There’s a reason the American Southwest is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country. Between the awe-inspiring natural landscapes and the countless historical landmarks, there’s something for everyone to see and explore.
This article will cover why the American Southwest is a popular tourist destination and describe the most famous historical landmarks in the region, including the many amazing national parks and incredible landscapes.
Learning about these landmarks could have implications for travelers; for example, understanding the history of a place can help visitors better appreciate the culture and scenery.
Additionally, knowing about these landmarks can help travelers plan their trips more efficiently by giving them a better sense of what places they might want to visit next.
Historical landmarks are often tied to the founding or establishment of a place. In the American Southwest, many of the most famous historical landmarks are related to the region’s Native American heritage.
For instance, Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado is home to some of the best-preserved Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings in the world. Another popular historical landmark in the Southwest is Monument Valley, which is revered by many as one of the most iconic landscapes in the United States.
Planning an American southwest road trip? Looking for an established monument or a hidden gem? Read on for more info!
Famous Historical Landmarks in the Southwest
Here are the most fascinating historical landmarks in the Southwest region of the United States.
1. Great Sand Dunes National Park
Great Sand Dunes National Park is one of the most unique places in North America. The park is home to the tallest sand dunes on the continent, and it is a popular tourist destination for people from all over the world. Great Sand Dunes is also an important scientific research site, as it is home to a variety of wildlife, including bighorn sheep, elk, and pronghorn.
If you are planning on visiting Great Sand Dunes National Park, there are a few things you should know. First, the park is open all year round, but the best time to visit is between June and August. Second, the park offers a variety of activities, including hiking, camping, and horseback riding.
Third, Great Sand Dunes is a large park, so be sure to wear comfortable shoes and plan your visit accordingly. Fourth And finally, Great Sand Dunes National Park is a beautiful place that is definitely worth a visit.
See Related: The Ultimate Colorado Springs Itinerary
2. The Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad
The Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad is an interesting narrow-gauge heritage train, which ran from the Durango and Silverton metropolis. The route was established in 1882 as part of the Denver Rio Grande Railroad as a transportation route to the local mines where silver and gold ores were extracted.
Since 1981, its operations have been primarily as a heritage excursion railway and are designated National Historic Landmarks.
The track is a 3 ft narrow gauge and runs between Durango, Colorado, and Silverton, Colorado. The trip is 45 miles one-way and takes about 4 hours to complete. The train departs daily from both Durango and Silverton.
The cost of a ticket is $99 for adults and $79 for children (ages 2-12). The trip includes a narrated historic tour of the area as well as breathtaking views of the San Juan Mountains.
See Related: New Mexico vs Colorado: Which Is Better?
3. Monument Valley
Monument Valley is an absolutely stunning place and its rich history only adds to its appeal. The valley is located in the northeastern corner of Arizona and is considered to be home to some of the most majestic and iconic landscapes in the United States.
The valley is known for its towering sandstone buttes and the history of the area is closely tied to the Navajo people who have called it home for centuries.
Monument Valley is a popular tourist destination and is also featured in many films and TV shows. If you’re ever in the area, definitely make a point to visit the valley! You won’t regret it.
4. Antelope Canyon
Antelope Canyon is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the American Southwest. The canyon is located on Navajo tribal land near Page, Arizona, and features stunning red rock formations.
It’s split by Upper Antelope Canyon and Lower Antelope Canyon. It’s managed by the Navajo Tribe, which has guidelines for visiting such as mandatory tour guides to visit the canyon, so be prepared and ensure you plan in advance for your visit.
Antelope Canyon is also home to a variety of wildlife, including bighorn sheep, eagles, and antelope.
Antelope Canyon is a must-see for any traveler to the area. The canyon is accessible via a short hike from the parking lot, and there are several tour companies that offer guided hikes through the canyon. Be sure to bring your camera, as Antelope Canyon is one of the most photogenic places on earth!
