11 Stops When Planning a Southwest National Parks Road Trip

National Parks


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. 

Travel Tips for a Southwest National Parks Road Trip

Before you head out on your Southwest national parks road trip, there are a few essential tips you should keep in mind. Make the most of your adventure with the following information:

  • Check the weather forecast. There’s nothing worse than pulling into your campground, prepared to tackle the hiking trails, and being stopped by dark clouds rolling in. Check the weather forecast before you plan your trip to ensure you’ll be able to explore everything you want to see. 
  • Review national park regulations. Every national park has a set of rules and regulations meant to protect the park and its visitors. Make sure you check these rules before you head into the park so you and your family have a fun and safe experience. 
  • Check your gear. If you’re planning to tackle the more advanced hiking trails, you’ll want to check your gear first. Double-check that everything is functioning properly and will hold up as you explore the area. 
  • Create an itinerary. The Southwest national parks offer more than a few must-see locations. Consider creating a park itinerary that includes everything you and your family want to see. This will help you map out the park so there’s less of a chance you’ll find yourself lost in the middle of nowhere. 
  • Book in advance. National parks are a hotspot for visitors, especially in the Southwest with its beautiful weather. Plan your Southwest national parks road trip in advance to ensure you snag the best camping spots for your adventure. 
  • Leave no trace. Every visitor plays a part in keeping our national parks beautiful. When camping on the property, take “leave no trace” to heart. Clean up after yourself and avoid activities that may damage the surrounding environment. 
  • Meet park rangers. Last but not least, acquaint yourself with the park rangers! These are the experts who know the park best and will likely have a few off-the-grid locations to share with your family. Plus, it never hurts to let someone know where you’ll be in the park in case of an emergency. 

Ready to go? Let’s get started, then! Below are the best national parks in the southwest region that you won’t want to miss. 

Planning a Southwest National Parks Road Trip 

Mesa Verde National Park

southwest national parks road trip

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. 

Campsite options: There are several excellent RV campgrounds nearby. Mesa Verde RV Resort has two hot tubs, a heated pool, and a convenience store on-site. 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. 

Rent an RV from Cruise America locations near Denver and Colorado Springs to get to Mesa Verde today! 

Arches National Park

southwest national parks road trip

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. 

Campsite options: 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. 

Carlsbad Caverns National Park

southwest national parks road trip

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 an 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. 

Campsite options: 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. 

Saguaro National Park 

southwest national parks road trip

What to do: 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. 

Campsite options: 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

Great Basin National Park

southwest national parks road trip

What to do: Great Basin 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. 

Campsite options: 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 Wi-Fi 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. 

Joshua Tree National Park

southwest national parks road trip

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. 

Campsite options: There are several campgrounds that will fit your RV within the 1,235-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. 

Find your perfect rental RV today to begin your desert getaway by visiting Cruise America’s Indio, California RV rental location!

Big Bend National Park

southwest national parks road trip

What to do: 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 U.S. 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. 

Campsite options: 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. 

Canyonlands National Park

southwest national parks road trip
What to do: Canyonlands is every outdoor lover’s playground. From hiking to horseback riding to biking through the terrain, there are endless opportunities to take in the sights of this stunning park. And after a long day of adventures, Canyonlands National Park provides campers with breathtaking views of the night sky. There’s something for everyone at this Utah gem. 

Campsite options: Canyonlands National Park offers two primary campgrounds — Island in the Sky and The Needles — and backcountry camping locations. Be mindful that neither of these campgrounds offers electric hookups, so you’ll need to come prepared with everything you need during your stay. 

Don’t miss all that Canyonlands National Park has to offer — book your Cruise America RV and hit the road today!

Grand Canyon National Park

southwest national parks road trip
What to do: No typical tourist road trip is complete without a visit to the Grand Canyon. This Arizona staple is more than just another item on the bucket list. The park ranger programs are an excellent way to go beyond the parking lot views (which are beautiful, by the way!) and make your way deeper into the park. Bike your way through the Canyon or try your hand at hiking — just make sure you bring plenty of water!

Campsite options: Three campgrounds can be found spread throughout this stunning location. Though only the Mather Campground on the South Rim is open year-round, all three provide ample opportunities to sleep under the stars in one of America’s most-visited places. 

Camp under the stars in comfort with a Cruise America RV rental! Book yours today and pick it up on your way to the park. 

Capitol Reef National Park

southwest national parks road trip
What to do: Capitol Reef National Park offers visitors almost 243,921 acres of explorable property. With so much land to see, one of the best ways to experience the park is through a road tour. These tours will wind you through the park, allowing you to take in the rich colors of this beautiful park. 

Want to explore the park in other ways? No problem! Hike the lengthy trails, ride through the winding roads on horseback, or carefully climb up the steep slopes with an adventurous rock climbing endeavor. 

Campsite options: The best part of staying at Capitol Reef National Park is the endless camping options available. Stay in luxury at the Fruita Campground or try your hand at primitive camping in the designated locations. Still not sure where to stay? There are also group campsites, backpacking locations, and other alternatives throughout the park. 

Regardless of where you choose to camp, Cruise America’s RV rentals will get you there! Book your Utah rental today. 

White Sands National Park

southwest national parks road trip
What to do: Did someone say “white sand?” That’s right — the White Sands National Park is full of magnificent white sand dunes. And you can experience this sight first-hand through dune rides, hiking, horseback riding, bicycling, and more. 

The coolest part? You can even sled these dunes! The white sand both resembles snow and acts a lot like it, too. That means once you’re at the top of these massive dunes, you can hop on a sled and make your way back to the bottom with ease.  

Campsite options: Though primitive sites are located around the park, there are no designated campgrounds for RVs within the park. However, since this location is often found on many Southwest national park road trip itineraries, there are more than a few nearby campgrounds. Just a quick drive from this amazing national park, you’ll still have the opportunity to experience the park in its entirety while staying at a nearby campground. 

New Mexico is home to convenient Cruise America RV locations so you can easily book your rental, pick it up, and hit the road — starting with White Sands National Park. 

Southwest National Parks Road Trip Itinerary

That tip we mentioned about planning ahead? It doesn’t just apply to each individual national park! Spend some time brainstorming what parks you want to hit and what the best route would be to see them all. 

In fact, we’ve even given you a head start by outlining a potential itinerary below. For our itinerary, we’re starting our road trip in Texas and making our way west. 

  1. Big Bend National Park, Texas
  2. Carlsbad Cavern National Park, New Mexico
  3. White Sands National Park, New Mexico
  4. Saguaro National Park, Arizona
  5. Joshua Tree National Park, California
  6. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
  7. Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
  8. Capitol Reef National Park, Utah
  9. Canyonlands National Park, Utah
  10. Arches National Park, Utah
  11. Great Basin National Park, Nevada

And there you have! We hope this itinerary can spark some ideas on where to go on your next southwest national park road trip. 

Explore the Southwest in Style

When you’re ready to explore the national parks in the southwest USA, Cruise America can get you there! Our Class C RVs come equipped with all the amenities you’ll need to enjoy every national park in the southwest region. Our one-way rental options are perfect for those trips that will take you through every state, allowing you to start at Point A and end at Point B with no issues.

Contact us today to find a location near you and book your next RV rental!