How To Plan A 27-Day US West Road Trip

Here’s an easy way to get a good mix during a long ride on the road.

This is a fantasy road trip through 9 states, visiting over 11 parks and monuments, in 27 days. One day, this trip will become a reality. But until then, here’s what I wish I could be my next great adventure. Based out of San Francisco, this 4,000 mile drive is opened up for a number of camping, lodge or lux cabin and hotel opportunities, so there’s an easy way to get a good mix during a long ride on the road. Someone, please! Go! And report back about all the amazingness you got to experience.

SEE ALSO: 3 Hidden Gems In The Heart Of San Francisco

Day 1: San Francisco to Yosemite National Park

Drive Time: 4 hours

State: California

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There are many types of paintbrush (Castilleja genus) found in Yosemite National Park. These flowers put on quite a display in the summer—a burst of reds, oranges, and pinks. This beautiful and commonly seen wildflower has an interesting secret: it’s actually a parasitic plant! It belongs to a group of plants called hemiparasites, meaning that even though they have the ability to photosynthesize and could survive without a host, they also have the ability to take nutrients from other plants if living in close proximity. Paintbrush can parasitize neighboring plants using haustoria, specialized roots that drill into the roots of other plants in order to take their nutrients. #Yosemite #NationalPark #Wildflowers #ParasiticPlants

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Yosemite National Park is one of the great parks in the north west, and a must stop for any nature enthusiast. Lodging and camping options are available inside the park, but advanced reservations are a necessity as it can be quite crowded during the summer months. Bring some hiking shoes to check out Yosemite Falls, Vernal Falls, and Glacier Point, and then enjoy a drink in front of the 6ft roaring fireplace at the Majestic Lodge.

Note: The park is very cautious about the local bears, so if camping, make sure all your food and equipment is locked tightly away! Also, try to plan for an early morning or late night arrival as the park entrance can often be backed up for miles with visitors waiting to get in.

Day 3: Yosemite National Park to Valley of Fire State Park

Drive Time: 9 h 30m        

State: Nevada

Get an early start for the first big drive across state lines. Arrive in time for an afternoon hike amongst the red Aztec sandstone and limestone, dating back 2,000 years. Set up camp for the night and prepare for crystal clear starlit skies.

Day 4: Valley of Fire to Grand Canyon    

Drive Time: 4 hour   

State: Nevada 

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Hermit Road is a scenic road west of Grand Canyon Village which follows the canyon rim for approximately 7 miles (11 km) out to Hermits Rest. For 9 months of the year, this extremely popular road is accessed by free shuttle bus, foot, bicycle, or commercial tour bus. Private vehicles are only allowed during winter months. (December, January and February) . There are 9 designated scenic viewpoints served by the Hermit Road shuttle bus (Red Route) A footpath also follows the rim of the canyon out to Hermits Rest. Shuttle buses are great – when you use them in conjunction with the rim trail. You can get off at one stop, enjoy a scenic walk along the rim, then get back on the bus at the next stop and continue your exploration. . [Image description: diffused sunset light illuminates a massive limestone cliff on the right. Below the cliff, a ridgeline meanders out into a desert landscape of colorful mesas and peaks.] The location of this photo is just west of Hopi Point. NPS/M.Quinn

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Time to check out one of the Seven Wonders of the World! The Grand Canyon offers may different ways to see all the amazingness that it has to offer – tour by helicopter, mule, raft, motorbike, hike or airplane. There’s a multitude of different camping and lodging spots, but for the ultimate in glamping, look into Under Canvas camps that offer the ultimate lux experience with the rustic natural elements.

Note: Under Canvas has multiple locations along this road trip, so will be referenced frequently! The camps also offer activity experiences if you’d prefer to have the time arranged for you.

Day 6: Grand Canyon to Zion National Park

Drive Time: 5h 20m

State: Utah   

Zion is another breath taking national park stop that has a variety of attractions and ways to see the best of the park. Depending on your hike-ability, there are shuttle buses and horseback riding groups that can show off the most spectacular parts of the space, or opt for high adventure with rafting, canyoneering and rock climbing routes. Make sure to take a few days to hit some of the classics like the Narrows, and Weeping Rocks. Camping and lodging options vary, there is also another Under Canvas should you opt for a lux glamping tour.

Day 9: Zion National Park to Antelope Canyon / Monument Valley or Gooseneck State Park

Drive Time: 2- 4.5 hours

State: Arizona/ Utah

Antelope Canyon is an Instagram haven with rich colors and sharp twisting rocks. This can serve as either a full day trip, or a quick stop onto the next destination depending on your energy level. Gooseneck State Park is a smaller attraction that has a similar feel to Horseshoe Bend, so might give you that fix if you can’t detour down for the full Horseshoe experience. Gooseneck is a great stop if you’d like to bank some miles and then take a ½ day rest before continuing on. It wont demand much time to check out, and then you can relax camp-side for the rest of the afternoon.

Note: If you have the time or funds, add in a trip to Horseshoe Bend. There are helicopter and airplane tours that can show off both sites in one day from Antelope Canyon, or add in the 6 hour drive to check it out on foot.

Day 10: Antelope Canyon or Gooseneck State Park to Arches National Park

Drive Time: 2h 30m -4h 30m   

State: Utah

This is a park to bend over backwards for as Arches National Park shows off over 2,000 natural sandstone arches. Worth spending a couple of days to set up camp and take hikes through Devils Garden for the Landscape Arch, the Windows Section for North and South Window, Turret and Double Arch. At over 128 feet tall, don’t forget to see Balanced Rock defing gravity… for now.

Note: Heavy summer traffic may make this one a struggle to get into. Make sure to check out camping reservations well beforehand, and try to arrive at the park entrance in the early or late night hours to avoid traffic lines.

