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The Ultimate American Southwest Road Trip

The United States is one of the largest and most varied countries in the world. It has SO much to offer no matter what adventure one might seek. But let’s be honest, our public transportation in the country is severely lacking. Like it’s a joke. But despite that pitfall, I believe the best way to see the country is in the car on the open road. I have always been a big believer in road-tripping! Every summer when I was growing up, my moma always packed my sisters and me up in a car for 2 weeks and we road tripped an area of the country. It was definitely an exercise in spontaneity and bonding! The beauty of the road trip is that you have a general itinerary in mind but if you want to go off course and stop for pictures or visit a certain museum you pass by, you can!

There are just so many great areas for road trips in the US but one of my favorites is the American Southwest. Deserts, cacti, and some of the coolest kitschy art – it is a dream trip! Check out my recommendations for the ultimate American Southwest road trip.

Disclaimer: I flew into Phoenix’s airport and did a huge circular road trip back to Phoenix because my mom had a conference there but you decide your starting point! If you are renting a car, it may be cheaper to drop it off at the place you rented it from.

SW trip on Roadtrippers

– Stop 1 –

Salvation Mountain in Niland, California

Situated in the middle of the Southern California desert (read that as pretty much the middle of nowhere) is a rainbow paradise called Salvation Mountain where all the hipsters go for Instagram pictures. I am not knocking them because I was there right along with them getting those pics for the ‘gram. And when I say there were a lot of people there, I am not kidding. I was dodging selfie-sticks, iPhones, and tons of people walking around. But aside from the popularity, this place lived up to my imagination and more! Sometimes places can get hyped up in your mind and I was scared that was going to be what happened on my visit. When I actually saw Salvation Mountain in person, I was glad to say I was not disappointed.

Click here to read about Salvation Mountain.

– Stop 2 –

Palms Springs, California

This colorful haven is full of pool parties, yummy southwestern food, and boutique shopping! What more could you want? Oh, you want post-modern houses too with colorful doors and the coolest architectural details? Palms Springs has that too!

– Stop 3 –

Spend the night glamping in an Airstream

While researching for a place to stay near Palm Springs in California, I was casually browsing Airbnb and BAM – Wanda the Airstream was right before my eyes and my little hipster millennial heart could not pass her up! I immediately booked that baby. Have you ever imagined yourself glamping in an airstream in the Southern California Desert? Yea, me neither but Wandaland kinda made it an absolute necessity! I am not a camping gal. I love me some hot running water, a bathroom, and some heater/AC – especially when one is out in the desert on a cold winter night. Wanda was the perfect solution to experience a kitschy California overnight stay but with a certain level of comfort.

Click here to read about my glamping experience!

– Stops 4 thru 6 –

Joshua Tree, California

Welcome to the California desert, home of the Joshua Tree. They are not like a regular tree, they are a coooooolllll tree. Spending a day in Joshua Tree begins with you eating at Stop 5 the Crossroads Cafe for a hearty and southwest kick of a breakfast, a drive around kitschy town that is perfectly Californian, and the vast and gorgeous national park of the same name is stop 6.

Click here to read about my Joshua Tree experience!

– Stop 7 –

Mojave Desert Preserve

If you are going from the Palm Springs area to Vegas, be sure to stock up on snacks, gas, and hit up the nearest bathroom before you drive through this expansive preserve. It’s definitely a beauty but there is NOTHING within the boundaries!

Read about my hilarious experience through the Preserve!

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    – Stop 8 –

    Seven Magic Mountains

    Let’s take an adventure to a pit stop in the middle of the Nevada desert that is full of magic – Seven Magic Mountains to be exact. ✨ Right outside of Las Vegas, Nevada is this roadside attraction that is a can’t miss! Have you ever seen such a sight? Tall stacks of neon boulders just hanging out. Seven Magic Mountains is a temporary artistic exhibition by Ugo Rondinone that draws in thousands of millennials and hipsters alike. It’s kind of like Salvation Mountain in that regard. I mean, it got me there, right? I am right there ‘gramming with the rest of them taking those selfies, living my best life.

