The southwest is a huge region dense with national parks showcasing the incredible diversity of geological features, landscapes, and life that makes the area so special. Make the most of your vacation by planning a southwest national parks tour to see some of the best-preserved landmarks and a full variety of what these states have to offer.
Aside from the most popular tourist destinations, let us highlight a few parks to consider while you build the perfect southwest national parks road trip vacation to suit your style of adventure.
Planning a Southwest National Parks Roadtrip
What to do: Mesa Verde
, located in the far southwest of Colorado, is dedicated to preserving the over 700-year-old dwellings of the Pueblo people. There are more than 600 cliff dwellings, including the largest and most well-known Cliff Palace. Don’t forget to bring your binoculars so you can have a better view as many are not directly accessible.
There is only one entrance to this unique national park, and the cliff dwellings are at least an hour inside the park, so come early and plan to spend at least half of a day. While it’s open year-round, many of the more popular spots and hiking trails are only open from May to October. Take Mesa Top Road for scenic views from the comfort of your RV if you don’t want to hike.
There are several excellent RV campgrounds nearby. Mesa Verde RV Resort has two hot tubs, a heated pool, and a convenience store onsite. Test out their claim to the cleanest bathrooms in the area. Or, if you’re feeling confident, try to snag one of the 15 RV spots in the Morefield Campground conveniently located within the park.
Arches National Park
What to do:
Driving through Arches National Park
feels like being transported to an alien world with its delicate and inspiring rock formations. The 43-mile main scenic drive is fully paved with frequent pullouts for photos and an excellent way to see a lot of what the park has to offer.
If you’re hoping to get in a few hikes and see more of the arches and windows up close, definitely plan to stay for at least a few days. The hike to Delicate Arch will take the day if you want to get right to it, but you can also take an easier trail to a lookout point that’s closer than the road. Arches should be on everyone’s southwest national parks tour for its otherworldly landscape and impressive display of what mother nature can do.
For camping near or in Arches, Devils Campground has 20 spots for RVs up to 40 feet inside the park, but they are tough to nab. If you’re open to boondocking in your RV, there is a tremendous amount of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land surrounding the park with several first-come, first-serve campsites along Utah 128. Check out Goose Island Campground or Hittle Bottom Campground that lie along the banks of the Colorado River and keep you very close to the park.
If you need the extra amenities, try the recently renovated Spanish Trail RV Park. You’ll find great views, a new pool and spa, and plenty of RV sites for even the biggest rigs. No matter where just plan to stay as you’ll want the time to explore this national park.
Pick up your RV from Cruise America near Salt Lake City and experience all that Arches National Park and the Moab region of Utah have to offer in just a half day’s drive.
What to do:
Beneath the desert of New Mexico lies the truest beauty of Carlsbad Caverns National Park
. Once a part of a huge underwater reef, now the park sports more than 100 caves (not all of which are open to the public) full of natural limestone features. Venture underground to see the Big Room, at least. You can access this gigantic underground room via the natural trail’s steep decline or via elevator for an easier journey.
There is still plenty to see back at ground level. Check out the bats leaving their caves near dusk. For a perfect picnic opportunity, visit Rattlesnake Springs. This desert wetland offers unbeatable birdwatching and a lush green landscape.
Carlsbad RV Park and Campground is the place to stay nearby with more than 130 RV spots and full hookups. It’s pet friendly and near to the park. If you’re just stopping over for the night, Chosa Campground is a big flat space with trash cans. There isn’t anything else in the way of amenities, but you can park an RV of any size, and it’s free to camp.
Your Cruise America rental RV will come complete with everything you need for a comfortable camping trip with or without full amenities. Visit the nearest Cruise America in Albuquerque to get rolling to the Caverns.
What to do: Saguaro National Park
Saguaro National Park
looks like someone might depict the southwest in a cartoon. It’s named for its giant Saguaro cacti that are an average of 50 feet tall and weigh around six tons. It’s home to awesome wildlife such as Gila monsters and roadrunners. Do not miss the ancient petroglyphs left by the Hohokam people.
