Discovering the Best Desert Escapes: From Stargazing to Spa Retreats

2023-10-15 08:18:04 - Drany Macley Drany Macley, the senior editor of, brings extensive journalism background and over eight years of experience in travel writing and editing to the site, offering practical insights and first-hand knowledge through articles on innovative hotels, backed by a BA in Journalism from Ithaca College.

Escape to the extraordinary with the best desert escape destinations that will transport you to another world. From the enchanting Joshua Tree to the awe-inspiring Grand Canyon, these hidden gems offer a unique blend of adventure, tranquility, and natural beauty. Whether you seek the thrill of stargazing, the serenity of spa retreats, or the flavors of gourmet cuisine, this article will whisk you away to the most captivating desert destinations in the United States and beyond. Get ready to embark on an unforgettable journey through the arid wonders that will leave you yearning for more.

Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree is an incredibly diverse destination that offers unique landscapes, a wide range of outdoor activities, trendy Airbnb accommodations, and a growing food scene. It's no wonder that people are flocking to this oasis in the desert. Start your day at Joshua Tree Coffee Company to fuel up for your adventures in the national park. Explore the hiking and biking trails, or take a scenic drive through the Pinto Basin. After a day of exploration, unwind with a glass of wine and experience some of the best stargazing in the country from the comfort of a hot tub.

While visiting Joshua Tree is an obvious choice, deciding where to stay can be a tough decision. The villas and unique accommodations available for rent in the area are truly exceptional. Here are some of my favorites:

Skyhouse Joshua Tree


Cielito Lindo-4Bedroom

Jackrabbit Wash House-2 Bedroom

Price: 4/night

Green Haus-2 Bedroom

Price: $257/night

Casa Le Chacuel-4 Bedroom

Price: $2,127/night

Scarabeo Camp

Surrounded by untouched terrain, the elegant, private tents at this Morocco getaway offer a real sense of escapism. You’ll feel a million miles away but gain back a sense of home thanks to creature comforts like tent heaters, plush blankets and private bathrooms. favorite-heart-big.png

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Cottonwood, Arizona

Tuzigoot National Monument on the summit of a limestone and sandstone ridge just north of Cottonwood, Arizona.

Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images

Cottonwood is a charming and quaint desert town that is worth visiting. With a population of only about 12,000 residents, it offers a sense of sparseness that adds to its charm. The town is perfect for outdoor enthusiasts, with attractions like the Verde River Greenway State Natural Area, which features a lush riverside landscape and refreshing waters. After enjoying the great outdoors, head to Old Town Cottonwood for some local food, shopping, and the nostalgic feel of an old-school Main Street.

Los Poblanos

This historic Southwest inn surrounded by lavender fields and an 800-acre ranch provides a luxurious and charming retreat. The inn's restaurant uses organic produce from the ranch, and guests are treated to breakfast and a New York Times newspaper. The rooms feature hardwood floors, wood-burning fireplaces, and bath products made from on-site flowers.

Banyan Tree Al Wadi

Situated between the Arabian Gulf and nearby mountains and sand dunes, this resort is a stunning architectural masterpiece. With its Arabic-inspired design, it offers a jaw-dropping setting and indulgent experiences. From spa treatments to outdoor excursions, guests can choose from a range of activities. The Banyan Tree is the ultimate destination for a luxurious and exotic getaway.

Canyon Ranch

At Canyon Ranch, you can experience a full reset with their holistic self-care programs. From weight loss to athletic performance enhancement, the property offers a wide range of programs tailored to individual needs. The high-end spa and breathtaking mountain views create the perfect environment for relaxation and rejuvenation.

For Night Owls: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, CA

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in San Diego County offers incredible stargazing opportunities. Its low light pollution allows for clear views of the Milky Way, Saturn, and Jupiter. For a unique experience, consider a camping trip with California Overland, where you can enjoy the starlit dunes and traditional campfire stories. The Borrego Valley Inn is a great accommodation option, with its sand-swept courtyard providing the perfect setting for galaxy gazing.

For Would-Be Cowboys: Scottsdale, AZ

While Scottsdale is known for its swanky reputation, it still embraces its Western, outdoorsy roots. Horseback riding along the trails, splashing through the Verde River, and experiencing the rugged mountain views are all part of the cowboy lifestyle in Scottsdale. Whether you participate or simply dress the part with boots and cowboy hats, you can immerse yourself in the Western culture. Don't miss the Parada del Sol rodeo, and if you're feeling adventurous, consider attending cowboy college to learn roping, riding, and branding.

