4 minutes reading time United States
There’s something about the waters of the great and golden American Southwest. It doesn’t hurt that the sunsets are long and slow with fat stars bulging overhead. Prepare yourself for an idyllic and transformative experience.
The magic of the American Southwest is best experienced alone or with a close friend. And although most of these spots are near large cities, a car is required to get to most of the locations. Here are 4 of my favorite spots that will wash any bad vibes away.
Verde Hot Springs in Strawberry, Arizona
Verde Hot Springs is situated halfway between Flagstaff and Phoenix, making it an essential trip for those visiting the Grand Canyon or Sedona. If you’re driving from Phoenix, it’s almost a 3-hour drive, but don’t be discouraged- it’s definitely worth it. That’s why it’s at the top of the list!
Once a thriving 1920’s resort, the remaining concrete pools now sit overlooking the river and surrounded on both sides by cliffs. The hot springs are a cluster of thermal mineral springs and supply both an indoor and outdoor spring.
Half of the experience is the journey to the springs, including offroading and a river crossing. A vehicle with 4WD is ideal here.
From the outdoor pool, you can see the river below, along with the silhouettes of the mountains punctuated by cacti. If it’s not busy, stay all night and watch the moon crest from one side of the mountains to the other. Seeing a dozen shooting stars in one night is not uncommon!
Swim with Wild Horses just outside of Phoenix, Arizona
Tonto National Forest is the fifth-largest park in the United States and is home to several enviable swim spots along the Salt River. Try Phon D. Sutton for easy water access and a swim that’s safe for children as well.
Less than an hour from both Scottsdale and Phoenix, the recreation area offers shady shores with clear and flowing waters. Red rocks jut over the water and make for ideal cliff-jumping. And if you’re lucky, you’ll spot the wild horses crossing the river. Just make sure to enjoy their presence from a respectful distance.
Try your hand at kayaking or fishing, or just enjoy the cool water and the majestic scenery. The horses are known to be near the river close to sunset, so sit back and watch the show.
Jacob’s Well Natural Area
Not quite an hour from Austin, Texas is the mysterious (and somewhat dangerous) Jacob’s Well. It’s the second-largest fully submerged cave in Texas and creates a stunning optical illusion in the water. From the rocks above, it appears you’ll disappear down the rabbit hole if you jump in!
By some accounts, there have been as many as a dozen deaths at Jacob’s Well, with some remains taking decades to recover. It’s recommended that even experienced divers avoid entering the fourth chamber of the caves.
The spring pumps thousands of gallons of fresh spring water daily, and there’s plenty of shade to go around in the summer months. The area surrounding the well is shallow enough for a casual day of splashing and sipping. Grab a friend and get there early enough to secure a good spot!
Waterfalls in the Ozark National Forest
If you’re looking to rough it in solitude, Texarkana could be your haven. Even though it’s not technically part of the American Southwest, the land serves as a border between Arkansas and northeast Texas and serves as a beautiful reminder of the earth’s natural beauty.
In the Leatherwood Wilderness, there are four waterfalls near one another. Each of them can be accessed off of Rand Road coming from the closest town. Cougar Falls, China Falls, Crosscut Falls, and Little Glory Hole. It’s pretty isolated, but once you park you can hear the water. Bushwhacking down from the main road, Cougar Falls is less than a half-mile hike and offers incredible views of Ozark National Forest. Just follow the drainage!
Enjoying the best things in life doesn’t have to be expensive. You can celebrate the natural wonders and healing powers of the American Southwest on less than $20 USD per day. My only expenses were gas and the daily park fee, which was usually around $8. And if you’re hooked on U.S. National Parks, you can buy a Park Pass for $80 USD, which gives you access to over 2,000 parks across the country.