Top 5 Epic North American Road Trips
California Pacific Coast Highway | Canadian Icefields Parkway | Grand Arizona | Oregon Trail | Utah Big 5
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I'm Amy B, the writer, editor-in-chief and HBIC at Change N Focus. My mission is to inspire each of you to travel & explore the great outdoors, empower you to be the best YOU and truly LIVE the life of your dreams!
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These five ultimate North American road trips are each worth adding to your bucket list. You will find descriptions of the route along with maps and tons of photos from my experiences. I hope you will be inspired to explore at least one of these bucket list road trips!
#5 California Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip
Whether you have never been to California or simply have visited one of the large cities, this ten-day road trip is bucket list down one of the greatest coastlines on earth. You can fly into San Francisco or San Jose and back out of San Diego.
A great variety of activities to discover in the San Francisco area. You can check out my San Francisco Photography Tips. Most of the things we did, and saw were outdoor activities like Muir Woods National Monument to Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39.
Next, you will head to the coast and visit Half Moon Bay, Santa Cruz Boardwalk and then spend some time in the Carmel area. The 17-mile drive outside of Carmel and Monterrey is a must take drive full of beauty and wildlife as well as the Pebble Beach Golf Course. Just south of Carmel is Point Lobos State Nature Reserve that has great hikes along the coastline and is wonderful at sunset.
Photo of Golden Gate Bridge from Battery Spencer
Photo from a stop on 17-mile drive outside of Carmel, California
The drive down highway one through Big Sur is rugged and beautiful. It will take some time just due to the winding turns, but there are great hikes and stunning vistas to see and photograph. I love the Bixby bridge and Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park and the short walk to McWay Falls.
Photo of McWay Falls at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park on the Pacific Coast Highway in Big Sur
The next region down the coast will take you past a beach full of elephant seals, then on to a stay in Moonstone Beach. You’ll want to walk down to the park and walk on the stones on the beach, makes for some cool photos too.
Photo of Moonstone Beach and the colorful stones
Not far to travel, but you will drive to Arroyo Grande Valley where I highly recommend splurging on a perfect luxury experience staying at the Casitas Estate. You can read my full review before you make your decision at The Secret Luxury Oasis of Arroyo Grande. If you drink wine, then you will want to enjoy the many vineyards in the area.
Photo of stairs in backyard of the Casitas Estate of Arroyo Grande
Santa Barbara is next up for a one night stay. Visit the Mission Santa Barbara and the beautiful rose garden. We stayed at a VRBO rental over a couple’s garage on the outskirts of town and were able to hike on trails just behind their home.
Photo of the Santa Barbara Mission
The City of Angels is a traffic nightmare, but there are a few places worth some of your time. You might get lucky a stumble across famous people. My sister and I walked up on the hand ceremony for Vin Diesel where he placed his handprints in the sidewalk. For more detail about Los Angeles and the entire road trip itinerary, read Ultimate California Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip.
Photo of the Hollywood sign in Los Angeles
The final stop, but my favorite California city is San Diego. So much to explore and enjoy in the beach scene and Torrey Pines landscapes of La Jolla. Read more at my Photography Guide to San Diego or Top 10 Free Things to do in San Diego.
Photo of downtown San Diego from Coronado Island
View the California Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip route on this California Google Map.
#4 Grand Arizona Road Trip
The Grand Arizona Road Trip will explore the incredible landscapes of Sedona and Page, Arizona and of course, the Grand Canyon National Park, but you need to add in visits to Zion & Bryce Canyon National Parks in Utah on the loop back to Las Vegas. You should fly in the out of Las Vegas and spend the first afternoon and night in Vegas. Did not go too wild, because a nine-day road trip starts the next morning.
Photo of the Hoover Dam area located just outside of Las Vegas, Nevada
On the way out of Las Vegas, make a stop at the Hoover Dam which is cool to look down if you have not seen it. Then on to Sedona for a couple days of hiking in a beautiful paradise of color.
