6 Alternative Stops on a Road Trip in the American Southwest

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A year and a half ago (has it really been that long??), my sister and I embarked upon a Great American roadtrip. A 6,600-mile journey from Ohio to Las Vegas and back, traversing the heart and soul of the United States — from the flat farmland of the Midwest to the desert landscapes of the Southwest to big cities like Vegas and Chicago.

The adventure was epic, and allowed us to discover parts of America for ourselves that we'd previously only ever read about in books or seen in movies.

It also allowed us to discover alternatives to some of the places we originally considered to be “must-sees.”

New Mexico

If you're considering your own road trip through the U.S. (and especially the American Southwest, which is by far my favorite part of this country), here are some alternative stops to consider:

Instead of Vegas…

…go to the Hoover Dam and Boulder City.

Even though Sin City is a ton of fun, it can be slightly overwhelming. If gambling and drunken shenanigans aren't your thing, consider a few nearby alternatives. Visit the Hoover Dam, built on the Colorado River on the border between Arizona and Nevada, to gape in awe at this modern wonder of engineering. The massive dam was built during the Great Depression and contains enough concrete to pave a two-lane highway between New York and San Francisco. Also check out nearby Lake Mead and its national recreation area, as well as the growing town of Boulder City, Nevada.

Hoover Dam


Instead of the Grand Canyon…

…go to Page and Antelope Canyon.

Yes, the Grand Canyon is stunning. But if you want to skip the crowds and visit something just as impressive but slightly more off-the-beaten-track, head north to the little town of Page, Arizona. Here, you can not only spend some time hanging out on Lake Powell within the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, but you can also visit Antelope Canyon. This amazing slot canyon is divided into two sections, with the Upper part being the ideal spot to catch brilliant rays of light slicing down into the canyon near midday.

Antelope Canyon


Instead of Utah's national parks…

…go to Monument Valley.

Yes, Bryce, Arches, Zion and all of Utah's other national and state parks are fantastic. In fact, they are part of the reason that I think Utah may be the most beautiful state in America. However, if you want to be wowed by a less-touristed part of Utah, you absolutely must get yourself to Monument Valley. The only thing keeping this place from attaining national park status is the fact that it's located on Navajo-owned land. Everything else about the place — its interesting rock formations, its rich colors, its popularity with movie directors — puts it more than on-par with other destinations in the state. In fact, it may even be better since many people have never even heard of it before.

Monument Valley


Instead of Albuquerque…

…go to Santa Fe.

Chances are, if you're roadtripping through the Southwest, you'll probably be driving on Interstate 40 through New Mexico. Which means your route should take you through the city of Albuquerque. Instead of visiting New Mexico's largest city, however, it's worth making a detour north to the state's quirky capital, Santa Fe. This small city is funky, colorful, and at least a few decades behind the rest of the country. It is also very easy on the eyes, and allows you easy access to the gorgeous scenery of northern New Mexico, as well as interesting Pueblo sites like Pecos National Historical Park.

Santa Fe


Instead of driving through Arizona…

…go to Sedona.

For most road trippers, the Grand Canyon is likely to be the main point of interest in Arizona. But, instead of skipping through the state or staying somewhere like Flagstaff either before or after your Grand Canyon visit, head to Sedona. This little town, characterized by its rust-red rock formations, oozes relaxation and luxury. And fun. Explore Sedona on foot or on a trolley tour, visit a mystical “vortex,” and spend some time enjoying nearby Slide Rock State Park — guaranteed fun for kids and big kids of all ages.



Instead of Denver…

…go to a Rocky Mountain ski resort.

Don't get me wrong — Denver is a cool city. But, if cities aren't what you're looking for on your Southwest road trip, head up into the mountains for some scenery and outdoor fun instead. Contrary to popular belief, Colorado ski resorts don't completely shut down in the summer. In fact, many of them offer really cool summer activities like downhill mountain biking, zip lining, horseback riding, and more. Book a stay at a resort like Breckenridge or Keystone to enjoy the Rocky Mountains without all the snow (and without the ski season prices!).



Roadtripping, in my opinion, is one of the very best ways to experience all that America has to offer. And, hopefully after reading this post, you'll realize that the U.S. has a whole lot more to offer than just the well-known, “must-see” sights and attractions.


What else would you add to this list of alternative sights in the Southwest?



"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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31 Comments on “6 Alternative Stops on a Road Trip in the American Southwest

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  1. Amanda this is a very useful post, especially for those of us who’ve been dying to go on a road trip! I’ve been to the Grand Canyon but would def love to visit Sedona and all of Utah!

