A hands-on guidebook for an unforgettable, family road trip.
The United States extend over 9 833 517 km² (11760787996830yd²) and include a multitude of cultures and landscapes. For one month, my family and I crossed 5 states in the West of the country and met very friendly, welcoming people. Here are some tips to plan your own extraordinary road trip, based on the story of our adventure.
What? A road trip through the West Coast and the National Parks of the United States of America, from San Francisco to Los Angeles
How long? One month
Which itinerary? San Francisco, California – Yosemite National Park, California – Las Vegas, Nevada – Monument Valley, Navajo Tribal Park, Utah – Durango, Colorado – Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado – Arches National Park, Utah – Brice Canyon National Park, Utah – Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona – Sedona, Arizona – Phoenix, Arizona – San Diego, California – Los Angeles, California
Interactive map: here.
Useful website: The National Park Service – all you need to know about any National Park in the US
Alternate between cities and national parks
Cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles have a vibrant, multi-faceted urban life, while the National Parks offer a view of nature that is colossal and sumptuous. Alternating between urban and natural environments allows you to switch from architectural, cultural and historical visits to athletic or outdoor attractions, and vice-versa. It makes every day unique.
We started our trip in San Francisco, a very multicultural, energetic city, where we spent two days exploring the very different atmospheres. We walked along Pier 39, visited the financial quarter, ate typical Chinese pastries in Chinatown, climbed the famous Lombard Street, took a cable car, heard the seals laughing on Pier 39, and crossed the Golden Gate. After these exhausting days in the bustling city, we went to the Yosemite National Park, the first National Park of our adventure: an escapade tinged with the scent of cypress. Invigorated, we hit the road again. Next stop: Las Vegas, and so on… Altogether, we spent one week in the cities and two weeks in the National Parks.
Discover the cities by car/bus/tram/subway; and the National Parks by caravan
This allows you to be flexible and to fully enjoy city life and maximizes your independence in the National Parks.
We traveled from San Francisco to Las Vegas by car and booked inns on the way. Then we made a tour by caravan of the National Parks (returning the caravan to the same city avoids extracost). This huge RV was comfy, functional and spacious enough for two adults and three children. Plus, the roads are so wide that there is no problem driving it. Back in Las Vegas, we rented a car to drive to Los Angeles.
Focus on particular locations and activities
Choice is liberating. You need to avoid running late and being unnecessarily frustrated. You won’t be able to see everything, anyway. So take it easy and enjoy every moment of your exciting adventure!
On seeing the wonders of the National Parks, we were at first somewhat disappointed not to be able to explore them in more depth. Because we didn’t have much time (one month flies so quickly), we decided to make only one trek per park. With hindsight, we are very pleased to have had a glance at so many different parks, different atmospheres, and surroundings!
Avoid expensive tourist attractions
…like a helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon. Prefer interactive activities where you are the author of your entertainment such as trekking in the wilderness, biking in the canyons, rafting down a river, swimming in a lake. Not only do these cost you less, but they leave you with magical, long-lasting memories of shared moments with (new) friends and family.
We rented a boat and spent one day on Lake Powell, Utah. Being a captain for a day, lunching on the deck … a great experience for the whole family! We also rafted down the Colorado River in Moab, Utah, with an organized group (see . We swam in the rapids, we lunched with fantastic people and felt like real adventurers.
Go shopping in the outlet
There you can buy branded clothes at half-price and easily spend an entire day. A must for lovers of shopping! Be careful, though, this is typical of American malls and their ideology of consumerism.
We went to an outlet, on the outskirts of Las Vegas. We had a good impression on the whole, and a new outfit for the journey.
Go to some theme parks: “the icing on the cake”
For your kids (or your own inner kid), the American theme parks are definitely worth a visit! The decors and special effects make you feel like you are living in an imaginary world, a wonderland.
At the end of our trip, we went to the Sea World of San Diego and to Universal Studio, Hollywood in Los Angeles. Keeping them to the last – but not least – activities was a good point as it was totally different from what we had experienced before: the icing on the cake!
♡ The seals on Pier 39 in San Francisco.
♡ The Mariposa Grove in Yosemite National Park. Experience the greatness of nature and feel like ants in this Giant Sequoias grove.
♡ The luxurious immoderation of Las Vegas. There is nothing like Las Vegas and its magic, irrational extravagance. Fascinating and disorientating, don’t miss a walk in Las Vegas if you’re anywhere near.
♡ Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad: a “wild west” experience. The train journey on some of the steep mountainsides of Colorado takes you back in time to an old cowboy town.
♡ The spectacular archaeological sites of Mesa Verde. 700 years ago, the Ancestral Pueblo people carved their dwellings into the cliffs. We took a ranger-guided tour to visit largest of them (Cliff Palace): a bit athletic (we had to climb down some ladders), but how amazing!
♡ The astonishing natural stone arches of Arches National Park. To gaze on without moderation.
♡ Bryce Canyon in the rising sun. In the early morning, the Hoodoos (i.e. tall skinny pinnacles) of Bryce Canyon are clothed in red and gold. Get lost in this colorful maze and enjoy how the light reflects beautifully on the rocks.
Click these locations on the interactive map for more pictures 😉