10 Things to do in the Southwest as a Family
I grew up in the midwest – a place of lush greenery and 10,000 lakes – so I’ve always thought of the southwest as dry, barren, and oppressive.
(Well, it is hot, but it's also breathtaking!)
10 THINGS TO DO IN THE SOUTHWEST (on a budget)
My family of 5 drove from Minneapolis to Colorado to Utah to Arizona to New Mexico, and then back home again. We covered a whopping 3,000 miles on this trip, and our kids only did about two hours of screen time (because our reception was so bad!) They did awesome, though, and deserve a medal.
Here's a list of what we did first. Bookmark this post so you can pick and choose your favorites for later, or do them all at once like we did!
1. TROLL HIKE (COLORADO)
This hike in Breckenridge, CO is super easy for littles and there's no climactic wait to see the big wooden troll: He's featured right at the base of the trail. The rest of the hike was pretty quintessential Colorado too – mountains, flowers, sunshine...it was almost like John Denver were serenading us! (This hike is FREE.)
2. SOUTH CANYON HOT SPRINGS (COLORADO)
We stopped at this place on our way to UT, and it was definitely worth the pit stop but I wouldn't make a separate trip for it. It's known as the "hippy hot springs" by the locals and is off the beaten path for sure. If that's not the vibe you're looking for, then check out Glenwood Hot Springs which is a short drive away. (South Canyon Hot Springs is FREE.)
3. DEAD HORSE STATE PARK (UTAH)
This state park is the most incredible campground we've stayed at, with the most incredible amenities and views! We camped here for two nights and this park is centrally located. (Arches National Park is a 15 min drive, Canyonlands National Park is a 10 min drive, and it's also about 20 minutes from Moab.)
Within walking distance from our campsite we saw breathtaking views of canyons and rock formations, like this one!👇
The bathrooms are also spotless, huge, and built for one person (hello privacy!) There's also a shelter at each site that not only shields you from the sun but is also perfectly positioned to allow maximum air/wind flow. (Campground is $30-35/night for electricity, $20/night without.)
It does get HOT in Moab, of course, so if you have afternoon nappers, you'll want to skip sleeping in the tent and just drive around in your air-conditioned car. (Or skip the tent all together and rent an RV.)
4. ARCHES NATIONAL PARK (UTAH)
Hiking to the Delicate Arch was one of the highlights of our family's trip. The entire hike is 3 miles roundtrip, and the trek is a slow incline but our 5 year old did just fine (and my hubby only had to carry her for a little bit.)
We started climbing after dinner and finished just after sunset, so if you hike this trail then too, plan accordingly: bring a flashlight, snacks, and your adventurous spirit! Sunset is a magical time, though, and you can also beat the heat! Watch my video of our Delicate Arch hike on Instagram!
Also, if you enter the park after 5pm, it's FREE! (Make sure to check out the Every Kid Outdoors pass for your 4th grader, too. This gets your whole family into ANY national park for FREE!
5. BLUFF FORT VISITOR CENTER (UTAH)
We stumbled upon this gem on our way from Moab to the Grand Canyon, and it's definitely worth a visit. The hands-on education and other fun activities for your kids to do are well worth the pit stop! Plus it's FREE! And the volunteers will give your kids a sack of free rocks. You can also learn a lot about the early Mormons who settled in that region.
6. SOUTH KAIBAB HIKE (GRAND CANYON, AZ)
My husband and I hiked down to Cedar Ridge point – a 3 mile roundtrip hike – and it was INCREDIBLE!!!!!!! (This is on the South Rim of the Canyon.) I wouldn't hike this far with kids, but we did go to Ooh Ahh point, which was 1.8 miles round trip, and our kids did incredible!
Make sure to bring sunscreen, a camelback, snacks, and your sense of humor. And don't start this trip in the middle of the day. Right after dinner (or a big snack) is best! Your kids will see mules, mountain goats, and lots of rock squirrels.
7. SUNSET AT MATHER POINT (GRAND CANYON, AZ)
This needs no introduction, or conclusion. Just do it. #nofilter needed
I took this pic at Mather Point, which is a really popular place but still worth going. We even came back at night to catch the sky full of stars and saw the Milky Way, clear as can be!
We also camped at Mather Campground on the South Rim (about $15/night) and the site had lots of trees and shade so dress in layers. Mather Point is just a short drive away from this campsite, or you can take advantage of the Grand Canyon's slick bus system that will take you anywhere you want to go within the park!
EXPERT TRAVEL TIP: Bring scooters for your kids so they can scoot around the campground.
8. JUNIOR RANGER PROGRAM (GRAND CANYON, AZ)
This program is offered in almost every national park, and our kids thought it was the coolest thing ever! Each child gets a booklet they can fill out with questions appropriate for their age (ages 5-13). After they've completed the activities, they find a park ranger and show him/her their booklet and then get "sworn in" and receive a junior ranger badge. It's a super cool experience your kids won't want to miss! (And it's FREE!)
(Look at those smiles and the badges pinned on their shirts.)
9. SANTA FE PLAZA (NEW MEXICO)
If you love art, culture, food, history, and good people watching, you'll love Santa Fe. We meandered through the streets for hours and only stopped our adventuring because we had to start our drive home. 😢 You could easily spend several days in Santa Fe, though, so we will definitely be going back! (Obviously walking and sightseeing are FREE.)
10. FIRST CHURCH IN AMERICA & ORIGINAL ROUTE 66 (SANTA FE)
When you're in Santa Fe, don't miss seeing the first church ever built in the US, as well as the historic Route 66. (Also FREE.)
That's all I got (for now anyway). Let me know what YOUR favorite places are in the Southwest and maybe I'll go there next time. Happy traveling!