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Best Desert Trips & U.S. National Parks of the American Southwest

I still recall the blazing colors and awe-inspiring landscapes that took my breath away as a kid in my family's RV through the American Southwest on one of our epic three week long road trips. I couldn't read or nap long without my uncle shouting back to me from the front seat, "Danielle! Look! Look! Look!" At every turn, the landscapes were uniquely spectacular and so unlike our suburban Pennsylvania backyard. The Southwest is almost an alien, mythical land for us East Coasters, but really it's magical for anyone from anywhere.

The Southwest is a vast region that might seem overwhelming, but Nine Muses Travel can customize an adventure for your desired focus, e.g. hot springs and wellness, outdoor adventure, indigenous history and culture, golf, art and architecture, photography, and so much more. You may be surprised to discover how lush our desert destinations can be, filled with gardens, diverse cacti, verdant valleys, and rushing rivers for whitewater rafting.

There's a wide range of accommodations, with the most memorable being your very own, custom-built, private glamp camp that comes with a chef, restrooms, and shower. Check out my BLOG ARTICLE for more details about glamping in these areas!

So many of our country's most epically beautiful national parks are in America's deserts, and below is a guide for your next journey through the American Southwest!

Important Tips for a Desert  Trip

  • Days can be warm to hot while the nights can be freezing, so pack accordingly!

  • Desert regions of the U.S. generally stay sunny but are not necessarily warm through the winter.

  • Sparsely inhabited regions make for longer (3-4 hour) drive times between major destinations.

Northern New Mexico & Southern Colorado

This region is renowned for its ancient Pueblo cliff dwellings, native history and culture, and ruggedly beautiful lands you can explore at Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico and Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado. There are amazing outdoor activities here too. You'll love staying at the vast Vermejo, a Ted Turner Reserve. Spread over more than 500,000 acres, it's the largest privately owned protected area in the continental U.S. This wilderness lodge amid tremendous landscape is perfect for safari and adventure lovers. If you're looking for a special experience at less than five stars, Zapata Ranch is a gorgeous horseback riding oriented property near the sand dunes, about three to four hours south of Denver, close to the New Mexico border.

Top Experiences:

  • Great Sand Dunes National Park horseback riding adventure

  • Private bison expedition by horse

  • New Mexico wildlife safari

  • Anthropology and archaeology tour of indigenous history, culture and artifacts

  • Trout fly fishing trip

  • Whitewater rafting adventure

  • Shooting sports / archery

  • Mountain biking

  • Rock climbing and bouldering

Southern New Mexico

For a relaxing wellness getaway, you'll find serenity amid the hot springs and spa treatments of this less visited region. Southern New Mexico is wonderful to visit as you explore the rich cultural destinations between Santa Fe and Truth and Consequences, where you'll feel rejuvenated at the superlative Ladder, a Ted Turner Reserve or Sierra Grande Lodge, a Ted Turner Retreat. Both are less than two hours from White Sands National Park.    

Top Experiences:

  • Bison and wildlife photography

  • Custom backcountry expeditions

  • White Sands National Park dune expeditions 

  • Private wildlife eco excursion

  • Hot spring soak and spa treatment

  • Salinas Pueblo Mission touring 

Northern Arizona

Get your kicks on Route 66 as you drive through history! Sedona is Arizona's primary resort town, and it's only two hours from the Grand Canyon. Or let's arrange a private helicopter flight to the Canyon instead! Stay surrounded in ridiculously beautiful red rocks at Enchantment Resort, or for lower budgets, stay in town at the lovely, boutique Sedona Rouge Hotel & Spa.

Top Experiences:

  • Sedona off road Jeep adventure 

  • Red Rock hiking and yoga

  • Hiking and indigenous culture tour 

  • eBike Red Rock tour of Sedona

  • Horseback trail ride with picnic

  • Day trip to Grand Canyon - by land or air!

  • Petrified Forest National Park 

  • Route 66 history 

Southern Arizona

This is prime area to set up your private glamp camp out in the desert! Scottsdale and Tucson are the main attractions here, and you'll definitely want to check out all the cool cacti at Saguaro National Park. Definitely include a private visit to Frank Lloyd Wright's winter home and school, Taliesin West; located in Scottsdale, this is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and among the most personal of his creations. Stay at Four Seasons Scottsdale-Troon North or Hacienda Del Sol Guest Ranch in Tucson, a small guest ranch. 

