21 of the most scenic Southwest cities
The sheer variety of America’s landscapes make it a fascinating and awe-inspiring place to explore. Of all its corners and regions, the southwestern states most capture the spirit of expansive freedom inherent in American Western lore. When we asked 1,000 travelers, “What is the most beautiful destination in the Southwest United States?”, the following places came top of mind.
With special attention to the reigning favorites (Colorado was named most beautiful Southwest state), and a few of our favorites sprinkled in, here is our list of the most scenic cities in the American Southwest. And be sure to see our picks for most scenic East and West Coast cities, too!
The famed Carlsbad Caverns are one of the biggest Southwest tourist attractions and lend this region an air of beauty and mystery. Plan to stay the whole day to see a vibrant sunset silhouette black bats as they take flight for the night. Take to the hiking trails in Guadalupe Mountains National Park just south of the city to experience the wonders of Chihuahuan Desert backcountry, cool off in the swimming hole at Sitting Bull Falls, or take the whole family to the scenic Living Desert Zoo & Gardens State Park.
Las Vegas needs no introduction, but many people don’t know it’s one of the best places to visit in the Southwest for more than the glittery Strip. Outside the city, the scenery unfolds endlessly. Nearby Valley of Fire State Park houses such awe-inspiring spots as the towers at Rainbow Vista to the colorful White Domes. The 13-mile scenic drive in Red Rock Canyon is among the cluster of great Southwest road trip ideas, and hiking, camping, and geological exploration deliver all the wonders of the desert.
The Denver area’s beauty is on full display along Mount Evans Scenic Byway and at Echo Lake. Pack a picnic and wind your way to the sparkling alpine waters. Pair sweeping views with thundering sounds at impressive Red Rocks Park and Amphitheater. And don’t shirk a visit to the National Center for Atmospheric Research’s visitor center to learn how we can help conserve the natural environment that makes this one of the best cities in the Southwest.
Choose your own adventurous way to take in the scenic landscape with Adventures Out West tours. You can see all the majesty of Garden of the Gods from above in a hot air balloon or climb the peaks from the seat of a rugged Jeep. Go your own way with a mountain bike rental from Amp’d Adventures or join one of their tours.
Wonderous sights surround Winslow, from the fascinating Hopi ruins in Homolovi State Park to the glassy waters at Clear Creek Reservoir. Camping, fishing, and watersports come in a scenic setting here, where you can also learn the ropes (though not literally) of deep-water soloing, a gear-free climbing method inspired by the craggy canyon walls. But perhaps the most interesting sight is the gigantic Meteor Crater 26 miles west of town.
Colorful architecture and mountain backdrops define Tubac’s Southwest scenery. See both at Tumacácori National Historical Park, where O’odham, Yaqui, and Apache people once dwelled. Tubac Presidio State Historic Park offers a glimpse at 2,000 years of Arizona history, while Patagonia Lake is less than an hour away and is well worth the trek.
These two towns are practically in Zion National Park, which is one of the prettiest places to visit in the Southwest. Ever hiked in a river? Now’s your chance in the Narrows, a gorge surrounded by thousand-feet tall walls. Don’t forget your camera for the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, 57 miles of mountainous magnificence. For an unforgettable journey, put it on your list immediately!
The view from 9,500 feet at the Sapphire Point Overlook includes sparkling Dillon Reservoir and the Gore and Tenmile mountain ranges. The surrounding 2.3 million-acre White River National Forest includes eight wilderness areas and multiple rivers. The slopes at Breckenridge Ski Resort offer some of the best skiing in the state, and a visit here is a winner if you’re looking for fun things to do in the Southwest region.
On the border of the Petrified National Forest, Holbrook boasts pretty epic scenery. Backcountry hikes take you through the eponymous petrified logs and other archeological wonders. Park guides will show you the daylight sights, but you can also join a night adventure in the newly designated International Dark Sky Park.
When it comes to beautiful places to see in the Southwest, Garden City flourishes. Enjoy the views from Beaver Creek Lodge, where horseback riding and UTV rides take you through pretty mountain scenes. The city lies on the shores of Bear Lake State Park, where the deep turquoise waters have led to its nickname, the Caribbean of the Rockies. The Logan Canyon Scenic Byway is the main thread that connects some of the area’s most stunning sights.
