An Insider’s Guide toNational Parks in the Southwest

The national parks in the southwest United States feature some of the most iconic landscapes in the country. Largely isolated from big population centers, the southwest parks often require quite a bit of travel to get there—but you’re most certainly rewarded for the effort. Incredible canyons, desert vistas, fossils, mountains, and a night sky that must be seen to be believed are all elements of the national parks in this region.

Perhaps the most famous landmark in the United States, the Grand Canyon is considered one of the seven natural wonders of the world, and perhaps the most popular must-see item on countless American bucket lists. The gorge carved by the Colorado River stretches for 277 miles and is at times 18 miles across and a mile deep. The national park occupies more than 1 million acres, with visitors congregated mostly on established bases of operation on the north and south rim of the canyon.

Big Bend National Park
Big Bend National Park atbaker

“The Grand Canyon fills me with awe,” said President Theodore Roosevelt, on his first trip to the canyon. “It is beyond comparison—beyond description; absolutely unparalleled throughout the wide world.” Visitors will see the same amazing vistas and colorful rock that has been carved over a period of 2 billion years.

Also offering amazing desert scenery in Arizona is Saguaro National Park and the Petrified Forest National Park. Saguaro, located near Tucson, is home to largest cacti in the United States. The park features an impressive collection of the giant saguaro in these protected lands. The park features more than 165 miles of hiking trails through desert landscapes, offering lots of options for both day hiking and backpacking in the backcountry. Petrified Forest in northeastern Arizona is named for the large deposits of petrified wood found throughout the region. Ancient Arizona was part of a subtropical region rich with aquatic life, and fast-moving rivers trapped both plants and animals in sediment, making this area one of the top spots for fossils in the country. You’ll also find incredible rock formations and the subdued hues of red, orange, and blue that dominate the landscape.

Big Bend National Park
Big Bend National Park Clinton Steeds

Located in southeastern New Mexico, the Carlsbad Caverns National Park is largely hidden underground, beneath the Chihuahuan Desert and the Guadalupe Mountains. Once referred to as the Grand Canyon with a roof on it, these immense caves offer fascinating formations, including stalagmites that rise six stories tall, cave pools, and ornate, delicate soda straws. Located 750 feet below the earth’s surface, Carlsbad Caverns provide an unworldly experience and an incredible opportunity to explore one of the most unique places on earth.

Moving east to Texas, Big Bend National Park sits on a big lazy turn of the Rio Grande River, just across the border from Mexico. Unlike many of the parks in the southwest, Big Bend has a good bit of greenery to explore as well as the west Texas desert. You’ll find lush flood plains, 8,000-foot mountains, sand dunes, badlands, and a wide variety of wildlife in this corner of the state that defies easy categorization. At 801,000 acres, it’s one of the larger national parks, and features the largest protected area of the Chihuahuan desert in the country. It’s remoteness means it’s also one of the least visited national parks, giving you plenty of room for solitude.

At about one-tenth the size of Big Bend, Guadalupe Mountains National Park is on the border between New Mexico and Texas. It’s home to the 8,750-foot Guadalupe Peak, the tallest mountain in Texas. Also in the park is the signature peak of El Capitan—perhaps not as famous as the same-named mountain in Yosemite, but well known in Texas as a landmark on the old stagecoach route to the west. Since its only about 25 miles southwest of Carlsbad Caverns, you can see some of the highest and lowest points in the region in a single day.

Featured photo by atbaker.

Fall in Love With The Outside Road Tour

RootsRated and Marmot are teaming up to celebrate the Outside by hosting Pint Nights in speciality retailers across the country. At each Fall In Love With The Outside Road Tour event, we will raise money for local conservation groups, while playing live music, pouring cold brews, hosting tent pitching contests, playing outdoor trivia, and having conversations about where to go outdoors and all things we love outside.

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Fall in Love With The Outside Road Tour