There is a lot to see in the American Southwest, perhaps too much for one vacation. Your best bet is to plan several vacations, each of which focuses on a different part of the southwestern United States. If you are looking for just a few attractions that you simply must see, however, here are a few highlights. Keep in mind that there are many more things to see in the Southwest than just these few tourist destinations, but these are a few of the biggies.
- The Grand Canyon – You can hardly plan a trip to the American Southwest without at least visiting the Grand Canyon once. There are many ways to see the Grand Canyon, ranging from an afternoon or a day trip, to an entire vacation. The Grand Canyon Skywalk offers stunning views of the canyon for those who just want to see it, take some pictures, and have an unforgettable (but short) experience. For those who wish a more involved experience, you can stay at a Grand Canyon hotel for easy access to hiking, mule and horseback guided tours, train rides, and more.
- Mesa Verde – There are many ancient cliff dwellings throughout the Southwest, but Mesa Verde National Park holds some of the biggest, best-preserved, and most impressive ruins. Cliff Palace and Balcony House are two of the biggest ruins, which you can see with a guided tour, while the partially restored Spruce Tree House shows you what a kiva and other structures would have looked like when the inhabitants still lived there. Hiking trails and other, smaller ruins are scattered throughout the park, giving you plenty of options whether you are there for a short visit, or a longer stay!
- Great Sand Dunes – There are many impressive natural attractions in the American Southwest, but after the Grand Canyon, one of the most interesting is the Great Sand Dunes. From a distance they look like nothing more than a huge pile of sand, but standing at the foot of the dunes and looking up has a way of making you feel both awestruck and inconsequential. There is plenty to do here, such as hiking, backpacking, camping, horseback riding, even sandboarding and skiing.
- Santa Fe, NM – Looking for something a little more cultured and a little less wild? Santa Fe is a great place to visit on your vacation to the American Southwest. The Historic Santa Fe Plaza, the older, more touristy part of the city, offers a wide selection of shops and restaurants for a beautiful, relaxed visit.There are also plenty of hotels and small inns in the area. The area is known for its art and jewelry, so be sure to browse the shops and visit the Native American art museum.
- Route 66 – Route 66 is an icon of contemporary American history and western expansion. If you are planning a road trip through the Southwest, be sure to travel at least part of the way on Route 66. Although this famous trek has been replaced with faster and more efficient highways, historical maps and markers show you where to go.
There are many more spectacular attractions in the American Southwest. These five are simply a sampling of the best things to see, the things you won’t want to miss! For instance, there are many breathtaking natural phenomena and national parks to visit. If you plan on touring more than one national park in the Southwest, consider getting a National Parks Pass, which will let you into any national park without having to pay the daily fee at the entrance gate. If you plan on visiting quite a few parks, or visiting one several days in a row, a park pass will save you money in the long run.