The 12 best day trips in the US Southwest
Rugged. Beautiful. And fun. The Southwest is the ultimate playground, luring adventurers with red-rock canyons, Wild West legends and the kicky delights of green chile stew. Day trips in this region conjure up visions of vast desert landscapes, rodeos, and lake adventures.
Editor's note: Please check the latest travel restrictions before planning any trip and always follow government advice.
Best day trips from Austin
With a wealth of events, wineries and in-town attractions, it’s often hard to decide how to best spend a day in Fredericksburg. It was settled by some of Texas’ first German immigrant families, and the European frontier ethos shines through in the architecture and history of the town itself. Further afield, vineyard tours are a hit with groups on weekend trips from Austin. 1hr 30min by car.
There’s no better respite from the Central Texas summer than jumping in the water, and few places could beat the Guadalupe River; specifically, drifting down its course on an inner tube. Head to Guadalupe River State Park for a family friendly float (plus campsites and hiking), or look for local private operators that offer a more party-focused experience on the river. 1hr 30min by car.
Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, Fredericksburg
The 425ft high pink granite dome of Enchanted Rock towers over the surrounding Central Texas hills. The popular Summit Hike tracks past vernal pools and rock fissures to panoramic views from the top. Queues form at the State Park gate as early as 8am on busy weekends, but campers with confirmed reservations cruise straight on through and into the park. 1hr 40min by car.
Best day trips from DallasThe daily Texas longhorn cattledrive through the Stockyard streets ©typhoonski/Getty Images
Famous as being "Where the West Begins," Fort Worth still has the cowboy feel. It first rose to prominence during the great open-range cattle drives of the late 19th century. These days, the legendary Stockyards are the prime visitor destination, hosting twice-daily mini-cattle drives and rodeos every weekend. Downtown is bursting with restaurants and bars, while the Cultural District boasts three amazing art museums. 40min by car.
In this college town, Magnolia Market at the Silos draws more visitors than the Alamo. Once you’ve shopped, played and eaten at ‘Fixer-Upper’ duo Chip and Joanna Gaines’ biggest renovation project, stroll Baylor’s 1000-acre campus or stand-up paddle straight through town on the Brazos River. 1hr 30min by car.
Caddo Lake State Park
Caddo Lake State Park is a good place to start your lake adventure. Take an interpretive hike through the cypress forest on the lake’s western edge. Or, in summer, rent a canoe. The park has some great little cabins built by the Civilian Conservation Corps and the riverside tent sites are pretty sweet. 2hr 30min by car.
Best day trips from Phoenix
Saguaro National Park
Saguaros are icons of the American Southwest, and an entire cactus army of these majestic, ribbed sentinels is protected in this desert playground. Saguaro National Park is divided into east and west units, separated by 30 miles and Tucson itself. Both sections – the Rincon Mountain District in the east and Tucson Mountain District in the west – are filled with trails and desert flora; if you only visit one, make it the spectacular western half. 1hr 40min by car.
Nestled amid striking red sandstone formations, Sedona's truly spectacular landscape has long attracted spiritual seekers, artists and healers. Outdoorsy adventurers have begun to see the light as well: there are some inimitable thrills to be had hiking, mountain biking and climbing amid these desert spires. Red Rock State Park has 5 miles of well-marked, interconnecting trails in gorgeous red-rock country. 2hr by car.
The laid-back charms of Flagstaff, the home of Northern Arizona University, are many; from a pedestrian-friendly historic downtown, bedecked with vintage neon, to hiking and skiing in the country’s largest ponderosa pine forest. 2hr 30min by car.
Best day trips from Las VegasDesert landscape at sunset at the Red Rock Canyon National Recreation Area ©Dean Pennalad/500px
Red Rock Canyon
Red Rock's dramatic vistas are revered by Las Vegas locals and adored by visitors from around the world. Formed by extreme tectonic forces, it's thought the canyon, whose 3000ft red rock escarpment rises sharply from the valley floor, was formed around 65 million years ago. A 13-mile, one-way scenic loop drive offers mesmerizing vistas of the canyon's most striking features. Hiking trails and rock-climbing routes radiate from roadside parking areas. 30min by car.