11. Sedona, Arizona
Of all the places to visit in the Southwest region, Sedona is in the running for most beautiful. The Oak Creek Canyon Scenic Drive climbs 4,500 feet from Sedona, but before you start, make sure to stop at the stunning Oak Creek Vista. Along the way, you’ll see evergreens, red rocks, and wildlife. Red Rock State Park features a range of trails, from flat walks near Oak Creek to ascending paths with impressive views.
Make your Arizona visit a two-for-one and head to Strawberry. The scenes here are as sweet as the name of the city, especially at Tonto Natural Bridge State Park. Four distinct trails wind past creeks, waterfalls, and natural bridges. If you want to see the longest stretching views in Arizona, Mogollon Rim is the spot for you. The scene from atop the 2,000-foot mesa is vast and staggering.
Mesa Verde’s views connect viewers to history, both cultural and natural. The expertly carved cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde National Park—from Cliff Palace to Spruce Tree house—take you back 700 years to the Ancestral Puebloans who shaped them, and have been preserved by rock that was deposited around 78 million years ago. See them all on the Far View or 700 Years Tour.
Outdoor recreation in and around Las Cruces is as scenic as it is sporty. Hiking Picacho Peak or the Dona Ana Mountains provides plenty of places to scan the scenery, and you can tackle both by mountain bike or horseback. For rides that take you through ancient migration routes and abandoned mines, visit Corralitos Ranch Trail Rides. Perhaps the most scenic destination in the area is White Sands National Monument, where sugary dunes stand in contrast to colorful sunsets and varied desert hues.
15. Ely, Nevada
Ely is the perfect gateway to eastern Nevada’s most breathtaking destinations. The picturesque scenes of Great Basin National Park lie 65 miles to the east, while the glittering waters of Cave Lake State Park are a skipping stone’s throw at less than 15 miles. The unique sights at Ward Charcoal Ovens State Historic Park, with its large beehive-shaped charcoal ovens (once used to process silver from area mines), include sweeping vistas of forested hills.
Of all the places to visit in the Southwest region, the Grand Canyon is by far the most famous. The nearly unfathomably vast chasm is the result of around 2 billion years of water working its way through rock, and is a truly impressive sight to behold. Other jaw-dropping areas include the oft-photographed Horseshoe Bend, the mind-bending Antelope Canyon, and the scenic, recreational waters of Lake Powell.
Sky City’s name speaks for itself. The views from Acoma Pueblo, the oldest continuously inhabited settlement in North America, stand high above rugged mesas and desert flora. Start at the Sky City Cultural Center and Haak’u Museum to learn about the cultural importance of this scenic Native American settlement.
As synonymous with cinema Westerns as John Wayne, Monument Valley embodies the westward expansion more than any other American landscape. The noble spires, dusty red and orange, jut upward toward wide-open skies, which morph into fiery swaths of color come sunset. If you’ve ever had dreams of taking to open land on horseback, this beautiful Southwest spot is a must.
19. Escalante, Utah
Get your wide-angle lenses ready when you arrive in Escalante, where colorful sandstone canyons and mountainous aspen scenery deliver photogenic moments at every turn. Cover as much land as you can with Excursions of Escalante’s local guides. They’ll expertly navigate you through the region’s most pristine and untouched edges. You can take in all the beauty during off-trail canyoneering, hiking, and even multi-day overnight tours.
Have you been to a place so unique and worthy it inspired some of the world’s most beautiful paintings? That’s what you’ll find in Abiquiu, home and environmental muse of painter Georgia O’Keeffe. Experience the sights through her eyes at Ghost Ranch, where outdoor adventures meet art exhibits and spiritual retreats. For watery recreation, scenic Abiquiu Lake is your spot. Don’t leave the area without a trip to the Echo Amphitheater; the trail is a local favorite.
21. Aspen, Colorado
Gorgeous Aspen gives good face year-round, attracting winter skiers and summertime hikers, but it may just be the vibrant autumn leaves that truly present it at its best. Snow enthusiasts in the know hit the less crowded but no less beautiful Aspen Highlands, and you can’t take a bad picture at infinitely photogenic Maroon Bells. Make sure to visit charming Snowmass Village, where many recreational opportunities surround.
Which Southwest cities do you find most scenic? Let us know in the comments!
Header image via Zhukova Valentyna/Shutterstock.com
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