See Related: Upper vs Lower Antelope Canyon: What is Better?
5. Chaco Culture National Historical Park
Chaco Culture National Historical Park is a United States National Historical Park located in northwestern New Mexico.
The park is home to the ruins of the ancient Puebloan civilization, which was one of the most advanced cultures in North America prior to the arrival of the Europeans. Chaco Culture National Historical Park is a popular tourist destination and is also an important archaeological site.
The park offers a variety of activities for visitors, including hiking, camping, and bird watching. There are also several ranger-led programs that provide insight into the history and culture of the Chaco people.
Whether you are looking to learn more about the Chaco people or simply enjoy the beauty of the desert landscape, Chaco Culture National Historical Park is an ideal destination.
6. Mesa Verde National Park
One of the most spectacular national parks in the country, Mesa Verde National Park is located in southwestern Colorado and is home to the ruins of the ancient Puebloan civilization. Mesa Verde is a popular tourist destination and is also an important archaeological and historical site.
The park is best known for its cliff dwellings, which were built by the Native Puebloans centuries ago. These dwellings were built into the cliffs to protect the inhabitants from enemies and the elements.
Today, Mesa Verde is an excellent place to learn about the history and culture of the Puebloan people. The park offers a variety of tours and activities that allow visitors to explore the Mesa Verde area.
There are also many hiking trails that wind through the park, providing stunning views of the surrounding landscape. Whether you’re interested in history or just looking for a beautiful place to visit, Mesa Verde National Park is definitely worth a trip.
See Related: Best National Parks in the USA to Visit
7. Wupatki National Monument
Wupatki National Monument is a must-see for anyone traveling through northern Arizona. The monument is home to an incredible array of ancient Native American dwellings, many of which are still well preserved. The largest and most impressive of these is the Great House, a multi-story structure that was likely used for ceremonial and public functions.
Wupatki is also home to a number of other well-preserved buildings, including dwellings, storage rooms, and ceremonial chambers.
Today, the monument is run by the National Park Service, which offers a variety of tours and educational programs for visitors. The site also contains a ball court, which was used for a variety of games by the ancient Puebloans.
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8. Canyon de Chelly National Monument
Canyon de Chelly National Monument is located in northeastern Arizona and is home to more ruins of the ancient Puebloan civilization. Canyon de Chelly is a popular tourist destination and is also an important archaeological and historical site.
The canyon is also home to a variety of wildlife, including bighorn sheep, eagles, and pronghorn.
The monument is open all year, and there are several ranger-led excursions available. Spring or fall are the ideal times to visit Canyon de Chelly when the weather is cooler. Canyon de Chelly is a breathtaking and intriguing location, and it’s well worth a stop if you’re in the area.
9. Arches National Park
Arches National Park is located in southeastern Utah and is home to the largest concentration of natural sandstone arches in the world, making it a must-stop on any epic Southwest US road trip.
Arches National Park offers endless opportunities for exploration and discovery. There are more than 1,000 natural sandstone arches in the park, as well as countless other fascinating rock formations.
Hiking is the best way to see all that Arches has to offer. There are many different trails to choose from, ranging from easy walks to challenging hikes. Hike Delicate Arch early morning to avoid crowds.
PRO TIP: Arrive early in the park during the busy season (May to September) to avoid standing in long car lines at entry!
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10. Petroglyph National Monument
Petroglyph National Monument is truly a one-of-a-kind destination. Located in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the monument stretches for 17 miles along a volcanic basalt escarpment. This impressive area is home to over 24,000 individual Petroglyphs, carved into the rock by Native Americans centuries ago.
Today, the Petroglyph Monument is jointly administered by the National Park Service and the City of Albuquerque. It’s a great place to explore and learn about the history and culture of the area.
Many of the designs on these totem poles are animals, people, brands, and crosses. These designs have a lot of meaning for the people who carved them. They may have been the only ones who understood their significance. These designs are a cultural treasure for the people who carved them, their descendants, and for all Americans.