Andaz Scottsdale

This dreamy resort in Scottsdale offers stylish accommodations, a modern spa, and an artistic program that sets it apart. The resort is a haven for artists, jewelers, and performers, providing guests with opportunities to explore their creative side. Alongside the luxurious amenities, you can discover the vibrant artistic community of Scottsdale.

For Adventurous Trekkers: La Quinta, CA

La Quinta, located in Coachella Valley, offers prime hiking opportunities in the Santa Rosa Mountains. Granite formations, desert flora, and panoramic views await hikers in the area. The Cove to Lake Trail and the Boo Hoff Trail are popular choices for outdoor enthusiasts. Moderate temperatures make the months from March to November ideal for hiking. Accommodations at La Quinta Resort & Club provide a cozy retreat with casitas, pools, and a James Beard award-winning chef.

For Design Enthusiasts: Palm Springs, CA

Palm Springs is renowned for its midcentury modern style, and the Sunnylands Center & Gardens showcases this architectural movement. The former winter home of Walter and Leonore Annenberg offers a glimpse into the world of modernism, featuring a remarkable art collection. Visiting in June allows for fewer crowds and great deals, despite the hot weather.

Marfa, Texas

Marfa has become an Instagram sensation, with notable attractions like the Prada Marfa installation by Elmgreen and Dragset. But the town is more than just a photo op. Art enthusiasts can explore contemporary art museums such as the Chinati Foundation and Ballroom Marfa. The Ayn Foundation also showcases large-scale artwork for visitors to enjoy.

Miravel Resort

Located at the base of the Santa Catalina Mountains, Miravel Resort offers a luxury retreat with options for relaxation or wellness-focused experiences. The resort's creative and unique classes, including cardio drumming and equine therapy, cater to diverse interests. Don't miss the hands-on honey tasting with the resident beekeeper.

These desert destinations offer a range of experiences for every traveler, from luxurious retreats to adventurous explorations. Whether you're seeking relaxation, artistic inspiration, or outdoor adventures, these desert getaways have something for everyone.

The Grand Canyon, Arizona

If you haven't included the Grand Canyon in your travel plans, you're missing out. This incredible destination boasts breathtaking landscapes and offers opportunities for hiking, biking, and rafting. One of the highlights is the stunning Havasu Falls with its bright blue waterfalls. While the South Rim is more popular due to its accessibility from Phoenix (only a 2.5-hour drive), the North Rim offers a less crowded experience. Explore the trails around Grand Canyon Village for amazing views or, for more adventurous hikers, embark on an overnight hike through Havasupai (make sure to book reservations well in advance). If you need a break from hiking, take the time to explore the historic district! When it comes to accommodations, options are somewhat limited with only a few lodges and airbnbs available. For a luxury "glamping" experience, I highly recommend Under Canvas. It offers a boutique hotel feel with the beauty of nature right outside your door. Another great option is The Grand Hotel, located just outside the park in Grand Canyon Village.

Havasu Falls

Under Canvas Glamping

Bend, Oregon

Formerly a mill town, Bend, Oregon has transformed into a popular ski destination located in the center of the state. Like the rest of Oregon, Bend offers plenty of outdoor activities for nature lovers. Whether it's skiing, rock climbing, sled dog rides, or exploring the Newberry Crater, there's something for everyone. On days when the weather isn't cooperating, you can visit breweries, museums, or even a trampoline park to keep yourself entertained. There are various accommodation options available, but one standout is the Wall Street Suites located just outside of downtown Bend. This upscale boutique hotel features beautifully decorated rooms with a rustic-chic style, stone floors, wooden accents, and marble walk-in showers. Guests can also enjoy the cozy fire pit on the patio and borrow cruiser bicycles free of charge.

For Day Hikers: Superior, AZ

One way to experience the Arizona Trail is through an epic backpacking trip. However, for those seeking a more relaxed hiking weekend, the town of Superior is a perfect choice. This throwback town combines frontier ruggedness with a Mayberry-in-the-desert vibe. The Arizona Trail, often referred to as the Southwest's version of the Appalachian Trail, stretches from the Mexican border to Utah. While completing the entire trail would take months, it is conveniently divided into 43 sections, making it accessible for less ambitious hikers. Starting from Superior, you can head south on the Alamo Canyon section and enjoy the peaceful atmosphere of the town upon your return. Superior offers comfortable lodging options and great dining experiences.

Longitude 131º

Witness the Australian Outback's most famous landmark, a massive red rock called Uluru, from the comfort of Longitude 131º. This luxury glamping experience takes accommodations to the next level with balconies, fireplaces, rain showers, and music systems. Prepare to be amazed by the breathtaking views right outside your window.

