WESTERN USA

Our 16 days road-trip - Tips and itinerary

We had a dream in common since several years, a dream to see the canyons of the Great West, to drive on the long typical American roads in the middle of the deserts of Arizona and Nevada, and to see cities we are used to see in cinema and series. So the decision was made. This year, we fly to the US, we rent a car and we go to explore the west for 16 days!

During this trip we drove more than 5000km, a long road trip from Los Angeles via Las Vegas, the Route 66, Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, the Lake Powell, Zion Park, Valley of Fire, Death Valley, San Francisco, and ended up on one of the most beautiful roads in the world, the Highway 1 to return to Los Angeles.

4 states: California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, 5000Km by car, 100Km by walk, an infinity of landscapes all as different from each other, and hundred of amazing memories that will remain for a long time in our heads…

Some informations

VISA / ESTA

Depending on your nationality, you will need a VISA or an ESTA to enter (or transit) on the American territory.

You will find here the list of countries that do NOT need a VISA, but an ESTA: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Visa_Waiver_Program

If your nationality does not appear in this list, then you will need to apply for a visa. Get in touch directly with your embassy.

The ESTA is a kind of VISA that must be purchased on the internet and is valid for 2 years. Beware of scams, visit only the official website! The ESTA costs only $15 without any exception. Other unofficial sites may charge you up to $80 per person.

Once your informations are entered and the payment is done, you will not receive any confirmation by emails. The status of your ESTA is to be verified on the official website directly.

Once confirmed you can print it but it is not obligatory. However, have your ESTA number somewhere with you just in case.

TRANSPORTS

The car will be the best way to visit the American West, and we strongly advise you to rent a SUV, to have the maximum of confort during the long driving hours. If you are also planning to go to Monument Valley or Glen Canyon for example, it is essential to have a good car due to the state of the roads.

For cities like Los Angeles, it is quite imperative to have a car too, because the transportation very poorly serve the touristic places, and take very long time!

We rented our SUV on rentalcars. Once at the Los Angeles Airport, a free shuttle will take you to your rental supplier, and then you will choose your own car within the category you have booked. We opted for a Ford Escape and it was ideal for us or even a family with 2 kids.

PARKING

It is a budget to take in consideration. During your trip you will not have difficulties to park your car in the streets, except in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

We advise you to download the “Best Parking” app on your phone or tablet. After entering the city and your point of interest, or address, you will be able to compare the prices of the different parkings. Then you will need to enter the address into your GPS. It was very convenient for us, as the prices can go from simple to double.

In Los Angeles and San Francisco, you will often see a sign saying that you can park 2 hours for free in the street, Just be careful and read it carefully, if this apply for the week or weekend, and depending also of the time. They can be sometimes pretty complicated to read.

Also, never park where there is a red line on the sidewalk.

In Las Vegas, we left the car at our hotel, the parking is free for the guests and well located on the strip. It is however possible to park in any hotel.

Here is the list of hotels and casinos with free and paid parking, and their fees: https://www.lasvegasadvisor.com/parking-fees/

You can also leave your car at your hotel, and use the tram.

A few casinos offer free connecting trams. This makes it easy to get from one casino to another. Take advantage of these Las Vegas trams whenever you can.

The Mirage Free Treasure Island Tram, Mandalay Bay – Luxor – Free Tram Excalibur and ARIA Express Tram.

In San Francisco, if you park in the street, there are rules to follow. If the street is steep, it will be mandatory to turn your wheels. Look at how are the other cars, and just do the same. And be careful, never leave anything inside the car!

BUDGET

It all depends of course on the number of people traveling and how you want to travel. The budget will not be the same for a young couple sleeping in the cheapest motels, as for a family with 2 children who need comfort.

We will talk about our own experience.

We wanted to have the cheapest hotels or motels, as long as it was clean and we had a private bathroom. Having a car, the location did not matter to us.

Only for Las Vegas and Monument Valley, we got a great hotel and a bit expensive (we talk about it below).

In terms of food, we bought a cooler at Walmart for about $20, and we made sandwiches almost every day, and occasionally were eating at estaurants in the evening.

Everything included (flight tickets, hotels, souvenirs, car, gas, activities, food etc …), we have spent about $2500 per person. That’s a total budget of around $5,000.

SECURITY

Americans have been extremely kind to us. Always asked us if everything was fine etc… We have never had or seen any problem during our trip, but as everywhere you must be careful in certain neighborhoods.

In Los Angeles, for example, we have heard that Venice Beach should really be avoided at night.

Deserts and some national parks can be also dangerous but because of the heat. Remember to always have water in the car (in case of breakdown), and on you.