11. Hovenweep National Monument
Hovenweep National Monument is located in southeastern Utah and southwestern Colorado and consists of six prehistoric ruins: Hovenweep Castle, Holly Group, Cutthroat Castle, Hackberry Mesa Group, Square Tower Group, and Good Springs Camp.
The monument is a popular tourist destination and is also an important archaeological and historical site.
The monument was established in 1923 to protect the ruins of the Ancestral Puebloan people who inhabited the region from about 1200 to 1300 CE. Hovenweep was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987 and is managed by the National Park Service.
The monument offers ranger-led tours, hiking trails, camping, and picnicking. Hovenweep is an excellent place to learn about the history and culture of the Ancestral Puebloan people and to experience the beauty of the American Southwest.
The monument is intended as a protection for these lands and sites and for visitors to see and appreciate for generations to come.
The monument is managed in a manner that allows recreational use. The Hovenweep National Monument is open year-round and there are ranger-led tours available.
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12. Grand Canyon National Park
Grand Canyon National Park is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the American Southwest. You might have heard of it.
The Grand Canyon is a huge canyon carved out over millions of years by the Colorado River. The Grand Canyon is one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World, and it is truly an amazing sight. No picture can ever do it justice.
There are many different ways to explore Grand Canyon National Park. Adventure seekers can ride in helicopters above the canyon or on donkeys along the canyon’s paved trails.
If you want a more relaxed adventure, you can hike along the Grand Canyon’s edge to get several viewpoints and then travel to the scenic views for stunning images. No matter how you choose to explore it, the Grand Canyon is an unforgettable experience.
13. Montezuma Castle National Monument
Montezuma Castle National Monument is a United States National Park Service site in Camp Verde, Arizona, that protects the remains of three well-preserved Sinagua village structures inhabited between the years 1100 and 1425.
The castle was constructed over more than three centuries and contains roughly 20 rooms. When European-Americans first saw the ruins in the 1860s, they mistook them for those of the famous Aztec emperor Montezuma, thinking he had been associated with their construction.
The site Montezuma Castle is actually a cliff dwelling that was built by the prehistoric peoples known as the Sinagua. The apartment-style Montezuma Castle consists of five stories and includes many rooms, some of which were probably storage or living quarters. It is believed that around 50 people could have lived within the Montezuma Castle complex at one time.
Although no one knows for sure why the Sinagua people abandoned Montezuma Castle around 1425, it is thought that a combination of drought and warfare forced them to leave.
Today, Montezuma Castle National Monument is a popular tourist destination, providing visitors with a glimpse into the lives of the prehistoric people who once called this place home.
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14. Cholla Cactus Garden (Joshua Tree National Park)
The Cholla Cactus Garden is a must-see when visiting Joshua Tree National Park! This easy nature hike takes you through a field of awe-inspiring cacti.
Be sure to admire these beautiful plants from a distance though, as they are equipped with sharp needles that can give you a nasty surprise! In addition to the Cholla Cactus Garden, there are plenty of other great hiking trails worth exploring in Joshua Tree National Park.
The location is ideal for nature lovers and rock climbers. The Buttermilk Falls trailhead, located in the northeast area of Joshua Tree National Park, offers visitors a unique perspective on the park’s famous formations that are seen from every angle. A variety of options await at Split Rock, Pinto Valley, Devil’s Slide Lookout, and many other locations.
The best time to visit Joshua Tree National Park is during the cooler months from October to May.
The temperatures are more moderate and there is less chance of rain. However, the park is open year-round and each season has its own unique beauty.
15. The New Mexico Museum of Space History
The New Mexico Museum of Space History is a great place to learn about space travel history and the science behind it. The museum hosts numerous exhibits on planetary and space travel history and is also the last resting place for Ham, the giant monkey that became the first ape to enter the space program.
Rest in peace, space ape.
