There’s something special about desert towns. Be it their otherworldly landscapes, arid climate, mystical vibes, or unique flora and fauna, these destinations offer an escape unlike any other. Even better, they have modern amenities, but you can still get away from it all for a bit of solitude.
Thankfully, there are plenty of desert towns to go around, as the U.S. is home to four major deserts, including the Great Basin, Mojave, Chihuahuan, and Sonoran. So, if you’re on the hunt for a magical getaway, these desert destinations will more than deliver.
Grand Junction, Colorado
For a Wild West desert getaway, look no further than Grand Junction. The desert community settled by homesteaders in the late 1800s has maintained its historical charms, thanks to its still rugged terrain, wild horses roaming the nearby hills, and perfectly preserved red rocks all around. It’s also a destination that’s made for wine lovers, with numerous vineyards open for tastings and tours. And Grand Junction doesn’t forget arts and culture lovers, either. Visit the Main Street area to catch a glimpse of Art on the Corner, a public display of sculptures by local artists.
Marfa may just be the most Instagrammable desert destination on the list. That’s thanks largely to the famed Prada Marfa, which isn’t a store at all, but rather a permanent installation by artists Elmgreen and Dragset. But it’s not the only reason to come to town. In Marfa, art fanatics can also visit the Chinati Foundation or Ballroom Marfa, both nearby contemporary art museums, and the Ayn Foundation, which focuses on large-scale pieces that are all on display for visitors to peruse.
Boulder City, Nevada
Las Vegas tends to draw the most attention as far as Nevada desert destinations go. However, those looking for a more relaxing getaway with far fewer neon lights will be delighted to find Boulder City just 40 minutes away from Sin City. Find a respite in the quieter town by visiting the Boulder City Art Guild & Gallery, meandering through its antique stores, or using the destination as a launchpad for other nearby adventures, including helicopter tours of the Grand Canyon and the Hoover Dam.
Ojo Caliente, New Mexico
Immerse yourself in Mother Nature’s greatest gifts with a visit to Ojo Caliente, a desert community in New Mexico best known for its hot springs. And while there are hot springs dotting much of this region of the nation, these happen to be the only ones in the world with four different types of sulfur-free mineral waters. The best way to experience them is by visiting the Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort & Spa. Come for a day soak, or spend the night and take advantage of its lengthy massage treatment menu, too.
Cottonwood is yet another charming, quaint desert town worthy of your getaway time. The destination is only home to about 12,000 residents, but its sparseness is what makes it special. It’s a place tailor-made for those who like to get outside, thanks to spots like the Verde River Greenway State Natural Area. Here, visitors will find a lush riverside landscape and cooling waters to dive into. After spending time in the great outdoors, head to Old Town Cottonwood for food, shopping, and an old-school Main Street vibe.
Joshua Tree, California
Mystical energy, martian landscapes, and a vintage clothing scene that can’t be beat, Joshua Tree delivers all this and more. The Southern California desert community is an off-beat haven, thanks to its unique national park filled with its eponymous trees, aura-healing spaces like the Integratron, and a delightful central town where travelers can shop in a number of vintage and antique shops, as well as dine in desert-chic venues like La Copine, The Natural Sisters Cafe, and Pappy and Harriet’s.
Amarillo may have a sizable population, but it still offers eccentric, desert town vibes with lots of quirky things to experience. Cadillac Ranch, for example, is a free art exhibit made from old Cadillacs dug into the ground headfirst along Interstate 40. There’s also Palo Duro Canyon State Park, the second-largest canyon in the U.S., and Jack Sisemore Traveland RV Museum, dedicated to the history of the great American RV trip. Downtown Amarillo also offers plenty of culinary and cultural delights to keep everyone in even the most disparate travel group happy.
If blinding, awe-inspiring beauty is what you’re after, then plot a vacation to Moab because that’s exactly what you’ll find. Moab is home to both Arches National Park and Canyonlands, each known for their red-rock formations. Both places make for ideal hiking destinations, in addition to offering mountain biking, horseback riding, river rafting, and camping under the stars. And that’s just the beginning. Visitors looking for a bit more socialization can head downtown to find restaurants, microbreweries, concert events, and plenty of delicious food to fuel their next adventure.
There’s one more red-rock destination to add to your must-see desert list: Sedona. The community blends a lot of what makes each of the above places great into one delightful spot. It’s also well-known for its mystical powers — including Cathedral Rock Vortex, one of the area’s four energy vortexes — and home to famed hikes with stunning views, like the Devil’s Bridge Trail. Following any and all outdoor adventures, guests can make their way to the Uptown area for shopping (don’t leave without visiting a few jewelry shops), dining, and entertainment.
Silver City, New Mexico
Silver City, an old mining town located in the southwest corner of New Mexico, is the place to be to when it comes to finding your new favorite gem in terms of a desert destination and in the literal sense. You see, the town is a thriving arts community, filled with creators crafting gorgeous paintings, pottery, and jewelry. The historic downtown area is lined with shops owned by these artisans who are ready to talk to you about their individual craft and sell you their wares. Come for the crafts, but stay for the plentiful festivals, including the Silver City Blues Festival, the Wild, Wed West Pro Rodeo, and more.
Located on the very edge of the West Texas border, desert lovers will find the charming town of Terlingua, Texas. The sparsely populated spot was once a silver mining town, and now serves as a tourist attraction due to its proximity to Big Bend National Park. The destination isn’t exactly what you’d call “happening,” though it has a well-maintained status as a proper ghost town, thanks to its persevered homes and storefronts. There are shops to browse, including desert oddities and antiques, and the town is home to the famed Chili Cookoff, so you know a visit here comes with some seriously delicious food. As for where to stay, Terlingua offers great glamping accommodations and short-term rentals with breathtaking views of the Chisos Mountains, like Willow House.