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People planning a vacation in the western United States usually make two big mistakes.

The first is that they spend too much time in Los Angeles. But there is so much more to do in the western United States than explore the bubble of rich homes and Hollywood clones, that we would argue you should skip LA completely.

The second mistake is that they assume Las Vegas is all about the gambling, and miss out on the geological wonderland and incredible natural surrounds. And while we’ll include Las Vegas in this itinerary, we do so as a base for exploring further out.

Western USA is an incredible region for a road trip, and travelers have a diverse range of exciting cities, coastal towns, and natural wonders to choose from when planning an itinerary. But being that there is so much to cover, we wouldn’t blame you if you’re feeling overwhelmed.

If you’re struggling with planning your route, use the following guide to fill two weeks worth of driving. These are the highlights of Western USA … not including LA.

Route for a Two Week Road Trip in Western USA (Not Including LA)

San Francisco

San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge RF

San Francisco is one of those cities that has a little bit of everything, so it makes sense as a place to start your road trip. From stunning landscapes to iconic monuments, along with a thriving arts, culture, and food scene, there are plenty of things to do and see.

The Golden Gate Bridge is obviously a must, though we recommend that you walk across it (taking care to watch out for cyclists who share the pedestrian walkways), and then make a stop at the visitors center.

You’ll find yourself at the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, which has a beautiful waterfront promenade, and excellent photo opps.

To get the most out of San Francisco, you should plan for 3 days to really experience everything. For help planning your time here, check out this three day itinerary.

Yosemite National Park

El Capitan, Yosemite National Park, United States

From San Francisco it’s a four hour drive to one of America’s most famous natural regions; Yosemite National Park.

With glaciers reaching back over 30 million years, ten waterfalls over 500 feet, yellow pine and oak forests and open meadows on the valley floor, Yosemite Valley is one of the most beautiful, and most photographed places on earth.

Enchanting and majestic, this magnificent panorama includes El Capitan, “the world’s largest monolith of exposed granite, the distinctive Half Dome granite formation, and Yosemite Falls, the tallest waterfall in North America, measuring 2,425 feet from top to bottom.”

Scenic trails for hikers abound.

More info on the National Parks Service website.

Image: Giuseppe Milo (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr

Or … Highway 1

The US was made for iconic roadtrips. Anyone with a car can go anywhere, and the nice thing about this mode of transportation is that the journey is the destination in itself – a road trip is an adventure!

If you’re feeling more coastal than Yosemite, you can drive from San Fransisco down the country’s most famous and scenic highway; Highway 1, also known as the Pacific Coast Highway.

“An exhilarating driving experience, this twisting, cliff-hugging, 123-mile (198-kilometer) route along the central California coast takes about five hours to complete at a leisurely pace.”

Stops along the highway include both the Big Sur Coast Highway and the San Luis Obispo North Coast Byway. Take in spectacular destinations like Monterey, Carmel-by-the-Sea, Point Lobos, Big Sur, Garrapata State Park, Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, Cambria and Morro Bay.

You’ll definitely want to spend some time at Redwood State Park south of San Francisco.  The redwoods are massive, majestic trees. At Morro Bay, turn east and head toward Sequoia National Park.

Sequoia National Park

Cousins to the redwoods, Sequoia National Park is known for its giant sequoia trees. Crossing the valley and going up into the mountains to the park gives you a good sense of the vastness of California and the Central valley.

Though the park is known for so much more than just being home to the world’s largest trees.

Huge mountains, rugged foothills, deep canyons, and vast caverns spanning over 404,064 acres, this is one of the most beautiful natural landscapes in the United States.

There are dozens of small wineries on the trip between Morro Bay and Sequoia, though if you’re driving make sure you’re not drinking irresponsibly!

 Onto Las Vegas

Las vegas RF

From Sequoia National Park, it’s a 6 hour drive to Las Vegas. You can get a perfectly good hotel room for very little money during the week; think around $60 a night for 5 star luxury.

But don’t be fooled – Las Vegas is about far more than gambling; in fact, we would recommend you save your money for travel and not even spend on the tables in the casino (you’ll contrast the complete lack of free casino games as opposed to the unlimited free games you can play at every online casino).

Las Vegas is in fact a great base for day trips. To the west, Red Rock Canyon will prepare you for Bryce National Park.  And geological wonders are right at your doorstep in Valley of Fire State Park and Lake Mead to the east and northeast.

There’s also Hoover Dam to the south; straddling the Colorado river, since its completion in 1935, the dam has become one of America’s most famous national historic landmarks.

So instead of spending your money on gambling when you’re in Vegas, spend it on tours and attractions. You can still walk the strip and take in the general Vegas atmosphere once the sun sets.

Continue to Utah

Bryce Canyon

After a 2-3 days in the Las Vegas area, head towards Utah. Skip Zion National Park; it’s very hot in the summer, ridiculously crowded, and the next park, Bryce, is much more interesting.

We don’t want to raise expectations too high but Bryce National Park makes a spectacular first impression. If you love the outdoors, Utah is hands down one of the best US states to be in.

There are five national parks across Southern Utah (Zion, Bryce Canyon, Arches, Canyonlands, and Capitol Reef), and these parks are collectively made up of thousands of natural arches, immense and impressive canyons, and “towering buttes and rock faces that have become a nation’s sacred natural treasures.”

