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I grew up a Midwestern country bumpkin complete with hay bales in my front yard and stretches of dense forest in the back. As quiet and simple as that life is, I always knew I wanted to venture somewhere completely different in adulthood and eventually landed in Phoenix, Arizona. My goal was to stay for a year, maybe two, before moving on to the mountains or ocean, but the second I landed I felt the magic of the desert take hold. 

Since then, I’ve been completely enamored by the beauty of arid landscapes. By the glowing halo of cholla cacti at sunrise and how the dusty sky lights on fire come dusk. By the way, the dry heat envelopes you like a purifying hug and the surprising coolness of the Earth rising up from desert sand. That being said, I argue that some of the best luxury resorts are in the desert simply because it’s hard to compete with the beauty that surrounds them. 

Castle Hot Springs: Morristown, Arizona

castle hot springs landscape, arizona
Courtesy, Castle Hot Springs

You know how mirages appear in those old-time movies set in the desert? It’s usually a scene where the thirsty traveler views a magnificent oasis in the near distance, only it’s an eye trick coupled with a desperate figment of the imagination. Arizona’s Castle Hot Springs, tucked deep into the Sonoran Desert just outside of the old mining town of Wickenburg, is a legitimate desert oasis—and it’s 100% real. 

The historic property was built in 1896, sat empty for a while, and underwent a massive renovation in 2018. Since then, the desert luxury resort has earned countless awards and accolades from the most discerning travel enthusiasts and outlets. The new property is quite intimate, featuring just 12 spring bungalows and 17 sky view cabins. 

The resort is most famous for its trio of natural hot springs (each a different temperature), and features a gourmet restaurant and bars with an on-site chef. Most of its produce is grown on property, using water from the springs. I doubt you’ll want to leave, but if you do, swing by Vulture City, a real ghost town that’s been thoughtfully restored, in Wickenburg. (Rooms start at $1,400 per night).

Sanctuary Camelback Mountain, A Gurney’s Resort & Spa, Paradise Valley, Arizona

a room at sanctuary camelback mountain arizona
Courtesy, Sanctuary Camelback Mountain

Living in Phoenix, I’ve had the privilege to stay at a number of the beautiful resorts in and around this arid desert valley. It’s difficult to pick a favorite, but the one I find myself recommending over and over again is Sanctuary Camelback Mountain, which sits in the shadows of this famous foothill with clear views of the “Praying Monk” that becomes silhouetted at dawn and dusk. 

This luxurious desert hotel is my favorite for a few reasons. First, its Sanctuary Spa is incredible with its Zen meditation garden, reflection pond, and intimate 12 rooms; I’ll come up with any excuse to mosey on over. The rooms and villas are exquisitely appointed, as well — each opens to the outdoors and offers stunning desert vista views. Though it’s close to the hustle of the city, the 53-acre property feels tucked away enough to make you feel like you’re in a new world. (Rooms start at $650 per night).

Amangiri: Canyon Point, Utah

amangiri, utah
Courtesy, Amangiri

If asked to visualize the perfect luxury desert resort, there’s no doubt something like Amangiri would manifest in your mind. Surrounded by 900 acres of the untouched Colorado Plateau — and views in every direction — its remoteness and quiet solitude almost feels otherworldly. 

The exquisite property melts seamlessly into the expansive canyons, gorges, and ridges surrounding it. Your stay in both the stone pavilions and suites is set up more like a retreat meant to soothe your soul and mind (once you’re there, you really don’t need to be anywhere else). As such, everything you need is on campus, including all your meals, in-room refreshments, daily scheduled group wellness classes, and guided hikes. (Rooms start at $1,800 per night).

Hyatt Indian Wells Resort & Spa: Indian Wells, California

indian wells resort and spa, california
Courtesy, Hyatt Indian Wells Resort & Spa

Palm Springs rose to fame in the mid century as a coveted “oasis in the desert” locale and remains a celebrity hotspot to this day. If you’re not sure where to stay during your visit, nearby Indian Wells Resort & Spa is a beautiful hotel with seven expansive pools and water parks, on-site restaurants, and a gorgeous, well-equipped medspa (complete with massage therapists, IV treatments, and injectables). That said, it’s one of the best luxury desert hotels for families, solo travelers, and couples. 

You can even make the stay a true retreat via the hotel’s robust wellness programming, which includes yoga, fitness classes, wellness consultations, and tennis courts. Or if you prefer to keep things even more low key, hit one of the many walking or biking trails nearby—or just hang out at a rented cabana all day long. Hey, you’re on vacation. (Rooms start at $300 per night).

ULUM Moab: Moab, Utah

ulum, moab utah
Courtesy, ULUM Moab

Moab has to be one of the most deliciously beautiful places on the entire planet—particularly if you’re enamored by the desert. This teeny western town is home to both the magnificent Arches National Park and exquisite Canyonland National Park, and it’s also only about four hours from the underrated and lesser-visited Escalante Grand Staircase National Monument.

Historically, my chief complaint with Moab is that it’s impossible to find a nice place to stay—you’re either camping or roughing it at a cheapie motel—but that changed in March 2023 with ULUM Moab (by Under Canvas). Located approximately 25 miles south of Moab proper on a gorgeous, secluded property, it is literal steps away from Looking Glass Arch. 

This new luxury resort, which features impressive glamping-style tents for lodging — has all the makings of a luxurious desert resort: high-end amenities, elevated on-site dining with unbeatable views, and a complimentary wellness program that’ll have you doing sun salutations right along with the sun itself. (Rooms start at $630 per night).

The Biltmore: Phoenix, Arizona

the biltmore arizona
Courtesy, Arizona Biltmore

Located in a quiet reprieve amid the bustle of midtown Phoenix, you’ll find the esteemed Arizona Biltmore, a true desert treasure that’s attracted everyone from golden Hollywood elite such as Marilyn Monroe and Frank Sinatra to presidents. The magnificent mid-century modern architecture was directly inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright, who wintered nearby at the famed Taliesin West (which you should absolutely visit during your stay). 

The property itself, which underwent a substantial $100 million renovation in 2020, sprawls across 39 acres of elaborate desert gardens, and includes seven sparkling swimming pools, two golf courses, and iconic architecture at every turn. A notable part of the renovation package went into the property’s Tierra Luna Spa, which is absolutely worth the splurge. (Rooms start at $275 per night).

Cover image, courtesy of Amangiri.