Southwest Road Trips & Tips

Diana Rowe

For me, there are no better places to visit in the United States than those in the Southwest.

From the iconic Grand Canyon to the unforgettable landscapes of New Mexico and Colorado, this road trip is perhaps one that covers the most unique and unexpected of all.

Get off the beaten path with two-lane highways or arrive at your destination sooner on the more traveled interstates.

Need a little guidance?

These are my Southwest road trip tips and destinations not to miss.

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Photo by Michael Just from Pixabay

Southwest Road Trip Tips & Destinations

The Great American road trip still tops the list of most travelers’ bucket lists -- including me!

And 2020 has shifted the popularity of road trips as, according to U.S. Travel Association survey, "Travelers continue to feel safest when traveling by personal vehicle (68%), and when visiting outdoor destinations such as parks (34%) and the beach (26%)."

A road trip to Southwest USA is the best way to get up close and personal with the Southwest culture, scenic views, national parks, and just a fun time for all ages of road trippers.

The Southwest is one of my favorite destinations, whether traveling with the multigenerational family or road tripping on our Harleys with my husband.

Jonesing for a road trip? Not sure where to start? Here are our southwest road trip tips and destinations not to miss.

Colorado Road Trip

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Photo by Lisa Redfern from Pixabay

You knew my first road trip destination had to be Colorado, right? The Monument Valley, Four Corners, and Mesa Verde provide candy to the eye of the road tripper.

Even after living here for more than 30 years, the views are still just as majestic as when I first arrived.

Must see places to visit in southwest Colorado include (of course) Mesa Verde National Park, located near Cortez, Colorado.

Established in 1906, this park is known for its 600 cliff dwellings, where the Ancestral Pueblo Native Americans lived for over 700 years.

Today, the park is home to more than 5,000 archeological sites.

New Mexico Road Trip

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Rio Grande Gorge Bridge - Photo by Diana Rowe / TravelingInHeels.com

A short drive from my Denver home base, New Mexico is an easy road trip getaway from Colorado.

Don’t miss the opportunity to visit Taos with the family. There is so much to do in this beautiful town, including exploring its historic downtown and visiting its Taos Puebla.

Taos Ski Valley is also the perfect winter vacation with fewer crowds for skiing and snowboarding destination.

Every time I visit Taos I always make sure to take the short drive to the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge — although I haven’t yet been brave enough to walk across the bridge. Located just west of Taos about 10 minutes US Hwy 64 is the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge.

Cross over the second-highest bridge on a U.S. Highway and rating fifth highest in the U.S. Reaching 650 feet above the Rio Grande, this bridge stretches across ting 12,800 feet. This bridge is also the “star” of several films including Natural Born Killers, Wild Hogs, and Terminator Salvation.

Utah Road Trip

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Photo by Pexels from Pixabay

I’ve had the Arches and Canyonlands National Parks on my travel bucket list for years — and so should you. (Both are on my list for 2021!)

According to the Moon Southwest Road Trip Guide, the two best views are:

  • "...from the Grand View Point (page 209) where you can see the Canyonlands spread out before you from high up on the Island in the Sky..."
  • "...the Green River Overlook (page 210) where you can watch the mighty river with a shock of color contrasting with the hard, red land, snake its way across the plateau."

Destinations Not to Miss in Arizona

To say that the Grand Canyon is awe-inspiring is an understatement.

My first visit to this amazing geological wonder was on a motorcycle road trip.

Arizona is home to much of the sprawling Grand Canyon, with its layered red rocks revealing millions of years of geological history.

Stop at these amazing view sites including Mather Point, Yavapai Observation Station, and architect Mary Colter’s Lookout Studio and her Desert View Watchtower.

Lipan Point, with wide views of the canyon and Colorado River, is popular, especially at sunrise and sunset.

Southwest Road Trip Tips

Now that you are convinced that you have to plan your next southwest road trip, here are the road trip tips to make that vacation the best.

When To Visit

If you’re visiting the national parks, May to September is high season, so expect to see crowds and higher prices for hotels.

However, visit in the late spring and early to late fall.

You’ll not only experience less traffic and crowds, but also hotels, B&Bs, and VRBO are in less demand. This time of year offers better accommodation pricing for your stays.

The weather may be less predictable but your road trip budget will be more friendly.

Where to Stay

If you really want to maximize your southwest road trip, I recommend booking accommodations inside the national parks or within walking distance to your preferred activities. To follow are a few of my recommendations.

  • Mesa Verde offers Far View Lodge (open April to October).
  • Grand Canyon features multiple options in the park, including my favorite the Grand Canyon Best Western Squire.
  • The Arches National Park also offers a hotel close to the park: Best Western Plus Canyonlands Inn.
  • Stay in downtown Albuquerque for walkable access.
  • For Taos, either stay at the Blake Hotel near the ski slope or Taos Inn near its historic downtown.

What to Pack

The southwest region can be fickle with the weather changing as constantly as your elevation. One minute you’re in the mountains; then the next your traveling through the desert.

Check the weather forecast, and always pack a jacket and blankets.

The best thing about a southwest road trip is that the backroads are not as crowded. This also means that if anything happens there won’t be much help from other motorists.

For your southwest adventures, be sure to pack layers to accommodate varying temperatures, hiking shoes or tennis shoes, and snacks.

Everything else that is loaded in your car depends on the type of planned adventure.

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Denver-based freelance writer Diana Rowe wants to open the conversation that Life after 50 is not the end — it’s the beginning! She'll talk real lifestyle stuff like juggling work, marriage, caregiver for elderly parent, relationships with adult children, grandchildren, and blended families, what works what doesn't, but when all else fails, she bakes! She'll share her favorite recipes, especially baking! her favorite traveling partners are her grandkids — and sometimes she even lets their parents tag along! She wants to inspire other grandparents to travel with their adult children and grandchildren to create new and lasting memories as a multigenerational family. Seriously! The. Most. Fun. Ever.

Denver, CO
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