The museum complex also includes a planetarium, which is a great place to learn about the stars and planets. The International Space Hall of Fame honors world-renowned astronauts, scientists, and other scientists who are involved in science and technology.
The New Mexico Museum of Space History is a great place to visit if you’re interested in learning about space travel history and the science behind it.
If however, you were looking for a different kind of space history, a 2-hour drive to Roswell will land you at the International UFO Museum!
See Related: Visiting The Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum, Minneapolis
16. Horseshoe Bend
Horseshoe Bend is a popular tourist attraction, mainly due to the typically bright blue sky and partly thanks to social media booms. The natural 180° river curves are simply stunning.
To capture the best images of this amazing place, you should arrive early in the morning for sunrise or during sunset. Horseshoe Bend is one of the most photographed locations in the American Southwest and is especially popular on Instagram.
The best time to photograph Horseshoe Bend is early morning or evening when the sun is low in the sky and casts a warm glow on the red rock canyon walls. Planning your visit around sunrise or sunset may help you avoid the crowds (depending on the time of year).
Horseshoe Bend is located just outside of Page, Arizona, and can be reached by a short hike from a nearby parking lot. Admission to Horseshoe Bend is free, making it an affordable travel destination for everyone.
17. Petrified Forest National Park
Petrified Forest National Park is one of Arizona’s beautiful national parks that is known for the spectacular preserved petrified wood artifacts. The park covers over 280 square miles and includes the Navajo and Apache counties. If you are looking for a place to stay your best best is the nearby town of Holbrook. This forest is known as one of America’s most beautiful parks and has over 60,000 annual visits for hiking activities.
The Rainbow Forest and the Newspaper Rock State Historic Monument are among Arizona’s most-photographed natural landmarks accessible through charming hiking routes throughout the park.
Petrified wood is scattered throughout the park but concentrated in areas like Newspaper Rock where logs up to 9 feet wide have been preserved in their entirety. Petrified Forest is also home to two rare species of petroglyphs: red-on-buff panels and semi-circles.
If you’re looking to explore one of Arizona’s most unique landscapes, Petrified Forest National Park should be at the top of your list!
See Related: Best Things to do in Scottsdale, Arizona
18. Ashcroft Townsite
Ashcroft is an old mining town near Aspen, Colorado that has been preserved as a historical site.
It was originally established in 1881 by two prospectors who discovered silver in the area. The town quickly grew to include six hotels and over 3,000 residents, but it went bust just a few years later when the silver ran out.
Today, Ashcroft Town is a popular tourist destination for those interested in the history of the Wild West. The Ashcroft Townsite includes several restored buildings, including the Ashcroft Hotel and the Masonic Lodge, as well as a museum with exhibits on the town’s history.
Visitors can also take a self-guided tour of the town to see where the old mines were located and learn more about its fascinating past.
19. The National Museum of Nuclear Science and History
The National Museum of Nuclear Science and History is America’s most extensive nuclear science museum and one of the only museums in the world that cover the complete history of the nuclear age.
The museum is located in Albuquerque’s downtown area and features 16 permanent exhibits that are connected to the historical technology of the nuclear age, as well as temporary rotating exhibits throughout the year.
The museum also contains a library and research center that are open to the public. The National Museum of Nuclear Science and History is an excellent place to learn about the history of nuclear science and technology, as well as to see some of the unique artifacts from the atomic age.
The museum is a must-see for anyone interested in learning about America’s nuclear history.
See Related: The Heart of Northern New Mexico – Red River
20. Zion National Park
Nestled in the heart of southwestern Utah’s red rock country, Zion National Park is a popular destination for hikers, photographers, and nature lovers alike. The park features towering sandstone cliffs, lush forests, and meandering rivers, as well as a wide variety of plant and animal life.
Zion National Park is one of the most popular national parks in the United States, with over 4 million visitors each year. The park is open all year round, but the best time to visit is between April and October when the weather is milder.
