Do you love road trips? Weekend get-a-aways? Week-long-adventures? 2 week sagas? No matter how much time you have off or how much cash you have in your pocket, you have to try these 10 breathtaking road-trips of the American West. If you relax and embrace the fact the time in the car is part of the adventure–soaking in the landscape and enjoying the company of your travel companions–they can be amazing vacations. In the past few years, we’ve driven over 30,000 miles criss-crossing the United States, exploring the West Coast, Rockies, South West, South, and MidWest. There is still so much to explore, but here are our favorites from the West Coast and Rockies.
Short Round Trips:
Do you want to get away for a long weekend for under $500? Spend under $100 on gas, and $100-$400 on campsites, modest hotels or AirBnB’s and see the world! See Too Broke to Travel? Take a vacation for cheap.
Here are some of our favorite trips for long weekend get-aways:
1. Las Vegas to Zion National Park.
321 Miles, 5 HRS of Driving, Round-Trip
This is a great weekend trip for the Las Vegas resident, or an easy addition to other road-trips seeing nearby attractions, like the Grand Canyon. It’s only 2.5 hours from Vegas and 4.5 hours from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. If you have an extra day or two, it is DEFINITELY worth seeing Zion National Park. Being US National Park junkies, we believe Zion may be our all time favorite so far.
It’s hard to capture with photos the experience of driving into this massive canyon at sunset. 3000 foot rock faces of sheer mountains spike up on all sides. As you can drive deep into the canyon, it engulfs you completely. One part of the park has a road that climbs up the canyon walls and then the road goes into the rock-face for one whole mile! You come out the other side of the tunnel above the canyon below. Unbelievable! We got there right as the sun was going down, and it was mind-blowing. We’ve experienced a lot of mountains in our lives, but this was a first of it’s kind.
2. San Francisco to Yosemite, Monterey Bay, and Santa cruz, CA
500 miles, 10 hrs of driving, Round-trip
Do you want to see surf and summits? Explore California’s best beaches and mountains on one epic road-trip? This route climbs from San Francisco to Yosemite National Park, then hits the ocean down in Monterey Bay, cruises back up to Santa Cruz, and returns to SF in under 500 miles. Cut this in half to focus more time adventuring in each location, exploring the hikes and climbs of Yosemite, or the beaches of Santa Cruz and marine life in Monterey Bay, and the famous Monterey Bay Aquarium of course.
3. Los Angeles to Las Vegas & The Grand Canyon
769 miles, 12 hrs of driving Round-trip
This is perfect for a long weekend for energetic travelers. Los Angeles to Las Vegas is only 4.5 hours (270 miles). If you love the glitz, glam, and urban party jam, that trip may be enough for you. But if you like getting out in the woods and seeing one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World, add the Grand Canyon for another 250 miles and 2 hours from Vegas each way. If you have an extra day and are feeling ambitious, you could even squeeze in Zion National Park with only an extra 5 hrs of driving.
4. San Francisco, CA to Los Angeles, CA
800 miles – 12 hrs of Driving, Round-trip
See what California is all about with the coastal drive between SF and LA. Wine country, beaches, farmland…California has it all. Suggested towns to hit up along the Coast: Santa Cruz, Monterey, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Santa Monica are some of our favs.
The extra hours to drive at least one direction down California Route 1 along the coast is definitely worth the extra time. Powering the other direction on I-5 is far less scenic but completes the journey. If you rent a car and fly home, this can also be a beautiful weekend adventure, plus you can cut the driving time in half. Sometimes you can even get flights between SF & LA for $99. However, once you spend the time waiting at the airport, rental car etc, it can be faster just to drive. So we recommend the freedom of the open road!
5. Seattle to Portland & Astoria, OR
502 miles, 9.5 hrs of driving, Round-trip
See the beautiful Pacific Northwest in this Washington and Oregon coast trip. We did it from San Francisco, but it would be easier and shorter if you left from Seattle or Portland. Must sees: Astoria, Cape Disappointment (trust us, it won’t disappoint), and most of all: Tillamook Cheese Factory! Amazing ice-cream, cheese, and CHEESE CURDS! Roast cheese curds over a campfire like a marshmallow, and you’ll have yourself a feast! This is our favorite campfire delicacy.
