May 9, 2016
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An epic USA Road Trip: 8 National Parks in 29 days

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An epic USA Road Trip

We took an epic USA road trip across the West Coast, taking just over one month that saw us visit 8 National Parks, 1 State Park, Lake Mead, the Hoover Dam and two trips to Las Vegas, Nevada. All we did was hire a car with only a few ideas in mind, we let the road take us on an adventure of a lifetime.

During our USA road trip of the West, we crossed 7 states, walked through rivers and waterfalls, hiked part of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), picked up a couple of hitch hikers in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, encountered bears, bison, elk, wolves, coyotes, hyenas, kangaroo rats, scorpions and managed to survive wilderness camping on top of the most violent volcano on earth. It was by far one of the best road trips of our entire lives.
Picture of Zion National Park USA road Trip



What we did along the way

 
Whilst on our USA road trip, we saw many beautiful sights and we experienced life changing moments. Here are the highlights that we have tried to put into words:

Coming up close to Joshua Trees 

A picture of a Joshua Tree at Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree

An unspoiled view of the San Andreas Fault 
Picture of the San Andreas Fault Line Joshua Tree National Park USA Road Trip

Wild Camping on a super volcano 
Picture of Wilderness camping Yellowstone National Park USA Road Trip

Hiking inside a Canyon 

Photograph of a view of the Peek a boo hike Bryce Canyon National Park

Peek a boo hike

Seeing part of the Colorado River basin 
Picture of Colorado Basin Grand Canyon North Rim USA Road Trip

Hiking through ‘The Narrows’ in the Virgin river 
Picture of The Narrows Zion National Park USA Road Trip

Driving through the oldest Nevada State Park in the Mojave Desert 

Picture of Valley of Fire State Park

Mojave Desert

Seeing one of the largest man made lakes in the world 

Photo of Lake Mead Nevada

Lake Mead Recreation Area

Walking the lowest, driest and hottest part of North America 

Photograph of Salt flats in Badwater Basin Death Valley

Salt flats Badwater Basin

Having a picnic at the towering granite cliffs of El Capitan 
Picture of El Capitan Yosemite National Park USA Road Trip

Touching a giant sequoia, the largest tree in the world 

Photograph of Sequoia Tree in Sequoia National Park California

Sequoia Tree

Driving on Route 66 
Picture of Las Vegas sign on Route 66 USA Road Trip
Our accommodation compromised of sleeping in a tent, numerous motels and the car at gas stations in the middle of nowhere.



The destinations we visited on our USA road trip (in order)

 
Joshua Tree National Park, Southern California 
Joshua Tree park was the first National Park in the USA that we visited. July was a great month to go to Joshua Tree as it was fairly quiet and not crowded with lots of visitors. It was very hot so we made sure we stocked the car up with bottled water. We eased ourselves into this National Park camping adventure, by visiting Joshua Tree for the day and stayed in nearby Palm Springs for the night instead of camping.
Picture of Joshua Tree National Park USA Road Trip

Bishop and Wadsworth to visit family 
We headed to Wadsworth from Palm Springs to visit family and it was a 9 hour drive, so we split the drive up with an overnight stay in Bishop. It is a lovely little place that sits at the base of the Sierra Nevada mountains. Bishop is situated close to Yosemite National Park, Sequioa National Park, Kings Canyon National Park, Death Valley National Park and the Sierra National Forest.
Picture of a powwow in Wadsworth USA Road Trip

Reno, the largest smallest city in the world 
Reno was our next stop, to visit more family. For those wondering what to do in Reno, this place is filled with lots of fun activities. Reno is situated between the Sierra Nevada Mountains and Lake Tahoe, making it a great location for ski lovers as it is in close proximity to many ski resorts. This place is known as “the biggest little city in the world” and it is home to many casinos such as the Eldorado Casino, the Grand Sierra Resort, the Silver Legacy Resort & Casino, the Atlantis Casino and Dotty’s Casino to name a few. Be sure to check out the Reno Arch at night when it lights up and brings this city to life.
Picture of Reno USA Road Trip

