Summary: Complete Guide to 10 Must-See Southwest Road Trip Destinations in California and Arizona. Hot Springs, Sand Dunes, Viewpoints, Canyons, Camping spots, What to Pack and more. *I use affiliate links and may receive a small commission on purchases. Thanks for your support!
Land Acknowledgement: Find what Native Land you are visiting by using the app Native Land! I encourage you to read the history and culture of the Indigenous people who’s land you are visiting! Land Acknowledgements for each destination are in the linked detailed posts.
- VIDEO SERIES: THE BIG SOUTHWEST
- The Southwest Trip
- 10 Best Southwest Road Trip Destinations:
- 1 Travertine Hot Springs
- 2 Hot Creek Geological Site
- 3 Wild Willy's Hot Springs
- 4 Alabama Hills
- 5 Death Valley Sand Dunes
- 6 Artist's Palette
- 7 Badwater Basin Salt Flats
- 8 Mojave Desert Lava Tube
- 9 Joshua Tree National Park
- 10 Sedona Arizona
- Where to Stay on the Southwest Road Trip:
VIDEO SERIES: THE BIG SOUTHWEST
If you want a visual of our time on this Southwest Road Trip, check out the YouTube Video my partner Johnathon DeSoto created! It includes Behind the Scenes footage, and views of all the places we went (including In-N-Out Burger haha). Subscribe if you want to see the complete mini series!
The Southwest Trip
So, me and my partner hit the road around December 1st, 2020 from Eureka California. We were able to visit so many incredible, unique places that we had never been to before, and I want to share them all with you!
Depending on your starting point, you can tailor this itinerary to fit your needs. Start in the middle, reverse it, whatever you do it will be fabulous.
I recommend this itinerary for the colder months (Late Fall- Early Spring) due to Death Valley National Park’s intense heat advisories other times of the year. I also love planning travel during off-season as there are significantly less crowds at locations and more camping options to social distance.
Southwest Road Trip Driving Route
Starting Point for the Ultimate Southwest Road Trip:
So, there are a few airport options that will put you within a reasonable driving range of our first stop.
- Reno-Tahoe International Airport: 2 hour drive
- Sacramento International Airport: 3 hour and 45 minute drive
- San Francisco International Airport: 5 hour drive
I highly recommend a vehicle with AWD or 4×4 for this trip. We used a Subaru Forester and were able to get to each destination without much trouble.
Alright, Let’s get you going on an incredible Southwest Road Trip! You’re definitely going to want to save this guide for later!
10 Best Southwest Road Trip Destinations:
1 Travertine Hot Springs
This place is pure magic. It was my partner, Johnathon’s, first time at a hot spring and Travertine Hot Springs definitely did not disappoint. Travertine is a geothermal mineral springs located in the Eastern Sierras of California.
Check out my complete detailed guide HERE: TRAVERTINE HOT SPRINGS: SOAK IN THE SCENIC SIERRAS COMPLETE GUIDE
2 Hot Creek Geological Site
Hot Creek Geological site is like a teeny-tiny Yellowstone National Park. Located near Mammoth Lakes it has stunning blue pools of steaming water with a backdrop of scenic mountains. This is a drive-up location on a dirt road! These are not pools for soaking as it is very dangerous. Make sure to research before you visit.
3 Wild Willy’s Hot Springs
Scenic mountain views, steamy hot springs, and we somehow timed this visit with a full moon. A visit that was truly out of this world. Wild Willy’s Hot Springs is located near Mammoth Lakes, California, in the Sierras, and is an area known for having the highest amount of hot springs in California!
Check out my complete detailed guide HERE: WILD WILLY’S HOT SPRINGS: COMPLETE GUIDE TO A SCENIC SOAK IN THE SIERRAS
4 Alabama Hills
The Alabama Hills are a must on this Southwest Road Trip Guide. The Alabama Hills are a range of rock formations and mountains with views of Mount Whitney. This destination is located just outside of Lone Pine, California and offers so many camping and overlanding opportunities.
Be sure to check out the Instagram-famous Movie Road (pictured above) while you’re there and Mobius Arch. Please do not climb on the arch at Mobius arch as it we want it to last for other generations and it lies on lands stewarded by Indigenous people.
5 Death Valley Sand Dunes
Turns out there are five sand dune areas in Death Valley National Park! The most popular (and most accessible) being the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. I loved visiting the dunes and running around barefoot in the warm sand. Truly a treat in December.
Check out my complete detailed guide HERE: SAND DUNES IN DEATH VALLEY: COMPLETE GUIDE TO THE BEST DUNES
6 Artist’s Palette
Artist’s Palette and Artist’s Drive is an experience you do not want to miss out on if you’re visiting Death Valley or passing through. Artist’s Drive is a curvy 9 mile one-way road with view’s of multi-colored mountains from years of ion oxidization. Get out and walk around at Artist’s Palette to get the most out of your experience there!
Check out my complete detailed guide HERE: ARTIST’S PALETTE IN DEATH VALLEY: THE COMPLETE TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHY GUIDE
7 Badwater Basin Salt Flats
The Badwater Basin Salt Flats are stunning hexagonal-patterned salt crystals located in a valley with cliffs of the Black Mountains in the backdrop. Badwater Basin is a point of interest due to it being the lowest point in North America at 282 feet below sea level. WHOA.
Check out my complete detailed guide HERE: SALT FLATS IN DEATH VALLEY: COMPLETE GUIDE TO BADWATER BASIN
8 Mojave Desert Lava Tube
Y’ALL. This place was really out there, but as you can see, worth it for the really unique experience here. We arrived early afternoon and were the only people there until right before leaving. It’s hard to predict weather, but ideally late morning and early afternoon will get you the best light beams here. Even without beams, this place is one of a kind.
Less than a mile hike, thank goodness after how long the rough road will take you. Truly a neat addition to our southwest road trip.
Check out my complete detailed guide HERE: MOJAVE LAVA TUBE IN CALIFORNIA: LIGHT BEAMS AND EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW
9 Joshua Tree National Park
This was my second time to Joshua Tree National Park, and was very similar to my last experience: Brief. I really want to go back and spend some quality time getting to know the trails here. I can tell you one thing: the sunshine here in the winter is amazing.
- Cholla Cactus Garden Nature Trail
- Skull Rock Nature Trail
10 Sedona Arizona
Oh, Sedona. This place will always have a piece of my heart. The beautiful red rock canyons and buttes are stunning. In my blog post I share 5 incredible hikes you do not want to miss.
Check out my complete detailed guide HERE: SEDONA ARIZONA TRAVEL GUIDE: BEST QUICK TRIP DESTINATIONS
Where to Stay on the Southwest Road Trip:
In each linked blog post, I have listed free camping areas and some Airbnb options. I always try to choose free camping to stay within my road trip budget. I LOVE finding free camping on freecampsites.net. Another good option is TheDyrt.com.
If you want more information on How I Afford Travel, check out my resource: How I Afford Travel
Have you been to any of these destinations?? Are you adding them to your bucketlist? Let me know in the comments below!
Save for Later!