Valley of Fire State Park
A masterpiece of Southwest desert scenery, the Valley of Fire State Park contains 40,000 acres of red Aztec sandstone, petrified trees and ancient Native American petroglyphs (at Atlatl Rock). Dedicated in 1935, this was Nevada's first designated state park. Its psychedelic landscape has been carved by wind and water over thousands of years. 50min by car.
Lost City Museum
Wander away from the big city to unearth some of the best art, culture and history on the continent in the most unexpected places. At the Lost City Museum, learn about the lives of the Ancestral Puebloans through reconstructed homes and the artifacts that were saved as this desert land developed. 1hr by car.
10 low-key destinations to consider for Labor Day
Our cruel summer is coming to a close and the upcoming holiday weekend is one of the last chances for people to get out of the house and enjoy the long days of sunshine. Vacation rental manager Vacasa has released its list of top 10 destinations for Labor Day this weekend. ©Marc Muench/Getty Images1. Sun Valley, Idaho Small-town Sun Valley sits at the edge of the Sawtooth and Challis National Forests, and it gets a whopping 15 hours of sunshine per day during the summer months. Hike all the way up Bald Mountain west of town, then order some takeout from one of Sun Valley’s coveted restaurants. Browse rentals 2. Steamboat Springs, Colorado When you reach historic Steamboat Springs, you may feel like you’ve gone back in time. Reminiscent of the Old West, Steamboat is a naturally stunning escape tucked in the Rocky Mountains. Cool off by floating the Yampa River, or take a stroll through town and expect to be greeted (at a distance) by all the friendly locals. Browse rentals 3. Greenville, Maine Greenville rests on the 40-mile-long Moosehead Lake—the largest of its kind in the state. As the name of the lake would suggest, it’s home to many moose, so keep your eyes peeled for these majestic creatures as you hike through the woods or take a private flight. Browse rentals. 4. Eagle River, Wisconsin Along a large freshwater lake chain, you’ll find the laid-back northwoods town of Eagle River. Bike through densely wooded forests, or take a more leisurely method of travel—a guided horseback ride. Browse rentals. ©Keneva Photography/Shutterstock 5. Sevierville, Tennessee Tucked away in the Great Smoky Mountains, Sevierville has hundreds of forest trails and several jaw-dropping waterfalls. Boat along Douglas Lake, take a tour through underground caverns, or just breathe in the crisp air from the back deck of your cabin rental. Browse rentals. 6. Sugar Mountain, North Carolina Concealed in North Carolina’s range of Blue Ridge peaks, Sugar Mountain is a treasure of a village. If heights don’t make you queasy, visit the nation’s highest suspension footbridge, the Mile-High Swinging Bridge, or take a chairlift from the base of the mountain to 1,200 feet up. Browse rentals. 7. Ludlow, Vermont Tourists flock to Ludlow to enjoy snow sports during the winter, but the summer months are decidedly less crowded. Don’t be fooled, though: the tiny town is an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise year round. Breathe in the fresh mountain air, and hike to the swimming holes at Buttermilk Falls. Browse rentals. 8. Angel Fire, New Mexico Often called New Mexico’s best-kept secret, Angel Fire is a small village rife with adventure in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Visit the largest bike park in the Rocky Mountains, charting 60 miles of terrain, or hike to New Mexico’s highest point, Wheeler Peak. Browse rentals. ©SeanPavonePhoto/Getty Images 9. Helen, Georgia Venture to Helen in northeast Georgia and you’ll feel like you just touched down in Europe. A Bavarian village set in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Helen has a storied past and unequivocal charm dating back to the 1800s. While you’re there, don’t miss 300-foot Dukes Creek Falls. Browse rentals. 10. Tannersville, Pennsylvania Nestled in the Pocono Mountains, Tannersville is the perfect destination for big families and honeymooners alike. Take a dip in a unique heart-shaped tub, or zipline through the treetops if adrenaline-pumping activities are more your speed. Browse rentals.