In San Francisco, we strongly recommend you to not leave anything in the car. It happens very often that thieves break the cars windows, even in the middle of the day in a very touristic place and in front of the crowd. We have read a lot of feedbacks from travelers saying that their backpack with cameras, computer, hard drive etc… have been stolen because they were in restaurant or 5min in a store. So stay careful.

MONEY AND PRICES

The US are in general pretty expensive (of course it depends where you come from. For us, the comparison is with Poland. It won’t be that expensive from someone from Canada, Australia, France, etc…).

A normal restaurant will cost about $20-30/pers

A beer will cost about $7-9

A sandwich at Walmart can cost between $6 and $15.

Attention, the prices displayed are always excluding taxes. So you have to add the taxes, and also the tips which are almost an obligation in the United States. These are usually displayed at the bottom of the bill to make your life easier. You can choose between 3 different percentages/amount.

GAS

Gasoline in the United States is very cheap. For about 2 weeks and 5000km, we paid in total about $300.

To tank your car, you must first go to the cash register and ask for example $30 for the pump number 2. If you put less, he will give you back the difference.

Note that gas is often cheaper when paying by cash rather than card!

In general we were refueling almost every day to have it always full. Be careful when you venture into the desert. The gas stations are very numerous but on some roads it is possible to not see any.

Note that there are no gas stations on the highways, you must take the exit to access them.

WHEN TO GO?

We went there from the 9th till the 24th of May. The weather was actually perfect. Except for our first day in LA and our last day on the highway 1, it was sunny everyday and between 25 and 35°C everywhere, which was great because not too hot for hiking in some national parks.

However, we were also very lucky. The weather forecast announced rain for the day when we were leaving the place. We arrived at the new destinations with the sun, and left it with a rain announcement. It followed us closely sometimes…

At the Grand Canyon, we had a great weather with 25°C, and 5 days later there was a snowstorm and was so foggy that it was impossible to see anything.

We recommend you to go in May, June or September because the heat is very bearable during the day (even cold in the evening), and the prices are not as high as in July and August.

If we could do it again, I think we would go in June, but the weather is never predictable…

NATIONAL PARK PASS: „AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL”

In the United States, the national parks are not free. It costs generally between $20 and $30 per vehicle (can be around $5 cheaper for motorcycles).

However there is a Pass, which gives you access to all nation parks in the whole USA. It costs costs $80, is valid for one year, and is worth it if you plan to visit at least 3 parks.

It is possible to buy it on the internet but it’s useless. The best is to buy it directly at the entrance of your first park, and in 2min your pass is done, with your signature and your ID.

Beware, however, it is not valid in state parks and Indian reserves like Monument Valley.

The money is used to take care of the parks, the infrastructures and to pay the rangers.

TRAVEL INSURRANCE

The topic of travel insurance is always very complicated and we are not the best to talk about it in details.

What we can tell you though, is that it is imperative to have one. Medical costs in the US are extremely expensive, the price of staying few days in hospital can be a hundred of thousands dollars… So better to be covered, especially when planning to go for such a road trip.

By comparing some insurances and reading many opinions, we opted for Chapka Assurance. As we didn’t encounter any situations, we (fortunately, but sorry) can’t give you a real feedback.

INTERNET

Few solutions.

  • Check different phone operators in your country for phone and internet agreements without commitments.
  • Prepaid cards, but they are quite expensive over there.
  • Apps working without internet

We did not take internet for our trip. Every hotel has the WiFi, and thanks to applications like Maps.me or Google Map, it is possible to download maps in advance and use the GPS without internet connection. This is the solution we advise you if you want to save some money.

Our itinerary

LOS ANGELES

DAY 1

Hello California!

First of all, it’s important to say that it’s impossible to see everything in just 2 or 3 days. Los Angeles is a gigantic city and you will need much more time to discover it completely. So you have to know what you want to see and what are your priorities.

After arriving in LA, picking up our car and driving for the first time an automatic car, we joined our AirBnB in the West Hollywood area, from where we could see the Hollywood sign from the street! The emotion is already here.

As it was already quite late, and we were tired after the journey, we thought we would just have a drink in town.

And what better way to start our trip with a super rooftop in Downtown LA?

We found the Perch, and we highly recommend it. A bar with an incredible view on the LA skyline, with a relaxed and lounge atmosphere. It is right next to Pershing Square (Cheap secured parking on Olive St) and minors are accepted until 9pm.

DAY 2

On this 2nd day, the weather was not optimal, our program was to focus on a small car tour of our neighborhood, as well as the Walk of Fame, Beverly Hills, and a long walk in downtown up to late at night.

We think that the Walk of Fame is to be seen at least once, just to say that we saw it, there is nothing amazing but it’s still one of the most famous streets in the world, with its more than 2000 stars.

