage that is deeply rooted in the land and its resources. Traditional Native American foods are not only delicious but also reflect a deep connection to nature and a sustainable way of living.

One staple food in Native American cuisine is corn. Corn is used in various forms, such as cornmeal, corn flour, and even dried corn kernels. It is the main ingredient in dishes like cornbread, which can be enjoyed as a side dish or as a base for other flavorful dishes. Another popular dish is the Navajo fry bread, a fluffy and crispy bread that is often topped with savory ingredients like beans, cheese, and meat.

In addition to corn, Native American cuisine also incorporates other locally sourced ingredients like wild game, beans, and squash. These ingredients are often prepared using traditional cooking methods such as smoking, steaming, or roasting, which enhance their natural flavors.

As you explore the Southwest USA, don’t miss the opportunity to try these unique and delicious Native American foods. They not only provide a culinary experience but also offer a glimpse into the rich cultural heritage of the region.

Southwest USA Music and Festivals

The Southwest USA is not only known for its breathtaking natural beauty and rich cultural heritage but also for its vibrant music scene and exciting festivals. From classical opera performances to colorful hot air balloon fiestas and the world-renowned South by Southwest (SXSW) Music Festival, this region offers a diverse range of musical experiences for all music lovers.

Santa Fe Opera Festival

One of the most prestigious and enchanting music events in the Southwest USA is the Santa Fe Opera Festival. Held annually in the picturesque city of Santa Fe, New Mexico, this festival attracts music enthusiasts from around the world. The Santa Fe Opera House, nestled amidst the stunning Sangre de Cristo Mountains, provides a unique and intimate setting for opera performances.

During the festival, opera aficionados can enjoy a repertoire of both classic and contemporary productions, showcasing the talents of renowned artists and emerging stars. The open-air theater allows spectators to immerse themselves in the music while also taking in the breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape.

Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

If you’re looking for a truly mesmerizing and whimsical experience, the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is a must-visit event. Held annually in Albuquerque, New Mexico, this festival has gained global recognition as the largest hot air balloon event in the world.

Imagine waking up early in the morning and watching the sky fill with hundreds of colorful balloons, floating gracefully against the backdrop of the Southwest’s rugged mountains and vast desert. The sight is truly awe-inspiring and offers a one-of-a-kind experience for visitors of all ages.

Aside from the breathtaking balloon launches, the festival also features various activities and events, including live music performances, delicious food vendors, and even balloon competitions. It’s a true celebration of the artistry and beauty of hot air ballooning.

South by Southwest (SXSW) Music Festival

When it comes to showcasing the best of contemporary music in the Southwest USA, the South by Southwest (SXSW) Music Festival takes center stage. Held annually in Austin, Texas, this festival brings together musicians, industry professionals, and music enthusiasts from all over the world.

SXSW is not your typical music festival. It’s a multi-faceted event that encompasses not only live music performances but also film screenings, interactive conferences, and trade shows. It’s a melting pot of creativity and innovation, where established artists and emerging talents come together to showcase their craft and connect with their audience.

With over a thousand performances spread across various venues, SXSW offers an unparalleled opportunity to discover new music, from indie rock and hip hop to electronic and folk. Whether you’re an aspiring musician or simply a music lover, SXSW provides a platform for exploration, inspiration, and networking.

Table: Upcoming Music Festivals in the Southwest USA

Festival Name Location Dates
Santa Fe Opera Festival Santa Fe, NM June – August
Albuquerque International Albuquerque, October
Balloon Fiesta NM
South by Southwest (SXSW) Music Austin, TX March

Southwest USA Wildlife Viewing

The Southwest USA is a treasure trove for wildlife enthusiasts, offering a diverse range of species that thrive in its unique desert and mountain ecosystems. From majestic desert bighorn sheep to speedy roadrunners and graceful pronghorn antelope, the region is teeming with fascinating wildlife waiting to be discovered. Whether you are an avid photographer, a nature lover, or simply seeking a thrilling encounter with the wild, the Southwest USA is the perfect destination for wildlife viewing.

Desert Bighorn Sheep

One of the most iconic animals of the Southwest USA is the desert bighorn sheep. With their majestic curved horns and agile movements, these creatures are a sight to behold. Found in the rugged canyons and mountain ranges of the region, including the Grand Canyon National Park and Zion National Park, desert bighorn sheep are well adapted to the harsh desert environment. They have the ability to survive without water for long periods, relying on their specialized kidneys to conserve moisture. Observing these magnificent animals in their natural habitat is truly an awe-inspiring experience.


Made famous by cartoons, the roadrunner is a common sight in the Southwest USA. With its distinctive appearance and unique behavior, this bird captures the imagination of visitors and locals alike. Known for its incredible speed and agility on the ground, the roadrunner can reach speeds of up to 20 miles per hour, making it a true sprinter of the desert. Its long legs and tail, combined with its ability to fly short distances, allow it to navigate the arid landscape with ease. Keep an eye out for these charismatic birds as you explore the region’s and open spaces.

Pronghorn Antelope

The pronghorn antelope is a true symbol of the Southwest USA’s wide-open spaces. These graceful creatures are the fastest land animals in North America, capable of reaching speeds of up to 60 miles per hour. With their unique horns and tan-colored coats, they blend seamlessly into the arid grasslands and desert plains. Pronghorn antelope can be found in various locations across the region, including the vast grasslands of New Mexico and the expansive plains of Arizona. Witnessing their incredible speed and agility as they gracefully bound across the landscape is a truly remarkable sight.

In conclusion, the Southwest USA offers an abundance of wildlife viewing opportunities for nature enthusiasts. From the majestic desert bighorn sheep to the speedy roadrunners and the graceful pronghorn antelope, the region’s diverse ecosystems are home to a wide range of fascinating species. Whether you embark on a hike through the or simply take a scenic drive through the open plains, keep your eyes peeled for these incredible animals. The Southwest USA is a haven for wildlife lovers, providing unforgettable encounters with nature in its purest form. So grab your binoculars, pack your camera, and get ready to embark on a wildlife adventure like no other.

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