10 Most Stunning Desert Escapes in the U.S.
We love lush tropical locales, but arid landscapes can be just as awe-inspiring. Check out these dramatic desert destinations.
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Mystical and majestic, Sedona casts a spell with its fiery rock formulations, steep canyons, energy vortexes, and pine forests. This hallowed landscape attracts four million people each year—more than half seeking spiritual transformation. Not surprisingly, it has become a hotbed of New Age healing with many wellness-oriented outposts like crystal shops, aura readers, yoga studios, and holistic spas. Try the creekside reflexology treatment at L’Auberge de Sedona or the sacred stone massage at Kimpton Amara Resort & Spa. In case you were curious, this Sedona road trip is as magical as everyone says it is.
Santa Fe, New Mexico
First settled in 1610, Santa Fe, the oldest capital in the country, is steeped in history and heritage developed over hundreds of years. Its unique cultural tapestry is a richly woven fabric that blends Native American, Spanish, and Anglo traditions. This UNESCO Creative City is home to a flourishing arts community, galleries galore, and shops selling everything from turquoise jewelry to indigenous pottery. Santa Fe also made our list of epic spring break spots for grown-ups.
Joshua Tree, California
Joshua Tree National Park spans 800,000 arid acres—that’s larger than Rhode Island—and includes two distinct desert ecosystems. Its surreal tableau is punctuated by massive boulders, Dr. Seuss-like yucca palms, and archaeological marvels. Hiking is the primary draw, but with 8,000 climbing routes, vertical adventure is a close second. At night, dark skies are sublime for stargazing. You can sleep under the cosmos at the nine on-site campgrounds. Or, book a room at Mojave Sands, a revamped 1950s roadside motel in downtown Joshua Tree. Joshua Tree also makes our list of must-see places around the country to take your kids.
Most people’s association with Marfa—if they have one at all—is to Prada Marfa, a sculpture installation in the west Texas desert. But there’s actually more to Marfa, starting with its seclusion. Tucked between the Davis Mountains and Big Bend National Park, its nearest neighbor is some 20 miles away. And while the population is around 2,000, don’t let that fool you—Marfa is far from a snooze-fest. An influx of art installations, exhibitions, and cultural festivals has turned up the heat on this remote respite and it’s not cooling anytime soon. While you’re there, why not venture to one of these hot springs?
Old Pueblo, as Tucson is known, is a sun-drenched oasis surrounded by windswept mountain ranges. What you might not expect is the crazy flora: A fascinating variety of herbs, cacti, succulents, and other native plants have roots at Tucson Botanical Gardens. Take a step back in time with a visit to Mission San Xavier del Bac and Presidio San Agustín del Tucson. If that’s not enough to entice you… the soul-stirring beauty of El Conquistador Tucson certainly will. And did we mention the amenities? Five outdoor swimming pools, a state-of-the-art spa, and a championship golf course. Take a peek at these beautiful photos of parks in full bloom.
Zion National Park, Utah
Zion National Park is famed for its sheer sandstone cliffs. A rich diversity of wildlife thrives in this biologically rich habitat. Narrow canyons, flowing rivers, ponderosa forests, and waterfalls add to the wonder. Thrill-seekers can test their mental and physical fortitude by attempting to conquer the five-mile-long Angel’s Landing trail. Sharp switchbacks and dizzying drop-offs make it a challenging trek, but the stunning views from the summit are well worth it. Looking for a family vacation? Here are 45 mini family vacations that won’t break the bank.
Palm Springs, California
In its 1960s heyday, Palm Springs was a playground for Hollywood stars. Fast forward a few decades… the seminal mid-century modern architecture, jet-set spirit, and laid-back vibe that lured the likes of Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, and Lucille Ball are captivating a new generation of travelers. Bolstered by a surge of exciting events, hip hotels, art galleries, alfresco bistros, interior design shops, and vintage boutiques, this dynamic destination has reclaimed its colorful crown. Want to escape with your BFFs? Palm Springs ranks among our top picks for a girlfriends getaway.
Those looking for a posh, desert vacation will love Scottsdale with its luxurious accommodations, award-winning dining, upscale shopping, and more spas per capita than anywhere in the United States. Sanctuary Resort boasts spectacular panoramas of Paradise Valley and proximity to Camelback Mountain trails. After hoofing it in the heat, you might require a little R&R. Luckily, this holistic haven abounds with blissful services such as lime blossom massages and divinity detox wraps. Making health a priority? Check out these awesome wellness retreats.
Every adventure needs a base camp. Moab offers access to the mind-blowing red rocks of Arches National Park and gushing waters of the Colorado River, plus plenty of opportunities for outdoor recreation. Uranium may have put this Utah town on the map in the early 1900s, but its story began in the Mesozoic Era. Aspiring paleontologists can dig for fossils and follow in the footsteps of dinosaurs at Moab Giants. For the over 21 crowd, there’s a brewery and Spanish Valley Vineyards hosts daily wine tastings. Brush up on these essential vino terms before you go.
Las Vegas, Nevada
Las Vegas is more than lavish casinos, big-budget shows, high-end hotels, and restaurants helmed by celebrity chefs. Explore beyond the Strip to discover the scenic side of Sin City. Head to the 197,000-acre Red Rock Canyon, Nevada’s first national conservation area, for a fun-filled day of hiking and horseback riding. Beat the heat with an aquatic activity. Did you know you can kayak from the base of the Hoover Dam? For real rush, race a custom-built dune buggy across rugged terrain at night! And don’t miss these Las Vegas attractions that have nothing to do with gambling.