So we parked next to the Wax Museum, and we walked down the street, head down all the way long, to read the names on the stars. Walt Disney, Michael Jackson, Jack Nicholson, Snoop Dogg… all the greatest are there, you have a big choice for your photos.

Quick tip: Grab a burger or a typical breakfast at Mel’s Diner!

We then went back to the car and headed down to Melrose Avenue, to take some pictures in front of the very instagrammed street art, like the Made in LA or the wall with the wings.

Then, direction Beverly Hills, too curious to see these houses that we hear about so much. And indeed … They are pretty impressive! The houses are all made of different styles, and really beautiful!

Quick stop in front of the „Pretty Woman” ’s hotel, and we drove down the famous Rodeo Drive with its luxury shops, but we do not get out of the car.

We take a break few minutes at the Hotel Beverly Hills. Because this is this hotel that the song “Hotel California” of the Eagles speaks about!

In downtown to be honest there is not much to do. We wandered around, saw the Disney Concert Hall and its crazy architecture, and were impressed by the height of the buildings and the atmosphere of the city.

Depending at what time you will be in Downtown, we advise you to go to the top of the city hall tower. It’s free and the point of view is pretty nice.

DAY 3

On our last day in LA, and the sun coming back, it was a great moment to go to see the Hollywood sign, but especially the Pacific Ocean in Venice and Santa Monica!

To go to the Hollywood sign, we drove to Lake Hollywood Park. The roads are extremely steep, narrow and winding, but once arrived at the park, the view on the most famous sign in the world is perfect! It is also possible to take a short hike to get to the back of the letters, but for us it was enough, the beach was waiting for us! Then direction Venice.

For your information, there is a secured parking and not very expensive just next to the Venice canals.

Everyone has a different opinion about Venice. We really loved it. The canals and its very hipster houses, built to be posted on instagram, and Venice Beach with its stereotypes of body-built guys, its skatepark, basketball players, beach guard posts like in Baywatch … it feels like in a movie, and how good it is to see the Ocean!

A bit before sunset, we took the car and went to Santa Monica Pier. We advise you to go on the evening, the sunset from the beach is beautiful and the atmosphere of the amusement park is really nice.

We stayed in a Airbnb in West Hollywood. The cheapest way to stay in LA will be to book a private room in a Airbnb. Of course it depends if you are traveling with family, or a couple, alone, etc… Prefer West Hollywood or Santa Monica for your stay.

2, 3 or 4 days is very nice to have a really good preview of the city and see the most touristic attractions.

Universal Studios, Paramount studios, Warner Bros, Disneyland, a baseball, football or basketball match, Downtown, Hollywood, Hollywood sign, Venice canals, Venice Beach, Santa Monica Pier, Beverly Hills, Griffith observatory, movie-stars homes tour, whales and dolphins watching cruise, helicopter tour.

If you plan to stay few days in LA and visit most of the main attractions, we advise you to buy the Los Angeles Pass, and have access to more than 35 attractions (available from 1 to 7 days).

The city is huge, public transport is not very developed or effective, the best is to have a car! We picked ours up as soon as we arrived.

Beware, the traffic is very dense in the morning on major freeways. From 7 to 9am: can be challenging in some places, and from 4pm till 8pm is total chaos.

We never used the freeway in LA to go from a place to another, always by the streets and actually never faced any traffic jam issue.

However, be organized to avoid many hours of driving!

LAS VEGAS

DAY 4

Our road trip begins! We start to taste the bitumen and the huge American highways. We leave Los Angeles early in the morning for Las Vegas! 5 hours drive await us.

(Tip: In case of traffic jam on the highways and if you are 2 or more (sometimes 3 or more) in the car then do not hesitate to use the CarPool Lanes! It can be very convenient !)

We stop halfway in one of the best restaurants we will see during the trip. The Peggy Sue’s! An old 50’s style dinner, a time travel, and a great atmosphere! The waitresses, dressed as at the time, are adorable and very funny. Very touristic but a must do.

Hello Nevada!

Our GPS informed us that we were only 15min away to Las Vegas, but we were still in the middle of the desert … how can a city like Las Vegas be only 15min away when we only see desert and cactus…? There was absolutely nothing…

And suddenly, here it is… The sin city begins to emerge, we try to spot which hotels and casino it is , we start to play some Elvis songs loudly in the car, and the city is getting closer and closer … VIIVAAAAA LAS VEGAAS ….

We take the exit of the highway, and we find ourselves on the Strip. It’s amazing! We are so excited to be here!

Once the car parked at our hotel, The Cosmopolitan, we head to the reception, eager to discover the room we are going to have.

