There are so many unforgettable adventures to be had on a West Coast road trip. From surf towns, to jagged peaks, here are the top 10 west road trips you need to take at least once!
If you are considering a West Coast road trip, I hope this will help you narrow down which destinations are best for your type of travel and the activities you love to do.
Every year we do at least one West Coast road trip. Sometimes it’s straight up the coast from San Diego, California to Port Angeles, Washington and often up into British Columbia, while some years we venture further east towards the Rockies. Last year, we drove all the way from San Diego to Alaska!
I love when our West Coast road trips allow us to enjoy and explore the incredible national parks of Yosemite, Glacier, Yellowstone, Tetons, and Rocky.
It’s no wonder why we can never get ourselves past Colorado when we take our summer road trips. There’s just too much fun to be had on a West Coast road trip. It doesn’t matter if you are a beach, forest, lake, or mountain person, the West Coast has a road trip you will absolutely love.
There is so much adventure to be had on a West Coast road trip and it feels like there is never enough time to fit it all in.
We’ve traveled all around the world and and can honestly tell you that the West Coast of the US has everything you can ever want.
Whether it’s surf towns, empty beaches, jagged peaks, alpine lakes, or lush rainforests, you have the opportunity to explore anything you could dream of on the West Coast.
We’ve also done all the road trips in this post in an RV. While these road trips can be done in many various types of travel, we love the freedom and flexibility of RV travel so you might want to take a peek at Outdoorsy if you are considering renting an RV for your West Coast road trip.
First time road tripping? Be sure to check out all our road trip resources at the very bottom of this post.
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10 West Coast Road Trip Suggested Itineraries
Here are 10 different suggested itineraries for a West Coast road trip. I highlighted some of our favorite parts of each road trip to help you narrow down the best one for you.
1 | San Diego to San Francisco
If you love beaches, this is the road trip for you. With so many rad beach towns along Highway 1, the biggest challenge will be deciding which to see and which to skip because honestly, each of these cities could be its own one-week destination.
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Best Time To Go
You can do this road trip any time of the year. Southern California’s temperate coast is nice most of the year. Even in the winter you’ll experience 70’s in San Diego, mid 60’s in the Central Coast, and mid 50’s as you get closer to San Francisco.
However, winter storms often bring in rain so make sure you have a good rain jacket and even in the summer the marine layer along the coast often lingers throughout the day so you’ll want a warm sweatshirt.
Surfing is definitely the highlight on this trip but even if you don’t surf, exploring the many beaches, walking or biking along the boardwalks, camping at the many California State Parks, and eating and shopping are all wonderful ways to spend your days on this road trip.
Tip For Driving in Southern California
- If you take I-5 to I-73 to I-405 (San Clemente to Carpinteria), the I-73 is a toll road and cost about $7 but there is rarely traffic this way and is worth the money.
- If you take I-5 through LA, try driving through early in the morning (as in leave San Diego by 4 a.m.) or drive through after 9 p.m. to save you the headache of LA traffic.
Destinations Along The Way
San Diego, San Clemente, Ventura, Carpinteria, Pismo, San Luis Obispo, San Simeon, Big Sur, Carmel, Monterey, Santa Cruz, Half Moon Bay, Pacifica, San Francisco
I have to start with my hometown. San Diego is amazing and it’s like nowhere else in the world. I’ve traveled a lot over the past 5 years and every time I return home to San Diego, I’m filled with so much gratitude and appreciation for America’s Finest City.
San Diego in itself should be an entire week but if you don’t have the time then I recommend exploring Pacific Beach, Little Italy, and Encinitas. If you have more time in San Diego, then check out my Ultimate Guide to San Diego blog (coming soon).
San Clemente + Dana Point
Both of these surf towns are awesome beach destinations with great restaurants, world class surf breaks, and tons of boutique and surf shops.
I prefer camping at Doheny State Park since you can camp right on the sandy beach.
San Clemente State Beach is also great since you are somewhat close to Trestles surf break. I don’t recommend San Onofre State Beach because you are close to the freeway and it’s a long walk to the beach.
Carpinteria + Ventura
While Santa Barbara is nice and filled with plenty of entertainment, great restaurants, and shopping experiences, I prefer the less crowded chill surf vibe of Carpinteria.
Camping at Carpinteria is one of my favorite campgrounds in California, but the surf vibe in Ventura is also a great way to spend a few days chilling out.
This is a great adventure destination. There aren’t many places in the world where you can surf in the morning, ride quads or dune buggies in the day, soak in hot springs at sunset, and still find time to enjoy some amazing food.
It’s also one of the only places I know on the West Coast where you can drive onto the beach to camp.
San Luis Obispo
Right next door to Pismo is one of the best SoCal towns, San Luis Obispo. And while personally I don’t think SLO is nearly as great for mountain biking, hiking, and rock climbing as the PNW or Colorado, it still has an amazing charm to it.
The sense of peacefulness here makes it easy to escape the crowds of Southern California.
San Simeon + Elephant Seal Beach
My oldest son, Daniel, really doesn’t like to travel, but asks us all the time if we can go here.
It’s pretty rad to watch the elephant seals because even when they don’t do much, their body movements are just so hilarious.
Big Sur is a hikers paradise and also a great destination for rest and relaxation. Submersing yourself in the forest surrounding Big Sur, taking in the chill vibes, and experiencing the beauty of driving Highway 1 are all great motivators to add Big Sur to your West Coast road trip.
With cottages (that look like something from a fairytale) lining the downtown streets and more sports cars driving around than anywhere else I’ve ever been (okay maybe not Italy), it’s no wonder Carmel-by-the-Sea is a popular tourist destination.
I personally loved the beautiful white sand crescent shaped Carmel Beach and my kids loved climbing the huge trees in the park above the beach. Carmel-by-the-Sea is a great place to shop, browse the many art galleries, and indulge in some wine tasting.