Budget Travel's favorite Fourteeners
The United States claims at least 93 fourteeners and they are all located in only four states. Colorado is home to the most fourteeners with a total of 56, next comes Alaska at 20, California with 14, and 3 from Washington. Mountain trails above 14,000 feet are given a difficulty rating based on the Yosemite Decimal System (YDS). Ranging from one to five, class one mountains are the easiest and typically have good trails while class fives require technical climbing involving ropes and belaying. Be sure to research individual trails before you start so that you know what to prepare for. Traveling specifically to access fourteeners is common and many people have goals surrounding fourteeners. Here are some highlights of the US’s most mighty mountains. Since there are 93 fourteeners in the United States, choosing one to suit your needs and desires is very possible. Here is our list of our favorite Fourteeners: Most Scenic The scenic Coloradan mountains called Maroon Bells are the most photographed mountains in the state, and in a state with the most fourteeners– that’s a lot of photographs. The Maroon Bells consist of Maroon Peak (14,163 ft.) and North Maroon Peak (14,019). Many people opt for a loop that includes both peaks, takes between 3 and 4 days, and covers 26.6 miles. Be advised though, those who choose to embark on this trail must have a permit for the loop. Grays and Torreys peaks. ©Image by Dr. Alan Lipkin/Shutterstock Best for beginners Although in the tenth highest summit in the Rocky Mountains, Gray’s Peak is one of the easiest climbs as far as fourteeners go. Many experts believe Gray’s peak to be one of the best fourteeners for beginners. This is often attributed to its relatively short length, seven miles round trip. Furthermore, hikers do not gain much elevation during the course of the trek, only 2,769 ft. Colorado's most famous As the second most visited mountain in the world, Pike’s Peak has made millions marvel. It is accessible by cog railway, driving, and of course hiking. At the top, there is a gift shop famous for its donuts, refreshing after the 13.5 mile ascent. There are many different points of access, but the most convenient is located only 12 miles west of downtown Colorado Springs, making trail head accessible by rideshare. Be warned however, the ride to the base may be easy, but the climb can be quite tough. Even with an elevation gain of 7,400 ft., the hike is still rated at a class two YDS. Just as there are several trailheads from which to begin, there are also several trails by which to ascend. One of the most difficult, and well known methods is through using the Incline. The Incline is a mile of railroad tie stairs that go straight up Pikes Peak. They cut out 3 miles of the 13.5 mile trek. Highest At 20,308 feet, Alaska’s Denali is the highest mountain not only in the United States, but also in the entirety of North America. After Mount Everest and Aconcagua, Denali is the third most isolated mountain in the world. Named Mount McKinley from 1896-2015, this mountain was restored to its Koyukon Alaskan Native name by former president Barack Obama. It is not for the faint heart, as climbing this fourteener averages between 17 and 21 days and requires mental, physical, and logistical preparation. It should only be attempted by expert mountaineers. ©Gleb Tarro/Getty Images Washington favorite Mount Rainier is a Washington favorite for good reason. As an active volcano, the mountain has a wild amount of flora and fauna. Additionally, it is the origin of five major rivers which provide diversity to the landscape. But the mountain’s real claim to fame is the fact that it is the most glaciated peak in the contiguous United States, meaning there is ice on it year round. The mountain has an elevation gain of 13,219. With over 260 miles of hiking trails, the YDS class varies. It is also a National Park and can be accessed by driving 3 hours southeast from Seattle. Mt. Shasta in California. ©Zack Frank/Shutterstock California favorite Mount Shasta is the shortest class four fourteener in California at 14,162 feet. Because of the persistent year round ice, it is recommended to carry an ice pick while hiking. Additionally, a permit is required to hike the peak. Route dependent, the climb is typically ten to twelve miles round trip and has an elevation gain of 7,000 feet. Be sure to visit the town of Mount Shasta just below the peak for a vegan smoothie. Grace Klaus is a Budget Travel intern for Summer 2020. She is a graduate of the University of Colorado.