We booked a studio with a view on the famous Bellaggio fountains. We also sent a request by email few months before, to have a room high enough to have the best view, without being sure that it has been taken into consideration. But it was not counting on our adorable receptionist who upgraded us for free! She gave us our room’s cards and told us that it’s gonna be a large Suite with terrace on the 57th floor! We are so happy!

After enjoying the sunset from our incredible terrace, we go down to the strip to taste the madness of the sin city, visit some of the best known hotels and casinos like The Venician, or the Bellaggio where we played at the casino for the first time in our life. Well … $20 lost but it was funny.

By the way, quick tip: the alcohol is free and unlimited as long as you play in casinos.

We were actually surprised to see that hotels can be very cheap. There are hotels for every budget in Vegas. We saw for example months before a room at the Stratosphere for less than 20$! Or a room with view at the Bellagio for less than 100$…The value for money is excellent and it’s due to the fact that for a long time, each establishment wanted to attract visitors to its casino to make them spend the maximum of money. Depending on the season, with high demand, prices tend to explode! Also the difference is visible between weekdays and weekends. So book your hotel room early!

We booked our room at the Cosmopolitan Hotel. This is the only hotel which has balconies and terraces with a view on the Strip and on the Bellagio fountains.

1 full day and 1 night is enough to see most of it. If you want to take some rest, or to enjoy pool parties or to watch a show or a concert, then 2 or 3 days will be great.

Gamble in casinos, visit the hotels, Pool Parties, shows and live concerts, Downtown, Zip-line on the Strip or Downtown, Mafia museum, Neon museum, roller coasters.

ROUTE 66, THE MOTHER ROAD

DAY 5

Before leaving Las Vegas and finishing off in style, we went on the roller coaster tour of the New-York – New-York hotel. It was the first time for Dorota, and between 2 looping, we admire the view on the city one last time. Well, actually I do, Dorota isa little too focused on the ride, haha.

A quick stop also by the “Welcome to the fabulous Las Vegas” sign, where we meet Elvis, and fifty people waiting in line to have their selfie in front of the sign. We just take some photos from the side, and let’s go towards on the mother road, for 5 hours!

Hello Arizona!

We dIdn’t have much time to stop by Kingman because the road is pretty long, so we first stop in Oatman and its well known Burros. One of the most Dorota’s awaited stop.

This small, very western style village is known for its wild donkeys, the Burros. For the record, it was the gold diggers who imported them to help with the transport, and when everyone deserted the place, the donkeys remained. For $1 you can buy a bag of food and feed them.

I have to admit that they are really too cute…

2nd stop, Seligman. We arrive a bit late, at sunset, and everything is already closed, the city is a pretty quiet and empty, but at least we have it just for ourselves!

Seligman is the town where the Route 66 was born, and the one who fought to keep this mythical road is the Seligman’s barber, Angel, whom you can meet in his barber shop.

Seligman is a very small town, but the style has remained there. Old rusty trucks, old-fashioned police cars… It’s like a film set… and actually it was Seligman who has inspired the animated film “Cars” that you surely know.

3rd and last stop, where we will sleep, Williams. A beautiful little town, emblematic figure of the Route 66, and which is located just 1 hour from the Grand Canyon.

Williams is a must see, for its atmosphere, its old cars and its 50’s typical American style, and a great restaurant that we absolutely recommend you, the Cruiser’s Route 66 Cafe!

What surprised us on the Route 66 is the diversity of the landscapes. We could not have imagined it like that at all, and it was really a pleasant surprise. We also thought seeing a lot more bikers, maybe it’s just a lack of luck, we only crossed 2 between Vegas and Williams.

It depends in how many days you will do it. If only 1 day like us, then stay in Williams or Flagstaff, as the Grand Canyon is not very far.

1 full day is enough if you leave Las Vegas very early. 2 days to do it slowly.

Oatman, Kingman, Seligman and Williams.

GRAND CANYON

DAY 6

Day 6 and day of our first national park. And not just any… The gigantic and well known Grand Canyon! A desert and craters spread over 400km long, hollowed by erosion and the Colorado river. A visit that we were really looking forward to do!

After 1 hour drive from Williams, we arrived at the entrance of the park and we bought our pass America The Beautiful (explanation at the beginning of this article). We parked on one of the many parkings, and walk to the free shuttles to reach the Mather Point (it is actually possible to walk there in 10min – we have returned on foot).

We get off the bus, we go to the point of view, and it has been a huge „WOW”… we have seen dozens, hundreds of photos and videos of the Grand Canyon, it is impossible to realize exactly the immensity of these craters if we are not in front … it’s breathtaking!

For the rest of the visit, we do it by car all along the Desert View Drive. A 40Km road which runs from the Grand Canyon Village to Route 64 (AZ), passing by many scenic points and trails. Every time the same “wow” when getting out of the car…

As all good things come to an end, we have to leave, to be able to make the most of our next destination.