Top Experiences:

  • Grand Canyon air and land tour

  • Calm water rafting / river kayaking

  • Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin West

  • Desert biking excursion

  • Saguaro National Park private tour

  • Sonoran Desert hike / horseback ride 

  • Tucson culture and arts tour

  • Photography touring

Southern Utah

This region is famous for its Big Five national parks: Bryce Canyon, Zion, Arches, Canyonlands, and Capitol Reef, and they're all unbelievably special spots to have us set up your private glamp camp. Sleeping amongst the stars, you'll never forget this experience. You can't go wrong staying at the unparalleled Amangiri  or small boutique properties like Cliffrose Lodge, Zion Mountain Ranch, Sorrel River Ranch, Desert Rose, and Stone Canyon Inn.

Top Experiences:

  • Whitewater / float on Colorado River - tailored to your skill level

  • Backcountry canyoneering - Arches & Canyonlands

  • Off-road 4x4 adventures - Canyonlands backcountry

  • VIP park touring in the Big Five: Zion, Bryce Canyon, Arches, Canyonlands, and Capitol Reef

  • Overnight camping / backpacking in the parks - Zion

Southern California

For art and architecture enthusiasts, Palm Springs is a must! Here you'll find America's largest concentration of mid-20th century modern architecture. Famous residents once included Dean Martin, Kirk Douglas, Debbie Reynolds, and Marilyn Monroe, whose home remains a popular visit along with Elvis Presley's honeymoon hideaway (aka The House of Tomorrow). Afterwards head to Joshua Tree and stage your own version of the U2 album cover. (Or is that something only I would do?)  Stay at Parker Palm Springs, The Ritz-Carlton, Rancho Mirage to be further out of town, or in your own private Palm Springs villa.

Top Experiences:

  • Joshua Tree sightseeing tour

  • Evening photo and star gazing tour

  • San Andreas Fault Jeep tour

  • Desert oasis horseback ride

  • Palm Springs art tour

  • Palm Springs architectural tour

  • Mid-century mansion dinner

  • Private windmill farm tour

  • Coachella VIP access 

Las Vegas & Death Valley

What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas - except the Instagram photos and great memories! Take an after hours tour of the Neon Museum to learn all about the history of the town's business they call show, go underneath the Bellagio fountains on a special tour, and head off the strip to Old Las Vegas with a private driver guide. Take a kayak excursion to Hoover Dam and tour this architectural masterpiece, then head further out of town to Death Valley, just two hours away. You can take a helicopter to the west rim of the Grand Canyon too, but keep in mind the most iconic views are found more along the south rim. With no smoking or casinos, you'll have a relaxed, quiet ambiance at Waldorf Astoria Las Vegas and Four Seasons Hotel Las Vegas, which has direct access to Mandalay Bay casino next door. For families who want the full, classic gambling feel, Wynn Las Vegas and Encore is a great choice.

Top Experiences:

  • Grand Canyon west rim helicopter tour 

  • Valley of Fire dune buggy for thrills

  • Desert RZR adventure 

  • After-hours Neon Museum access 

  • Underneath the Bellagio fountains

  • Death Valley off-road Jeep excursion 

  • Colorado River and Hoover Dam kayak experience + tour of Hoover Dam

  • Old Las Vegas driving tour 

Suggested Itineraries

  • Rocky Mountain High: Colorado & New Mexico: Denver, Colorado Springs, Raton, Taos, Santa Fe

  • The Ultimate Southwest Road Trip: Sedona, Canyon Point, Zion National Park, Moab

  • Utah's Big 5: Las Vegas to Moab: Las Vegas, Zion & Bryce Canyon National Parks, Moab

  • Wild! The Wonders of Oregon: Portland, Williamette Valley, Oregon Coast, Bend

Nine Muses Travel works with tour operators who add exceptional value for my clients.

  • Expert guides for private tours: historians, naturalists, artists, unique locals

  • Exclusive experiences

  • Comfortable, sanitized, and luxurious vehicles

  • Custom-designed routings

  • 24/7 real-time support

  • Competitive rates at four and five star properties with strict health and safety protocols

  • Deep destination knowledge

  • Flexible and worry-free cancellation policies, including 100% refunds until shortly before travel

Contact Nine Muses Travel when you're ready to wander the desert and learn more about me and what I can do for you!

I creatively customize luxury travel highlighting local arts and culture, history, and cuisine for intellectually curious clients longing to feel deeply inspired by exciting destinations, culinary delights, and authentic cultural experiences on a life-changing, joyful journey of discovery.

Danielle Dybiec

Founder & President of Nine Muses Travel


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