Crater Lake, Oregon by Wandering Wheatleys

Road Trip USA: 28 Amazing Photos to Inspire You

Often when we talk to our friends back home they ask us what our favorite countries are in the world. And they are generally surprised when the good ‘ol US of A makes our top 10 list. Sometimes we get so caught up in the hype of international travel we forget how incredible and diverse the scenery is in our own backyard.

That is why in the fall of 2016 we decided to pack up our lives and embark on a 6-month road trip from Portland, Oregon to Key West, Florida, and back again. With plenty of meandering along the way, we managed to rack up over 22,000 miles on our 1994 Ford Bronco. We spent ~150 nights camping under the stars in the spectacular National Parks and public lands of the United States.

During our road trip in the USA, we explored iconic US destinations like Havasu Falls, New Orleans, and Gatlinburg, TN. We soaked in secluded hot springs, hiked in the Great Smoky Mountains, and even won the lottery for The Wave in Northern Arizona (one of the most difficult places to visit in the USA).

Here are a few of our favorite pictures we took along the way. We hope they inspire you to take your own road trip across this beautiful country!

28 Road Trip Photos from the USA

1. Buckskin Gulch, Utah

Buckskin Gulch is the longest slot canyon in the US and is one of our favorite places in the country. While its colors are not as bright as Antelope Canyon and it doesn’t have the rushing water of The Narrows in Zion National Park, it does offer a very similar setting with almost complete solitude. Buckskin Gulch is located in a remote part of Southern Utah near the town of Kanab.

It is also located just a short distance from the famous ‘Wave’ in Northern Arizona. You can hike the entire 24-miles of the canyon or just journey in a short distance and return the way you came. Prepare to be awed by the towering sandstone walls of the narrow canyon!


2. Antelope Island, Utah

Antelope Island State Park, located just north of Salt Lake City, is the largest island in the Great Salt Lake. There, you’ll have 42 square miles of protected land to explore. However, the most amazing part feature of this island is the free-roaming heard of over 500 American bison.

In Spring 2017, this state park was designated an International Dark Sky Park by the International Dark-Sky Association. They work to protect night skies and avoid light pollution. It makes Antelope Island State Park a great place to stargaze and do a little bit of astrophotography.


3. Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida

Dry Tortugas National Park is one of the least visited parks in the United States National Park System. That’s likely because it is located 70 miles off the southern tip of Florida and is mostly open water with just seven small islands.

But there are plenty of reasons to visit this national park. In addition to beautiful coral reefs and crystal clear water, the largest island is home to the historic Fort Jefferson. This massive fortress was built during the 19th century to protect the shipping channel between the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico.

Today, you can wander freely through the long-abandoned fortress taking in the sweeping views of the turquoise ocean and white sand beaches. There are no accommodations in the park. Camping is allowed, but you’ll need to make reservations months in advance to secure one of the eight campsites for a night.

The park is only accessible by boat or seaplane. There is a daily ferry that runs between Dry Tortugas National Park and Key West.


4. Havasu Falls, Arizona

When people ask us where our favorite place is in the USA, we enthusiastically respond with Havasu Falls! The setting of a lush valley in the middle of the desert with a turquoise river flowing through it over a series of increasingly beautiful waterfalls is just something out of a fairy tale.

Getting a permit for Havasu Falls requires a bit of planning and a bit of luck, but it’s absolutely worth it! If you’re thinking about visiting, make sure you check out our Havasu Falls Packing List!

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5. Desert View Watchtower, Arizona

The Grand Canyon is one of the most iconic and awe-inspiring sights during your road trip in the USA. Standing at its edge is on many a traveler’s bucket list.

If you just have one day at the Grand Canyon, then hike the South Kaibab Trail or the Rim Trail to check out all of the epic viewpoints. Desert View Watchtower, Hopi Point, and Mather Point are a few of the best viewpoints in Grand Canyon National Park.

If you have more time, there are lots of other cool ways to explore the Grand Canyon – hike the bright angel trail to the floor of the canyon, raft the Colorado River, or take a helicopter tour from Las Vegas!

While the South Rim of the Grand Canyon is more accessible, you’ll find that the North Rim is much quieter, yet equally as beautiful.


6. Oak Alley Plantation, Louisiana

Oak Alley Plantation, Louisiana by Wandering Wheatleys

Oak Alley is one of the beautiful plantations along the River Road located on the outskirts of New Orleans. If you’re heading to the Big Easy, you should definitely take a day off drinking and go visit this well-preserved piece of Southen history.

Get there early in the morning to avoid the crowds so you can explore the massive landscape and the 28 live oak trees before you head inside the big house for a tour. Photos don’t do the place justice, but photographers from all levels can submit their photos, including landscape, architecture, still life, and photographic art, for the Oak Alley Photography Contest.

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7. Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Spanning the continental divide of North America and encompassing one of the most stunning portions of the Rocky Mountains, this national park can’t be missed if you’re driving across Colorado. It’s packed with visitors in the summer, but if you visit during the winter months, you’ll find it easy to find a bit of solitude among the epic snowy landscapes.

The Rocky Mountains National Park is located 90 minutes from Denver and it’s roughly 415 square miles boasting 77 peaks and 156 lakes. You can spend your days doing a little bit of camping, hiking, and fishing in the summer, or go skiing near Grand Lake in the winter!