The location will make all the difference, but be careful, the places are expensive and you have to book it long time before (up to a year before) to be in the Grand Canyon Village hotels.

Due to lack of space, many have to stay in the surrounding area, Tusayan is the nearest village outside the national park, then Williams and Flagstaff.

Another solution for staying in the park, is to camp.

1 full day is enough if you are not planning to hike. 2 days will be great to enjoy it.

  • Drive the Desert View Drive from point of view to point of view.
  • Fly over the Grand Canyon by helicopter.
  • Walk the Rim Trail.

MONUMENT VALLEY

And it is after a 4 hours drive that we finally arrive … Mountains, huge block of red stones, sand, cactus … we are in the heart of the symbol of the American West, and western movies … Monument Valley!

What we liked about Monument Valley is that even though it is very busy and touristic, the site is vast and offers many opportunities to be in peace to contemplate the beauty of nature quietly. Do not go to the Visitor Center during peak hours in the middle of the day… otherwise the experience will be disappointing.

We are sure that you remember the movie Forrest Gump, and this scene when Forrest is going for a few years run. Well, our first stop is at the Forrest Gump Point, the place where he decides to stop running. „I’m pretty tired. I think I’ll go home now…”. The emotion is there, and we stay to take few photos on the middle of the road, avoiding some cars passing through.

We then go to our hotel. The landscapes on the road already impress us, but we still do not see the famous 3 famous big rocks. It is at the arrival at our hotel The View, just next to the Visitor Center, that they appear.

They are even more impressive than we thought, (the highest is 300m!) And we are just on time for the sunset. We are so in admiration with this amazing landscape that we decide to stay until the night falls, and we will check in at the hotel only after.

For more details about our awesome hotel and this magical place, check out our article here!

DAY 7

We wake up at 4am to watch the most beautiful sunrise of our life. The sun rises just behind the rocks, which reveals a truly sublime light… The show is amazing, and even if it’s hard to get up that early, it is 1000 times worth it!

Time to check out unfortunately, but before to leave we take the scenic drive which offers many beautiful viewpoints of the monuments. For your information, the rocks are very important for the Navajo, and even sacred. They also all have a name.

We stop at the John Ford point, place made famous by John Ford’s films and John Wayne’s scene on his horse. The landscape is really epic and so photogenic !

You can also take a photo on a horse, to look like exactly like John Wayne ! Check out our article about Monument Valley to learn more about this place and our epic hotel !

Once again, being on the site make all the difference. Getting up and having the monuments right in front of you, does not have the same flavor as having to drive 30min to arrive on the spot, but places are limited.

There are only 2 hotels in Monument Valley. The View, and The Goulding’s Lodge. Each one has hotel rooms, cabins, and a campground.

We strongly recommend you the cabins of The View! But book yours in advance!

On Airbnb, you can also find for example teepees.

1 day and 1 night is enough to see the Forrest Gump Point and and drive the Scenic Drive. We arrived at sunset and left the next day at 10am. That was a bit short.

If you want to really enjoy this magical place, stay at least 2 full days.

  • Drive the 17-mile loop, also referred to as the Valley Drive. It is a scenic drive past some of the most popular sites in Monument Valley. It is a dirt and gravel road that starts and ends at the Monument Valley Visitor Center.
  • You can also take a tour on the Valley Drive with a Navajo guide. This tour takes you to all of the same sites you would see on your own, however, you do it with a guide and in their vehicle.
  • The Lower Monument Valley. There is a second loop that veers off of the Valley Drive. This is only accessible by tour.
  • Mystery Valley, a very popular tour that takes visitors on a three-hour excursion to see petroglyphs and Anasazi sites.
  • Forrest Gump Point
  • Horse ride with the Navajos

PAGE

Arriving in Page, after a 2h30 drive, we head directly to the Lower Antelope Canyon because we are running late. We booked our visit few months before and we recommend you to do so as it can be quickly full, and we almost missed our visit, but finally we arrived right on time.

We are a group of about 10 people, our guide explains the basic and safety rules to respect in the canyon, and we go down.

It’s really a unique place, the shape of these rocks, these lines and these colors … a must see at least once in a life! We were apprehensive before coming due to the mass of tourism at this place. We had read a lot of criticisms, such as no time to really explore, always running, no time for photos, too much people…

It may be a little bit the case for the Upper at the most requested hours, for example around noon when the sunrays appear in the canyon, but for us in the Lower at 13:30 it was really cool, and we would have really regretted not doing it!

You hesitate between the lower and upper Antelope Canyon? We give you all the info here to help you choose!