Photo from the Cathedral Rock hike south of Sedona, Arizona
Discover your love of the south rim of the Grand Canyon National Park. This trip we did not brave a hike down to the bottom, but I will the next time! Biking to Hermit’s Rest was fun and we stopped at all points along the south rim to check out the views.
Photo of Amy B admiring the view of the Grand Canyon from the South rim
Page, Arizona has two worthwhile activities. Do not miss Horseshoe Bend, although now you must pay for parking, and they put a platform in the best location to get the entire shot. My favorite experience from this road trip was Antelope Canyon. I found Lower Antelope to be more beautiful due to the colors and better lighting, but Upper Antelope has light beams only at certain times of day that gave me an award-winning photograph! Lower and Upper have separate tours. I recommend Lower in the afternoon and Upper in late morning, because the light beams usually occur between 11am-1pm.
Photo of light beam in Upper Antelope Canyon located outside of Page, Arizona
Zion National Park has some of the best hikes in the country and Bryce Canyon is the most unique landscape you will ever see. Both parks should be thoroughly explored. You will not be able to see everything on this road trip with limited time for each park.
Photo of Zion National Park from Angel's Landing
Photo of sunrise at Bryce Canyon in Utah
We finished with room service and a little Vegas luck on a free upgrade to a corner suite at Trump Hotel back in Las Vegas. A friend told me, “Trump is making Amy great again.” Love my friends!
For more details on hikes and accommodations, read The Grand Arizona Road Trip.
View the Grand Arizona route on this Arizona Road Trip Google Map.
#3 The Oregon Trail Road Trip
The lush greenery, spectacular and colorful waterfalls plus the stunning Oregon coastline make this a road trip for those that love the beauty of nature.
Photo of Proxy Falls in Oregon
Fly in and out of Portland International Airport. The route will take you to views of Mt Hood that hopefully won’t be covered in clouds, then on to a ghost town of Shaniko where my sister almost got bit by a rattle snake.
Photo of the ruins of a church in the ghost town of Shaniko, Oregon
Bend, Oregon is a great central location to visit and hike to a lot of beautiful waterfalls. There are also great trails in Smith Rock State Park near Bend.
Photo of Koosah Falls in central Oregon
And you will not want to miss Crater Lake National park. We did not do much hiking there but watched a gorgeous and peaceful sunrise.
Photo looking out on Crater Lake in Oregon
You will finish your route through central Oregon at some more incredible waterfalls and an excursion to a drive through Wildlife Safari. I did not know what to expect from this park, but there was quite the array of animals with giraffes right outside our sunroof. The only part that was suspect is when they give you food to feed some of the animals from your car. I thought the ostrich was going to peck through the window to get some food!
Photo of zebras in the Wildlife Safari Park where you drive through in your car
The route then takes you to Bandon, Oregon where we spent two nights with a coastal view. One day take a drive south along the coast and explore the Samuel H Boardman State Scenic Corridor. There are so many places to see and great trails to hike in this area of Oregon.
Photo in Samuel H Boardman Scenic Corridor
Next, I had to stop in Coos Bay, because I ran track most of my childhood and into college and wanted to say I went to the home of Steve Prefontaine. Then back up the coast for some beautiful hikes and lighthouses. We stayed in Yachats, Oregon one night. The botanical gardens in Shore Acres State Park is worth some of your time. Absolute must see is sunset at Thor’s Well!
Photo of Thor's Well on the Oregon Coast
Then continue up the coast to Yaquina Lighthouse where we watched whales and then climbed a huge sand dune at Cape Kiwanda State Natural Area.
Photo of view from top of sand dune at Cape Kiwanda State Natural Area
Last day on the coast was in Cannon Beach which has the iconic Haystack Rock scene at the beach. Then back to Portland to explore the Columbia River Scenic Highway, most of which was closed due to a previous wildfire, but we did get to see Multnomah Falls. You need to try Voodoo Donuts and visit the Japanese Garden.
Photo of Haystack Rock on Cannon Beach, Oregon
The Oregon coast is filled with state parks, overlooks, beaches, lighthouses that you could explore for weeks. For more details read The Oregon Trail Road Trip.