Virginia City and Twin Falls in Idaho (on route to Yellowstone) 
Virginia City is a short drive away from Reno so it is a great place to visit for day trip. It is a fun historic city which still has a feeling of the wild wild West. There are various clubs, bars and saloons that have a country and western feel and play live music including, the Bucket of Blood Saloon, The Red Dog Saloon and the Ponderosa Saloon. Other things to do in Virginia City are The Washoe Club Haunted Museum, Virginia City Visitor Center, Fourth Ward School Museum, Virginia City Outlaws, The Way it Was Museum, The Ponderosa Mine Tour and there are rail tours that take you on a journey around Virginia City whilst telling you stories of its history.
It is around an 11 hour drive from Reno to Yellowstone National Park, so a night in a motel at Twin Falls was well needed on this USA road trip.
Picture of Virginia City USA Road Trip

Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, Montana and Idaho 
Yellowstone National Park is a magnificent place where you can see the raw earth come to life. We arrived to the park late afternoon with no camp spot pre-booked so our only option was to go backcountry camping in Yellowstone. This was an unforgettable experience and one of our best moments of travelling. We would recommend backcountry camping in Yellowstone National Park to anyone, especially those who are more adventurous and searching for off the beaten path experiences.

Photograph of Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park

Grand Prismatic Spring

Bryce Canyon National Park, Southern Utah 
After spending 5 nights in Yellowstone National Park, it was time to move on. Next, we decided to go camping in Bryce Canyon National Park. Bryce was a hidden gem, a National Park that we hadn’t heard of but it was full of natural beauty. We spent 2 nights camping in Bryce Canyon and we could easily have spent longer there.

Photograph of Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon

Grand Canyon National Park (North Rim), Arizona 
No USA road trip would be complete without visiting the Grand Canyon National Park. We chose to stop off at the North rim as it was most convenient for our road trip route. We didn’t stay overnight, although there were camp spots and lodges near by. After we spent the day in the Grand Canyon, we pulled over at a gas station and spent the night in the car.

Photograph of the view of the Grand Canyon North rim

Grand Canyon North rim

Zion National Park, Utah 
After crossing the state boarder we arrived in UTAH. We went camping in Zion National Park for one night and could have spent longer there because there was so much to do. Lucky for us, we got one of the best camp spots in Zion National Park South Campground. It was really hot during the night in July so if we were to return, we would consider going in a cooler month. If you are thinking of things to do in Zion National Park, you won’t be disappointed. There is the Angels Landing hike, Zion’s Main Canyon, the Zion Canyon scenic drive, the Narrows hike, Observation Point, the Canyon Overlook Trail, the Zion Shuttle, the Weeping Rock Trail or visit the Zion Canyon Visitor Center for more inspiration.
Picture of Zion National Park USA Road Trip

Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada 
We spent one short night in UTAH then headed to the Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada. The beauty of this place immediately struck us during our drive towards the visitor’s centre, fire red coloured formations of rock surrounded us in all directions. We enjoyed reading about the history and examined the exhibits in the Valley of Fire’s visitors centre before heading back out into the blistering heat to explore the park. It was far too hot in the peak of summer to go on long hikes or stay overnight in a tent, so we opted to spend the day and admired the beauty of the state park’s grounds. Points of interest here include, Arch Rock, Atlatl Rock, Beehives, Petrified Logs, Balanced Rock, Mouse’s Tank, Rainbow Vista, Fire Canyon/Silica Dome, White Domes, Seven Sisters, The Cabins, Clark Memorial and Elephant Rock.

Photograph of Valley of Fire State Park

Valley of Fire

Lake Mead and the Hoover Dam, Nevada/Arizona 
We spent a few hours admiring the spectacular rock formations in the Valley of Fire State Park, then headed to the Hoover Dam. We happened to pass through Lake Mead on the way. There was free parking available at the Hoover Dam and we managed to have a walk around to check out the surrounding area before heading off to Las Vegas. The Hoover Dam is worth a visit, especially if you are on a USA road trip to or from Las Vegas since it is so close.