I have to be honest, I usually drive right through Carmel now and spend my time in Monterey. I love downtown Monterey and look forward to coffee at East Village Coffee Lounge, dinner and beer at Alvarado Street Brewery, and walking at Asilomar State Beach.
Monterey Bay Aquarium is a one of a kind experience and kids young and old will love getting to see the marine life up close.
This is some of the best surf in all of California (actually the world for that matter). What makes Santa Cruz so epic though isn’t just the surf or the surf vibes in town, it’s that you can be playing in the ocean and then 10 minutes later be hiking and mountain biking through redwood forest.
If your road trip isn’t taking you all the way to Redwood National Park (which is up near the Oregon border), then detour over to Henry Cowell Redwoods or Big Basin Redwoods State Parks to experience the wonder of the redwoods.
Half Moon Beach
There isn’t a ton to do in this sleepy town, but if you love camping, Half Moon State Beach is epic beachfront camping.
You probably won’t be getting in the water here, but if you happen to time it in the winter when a storm comes through, you have to go watch the big wave surfers tackle Mavericks.
For a little more in the ways of amenities, restaurants, and things to do, spend at least a day in Pacifica.
There is great hiking in the mountains surrounding Pacifica as well as trails overlooking the coast. This is also one of the best beaches for learning to surf.
Besides the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, you should definitely check out Alcatraz, Lombard Street, Chinatown, North Beach, Muir Woods, and the rad beaches of Muir and Stinson.
Come hungry because San Francisco is a foodies paradise! Between all the farm to table restaurants, cafes, bakeries, and breweries, you’ll have trouble deciding where to begin. My favorite is Dandelion Chocolate for coffee, sipping chocolate, and dessert.
2 | Northern Cali + Southern Oregon
This is a great trip for beach and forest lovers, especially if you love walking on the beach and aren’t necessarily looking to get into the ocean (brrr🥶).
If you choose summertime, there are many bodies of water (lakes, waterfall pools, rivers) to play in on this road trip and a lot of great hikes through the forest.
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Best Time To Go
While you technically could do this year round, it will probably be wet and cold in the winter and if you want to play in the water, you’ll want to save this one for late spring, summer, or best, early fall.
There is a great diversity of adventures to choose from on this West Coast road trip. You could brave the cold and surf the northern Cali coast, find epic hikes to gorgeous waterfalls, explore the cool beaches and headlands along Highway 1, hike through the Redwoods, and go boating on the Rogue River, Lake Almanor, or Lake Shasta. Plus, in summer, there are juicy blackberries growing wild all over the place.
Destinations Along The Way
San Francisco, Point Reyes, Mendocino, Redwoods, Avenue of the Giants, Ashland, Rogue River, Mount Shasta, Mount Lassen, Lake Almanor, Redding
Just northwest of San Francisco is the hidden gem of Point Reyes National Seashore. This nationally protected coastline is a great place to escape the crowds of San Francisco.
Not only does it have an extensive network of hiking trails, there’s a good chance of spotting migrating gray whales, and every time we’ve hiked here there have been Tule Elk right alongside the trail. Last time we even witnessed a coyote hunting only a few hundred feet from us.
Mendocino itself is a super quaint little town, that again, is a great spot for some rest and relaxation.
Don’t miss hiking down to the beach at Mendocino Headlands or exploring the many hiking trails through the temperate coniferous forest at Van Damme and Russian Gulch State Parks. These lush trails are surrounded by huge trees and dense ferns and the waterfalls in the spring are incredible.
Also, make time to stop at Bowling Ball Beach and Fort Ross on your way.
Avenue of the Giants
This is one of my favorite drives of all time. It’s a really incredible feeling to get to drive so close to these giants and the way the road weaves through the canopy of trees makes you feel like you’ve been transported to another world.
Try to set aside some time to explore or have a picnic while you are here.
Redwood National Park
Imagine what it would be like if the universe you give you a hug. That’s what it’s like standing in the Redwood Forest :). These giants are truly awe inspiring and worth the effort to get to.
We haven’t explored nearly enough of this “wild and scenic” area that runs from Crater Lake out west to the Pacific Ocean.
The steep canyons, gentle meadows, amazing rock formations, and old growth forests provide numerous opportunities for hiking, mountain biking, and whitewater rafting for all levels. And, if you want to fish for salmon, this is is where it’s at.
Mt Shasta + Mc Cloud
Directly on the I-5 you have a few cute towns that are worth a day exploring- Weed, Mount Shasta, Mc Cloud, and Dunsmuir.
There isn’t much to Weed and Mount Shasta other than some old antique + touristy stores but it’s still worth checking out if you have time.
Once you’ve had your fill of antiques and the pleasantries of small town living, it’s time to explore some waterfalls.
McCloud Falls is a short hike and you can jump into the pools to cool off in summer, while the more famous McArthur-Burney falls doesn’t require any hiking to get to and if you want to get wet, you’ll have to drive down to the lake. Both have great campgrounds next to them.
In Redding, check out the architectural marvel, Sundial Bridge, and bike ride along the 17 mile paved Sacramento River Trail.
Just north of Redding there’s Whiskeytown National Recreation Area, a great place to play on the water recreation, or go hiking and mountain biking. There’s great climbing at Castle Crags State Park or for epic views, hike the rigorous 6.5-mile Castle Dome Trail.
You can go spelunking at Shasta Caverns or learn more about hydroelectric power at Shasta Dam. My personal fav is renting a boat and spending a day playing on Lake Shasta.
Mount Lassen + Lake Almanor
Lassen National Park is like a mix of Yosemite and Yellowstone but with way less crowds. While you won’t get to see a geyser erupt, you can explore steam vents, mud pots, and hot springs.
