While Highway 1 takes the cake as America’s best coastal road trip, The Grand Circle road trip is the ultimate National Park road trip. For everyone who enjoy road trips and there is no better place to visit in the United States than the West Coast, home to a majority of the National Parks. The Western United States is full of amazing landscapes ranging from deserts, mountains, amazing rock formations, coastal views and dense forests.
In this guide we include our favorite state parks, national parks and cities in California, Arizona, Nevada and Utah. Some of the highlight destinations include the Grand Canyon, Horseshoe Bend, Bryce Canyon, Monument Valley, Antelope Canyon, Las Vegas, Death Valley, and the Valley of Fire.
There is no better way to explore the Western US than in a car, so you can visit every destination at your own pace and stop at any hidden gem between. While you can honestly spend months exploring this region of the US, we have created the ultimate two week road trip itinerary to the Western United States.
USA Road Trip Travel Video
Important travel information to plan your road trip
The best way to explore the southwest and west coast of the United States is with an epic road trip. We recommend renting a campervan instead of a car so you can have more freedom on planning your trip as you can sleep anywhere where it is allowed.
For this trip we rented a campervan from Travellers Autobarn and had a fantastic experience! We were able to sleep in gas station parking lots, camping areas and BLM land. Even though the upfront cost of renting a campervan is more expensive than renting a small car, you will save more money in hotels and being able to cook your own food. We spent around $500 USD in gas and $1,000 USD in the van.
Travellers Autobarn has three locations in the USA: Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Las Vegas, which are perfect starting points for your epic road trip to the Western United States. The campervan comes with free unlimited miles on all rentals, which is very convenient as road trips are full of fun detours and unexpected destinations.
If renting a campervan is not your road trip style can always rent a small car that consumes less gas, but requires additional camping gear or more hotel stays.
Day 1: Arrive to Las Vegas, Nevada
Depending on where you are flying from traveling to Las Vegas Airport is often the cheapest option. It has been the best choice for us when flying from Europe, South America and even domestically.
If you have not yet had the opportunity to explore the city that never sleeps, check out our complete guide to the Las Vegas.
Use the first day of your road trip to pick up the van, go grocery shopping and rest! If you prefer staying in a hotel in Las Vegas instead of sleeping in the van the first day look for hotels that offer free parking and that have free outside parking. If you want to start the road trip immediately you can sleep at the Pilot Gas Station, which is half way to Valley of Fire State Park and it is free!
Day 2: Las Vegas to Valley of Fire State Park
Wake up early in the morning and head to Valley of Fire State Park, which is located about 50 miles northeast from Las Vegas.
Valley of Fire is one of the most beautiful state parks in the United States and the oldest and biggest state park in Nevada. The park is open daily from sunrise to sunset and the entrance fee is $10 USD per vehicle per day.
We recommend to spend a full day at the Valley of Fire State Park to complete the Fire Wave Trail and see Elephant Rock. If you book in advance you can even camp at the Valley of Fire that night or drive two hours to the campground near Vermillion Cliff.
Day 3: Valley of Fire State Park to Vermillion
The next morning wake up super early to head to the Vermillion to apply for the lottery to visit the Wave. Only 10 people will get the chance to go to this amazing natural spot and get their number drawn.
The Wave is managed by the Bureau of Land Management and to protect this natural monument, only 20 people are able to do the hike per day. To hike the Wave you must have a permit and be on the list. Otherwise, if caught you face fines up to $10,000 per person.
You can get the hiking permit by applying to the lottery online or by showing up to the visitor center office the day before you would like to hike. If you choose to apply online you do so through the BLM’s official website but to be honest you have lower chance to get the permit as thousands of people apply from around the globe for a handful of permits. The online lottery cost $5 per person and you can apply up to 4 months in advance for your desired date.
If you choose to apply in person it is free to enter the lottery and you will have higher chances of winning as there are normally at most 200 people applying. Keep in mind that the permits are dispensed for the next morning, not for the same day hiking! To apply in person you have to been in the office between 8:30 to 9:00 AM.
Also apply to visit the South Coyote Buttes. It is as fantastic as the Wave but less popular, so you have a higher chance to win the permit lottery. Keep in mind that you will need to have a 4WD car to reach this hike as it is really sandy the way there. This is not possible in our campervan, but we made friends with other lottery winners who offered us a ride.
After the lottery, whether you were chosen or not to visit the Wave, we recommending spend the rest of the day hiking. We hiked the Wire Pass to Buckskin Gulch and loved it! You go through so many canyons and with so few visitors you have the opportunity to get fantastic photos.
Another great option is to visit White Pocket. It is a fantastic area with deep red and orange rock formations but can be hard to reach as you need a 4WD car.
Day 3: The Wave or Coyote Buttes South
We unfortunately did not win the lottery to visit the Wave, but were picked for a permit to the South Coyote Buttes. If you have an extra day, you can always show up again to the permit lottery and test your luck.
