Dreaming of visiting the American Southwest?
We spent several months exploring on our Southwest USA road trip so have plenty of tips and insights to share with you down below!
The American Southwest region is one of the best road trip destinations in the USA, if not the world.
It’s full of wide open spaces and natural beauty, diversity of landscapes and Southwest culture, and crazy fun adventures that will have you screaming, whooping, and talking about for years to come.
These are the stuff memories are made of and these are the reasons why we travel, especially with our kids. We want to help you get the most out of your USA road trip through the Southwest states. There is no better to way to reconnect with those you love AND of course Mother Nature.
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Down below we’re including some of the most epic adventures you do not want to miss in your American Southwest road trip itinerary!
As we have not yet visited New Mexico (on this trip), we invited our friend Bryanna from Crazy Family Adventure to share two of her favorite things to do in New Mexico with us.
There are loads of Southwestern United States adventures to choose from so be sure to leave a comment at the bottom as to what you think should also be included.
Epic American Southwest Adventures
What states are in the Southwest you ask? There is some lack of clarity around the definitive borders but typically the region is comprised of Nevada, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico. Some people will argue parts of Colorado (Canyon De Chelly, Mesa Verde), Texas and California be included. I’ve even heard Oklahoma thrown in.
As you take your journey through Southwest USA be sure to pay attention to how the Colorado River changes as it carves its way down from its origin in the Rocky Mountains to the Gulf of Mexico.
Pink Jeep Tour, Arizona
I don’t think our kids will ever forget crawling down a steep trail called Devil’s Staircase in a bright pink jeep!
“You’re kidding me, we’re really going down that?” their nervous giggles quickly turned into screams as we surely did go down it.
These jeeps were made for rock crawling.
A pink jeep tour was recommended to us as one of the best things to do in Sedona with kids that adults love too! And the Broken Arrow tour is the most popular tour and will give you the most thrill as it goes up and down rock faces along the 4WD trail.
You’ll experience stunning scenery along the way and get the chance to jump out to learn more about the area you’re exploring and enjoy the feel of rock solid ground beneath your feet.
Watch our Pink Jeep video:
Bright Angel Trail, Grand Canyon, Arizona
You can’t take a Grand Canyon road trip and not go down into her belly! It saddens me that the average visitor to the Grand Canyon only stays for 15 minutes. Nooooooooo!!
There is so much more to explore and amazing things to do in the Grand Canyon, north and south rim.
The most epic adventures in the Grand Canyon would be hiking rim to rim, or down to Phantom Ranch and back again. But, I know for most of you that is not going to happen, so the next best adventure would be to hike the Bright Angel Trail.
You can choose how far you want to go down, bearing in mind the hardest part to the trail will be walking back out.
Craig and I hiked the 6 miles down to Plateau Point in 2006. With the girls we hiked just over a mile down the trail before turning around.
The snow and icy path stopped us from going any further. Safety is priority.
Watch our Grand Canyon in the winter video:
Verde Canyon Railroad, Arizona
Chances are you have not heard of the Verde Canyon Railroad. We hadn’t either, and were surprised that no one mentioned it to us as one of the cool Sedona attractions!
The Verde Canyon Railroad is now one of our favorite things to do in Sedona.
This train trip is a 40-mile return journey through 100 years of history, culture and dramatic desert southwest scenery.
It follows the Verde River and the riparian ecosystem it carves along the way with cottonwoods and high sandstone cliffs flanking its sides.
This is a region that is only accessible by train – unless you want to strap on the boots and do a bit of hiking.
You can ride in the open air carriages for a better look at the scenery and a guide who will point out notable features and share cultural, geological and historical insights.
We recommend paying extra for a first class seat – it comes with comfy chairs, a cash bar, buffet food, and a champagne toast on arrival.
Watch our Verde Canyon video:
ATV Adventures in Sand Hollow State Park, Utah
How does zipping around magnificent red sand dunes in an ATV or quad bike sound?
Not only is it an epic Southwest USA activity, it is in some of the most stunning scenery I’ve ever seen.
Sand Hollow State Park is renowned for its 6,000 acres of ATV and OHV off-road trails that take you to 3,500ft in elevation.
The sand areas are divided by incredible rock formations in the upper areas and bounded by the blue man-made lake at the lower edges.
This is an adventure that will get the kids squealing and giggling. Finish it off with a magnificent sunset over the sand dunes.
I will never forget Kalyra yelling at me from the back of the ATV, “Show them what you’re made of Mum!” as I pressed my foot down on the accelerator and roared up the sand dune!!
The cheered as we came flying back down the other side!! A family who adventures together, stays together.
- Read More: Thrilling ATV adventures in St George Utah
Watch our ATV adventures in St George video:
Angels Landing Hike, Zion National Park, Utah
Oh boy!! Not sure you’ll want to do this hike in the American Southwest with kids, young ones at least.
I still feel sick thinking about taking the girls up there. We only made it to Scout’s Landing which was more than enough thrill seeking adventure.