After leaving the canyon, we headed directly to HorseShoe Bend which is just few minutes away.

The parking is mandatory and costs $10 per vehicle.

You will then have to walk about 20-25min, so do not forget to take some water, it is very hot over there!

After a small hike, here you are. Much more impressive than all the photos and videos we’ve seen, the size and the shape of this crater, with the Colorado river flowing around are just awesome and dizzying !!

We return to our motel late in the afternoon, time for a well-deserved shower and we decided to go to eat at Big John’s. A typical Texan canteen, with country and rock live music, and big tables where everyone is together. We really recommend it !! The meat is particularly delicious but the atmosphere is above all! It’s been one of our favorite place.

DAY 8

We were supposed to kayak on the Lake Powell all day, but unfortunately the wind was too strong, and the renters offered us a refund and told us we should change our plan as it is too dangerous. (By the way we recommend „Lake Powell Paddleboards” for your paddle or kayak rental. They were very nice and very professional)

So… we had to find a plan B then. After doing some research on google map and internet, we decided to head to Glen Canyon and to try to reach Alstrom Point. (Trying is the right word)

Glen Canyon was a huge surprise again. Lunar landscapes, black hills, deserts… and the best … we were alone all day in the entire parc!

To reach Alstrom Point, you will have to be brave… fortunately we had an SUV because the roads are impassable. It took us from time to time to get out of the car, and create supports with stones so that the car could pass, while prentending to be balancing performers. I think we were not very far but we did not find the real viewpoint… Anyway it was funny and really stunning. A real adventure! We regret not having been able to film this to show you!

You can easily find hotels and motels in Page. We stayed at the Motel 6 and we recommend it. The staff is nice, it was the cheapest, the rooms are clean and there is a swimming pool.

You will need 1 day to see Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend. This region is really beautiful. We stayed 2 nights there, but at least 3 would have been amazing.

  • Antelope Canyons
  • Horseshoe Bend
  • Glen Canyon
  • Cruise or kayak on the Lake Powell

ZION NATIONAL PARK

DAY 9

Today we leave Page and Arizona head to the Zion National Park in Utah.

Zion is a paradise for hikers, there is always something to do for all levels. It is located in the southwestern state of Utah and is, since 1919 the first national park of this State and constitutes with Bryce, Capitol Reef, Arches and Canyonlands, what is called the Mighty Five. These are Utah’s 5 national parks that must be seen at least once in a lifetime!

Long of a dozen kilometers, it was over the years entirely shaped by the Virgin River which still flows all along the valley.

To preserve the valley, from March to October, a shuttle system is set up to allow you to move throughout the canyon. To do so, simply leave your vehicle on the huge (but often stormed) Visitor Center parking lots and take the green shuttle (color stops) which serves all the point of interests of the valley thanks to 9 stops spread in different places. It takes about 40 minutes to reach the last stop of the shuttle.

In summer, it is best to arrive as early as possible because you will see that the shuttle is quickly stormed and the queue can be relatively long until the next one. Do not panic, everything is perfectly well organized, the rotations are very frequent and you should never wait very long.

For our first day, we decided to go slow and do the Canyon Overlook Trail. A one hour hike, about 1.5Km, easy, with a magnificent viewpoint at the end. Widely accessible for the less sportive people and even children. The sun sets right in front of you behind the mountain, which make the light gorgeous and a spectacular show.

DAY 10

Day 10, and what a day…! Probably the biggest challenge of our trip. We are attacking the Angel’s Landing Trail. THE mythical hike of Zion. It is long and difficult and one of the most dangerous of the USA. It takes about 6 or 7 hours in total, but the view at the top is breathtaking and well deserved!

If you have fear of height, we advise you to not trying the second part of the trail. You will still have gorgeous views while hiking the first part.

We tell you how we nailed this crazy hike and give you all the infos in our article here. Come check it out!

After so much emotions and effort … comes confort ! We stop in the evening in a cowboy saloon to enjoy one of the best burger we will have during our trip. Dorota took a salad, they served her squarely the salad bowl..! The portions are generally huge in the United States, but this time was pretty impressive. Go try in Hurricane, the Stage Coach Grille!

There is a lodge inside the national park, (Zion Lodge), but the most common option is to sleep in Springdale, the city at the entrance to Zion Park. For the lower budgets, Hurricane is also great, only 1 hour from the park, and if you need more choices, then Washington and Saint Georges.

We stayed in Hurricane and were really happy with it.

Depending on what you are planning to do. If you don’t want to hike then 1 night will be enough. Otherwise, at least 2 or 3 nights.

We stayed 2 nights, and hiked the Overlook Trail and Angel’s Landing.

  • Drive the Zion Mt Carmel highway from east to west.

