We have prepared a detailed overview of the most interesting places for a Southwest USA Road Trip, and we must say – there is certainly a lot to do and see. During the two weeks, we visited breathtaking national parks, magnificent cities and many other attractions. Be inspired by our journey and hit the road in Southwest USA.
If you are planning to visit Southwest USA, prepare to be somewhat infused by a sense of freedom. That was exactly the feeling that our visit to West US left us with. We managed to drive through quite a distance and had something new to see every day. The USA left us with really strong impressions and it’s one of the few countries we are actually already planning to visit again. Gorgeous nature and clean cities are the main tourist attractions. Americans love their caravans, so be prepared to meet tons of them on the road. And it’s no wonder. This continent offers the real beauty of nature and wonders that you don’t see every day. From the warmest place on Earth to the tallest tree, longest canyon or craziest city – in a few days you’ll be able to experience several of the world’s best.
Prepare to be lost in the US without a car. Every true American gets everywhere by car – there’s no other option. Fortunately, the car rentals are well-prepared, and it’s actually not that expensive at all – we recommend you rent a car at Skyscanner.net or RentCars.com. You can also check our tips on how to rent a car. The advantage is that you can spend the night virtually anywhere you like. During the warm summer evenings, it’s ideal to spend the night in a tent, and people are permitted to camp nearly anywhere they like – and that includes national parks as well if you make an early reservation. If you want to check where you can build a tent for free, check out Freecampsites.net. Definitely try spending the night in one of the typical American motels – our best tips on how to find a cheap hotel. As for food, there are fast-food restaurants virtually around every corner, so if you want to be a proper tourist, you have to try this “typical American food.”
We have prepared really interesting places you should visit on your road trip around Southwest USA. We usually spent a whole day in the national parks and chose the shorter treks, but it’s definitely up to you how you’ll tailor your trip to suit your exact needs and likes. Our US road trip is marked on the map – it took us exactly two weeks. In addition, we added tips for cheap motels or places where we camped for free.
This bridge is astonishingly photogenic; its orange colour stands out beautifully against the blue background of the San Francisco Bay. Its construction was considered impossible for the longest time. Due to the strong tides, frequent earthquakes and rough weather conditions. Eventually, the construction was successfully completed in 1937. The bridge, however, became a popular spot for committing suicide – people often chose to end their life by jumping into the water. There are no barriers on the bridge to prevent the lethal jumps. So far, there have only been telephones installed so that it’s possible to reach a qualified psychologist.
The bridge is painted orange; the colour, however, breaks down in the humid climate and pollutes the air. That is why the bridge has been re-painted grey in several places. We recommend buying San Francisco Sightseeing Pass – 1 ticket to 20 attractions around the city.
Recommended hotels and hostels in San Francisco / Oakland:
- Quality Inn Oakland Airport – Booking.com | HotelsCombined.com
- USA Hostels San Francisco – Booking.com | HotelsCombined.com
2. Yosemite National Park
The area was declared a national park as early as 1890, and later, it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The river Merced runs through the park and forms a deep valley with tall granite cliffs shielding it. The park has very high biodiversity, and the tallest waterfall in America can be found here as well. During our visit to the park, the weather was very misty and rainy, so we didn’t have much luck with a proper walk. However, it is necessary to count on such things and be prepared.
The Yosemite National Park is one of the most visited parks in the US, so there is no denying that the large camps in the area are quickly full. Without a reservation on the official website of the park, you have no chance to build a tent here.
3. Sequoia National Park
This national park is full of giant trees – the giant sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum). These trees are among the tallest and oldest trees in the world. In this park, you can also admire the respectable size of the largest tree in the world – the General Sherman Tree. The highest point of the park – Mount Whitney is located at 4 417 meters and, at the same time, is the highest peak in the USA. Tourist attractions include, for example, a fallen sequoia tree with a hole for cars to drive through carved into it.
On our road trip from Yosemite NP to Sequoia NP we slept at a motel in Fresno at the Ambassador Inn Fresno – Booking.com | HotelsCombined.com
4. Death Valley
Death Valley breaks world records and can rightfully be called the warmest place on Earth. In 1913, the highest temperature on Earth was measured here + 56.7 °C (134.06°F). It’s also the lowest point in North America. The local salt flat is located 86 meters below sea level. Keep in mind that a visit to this place should be at times other than around midday, as the temperatures reach their very high peak at that time. Make sure to bring plenty of water and don’t forget a hat. From a mere two-hour walk around the desert-like area we were pretty wrung out, and our heads ached in the evening. Prepare to swelter!
On the way to Death Valley, we camped for free in an amazing location – Trona Pinnacles. We highly recommend visiting it as it has served as a backdrop for several movies and series.