Craig and I have hiked to Scout’s Landing before and I loved it. But it’s a different story when you’re holding onto a chain beside your daughters praying they don’t slip and fall 1,000 feet to their death.
Angels Landing is one of the most legendary hikes in Southwestern USA, and one of the best things to do in Zion National Park.
You hike up to the top of a peak, the last section using a hand chain to guide you along a narrow path with a steep drop off down to your death.
No matter how far you get up this trail, you will never forget this hiking adventure in Southwest USA.
Considering only 6 people have died hiking Angels Landing and it’s in a national park visited by 4 million people a year – the odds of survival are really good.
As long as you are sensible, slow and can navigate around the crowds, you’ll be fine.
And the views are just as epic as the journey.
Even if you only make it to the beginning of the scary part, it’s worth doing. The Angels Landing Trail has crazy switchbacks going up which will give you enough of an adventure and beautiful views of the Zion Valley below.
Be sure to stop at the lodge for a well deserved local Springdale IPA when you’ve finished.
- Read More: Ultimate Guide to Zion National Park
Watch our Zion National Park video here:
Horseback Riding in Bryce Canyon, Utah
Horseback riding in Bryce Canyon National Park was one of our favorite experiences on our Utah national parks road trip.
Craig and I visited Bryce Canyon NP and went horse riding back in 2006 and we still rave about it today.
We had a cowboy guide us complete with stirrups and bad whiskey jokes. Our ride took us up and down trails past orange, white and pink hoodoos of all shapes and sizes. It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before.
Unfortunately on our current USA road trip the weather didn’t cooperate with us and we could not time a return to our beloved Bryce Canyon.
It is at the top of my list of favorite USA national parks and I so wanted the girls to experience the fairyland wonder of Bryce on the back of a horse.
While in Bryce Canyon on your Southwest getaway, be sure to hike a few trails and catch sunrise and sunset. The views are magnificent.
Lower Antelope Canyon, Arizona
We only did the Lower Antelope Canyon tour. But I think the Upper Antelope Canyon would be just as wonderful of an American Southwest adventure!
Antelope Canyon is a magical slot canyon created by water that has split and polished rock crevasses over time.
The shapes, colors and textures of the carved canyon walls and how it changed in the light was spellbinding.
Nature has so many surprises in stall for us hidden by just a tiny crack in the ground. Deep underneath is a world that will capture the heart of any who are brave enough to dig a little deeper and explore wider.
I was worried that it would be overcrowded and underrated. This was not the case at all and I was thrilled and delighted by the experience.
Our Navajo guide was knowledgeable about the rock formations and pointed out various shapes and creature and was excellent in taking photos for us and showing us how to capture the unique colors and features.
I also loved how he demonstrated how the canyon was formed at the end with a pile of sand and a bottle of water. This really helped the kids to connect to this experience.
While you are here, you might as well stop by Horseshoe Bend. It’s very close by and one of the most spectacular places in Arizona you don’t want to miss.
Put this on your Southwest itinerary, and it’s best to book your tour in advance here.
Monument Valley Guided Tour, Utah/Arizona
Monument Valley is one of our favorite places to visit in the USA, and one of the top Southwest landmarks in North America.
Like Uluru in Australia, it has a mesmerizing spiritual energy and magnetism that is rare to experience. You can’t help look at those buttes and not see a higher power at work.
Call it whatever you like, but it’s a wonderful way to experience yourself as part of something so perfect yet unexplainable.
A visit to Monument Valley will bring back the wonder and joy in your life.
You can do a self-guided tour of the valley to see the most well known sites such as the Mittens and the view from John Ford Point.
We recommend going deeper on a guided tour with a Navajo guide.
These tours have permission to go off the beaten path in Monument Valley and you get to experience other wonders like visiting a Hogan, and rock formations with names like Sun’s Eye and Wind’s Ear. It’s a completely different perspective to Monument Valley.
The most enriching part to the experience is of course to learn more about Native American culture with your experienced Native American guide.
Ours was amazing and he knew all the best places to take precious family photo memories of us.
- Read More: 15 Amazing Things To Do In Monument Valley
- We stayed at this Airbnb with a Navajo family. Well worth the experience.
Watch our Monument Valley video here
Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada
The Valley of Fire State Park may not be a South West adventure of the physical kind, but it is an adventure for the eyes!
But there are plenty of hiking trails you take off the main Scenic Drive that will give your body some fun.
These are short trails but will take you to petroglyphs, narrow canyons, fire waves, and some of the most extraordinary colors and landscapes you could hope to see.
Our tip is to drive there by way of the North Road in Lake Mead Recreational Area to explode the senses even more.
Just look below at what you’ll see.
Valley of Fire State Park is one of the best Las Vegas day trips as it is only an hour away from The Strip.
Watch our Valley of Fire video:
Hiking & Horse Riding at Red Rock Canyon, Nevada
Like the Valley of Fire, Red Rock Canyon is a feast for the eyes!
I could not get over how striking this area was with its colorful rocks rising out of the desert floor like a giant rippling wave.
