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Explore the West Coast & Southwest - The Ultimate Road Trip Destinations

A road trip through the West Coast and Southwest is a bucket-list vacation for many. Planning logistics, financial constraints, and limited vacation time may get in the way of making this dream vacation a reality. However, if you find yourself in the position to take this epic road trip through many of the top destinations in the U.S., you definitely should. To make the most of your journey, read our guide below. 

 

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Top attractions in the western United States

 

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Stop 1: Las Vegas

Las Vegas is much more than the gambling center of the United States. In fact, with casinos sprouting up all over America, the city has been looking for alternative ways to keep tourism alive.

The nightlife in Las Vegas is, in a word, unparalleled. Several of the best clubs in the world are tucked away in this glittering city amongst the classic sights of old Las Vegas. 

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Stop 2: The Valley of Fire

Just over an hour's drive from Las Vegas, you'll find yourself transported to another world. The bright, red-toned Valley of Fire in the northeast of the city givess you a  glimpse into the national parks to come.

Be sure to hike The Wave, a fantastic rock formation created by nature. Until a few years ago, the now-popular photo spot was still completely unknown. Today it's still possible to be here alone and can enjoy the sunset.

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Stop 3: Zion National Park

The next highlight is Zion National Park. Depending on your time constraints, you can either hit the crucial vantage points or drive down the park road, which is accessible to private vehicles between November and mid-March but can also be accessed by free shuttle the rest of the year. In the summer, there are several points at which you can wade in the river. Particularly thrilling is a hike into The Narrows, where you will walk through the riverbed surrounded on both sides by high canyon walls.

Pirate tip: There is a national parks "passport" that covers all national parks for the entire year (per vehicle) for just $80. If you'll be visiting several parks, this could be a good choice for you. 

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Stop 4: Bryce Canyon National Park

Just a stone's throw from Zion is Bryce Canyon National Park. Once you've taken in the viewpoints, go on a hike down into the valley. The route is even manageable for inexperienced walkers.

You'll see the best colors at sunrise and sunset, although the latter is best if you're not an early riser. 

For a detour to some other beautiful national parks, check out nearby Arches and Canyonlands. 

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Stop 5: Monument Valley

After reaching the northernmost point of your route, you'll slowly start to head south again. There are more viewpoints and photo opportunities than there are hours in the day. Monument Valley is particularly well-known as the setting of the old Marlboro Cowboy advertisements. 

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Stop 6: Antelope Canyon & Lower Canyon

To experience Antelope Canyon the right way, book ahead for a guided tour through the spectacular Lower Canyon. An amazing place for photographers to test their chops, and a marvel for anyone who walks through it. 

The best areas of the park are on Navajo land, meaning a National Parks Pass won't work here. You'll have to pay separately to get in, but it's well worth it. 

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Stop 7: Colorado River Loop

Do not miss the small and inconspicuous parking lot, from which, after a short hike, the following view of one of the most beautiful loops of the Colorado River emerges. 

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Stop 8: The Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon is the mother of all road trip destinations, but the discerning traveler will realize that its more of a quick trip than a multi-day stopover. While the views from the top are unprecedented, the hike into the canyon is taxing and doesn't offer much extra unless you're willing to descend all the way into the valley. 

Speaking of that long descent, you should really only tackle a round-trip route in the same day if you're a seasoned hiker and have all the necessary gear.  Each year there are deaths because tourists overestimate their abilities and underestimate the forces of nature.

The height difference between the edge and the valley is about 1300 meters. While the temperatures are below freezing in the morning, they can reach 30 degrees down in the valley. 

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Stop 9: Route 66

Moving along, you'll spend the next two days on this classic road trip route. Stopovers are especially worthwhile in historic Kingman and in the fascinating cactus park Joshua Tree.

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Stop 10: San Diego

"California Dreaming" should be playing on the car stereo by now, because San Diego marks the first of the three metropolises on the Pacific coast of California. In this young and easygoing city, you may or may not be surprised to find that Spanish is the predominant, though not official, language.

The proximity to Mexico means its easy to take the tram south if you have the time. But if you're planning to just stop in the city, a must-do is the famous San Diego Zoo. It was one of the first in the world to converted their old cages into plexiglass enclosures with plenty of space. Their conservation program has played an important role with the giant panda population. 

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Stop 11: Los Angeles

Opinions are divided on our next stop—you either love it or you hate it. No matter how you feel about it when you leave, the city is definitely an experience. We're speaking of course about The City of Angels, the glittering Hollywood hotspot, Los Angeles. 

Snag a picture of the famous Hollywood sign, visit the extravagant coastal towns of Santa Monica and Venice, and cruise along Sunset Boulevard. And don't forget to find the secret celebrity crush of your youth on the Walk of Fame. 

 

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Stop 12: Highway 1

On the journey from Los Angeles to San Francisco you have the chance to drive one of the most beautiful scenic roads in the world as opposed to the (admittedly faster) interstate. 

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Stop 13: San Francisco

What image comes to mind when you think of San Francisco? The Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, or perhaps the famous cable cars? You should spend at least two days here, in one of the most beautiful cities in North America.

Pirate tips: Be wary of the hair-rising turns on infamous Lombard Street if you're driving through the city. Additionally, it's best to book tickets in advance to visit The Rock, particularly if you're doing the highly recommended evening tour.

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Stop 14: Yosemite National Park

Two fascinating national parks are waiting for you on your way back to Las Vegas. The first is Yosemite, best known for its waterfalls, which can only be admired in their full glory in spring.

If you are prepared for a longer trek, try out the circular walk up to Glacier Point, past the waterfalls (in summer you can take a quick dip) then back down to the valley. This 20km walk is definitely worth it. 

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Stop 15: Death Valley

Between late spring and fall you can use the spectacular Tioga Pass to cross the Sierra Nevada. In winter, you'll have to go around get into Death Valley.

Death Valley is both the hottest and deepest place in the USA. You should stock up on provisions and gas in advance, especially in the summer. The prices in the park are exorbitant and should only be used in emergencies.

In about 2 to 3 hours you will be back at your starting point in Las Vegas, the craziest desert city in the world.

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