A West Coast road trip will constantly impress you and more often than not at moments you don’t expect. All its natural beauty, its poetic endless roads and all the stunning romantic sunsets will make your heart beat faster or even skip a beat once in a while.
When should you go?
This road trip is beautiful throughout the year. However, try to figure out in advance which parks you definitely want to visit as the weather can sometimes cause trouble and not all parks are (completely) open all four seasons. From May to September, good weather is more or less guaranteed but winter, when the parks are hidden under a snow cover, also has its advantages.
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- Don’t forget your universal adapter
- Foresee a high enough limit on your credit card(s). More often than not, hotels ask for a deposit and block money than expected
- You need a universal driver’s license in America
- In all parks you have water fountains so be sure to bring your reusable water bottle
- Gas up wherever you can. Sometimes you will not come across a gas station for hours
- You can read more practical tips here.
We did our tour in three weeks, crossing three state lines. We drove just under 3200 kilometers and walked on average 18,000 steps per day. Honestly, our schedule was firm but remained doable. We could easily have stayed a few weeks longer. Of course, being blown off your socks every single day certainly helps to keep the trip enjoyable.
Renting a car is unavoidable. Try to select the most comfy and trustworthy car your budget allows. A lot of times, you will be on the road for hours without coming across another living soul, let alone a train or bus station.
After flying 11 hours straight and after a total travel time of 14.5 hours, we finally arrived in San Francisco. This marvelous city earns a blogpost for itself. Read everything about the City by the Bay here.
Plan a stay of 3 nights, you will not get bored for a second.
Yosemite National Park
After San Francisco, we were on the road for three hours to Yosemite National Park. We stayed in Long Barn Lodge. which is located 45 minutes from the park. It is a budget friendly hotel but you are free to opt for one of the hotels or camping grounds in the park. Count at least two full days to discover the park.
Yosemite is one of the most beautiful parks in the world and welcomes almost five million visitors every year. You can find the most beautiful view over the park at Tunnel view. Here you will see all the park’s icons: Half Dome, Bridaveill Fals, El Capitan and the entire Yosemite valley.
- Hiking time: 2-5 hours, depending on how far you are willing to go
- Distance: 4.8 to 11 kilometers. If you want to make a round trip, then you need to add 2.4 kilometers
- Perfect walk to do with children
- This is the signature hike of Yosemite. Not only will you see beautiful waterfalls along the way, you will also get an astonishing view over the Nevada Fall, Liberty Cap and The Half Dome
Yosemite Falls Trail
- Hiking time: 6-8 hours round trip
- Distance: 11,6 kilometer, round trip
- One of Yosemite’s oldest historic trails (built in 1873 to 1877). The Yosemite Falls Trail leads to the top of the highest waterfall in North America
- We were there in early September and it was incredibly hot. Almost no water nor waterfall to be seen due to the heatwave, so we decided not to do this trail
North Dome Hike
- Walking time: 4-6 hours round trip (we did it in 3.5 hours)
- Distance: 14,2 kilometer, round trip
- During this trail you get a mind-blowing close up view of the Half Dome, make sure to walk to the very edge of the rocks at the end of the path
- The starting point of the route is an hour’s drive from the park’s entrance
- Try to start the trail early in the morning. As you will walk under the naked sun for quite some while, take enough water and sunscreen with you
- The track itself is not that challenging, with exception of some sturdy and steep parts in the middle
When driving out of Yosemite National Park the tears rolled down my cheeks. I was overwhelmed by the great hike in this beautiful park. Nature always triggers something in me, but I have to admit that this park left an unprecedented impression.
Sequoia National Park
We drove 4 hours from Yosemite to our hotel near Sequoia, where we stayed at Sequoia Resort & RV park. The roads towards the park serve you the US at its finest. By the way, overall speaking, the roads in California are super well maintained and very clean. You will not find any waste along the road, which is a unusual sight for me as a European.
The park has one large main road that takes you to all activities, which most can be ticked off in one day. However, apparently there are also camping spots that allow you to spend the night in the park. The most famous attraction of the park is General Sherman, the world’s largest tree in volume. Its age is estimated between 2300 and 2700 years old. The Redwood trees can live for thousands of years because they can withstand chemicals and its thick bark protects them from forest fires. Strangely enough, the Redwoods forests need natural fires to expand.
In this beautiful park, snakes and black bears will cross your path. Make sure you drive your car to Tunnel Log to drive through the trunk of a Sequoia with your car.
We were on the road to Death Valley for almost six hours. This famous valley is the hottest, driest and lowest area in America. The park cannot be skipped on any road trip along the West Coast. Most of the park’s activities can be checked out in one day but you can always opt for a longer stay. Bear in mind that prices for overnight stays in the area are sky high.
At nine o’clock in the morning temperatures rise quickly above 35 degrees (in September) so, again, start your trip as early as possible.
- Scotty’s Castle is not a real stop but it is nice to park next to the road and take a few shots. This place became world famous thanks to the brilliant movie Forrest Gump.
- Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes are beautiful sand dunes. But watch out for sand fleas!
- Badwater offers you splendid salt plains in the middle of the desert. It is not recommended to visit the place after 10 am… Take a guess by which time we got there. The big prohibition sign does not lie… The plains get very very very very hot! Wear protection and drink enough water before you start the hike to the salt plains.
- Zabriskie Point, a beautiful vantage point over Death Valley
While approaching the Nevada border, our excitement level rose firmly. Especially, when out of the barren desert we see Las Vegas appear in the distance out of nowhere.
All the skyscraping hotels, limousines, advertising signs, naked women, the world famous Strip,… We never received so many impulses simultaneously.
We stayed for four nights at the Hard Rock Hotel. We stayed a little longer in Sin city because we have set aside one day for our Wedding. Read everything about our Las Vegas wedding here. With two nights in Las Vegas you will have more than enough time. We were not the biggest fan of this artificial Gambling Capital of the World ourselves but you simply have to check it out for yourselves.
Must do’s in Las vegas
- ✶Take a gamble, no matter how cliché it may sound. You do not escape the gamble madness here. Every hotel is full of slot machines and poker tables that just scream for your attention… And your money!
- As it is bloody hot in the city, it is better to avoid the Strip during the day. It is also much more impressive at night with all the lights on…
- Fly over and through the Grand Canyon with a helicopter or an airplane.
- Visit the old Strip, where gambling is also much cheaper among the locals.
Zion National Park
Zion Nation Park is a 2.5-hour drive from Las Vegas and we stayed at La Quinta by Wyndham La Verkin – Gateway to Zion. Zion was the most beautiful park that we visited during our trip so stay here at least for two nights. Most hiking points of the park can only be reached with the shuttle bus. There are several parking places in the park from where you can take the shuttle but come early if you want to ensure your spot. During summer the shuttle runs from 6 am to 10 pm. In the winter from 7 am to 8 pm.
Angel’s landing is one of the most dangerous hikes in the world. Nine people lost their lives since 2014. And let’s face it, the eight-kilometer-long hike is indeed not for the faint of heart. During the last part you literally hang on to steel chains while you walk along narrow and steep abysses.
The most famous hike of the park, for those who are not afraid to wet their feet and endure a little cold. This hike is 14 kilometers long but visitors can decide for themselves how far they want to walk. Tips: take a sweater or jacket with you (even in the summer). Waterproof shoes are not a requirement, we did the walk on our Nikes, but a walking stick would not have been a superfluous luxury.
From Zion we drove five hours to Palm Spings. We did make a small detour to break our long drive on the way with a visit to Valley Of Fire, a beautiful park to drive through. We spent the night at Travelodge by Wyndham Palm Springs, a budget friendly but excellent motel with swimming pool. The pool was very welcome as temperatures rose very high during our stay. Palm Springs is a modernistic town full of beautiful architectural pearls from the 50s and 60s. Definitely search for the home of Elvis Presley or Frank Sinatra.
best places to eat in palm springs
A 45-minute drive away from Palm Springs is Joshua Tree, a small but popular park that surprised us with its beauty. We spent the night in an Airstream which was truly an unforgettable experience under the starry sky among wild rabbits, guinea fowls and eagles. Joshua Tree is an openminded, hippy community with nice shops and genuinely friendly people. The park is, just like the other parks, the most beautiful at sunrise and sunset but is also very popular at night for night photography. Cholla cactus garden and Keys view cannot be left out during your visit. Be surprised by the natural diversities that the park has to offer.
- Barker Dam Trail: 1,8 kilometer
- Ryan Mountain Trail: 4,8 kilometer
Remember that you are in the desert, these hikes are not recommended during the summer months.
Best food in joshua tree
The city of which we expected the least but boy, how little did we know! Los Angeles is two and a half hours away by car from Joshua Tree. Try to avoid rush hours, nowhere in California is traffic as busy as here, but with the millions of inhabitants and dwellers, it is difficult to succeed. We stayed in an Air bnb close to Venice Beach.
Although Beverly Hills & Hollywood are faded glory, these places have something magical about them. You will find yourself completely at ease. As we wanted to see a small part of the scenic route along the coast, we drove from Malibu along the coast line back to Venice beach. Enjoy the beautiful architecture!
- Hike up to the famous Hollywood sign, which will take about three hours. Make sure you are up just before sunset, the view is nothing but pure beauty.
- Stroll down the Walk of Fame on Hollywood Boulevard
- Shop loose on Melrose Avenue
best food in Los angeles
- Intelligentsia coffee Venice: coffee
- Gratitude Kitchen & bar: for a healthy lunch
- The Butcher’s Daughter
- Café Gratitude
- Grand central market
- Scopa Italian Roots
During our road trip we unfortunately did not have time to visit Bryce Canyon, my friends from Along came an elephant wrote a nice blog about it. You can read it here.