You can enjoy the 13 mile scenic drive and stop for a few hikes along the way.
We thoroughly enjoyed the short and easy Lost Creek Children’s Discovery Trail hike, which presented us with a riparian environment that felt like we were in a place like Yosemite National Park rather than the desert.
Our 90-minute horse riding experience just outside the park through a narrow gorge with views of the red rock canyons in front of us was an American Southwest adventure our girls will never forget.
We did not do any rock climbing at Red Rock Canyon in Nevada, but it is known as one of the most popular rock climbing destinations in the USA.
Good news is this spectacular National Conservation Area is only 30-minutes from the Las Vegas Strip, so you can easily do it as a day trips from Las Vegas.
Watch our Red Rock Canyon video:
Peek-a-Boo and Spooky Slot Canyons, Utah
This was by far the greatest adventure we had in the Southwest region of the United States.
It was totally unexpected and we all felt a little beat up after it – but in a good way. Peek-a-Boo and Spooky Slot Canyons lie waiting for you in the Grand Escalante National Monument in Utah.
This is an area off-the-beaten-path but well worth the dusty gravel road to get there. The two slot canyons present a different experience and are both on a loop trail.
We visited in a group of 6 adults and 6 kids and each of us had a blast and said it was the best fun yet.
This loop walk will take you through the two vastly different canyons. The first will involve a lot of climbing, weaving and ducking up into the canyon and through holes, across pools of water, and into narrow slots.
It then opens up through a wash with beautiful desert scenery before going down into the very narrow Spooky Slot Canyon. Breathe deep and suck in those bellies!
Watch our adventures in Peek-a-Boo and Spooky slot canyons
Jeep Rock Crawling in Moab, Utah
We didn’t realize we’d be rock crawling when we joined this guided jeep tour of the surrounding rock country in Moab.
If we had of known we may let fear stop us from going on this American Southwest activity!
Rock Crawling in a Jeep was EPIC fun! There was loads of laughter, a few tears, and plenty of screams.
This is an exercise in trust. Jeeps are the most versatile and trustworthy vehicles. There’s probably not a rock they can’t spread their wheels over in all different directions to climb up and over with more skill than a crab.
But letting go to trust that jeep when you’re laying back in your seat at a 90 degree angle hoping you’ve given enough gas to get up, or to leaning right down to almost kiss the ground hoping that the Jeep will stick and then right itself up is difficult.
We rented a jeep and joined the Fulltime Families organized tour of the surrounding Moab red rock country.
Actually make that red, orange, pink white, and yellow rock. There were 13 families with volunteer spotters helping all us novices learn how to rock crawl.
Adding to the thrill of the adventure were the stunning views that surrounded us of Moab Utah.
What a wonderful way to explore the backcountry and an EPIC Southwest USA adventure for sure!
Off roading Jeep rock crawling in Moab video:
Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico
Carlsbad Caverns is a must do stop in New Mexico!
Located in the Guadalupe Mountains the main attraction is a large limestone chamber that you can explore. There is also a bat flight you can watch from approximately May – October.
You enter the limestone chamber named the Big Cave from an elevator bringing you down 750 feet into the chamber for a 1 1/4 mile loop hike around the cave or you can enter via the natural entrance.
We recommend doing both!
For the natural entrance you walk down 750 feet via multiple switchbacks before doing the 1 1/4 mile loop – but then luckily you can take the elevator back up!
If you are there between May-October you won’t want to miss the bat flight where you can watch 1000’s of Brazilian free tailed bats fly out of the natural entrance – it is an unbelievable site!
If guided tours are more your thing be sure to check out the Visitor Center to see what guided tours they are currently offering. This is also a way to explore beyond The Big Room.
- Read More: 2 Day itinerary for visiting Carlsbad Caverns
- Watch the video: https://youtu.be/
- Related Post: Santa Fe city guide
White Sands National Monument, New Mexico
For a chance to sled down a white sand mountain head over to White Sands National Monument, one of the top landmarks in the Southwest region.
Aptly named, it is a huge area covered with white sand dunes as far as the eye can see.
You can stop in the visitor center to pay to rent sleds to use (assuming they have any available – you may end up waiting a few minutes for someone to return theirs) or you can bring in your own sleds. Then head out to the sand dunes!
It gets very hot and there is little to no shade so be sure to come prepared.
We opted to drive our travel trailer in with us for the day and it was awesome to be able to put our awning out and sit by the dunes for hours while our kids played, then ran over for shade, a quick drink or snack before heading back out.
This is a unique experience that the whole family will enjoy!
- Watch the video: https://youtu.be/OUZMaF0mt18
More Tips for Southwest USA
If you don’t want to drive from your home, you could even fly Southwest and then book a rental car for your road trip here.
And if you’re looking for more tips for the region, check out these posts:
- 20 incredible places to visit in Utah
- 11 Amazing Things to do in Arches National Park Utah
- 12 incredible things to do in Canyonlands National Park
- 8 awesome things to do in Joshua Tree National Park
- Hike the Exciting Red Reef Trail St George (there’s a waterfall climb)