In the summer, Lake Almanor is a playground for the water enthusiast and has many lakefront campgrounds.
3 | Sacramento to Los Angeles
This road trip provides a great diversity in very little time. Experience city life and iconic attractions in Sacramento or San Francisco, explore the beauty and grandness of one of America’s best national parks at Yosemite, witness the diversity of ecosystems in Death Valley, and finish with shopping, food, and the beach in Los Angeles.
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Best Time To Go
Fall is best when temperatures are cool enough for Death Valley and Tioga Pass is still open to drive through in Yosemite. If you are skipping Death Valley, then summer is a great time for this road trip, but note that Yosemite roads often don’t open until mid-July.
After exploring the attractions in San Francisco or Old Sac, I’d definitely etch out 2 full days to explore the hikes in Yosemite Valley and Tuolumne Meadows.
If you have time, detouring to both Death Valley and Sequoia national parks would be incredible, but there are also some pretty epic hikes, MTB, and gorgeous scenery in Mammoth and Bishop. Climb, hike, or just camp at Joshua Tree. Get in a day of boating on Big Bear Lake.
Then, finish this trip off with some surf and beach life and you’ll be amazed at how many adventures you can cram into a week or two.
Destinations Along The Way
Sacramento, Lake Tahoe, Yosemite, Mammoth, Bishop, Death Valley, Optional: Sequoias, Joshua Tree, Big Bear, Los Angeles
One thing you have to do in Sacramento is tour the Wild West themed Old Sac. There’s also the train museum here that my kids loved when they were young and the candy store seems to be the highlight of the area for them 🤷♀️.
Lake Tahoe is a year round adventure destination. This winter wonderland has everything you want from ski resorts to nordic trails, sledding, sleigh rides, and backcountry snowmobile tours.
In the summer, the turquoise lake looks like something out of a fairy tale and between the lake and the sharp jagged mountains surrounding it, any outdoor adventure you can imagine is possible here.
While the Redwoods are like a big hug, standing beneath the granite domes in Yosemite and feeling the ions coming off Nevada Falls is like being struck by lightning.
While this hike in Yosemite Valley is one of my favorite day hikes, I enjoyed the mellow trails and beauty of camping in Tuolumne Meadows more. If you like exploring the backcountry, get a permit and hike between the two areas.
In the heart of the Sierra Nevada mountain range lies Mammoth Lakes. Like the Tahoe area, Mammoth offers year round adventures but here it comes with a small town vibe.
You’ll love the local feel as you explore Devils Postpile National Monument, zip down the slopes of Mammoth Mountain, explore miles and miles of hiking and mountain biking trials, rock climb routes from easy all the way to advanced routes, and soak in the nearby hot springs.
Bishop + Mt Whitney
Bishop used to be a sleepy town you only stopped in to fuel up on your way to Mammoth or Yosemite, now it’s a destination in itself.
Climbing nearby at Owens River Gorge is one of the many popular climbing areas in this Gateway-to-the-Sierras town. There are great camping and hiking opportunities all around Bishop, check out Big Pine Lakes.
Just a few miles to the east is the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest with some of the coolest looking twisted tree trunks you’ve ever seen.
This is the gateway to Mt Whitney, the tallest mountain in the contiguous United States at 14,505 feet. If hiking to the top of Whitney isn’t your thing, you may like camping at Alabama Hills Recreation Area where you’ll get epic views of Mt Whitney.
Plus, camping here is totally free and there are other outdoor adventures like hiking to sandstone arches, mountain biking, and rock climbing. Bring your camera because the night photography is amazing!
At 282 feet below sea level, Death Valley is the hottest place on Earth, but there’s more to this desert than just sand. If you only have a few hours in Death Valley, be sure to check out the salt flats of Badwater Basin, the 600 foot deep Ubehebe Crater, and the green and turquoise hues of Artist’s Pallette.
Some years in spring, after heavy rainfall, you’ll get to witness this desert come to life with a colorful blanket of wildflowers.
Sequoia + Kings Canyon National Parks
Experience the wonder and awe of standing beneath the worlds largest trees at Sequoia National Park, or head over to a national park that John Muir said Rivals the beauty of Yosemite, Kings Canyon. With trees that seem to touch the sky, massive rock faces, and the deepest canyon in the United States, you’re going to want a few days to explore both parks.
Be sure to check out the General Grant Tree and Redwood Canyon in Kings Canyon. If you like backpacking, there are some epic trails that start in both these parks. We have our eye on doing Rae Lakes Loop and Glacier Pass to Sawtooth Pass.
As a haven for SoCal rock climbers, Joshua Tree’s beautiful combination of large boulders and numerous trails offers hikers and nature lovers a wonderful weekend escape.
Camping at Joshua Tree is awesome but most sites are first come first serve and fill up fast on the weekend. If you have kids, look into camping at Jumbo Rocks Campground. My kids loved scrambling the rocks here! And for great views, don’t miss hiking to the top of Ryan Mountain.
For a quick and easy escape to the mountains in Southern California, Big Bear has a lot to offer. In the winter, there’s tubing, skiing or riding at two resorts, nordic skiing, and snowshoeing. In the summer, you can rent a boat and play on the lake.
Holcomb Valley is great for rock climbing, mountain biking, hiking, camping, and off roading.
There’s just so much to choose from in LA. From Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm, and Six Flags to Hollywood and Muscle Beach, you’ll have a hard time choosing what to do and what to save for the next trip.
4 | Utah
With this road trip you’ll get to see 5 of America’s National Parks including the one I consider to be one of the best, Zion NP. And if you drive from Bryce to Moab on Highway 12, the views are incredible with a lot of great places to stop and explore. This road trip is perfect if you love deserts and canyons.