      Glad you found it useful, Antoinette! I wouldn’t really suggest skipping the Grand Canyon if you have never been there, but if you have, by all means check out some of these other places instead!

    On my cross country road trip, two of my favorite stops were Mosaic Canyon in Death Valley and Muir woods (an old growth forest north of San Fran). If you ever get a chance to visit, both are magical places.

      I’ve heard great things about Muir Woods! Sadly wasn’t able to make it up there when I was in SF last year. One day, though!

    I’m pretty pleased I managed 3 out of 6 on our Southwest roadtrip in 2011. We had a great time driving around these states – loved the diverse scenery and the food!

      The U.S. is definitely not lacking in diverse scenery!

    I can say Keystone is amazing! We spent a few days there last summer and absolutely loved it! Great tips all around!

      I’ve been to Keystone twice in the summer months now, and have loved it both times!

    I plan my road trip through the U.S. for years. The itinerary list is so long already, so I had to split it between several trips… and now I have to add your “alternative” stops, Amanda!

      There sure is a lot to see here. Even MY U.S. wishlist is mega long!

    Just went to Keystone for Thanksgiving break to visit my brothers. It was some great snow boarding and the area was beautiful. So different from Ohio!

      Yeah, the Southwest really is worlds away from Ohio!

    Great ideas! Sedona and Santa Fe are beautiful. I was surprised you listed Monument Valley, and especially Page, as unknown. Page, in particular, is VERY popular with Israelis if the most popular travel message board in the country is any indication. It was one of my southwest highlights. Did you visit the Horseshoe Bend there as well?

      Page is popular with Israelis? I did not know that! It’s true that Page DOES see plenty of tourists. But I noticed when I was there that they were almost 99% foreign! So, perhaps it’s just not a well-known spot for us Americans! The same goes for Monument Valley – a lot of people I’ve told about it have never heard of it before.

      And no, we sadly didn’t make it to Horseshoe Bend. Next time!

    I must say I’d never really considered a road trip in the US as something I’d like to do, but after my mum and her husband did something similar to this itinerary last year and showed me the pictures, I’ve been more and more intrigued. Antelope Canyon looks especially spectacular, and it reminds me quite a lot of the Siq in Petra, Jordan.

      The road trip I did 2 summers ago remains one of my very favorite travel experiences. It really is one of the best ways to explore America!

      And yes, Antelope Canyon is stunning!

    I’ve been lucky enough to visit all 50 states, and the way I saw most of them was through road tripping during summers and school breaks, just a week or two at a time. It took me about 15 years to meet my goal of seeing all the states, chipping away a little at a time, but it was totally worth it (except for Kansas, ugh sorry Kansas)! Its easy to forget just HOW MUCH there is to see in the US, we tend to overlook it and focus more on overseas travel. I can say though that I’ve enjoyed my travels here just as much as I have abroad. The US is a great travel destination for anybody, even if you already live here :).Taking a road trip is a great way to dip your toes into travel,or even if your an experienced traveler, its still an awesome way to see the US!

      That’s an awesome accomplishment, Shannon! Hitting all 50 states is on my bucket list, and I’d also love to visit all of them via road trips!

        Totally do-able girl! We (mom and I) would usually just pick a spot, fly there, rent a car, and then drive in a huge circle for a week or two and stop at whatever interested us. This method seemed to work the best for us, since we only had a week or two at a time and could cover more ground further away from our West Coast home that way. Going on a huge long months long road trip would be cool too though!!! Good luck on your bucket list, lots of awesome things on there! 🙂

    Wish I would’ve known about Antelope canyon when I was over in the States. The grand canyon was good, but its been done a million times by millions of visitors I guess.

      Yup, 5 million people per year visit the Grand Canyon! Maybe even more by this point. (Though, to be fair, it IS worth seeing.) If you ever make it back to the States, though, definitely keep Antelope Canyon in mind!

    My other half has been banging on about driving across the US for years (we’re from Manchester UK), but I’ve not been keen because I feel as though I’ve seen it all in the movies and I also visited Yosemite with my parents years ago and I didnt think it would be nicer than that trip. However you have given me some food for thought by offering some interesting alternatives. Antelope Canyon looks fantastic.

      I guarantee that the real thing is SO much better than what you’ve seen in the movies. Definitely don’t count a US road trip out as an option!

    I am going to weigh in on the Arizona part. Don’t discount Flagstaff. It is a great place to visit but unfortunately most visitors just pass through it on their way to the Grand Canyon. I would also recommend Jerome which was a mining town and turned into cool little town when the mine left. It is 30 miles south of Sedona.

      Jerome is on my “next time” list, for sure! We had originally planned to visit from Sedona, but ended up spending too much time at Slide Rock!

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