The Southwest is a rambler's paradise, with scenery to satisfy every type of craving: mountain, riparian, desert and red rock. Here's a roundup of our favorite escapes.Less
The white sand – technically it’s gypsum – stretches for miles, forming massive dunes in New Mexico's White Sands National Park. You’ll have to remind yourself it isn’t snow. Pristine dunes are gorgeous and make for great photos, but depending how crowded the park is that day, you might need to hike a bit to find untrampled spots. Buy or rent a plastic sled at the visitor center and start looking for a steep slope for some adventurous fun.
New Mexico's Carlsbad Cavern’s Big Room is incredible: the trail around the cave stretches more than a mile and takes visitors past fascinating rock formations, stalactites, and even some natural water features. From late-May through October, the park offers nightly bat-flight programs, allowing visitors to witness the bats emerge from the cave to feed. Although the biggest spotlight is on the caves, visitors have access to more than 50 miles of hiking trails on the surface.
Guadalupe Mountains has a lot going for it. The park offers quite a few nice hikes, including a nearly 9-mile trek up to Guadalupe Peak, the highest spot in Texas. The 4-mile Devil’s Hall hike promises some pretty spectacular rock formations, or walk the 3-mile Smith Spring loop that leads to the eponymous watering hole. Even when the spring is running dry, the hike itself is filled with gorgeous views. Dark Sky tourism is also popular, so bring your camera and keep an eye out for the Milky Way.
A bold desert beauty, this 230-sq-mile park is a highlight of southern Utah. Hikes range from trails traipsing the ridge lines to river wading under steep canyon walls. Many come for a canyoneering experience but there are also family friendly hikes and scenic drives. If possible, enter Zion from the east, following Hwy 9 west from Hwy 89. The route is jaw-droppingly scenic as it rolls through colorful red rocks and a gallery-dotted tunnel before switchbacking 3.5 miles into the canyon.
Red Rock's dramatic vistas are revered by Las Vegas locals and adored by visitors from around the world. Formed by extreme tectonic forces, it's thought the canyon, whose 3000ft red rock escarpment rises sharply from the valley floor, was formed around 65 million years ago. A 13-mile, one-way scenic loop drive offers mesmerizing vistas of the canyon's most striking features. Hiking trails and rock-climbing routes radiate from roadside parking areas.
Dotted with saguaros, ocotillos and teddy bear cholla, this lovely summit in Arizona was previously known as Squaw Peak. It was renamed for local American Indian soldier Lori Piestewa who was killed in Iraq in 2003. Be forewarned: the 1.1-mile trek to the 2608ft peak is very tough but hugely popular – the park can get jammed on winter weekends.