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Best Time To Go
You can do this year round but if you want to hike then summer and fall are a better choice. A lot of this road trip is at high elevation so beginning in November there will more than likely be snow on the ground. If you don’t care about hiking, we’ve done part of this in winter and I have to say, Zion and Bryce in the snow are so incredibly beautiful. There is a lifetime of adventure near Salt Lake City especially in the Cottonwood Canyons and Park City area. My only suggestion would be to avoid the mud season of April and May when you can’t play in the snow and hikes are well…muddy.
You have to do at least one hike in Zion. Take in the views from Bryce Canyon overlook or hike the Fairyland Loop.
Explore Arches, Dead Horse, and Canyonlands, but if you have time for only one, then go early to see Delicate Arch. Rent mountain bikes for a day in Moab or hire a guide and go climbing.
Climb in Maple Canyon, Cottonwood Canyon, and American Fork. Hike near Alta and Brighton ski resorts. Mountain bike Park City. Or in the winter, ski one or all of Salt Lake’s 6 resorts.
Destinations Along The Way
Park City, Wasatch Range, Maple Canyon, St George, Zion, Bryce, Moab
One of the many things that makes Park City an epic stop on a West Coast Road Trip is that you can hike and mountain bike right from the center of town.
Besides so many outdoor adventures, Park City has great food and shopping. Don’t miss the delicious chocolate at Ritual Chocolate.
Also, in the summer, drive over the Guardsman Pass and hike to Lake Mary and Lake Catherine from Brighton ski resort or mountain bike the Wasatch Crest Trail.
Big + Little Cottonwood Canyon
These two canyons deserve multiple days because there is so much outdoor adventure to be had here. From mountain biking to hiking and climbing, we love it when our road trips cross Salt Lake City mainly for the fun we have camping and playing in the Cottonwood Canyons.
This is a great destination if you love rock climbing and camping (if not, skip it). There are few places in the US with campgrounds right at the base of the climbing walls like you find here. Plus, the climbing on conglomerate is a really unique experience.
Compared to nearby Zion NP, Bryce NP, and Vegas, St George is often overlooked but there’s a lot of great things to explore in this up and coming town.
Our favorite is Snow Canyon where the desert landscape is surrounded by orange and white striped sandstone cliffs providing opportunities for some great rock climbing as well as hiking and biking trails.
Be sure to get a coffee at Perks! and The Crêpery is fantastic place for breakfast.
There are a lot of amazing national parks to visit on a west coast road trip but this is the one you can’t miss. Zion is a magical place and one of the easiest national parks to explore.
While you could brave the famous trail, Angel’s Landing, the views from Observation Point are equally magnificent and way less crowded. Our favorite hike in Zion though is The Subway, however, it does require a permit in order to hike it.
After a long day exploring, head to Zion Pizza and Noodle for a delicious meal.
Sitting at the edge of the pine forest lies a canyon like nothing you’ve ever seen. The orange and red hoodoos of Bryce Canyon are gorgeous when seen from above, but really need to be experienced up close by hiking down into the canyon.
Our favorite hike is the Fairyland Loop. Also, if you can, camp inside the park so that you are literally camped at the trailheads making it easy to catch sunrise or sunset over the hoodoos.
Drive Highway 12
The drive from Bryce to Moab via highway 12 is filled with some great adventures. You can stop and explore Grand Escalante Staircase, Capitol Reef NP, or one of the numerous slot canyons along the way.
I have to be honest, Moab almost didn’t make the cut. I’m not a fan mostly because every time we come here it’s just way too crowded.
That being said, Moab is rad when you think of how much mountain biking, hiking, and climbing there is here. Plus there is a ton of free camping, but it fills fast on busy weekends so either get there mid week to snag a spot or reserve a hotel or campsite way in advance.
Moab is a central jumping off point for exploring Arches NP (a must see in my opinion), Dead Horse NP, and Canyonlands NP. The best time to visit though is spring and fall.
5 | Vegas to Phoenix
This road trip takes you to Grand Canyon NP. It’s good if you are looking for a shorter road trip and are happy taking in gorgeous views. You can also squeeze Zion and possibly Bryce Canyon into this road trip.
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Best Time To Go
While I suppose you could do this any time of the year, temperatures can get really hot in the desert in the summer so I’d found doing it in May or October to be the best times for this trip.
We love rock climbing in Red Rocks but if that’s not your thing, just set aside an hour or so to take the scenic drive through it. Then, give yourself one full day in Vegas to see the city transform into a magical sea of lights at night.
Again, one hike in Zion is a must. You could try to get a permit to hike the Wave. Go boating on Lake Powell. Pay to explore Antelope Canyon. Take sunrise photos at Horseshoe Bend. Hike into the Grand Canyon, ride the train, and see wildlife at Bearizona. And finish off the trip with the magical energy vortexes in Sedona.
Destinations Along The Way
Red Rocks Conservation Area, Zion, Wave, Lake Powell, Antelope Canyon, Grand Canyon, Havasu Falls, Flagstaff, Sedona
Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area
I suppose everyone needs to see the city of lights once in their life but the only reason we now stop near Vegas on a West Coast road trip is to hike or rock climb at Red Rocks. The 13 mile drive through the park is worth the detour but if you have time, I recommend spending a half day hiking here or a full day of rock climbing. There’s a very inexpensive camping spot nearby but it has limited space for RVs and mostly caters to tent camping.
This is one of the things that is still on our bucket list mostly because it’s really hard to get a permit to hike it and depending on road conditions you often need 4wd to access the trailhead.
It’s really cool and a great thing to do if you are visiting Nevada, Southern Utah, or Northern Arizona.
There are a couple great ways to explore Lake Powell. You can join a guided tour, rent your own power boat and play for a day, rent a houseboat for a week and dock in one of the many coves or set up camp on the shoreline, or camp at Lone Rock campground and enjoy the lake from the sandy beach.
