Some of Our Favorite Scenic Drives in the Southwest

Taking the road less traveled and getting off the interstate can be amazing!

Some of Our Favorite Scenic Drives in the Southwest
Sedona, Arizona ©Donetta Dalman

People travel for many different reasons and they travel in many different ways as well. Some will try to map out the quickest route to get to their destination but some will just drive along and enjoy the journey on a slower route.

This is the way we like to travel.

When we started traveling full time four years ago, we didn’t realize that we would switch over to this and enjoy it so much. We used to always just jump on the interstate to get to where we were going.

Sometimes we do still take the interstate and we move across states quickly but as much as we possibly can we stay off the interstate and take back roads and simple highways. It makes the journey so much more enjoyable!

Because we have done this so many times as we’ve traveled around the country, I thought I’d share some of our favorite scenic highways that we’ve traveled in the southwest region.

Oak Creek Canyon Scenic Drive

This drive is highway 89A between Flagstaff and Sedona in Arizona. The funny thing is, the first couple of times we visited Sedona, we were hesitant to drive this road because we knew it was through the mountains and there are some switchbacks along the way. We had driven some other switchbacks in a couple of different places that were terrifying to us so we were kind of afraid to give it a try. We ended up taking the longer route around on I-17. That route is still beautiful but it’s not the same.

We finally decided to gather some courage on one of our trips and we drove that route. Boy were we glad we did! There is one spot that puts us a little on edge because it’s so high up and is such a huge drop off — but there are guardrails so we make it through that just fine and the rest is a piece of cake.

Now we can’t imagine NOT driving this route.

This drive is absolutely gorgeous and we highly recommend checking it out if you’re ever in the area. Even on a day where it’s cloudy and rainy/snowy it’s still so beautiful!

Red Rock Scenic Byway

And of course, if you’ve never been to Sedona you MUST travel on into town and drive all the way to Village of Oak Creek on 179. You will NOT regret it. ;) You’ll get to see the towering red rock formations like Bell Rock, Courthouse Butte, Cathedral Rock, and Snoopy Rock just to name a few.

And of course there’s a great little touristy section where you can hang out at a bar or a coffee shop, shop for some souvenirs, have some lunch, book a jeep excursion, or just walk around and enjoy the town and the amazing views.

Highway 260 through northern Arizona

I’m not sure if this one has a specific name but this drive is truly amazing. We traveled from Sedona to Pinetop and while the quickest route when mapping it out via google shows to go up to I-40 and back down, you definitely shouldn’t take that route. I mean, that road has some pretty views too but nothing like what you’ll experience taking 260. And driving on a highway that’s not as busy and is more relaxing is always more enjoyable.

This highway starts in Cottonwood and goes across the state to Eager. You’ll go through towns like Camp Verde, Payson, and Show-Low, and you’ll see amazing views of the Mogollon Rim, beautiful trees, and the White Mountains.

And if you get a chance to drive through after some snow has fallen — it’s absolutely gorgeous!

Mojave National Preserve to Joshua Tree National Park

We visited some friends in Las Vegas one time and were headed to San Diego from there. We didn’t want to just jump on the interstate and go straight there so we took the back roads and drove through Mojave National Preserve as well as Joshua Tree National Park.

My husband, James, and I have often said that when we were younger we didn’t really appreciate the beauty of the desert but the older we get and the more we travel, the more we fall in love with this type of landscape. It’s not what we grew up in so it’s different than what we’re used to seeing but it’s become so beautiful to us and we just love it!

These two areas did not disappoint and this is an amazing drive — so much better than the interstate in our opinion.

We traveled to the Wheaton Springs exit on I-15 from Vegas and then used the Ivanpah entrance to Mojave NP to travel south. The views were just stunning. We took our time driving through and got out and enjoyed the view several times.

After we made our way through Mojave National Preserve, we moved into Joshua Tree National Park and stuck to the back roads and just enjoyed the views. We stopped at the Cholla Cactus Garden Nature Trail to get out and walk around and it was a nice break on the drive. Such a beautiful area!

These are just a few of the many scenic drives we’ve done around the southwest. It’s amazing what you can see if you have the time to take the road less traveled, exit the interstate, and drive the slower-paced back roads. There are so many beautiful things to see in this country and a lot of them you will not see from the interstate. Those can be great if you have to get from Point A to Point B in a hurry, but if you don’t have to hurry why miss out on all the amazing things you could see? :)

What amazing scenic routes have you taken while traveling?


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