There are plenty of things to do in Zion National Park, from hiking and camping to canyoneering and rock climbing. There are also a number of ranger-led programs available, such as guided hikes and Junior Ranger activities.
Whether you’re looking for a place to hike, climb, or simply take in the stunning scenery, Zion National Park is a great destination for any adventure seeker.
21. Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon National Park is one of Utah’s most popular tourist destinations, and for good reason. The park is home to a number of unique geological features, including Bryce Canyon, which is a series of giant natural amphitheaters carved out of the red rock.
The park also features a variety of other attractions, such as the world-famous Hoodoos, which are columns of rocks formed by erosion.
Bryce Canyon National Park is a great place to hike, camp, and stargaze, and there are a number of ranger-led programs available to help you make the most of your visit.
With its incredible views and wealth of things to do, Bryce Canyon National Park is a must-see for any traveler.
See Related: Where to Stay in Bryce Canyon: Best Lodging & Campsites
22. Meteor Crater Natural Landmark
Approximately 37 miles (60 kilometers) east of Flagstaff, and 18 miles (29 kilometers) west of Winslow in northern Arizona’s desert, is Meteor Crater or Barringer Crater, a meteorite impact crater.
Meteor Crater is located at an elevation of 5,640 ft (1,719 m) above sea level. The crater is about 3,900 ft (1,200 m) in diameter and is 560 ft (170 m) deep. It has a rim that is 148 ft (45 m) high and it is surrounded by a flat plain.
The crater was created about 50,000 years ago when an object, probably a meteorite, hit the earth at a speed of about 26,000 miles (42,000 kilometers) per hour. The impact caused the rock to be pulverized and ejected from the crater.
Today, the crater is a popular tourist destination and is a National Natural Landmark.
23. The Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument
Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument was granted the status in order to protect Mogollon cliff dwellings in the Gila Wilderness on the headwaters of the Gila River in southwestern New Mexico.
The monument covers 533 acres (2.17 km2) and includes seven cliff dwellings. The site was inhabited by a small group of Mogollon people from the 12th and 13th Centuries. The largest dwelling has 42 rooms.
The monument was established in 1907 by President Theodore Roosevelt and is managed by the National Park Service. The Gila Cliff Dwellings are accessible via a 1.25-mile (2 km) hike from the Gila Visitor Center.
See Related: Best Things to do in Moab, Utah
24. The Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad
The Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad is a historic, 64-mile (103-kilometer) long narrow gauge heritage railroad that operates between Antonito, Colorado, and Chama, New Mexico.
The railroad was originally built in 1880 to transport silver and gold ore from the San Juan Mountains and it operated until 1968 when it was abandoned.
In 1970, the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad was established as a non-profit organization to preserve the railroad.
Today, the railroad is a popular tourist attraction and offers rides on vintage steam and diesel locomotives. The Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
25. Canyonlands National Park
Canyonlands National Park is a great place to view the night sky. The park has an informal reputation for its numerous opportunities for viewing the sky and stars.
The most common portion of the site, nicknamed “Island on the sky”, offers amazing views of the sunrise on Mesa Arch. There are also several viewpoints in the Dark Sky Park where you can soak up the sunshine. All angles offer amazing views. Make sure to bring water and sunscreen as the sun is almost very powerful during the day.
Canyonlands is also a great place to see the Milky Way at night. The best time to see it is during a summer night.
See Related: Mesa Arch: Beauty of the World beyond Compare
Roswell has long been a major destination for UFO enthusiasts and travelers interested in the paranormal.
In 1947, an alleged mysterious swarm of UFOs crashed just outside Roswell, New Mexico, and the ensuing investigation sparked a host of conspiracy theories that have captivated the public for decades.
Today, Roswell is home to a number of UFO-related tourist attractions, including the Roswell UFO Museum, which chronicles the history of the crash and its place in popular culture.