Antelope Canyon + Horseshoe Bend
While I wouldn’t go out of my way to see this, if you make it to Lake Powell, you should definitely set aside a day to explore Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend. Note that in order to visit both of these locations it does cost now.
The Grand Canyon is as amazing as everyone makes it out to be and is another place you absolutely need to see once in your life.
While a backpacking trip to the canyon floor is one of the best ways to take in the full canyon experience (as is rafting it), getting to take in the views of the canyon walls’ many striations of colors from the rim trail is still something you’ll never forget.
Another bucket list adventure for us is backpacking to the magical turquoise falls of Havasupai.
We haven’t done this one mostly because of how expensive it is for 7 of us since the fee is now over $75 per person per night, but if cost isn’t a factor, this is a gorgeous hike.
The red rocks and energy vortexes of Sedona are something you will never forget. Sedona is filled with some pretty rad hikes like Devil’s Bridge, plus some amazing intermediate to advance mountain biking trails.
One of the most popular things to do in Sedona is take a Jeep Tour.
Flagstaff has great camping, hiking, climbing and mountain biking and is surrounded by forest. Be sure to check out the lava tube cave and eat at Beaver Street Brewery.
Our Southwest National Park Road Trip Itinerary has more info on other destinations near Flagstaff like rock climbing in Winslow, driving the rim of Canyon de Chelley, and visiting the Petrified Forest.
6 | Idaho
Idaho is one of our favorite places to visit because there are so many open spaces to explore and adventures to be had. My favorite thing to do is mountain bike in Idaho and get food at their incredible farmers markets in the summer.
I’ve been to Boise only once and wasn’t a fan so I left it out of this blog, however, I know a lot of people who love Boise so I wouldn’t necessarily rule it out.
I did however love Sandpoint and the only reason I didn’t include it was because it’s a little bit out of the way.
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- RV + Van Rentals Boise
Best Time To Go
This is a better road trip for summer or fall when all the roads are open through Stanley, but you could do this in winter and ski Sun Valley and McCall.
Destinations Along The Way
Boise, McCall, Coeur D’Alene, Salmon, Stanley, Sun Valley, Crater of the Moon, City of Rocks,
Go mountain biking in Boise, McCall, Sandpoint, Missoula, or Sun Valley. Go boating in Coeur D’Alene or McCall. Hike the Sawtooths. Be sure to soak in a hot spring.
Drive up Trail Creek Road near Sun Valley to camp or hike, star gaze and climb at City of Rocks. Climb at Post Falls. Eat at a farmers market. Camp at Ponderosa State Park. Bike Crater of the Moon.
While Idaho has plenty of small towns, this one is my absolute favorites. In the winter, you can ski Brundage Resort, however it’s playing in lake and camping at Ponderosa State Park in the summer that draws me here.
I love the miles of hiking and MTB trails at Ponderosa and that it’s a quick bike ride from the campground into town where there are many great coffee shops, ice cream, burgers, sushi and much more.
We’ve been here twice for Fourth of July and the town of Mc Call puts on quite a show and days worth of entertainment. I’m hoping to get to McCall next time with 4wd to explore the many backcountry adventures surrounding this rad town.
Coeur de Alene
A popular destination for boaters, Coeur d’ Alene is also where it’s at in Idaho for fine dining and shopping.
Not to worry if you don’t want to spend a lot of money, there are inexpensive things to do here like walk the world’s longest floating boardwalk, Centennial Trail or Tubbs Hill. You could also go berry picking, rock climb at Q’Emelin Park, or bike the Hiawatha Trail.
Stanley + The Sawtooth Mountain
One of the most beautiful and cheap destinations on a West Coast Road Trip, the area surrounding Stanley has hundreds of acres of BLM land and miles of trails for hiking, MTB, and off roading.
If you’re just passing through, two great, but challenging, hikes are Goat Lake and Alice Lake. For an easy hike try Bridalveil Falls.
This bike friendly ski town is great for families and outdoor adventurers. Besides the fun and flowy mountain biking trails, there are miles and miles of paved bike paths and I love how all the intersections on the main road have flags for the kids to hold while crossing the street to keep them safe.
If you feel adventurous, head up Trail Creek Road to camp, rock climb or hike. It is a dirt road but passable by most vehicles.
Salmon + Goldbug
Idaho is famous for its hot springs and Goldbug is one of the best. I love how it’s nestled between mountains and that there are multiple pools to sit in, which helps spread out the crowds. You can stop in nearby Salmon for food and shopping.
City of Rocks
With a similar feel as Joshua Tree, the lack of crowds alone make this a bucket list destination for any climber or camper.
Beginner climbers should check out our 5.8 Guide to City of Rocks and photographers will be in heaven with the night photography here.
For families, camping inside City of Rocks is great because many of the campsites have huge boulder to scramble and even top rope, providing all day entertainment for the kids.
7 | Rocky Mountain Range National Parks
If you love sharp, jagged mountains, this is the West Coast road trip you have to put on your bucket list. While there is a lot of driving on this trip, the incredible views and hiking opportunities along the way make it my favorite road trip itinerary on this list.
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Best Time To Go
You have to do this road trip in mid summer or late fall because as soon as the snow starts falling, the passes close up for the winter and snow doesn’t usually melt off of hiking trails until July.
Destinations Along The Way
Rocky Mountain NP, Steamboat Springs, Jackson Hole, Grand Tetons NP, Yellowstone, Bozeman, Glacier NP (maybe add in Whitefish too)
All of these mountain destinations are filled with hiking, rock climbing, and mountain biking opportunities but some of my favorite include this hike in Rocky Mountain NP, free camping on the pass above Steamboat Springs.
Explore the Wild West towns of Jackson Hole and Bozeman. Watch Old Faithful and take sunrise pictures of Grand Prismatic. Bike the Going-to-the-Sun road in Glacier and hike the Highline Trail.
- Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain NP
- One Day Yellowstone Itinerary
- Best Hikes Glacier National Park
- Guide to Camping in Glacier National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park
There are so many great trails from Bear Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park. On our first trip to Rocky Mountain we enjoyed the easy but beautiful hike to Alberta Falls, however, it was on our second trip, where we hiked to 5 different alpine lakes in one day, when I totally fell in love with this national park.
Be sure to drive the Trail Ridge Road (or the Old Fall River Road) up to the Alpine Visitor Center which sits at 12,183 feet. Or if challenge is your middle name, then take on Longs Peak, the park’s tallest mountain at 14,259 feet.
Go downtown and experience the Wild West vibe of Jackson Hole, then, just on the outskirts of town check out the hiking and mountain biking on Teton Pass.
If you are a really avid mountain biker, stand outside the Stagecoach Bar in Wilson for free shuttles up Teton Pass and then downhill back to the bar. #itsathing
Grand Teton NP
I have a huge warm spot in my heart for mountains, the sharper and more jagged the better so of course Grand Teton National Park is going to be a must see in my opinion.
One of my all-time favorite hikes is to Delta Lake and while it is steep, it isn’t too long and could easily be squeezed into half a day.
Grand Targhee Resort
Sitting of the backside of the Tetons is Grand Targhee Resort. It’s a wonderful place to spend a day or two mountain biking and hiking. The wildflowers are incredible here in the summer and there’s a great beginner mountain biking area for kids at the base of the parking lot.
You can stay at the hotel or they allow RV’s to camp overnight in the parking lot for only $20/night.
The first national park is another bucket list destination filled with bison, wolves, canyons, geysers, springs, and even canyons. If you’re only passing through, be sure to check out our one day Yellowstone itinerary with tips on how to see Grand Prismatic and Old Faithful with way less crowds.
Glacier National Park
The Going to the Sun Road in Glacier NP is a must do adventure for everyone. If you’re feeling adventurous, visit in late spring or early summer and bike to Logan’s Pass. This is a truly unique and memorable experience.
In the summer, shuttle up to Logan Pass, where it’s highly likely you’ll see mountain goats and maybe even a bear. From here, hike to Hidden Lake Overlook or take on the challenging Highline Trail, where you’ll be rewarded with epic views looking down onto Grinell Glacier. Or start from the Many Glacier side of the park and hike directly to the edge of Grinell Glacier.
Whitefish definitely makes our list of best ski towns in America. And while I always recommend staying inside a national park if you can, making Whitefish your home base for day trips to Glacier NP is a close runner up.
The cute town has great coffee shops, breweries and pubs, and don’t miss out on the amazing crepe shop.
Spend a day hiking at Whitefish Resort. The Adventure Park at the resort is fun for the kids, but our favorite part is the great mountain biking on the mountain. Don’t forget to carry bear spray as I have seen black bears while riding here.
8 | Washington’s National Parks
I could easily spend an entire summer in Washington. From the coast to the temperate rain forest and the jagged mountain peaks, I feel like I’m constantly zig zagging through this amazingly beautiful and diverse state.
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Best Time To Go
Summer and fall is the best time to go, otherwise, it’s hard to access the mountains in the national parks (although Mt Rainier looks like a winter wonderland that one day I would like to explore).
Destinations Along The Way
Mount Rainier NP, Quinalt, La Push, Olympic NP, San Juan Islands, North Cascades NP, Leavenworth (option add in Bellingham, Vancouver + Whistler, Mount St Helens, Pacific Beach, or more of the Cascades by driving the entire highway 20 through Winthrop and Lake Chelan)
Hike one of the many trails from the Sunrise Visitor Center in Mt Rainier NP then take sunset pictures of Mt Rainier from the Paradise side of the park.
Camp out on Second Beach in ONP. Whale watch on the San Juan Islands, Camp at Colonial Creek in North Cascades NP. Take pictures at Washington Pass. Drink beer in Leavenworth and maybe conquer The Enchantments in One Day.
- Washington State Road Trip To All Three of Washington’s National Parks
- Washington Road Trip on Highway 20 through the Cascade Loop
- 13 Best Campgrounds in Washington
Long Beach Peninsula
The Long Beach Peninsula, with seemingly endless stretches of white sandy beach, is a great spot for a low key vacation. There are plenty of ways to enjoy the driftwood beaches of Cape Disappointment such as biking or walking the 8.5 mile paved Discovery Trail or enjoy peace and solitude while exploring the half mile boardwalk that appears suspended above the dunes.
If you want more excitement, visit in August for the International Kite Festival. In the winter, bring warm clothes and sit on the beach, breathing in the cool ocean air, as you watch whales breaching offshore as they migrate up and down the coast from mid December all the way into May.
Olympic National Park
Olympic National Park is huge and getting to see a lot of the park takes some time and planning. The easiest area to access is from the north at Hurricane Ridge, near Port Angeles, where you can enjoy hiking through old growth forests and alpine meadows to epic views of snow capped mountains.
On the way to the west side of Olympic National Park, explore the deep, glacial carved Lake Crescent and the Spruce Railroad Trail or for more adventure, Backpack Sol Doc Valley.
Made famous by the Twilight book series, La Push is worth detouring to. It’s a short hike out to Second Beach where you’ll see a hundred tents lining the beach in the peak of summer.
Explore the coastline at Kalaloch, Ozette, and Rialto beaches. If you can get a reservation to camp at Kalaloch, do it. Camping here is amazing!
Continuing towards the southwest side of Olympic National Park, you have to spend at least half a day in the old growth forest of the Hoh Rainforest. Don’t miss the easy hike, Hall of Mosses. But if challenge is what you seek, explore deeper into the Hoh Valley with a backpacking trip or take on the challenge of summiting Mount Olympus (experienced mountaineers only).