Day 12: Arches National Park to Goblin Valley State Park      

Drive Time: 1 h 44    

State: Utah

A chance to walk on the surface of Mars and be surrounded by goblins? Sounds a bit weird, but kinda cool. Goblin Valley State Park is a great afternoon stop for a ½ day of hiking or canyoneering through the other worldy cosmos. On top of that, Goblin has one of the darkest night skies on earth and unmatched views of the Milky Way. Arrange ahead of time for moonlit hikes and telescope tours for a night gazing at the stars.

Day 13: Goblin Valley State Park to Timpanogos Cave National Monument/ Homestead Resort      

Drive Time: 4 hours

State: Utah

Time to cool off and go underground at the Timpanogos Cave National Monument. Hopefully you don’t get claustrophobic as you twist your way through a maze of cavernous tunnels. Once the hard hat comes off, jet over to Homestead Crater Resort for a well-earned spa afternoon or morning, soaking in geothermal spring hidden beneath a 55-ft tall limestone rock.

*If you have extra days to spare, consider making a stop at the Grand Teton National Park for some essential Big Sky mountain viewing.

Day 14: Timpanogoas Cave National Monument to Yellow Stone National Park   

Drive Time: 6 hours

State: Wyoming 

Entering through the West Entrance, it’s time to finally see Old Faithful geyser! Old Faithful, which inspired Yellowstone to be established as the world’s first national park in 1872, is just one of many, many geysers, hydrothermal pools, and volcanic terrain that make up Yellowstone National Park. Summer crowds can often overrun some of the main attractions, so look for underrepresented off shoot trails that may lead you on an unexpected adventure throughout the park. Yellowstone is also very cautious of their wildlife, so make sure you are aware of signs and take caution for the local bear families.

Day 17: Yellowstone to Glacier National Park  

Drive Time: 6 hour   

State: Montana

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Imagine a future where going to your favorite rock-skipping beach, you find the shoreline matted with tens of thousands of small mussel shells, with everything cemented together in a sharp, smelly mess. Since the 1980s freshwater zebra and quagga mussels have steadily advanced westward, transported on trailered boats. Very recently, a mussel-carrying boat was intercepted at a marina on Flathead Lake. The boat had come from the Southwest. Flathead Lake is just downstream from Glacier. Protecting the waters of the Crown of the Continent requires immediate action, both by the parks and by every boater. Glacier National Park waters are generally open for boating from mid-May through October. All watercraft require an NPS inspection and permit before launching. Prior cleaning, draining, and drying of all watercraft, both externally and internally, will reduce inspection time significantly. Leave a comment and tell us about your experience with invasive species. Image: A boat floats on a lake with mountains in the background.

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This epic destination may seem a bit out of the way, but it is a well deserving drive. Glacier National Park is open during the summer and winter months, offering options for hiking and cross-country skiing, biking, boating and backcountry camping for a truly wilderness experience. Enjoy a few days checking out Going-to-the-Sun Road, Lake McDonald Valley, Logan Pass, St. Mary, and Two Medicine – some are available to visit by car or foot, but make sure to check out any road closures and low or high temperatures that may arise. With the finicky weather, you don’t want to be caught unprepared.

Note: Although it is another Under Canvas location, check out some of the camping and lodging options inside the park that get you

Day 19: Glacier National Park to Sierra Silver Mine tour/ Columbia Cliff Villas      

Drive Time: 7 hour    

State: Idaho/ Oregon

A quick stop over in the long drive to learn about the Sierra mining history (check out Silver Mine Tour.) Or go straight to the Columbia Cliff Villas for a restful, luxury night overlooking the Columbia River.

Day 20: Columbia Cliff Villas to Portland  

Drive Time: 2 hour   

State: Oregon

Hang out in Portland few a couple of nights to check out the local breweries, vegan restaurants, bustling night life and beautiful Pacific Northwest. Don’t forget to put a bird on it.

Day 22: Portland to Ecola State Park        

Drive Time: 1h 44m

State: Oregon

Time to start heading back south to complete the circle, but first for a night on the northwest coast. While it won’t exactly be beach weather, but the cliffs and grassy bluffs make it a reawakening to the wonders of the Pacific Ocean. Also keep your eyes peeled for some epic whale watching as the grey whales migrate up and down the coast.

Note: Ecola State Park can easily be switched out or timeline swapped for a stop in Portland. No drive time is lost either way.

Day 23: Ecola State Park to Terrebonne/ Smith Rock State Park    

Drive Time: 4h 25m

State: Oregon

Known as “Good Earth,” Terrebone, is the birthplace of rock climbing and has a VERY impressive Rock to show it off. Arrive early enough for an afternoon climb – or bike or hike – to see the staggering ridges of Smith Rock piercing into the sky.

Day 24: Terrebonne to Pacific Crest Trail  

Drive Time: 5 hour   

State: Oregon

Made even more popular after the film “Wild,” the Pacific Crest Trail is over 2,650 miles long and crosses from Mexico, through the US and into Canada. While there are those that have dedicated the time and built the stamina for this adventure, how about just a quick camp and hike in an Oregon stretch? Still sounds WILD enough to me.

Day 25: Pacific Crest Trail to Humboldt Redwoods State Park

Drive Time: 6 hours

State: California

Finally back in the home state, don’t forget one last camping stop amongst the soaring Humboldt redwood trees before heading home.

Day 27: Humboldt Redwood State Park to San Francisco        

Drive Time: 4 hour   

State: California

Made it home after a long trip, thousands of miles, and a million memories exploring cherished national and state parks that the U.S. was created upon. Amazing!

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