Incredible Small Desert Towns With Fewer Than 10,000 Residents
The U.S. is blessed with a whole range of ecosystems that travelers can enjoy. But while we love the mountains and oceans, we also think the country's deserts should get more love.
Mostly spread out around the southwest, between Texas and southern California, the American desert holds incredible beauty — and the best way to enjoy it is by staying in a charming small town.
Wondering where to start? These are the best small desert towns in the U.S. with fewer than 10,000 residents.
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Sedona isn't just a top desert town, but one of the best overall small towns in the U.S. Surrounded by the Arizona desert, it boasts proximity to Red Rock State Park. Its beauty makes it perfect for all kinds of trips, whether you're going solo or visiting with friends. Get out into the desert by hiking, horseback riding or doing an ATV tour. When you want a break, head to town to buy unique art from the neo-hippie community that has made a niche for itself here.
Where to stay: Southwest Inn at Sedona
Joshua Tree, California
While Joshua Tree National Park is near some popular cities, stay in its homonym town to enjoy peace and tranquility. The park is, of course, the main thing to do here, as people come from all over to see the beauty of its unusual trees and breathtaking landscape. In town, go to the Noah Purifoy Desert Art Museum or learn about film history at Pioneertown, which has stood in for the Wild West in many Hollywood films.
Where to stay: Sacred Sands
Taos, New Mexico
Despite having fewer than 6,500 permanent residents, Taos is a popular small town destination. Its biggest draw is the collection of nearby Pueblos, where members of one of the area's oldest Indigenous communities keep traditions alive. Considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Pueblos receive visitors who want to learn about Puebloan culture. Don't leave without trying pre-Columbian food from the region.
Where to stay: The Historic Taos Inn
Called the "Santa Fe of Texas," Alpine is an underrated desert town you need to add to your list. Its biggest flex is having the darkest night sky in the continental United States. It's also only about an hour away from Big Bend National Park. Catch a show at the Granada Theater, visit the centenary general story, CG Morrison Co., and enjoy wine out of a tiny Airstream bar at Petit Bijou.
Where to stay:Holland Hotel
Though tiny, Moab attracts visitors throughout the year thanks to its proximity to Arches and Canyonlands national parks. Besides the big-name stops, the town is also the gateway to other natural wonders like the Dead Horse Point State Park. Travelers will basically spend their time exploring the otherworldly rock formations, arches and canyons of southern Utah. Other cool things you'll get to see are ancient rock art and dinosaur tracks.
Where to stay: Radcliffe Moab
Another charming desert town in Arizona, Bisbee is known to attract an alternative crowd that'll likely try to talk you into cleansing your aura and realigning your chakras. But if this isn't your thing, just enjoy the local art galleries and homemade goods before visiting the Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum. Then, of course, head out into the arid Mule Mountains to immerse in nature.
Where to stay: The Carrick
Borrego Springs, California
Visit this Dark Sky Community and spend your nights gazing up at the wondrous sky at Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. You'll be able to see many constellations with the naked eye, but there is also an observatory that'll allow you to appreciate the universe even more. During the day, you can go golfing, hike around Borrego Palm Canyon or walk around Palm Canyon Drive, the town's lively main street.
Where to stay: Borrego Valley Inn
For a town this small, Rangely has plenty of attractions to entice people to leave Denver and Boulder. The two most popular spots are Dinosaur National Monument and the Petroglyph Panels. You can spend a couple of days just enjoying these two places, but if you're looking for even more things to do, plan a picnic or a day of jet skiing at Kenney Reservoir. Other places to enjoy water activities in the desert are White River and Douglas Creek, both of which are ideal for kayaking, rafting and fishing.
Where to stay: Moosehead Lodge
Although Beatty's population falls very short of even 1,000 people, visitors flock here in order to enter Death Valley National Park. Life here revolves around the park and the nature it protects, so you'll find plenty of fun tours. Other cool things to do include visiting Rhyolite Ghost Town, catching a show at the Amargosa Opera House and taking advantage of the lack of light pollution to do some stargazing.
Where to stay: Death Valley Inn & RV Park
Ojo Caliente, New Mexico
With just 135 permanent residents, Ojo Caliente is one of the coolest tiny towns in the U.S. Known for its natural hot springs, the town is literally an oasis in the desert. Come here to leave the modern world behind and disconnect from your worries. After a trip spent soaking in minerals, hiking and biking at Carson National Forest and visiting Native American archaeological sites, you'll find your body and soul rejuvenated.
Where to stay: Ojo Caliente Mineral Springs & Resort