5. Las Vegas – mandatory stop on every USA road trip
The city of Las Vegas is often referred to as the “Sin City”, mainly because of the omnipresent gambling, and it is must-stop on every Southwest USA road trip. The Strip is full of enormous hotel complexes and casinos, which are literally trying to overtake each other. Hotels have the shape of a pyramid or the Eiffel Tower or are built as a small copy of Venice. Many couples go to Las Vegas to get married and the city is full of chapels, where they’ll arrange a wedding exactly according to your wishes. We didn’t hesitate and had our wedding in Vegas as well. Check out our Las Vegas wedding.
The best tip on how to save in Las Vegas is to buy a Las Vegas Sightseeing Pass. Then you have a lot of attractions & tours for free. If you don’t know how this pass works, read our review of New York pass.
Recommended hotels in Las Vegas:
- Circus Circus Hotel, Casino & Theme Park – Booking.com | HotelsCombined.com
- New York New York – Booking.com | HotelsCombined.com
6. Zion National Park
This gorgeous canyon is very popular among tourists, mainly because of its rich fauna and flora. The Virgin River also flows through the canyon, along which sandstone cliffs rise to the sky. The most popular trek is called Anges Landing which will lead you to the best outlook that can be found in the canyon. The view of the surrounding countryside is truly breathtaking. Read more about Zion National Park.
Halfway between Zion NP and Bryce Canyon NP, we camped for free in a quiet place.
7. Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce National Park is absolutely unique, mainly thanks to its limestone formations, nicknamed “hoodoo”. The limestone towers have a rich orange colouring and thus create a gorgeous contrast with the blue sky or white snow. That is why this park is beautiful in every season. The asphalt roads already offer amazing views of the surrounding area, enticing the trekking lovers to take a walk through the rock formations. Hundreds of different plants grow in the park, as well as many different animal species. Many people miss this park on their Southwest USA road trip – because it’s too north. Don’t make that mistake.
Not far from Bryce Canyon NP we slept at Rodeway Inn – Booking.com | HotelsCombined.com
8. Antelope Canyon
The antelope canyon is particularly sought after, as it is so photogenic. It got its name after the antelopes that used to live in the same area. Every visitor will be amazed by its colourfulness and play of lights, so it’s best to visit this place around midday. The canyon is formed by a thin chasm in sandstone rock and can entirely filled up with water during heavy rain. Several tourists have already lost their lives here. This is why it’s only possible to enter the canyon with a local guide. So book your tour in advance to ensure your spot on the tour.
9. Horseshoe Bend
This is the largest and most beautiful horseshoe-shaped meander in the world. This Riverbend was made by the Colorado River roughly 200 million years ago. This formation is not a part of any national park, which is why there is no entrance fee. The horseshoe is located just off the Antelope Canyon, so it’s convenient to combine the visits to those two natural wonders in one go.
10. Grand Canyon National Park
With its length of 446 km, the Grand Canyon is among the longest canyons in the world. It was created by the Colorado River, and its deepest point is 1600 meters. The local countryside is constantly changing due to various natural processes. The Canyon is the most beautiful at noon, as the light hits the walls at exactly the right angle. During the day, the walls of the canyon cast grey shadows so it might be a challenge to get a good picture. The most popular tourist activities include hiking but also rafting the length of the canyon.
Even at the Grand Canyon, you can save on accommodation, we have built a tent just outside the park for free. If you would like to camp inside the park, you need to get permission on the National Park website, where you can also find information about the current state of the hiking trails. Alternatively, book a tour to the Grand Canyon.
11. Meteor Crater
The Barringer Crater was formed in the Painted Desert by a meteor strike roughly 50 thousand years ago. It is the best-explored meteor crater in the world. Because of it, scientists have learned how to recognise craters that were created by a meteor strike and not by volcanic activity. The inside part of the crater was also used by cosmonauts to practise walking on the surface of the moon. Nowadays, the crater is owned privately. The owners have built a large museum there that is accessible to all visitors.
Recommended motel in Flagstaff:
- Days Inn Flagstaff – West Route 66 – Booking.com | HotelsCombined.com
12. Route 66
The legendary road that linked the East with the West used to lead from Chicago to Los Angeles. It measured over 3,000 kilometres and was eventually replaced by a more efficient system of highways and roads in the 1990s. Some of its sections have been used as parts of the new roads, and the rest was left to its fate. The surroundings of the unused Route 66 are slowly falling into ruin. Yet there are some sections, where the historical Route 66 serves as a tourist attraction. Those sections are surrounded by houses in historical style and souvenir shops. Some say that Route 66 is the best road trip in the USA, but you don’t have to drive all the way. Anyway, you should visit at least a small part of this famous road during any Southwest USA road trip. Check out the best road trips adventures around the world.
