Road trips… we all dream about them right? We are constantly supplied with images of these barren, hot, lengthy strips of asphalt road into what appears to be, the exciting and intriguing mountainous distance of the American wilderness. Cue standard road trip photo…
Well, last week whilst having breakfast, I was skimming through the travel section of the paper (typical), and low and behold there was yet another article on the great American road trip. I know what you’re thinking right, there are so many articles on this topic and you could spend hours reading posts about it. The truth is, this is because they are so unbelievable and eye-opening as an experience and there are infinite combinations of roads, no two peoples road trip experiences will be the same. Yes, you could follow the same route as another person, but you’ll pullover at different rest stops and experience different seasons and weather. It’s never the same!
So what did I decide to do… well, write my own post based on my own experiences and fill it with suggestions for planning your road trip. The best part about a road trip is that you can tailor it to yourself, you can be super crazy organised and have stops and sights to see planned ahead of schedule OR, you can pick up a car and let the road take you on an adventure.
MY FIRST AMERICAN ROAD TRIP
It began in July 2015 and lasted around two weeks, not too bad a length for a first road trip, although they tend to be determined by how long you can afford to rent a car (unless you use your own then its just fuel and living costs).
This was the route that I took:
It all began in Seattle, WA…
This is a great city to start in because of its interesting neighbourhoods and far north western location in the states. You can experience all the creative culture the city has to offer before beginning your drive through its beautiful mountain region, you can even spot Mount Rainier as you drive out of the city!
Accommodation: American Hostel
Cost: approx. 40 USD per person per night
Bonus: Free breakfast and great walking tours!
TIP: Do the free walking tour, particularly over to the Fremont neighbourhood and visit the first ever Starbucks in Pike Place Market.
That first day we drove like crazy, through the mountainous Washington State, the forests of Idaho and into Montana. If we’d had longer and more time to spare I would have loved to stop in Idaho for a bike ride across the Lewis and Clark trail. For those of you who haven’t heard of this, add it to that bucket list, it is an amazing trail that begins in DC and meanders its way through the states, over mountains and rivers until it ends at the mouth of the Columbia river in Oregon.
Accomodation: Madison Arm Campground
Cost: Approx. 17 USD per person per night (Tent)
Bonus: Beautiful waterfront and not far from Yellowstone National Park
This was a great stop on the trip, we stayed two nights, visiting Yellowstone both days. Ideally you need way more than just two days in Yellowstone, there is so many different trails to hike and points of interest. Here’s a few things you should definitely tick off if you do get the chance to visit one of Americas most popular National Parks:
- Old Faithful Geyser
- Uncle Toms Trail (over 300 steps down to the waterfall, remember you have to climb back up them!)
- Artists Point
- The Grand Prismatic Springs
- Hayden Valley (Spot the Bison)
- Mammoth Springs
TIP: Don’t get too close to the Bison.
Next stop, the Grand Teton National Park, this is a great road trip stop because you have the option to hike up to the stunning Hidden Falls or relax by the cool lake, something for everyone stuck in the car with you. Jenny Lake particularly, is one of my favourite places along this trip, there are lots of secluded small beaches for you to relax on with a book and watch people out on the calm water. You can see in the picture I took below just how clear the water is in the lake!
Accommodation: Snake River KOA
Cost: Approx. 15 USD per person per night
Bonus: Whitewater Rafting on Snake River and close to the town of Jackson,WY
By this point in the trip we are way out of Montana and now into Wyoming, one of my favourite states! On this particular road trip we stayed just outside the town of Jackson Hole. This really is a great town to visit, it’s a true country style town, with lots of boardwalks and horse and carts. It really felt like cowboy country! They are a big hunting town and show this off with their arches of antlers in the town square (of which there are four).
Whilst you are there and if you choose to stay at that camp ground, GO WHITEWATER RAFTING! It is so worth the money and even if you are terrified, we laughed the whole way through and no one fell out, so don’t panic.
TIP: Try the Bison burger at the Moab Brewery …yes, I had just visited the Bison in Yellowstone, but I had to try it and it was delicious!
Flaming Gorge Reservoir, no it is not on fire but is actually the largest reservoir in Wyoming and a great spot to go swimming! It’s a nice break along the drive down to Arches National Park, which I will get onto shortly. The dam itself is huge and really interesting if you take the tour inside it, but if you aren’t a fan of going inside, the reservoir itself offers great photo opportunities.