  • Hike at least 1 or 2 of the many trails available (depending on the weather), the Overlook Trail, The Narrows, Angel’s Landing, Observation Point… etc

VALLEY OF FIRE - DEATH VALLEY

DAY 11

We leave Utah early in the morning because we planned to go through the Valley of Fire before heading to Death Valley. A 6 hours drive in total.

Hello again Nevada!

Less than an hour drive from the Las Vegas Strip, and not far from Lake Mead, Valley of Fire has been a Nevada State Park since 1935.

It is located in the desert of Mojave, and the temperatures can be very high! Plan a lot of water if you decide to venture off the beaten path.

The Valley of Fire, owes its name to the red sandstone formations that abound in the park. We have never encountered rocks with such colors.

Being a state park, it is not possible to use the “America The Beautiful” pass at Valley of Fire. It will cost $10 per vehicle.

On the road to the Death Valley, we met a strange and funny gas station… yes, we are in Nevada, the state where the famous and secret Zone 51 is! So here everything is devoted to aliens!

And … hello again California!

With more than 13,000 km2, Death Valley is outside Alaska, the largest national park in the United States. The lowest point is 86m below sea level, in Badwater, which is the lowest point in the USA and Mount Whitney, the highest point in the USA that rises to over 4400m, and all that in the same park!

Death Valley also holds the record for the highest temperature ever recorded on Earth with 56.7°C recorded in July 1913!

No need to tell you to bring bottles of water!

(Attention also in summer, the hirers prohibit the camper-cars in this region.)

Do not forget to refuel also before entering the Death Valley. However, if you have to refuel in this park, choose the station that is located in Stovepipe Wells which will be much cheaper than the one located in Panamint Springs.

There is a lot of things to see in Death Valley, but we chose Badwater, Zabriskie Point, Artist Palette / Artist Drive.

We also wanted to finish the day at Mesquite sand dunes, but the wind was too strong and we would have wasted time for nothing.

DAY 12

It’s our biggest day in the car. A 14 hours drive from Death Valley to San Francisco, stopping by the Lake Tahoe.

So we went from a desert at 40°C to snow and -5°C at Lake Tahoe, then 20°C in San Francisco! It’s like we had the 4 seasons in 1 day.

Death Valley can be very very hot during the day, so it’s better to prefer the closest hotels so you could visit in the morning.

Furnace Creek, to be directly in the park, otherwise, the Death Valley Junction or Pahrump.

We stayed in Pahrump and didn’t have any issue. We were also lucky as it was not that hot, 30-35°C with a strong wind.

1 full day is enough to see everything listed above. If you want to visit it slowly, then 2 days will be great.

Dante’s View, Zabriskie Point (especially at sunset), Badwater, Mesquite Sand Dunes, Artist Palette, and Artist Drive.

SAN FRANCISCO

DAY 13

It is in Vallejo that we wake up today. A small town 30 minutes away from San Francisco, where you can get much cheaper accommodation. If you are starting your trip in SF and will not rent a car directly, then we would rather find accommodation in Oakland or San Francisco. If you will have directly a car, then Vallejo is a good option.

We leave our AirBnb after a good and long night well deserved, excited to discover this so mythical city! To get to San Francisco, there are multiples bridges and tolls, which have to be paid in both directions (6$). Only the Golden Gate Bridge has to be paid only to enter in SF. It is free to return.

To pay, we advise you to register in advance your license plate with your credit card number. You will also choose on the site the period in which you intend to use the bridge. Your license plate will be automatically detected at the bridge toll and your card will be debited. (You can also do it until 48 hours after). If you do not, an invoice will be sent to your renter, and the price will be doubled (about $ 16 instead of 8).

We keep driving and we start to see the most famous bridge in the world appearing in front of us. The Golden Gate Bridge.

We enter the city, and we slowly begin to understand that we will have to arm ourselves with courage to be able to park in these strong sloping streets! Moreover, in the streets that are sloping, it will be mandatory to turn your wheels. Look how the other cars are, and do the same. If you do not do it, you risk a heavy fine.

Our first visit in SF will be the famous Lombard Street. A pretty street that is also the most winding street in the country. It looks really cool in photo, but nothing special on this spot to be honest. We do not linger and take the car direction Chinatown.

SF has the most known Chinatown of the United States. Temples, stalls and typical lanes, where architectural wonders mingle with scents of Orient. We even try for the first time, a fortune cookie, a little cliche but we dreamed about it!

We then head to downtown, and like in Los Angeles, we find a rooftop with a unique view on the city! The View Lounge, at 780 Mission St. It’s open from 4 pm, and if you want to have a table at the window to enjoy the view, it will be necessary to come early, at the opening, or be lucky.

DAY 14

For our 2nd and final day in San Francisco, the program was more intensive.