Photograph of the Hoover Dam and Colorado River between Nevada and Arizona

Hoover Dam

Las Vegas, Nevada, Part One 
This was our third time visiting Las Vegas and it was just as fun as the first. There is never a dull moment in Vegas, there is enough to keep you entertained for days. The majority of the hotels on the strip have their own casino and resort. Some of the top Las Vegas hotels include, The ARIA Sky Suites, The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, The Encore at Wynn Las Vegas, The Four Seasons Hotel Las Vegas, The Bellagio Las Vegas, ARIA Resort & Casino, SKYLOFTS at MGM Grand, The Palazzo Las Vegas, The Venetian Las Vegas and the Vdara Hotel & Spa. We stayed at the Americas Best Value Inn Motel, which was perfectly situated just off the Las Vegas strip and it was super cheap.
Picture of Las Vegas USA Road Trip

Death Valley National Park, California and Nevada 
After spending a week in Las Vegas we were all partied and gambled out. It was time to hit the road again on this USA road trip and head to another National Park. In Death Valley National Park, we camped out in Wildrose campground for 2 nights and it turned out to be one of our favourite camp grounds during our world trip. What made this camp ground so special, was that it was off the beaten path. Wildrose campground is situated on the Western edge of Death Valley and it has an elevation level of just over 4k, making it an ideal camp spot in the hot summer months. We encountered some unforgettable moments here, we saw kangaroo rats up close, heard a pack of Coyotes howling at night and we saw the milky way light up the sky.
Things to do in Death Valley National Park include, Zabriskie Point, Furnace Creek, Badwater Basin (the salt flats), Dante’s View, Ubehebe Crater, Titus Canyon, Telescope Peak, Artist’s Palette and the Natural Bridge Trail to name a few.

Photograph of Artist Palette Death Valley National Park

Artist Palette

Yosemite National Park, California 
A very scenic 4.5 hour drive from Death Valley lead us to Yosemite National Park, a place where nature lovers and climbers dream of visiting. On our way to the park, we stopped to pick up 2 hitch hikers who told us their fascinating story of the past 15 day hike they had just completed of the John Muir Trail. Yosemite is a hikers heaven, it is a land full of exciting nature trails including the mighty Pacific Crest Trail, the famous Half Dome hike, Glacier Point, Bridalveil Fall Trail, Valley Loop Trail and the Yosemite Falls Trail.
Picture of Yosemite National Park USA Road Trip

Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon, California 
Sequoia National Park is home to the enormous and unique sequoia trees There is no better feeling than wondering through the forest and getting lost among these ginormous trees. This National Park is situated in the Sierra Nevada mountains and is adjacent to Kings Canyon National Park. The notable things to see in Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon are the General Grant Tree, the General Sherman tree, Grizzly Falls, Road’s End, Boyden Cavern, Kings Canyon Scenic Byway, Climb the Steps of Moro Rock, High Sierra Trail, Crescent Meadow, Hume Lake, Buck Rock Lookout, Mineral King, Crystal Cave, Mount Whitney and you can even drive or walk through the Tunnel Log. We spent a total of 3 nights camping in Sequoia and that was enough to explore parts of both National Parks.
Picture of Sequoia National Park USA Road Trip

Barstow (Route 66), California 
It is around a 6 hour drive from Sequoia passing through Bakersfield, the Mojave National Preserve and ending in Las Vegas. Half way through the journey, we stopped off in Barstow, a perfect stopover on Route 66 for those wanting food, drink, a restroom break or a night in a motel.
Picture of Barstow sign Route 66 Road Trio

Las Vegas, Nevada, Part Two 
We ended this unforgettable USA Road Trip in Las Vegas because it was fun, convenient for dropping off the hire car and the hotels were super cheap. The hotels in Las Vegas are such good value for money and it is the perfect place to get luxurious accommodation for a budget backpacker. We paid £40 per night including taxes and resort fees to stay in the Excalibur hotel, which is located on the Las Vegas strip and has its own casino, fitness center, spa and swimming pools.
Picture of the Las Vegas sign USA Road Trip

Other USA National Park travel blogs you may find useful –

  • 33 Pictures that will make you visit Yellowstone National Park
  • A day in Joshua Tree National Park
  • Backcountry Camping in Yellowstone National Park
  • American road trip budget



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