Saguaro is actually two separate districts combined, one on either side of Tucson, AZ. To the west, check out the desert landscape and that giant cactus on sandy trails. To the east, you’ll find a higher elevation and even pine forest. Unlike many national parks, straddling Tucson is a big advantage if you need to restock on supplies or just want to eat at a nice restaurant.
Rincon Country East RV Resort is the only RV campground near the east side of the park, but it is geared towards the 55-plus crowd. Families with children are welcome to stay for up to two weeks and also enjoy its resort-style amenities.
The west side of the park has more options for RV camping, such as Gilbert Ray Campground or Justin’s Diamond J RV Park. Both have many sites with hookups for your RV and plenty of other amenities for you and your pets.
Get your start at Saguaro National Park right now with an RV from Cruise America located conveniently in Tucson, AZ.
What to do: Great Basin
Great Basin National Park
is the least visited national park in the system and also a well-kept secret for those in the know. Named for the “Basin and Range” landscape featuring parallel mountain ranges and valleys, this park has so much to offer as part of your southwest national parks road trip.
Hike in the summer or ski the ranges in wintertime. Visit Lehman Caves on a guided tour and explore underground wonders. Hike or drive to see the above-ground wonders such as Lexington Arch or Wheeler Peak, the second-highest peak in Nevada. Some of the park’s Bristlecone Pine trees have been towering into the sky for more than 4,000 years. You’ll hardly believe you’re in Nevada while taking in this stunning landscape.
The nighttime offers no shortage of sights to see, with some of the country’s darkest skies for stargazing and beautiful moonlit hiking trails. Stay in Lower Lehman Campground in the park if you can grab one of the 11 first-come, first-serve spots. The sites are spacious, feel secluded, and a creek runs through the campground.
Valley View is a bigger campground that’s open year-round with an RV washing station and WiFi if you’re hoping to book in advance.
Book your trip to Great Basin with an RV rental from Cruise America in Millcreek, Utah, or Henderson, Nevada, to jumpstart your adventure on the roads less traveled.
What to do: Joshua Tree National Park
has a lot more to offer than just those Dr. Seussian-shaped trees, but the trip to go see them is well worth the drive. On the scenic road that loops through the entire park, you’ll notice two distinct deserts. The Mojave Desert’s higher elevation is home to the Joshua trees. To the east, the Colorado desert’s vegetation is strikingly different in the hotter, drier climate.
The rock formations in this park are incredible and lead to some world-class rock-climbing areas. Biking, birding, and horseback riding are also excellent ways to experience the park beyond hiking the trails. Be prepared to battle the heat in the summertime with plenty of water (1-2 gallons per person per day!) and plan to get a very early start to beat the high heat of the afternoon.
There are several campgrounds that will fit your RV within the 1235-square-mile park, but none of them have hookups. Some of the campsites do allow generators but check the rules in advance.
Joshua Tree Lake RV and Campground is the spot for full hookups. They have 44 RV sites and are located just outside of the park. Bring a fishing pole for the great fishing opportunities at Joshua Tree Lake.
What to do:
Big Bend National Park
When thinking about the southwest, Texas often feels like a separate place, but Big Bend National Park
in southwest Texas has beautiful trails that can’t be beaten. Take to the Rio Grande by boat, raft, or kayak to get personal with the sweeping sights and enjoy the pleasant weather year-round.
Even if you’d rather not attempt the big river separating the US and Mexico, this park boasts over 200 miles of hiking trails and more than 100 miles of paved roads to take you to breathtaking vistas and display the diversity of life the desert and mountains have to offer. Take a dip in the natural hot springs that stay at a perfect 105 degrees.
If you have the time, plan to stay for a few days because Big Bend is way too big to see in just one day. Try Rio Grande Village RV Campground for a site with full hookups and a convenient camp store. There are five sites that are first-come, first-serve if you cannot book a reservation at one of the other available sites.
Many of the other campgrounds nearby that can accommodate RVs do not have hookups. For smaller rigs (under 24 feet), check out Chisos Basin Campground to be close to trailheads or Cottonwood Campground for a quiet, secluded feel.
Get the most out of your vacation to Big Bend in an RV. Find the right RV for you at the right price at Cruise America Austin to start your big Texan road trip.