If you follow me here or on Instagram, you'll know that I'm a huge fan of road trips and I usually do a couple each year to explore new places. Out of all the areas I've been, I keep coming back to the southwest region and it's mainly because the landscapes here are like nothing else. Most make you feel like you are on another planet! Though there are a ton more than on this list, I've highlighted here some of my favorites that are all insanely beautiful and each are easy to do in a day or less.
1. Horseshoe Bend
Quick Info: Parking Fee: NO | Dogs: YES | Camping: NO | Tour Guide Required: NO | Official Website | Google Maps/Directions
Super iconic, Horseshoe Bend is that part of the Grand Canyon that became a staple for your Instagram feed. It is located approximately 140 miles from both the South Rim and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon – but only 5 miles from the beginning of Grand Canyon National Park. Not worth staying here for long though, so drive up and walk the 3/4 mile trail out to the edge, get a few shots and call it a day. Well worth the view, as this part of Arizona is really easy to access -- and it's free!
2. Lower Antelope Canyon
Quick Info: Parking Fee: $8 | Dogs: NO | Camping: NO | Tour Guide Required: YES | Official Website | Google Maps/Directions
Just a few miles away from Horseshoe Bend lies this famous beauty, Antelope Canyon. There's both the Upper Canyon ( pictured here ) and the Lower Canyon which has a set of stairs/ladder. If you want the famous photos with the light rays and purple coloring, Upper is the way to go. Either one you choose, you must book a tour guide to visit them. There are several companies that do this and you can usually book one of them the same day or day prior depending on the season. Tours last a couple of hours and you can book them at one of the tour companies below:
Antelope Canyon Tours | Dixie Ellis Lower Antelope Canyon Tours | Antelope Slot Canyon Tours
3. Monument Valley
Quick Info: Visitor Center: YES | Parking Fee: $20 for Park | Official Website | Dogs: NO | Camping: Permit Required | Google Maps/Directions
Probably one of my most favorite spots in this region, there's nothing quite like Monument Valley. More people than I thought recognize this from the movie Forrest Gump, and you'd be surprised how many tourists flock to the area now marked on Google maps as that just to run like him. But you'd be missing out if that's all you do here. To get the most out of this amazing place, I highly recommend visiting the Navajo Nation Park. It has a great 17 mile scenic loop that you can drive through to see the nature’s wonderland of spires, buttes and red rock creations that aren't accessible otherwise. There are 11 marked spots on the map you get with the entrance fee, and all of them left me in awe! Later you can then get this famous Forrest Gump photo ( I opted for a sunrise shot -above ) just by driving a few miles north of the park entrance.
4. Mexican Hat
Quick Info: Parking Fee: none | Dogs: YES | Camping: NO | Google Maps/Directions
Just north of Monument Valley by about 30 miles is this quick little stop-off town, Mexican Hat. The town gets its name from it's prominent landmark rock formation shaped like a person wearing a Sombrero! It's worth a look because it is so unusual, and if you are already visiting Monument Valley you may as well check this off your list too. Unless you are a rock climber, there isn't much else to do here, so grab your pics and be on your way! Rock climbers looking to get up to the top like in this video can find information here.
5. Bryce Canyon National Park
Quick Info: Parking Fee: $35 without a National Parks Pass | Official Website | Dogs: Paved surfaces only, not on trails | Camping: YES - permits and additional fees apply | Google Maps/Directions
I think Bryce Canyon speaks for itself. There's no other place in the world that I've found yet that looks like this! Known for it's deep orange-red colored spire-shaped rock formations called hoodoos, there's a good reason why this park draws over 2 million visitors per year. Plenty to do here if you've got time to spend a couple days, but if not you still can get a good feel for this park in less. The Navajo Loop Trail is the best thing to do if you stop in for the day. It's a 2.6 mile loop trail that gives you the highlights of the canyon, and it will get you right up close to the famous hoodoos like Thor's Hammer and Wall Street. If you're not up for a hike, driving through the whole park takes 2-3 hours, and will allow plenty of time for all the stunning overlook views!
6. Petrified Forest National Park
Quick Info: Visitor Center: YES | Parking Fee: $20 without a National Parks Pass | Official Website | Dogs: YES on leash | Camping: YES - permits and additional fees apply | Google Maps/Directions
An underrated National Park, this one doesn't get enough love and it's a shame because it's awesome! This park is most known for its ancient tree fossils that lived in the Late Triassic Period, about 225 million years ago. And while that is cool to see, I found the badlands portion of this park even more fascinating. Pictured above, the Blue Mesa Trail lets you do a short walk down into these crazy painted looking rock mounds where you feel like you've just landed on the moon or some planet in outer space! And just like Bryce, the park only takes a few hours to drive through with plenty of pretty stop-offs.
7. The Grand Canyon
Quick Info: Visitor Center: YES | Parking Fee: $35 without a National Parks Pass | Official Website | Dogs: Parking lots and South Rim Trails - on leash | Camping: YES - permits and additional fees apply | Google Maps/Directions
Yes I had to include the Grand Canyon on this list, because after all it is one of the wonders of the world, and the queen of all beauty in the southwest! Now there's so much to cover on this location but for the purposes of this list, I'm referencing my experience here at the South Rim which is perfect for those who are limited on time but want to catch a glimpse. The great thing about the Grand Canyon is you can spend as much or little time there and still feel amazed. The accessibility to the South Rim make it easy to spend a half day in the village while driving to all the lookout points as pictured here.
Many more spots to share in the southwest including Sedona and Zion National Park, but I recommend spending way more than a day in those two spots. Have you explored the southwest? Message / comment with your favorites!
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