First stop: Battery spencer. An amazing view on the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco at the top of the hill, not to be missed.

Second stop: Pier 39. If you have never heard of this place, you must add it to your list! This is where you will find the wild sea lions chilling and sunbathing! They look so cute!

There are also a lot of bars, snacks, and restaurants. We tried the Bubba-Gump restaurant, taken from the movie Forrest Gump, where we eat obviously… you guessed it, shrimps !

It’s a great and unusual place, and the food is delicious (avoid the classic burger though). For example on the tables you have 2 panels. One to say that you do not need anything (run forest, run!), And another one to ask the waiter to come to see you (stop forest, stop!). Small details that make the charm of this place, not to mention the view on the Pacific Ocean…

We really loved the Pier 39 and we would have stayed there all day! The only negative point, parking nearby is extremely expensive! About $15/h!

We continue the visit and we head to the famous Painted Ladies. These 7 houses in a colonial style, aligned all colorful. The park is also ideal for a short break or a picnic. We enjoy the sun a little and head to the hippie district. Haight Ashbury.

Haight Ashbury is a truly unique colorful neighborhood with a Summer of Love vibe, full of hippie-style street art, frescoes of Jimmy Hendrix and Janis Joplin, hippie clothing stores, smoke shops, and more.

We entered to a hat shop, and talked half an hour with the saleswoman, a woman in her fifties who looked like she just came back from Woodstock. The conversation was epic and the visit is worth it just for her.

At the end of the day, we came back to the Golden Gate Bridge to admire the sunset on the Marshall’s beach.

To access it, Park at the Golden Gate Overlook car park. It is free, and then you just have to go down the small path for 15-20min. The view is wonderful!

If you don’t have a car, then choose San Francisco or Oakland. If you have a car and a low budget, then Oakland or Vallejo.

We stayed in Vallejo, about 30min by car to the Golden Gate Bridge.

1 negative point to stay outside SF, is that you will have to pay every time the bridges tolls.

Note that the road from Death Valley is very very long and will take you probably a full day. Except if you come from Yosemite which is closer, but still…

We stayed in total 3 nights and had 2 full days in SF. It’s pretty short but we could see most of it. If you have time, then 1 or 2 nights more could be cool.

So many things… As for Los Angeles, it’s necessary to be well organized and maybe to buy a city PASS. There is a lot of choices!

Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, Baker’s beach, Marshall’s beach, Battery Spencer point, Pier 39, Painted Ladies, Dolores Park, Chinatown, Downtown, Lombard Street, Castro, Haigh Ashbury, Union district, the cable car, an helicopter tour above the city and the Golden Gate Bridge… the list can be very long!

HIGHWAY 1

DAY 15

We leave San Francisco with regret to reach our ultimate destination, Morro Bay, by one of the most beautiful highway in the American West.

It has several names, Highway 1, California State Highway 1, Cabrillo Highway, Pacific Coast Highway, etc. It is part of the so-called All-American Roads, recognized roads for all the wealth they can present: cultural, historical, touristic, scenic, etc…

It stretches more than 880 km from north to south along the Pacific Coast and offers many viewpoints.

The most beautiful part is between Big Sur and San Luis Obispo.

Unfortunately, the weather is not with us, and we had clouds and fog all day long, transforming this beautiful road into Irish landscapes (which were still beautiful).

All along the road you will see signs indicating the different viewpoints.

We stopped at Big Creek Bridge, Big Sur, Monterey, Table Rock Beach, San Simeon where you’ll see sea lions, and Morro Bay.

This will depend on how many days you plan to stay on the pacific coast. We can’t really advise you on this.

We stayed in Morro Bay as the new day in the morning we headed to the Los Angeles airport directly.

As we said above, here is up to you. 1 day is short to see everything, and tiring to drive to Morro Bay. If you can, I would say at least 2 nights.

Once again, so many things… if the weather is great, then you will have a lot of choices !

Big Sur, Pfeiffer park, San Simeon, Bixby Bridge, the falls, Morro Bay, Santa Barbara….

All along the road, you will see signs which tell you that there is a viewpoint.

CONCLUSION:

This trip has been one of the best we have ever done. By its diversity of landscapes , the kindness of the Americans, the diversity of cultures… We think that even if you are not very attracted by the US, it is something to do at least once in a lifetime.

2 weeks can be pretty intensive and tiring, and of course if you can stay longer then don’t hesitate to add another week to have more time to enjoy some places. If we could have added an extra week, we would have stayed longer in the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, San Francisco and on the Highway 1.

We hope that this article answered many of your questions if you are planning to go visit the Western USA, or made you want to go if you never thought about it.

Leave us a comment and tell us about your experience!