WONDERING WHICH DESTINATIONS TO SEE ON YOUR ROAD TRIP THROUGHOUT THE WESTERN USA?
Looking to plan your next adventure on wheels, but are unsure which route to take? This road trip throughout the Western USA checks off four states, five national parks, and a dozen unforgettable views! Pack your bags because you’re in for a trip of a lifetime!
5 Destinations To See On Your Western USA Road Trip: An Overview
Before diving deeper into what some of these destinations have to offer, here is a brief overview of all the cool places you’ll be stopping!
5 Destination Western USA Road Trip
Now that you know which national parks we’ll be going over, we can discuss the parks more in-depth. We’ll discuss potential attractions, hiking trails, camping options, and more!
Let’s get to it! Our itinerary went as follows…
Destination 1: Yellowstone National Park
Our first destination for this Western USA road trip was Yellowstone National Park. We were coming from West Yellowstone, so we took HWY 20 to the West Park entrance.
(If you’re starting your road trip further north, consider beginning your journey at Glacier National Park!)
Attractions in Yellowstone
Yellowstone is a huge park, and unfortunately, since we had limited time, we only got to see the southwest corner of it. We decided with the time that we had, we would go towards Old Faithful, and exit at the south exit.
If you take this route, there are plenty of great places to stop for photo ops. We saw plenty of bison on the side of the road minding their business while they grazed. The fall season is when you’re most likely to see wildlife – anything from bison, bears, elk, bighorn, and moose.
Shortly before Old Faithful, you’ll find the Midway Geyser Basin. It is home to the largest single hot spring in Yellowstone – The Grand Prismatic Spring. A wooden pathway stretches across multiple geysers for your viewing, and it certainly does not disappoint. We did the walk during sunset, and it was an experience of a lifetime.
After admiring all of the breathtaking geysers at Midway Geyser Basin, we decided to continue on with our journey. Our next suggested spot is Old Faithful. This historic site is one of the most visited in the park and for good reason. Its eruptions are highly predictable, and since 2000, it has gone off every 44 minutes – 2 hours.
Dylan and I had already seen Old Faithful and decided to skip it this time. We continued on the route towards West Thumb. If you have more time than we did, we highly recommend stopping to take in the views at Yellowstone Lake. It’s a completely different view than the rest of the park, and it truly is astounding – especially with the fall leaves in the background. Unfortunately, we had to swing a right at the junction onto HWY 89.
Campgrounds in Yellowstone
If you’re planning on camping, there are two campsites on this route. The first is Grant Village campground which is close to Yellowstone Lake. The second campsite – Lewis Lake – is further south on HWY 89. Either way, you’ll take HWY 89 all the way to your second destination… The Grand Tetons.
Access to Yellowstone Park is prohibited in the Winter. If you’d like to explore the park, the only way is by guided tour. Mammoth Hot Springs is the only exception and is open year-round. You can access it through the north entrance. Make sure to plan ahead so that you’ll be able to see the park while it’s still open!
Destination 2: Grand Teton National Park
One thing that we found super convenient about this western USA road trip is that the southern exit of Yellowstone is actually the same road that enters the northern entrance of Grand Teton National Park. It doesn’t take long to make the transition, either!
As the highway transitions from 89 to 191 / 287, the landscape begins to change. The mountain landscape paired with aspen and pine trees makes this an adventurer’s dream.
Attractions in Grand Tetons
Unfortunately, we didn’t get to spend too much time in this park, but we did take Teton Park Road down to Jenny Lake. A stroll around the lake gave us a taste of what this National Park was all about!
During the summertime, Jenny Lake Visitor Center has a river launch where visitors can take a boat shuttle to the base of Mount Teewinot. There you can find a handful of trailheads that hike around the famous Teton peaks.
Trails near Jenny Falls
Technically, you can make the two-mile walk around the lake to access the trailheads at the base of Mount Teewinot. However, if you want to save some energy and time, the boat shuttle is a great option!
It’s important to note that they do not take reservations – you will need to physically go to the river launch site to purchase your fare. The shuttle runs every 10-15 minutes. More information can be found here.
