The desert isn’t always given the credit it’s due when it comes to beautiful destinations. While everyone else is planning tropical vacations, they’re missing out on colossal natural rock formations, unique desert flora, and unmatched red, orange, and yellow sunsets found right in our backyard. Not to mention, the low humidity (not that you were too concerned about your hiking hairdo, anyway). Here are a few of the best hikes in the southwest for a fun desert adventure.
The Narrows, Zion National Park, Utah
The Narrows is a hike through the narrowest section of Zion Canyon. If hiking makes you think of scorching heat and the yucky feeling of constantly sweating through your clothes, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to find a hike where you can trek comfortably through a shallow river while taking in the sights.
You have two options here: take a paved path and see the Narrows from dry ground (wheelchair accessible), or get your feet wet in the Virgin River and wade through it up close and personal. You’ll be anywhere from knee- to waist-deep in water, depending on what time of year you go.
At some points, the thousand-foot-high walls of the Narrows may be close enough for you to stand and touch both sides. For more information on Zion National Park, including guided tours, safety precautions (flash floods and high currents make this area risky during particular times of year), directions and more, check out the Zion National Park Website.
Duration: 1-5 hours
Time of year to hike: Fall
Havasu Falls, Havasupai Indian Reservation, Arizona
You might not think waterfalls and the desert go together, and if so, get ready to have your mind blown.
Havasu Falls lies on an Indian Reservation, belonging to the Havasupai Tribe, meaning “people of the blue-green waters.” Seems pretty fitting for one of the most beautiful waterfall destinations in the world. Havasu Falls is known for cascading waterfalls reaching heights of 190 feet tall. Keep in mind that this hike requires steep descents and overnight stays; you’ll need more than a day to see the waterfalls.
To smoothly ensure you see it all safely, consider booking a tour guide for your trip, like the Wildland Trekking Company. They offer a number of multi-day hiking/camping guided tours throughout Havasupai. For more information on Havasu Falls, check out the Havasupai Tribe’s Tourism website.
Duration: 3+ days
Time of year to hike: Throughout the year
Mojave National Preserve, California
Think back to all those Girl Scout or Eagle Scout camping tips you compiled as a kid and set aside a couple days for Mojave National Preserve.
This 1.6 million acre large park is filled with Joshua trees, sand dunes, and plenty of great places for hiking and getting some amazing photos. There are two campgrounds to choose from, both of which access hiking trails.
Teutonia Peak Trail is a relatively easy and short hike, around 3.2 miles roundtrip with a short uphill climb, where you’ll see more Joshua Trees than you could imagine. Hole in the Wall is a campground named for the spectacular area of Mojave it is situated in, where the rocks have holes, or caves, naturally formed into them. Be sure to bring maps and your sense of adventure with you. For more information on Mojave National Park, including campgrounds and directions, check out the Mojave National Preserve Website. You can also drive through part of Mojave on 1-15 if you don’t have a lot of time.
Duration: Depends how much you want to see
Time of year to hike: Spring and fall
Also: Red Rock Canyon, Las Vegas, Nevada
Once in Mojave, you’re not far from Las Vegas where you can have a short hiking adventure through brilliantly-colored Red Rock Canyon. There are over a dozen trails of varying difficulty for you to hike where you’ll want to see the dramatic red and orange colors of the canyon for yourself. Find out more at the Red Rock Canyon Visitor Center.
Duration: 1.5 – 3 hours for most hikes
Time of year to hike: All throughout the year
Buckskin Gulch, Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness Area, Utah
Potentially the longest slot canyon in the world, Buckskin Gulch is 15 miles of narrow windy awesomeness.
A defining characteristic of a slot canyon is that it is always deeper than it is wide, providing the opportunity to test how comfortable you are in tight spaces. Utah.com says that this is more of a backpacking trip than a 1-day hike but there are shorter options available if that’s more your speed. Slot canyons are formed by millions of years of water and sediment flowing through rock, so it shouldn’t surprise you that these formations are high-risk areas for flash floods. For that reason, be smart in planning when and how you make this hike, as the hike has been featured not only on lists of the most beautiful hikes in the world, but the most risky; Backpackers.com has listed Buckskin Gulch as one of the 10 Most Dangerous Hikes in the US.
For more information on Buckskin Gulch, check it out on Utah.com.
Duration: 1+ days
Time of year to hike: Spring and fall
Always remember to keep safety in mind when planning your trip and arrange as much as you can ahead of time. Respect the land and do your part by not leaving waste behind wherever you choose to go. And last, but not least, enjoy your time with Mother Nature; get your shots for Instagram, but don’t forget to live in the moment and see the views without the obstruction of a camera phone.