5 Best Southwest Road Trips
Looking to take a short and affordable road trip through the Southwest — but aren't sure where to make your stops? Well, look no further! We’ve compiled a list of the five must-see sites on any road tour and, even better, the majority of the stops are completely free to visit! (Well, besides the gas and snacks of course.) We’ve even put them in the best driving order for you, though feel free to go backward or mix them up in order to suit your needs.
1. Hanging Lake Trail, Colorado
On the first stop of our Southwest budget road trip is Hanging Lake Trail in Colorado. It’s incredibly scenic, and if you’re looking for a nice hiking trail after a long car ride (Watch out, it’s steep!), then you’re in for a treat. Another great thing about this place is that there are no fees associated with entering the trails, so you can enjoy at your leisure.
2. Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah
The next stop on our tour would be the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. This is a 30,000-acre expanse of hard, white salt crust on the edge of the Great Salt Lake basin, and it’s filled with 147 million tons of salt! It may sound boring, but it’s incredibly beautiful and often the reflection of the sun off of the salt can create mirages and mirrored images from the mountains behind it. The area is free to the public and is also well-known for breaking land speed race driving records.
However, it may be worthwhile to avoid the flats in summer as that’s when most of these types of racing events take place and it can also help in avoiding the dangers of heat exhaustion and dehydration. One last note, be sure to watch out for your car. It’s very important to wash the sides and undercarriage of your vehicle thoroughly with fresh, clean water after your visit so as to avoid any corrosive damage that could be caused by the salt. You can find further information about the salt flats and events here.
3. Horseshoe Bend, Arizona
Now, if you took a detour to the Grand Canyon after the salt flats, then next up on our list would be to make a quick pitstop at Horseshoe Bend in Page, Arizona. It’s a great stop-off point to see the giant twisting blue Colorado River making its way through the high, red rock faces of the arid Southwest plains. Best of all, you can get that Insta-worthy photo for free!
4. Antelope Canyon, Arizona
If you just made your last stop at the Horseshoe Bend, then next up on our list would have to be Antelope Canyon. Known for it’s magnificent purplish and orange-hued rock faces weathered away into twisting labyrinths, this site will be sure to take your breath away. There’s a $6 entry fee for entering Navajo land, and if you would like a tour, then it can cost anywhere between $20–$40, depending on location and length. However, the small price tag will be well worth it.
5. Big Bear Lake, Southern California
Last, but most certainly not least on our trip, is Big Bear Lake located in Southern California. I’ve personally been here and can attest to its utter beauty. You’ll start your journey off in the hot, arid desert sands and as you slowly wind your way up the twisty mountain roads, lush green forests will emerge, and it’s as if you landed in another world.
It’s free to get up there and worthwhile even if it’s just for a short day trip. However, if you’d like to stay for a long weekend or get in on some of the fun activities such as skiing or horseback riding, then you’ll need to bust out your wallet.