Famous for the first Starbucks, Pikes Place Market, the Space Needle, the giant Ferris wheel, and museums galore, Seattle has a lot to offer when it comes to culture and food. But besides its history (you totally should do an underground tour btw), Seattle is a great jumping off point to exploring the Puget Sound and the surrounding islands.
At the very least, hop on the ferry and explore Bainbridge Island. For free things to do, explore Seattle’s numerous parks, beaches, and unique neighborhoods like South Lake Union.
One of my favorite towns to visit in Washington, Bellingham has that laid back vibe that I love plus a ton of outdoor adventures close by. Be sure to spend at least a few hours in Fairhaven to enjoy its small town feel, incredible food, and great hiking and mountain biking.
If you have time, you might want to cross the border to explore Vancouver, Squamish, and Whistler.
If you get excited about sharp jagged peaks, then you’ll love exploring the trails surrounding Mount Baker. With numerous campgrounds and backcountry camping, it’s easy to spend a few days here exploring the trails and taking pictures at Artist Point.
In the winter, Mount Baker is a skiers paradise with an average of 600 inches of snow each year and a thousand skiable acres to ride. Plus, daily lift tickets are a lot less expensive than most ski resorts.
Lake Ross and camping at Colonial Creek are both incredible ways to enjoy the lush forest and surrounding mountains of North Cascades National Park, but it’s the east side of the North Cascades that won me over.
If your road trip takes you through the backside, be sure to check out the hike to Blue Lake and my favorite, Maple Pass. If hiking isn’t your thing, you should still drive to the Washington Pass overtook and take pictures of Liberty Bell.
Lake Chelan + Stehekin
If you’re a water lover, you will just love this destination. Lake Chelan is great for boating, jet skiing, SUPing, kayaking or just swimming this lake is happening.
Want more solitude and a unique experience? Then head to Stehekin. Unless you have 4wd, this area is only accessed via boat.
The Bavarian town of Leavenworth is an awesome place to hang out for a few days on a West Coast road trip.
There’s great music and festivals year round and in the summer, you can play in the river or take on the challenging, yet epic, hike of the Enchantments. Click here to find out the best way to hike it in one day. We also love camping a few days at Lake Wenachtee, which is about 30 minutes away.
If the backcountry is calling your name, then the mountains near Cle Elum and North Bend is where you’ll want to head.
With some of the most gorgeous alpine lakes, the hardest part will be deciding between backpacking to Tuck and Robin Lakes or Spade and Venus Lakes. Salmon La Sac campground is a great base camp for your central cascades adventures.
There’s a reason Mount Rainier is one of the busiest national parks. Other than being so close to Seattle, Mt Rainier is one of the tallest mountains in the lower 48 and seeing this glacier covered peak truly is awe inspiring.
Make time to hike up close to it from the Paradise Visitor Center and then, explore the alpine meadows from the Sunrise Visitor Center, which provides a totally different perspective of this massive volcano.
9 | Oregon
While Oregon’s mountains aren’t quite as jaw dropping as the Rockies or Washington’s (IMO), it’s coastline is super accessible and each town along the Oregon coast has it’s own vibe and flavor.
Plus, the Oregon coast is way more chill than a road trip along Southern California’s coast and that in itself might be your motivation in choosing this road trip over another. This road trip also provides quite a bit of diversity in ecosystems and activities.
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Best Time To Go
You really can do this road trip year round, however, the adventures near Bend are better late spring, early summer, or in the fall.
Peak summer in Bend can get really hot, but then again, that’s the perfect excuse to grab a tube and float the river.
Winter means snow in Bend and Mt Hood but then after spending a few days on the slopes you could enjoy the beautiful Oregon coastline without the crowds that summer tends to draw. Besides skiing and boarding at Mt Bachelor or Mt Hood, there are hundreds of miles of trails perfectly groomed for Nordic skiing and Fat Biking, or admire the beauty of Tumalo Falls surrounded by a blanket of snow.
Bend has some of the best mountain biking in the world and all of Oregon is great for hiking.
You could brave the cold and surf Seaside in the summer or hit the slopes at Hood or Bachelor in the winter. Hood River is famous for its kite boarding and Smith Rock for its rock climbing.
Destinations Along The Way
Portland, Hood River, Bend, Crater Lake, Bandon, Coos Bay, Reedsport, Yachats, Lincoln City, Nehalem, Cannon Beach, Seaside
I don’t normally like cities but, because I love good food, especially organic and locally grown food, I do love Portland. Besides all the great farm to table restaurants, I love splurging at the many food trucks and VooDoo donuts.
The farmer’s market on Saturdays by Portland State University is huge and has a great ambiance. I also like mountain biking (or just walking is nice too) through Forest Park.
Silver Falls + Detroit Lake
Not a popular spot on most “best Oregon destinations” blogs but these are two destinations that I thought were rad detours. Silver Falls is only an hour and a half south of Portland and if you do the entire 6.9 mile loop, you’ll get to experience 10 incredibly gorgeous waterfalls, each one with its own unique beauty.
It’s another hour detour over to Detroit Lake and is really only worth it if it’s summer and you can rent a boat and play on the water, but it was one of my favorite campgrounds in Oregon.
Be careful visiting this under-the-radar destination because you may not ever want to leave. Hood River might be the wind surfing capital of the world, but there are tons of other great outdoor adventures to do here such as hiking and mountain biking.
After a long day of playing, the town has tons of great options for breweries, wineries, and farm to table dining options. In fact, if crowds aren’t really your thing, skip Portland and spend more time here.
