The 10 Best Desert Cities in the US That Should Be on Your Bucket List

City lights have their appeal and towering forests can feel downright spiritual, but the desert offers an unparalleled beauty that inspires a unique and profound kind of awe. It cannot help but invite you to reflect on how so much beauty can thrive in such difficult conditions. Its dusty landscapes are dotted with prickly cacti that produce a myriad of surprisingly colorful blooms in spring, and sunsets are so vivid they almost seem unreal. Think swirls of purple, orange and red illuminating the earth below with a glow only the desert could know.

In addition to natural wildlife, the desert is home to well-established cities and communities that give visitors a chance to enjoy the scenery and culture. If you fancy a desert getaway, you need to add at least some of these best desert towns in the US to your travel bucket list.

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The Best US Desert Cities

1. Albuquerque, New Mexico

New Mexico is called the “Land of Enchantment” for a reason. It is home to numerous desert towns, each unique in its own way and rich in natural beauty. Albuquerque is New Mexico’s largest city and is a great home base for visitors who want to explore other areas of the state, including Taos and Santa Fe.

Perhaps one of Albuquerque’s greatest attractions are the hot air balloons. “Each fall, Albuquerque hosts the largest hot air balloon festival in the world, but ballooning can be enjoyed year-round,” he notes Jewels RhodeLifestyle and travel expert.

She also recommends visiting Old Town to admire the adobe-style architecture, taking the Sandia Peak Tramway for panoramic city views, and hiking in Petroglyph National Park, one of the largest petroglyph sites in North America.

2. Kanab, Utah

Calling all hikers! The most surprising and top rated desert town in the southwest United States is a charming little town in southwest Utah called Kanab.

“Hike up to the mysterious sand caves, down into the amazing Bryce Canyon, see fossilized dinosaur footprints on one of the many rocky outcrops, or maybe hike Zion National Park for a big day,” he says Whitney Brielle Martin, CMO of JET Hospitality. “Kanab has enough flavor to keep you entertained, great views and a far better price and pace than some of the busier hubs in this area. You won’t be disappointed.”

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3.Moab, Utah

Travel about five hours west of Kanab and you’ll find yourself in another Utah desert town that draws adventurers from around the world.

Like its eastern sibling, Moab serves as a central hub for exploring several of the state’s stunning national parks, including the aptly named Arches (primarily Delicate Arch, Landscape Arch, and Fiery Furnace Trails) and Canyonlands, which offers scenic hikes and overlooks at Grand View Point, Green River Overlook and Shafer Canyon & Shafer Trail Viewpoint.

Enjoy a delicious meal in Moab before or after a day of hiking and exploring. Jailhouse Cafe, Antica Forma, Moab Diner, and Moab Brewery are good choices.

4. Rock Springs, Wyoming

Rock Springs is a tiny town in southern Wyoming named for a once-flowing spring that no longer exists. Though the town itself is quite small, it’s considered a prime jumping-off point for explorers looking to explore the state’s stunning Red Desert.

“The Red Desert offers breathtaking views of a remarkable, colorful landscape of badlands, canyons, sand dunes and wildlife, including the rare desert moose, pronghorn, migratory birds and wild horses,” notes Anna KayfitzFounder and CEO of the Visited app.

Some of the most popular hikes are Continental Peak, Oregon Buttes, Boar’s Tusk and Steamboat Mountain. “The Killpecker Sand Dunes north of Rock Springs are the largest dune system in the United States and offer off-roading, hiking and wildlife viewing on over 11,000 acres of expansive wilderness,” adds Kayfitz.

5. Palm Springs, California

A short detour from Los Angeles, Palm Springs rose to fame in the 1920s when Hollywood elite made the desert oasis their favorite getaway. It still serves as such, attracting everyone from movie stars to everyday folks to enjoy a glamorous desert respite.