    Read about my crowded experience at Seven Magic Mountains!

    – Stop 9 –

    Zion National Park

    Nestled in the southern portion of Utah, this natural beauty is full of beauty no matter which was you view it! Camping, hiking, driving, no matter where you go in the park, there is always an adventure with a view!

    – Stop 10 thru 13 –

    all in Page, Arizona

    Antelope Canyon

    Light beams through the slot canyons. Curved, water shaped walls of the brightest red. Antelope Canyon is one of those otherworldly places that has to be experienced! No matter what your itinerary is, you have to make time and space for this on yours!

    Click to read about my Antelope Canyon experience!

    Horseshoe Bend

    Open to the public, you have to hike a little bit to see this beauty but it is worth it! Completely free and hardly any commercialization at this sight which is refreshing! But it’s probably best to leave pups leashed and children tethered to your hand somehow since there is no rail and steep drop-offs! I saw wayyyy too many people risking it for a photo and I get that a big negative Ghostrider from Sami.

    Lake Powell

    Campgrounds, rafting tours, a dam, and water access? What more could you want for your hot summer day?

    Traveling solo and want to still get incredible photos of yourself so you can remember the places you visit? Check out my tried and true options! I have personally done ALL of these options and I have gotten amazing results! Trust me, I am a photographer. ?

    – Stop 14 –

    Grand Canyon

    This one is a little obvious! Perhaps one of America’s most recognizable natural wonders is this beautiful canyon shaped by a fierce river! You don’t want to miss a sunset at the Grand Canyon!

    – Stop 15 –

    Desert Botanical Garden

    If you have ever been to Arizona, you are aware pretty much most of the state is a desert which happens to be full of the plant that has a little bite- cactus. I am obsessed with these beauties even though they like prick me since I am so clumsy! No two are alike in size or shape and that makes them extra fun. Just outside of the bustling capital city of Phoenix is the gorgeous cultivated space dedicated to these cactus and various other desert native plants of the region. Visiting the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, Arizona is a must-see spot for that reason alone! I can promise that even if you are not a fan of gardens, the Desert Botanical Garden is like nothing you have ever seen before!

    Click to read about my Desert Botanical Garden experience

    There is so much more than I didn’t even cover in this list! If you have more time, there are tons of more National Parks that are open for adventure, tons of cool shows you can watch when in Vegas, and just so much more in the area!

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    Sami Mastrario
    Sami Mastrario

    The cool aunt. Plant novice who loves to travel to cool places, eat unadventurous food, and take pretty photos.

    Find me on: Instagram


    1. February 9, 2018 / 7:14 pm

      Salvation Mountain looks amazing! Not gonna lie…I’d probably Instagram that 😛

      • Sami Mastrario
        February 10, 2018 / 9:52 am

        I was right there beside everyone else! ?

    2. jill7000
      February 9, 2018 / 7:26 pm

      Been to all of these places except for Salvation Mt, which looks hella interesting. Next time, you should check out Sedona, AZ. It’s gorgeous!

      • Sami Mastrario
        February 10, 2018 / 9:53 am

        I went to Sedona two years ago pre-blog! I should add it in because I have pics! ❤️

    3. February 9, 2018 / 7:29 pm

      This looks like such an epic roadtrip! I love the variety of desert landscapes and colorful places that you found here. I’ve been to Palm Springs and Joshua Tree and have loved them (and will be stopping by the Seven Magic Mountains in April), and the Grand Canyon blew me away when I went, but I will have to grab this roadtrip itinerary and do the entire thing!

      • Sami Mastrario
        February 10, 2018 / 9:53 am

        It was epic! There are so many other things I want to do in the area, I may have to continually add to it when I go back one day! ✨

    4. February 9, 2018 / 9:05 pm

      This post couldn’t have come at a better time! I am literally in the books planning our US roadtrip for this year. Can’t wait to add a couple of these to my list!

      • Sami Mastrario
        February 10, 2018 / 9:54 am

        So glad that it’s going to be useful for you! Can’t wait to see your photos because everything is just so pretty!