Moab, Utah

Moab is a must-visit destination for those who have always dreamed of witnessing the iconic sandstone formations in Arches National Park. Located between Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, Moab offers a range of outdoor activities beyond just visiting the parks. You can explore wineries nestled among sandstone canyons, indulge in locally sourced cuisine, visit a craft brewery, or even stay in suites along the Colorado River. Whether you're looking for a romantic weekend getaway or a stopover on your road trip, Moab has something for everyone. Consider staying at Under Canvas Moab for a unique "glamping" experience or opt for a custom-built cabin at Sorrel River Ranch Resort and Spa for a touch of luxury after a day of outdoor exploration.

Explora Atacama

Prepare to explore the stunning Atacama Desert in Chile through exciting hikes, bike rides, or horseback rides. After a day of adventure, you can relax at the hotel's interconnected pools under the stars, and don't forget to visit the property's observatory with a professional telescope for incredible stargazing opportunities. The well-appointed rooms at Explora Atacama are designed to provide a peaceful resting place in the driest desert in the world.

For Food Lovers: Moab, UT

Moab, Utah, has long been known as a destination for hardcore outdoor enthusiasts. However, the town has recently emerged as a haven for food lovers as well. Don't let Moab's reputation for extreme sports fool you - there's much more to discover beyond adrenaline-fueled activities. Indulge in wineries nestled among sandstone canyons and savor the flavors of the Southwest with dishes like moles, green chiles, and mouthwatering burritos. Alongside galleries and shops selling unique local crafts, you'll find a variety of museums and historic churches to explore. Don't miss the opportunity to immerse yourself in the vibrant culture and culinary experiences of this charming city.

Atacama Desert, Chile

Experience the otherworldly beauty of the Atacama Desert in Chile. Often referred to as Earth's most Martian landscape, this desert offers a unique and unforgettable adventure. Explore the desert through hikes, bike rides, or horseback rides, and then unwind at the hotel with its interconnected pools under the starry night sky. The well-appointed rooms are designed to provide a peaceful retreat after a day of exploration in the world's driest desert.

Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

Prepare to be amazed by the world's largest salt flat, Salar de Uyuni, located in Bolivia. This expansive flat stretches over 4,086 miles and is estimated to hold approximately 10 billion tons of salt. The Salar de Uyuni is not only a mesmerizing natural wonder, but it is also a vital source of lithium reserves. Take the opportunity to visit this incredible destination before the world's demand for lithium intensifies. The play of light on the vast white expanse is truly awe-inspiring. Don't miss the chance to visit Isla de Pescadores, a fish-shaped island dotted with cacti, and spend nights at the unique salt hotel, where the walls, bar, and tables are built entirely of salt.

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Santa Fe, New Mexico is a prime destination for outdoor enthusiasts due to its ideal location between the mountains and desert. While hiking and biking opportunities abound, Santa Fe offers much more than just outdoor activities. As a UNESCO-declared "creative city," Santa Fe boasts a thriving arts community that reflects American Indian, Southwestern, and Latino cultures. The downtown plaza is brimming with galleries and shops selling unique items like turquoise and silver jewelry, hand-painted pottery, and leather goods. In addition to shopping, Santa Fe offers numerous museums, historic churches, and a vibrant Southwestern cuisine featuring dishes such as moles, green chiles, and, of course, burritos. The adobe architecture throughout the city and frequent outdoor markets and festivals add to the charm of this enchanting destination.

Our Hotel Pick: Inn and Spa at Loretto

Ojo Caliente, New Mexico

Immerse yourself in the natural wonders of Ojo Caliente, a desert community in New Mexico known for its hot springs. Unlike any other hot springs in the world, Ojo Caliente's springs boast four different types of sulfur-free mineral waters. The best way to experience these healing waters is by visiting the Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs Resort & Spa. Whether you choose to take a day soak or stay overnight, this resort offers a wide range of amenities, including a variety of massage treatments, to ensure a truly relaxing and rejuvenating experience.

For Spa Goers: Desert Hot Springs, CA

Desert Hot Springs, located near Palm Springs and serving as a gateway to Joshua Tree National Park, invites visitors with its natural hot springs, abundant sunshine, dry air, and warm weather - all perfect for pure relaxation. This low-key destination offers various budget-friendly spa options. Take a dip in the hot pool at Miracle Manor, a minimalist yet delightful resort, offering stunning views of the snowcapped San Jacinto peaks. Afterward, treat yourself to a spa treatment to recharge and rejuvenate.

