Stunning Destinations in the Southwest You Need to Visit

What can you see in 48 hours in the Nevada, Arizona and Utah? A lot! Our tour was a two-day trip, which included many sights and attractions of these three vast western states. They grow ’em big and beautiful out there!

Our base camp was in Las Vegas. It was a 1.5-hour drive to the first destination, the Valley of Fire in Southern Nevada. Scientists have estimated that the early Aztecs first inhabited the 40,000-acre area of crimson sandstone about 11,000 years ago. Attention dinosaur fans: the sandstone is from the Jurassic period. The fiery red sandstone outcrops dot the limestone mountains for a truly other-worldly look.

The one-mile hike on the Mouse’s Tank Trail to Fire Wave takes 1 hour, roundtrip. It was a leisurely stroll, but it would be a lot harder in the heat. When I went, it was nice and cool around 11 a.m., but sunscreen and hats are still highly recommended. I really enjoyed this beautiful hike. It looks like you are on another planet.

Valley of Fire (Fire Wave)

There are many parks to explore in Nevada. I tend to pick the short one-hour hikes due to time constraints, and I like to get a flavor of each location. If looking for real adventure, join the off-trail hikers for seldom seen landscapes. Check out the Nevada State Parks Web site.

Want some variety in Vegas?
When people think “Las Vegas,” they think of all the glitter and some sin. For me, I would rather #optoutside at the State and National Parks. I, however, did catch a fabulous show, a must-see if you haven’t seen it, The Beatles LOVE. I recommend treating yourself to tickets. Choose the middle front rows; they are worth it.

Make time for Zion. No excuses
The drive from Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada to Zion National Park, Utah took two hours. Zion is best known for its steep red canyon cliffs. We arrived around 4 p.m., which worked out perfectly for me. The shuttle had stopped running by then. Normally, cars are restricted on the scenic drive, but we were able to use our private vehicle at our leisure. You might want to remember this tip.

I spotted a few cute cottages where you could stay overnight, if you want to hike the paths. I also saw a hotel that is right outside of the Zion National Park that may be more comfortable than the cottages. Just depends if you are more into glamping. The trails still had snow, so we took a few photos at this location, then continued our adventure to Page, Arizona for an overnight.

Why do they call it Horseshoe Bend?
In my travels, I try to visit off-the-beaten-path and not the typical popular destinations. But when in the Southwest, how can you NOT visit Horseshoe Bend! Located 10 minutes outside of Page, Arizona, Horseshoe Bend is, um, the horseshoe-shaped flow of the Colorado River around a particularly large jutting of sandstone. It is downstream from Lake Powell.

We took a bus to the parking lot (under construction). Then began a hilly, 1-mile roundtrip hike, which was a little more strenuous than my two previous hikes. Along with the stunning scenery, I saw some crazy tourists balancing on one foot and sitting on the very edge for the grams even though the bus driver told us not to stand too close to the edge as the rocks could collapse. I could only cringe.

Please note, as of April, there will be an entry fee. Also, if you can, go early in the a.m. as it will get warmer after April. The weather was splendid when I went after Valentine’s weekend.

Navajo Nation and the epic Lower Antelope Canyon – an absolute must
The above weather advice also goes for Lower Antelope Canyon. Actually, it goes for the Southwest in general, summers can be unforgiving. At the end of February, it was nice and cool. Part of a Navajo Tribal Park, Lower Antelope Canyon is a slot canyon section with windswept and water-worn colorful sandstone walls that look soft and flowing.

Along with inflated temperatures in summer are the inflated number of visitors. In February, there are 10 people per tour guide times 4 tours a day. I understand in the summer, there will be 100 people for each tour. I would not recommend this for the uncomfortableness of the heat alone and the crowds. Not a good combination.

The tour guide is happy to take your photo and knows the best spots. In the summer, it is scorching hot plus throngs of visitors fighting for that epic shot. I didn’t have that problem at all.

This photo was taken at the end of the Lower Antelope Canyon tour. At this point, I was photo-ed out since I posed for 75 photos within an hour. It was so hard to NOT take another, as breathtaking landscapes were at every turn. Make sure you are hands free so you can climb the stairs. The walk to the cave is a nice stroll in cool weather about 15 minutes from the meeting location.

You can visit Lower Antelope Canyon only with a local guide. We booked our tours two weeks out and had no problem with availability. In the busier season, I suggest booking at least a month out for your preferred exploring dates.

A Bit of Bryce Canyon for the win!
My 48-hour tour included Bryce Canyon National Park in southern Utah. I didn’t know what to expect at Bryce but was pleasantly surprised with this beautiful snow-capped view.  We took the scenic drive as the thick snow pack made hiking impossible (making a return trip a must for me!).

 

Thinking about a trip to the glorious National Parks of the Southwest? Start planning with a visit to NPS.gov. You’ll find tons of data on climate, events, passes, and travel tips. It’s an immense area. You could easily fill two weeks and still have plenty more to do and see.

I plan to return in the future to explore more of the trails in Nevada, Arizona and Utah; perhaps in another season. I’ll keep you posted. Until then …

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