Campgrounds in Grand Tetons
Campgrounds are by RSVP only, and car camping is not allowed anywhere other than designated camping spots. Luckily, most campgrounds are on this road trip route. Jenny Lake offers camping, but there are plenty of campsites before the lake. From north to south they are 1) Headwaters, 2) Lizard Creek, 3) Colter Bay (RV sites available), and 4) Signal Mountain.
Entering Grand Tetons
Grand Teton National Park is open year-round, but a handful of vicinities are closed. When we visited, many of the visitor centers weren’t open to the public. Skiing Grand Teton is open during the winter months, usually from late November to the beginning of April.
Destination 3: Bryce Canyon
Destination 3 of your western road trip across the USA is by far the most underrated National Park. This neck of the drive takes up to nine hours, so I’d suggest taking a driving day. Don’t worry – the view on the way is totally worth it! Utah mountains are one of a kind. However, if you don’t want to drive that long of a stretch, Salt Lake City is right on the route.
Bryce Canyon might be out of the way, but it’s totally worth it to visit this National Park. Bryce Canyon has the largest concentration of Hoodoos (sporadic rock columns) on Earth. The red rocks and irregular shapes make you feel like you’re on a different planet.
After HWY 12, you’ll turn off on HWY 63, and into the only entrance to Bryce Canyon. It’s a smaller national park, but there isn’t a spot that isn’t breathtaking.
Right at the entrance you’ll find the Visitor Center, dump station, and general store. Shortly after, you have plenty of trails to choose from.
Attractions in Bryce Canyon
We decided to stop at Sunset Point and explore Thors Hammer, one of the park’s main attractions. There are plenty of hikes, but remember to bring shoes with a good grip! It can get steep!
After exploring the “heart” of the park, we drove to Inspiration Point to catch the sunset. It was by far my favorite national park on this road trip! We will definitely be back to explore more of it!
Popular hikes in Bryce Canyon
The trails around Thors Hammer are breathtaking. Walking through the sandy trails while being surrounded by towering rock formations was a dream. We spent most of the daylight we had around that area.
Campgrounds in Bryce Canyon
There are two camping grounds in Bryce Canyon. The North campground (near the entrance) and the Sunset campground (near Sunset Point). If you want more of a “cabin” stay, there are the cutest log cabins a few miles outside of the park! Check out Bryce Canyon Log Cabins for more information! Book online in advance for cheaper prices!
Entering Bryce Canyon
Bryce Canyon is open 24 hours throughout the year, and no reservations are required to camp. Look out for alerts on the national park website though, because during the winter months, some areas may be closed.
Destination 4. Zion National Park
After watching the sunset over the Hoodoos, we decided to drive close to Zion National Park so that we could do a morning hike. We ended up driving to Cedar City and rented a hotel for the night. In the morning, we ended up at our fourth destination: Zion!
After our overnight stay, we headed to the west entrance of Zion National Park, where we checked in at the Kolob Canyon Visitor Center. There are plenty of hiking options from the western entrance, but if you’re planning on driving through the park, you’re out of luck.
Trails in Zion (West Entrance)
Dylan and I hiked Taylor Creek Trail and fell in love. This 4.9 miles out and back led us to the double arch alcoves… a real-life artistic masterpiece. Considered moderately challenging (probably because walking on red sand does a number on the calves), it took us about 2 and a half hours to complete.
Entering Zion from the south or east entrance offers a variety of hiking opportunities, however, the views from the west entrance didn’t disappoint. Plus, our morning hike in the west entrance allowed us some seclusion from the crowd and had the trail to (mostly) ourselves!
Attractions in Zion
You can drive up to the Kolob Canyons Viewpoint to overlook the beautiful bright red, sandy mountains. We appreciated Zion for the small portion we saw of it, but we know that there is so much more to see!
Zion has always been hyped up and for good reason. We hope to go back one day – The Narrows is on my bucket list!
Campgrounds in Zion
There are three campgrounds in Zion:
Zion is open year-round. However, vicinity operating hours and shuttle schedules change depending on which season you visit. Check the websites before you leave to check for any weather alerts! Also – be careful of Mountain Lions on the Taylor Creek Trailhead!