Amid COVID-19, Americans are flocking to the relative safety of the outdoors. Recreating in national parks delivers fresh air, stunning natural surrounds, physical exercise, and stress relief. However, as the flag went up for summer outdoor recreation over Memorial Day weekend, visitors flooded park viewpoints, trails, and shuttles, making maintaining social distance impossible even in the great outdoors. The National Park System oversees 62 parks, so there are plenty of places to explore beyond the Great Smoky Mountains, Grand Canyon, and Yosemite. Here are 10 of the least visited national parks. Don’t confuse a lack of visitors with a lack of merit. These parks are remote, which keeps the number of travelers to a minimum. However, they boast magnificent — and untrammeled — scenic beauty. 1. Gates of the Arctic National Park, Alaska This park’s name is no misnomer: It hugs the Arctic Circle in Alaska’s northern reaches. The 8.4 million acres here offer natural splendor largely untouched by humans, with no roads, trails, or established campsites. This is the domain of enormous herds of caribou, musk ox, moose, wolves, and grizzly bears. Only the most rugged explorers, who have solid outdoor survival skills, should venture here. However, a stable of outfitters, guide services, and air taxi operators, who offer flight-seeing trips, can ease the challenges of your expedition. Alaska’s Kobuk Valley, Lake Clark, Wrangell-St. Elias, Katmai, and Kenai Fjords also rank among the country’s most far-flung and least visited parks. Take note of Alaska’s COVID-19 travel restrictions before booking your flight. Kenai Fjords National Park. Photo by ©James + Courtney Forte/Getty Images 2. Isle Royale National Park, Michigan The centerpiece of Isle Royale is its eponymous 45-mile long island. Hiking the 165 miles of trails there is only an appetizer: The park also includes 400 smaller islands and some 80 percent of it lies underwater. There’s plenty of territory to explore both for trekkers and scuba divers, kayakers, canoers, and anglers. Wildlife watchers will find plenty of sights here, too. From the heavily forested shoreline, visitors may spot eagle or osprey. Although they’re harder to spot, an isolated species of wolves roams here, too. Isle Royale’s ecology is so unique it doubles as an International Biosphere Reserve. 3. North Cascades National Park, Washington Travelers don’t have to venture to Alaska or Patagonia to see epic glaciers. North Cascades has the highest number in the lower 48 states with some 300 clinging to craggy peaks here. In less than a three-hour drive from Seattle, visitors will find a vast wilderness of glacier-carved crevasses and crisp turquoise lakes (such as Diablo and Ross, two of the park’s most popular). Around 400 miles of trails ribbon through forested valleys, trace ridges, and ascend spires. For an alternative to all that trekking, travelers drive the North Cascades Highway, which offers picturesque views from early May to late November. 4. National Park of American Samoa, American Samoa Set more than 2,600 miles southwest of Hawai’i, this national park earns the distinction as the southernmost in the U.S. and one of the most remote. Getting there pays dividends with a South Pacific paradise spread across three islands — Tutuila, Ta'ū, and Ofu — and some 4,000 underwater acres. Fruit bats, which frequent the island rainforests, and the Indo-Pacific coral reefs, which have more than 950 species of fish, are two top attractions. The chance to experience the 3,000-year-old Samoan culture is also reason to make the journey. 5. Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida The Dry Tortugas are a much-sought-after place to escape in the Florida Keys. A collection of seven islands 70 miles west of Key West, the Dry Tortugas are as well known for scenic beauty as pirate lore. The isles are only accessible via boat or plane, so they’re one of the most secluded units in the national park system. The park protects 100-square-miles of sandy shores, shoals, and ocean waters. In those ocean depths, visitors will find coral and seagrass communities that rank among the Keys’ best. Here, shipwrecks are just as common as marine life. Garden Key, home to the massive Fort Jefferson, is often the jumping off point for park visits. Dry Tortugas National Park. Photo by Laura Brown 6. Great Basin National Park, Nevada Four and a half hours north of Las Vegas, Great Basin National Park delivers natural wonders from the cosmos to underground. The International Dark Sky Park, an accolade it earned thanks to its low light pollution and clear views of astrological phenomena, offers particularly heavenly views from Wheeler Peak. Hikers can reach the 13,063-foot summit via an 8.6-mile hike; however, many visitors ascend via Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive (June to October). From there, travelers can take in panoramic views of the park’s mountain slopes, which contain stands of bristlecone pines, the oldest living organisms on Earth. The sights are just as impressive below ground, where tours of Lehman Caves reveal elaborate stalagmites, stalactites, “soda straws,” and other formations. 7. Virgin Islands National Park, Virgin Islands The island of St. John is popularly thought of as a polished resort destination; however, more than 60 percent of the island is set aside as a rugged national park. Entering through Cruz Bay, Virgin Islands National Park protects rainforest hikes, sandy beaches, and complex coral reefs (a marine reserve lies offshore). The 20-square-mile park is more than a tropical playground; the landscape delivers a history lesson, too. Travelers may hike to plantation ruins that date to the island’s sugar trade days, as well as ancient petroglyphs the Taino people left. 8. Congaree National Park, South Carolina Set in the middle of South Carolina and only 30-minutes away from the city of Columbia, Congaree National Park feels like a faraway wilderness. In fact, its stands of towering loblolly and white pines, and swamps make it seem like a fantasy movie set. The park is also home to 130-foot-tall bald cypress, and it contains the most ancient stands of old-growth cypress of anywhere in the world. Elevated board walks meander through its towering forests. The 2.4-mile Boardwalk Loop offers the shortest tour and departs from the visitor’s center. For another type of trail, paddlers can follow the 15-mile Cedar Creek Canoe Trail deep into the forests on a float to the Congaree River. 9. Pinnacles National Park, California Visitors may come to Pinnacles National Park for the geology, but they’re also treated to remarkable fauna and flora. Volcanic activity 23 million years ago created a weird and wonderous landscape of rock spires, towers, canyons, and even caves. The park boasts colossal talus caves, which boulders created when they lodged in narrow canyons. Visitors can hike to and through Bear Gulch and Balconies Caves. Townsend’s big-eared bats frequent these caves, so they’re sometimes closed to visitors. Travelers can also spot California condors, California red-legged frogs, and more than 100 species of wildflowers in the park. Pinnacles National Park. Photo by Laura Brown10. Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas Texas isn’t just made up of plains. It has peaks, too, and four of the state’s tallest lie within the boundaries of Guadalupe Mountains National Park. Guadalupe Peak, the highest in the Lone Star State, looms large. An 8.5-mile hike ascends the summit and offers expansive views over the exposed, ancient fossil reef bed that makes up the park’s landscape. The relatively few visitors who venture are rewarded with true solid among craggy peaks, sand dunes, and desert canyons sprawling across the Texas-New Mexico state line. Keep in mind: Due to evolving COVID-19 conditions, check the park’s website in advance of your visit to ensure it’s open. The CDC recommends following social distance guidelines within parks and wearing cloth masks when social distancing isn’t possible. Finally, many national park gateway communities are small, rural towns. Be sure to follow local guidelines for mask wearing and social distancing to keep residents safe.