    5. February 10, 2018 / 4:27 am

      Your photos are absolutely gorgeous! This is such a great road trip through the Southwest (one of my favorite regions of the USA)!

      • Sami Mastrario
        February 10, 2018 / 9:56 am

        Thank you so very much lovely! I work so hard on my photography because I believe that is so important for remembering but also sharing so your sweet comment is definitely appreciated! ?

    6. February 10, 2018 / 10:56 am

      This really makes me want to go back to that part of the US – all the colours in the artwork and the canyons are amazing! I went on a roadtrip through Californa once, and we added Las Vegan as the South Rim of Grand Canyon to our itinerary, but we basically drove from there straight to Palm Springs and didn’t see anything along the way 🙁

      • Sami Mastrario
        February 10, 2018 / 6:08 pm

        Sometimes you are just pressed for time and it’s hard not to be able to stop! I wanted to do a lot more than I did but it just wasn’t feasible. But that gives me an excuse to go back! ❤️

    7. mccaullme
      February 10, 2018 / 6:02 pm

      The terrain out there is so cool. I’m especially in love with tall cacti! Wow! So much fun <3

      • Sami Mastrario
        February 10, 2018 / 6:09 pm

        The terrain definitely blew my mind. I feel like we are soul sisters because the cacti are pretty much my favorite too! ✨

    8. February 10, 2018 / 6:10 pm

      Awesome photos. For the record, and your next trip, Mojave is full of “somethingness” but you won’t see it from the paved road. Hook up with a 4WD adventure and you’ll see things that are amazing. 😉

      • Sami Mastrario
        February 10, 2018 / 6:14 pm

        I think our rental would not have handled that but definitely an idea for the next trip! I didn’t know you an just go off the road like that!! Such a cool idea. I may need an expert.

    9. February 10, 2018 / 7:45 pm

      I need to go to Salvation Mountain and Seven Magic Mountains!

      • Sami Mastrario
        February 10, 2018 / 7:49 pm

        YES do it! It’s a colorful haven and definitely worth a visit! go in the early morning for best light and to miss the crowds!

    10. February 11, 2018 / 5:52 am

      Salvation mountain and antelope canyon look amazing! I hadn’t even heard of salvation mountain so I have added it to my list of places to see ?

      • Sami Mastrario
        February 11, 2018 / 8:43 am

        I only heard of Salvation Mountain in the last year! It’s one of those random places I saw on Insta and then saw it all over the place. A Kesha music video and so on ?

    11. Brittany
      February 13, 2018 / 8:01 am

      What an awesome road trip! We’ve road tripped around Arizona and the Grand Canyon but can’t wait to see it all with our kids.

      • Sami Mastrario
        February 13, 2018 / 8:58 am

        your kiddos will have a blast! So much hiking and fun!

    12. February 14, 2018 / 1:50 am

      This is such an amazing road trip. So many places that are new to me so I am thankful for showing us the beauty of southwest USA.

      • Sami Mastrario
        February 14, 2018 / 8:05 am

        Hope you get to visit some of the spots on the route one day! ✨

    13. February 14, 2018 / 1:24 pm

      OK I’m super jealous! I live in Southern California and haven’t been to any of these attractions! I’ve been to Vegas and haven’t been to 7 mountain! I’ve been to Arizona but not shoe bend or grand canyon! These are all on my list of things to do now! #fgtmember

      • Sami Mastrario
        February 14, 2018 / 1:31 pm

        but isn’t that how it goes? I know I am always going off and adventuring to other places and not nearby. I have been making it a point to visit what my state has to offer! You should go visit!!

      • Sami Mastrario
        February 20, 2018 / 2:08 pm

        Ah thanks so much! It’s definitely a different kind of world there! I am so used to grass and trees and greenery in general so it felt like a completely different country!

    14. May 11, 2018 / 6:34 am

      This is pretty much exactly the route I’m driving this summer! Thanks for all the tips. Your pictures are beautiful!

      • Sami Mastrario
        May 11, 2018 / 7:05 am

        Oh it’s going to be super hot in the summer and there are not many places to stop so be sure to have lots and lots of water! You will have a GREAT time! ❤️❤️❤️

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