Tanque Verde Ranch, Arizona

Go west and experience the beauty of nature at Tanque Verde Ranch, nestled at the base of the Rincon Mountains near Saguaro National Park, just east of Tucson, Arizona. This expansive 60,000-acre ranch is home to 180 horses, offering a range of horseback riding experiences for beginners to advanced riders. If horseback riding isn't for you, there are singletrack mountain biking trails, guided hikes, and a 1.5-acre lake stocked with bluegill and largemouth bass. And when you simply want to relax, the outdoor pool and comfortable chaise lounges await. Doubles with breakfast start at $189.

Villa Santa Cruz, Todos Santos, Baja California

Escape to the beautiful Villa Santa Cruz, a unique adobe hacienda located on 20 secluded beachfront acres in Todos Santos, Baja California. This eco-friendly retreat runs almost entirely on solar electricity and offers four suites that blend modern comfort with traditional design. Enjoy the tranquility of the secluded beach or catch some waves at La Pastora, just a five-minute walk away. Take part in yoga classes, visit the farmers' market, taste local wines at La Bodega de Todos Santos, and indulge in an in-house massage. Doubles start at $195 per night.

Little Kulala

Experience the breathtaking beauty of the Sossusvlei Dunes at Little Kulala, an intimate camp that surrounds you with its stunning ridges. Each room, known as a kulala, features private plunge pools, outdoor showers, and even a rooftop "star bed" where you can indulge in optimal stargazing. Alongside exciting desert adventures like quad biking and hot air balloon rides, make sure not to miss the cool underground wine cellar where you can enjoy tastings and private dining experiences.


Silver City, New Mexico

Getty Images

Discover the hidden gem of Silver City, located in the southwestern corner of New Mexico. This charming town offers more than just a desert destination; it's also a thriving arts community. Explore the historic downtown area, lined with shops owned by talented artisans who specialize in creating beautiful paintings, pottery, and jewelry. You can learn about their crafts and purchase unique pieces. While you're here, make sure to experience the numerous festivals, including the Silver City Blues Festival and the Wild, Wed West Pro Rodeo.

Boulder City, Nevada

George Rose/Getty Images

While Las Vegas often steals the spotlight, if you're seeking a more peaceful desert getaway, look no further than Boulder City, just a short 40-minute drive away. Escape the neon lights and immerse yourself in the tranquility of this charming town. Visit the Boulder City Art Guild & Gallery, where you can appreciate local artwork, or explore the antique stores that line the streets. Use Boulder City as a starting point for thrilling adventures such as helicopter tours of the Grand Canyon and the Hoover Dam.

Taos, New Mexico

Escape to the high desert of Taos, a small town located 90 minutes north of Santa Fe, New Mexico. Taos offers a wealth of cultural and natural attractions, including over 20 sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Explore the ancient Chapel of Santa Cruz and Taos Pueblo, a collection of adobe homes and ceremonial buildings that have been occupied for approximately 1,000 years. Whether you're interested in skiing, hot air balloon rides, river rafting, or llama treks, Taos has something for everyone. For relaxation, indulge in the abundance of hot springs, yoga studios, and holistic therapy treatments.

Our Hotel Pick: The Historic Taos Inn

Experience true comfort at The Historic Taos Inn, a cozy landmark with live entertainment at its popular pueblo bar. This 44-room inn boasts authentic New Mexican cuisine at its restaurant, complete with adobe fireplaces and lovely courtyards. The Southwest-style rooms feature amenities such as flat-screen TVs, kiva fireplaces, and viga ceilings.

Terlingua, Texas

Mariah Tyler

Located on the edge of West Texas, Terlingua is a charming town perfect for desert enthusiasts. Once a silver mining town, this sparsely populated area now attracts tourists due to its proximity to Big Bend National Park. Terlingua may be a quiet destination, but it retains its status as a preserved ghost town with its well-maintained homes and storefronts. Explore the unique shops filled with desert oddities and antiques, and don't miss the renowned Chili Cookoff. For accommodation, Terlingua offers excellent glamping options and short-term rentals that provide breathtaking views of the Chisos Mountains, such as Willow House.

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Whether you are an adventurous trekker seeking stunning landscapes or a design enthusiast looking to immerse yourself in the vibrant culture of Palm Springs, the best desert escapes and experiences are waiting to be discovered. From the mystical allure of Joshua Tree to the awe-inspiring beauty of the Grand Canyon, these destinations offer a variety of activities and sights to suit every traveler's taste. Embark on a stargazing journey near Los Angeles or indulge in spa treatments at Desert Hot Springs for the ultimate relaxation. Whatever your preferences may be, the desert holds countless hidden gems just waiting to be explored. So, pack your bags and get ready for an unforgettable desert adventure that will leave you yearning for more.

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