10 great day trips from Portland
As restrictions are lifting be sure to Click here for more information on the current status of Oregon's COVID-19 reopening. 1. Go Camping in Camp Sherman Camp Sherman, Oregon is an unincorporated community about 2.5 hours Southeast of Portland. Camp Sherman is home to lodges for those who prefer more amenities or free dispersed campsites for those looking for a more traditional camping experience. Close to many hikes, lakes, rivers, and only 30-minutes from the mountains Three Fingered Jack and Mt Washington, Camp Sherman offers a little bit of everything. Another impressive feature of Camp Sherman is the Metolius River. Icey cold and crystal blue, the Metolius is a treat to hike, flyfish, or whitewater kayak. 2. Hike or Mountain Bike in Lowell, Oregon Lowell offers many easy and moderate hiking paths, some of which are open to mountain bikers and horse riders. Be sure to hike along Lookout Point Lake on a clear day and stop at the dam to get a beautiful view of Diamond Peak in the distance. Dexter Reservoir is also a great option for fishing or sailing and has a recreation area for a BBQ on the shores. ©Sawaya Photography/Getty Images 3. Spend a weekend in Westfir/Oakridge Located in the Cascades just over 2 hours from Portland, Oakridge, and its partner town Westfir are called the mountain biking capital of the Northwest. This area puts you in reach of some cool adventure locations, including Oregon’s second tallest waterfall, hot springs, the Pacific Crest Trail, and one of the purest lakes in the world. Many hikes ranging in skill level give you excellent views of the surrounding landscape as well as the opportunity to see critters such as newts, snails, and slugs. Dispersed camping is widely available as well as campgrounds and hotels. 4. Visit the ‘Crown Jewel’ of Oregon State Parks Located 1 hour from Portland, Silver Falls State Park ,as of July 2021, has fully reopened for camping by reservation. Even if you are unable to get a campsite, Silver Falls is a great place to spend the day. Barbeque with your friends and explore the many moderate trails and multiple waterfalls of the park. Be sure to take the opportunity to walk behind a 177-foot tall waterfall. You can also reserve a guided horseback ride through the forest from Silver Falls Riding Stables starting at $75. Some trails are closed due to wildfire damage so be sure to check their websitefor updates. Cannon Beach, Oregon. Photo by Laura Brown 5. Experience Coastal Wildlife at Haystack Rock Cannon Beach, Oregon, located 1.5 hours from Portland, has begun the process of reopening. Haystack Rock is a famous Oregon landmark, and its beach was listed as one of the 21 best beaches in the world by National Geographic. As of July 2021 Ecola State Park has reopened and the city’s beach access points have opened up. Snap a pic of haystack rock or enjoy looking at tidepool wildlife such as sea stars, anemones, and crabs. Haystack Rock is also home to some unique birds such as tufted puffins and pelagic cormorants. 6. Have a photoshoot in the Oregon Garden The Oregon Garden has reopened but is operating at a reduced capacity. Just a 47-minute drive from Portland this 80-acre botanical garden is an excellent place for photoshoot with friends. The Oregon Garden boasts 20 different themed gardens representing the diversity of nature in the Pacific Northwest. 7. Drink Some Wine along the Hood River Fruit Loop The Fruit Loop is a 35-mile loop which stops at stands offering “a variety of wines, fruits, vegetables, flowers, ciders and food” in the Hood River Valley. By bike or by car, this scenic route is worth it for the views alone. At the time of this article's update, 22 of the 29 member stands have reopened, and even more are open if you include takeout and curbside. Check out the Hood River Fruit Loop’s website to check the hours of the stands, their opening status, and get a map of the route. ©Dee Browning/Shutterstock 8. Take the ferry from Washington to Oregon. The Wahkiakum County Ferry is the last ferry on the Lower Columbia River. Start by exploring the old fishing town of Cathlamet, Washington, located 1.5 hours from Portland. After enjoying the quaint town’s shops, breweries and history make your way to Puget Island to take the Wahkiakum Ferry. The ferry is an affordable way to bring you and your vehicle across the Columbia back to Oregon. The ferry has updated their hours, so be sure to check out their website before making your trip. 9. Explore the Coastal Town Yachats Yachats is located almost 3 hours from Portland and is a great place to start an adventure. Visit the town’s cute shops and delicious restaurants or get out in nature hiking and viewing the gorgeous Cape Perpetua area. Also, be sure to see Thor’s Well. According to forest service, most trailheads in the Siuslaw National Forest Area have reopened for day use. 10. Enjoy the Outdoors Close to Home at Oxbow Regional Park Oxbow regional park is just 35 minutes from Portland and is currently open to limited day use, but be mindful of crowding. This park offers many hiking trails and opportunities to kayak. When it starts getting warmer, this is also an excellent place to swim in the Sandy River Gorge. As of July 2021 The Oxbow Welcome Center is closed to the public and limited flushing restroom facilities and showers are available. Portable restrooms are available for use throughout the park. The sand and water Nature playground remains closed for maintenance. Picnic reservations remain closed until further notice. There are many first come first serve areas available in the park to enjoy. The campground is open with modifications. Miles Leonard is a Budget Travel intern for Summer 2020. He is a student at the University of Iowa.