Five Safe Southwest Road Trip Destinations

By Alyssa Gilbert

Safety, nostalgia, reconnection with nature—there are so many reasons to ditch the crowded airports and opt for a good ol’ American road trip. So, pack your favorite snacks and get that ’90s playlist ready because let’s face it, we could all use a vacation right now. Here are five places in the Southwest you can travel to responsibly post-quarantine.

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Las Cruces, New Mexico 

This location will bring you off the beaten path! Las Cruces serves as the perfect home base for exploring White Sands and other nearby attractions. It’s a quiet town rich in Southwestern culture and pecan farms.

Where to Stay: The campgrounds at White Sands National Park are currently closed because of COVID-19. However, the National Park is carefully increasing access to services in a phased approach, so be sure to check the park website before visiting. Instead of staying at White Sands, you can stay in Las Cruces, less than an hour's drive away.

Things to Do: Visit White Sands National Park, the world’s largest gypsum dune field. The glistening white sand dunes stretch on for 275 square miles. You can choose to hike, take photos, or even go sledding down the dunes for some fun adventures. Afterward, you can head back to Las Cruces to enjoy the local wineries, or tour a famous pecan farm. The city of Las Cruces is less than a two-hour drive from nine state parks and the Organ Mountains, home to natural springs, and twenty-two miles of hiking trails.

Death Valley, California

Death Valley is around 150 miles west of Los Angeles. Despite the morbid name, its vast landscape has a wide range of unique landforms, from basins to sand dunes. The four-hour trek from LA is totally worth the epic views along the way.

Where to Stay: There are only three hotels located within Death Valley National Park. Rooms are a bit pricey, but you are paying for the convenience of the location. Hotels have enhanced their cleaning procedures and have adopted best practices to protect their guests and employees from potential exposure to the virus.

What to Eat: The truth is, once you enter the park, food options are very limited. Be sure to pack snacks and lots of water before hitting the road. If you want to venture off for a special treat, you can make your way to China Ranch Date Farm in Tecopa, California. Be sure to order the date shake while you’re there!

Things to Do: The biggest thing to do is to visit Death Valley National Park. It’s hot and desolate but definitely worth crossing off your bucket list. Fun fact: Death Valley is the lowest, hottest, and biggest national park in the United States. Stop by Badwater Basin, the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, and Artist’s Palette. Artist’s Palette is a colorful mountain range that sits at the end of Artists Drive, a winding, one-way road straight out of a movie. The oxidation of different elements causes the rainbow color of the soil. The best time to capture this beauty is first thing in the morning or right as the sun goes down. Other notable spots worth visiting are Ubehebe Crater, Racetrack Playa, and Darwin Falls.

Joshua Tree, California 

Joshua Tree is the perfect desert oasis located just a few hours away from Los Angeles. Its remote location is ideal for social distancing and connecting with nature.

Where to Stay: Joshua Tree is home to some of the trendiest rentals and scenic camping grounds. Most of them have pools and outdoor patios, which are perfect for cooling down during the day and stargazing at night.

What to Eat: If you’re in town on a Saturday morning, you can stop by the farmer’s market to purchase homegrown produce and other fresh foods. The market is outside, and masks are required, making it a safe option for grocery shopping.

Things to Do: Go hiking in Joshua Tree National Park. There are endless trails, suitable for all levels of hikers. For the park’s best sunrises and sunsets visit Key View; and the best part? No hike is required. You can also check out Arch Rock, an easy, twenty-minute hike that makes for a great photo op. If you’re feeling more adventurous, you can hike up Ryan Mountain, the highest point in the park. It is a strenuous hike, but the views are fantastic. Don’t forget to start early to beat the desert heat—and pack extra water!

San Diego, California

If you love the beach, you’ll love San Diego. It’s one of America’s most popular vacation destinations. Even in the age of COVID, the numerous outdoor attractions make it a great place for socially distanced fun.

Where to Stay: There are multiple hotels and beachfront resorts that have ramped up their sanitation protocols to ease the minds of travelers. There are plenty of options around San Diego, with contactless check-in and flexible cancellation policies.

What to Eat: With perfect weather year-round, finding restaurants with outdoor seating is no problem. The dining options are endless, whether you want tacos downtown or Italian at Little Italy Food Hall.

Things to Do: You can spend the day surfing, snorkeling, or relaxing in the sun. Pop Up Picnics at Sunset Cliffs are a great way to enjoy the weather and good food all while staying away from large crowds.

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