Medium-length Regional trips
6. San Francisco, CA to Redwood National Park, Astoria & Portland, OR
1530 miles, 28 hrs of driving, Round-trip
We did this over a 4th of July weekend a number of years ago when our work schedules were such that we had little time off to take vacations together. The Redwoods are amazing, and the Oregon Coast is lovely. Our favorite day was exploring Astoria, OR, and Cape Disappointment, WA. Brunch in a trendy hipster cafe in Portland on the way back south to Cali rounded out a lovely long weekend get-away.
7. Ultimate Utah National Parks
1,415 Miles, 23 hrs driving, Round-trip
Fly in or start in Las Vegas and explore the many gorgeous National Parks of Southwest Utah, including:
- Zion National Park
- Bryce Canyon National Park
- Canyonlands National Park
- Arches National Park
- Capitol Reef National Park
Depending on your skill level, you could spend a day or a week, or a lifetime in each of these parks. We spent a day in Arches and barely scratched the surface, and stayed and explored Zion for over a week. Lots to see, and luckily in Utah, there are a huge concentration of National Parks and National Monuments all within a days drive of each other, so its very accessible. We definitely want to go back and explore some more.
This road-trip is a great week -long trip for families with kids because the parks are less than a few hours from each other, and have a range of skill levels and comfort with the outdoors. In Zion, there are breathtaking paved hikes that can be done in a wheel chair or with a stroller at the base of some of the hardest rock-climbing in the world…and everything in between. It is also a photographer’s dream.
On this trip, we learned about slot canyons, which are narrow canyons formed with water dripping through the rocks….we are so excited to go to Antelope Canyon to see one of the most famously photographed slot canyons in the US.
8. Southwest Rockies
2,100 miles, 37 hrs driving, round-trip
After driving from San Francisco to Phoenix, Arizona to pick up our new tiny home on wheels, we wanted to explore the rest of the Southern Rockies in the remaining months of fall. We couldn’t have picked a better time of year. October blessed us with 60-70 degree F weather up through the Rockies of Colorado and New Mexico. We then adventured through Utah..see Lesbians Do Utah.
If you have the time, we highly recommend exploring this part of the country.
Powering across Southern New Mexico on I-10 may seem a bit bleak, but taking the time to enjoy northern New Mexico is full of treasures. Highlights include: the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta (1st week of October) the art galleries & architecture of Santa Fe and the Taos Pueblo…and some amazing New Mexican food!
Here is a loop we recommend:
- Las Vegas, NV
- Grand Canyon, AZ
- Albuquerque, NM (for the Balloon Fiesta!)
- Santa Fe, NM,
- Taos NM,
- Manitou Springs, CO
- Rocky Mountain National Park
- Utah National Parks
9. San Francisco, CA to Seward Alaska (West Coast Version)
3,200 miles – 60 hrs of driving, one-way
This is the most epic road we had done yet. It stretched 6 days, across 4 states and 2 provinces. It was an amazing way to see the entire West Coast of North America. San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, Vancouver, Rural British Colombia…all the way across Alaska and down to it’s southern coast to Seward, AK. Another good tips is to cut off part of BC by taking a 2-3 day car ferry up through the inside passage between Bellingham, WA and a variety of places in Alaska. We wanted to, but didn’t book far enough in advance, so plan ahead 🙂
10. Seward, AK to San Francisco, CA (Rocky Mountain Version)
4,082 miles – 70 hrs of driving, one-way
With friends to visit and places on our bucket list in the Rockies, we decided to take the return trip down from Alaska inland through the Northern Rockies, hitting up Edmonton, AB, Calgary, AB, Glacier National Park, Yellowstone National Park, and Grand Teton National Park. If you just want to visit the National Parks, you can shorten the trip by driving from Seattle. Or if you’re flying in, we recommend flying into Calgary, explore the Canadian National Parks like Banff, and then drive into the US. We did this drive in mid-September, which was an ideal time, particularly for Glacier National Park. Fall is after peak season, and unlike May, when the snow hasn’t melted on the passes, September welcomed us with low crowds and great hikes.
So what’s the take away? Road trips are awesome! It’s about exploring and embracing the unknown. It’s about slowing down and having time to just be. It’s about getting out of our murky routines and changing pace. Seeing new things helps widen our minds and challenges our assumptions. Changing our surroundings and seeing nature at her grandest helps us see how very small or contextual our problems and stresses can be. Ultimately road trips are not just about the road or the destination…they are about making time to discover ourselves along the way.
Plus, the cost of camping and gas is relatively one of the cheapest ways to see the world. It doesn’t have to be fancy to see some pretty amazing stuff. Get out there and explore!