The Southwest is home to some of the best hiking destinations in the world. With vast and open spans of wilderness areas that far extend beyond most of our imaginations, you can set out on some long and beautiful journeys overland on foot. I have traveled personally across the country. I have spent time camping, hiking and even living in these areas. So because of these experiences I am able to give you the best insight on where to go on your travels.
So here are a few spots that you need to leave your footprints.
Arches National Park – National Park Service – Utah
Located just outside of the little town of Moab, Utah is Arches National Park. We are talking the Wylie Coyote cartoon backdrop type locations that most of us have only seen on Saturday morning cartoons or on the movies. With hundreds of miles of hiking trails that lead you to some of the most beautiful natural sculptures made by the sands and winds of time. Plenty of locations for backcountry expeditions that will take you far off the beaten path. A park named for the sheer number of natural bridges and arches caused by millions of years of erosion, most of these wonders cannot be seen from the inside of your car, so the hiking trails are a must to really get a full experience of this wonderful and scenic location.
The Painted Desert/Petrified Forest – National Park Service – Arizona
If you are visiting Arches for the hikes, hit the road and head across the desert into Arizona and into the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest. Both are located within each other so you have a wonderful opportunity to see prehistoric trees that have turned into rock over millions of years and vast painted desert landscapes. Imagine what it was like to walk among the dinosaurs, as you see what was one a forest before you. Plenty of hiking trails, interpretative centers, and self-guided tours. Wander for days on end in the desert, but it is a desert so bring plenty of water and sunscreen. You cannot take a bad picture in the Painted desert and you can truly see where the deer and antelope play.
Gila Cliff Dwellings – National Park Service – New Mexico
See the actual remains of people that built a small civilization in the cliffs of New Mexico, the Gila Cliff Dwellings. Built by the Mogollon people in 1200 and subsequently abandoned sometime later, they left behind a maze of homes and a mirror into the past. There are plenty of hiking trails that range from easy day hikes and extended backcountry trips that take you far from the modern world and you will be walking in the footsteps of ancient people. The Natural beauty of the area will also draw you in and make you want to see more, mountains, valleys, hills, canyons, and streams that cover the area will give you an idea of why the Mogollon people decided to give this area a try.
Zion National Park – National Park Service – Utah
Utah has some pretty amazing locations to see but Zion is probably one of the highest on the list for the backcountry camper. Here you will be able to see multicolored desert canyons that have been shaped over millions of years due to weather and ancient volcanic activity. There is a trail that will take you into an area known as “the Subway” where a lava cut the rock into a network of tubes and tunnels that mimic that of modern-day subways. Underwater rivers now flow where lava once ran, and the colors that come out from these formations would make even Rembrandt jealous. With scores of trails that take you all over the park, there is no limit to your backcountry trip planning and the sites you will see will echo forever in your memory.
Grand Canyon National Park – National Park Service – Arizona
I know I have mentioned the Grand Canyon as a great place to camp before, but the backcountry experience at the Grand Canyon will give you a view of one of the wonders of the world like you have never seen before. With trails that take you from high atop the rims and take you down to the world below. There you will see the Colorado River that clawed out the canyon after millions of years of water erosion. Once you are standing there on the floor of what was once an ancient ocean, you will see why the local natives once thought that early man crawled out from the center of the earth there. It truly looks like the gateway to another world and standing there truly puts the size and scope of the Grand Canyon into perspective.
Superstition Wilderness Area – US Forest Service- Arizona
You won’t need a rabbit’s foot to see amazing and glorious sites when you visit the Superstition Wilderness area in Arizona. This is rugged, red rock, desert backcountry camping at its finest. Truly get a taste of the old American west as you sit by a fire literally where the deer and the antelope play. There are a tiny species of deer there called Couse Deer, and they are high in numbers but hard to spot. So you can spend hours trying to find and photograph these elusive critters. Going through canyons, desert valleys, and mountains will leave your head spinning with so many wonders to see. You are going to want to budget your time, and your water when you plan to visit this area, and no trip would be complete without viewing the vistas off the Superstition mountains.
Given the endless possible locations, one could hike across the Southwest, simply plan a trip to these locations. Have a road trip of a lifetime that includes treading some ground on some of the most scenic and tranquil locations in the American Southwest.
Born in North Carolina, raised all over the world and currently living in the Rocky Mountains above Montana. I have spent most of my life fishing, hunting, exploring and adventuring. While the adventure continues I have started to jot a few of them down and write. I Love Fly Fishing and sharing what I know with others. Fish on!