Whether you’re a believer or a skeptic, a visit to Roswell is sure to be an out-of-this-world experience!
27. Cathedral Rock (Sedona, Arizona)
Cathedral Rock is a popular hiking trail and landmark in Sedona, Arizona. This town is famous for its picturesque sunrises and stunning views of the red rocks beneath. The Cathedral Rock hike is a great way to experience these elements firsthand.
The trailhead is located just off of Highway 179, and the hike itself is relatively short, only about a mile round trip. However, the trail is steep and rocky in places, so be sure to wear proper footwear and bring plenty of water.
When you reach the summit, you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views of Cathedral Rock and the surrounding area. So whether you’re looking for a challenging hike or just a chance to take in the beauty of Sedona, Cathedral Rock is definitely worth a visit.
See Related: Best Sedona Tours: Top Excursions for Exploring
28. Four Corners National Monument
Four Corners National Monument is one of the most unique places in the United States. Four states meet at this point – Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico – making it the only place in the country where four states intersect.
The monument is located on beautiful native land and is a great place to experience the culture and natural beauty of the region. There are many tourist attractions nearby, including Canyon de Chelly National Park and Mesa Verdes National Park.
If you’re looking for an unforgettable travel experience, Four Corners National Monument should definitely be on your list!
29. Badwater Basin (Death Valley National Park)
Badwater Basin is an endorheic basin in Death Valley National Park, renowned as the location of Badwater Creek, the point of the lowest elevation in North America, at 282 feet (86 m) below sea level. At the bottom of Badwater Basin is a saline lake that is fed by a spring.
When it rains, the Badwater Basin fills with a shallow pool of brine water. The heat here is intense, so much so that Badwater Creek holds the record for the highest temperature ever recorded on Earth; a scorching 134 °F (56.7 °C) documented on July 10, 1913.
Badwater is often covered in a layer of haze caused by evaporating water. Please be cautious if you visit at night during the summer months – it’s desperately hot here! To avoid the heat, come at sunrise or after sunset to take an enjoyable walk through dried sand and salt lakes.
The Badwater Basin displays a remarkable array of colors due to differences in minerals and organisms present in the water and mud. It is one of the most visually stunning places on Earth.
See Related: Best Hiking Trails in America
30. Capitol Reef National Park
Capitol Reef National Park is one of Utah’s least accessible national parks. It is hidden among the secret monolithic back roads towers and epic sunsets in the wilderness. But, Capitol Reef National Park is definitely worth the visit.
With its colorful landscapes, hiking trails, and scenic drives, Capitol Reef National Park is a place where you can explore the natural wonders of Utah.
PRO TIP: When you plan to camp in Utah, make sure to find a camping site without any overhead cover to enjoy the most amazing nights under the stars!
The region of the Southwest USA is a popular tourist destination for a reason: it is home to some of the most beautiful and fascinating landscapes in the country. From the awe-inspiring natural wonders of the Grand Canyon to the rich history of places like Mesa Verde National Park, there is something for everyone to see and explore in this region of the United States.
If you’re planning a trip to the American Southwest, be sure to add some of these famous historical landmarks to your itinerary. You won’t regret it!
What is the most popular landmark in the Southwest?
The most popular landmark in the Southwest is the Grand Canyon. It’s one of the seven natural wonders of the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Grand Canyon is over 277 miles long, 18 miles wide, and 1 mile deep. More than 5 million people visit it each year.
What are 5 landmarks in the Southwest region?
The Southwest is a region of the United States that includes California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico. It is known for its deserts, canyons, and plateaus. Some of the most famous landmarks in the Southwest include the Grand Canyon, Yosemite National Park, Zion National Park, and Monument Valley.
What are some tourist attractions in the Southwest?
The Southwest is home to many popular tourist attractions, including the Grand Canyon, Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, and Monument Valley. Other popular destinations include Las Vegas, Albuquerque, Phoenix, and Santa Fe.
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