Photo of Yaquina Lighthouse on the Oregon Coast
View the Oregon Trail route on this Oregon Road Trip Google Map
#2 Canadian Icefields Parkway & Glacier National Park Road Trip
The Icefields Parkway runs from just north of the town of Banff up Highway 93 all the way to Jasper. This is the most beautiful road I’ve ever driven and it spans 230 kilometers or 143 miles. The Canadian lakes and waterfalls just off the Icefields Parkway are unforgettable. This trip itinerary includes driving south the Glacier National Park in Montana. Unfortunately, the wildfires in and outside of Glacier stopped us from experiencing the beauty of that park, but still recommended as part of this ten-day road trip. The entire route was more than 1,000 miles. I recommend flying in and out of Calgary International Airport.
First stop in the stylish mountain town of Banff and visit Mt Norquay for incredible vistas followed by sunset at Vermilion Lakes.
Photo over Banff, Canada from Mt Norquay
Next, you will travel north on the Icefields Parkway with stops at Moraine lake for sunrise, followed by some amazing lakes and waterfalls over two days in Banff National Park.
Photo of sunrise at Moraine Lake in Banff National Park
Day four has adventures in Jasper National Park with highlights at Athabasca Falls and Mount Edith Cavell. The afternoon stops at Peyto Lake and staying at Num-Ti-Jah Lodge at Bow Lake.
Photo of Angel Glacier at Mount Edith Cavell
Exploring more of Lake Louise and Moraine Lake is a must as well as a hike through Johnston Canyon in Banff National Park.
Photo of Peyto Lake in Banff National Park
One last sunrise at your lake of choice nearby, then a drive to Whitefish, Montana where we had planned on going skydiving, but again the visibility from wildfires halted the Glacier experience.
Photo of Glacier National Park during wildfires
We spent one-night inhaling smoke from the wildfires and drove back to Calgary the next day. There were then wildfires in Canada as well so we spent the next couple days in a hotel room watching constant weather coverage of Hurricane Irma as we would be flying back to Florida as it was approaching.
I will be returning to Glacier National Park to explore one day and you can read more of the entire road trip and our hiking plans if you visit The Ultimate Canadian Icefields Parkway & Glacier Road Trip.
View the route, here is the Canada & Glacier Road Trip Google Map
#1 The Utah Big 5 National Parks Road Trip
Utah is my favorite state in the United States. Highly recommend renting a jeep or small SUV for this road trip. If you don’t like dirt or the desert, this road trip won’t quite be your of cup of tea. But if you love adventure, off road excursions, spectacular landscapes, and mind-blowing hikes, bucket up!
Photo of the Windows in Arches National Park
Fly in and back out of Salt Lake City International Airport. The basic route of the trip will take you approximately 860 miles. The adventure starts in Moab, Utah which is located in between Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park. Moab is the only town that we spent two nights in a row, the rest were one night only.
Photo in Canyonlands National Park
Then drive south to Monument Valley and from there west to Kanab, Utah which is another great hub to explore amazing trails and landscapes. For the off-road adventures, take a jeep or SUV out to White Pocket. You can read more about this adventure at Off-Road Adventure to White Pocket.
Photo in White Pocket, Arizona
Next up is the epic hike to Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park. To find out whether this hike is for you, read Inside a Hiker’s Mind at Angel’s Landing to hear how my sister and I overcame the anxiety of the dramatic cliff edges on both sides of the trail to the exhilarating views at the top.
Photo at the summit of Angel's Landing in Zion National Park
Make your way to Bryce Canyon National Park for the incredible hoodoos. Then on to hikes in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and one night in Escalante.
Photo of Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah
The final adventure stop was in Capitol Reef National Park before driving back to Salt Lake City for a restful evening before flying home. For more details and recommended accommodations and hikes look at Utah’s Big 5 National Parks Road Trip.
Photo from Capitol Reef National Park in Utah
View the route on this Utah Road Trip Google Map.
All of these road trips lasted ten days, but if you want advice on what to skip for a shorter trip, email at email@example.com.