Destination 5: The Grand Canyon
I shouldn’t have to explain why the Grand Canyon is the last destination on this road trip. Known for its natural geological formation of layered rocks, this is arguably one of the USA’s top western road trip destinations. It spans almost 10 miles wide, 277 miles long, and is about a mile deep.
We took HWY 89 South, turned onto HWY 64, and entered the Grand Canyon from the west entrance which is considered the canyon’s “south rim.”
Trails in the Grand Canyon (South Rim)
We arrived close to sunset once again and decided to end the day near Bright Angels Trail. The trail goes from the top of the Grand Canyon all the way to the bottom and is a total of 9.9 miles long. We didn’t get to hike the entirety of the trail – far from it, but we would like to, eventually. It’s another bucket list item!
Other trails in the south rim:
Campgrounds in the Grand Canyon (South Rim)
There is a campground – Phantom Ranch – located at the bottom of Bright Angels Trail, but a permit is required. You can apply online or request a permit at the Information Center. There are plenty of camping options depending on if you choose the north or south rim.
Grand Canyon Visitor Centers
The Grand Canyon is a huge national park, and there is no way I would be able to cover it all in one blog post. However, I do know that there are only 3 visitor centers.
The North Rim Visitor Center is – obviously – located by the north entrance coming from Lake Powell. The Grand Canyon & Verkamp’s Visitor Center are both located on the south rim.
Entering the Grand Canyon
South Rim is open 365 days a year, including the Grand Canyon Village and Desert View. Most, but not all services are available year-round – some close during the winter. Reservations are strongly recommended in every season except in the fall. The North rim is open for the season – usually between May and October. Check the dates before leaving!
Before You Leave
Before heading out, we strongly recommend buying the “America The Beautiful” Annual pass. It only costs about $80 and gives you access to all the National Parks and Lands for a year! It’s hands down the best purchase Dylan and I have made. If you use it more than four times, you’re getting your money’s worth! You definitely be saving money for this road trip!
Of a distance of about 892 miles give or take, you’ll start your Western USA road trip in Yellowstone National Park and end it at the Grand Canyon. Along the way, you’ll stop at three other national parks: Grand Teton, Bryce Canyon, and Zion. This road trip only took us a total of five days, with about one day for each destination.
We wouldn’t recommend making it any shorter, but by all means, make the trip longer if you’d like. We would’ve liked to extend our trip longer to do more exploring, however, time constraints limited us.
The best times to make this Western USA road trip would be summer or early fall. The sweet spot lands in late September to early October. During this time, the summer rush has died down and the fall leaves are absolutely gorgeous. Go anytime after the second week of October and you’re at risk for road and park closures due to snow.
Western USA Road Trip: FAQ’s
Now that we’ve gone over an epic road trip itinerary for your adventure out west, let’s go over some frequently asked questions about the matter!
Where can I go on a road trip out west?
The western US is a fantastic place to road trip, because the landmarks, destinations, and national parks are endless! In this blog post, our western USA road trip itinerary covers five national parks: Yellowstone, Grand Tetons, Bryce Canyon, Zion, and the Grand Canyon.
How many days do you need for a West Coast road trip?
Although this blog post doesn’t cover destinations on the coast, the timeline should generally be the same. Aim for a minimum of 10 days if possible, but ideally, 2 weeks should be enough time to fit everything in.
What was the most popular route out west?
One of the most popular routes for a Western USA road trips to hit all the best national parks is to drive through Yellowstone, Grand Tetons, Bryce Canyon, Zion, and the Grand Canyon. This itinerary drives through four Western states: Montana, Idaho, Utah, and Arizona.
Wrapping Up: The Ultimate Western USA Road Trip Itinerary
There you have it! A western USA road trip that hits five totally unique National Parks! Add any stops or route modifications as you, please. We actually drove through Arizona down to Tucson… Flagstaff and Sedona are definitely sights to be seen!
Unfortunately, many of the trails I listed on this post don’t permit pups. Always make sure to look up rules and regulations for trails before leaving!
No matter what route you take, remember to be respectful of native lands and practice Leave No Trace principles wherever you go!