On the way to Bryce is the small town of St. George, Utah. Just outside St. George is the Tuacahn Center for the Arts.   They have a wonderful outdoor theater and put on classic plays. As part of your planning, check out their schedule for the dates you’ll be there.

Image: PiConsti (CC BY-SA 2.0) via Flickr

The Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon RF

We have to admit that the Grand Canyon is so big that we have never fully experienced it.

It’s one of the world’s most powerful and inspiring landscapes; both immense and overwhelming, and the opportunity to stand on the rim of this vast canyon is without a doubt one of the most phenomenal encounters with nature.

There are options to take in the West Rim glass skywalk, and stay overnight at a ranch on native land. You can choose to travel on horseback, and witness the magic of a sunrise which most tourists will never understand.

You can walk down to the river but do so only in cool weather; it is much hotter at the bottom than at the top and people have been known to dehydrate tragically.

The trip from Bryce to the Grand Canyon is a great road trip in itself as you wind down toward a valley that you don’t see until you go around a curve. Then the valley opens up in an amazing panorama.

Read this post if you’re wondering which rim to visit (there are four rims, and each is a very different experience.)

Ending the Trip in Vegas

You can end your road trip in Las Vegas, where you can return your car rental and catch a flight. From the Grand Canyon to Las Vegas is a 4 hour drive.

If you’re dying to get to Los Angeles, the drive from Vegas is 4 hours. Though it may come as a culture shock after having spent so much time in the wild.

It’s important to estimate your driving times and distances when you’re planning out your trip. Also, give yourself extra time when planning out these drives, as the routes are very scenic, and will have many stop offs along the way.

OUR FAVORITE USA TRAVEL GUIDES: CLICK PHOTO TO LOOK INSIDE ↓

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Lonely Planet USA

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50 States, 5,000 Ideas

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USA’s Best Trips

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Megan is an Australian Journalist and award-winning travel writer who has been blogging since 2007. Her husband Mike is the American naturalist and wildlife photographer behind Waking Up Wild; an online magazine dedicated to opening your eyes to the wonders of the wild & natural world.

Having visited 50+ countries across all seven continents, Megan’s travels focus on cultural immersion, authentic discovery and incredible journeys. She has a strong passion for ecotourism, and aims to promote responsible travel experiences.

    

    12 Comments

  1. Thank you for sharing this useful article, Actually I am planning to visit that place and your blog will definitely help me out there.

    • Glad the post was helpful for you Zahid. Enjoy your time in the USA 🙂

  2. That was exactly why I was surprised you listed Las Vegas after the Sequoia.It is the best place to leave from- lots of flights everywhere- and usually at reasonable prices- at least if you are going to another place i the US.

    • Ended up using Vegas as a base to do a loop and return to. I generally try not to backtrack when we head out on major roadtrips, but this seemed like a good exception 🙂

  3. Been roadtripping USA and Canada for over three years now 🙂 Driving from mid-coast Maine to St Augustine Florida over the next 3 days. I’ve spent time in the Deep South, PNW, Rocky Mountains, Midwest, Southwest, and now Eastern USA. Still have a lot to see, Utah, Arizona, and Nevada (not Vegas) are big on my list for future road trips.

    • Such an incredible continent, I swear you could spend a whole lifetime exploring just this region! Sounds like you’ve covered quite a lot though, hope you’re enjoying your current trip!

    • Yes indeed, there is enough for a lifetime of exploring! Made it to New Jersey tonight, man what a change from mid-coast Maine and small town life. I do like to mix it up with bigger cities and smaller towns. The population of the last town I visited could fit in the bar/restaurant I just went to tonight LOL

    • We love mixing it up too – we live in a town of 400, so city breaks are often a nice change! Sounds like you’re having a blast!

  4. Ha ha ha 😃 I live in LA 👍 Yes, you are right about tourists coming to LA why they miss out on some of the best LA has to offer. Tourists often do not know where our “neighbourhoods” are and the coastal cities within 45 minutes’ drive, depending which part of LA you live. From where I am, I am only 15-20 minutes to Beverly Hills and its chic eateries, 35 minutes to Santa Monica where you can see the beaches of Malibu and close to the Malibu canyons, same distance to Venice, Redondo Beach, Hermosa Beach and not far to Huntington Beach and Newport Beach and definitely Laguna Beach.

    Unfortunately most people do end up on Hollywood Blvd (locals don’t go there) and Universal Studios and Disneyland. Your article is definitely helpful for those exploring Western states. I used to live in Utah. So I know.

    • Haha so you’re probably sick of the mass tourism too then 😀 There are definitely some incredible regions throughout greater Los Angeles, I really loved the coastal cities you’ve mentioned like Santa Monica, Newport beach was my favorite, really fell in love with the clean cut, family friendly atmosphere there. Laguna Beach too – we were swimming in the ocean and dolphins came right up to us, it was surreal!

      Glad you enjoyed the article, I would love to live in Utah at some point if I could manage it – so much amazing nature to explore, what a backyard!

  5. The Western USA has so much to see and do on road trips.

    • Absolutely, you could almost spend a lifetime in just this region!

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