Nikki and Jon overlooking the Grand Canyon National Park at sunset

5 American Southwest National Parks You Need to Visit

If you’re visiting the American Southwest, you won’t want to miss these 5 national parks.

To make sure you have enough time to explore them all and not be too worn out, we recommend traveling in the area for a minimum of 10 days.

You will need your own vehicle since the shortest distance between them all will be a minimum of 13 hours driving. Keep in mind that most national parks require a lot of driving within the parks themselves. 

Our top 5 national park recommendations are Joshua Tree, Death Valley, Zion, Bryce and the Grand Canyon. We’ll talk about the best hikes and how long to say in each below!

Joshua Tree National Park

Located in California, Joshua Tree has been our favorite national park because we absolutely loved the hiking. We recommend spending at least two days here to really explore the park and all the unique hikes like the Hall of Horrors and Cholla Cactus Garden. 

Best Hikes in Joshua Tree:

  • Cholla Cactus Garden
  • Arch Rock & Heart Rock
  • Hall of Horrors

Learn more about what to do in Joshua Tree Here!

Trail near Arch Rock, Joshua Tree National Park
Arch Rock Trail at Joshua Tree
Cholla Cactus Garden at Joshua Tree
Hall of Horrors - Right Hall at Joshua Tree

Death Valley National Park

Death Valley is our favorite park so far! Located in California, on the border of Nevada, we found each hike to be so unique that it felt like we entered a different National Park every time.

We recommend visiting Death Valley for two to three days in the Fall or Winter. However, Spring is the most popular time because of the wildflowers and warmer temperatures. If you don’t mind a crowd, Spring may be the best time for you. Keep in mind, it’s not recommended to visit during the summer. Death Valley can be dangerous at this time due to high temps, exposure to the sun, and lack of water along trails.

Best Hikes in Death Valley:

  • Artists Palette
  • Badwater Basic
  • Golden Canyon
  • Red Cathedral
  • Devil’s Golf Course

Get more information on the top 4 hikes we recommend in Death Valley!

Nikki at Badwater Basin Salt Flats in Death Valley National Park
Badwater Basin at Death Valley
Nikki and Jon at Artist's Palette in Death Valley
Artists Palette at Death Valley

Zion National Park

Zion is one of the most popular national parks in the United States and one that you will want to spend multiple days in. Make sure to get there early (before 8am) since you have to take the shuttle throughout the park and most likely, you’ll need to take a shuttle to the park entrance as well. 

The shuttle will take you to most of the hiking trails, however, you can also drive through some of Zion along the scenic trail. We highly recommend you take the time to do so and don’t miss Canyon Overlook Trail while on this route.

Pro Tip: If you want to hike the most popular and dangerous trail, Angel’s Landing, you will need a permit! To get one you need to enter the Seasonal Lottery or the Day-Before Lottery.

Best Hikes in Zion:

  • Angel’s Landing
  • The Narrows
  • Canyon Overlook Trail
Canyon Overlook Trail Lookout at Zion
Canyon Overlook Trail at Zion
Nikki hiking the Narrow at Zion
The Narrows at Zion

Bryce Canyon

Bryce is one of the most breathtaking national parks. The rock formations and colors are so different than any we’ve seen. We spent two days here but honestly, we would have rather spent an extra day in either Death Valley or Zion, and only stayed in Bryce for one day.

We hiked around the rim, down into the canyon, and drove along the scenic loop hiking some smaller trails along the way. Make sure you take time to admire the amphitheater area of the park (the most popular area). 

Best Hikes in Bryce

  • Navajo Loop and Queen’s Garden (form a loop)
  • Sunset Trail to Sunset Point
  • Fairyland Loop Trail
Navajo Loop at Bryce Canyon in Utah
Navajo Loop
Bryce Canyon Rim View

Grand Canyon National Park

We only spent two days here but I would recommend staying even longer. The Grand Canyon is HUGE and you can’t possibly see everything in such a short time.

Make sure to watch the sunset here on one of your nights and to block off an entire day for hiking. 

We only had time for one hike and choose South Kaibab. It has a drastic elevation change and makes for a very difficult ascent out of the canyon. However, if you are a hike-lover, it really is worth it and so beautiful to quickly go down pretty deep.

Best hikes in the Grand Canyon

  • South Kaibab Trail
  • Bright Angel Trail
  • Rim Trail

Learn more about the Grand Canyon here.

Looking to visit more than just the national parks?

Check out our Ultimate American Southwest Road Trip Guide.
We cover where to stay, state parks, attractions and even our favorite restaurants!

American Southwest Road Trip Map and Plan

Where and when to visit, convenient places to sleep and more!