“Situated between the Coachella Valley Preserve, the Sonoran Desert and Joshua Tree National Park, Palm Springs is a Southern California oasis with attractions for every traveler,” he says Alex Johnson, travel expert at Vacasa. “A ride on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway – the world’s largest rotating tram car – is a must! This 2.5 mile drive up Chico Canyon offers unparalleled views. [Also take time to] Explore the Tahquitz Canyon Trails to see beautiful waterfalls or ride through the Indian Canyons to see Native American drawings.

6. Taos, New Mexico

With its thriving arts scene, iconic landmarks, and breathtaking views of the Rocky Mountains, Taos is a must-see desert city, perfect for groups, couples, families, or individual soul seekers. It is home to the world’s only Native American community to be designated both a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a National Historic Landmark. You’ll also find the 250-year-old St. Francisco de Asis, one of the most photographed churches in the world.

“Taos has a remote desert feel that’s unlike anywhere else in the country,” he says jess baker, Managing Director of JET Hospitality. “There is ski access all around Taos and walking across the gorge with an IPA over the Rio Grande Bridge is as good a feeling as any. Complete your trip with a day pass to Ojo Caliente Springs to unwind. after a blast weekend in Taos.”

7. Scottsdale, Arizona

Scottsdale, Arizona is considered part of the Phoenix Metro, but it certainly has its own flair. The old town, which still retains the atmosphere of the Wild Wild West, is a major draw, as are the many resorts, restaurants, bars, and shopping stalls.

“This desert city serves as a central location to explore everything Arizona has to offer, like the Grand Canyon and the red rocks of Sedona,” says Johnson. “Head to the McDowell Sonoran Preserve for several popular hiking options, including the Gateway Loop Trail, Tom’s Thumb, or the Lost Dog Wash Trail. Or, take a ride on the Old Town Trolley or take a day trip to nearby Phoenix to see the explore Desert Botanical Garden or hike Camelback Mountain.”

She adds that it’s easy to find highly-rated Scottsdale restaurants, like the high-end Cafe Monarch or the award-winning FnB, where farm-to-table vegetables are the star of the show.

8.Sedona, Arizona

Drive just a few hours north and you will be surrounded by Sedona’s towering red rock formations. This high-altitude desert city is unique not only for its breathtaking views, but also for the city itself. Considered a mystical center of sorts, with map readers, aura specialists and meditative walks around every corner, it also boasts a thriving arts scene. (The Tlaquepaque mall is an easy place to spend an entire afternoon.)

Kayfitz notes that Sedona is also a great home base for people wanting to explore Arizona’s majestic Painted Desert, which encompasses badlands in a rainbow of hues along its canyons, buttes, and hills. “You can drive or hike through the badlands and see petrified ancient trees and geological formations, as well as visit the Rainbow Forest to the south of the Petrified Forest, which is dotted with colorful petrified wood,” she says.

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9. Joshua Tree, California

Named after the unworldly Joshua Tree, native to Southern California’s Mojave and Sonoran deserts, this hip desert city has quickly become famous for its combination of quirky culture, rock hiking, stargazing and breathtaking views. Be sure to spend a day or two exploring Joshua Tree National Park, exploring the Glass Outhouse Art Gallery and visiting the world-famous Crochet Museum.

Oh, and just an hour away is Slab City, an off-grid desert town with an alternative lifestyle in the Sonoran Desert. While the small town is home to locals, hikers also flock here to explore the atypical lifestyle, eccentric art, and local community that prides itself on being home to the ‘last free place’. Joshua Tree is also a short drive from Palm Springs and Coachella Valley, making it easy to see a lot in a short amount of time.

10. Santa Fe, New Mexico

Believe it or not, New Mexico’s capital is the second oldest city in the United States and offers a melting pot of Native American and Spanish cultures and 315 days of sunshine a year.

“In the winter, hit the slopes of Ski Santa Fe or cool off at Spence Hot Springs. Or discover the area’s rich history and culture by stopping at the Georgia O’Keefe Museum and Museum of Indian Arts and Culture.” Johnson suggests. In the summer, she suggests taking a day trip to hike Bandelier National Monument, which features rock caves and a waterfall for swimming. Ranger-led tours are a great way to learn about the area’s history.