National Park Tour of the Southwest

We’ve spent that last couple of months touring the Southwest and we can say, hands-down that we are in love with this area of the world. What wonders we have seen and we just have to shout, you must visit these parks!

In this article we’ll cover a cluster of amazing National Parks worthy of your next travel adventure to America’s great West!

We’ll start with Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico because it’s just too awesome to skip. Then we head a good ways north to Mesa Verde in Colorado. Then making our way to a group of National Parks in Utah. Whether you are looking to tour one, two, three, or all of them, read on for a brief description and visual view into some of the prettiest parks in the Southwest.

Carlsbad Caverns

Last year we toured caves on the Eastern side of the US by visiting the caverns in Shenandoah Valley and Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. Each have their own unique underground beauty. Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico are a combination of our eastern experiences in one stop. Carlsbad is just as massive as Mammoth Cave, and as beautiful as Luray or Shenandoah, with their stalagmite and stalactite formations.

If you are a fan of the underworld, we highly recommend visiting this place at least once in a lifetime. It is truly one of the wonders of the world. Traveling during times of Covid comes with it’s own precautions and research. When touring National Parks it’s important to check your chosen park destination’s website for information prior to your visit.

In the case of Carlsbad Caverns and even Mammoth Cave, tickets were limited due to the pandemic and day-use required an early morning arrival and waiting in line. In both instances we arrived around 7:30 am and waited up to an hour to get a ticket for a time later in the day. All we can say about this is, pack a lunch and it was worth it! Both times.

Mesa Verde

Seeing the homes of the ancients was grounding. Discovering and learning how people lived thousands of years ago is an experience in which you can understand how far civilizations have come throughout history. How they have changed, and how they have stayed the same, in sense of family and community.

Mesa Verde in the southwest corner of Colorado provides a glimpse into a time traveling opportunity where you can witness the progression of native civilizations. It was truly magnificent to see this and know these once homes are still standing today thousands of years later. It’s a breathtaking and wonderful educational opportunity for adults and children. We often take advantage of the history of the real West – the Native Peoples that lived on the land long before our ancestors set foot here.

Arches & Canyonlands

Next we enter Utah. Fasten your seat belts because adventure awaits! The southern portion of this state is a treasure trove of unique land formations not to be missed. It is practically impossible to take a bad picture in this area of the world.

In Moab you’ve got a two-fer National Park opportunity. Arches and Canyonlands are so close to one another you’ll be able to mark them both off in one visit. Each park certainly requires its own time to be explored but it is conceivable to accomplish a tour of both in a long weekend. Just know that you could spend a week in each one to fully experience them. There is just so much to see and do here!

Moab is extremely touristy and expensive. So expect that and you’ll not be disappointed as the natural beauty of the sandstone arches and the endless canyons will make you easily forget about paying $70 a night for a campsite. And if boondocking is your thang, there are plentiful open spaces to not pay $70 a night for a campsite. Our recommendation would be to plan your visit for the Fall or Spring as to avoid the wretched temperatures of the desert heat.

Capitol Reef

Unfortunately we only got a glimpse into the majestic enchantment of the giant reefs. Due to our travel schedule we passed this National Park with the thought of leaving something on the map to see in the future to inspire us to return to the area.

On the way to Bryce Canyon from Moab you do pass visible reefs and you can easily stop at San Rafael Reef viewing area to see a magnificent swell. This jaw-dropping geologic feature is made of sandstone, shale, and limestone that was pushed up 60–40 million years ago.

Bryce Canyon

Hoodoo you love? Bryce Canyon, that’s who! What an out of this world experience. The canyon of hoodoos will transport you to another planet as you gaze upon the spires and layers of sandstone. It’s amazing to be able to witness time in a bottle and you can do just that in this National Park. The years of wind, rain, and ice have created one of the most dramatic landscapes you can ever see in America. It’s a park not to be missed.

Traveling the park was very easy and we suggest arriving early to avoid crowds and the heat of the late-day. Pack a lunch as there are many lovely spots to take up a picnic. And if you’re in the mood to dine, there are a couple of markets and restaurants to choose from.

Of course if you are camping or staying within the park, you’ll have the convenience of enjoying all the bike and hiking trails at your fingertips. There is so much beauty to see here that we would recommend at least a couple days, but it can be toured in a day.

Grand Staircase-Escalante

Grand Staircase-Escalante is one of those parks that can be easily missed. We bypassed it and are saving it for another time.

This park is just far away enough from Bryce Canyon and Zion that you really need to plan a separate stay or extend time when you visit Bryce Canyon (it’s closer than Zion) and be prepared to travel 70+ miles to get there. It shares similar views to what you experience in Arches, Canyonlands, and even some fantastic hoodoos you see in Red Canyon and Bryce. We’ll be back to pay this park exclusive attention in a future travel adventure. For more information, be sure to visit here.

Zion

Zion is breathtaking! With so much natural beauty, we can see why this is the third most visited national park. There is definitely a sense of spirituality among the mountains. This National Park is setup a bit different than others on our tour. This one requires taking the shuttle to get deep into the park. And trust us, you want to go beyond the Visitor Center to access some of the most iconic views and scenic hiking trails.

Because this park tends to be more crowded, planning your trip in advance is helpful. Purchase shuttle ticket in advance. Shuttle tickets are cheap at a $1 a person, per day and free tickets become available after 2pm with some waiting in line to procure one. Next day tickets can be purchased online but it is highly competitive and they sell out quick. There are lovely accommodations within the park that helps to avoid using the shuttle. The lodge and campground look really nice and had we not needed cell and internet access for work during the week, we would have definitely taken advantage of the campground.

We recommend taking a few days to tour this magnificent park. You could easily spend a week seeing the entire park and visiting the great shops and restaurants in town. Remember, this is a very touristy spot and it is reflected by the traffic on the trails and the costs of additional entertainment options like dining, bike rentals, and touring excursions. All of which are absolutely worth it. It’s all about how big you want your experience to be in magical Zion.

No matter where you start your National Park adventure, if you plan on visiting more than one park in the same calendar year, we highly recommend buying the Annual pass.

That’s a wrap for our tour. There are definitely more sweet spots to discover in and around these areas and we cannot say enough about this truly wonderful corner of the US. Get outside and visit these national treasures!

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