Otherwise, spend the day hiking through the breathtaking landscapes of Coyote Buttes South or the Wave, if you won permits, or there is more time to visit White Pockets if your previous day was full.
Day 4: Coyote Buttes South to Grand Canyon
A full day at the Grand Canyon is never enough to enjoy the majestic views of one of the most popular National Parks. Make sure to take the free shuttle bus to see some of the best viewpoints in Grand Canyon as well as drive along the Desert View Drive. In one day you will only have time to enjoy the views from the rim along with some short walks down into the canyon itself.
There is only so much time to spend at each destination during a complete two week road trip to the four corners states. While you do get a good view from each stop, this road trip itinerary can easily be extended to a full month if you have the time!
Day 5: Grand Canyon to Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend
Make sure to reserve a spot for Antelope Canyon as the tours are generally fully booked year round. Antelope Canyon has two spots you can visit the lower and upper slot canyons. Both sides are amazing, each with its unique features. The Lower Canyon is more tight and you cannot bring a tripod with you while the Upper Canyon is wider and they offer photography tours.
Either Canyon can only be visited with a tour guide. The best time to visit Antelope Canyon is during the summer the and it is recommend to get a tour between noon and 1PM to see the light rays shine through the canyons. The entrance fee for Antelope Canyon costs between $55 to $75 USD depending on the tour you choose.
For us, the best time to visit Horseshoe Bend is right before sunset to enjoy the rich colors of the sky. Please take a lot of water as it can get super hot! Parking costs $10 per vehicle per day but does not allow for re-entry as you will have to pay again.
As evening rolled in we kept on driving and slept in a Burger King parking lot, with permission, right before arriving to Monument Valley.
Day 6: Monument Valley
Wake up early and head towards Forrest Gump Point to get the iconic photos from Monument Valley and avoid the crowds. It is spectacular to see the sunrise there! The entrance fee for Monument Valley is $20 USD per vehicle.
Spend the day exploring Monument Valley enjoying the vast red sandstone landscapes and dramatic viewpoints.
Day 7: Monument Valley to Arches National Park
Valley of Fire State Park is is Nevada’s oldest and largest state park located about 50 miles northeast of Las Vegas. This is a popular place to witness the bright red-orange sandstone formations, the iconic Fire Wave hike and thousands of years of human history.
➳ Read More: The Complete Guide To Arches National Park
Day 8: Arches National Park to Canyonlands National Park
Canyonlands National Park is the largest national park in Utah and it is a short drive from Moab, where you should refill your car and stock up on supplies. This remote national park has three main sections: Island in the Sky, the easiest section to reach, the Needles and the Maze.
The Island of Sky visitor center is your last stop for water, as there are no services further into the park. The park offers many hiking trail from less than a mile to up to 17 miles and plenty of spots to just relax and enjoy the beautiful sunset.
➳ Read More: The Complete Guide To Canyonlands National Park
Day 9: Canyonlands National Park to Capitol Reef National Park
A two hour drive west is Capitol Reef National Park in southern Utah, encompassing the Fruita Historic District and the Capitol Reef scenic drive. Capitol Reef offers sweeping sandstone landscapes with iconic features including the Capitol Dome, Navajo Formation and Chimney Rock, a 400 foot tall sandstone pillar.
➳ Read More: The Complete Guide To Capitol Reef National Park
Day 10: Capitol Reef National Park to Bryce Canyon
Bryce Canyon National Park is one of the most beautiful parks we have visited in the United States. It features an 18-mile scenic route to access 13 different viewpoints from the rim of the canyon over the bright red sandstone hoodoo formations. All of the viewpoints are on the left side of the road, making them easier to to reach by first driving all the way to the end of the scenic road and pulling off on the way back.
➳ Read More: The Complete Guide To Bryce Canyon
Day 11: Bryce Canyon to Las Vegas
Las Vegas is best known for the Las Vegas Strip, lined with iconic casinos for gambling and home to extravagant shows. Do not miss out on the historic center of Las Vegas at the Fremont Street Experience.
➳ Read More: The best things to do in Las Vegas
Day 12: Las Vegas to Death Valley
Death Valley is the lowest point in elevation in the United States and the holds the record for the hottest temperature on record. It might sound extreme environment, but this National Park offers beautiful and unique landscapes. With vast salt flats and colorful mineral rich mountain ranges, there is so much to enjoy. Just make sure to stay hydrated and cover up in the bright sun!
Camping within Death Valley is not for everyone as nighttime lows in the summer can remain over 100 F, but it does make for a beautiful night.
Day 13: Death Valley to Las Vegas
Unfortunately the end of your two week road trip to the Western United States is coming to an end. Drive back to Las Vegas and enjoy the last few hours of adventure.
Depending on the time of your departing flight, spend the last few hours of your road trip exploring the Las Vegas Strip. If you rented a campervan from Travellers Autobarn make sure to return it with enough time to get yourself to the airport.