Bend + Smith Rock
The coast of Oregon is beautiful and lush, but Bend is where it’s at if you love adventure. A few our of top picks include:
- Hiking Mt Bachelor or South Sister
- Mountain biking the epic Whoops Trail at Phils
- Cliff jump at Steelhead Falls
- Hiking or rock climbing at Smith Rock
- Paddling one of the many gorgeous lakes along the Cascade Lakes Highway
- Float on an inner tube through the center of town
- Grab a cold beer at one of the many rad breweries
- Discovering hot springs, waterfalls, and blue pools on the Mackenzie Highway
- Free camp in the National Forest
Seriously, Bend is one of our favorite places on Earth so if your road trip takes you in this direction, be sure to check out our related blogs or pin them for later.
- Bend 4 Day Itinerary
- Hiking and Mountain Biking the Peter Skene Ogden Trail
- Complete Guide To Hiking and Camping Cascade Lakes Highway
- 5 Adventures To Do On The Mackenzie River Trail
- Free Camping In Bend
While this could be a destination in itself, if you find yourself in southern Oregon, I highly recommend taking the detour and at least stopping at the Crater Lake Lodge to take in the view of Crater Lake.
If you have time, hike up to the summit of Garfield Peak, a steep 3.6 miles round trip trek that will give you epic views of Crater Lake or take a boat ride out to Wizard Island.
Another way to take in this geological wonder is to drive or better yet, bike, the scenic 33 mile Rim Drive. Stay at the lodge and get up early to catch one of the most memorable sunrises of your life.
Bandon is a great beach for walking at low tide, searching for seashells, and wildlife viewing. The cute seaside town of Bandon has great shopping and foods options. We especially loved Costal Mist for sipping chocolate.
But the best part for the kids was the West Coast Game Park Safari, where we got to pet a baby lion, tiger, and bear cub.
Just a half hour from Bandon is Coos Bay, another great place for wildlife viewing as well as hiking and surfing.
Explore Shores Acres State Park from the hiking trails or drive up to the overlook and see if you can spot whales from the bluff. Sunset Bay State Park campground is set in the trees and right across from a nice beach that’s great for families to play or just to chill and relax on.
If adventure is your thing, then renting a quad or dune buggy in Florence is for you. We had a blast riding the dunes here in Florence and next time we pass through I hope to camp here.
If riding the dunes sounds too adventurous, go explore the John Dellenback Dunes Trail and if you want to the most impressive dunes, don’t miss Umpqua Dunes.
Famous for the blowhole, Thor’s Well, hiking the Captain Cook Trail down to the beach for tide pooling is a must do when in the Yachats area. The size of the sea stars will blow you away!
You’ll also love hiking through the beautiful old growth forests that make up Cape Perpetua State Park.
The driftwood beaches and numerous hiking opportunities nearby in the forest make Lincoln City a great hub for exploring the Oregon Coast. Glass blowing is very popular here so be sure to check out the Lincoln City Glass Center museum to learn more about the history behind glass blowing and try your hand at it.
Then, head to Depoe Bay Scenic Park, considered to be the whale watching capital of Oregon, and see if you can spot one of the thousands of whales that migrate past here each year.
This is classic Oregon beach camping at its best. Even if you don’t camp, you’ll love spending the day exploring or just relaxing on the beach.
Or, go crabbing at Kelly’s Brighton Marina and catch yourself a feast. For epic views of the Oregon coastline, hike Neahkahnie Mountain.
We love Cannon Beach for its yummy food, chill vibes, and gorgeous beach. First, grab a cup of Joe at the Sleepy Monk, one of our favorite coffee shops. Get sourdough bread or pastries at Sea Level Bakery and Coffee, which also has delicious coffee. We always grab some artisan food at EVVO (check out their cooking classes if you’re staying for a few days).
Then, walk down to the beach to explore the famous Haystack Rock and learn about the puffins who live there. This is a great beach for walking but also one of the best spots to photograph sunset. If you feel adventurous, finish off the day with a campfire on the beach.
If you surf, you’ll want to stop in Seaside to shred, otherwise, continue up to the northwest tip of Oregon and check out Fort Stevens State Park where there are miles of hiking and biking trails, more beaches to explore, a shipwreck, and the historic military fort.
10 | Colorado
Last but not least, Colorado. Oh how we love Colorado! So many mountains, so little time. As you can see in the related blogs below, we try to spend a lot of time in Colorado hiking near Breckenridge, Aspen, Crested Butte, Durango, Telluride, and Steamboat Springs. But there’s more to Colorado than just mountains. One of my favorite things about Colorado is all the rad western towns like Silverton and Leadville.
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Best Time To Go
In the summer you have so many options for hiking, kayaking, rock climbing, biking, camping, and so much more. In the winter, there are 26 ski resorts to bounce between, plus snowshoeing and Nordic skiing, and plenty of great restaurants and breweries to warm up at in between.
Fall may be the best time. You can see fall colors while also being able to hike the infinite number of trails. Remember though that fall comes early to most parts of Colorado so you’ll want to plan your trip between mid-September and early-October. If you want to keep this road trip shorter, spend your time in Breckenridge where there is so many epic hikes in the summer and fall and so much to do in the winter even if you don’t ski or ride.
Hike Eccles Pass near Frisco. Take a picture of Maroon Bells or backpack the 4 pass loop. Drive Kebler Pass to Crested Butte. MTB the iconic 403 in Crested Butte.
Get an adrenaline rush on Telluride’s via ferrata or on one of the many off road trails all along the Million Dollar Highway. Go back in time by visiting Silverton. Admire the unique blue color of Ice Lakes. Ride the Silverton-Durango Narrow Gauge Railroad.
Go sand boarding at Great Sand Dunes NP. Take in the views of Colorado Springs from the top of Pikes Peak or the Manitou Incline.
Destinations Along The Way
Breckenridge, Aspen, Crested Butte, Telluride, Ouray, Silverton, Durango, Great Sand Dunes NP, Colorado Springs