13. Calico – the western ghost town
This town that has been through silver fever was built in 1881, near the mines. At the time of its glory, silver was mined from 500 different mines, and more than 3500 people lived here. However, after two decades, the price of silver went down below the acceptable level, and continuing mining was no longer economically beneficial. People started leaving the town one by one, and it wasn’t too long before they abandoned it completely, and the place became a ghost town. After decades of decay, a great enthusiast bought the city and restored the houses. Nowadays, the city serves as a tourist attraction open to visitors. Its western style will transport you more than a century back in time.
A short drive from Calico, we slept in Barstow, Motel Stardust Inn – Booking.com | HotelsCombined.com
14. Los Angeles
The city of Los Angeles is a concept by itself. Its famous neighbourhoods, such as Hollywood or Beverly Hills, will leave no one in doubt what city are we talking about. There are truly so many interesting activities to do here! Among the most interesting ones are visiting the Griffith Observatory, seeing the Hollywood sign up-close, Disneyland, Universal Studio Hollywood or the Walk of Fame. Los Angeles is also full of museums and parks – so really anyone will find something to do and see according to their interests.
If you want to catch as many interesting places try Starline Tours – the oldest and largest tour company in Los Angeles and when booking online you get a discount $ 5. Alternatively, you can buy Sightseeing Pass, which features many attractions including Skip the Line Tickets.
Recommended hotels and hostels in Los Angeles:
- Walk of Fame Hostel – Booking.com | HotelsCombined.com
- Oakwood Toluca Hills- Booking.com | HotelsCombined.com
Do you have more tips on what to see on South-West USA road trip? Let us know in comments.
That sounds like a wonderful road trip and quite the jam-packed two weeks. I have been to some of those stops but there a lot I still need to visit. I also only spent a few hours at the Grand Canyon as part of a tour so I would also love to go back there and explore more. Impressed you found a free place to camp. Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard.
Cancun is on our bucket list for a long time 🙂 Thanks to your post I will probably move it up.
I’m planning a west coast roadtrip for my 21st birrthday next year in June and that post seriously helped me so much with deciding where I want to go and what I absolutely need to see. Thank you!!! 🙂 #TheWeeklyPostcard
I am so happy that it helps you 🙂 You will enjoy the trip
Booo you totally skipped San Diego! haha That’s where I’m from! Looks like an amazing road trip of which half I still haven’t managed to get to yet! Hopefully soon!! Thanks for linking up with #TheWeeklyPostcard!
We are more into nature that cities and, and because we had limited time we decided to skip San Diego. Next time 😉
Wow this is an epic trip, would love to do it. You sure packed a lot in your two weeks. This is an excellent post have pinned it for future reference! #TheWeeklyPostcard
Yep, it was pretty busy trip 🙂 on the other hand, it was very easy to do it.
I’ve been living in California for the past 17 years, and recently completed a similar road trip. Looks like you hit a lot ofl the good spots! Have you seen this fabulous informational article about the painting of the Golden Gate Bridge? http://goldengatebridge.org/research/factsGGBIntOrngPaint.php It’s fascinating, and I think you’ll learn that they bridge is still painted orange after all these years! #theweeklypostcard
Hi Hilary, thank you for your post 🙂 I haven´t read the article about the painting The Golden Bridge, it iis very interesting ! We love the California, it must be amazing to live there.
I never realised until this summer just how much the US Southwest has to offer. All those beautiful national parks and nature reserves are completely up my alley! Antelope Canyon would be pretty high on my list if I ever go back to the US, although flash floods don’t sound fun at all.
Yeah, this part of America has too much to offer, that is incedible. I twas our best road trip ever !! Don´t be scared f Antelope canyon, thre are guides, very well informed, so the accident cannot happedend again. 🙂
About Los Angeles I can tell for a very long time… but u have to visit this city!!
Yeaah, one day we should come back and do the rest of activities what this city offer 🙂
The blog shared is really interesting to read with all information given in great detail. This article is must read guide to all travelers planning a road trip to South-West of US. I am also saving this for future reference. Thanks for sharing this!
Thank you estaservice for very nice comment! 🙂
Mt Whitney is the tallest p0eak in the lower 48 States, not the entire usa.
Hello! I really enjoy this post and am looking to do this with my 12 year old daughter. Question though: you say you camped for free – did you lug all that gear onto the airplane with you? I’m really most curious how you managed all the gear. Thanks for your feedback. Also, do you think this is something a pre-teen/near-teen would enjoy? (pretty subjective question, I know.)
Hi Dana, thank you for the post. I will try to answer as briefly as possible. In America, there is a Walmart sales network where you can buy almost anything. Here we got the necessary equipment, including sleeping bags and tents, which we bought here. After 2 weeks of use, we returned these things to the store as unsatisfactory and they returned the money to us (well, I probably shouldn’t write it here, but so many people do it). However, we expected that even if they did not return the money, we would leave the camping stuff in the US (they were not very expensive). So more like a one-time loan. And if a 12-year-old child enjoys it? Of course, we plan to come back here again with our own child at a much younger age.
Great post! Thanks for the info, can’t wait to visit 🙂