Accommodation: Vernal KOA
Cost: Approx. 15 USD per person per night
Bonus: Great campfire area, so get toasting those marshmallows!
So you have to choose one National Park to visit in the USA which one would it be… well mine would be Arches National Park in Utah. This was the next stop on my road trip and we explored this for about two days, I would advise not going in mid July as we were only able to hike before 11am and after 5pm due to high heat warnings. Which is why the camp ground we stayed at was great, they had an outside pool to lounge in for the time you weren’t able to hike and it was only a short distance from the air-conditioned shops in the town.
Accommodation: Canyonlands Camp Ground
Cost: Approx. 17 USD per person per night
Bonus: The have a pool!
Arches National Park checklist:
- Delicate Arch
- Devils Garden Primitive Loop
- Landscape Arch
- Double O Arch
- Fiery Furnace
TIP: Visit Delicate Arch at Sunset or Sunrise to get the full effect of the rocks redness
Onto my absolute favourite place in the whole world, DEAD HORSE POINT STATE PARK. So I was told a story about how the place got its name and I will share that with you, see what you think…
There once was a man who stole horses for a living, this time the sheriff caught him. Unbeknown to the sheriff the horse thief had a stash of stolen horses tied up at his hidden ranch, up on the cliff of Horse Shoe Bend. The horse thief went to jail but the horses remained tied up on the cliff, dehydrated and hungry they could see the river below and some decided to jump, others starved. Hence its name: Dead Horse Point.
It’s a pretty gruesome and sad story, I’m not entirely sure how true it was but interesting all the same. Horse Shoe Bend itself is an unbelievable place to get some great shots if you’re interested in photography, especially at sunset, it has stunning views of the river and red rock cliffs around it. If I could spend every sunset there I would. Add it to the Bucket List people!
TIP: Hike around the area and look at the bend from different points
Next stop… Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park.
Make sure you take a tour with one of the Navajo people in their jeep, they know everything you need to know about the rocks, people and the parks history. My tour guide was also a huge fan of CSI! (so we had plenty to talk about). If you can get the opportunity to stay over night in the park, do. We slept in our sleeping bags on just some mats, we did experience a small sand storm but it was a great experience to fall asleep under the stars. It was also interesting listening to the wild horses and other noises throughout the night.
TIP: It is an absolute must that you get up to watch the sunrise over the valley too, don’t be lazy, top the experience off by watching the sun rise over the red rocks and all the vivid colours its creates as it rises.
From one rocky landscape to the next… The Grand Canyon! An extremely touristy place and in fact not one of my favourites, although it has to be seen. I think I had built this one up in my head to be the most unbelievable thing I would see on this road trip. So because I was expecting to be completely flabbergasted, and I was in a way from the sheer extent of it, I guess it wasn’t a shock to me that I was. If that makes any sense? I was more impressed by the places I wasn’t expecting to be impressed by.
TIP: It is definitely worth hiking into the canyon if you can, you get to see it from a completely different perspective, but allow plenty of time to get back up!
Accommodation: Mather Campground
Cost: Approx. 9 USD per person per night
Bonus: It’s in Grand Canyon Village so has great access to buses and hiking trails
This is a great place to end a road trip, the rental car drop off at the airport isn’t far from the strip at all and it’s really easy to grab a cab to your hotel from there. It was lovely to be able to relax by the pool after all the hiking and enjoy the nightlife too, I would really recommend going to a live show at one of the casinos too. I saw Criss Angel: Mindfreak Live and it was an unbelievable and crazy experience, definitely recommend that one! You really will be mind blown by that one.
TIP: Don’t forget to head down to Freemont Street and see the light show
But before you get there make sure you hit the stretch of Route 66 between the Grand Canyon south rim and Las Vegas.
TIP: There is a great milkshake place called Snow Cap along Route 66!
That brings me to the end of this post, I hope that this has been useful, inspiring or both! Road trips are truly unique and are really worth saving up for. They aren’t the cheap backpacker exploring holiday, but they can be more affordable if you’re over 25 (car hire is cheaper then) and are willing to camp.
I have since been on more adventurous road trips, both slightly shorter but still across the western and central states, I will post the other two road trip routes at a later date, so keep an eye out. In the mean time if you have any questions or comments let me know! Tell me about your road trips too, I’m heading back to the USA for a third summer in a row, maybe you have some good road trips on the east coast I could do?
*Prices estimated on two people sharing a tent with no hook up