8. Joshua Tree National Park, California

Located in the desert of southern California, Joshua Tree National Park offers some experiences that shouldn’t be missed! There are many trails open for hiking, biking, and horseback riding, and there are even opportunities for rock climbing. 

The park spans about 794,000 acres and has four visitor centers – Joshua Tree, Oasis, Cottonwood, and Black Rock. The park offers three entry points, including Yucca Valley in the west, Twentynine Palms in the north, and Cottonwood Springs in the south. 

We recommend visiting during the spring and the fall, as temperatures are more manageable. However, the park is open all year. Go and gaze at the rugged rock formations, the funky Joshua trees, and the stunning desert landscapes. Don’t forget your camera because you’ll want to take endless photos!


9. White Pocket, Arizona

White Pocket, Arizona is one of the most picturesque places in the United States. The marbled orange and white sandstone have been eroded into incredible formations that just don’t seem real until you see them with your own eyes.

White Pocket isn’t visited as much due to its remoteness – you’ll certainly need a 4WD vehicle to access the area! The drive itself is a great adventure. When you start exploring on your two feet, you’ll be astonished at all of the colors, shapes, and textures in the area. Just be cautious as it is a fragile environment, so tread lightly and enjoy the sights of the beautiful stones.

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10. Racetrack Playa, California

Death Valley is one of the most barren and remote National Parks. It is full of unworldly landscapes, including huge sand dunes, expansive salt flats, and the mysterious Racetrack Playa.

The Racetrack is nestled between the Cottonwood and Last Chance Ranges. The roads leading to it are rough. Make sure you have good tires and spares since there’s no cellphone coverage in the area.

The best part of Racetrack Play was a mystery for many years. Large stones drift across the dried-up lake bed on thin sheets of ice that form when weather conditions align perfectly. You can see the trails of the dragged stones across the ground leaving trails showing their journey.


11. Christine Falls, Washington

Mount Ranier National Park is often overlooked by people during a road trip in the USA. But, if you’re planning a west coast road trip, then this national park should definitely be a part of it.

The park is full of stunning waterfalls that are easily accessible from the road – make sure you check out Myrtle Falls and Christine Falls. Christine Falls is framed by a historic arching bridge with a 60-foot waterfall. Visit in the summer as the skyline trail offers some of the most photogenic vistas in the entire USA!


12. Sequoia National Park, California

Sequoia National Park, California by Wandering Wheatleys

Sequoia National Park in California is home to the world’s largest trees. Wandering through a grove of giant sequoia trees is a surreal experience that should be on everyone’s USA bucket list.

The largest of these trees (and the largest living tree in the world) is the General Sherman Tree. It has a circumference of 102.6 feet at its base. The Sequoia trees are some of the largest and oldest trees in the world. They can live for over 3,000 years due to a chemical in the bark – it protects them against rot and fire!

The park also has over 800 miles of trails. If you’re there during the hiking season – July to September – hike by the trees, sheer cliffs, and river canyons to your heart’s content.


13. Crater Lake, Oregon

Crater Lake has to be seen to be believed! At 1,949 feet, it is the deepest lake in the United States. It fills the massive caldera that was created when Mount Mazama erupted and collapsed over 700 years ago.

You can visit in the summer if you want to swim in the crystal clear waters. You can also come in the winter to enjoy the spectacular scenery by snowshoe or cross country skis. It’s definitely a must-visit for any Pacific Northwest road trip! Read more about visiting Crater Lake here.


14. Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Canyonlands National Park is located in southeastern Utah. Known for its desert landscape, it definitely deserves a place on your road trip in the USA bucket list! 

There are endless canyons, mesas, fins, arches, and spires to explore. It’s divided into four districts – Island in the Sky, the Needles, the Maze, and the Green and Colorado rivers. Head to the Island in the Sky as it is more accessible and offers views along the paved scenic drive.

If it’s backcountry experiences that you’re searching for, then the Needles is the place. You can explore by hiking or driving a 4×4 around the area. You can also embark on some flatwater trips on the rivers, including canoeing or kayaking. 

There’s something for everyone to enjoy in Canyonlands National Park. Make sure you don’t miss it!


15. Monument Valley, Arizona

Monument Valley in Arizona houses some of the tallest (up to 1,000 feet!) and most impressive sandstone rock formations in the US. You may recognize them from Hollywood movies and TV shows – from Forrest Gump and 2001: A Space Odyssey to Westworld and The Man in the High Castle.

You can head to the visitor center to explore the museum and attend a guided tour by either car or horseback. There’s also a Navajo archaeology exhibit and a collection of arts and crafts to peruse. Another option is to do a self-guided drive to check out the unique rock formations. 

Make sure you don’t miss this natural wonder of the world!

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16. Anza-Borrego Desert, California

Anza-Borrego Desert, California by Wandering Wheatleys

The Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is located within the Colorado Desert in southern California. Named after Spanish explorer Juan Bautista de Anza, it is the largest state park in California.

The parks span around 600,000 acres with 110 miles worth of hiking trails. It’s best to visit during the winter and spring to avoid the desert heat during your hiking trips. Plus, the spring season covers multiple areas with amazing wildflowers. 

Start your day at the underground visitor center to learn about the park and finish it laying on a blanket and gazing at the star-speckled sky!


17. Point Reyes, California

USA Road Trip: Best Places to Visit in America - Point Reyes California

Just 30-miles Northwest of San Francisco, Point Reyes Peninsula is a wild and beautiful place to explore. You can explore miles of hiking trails and epic sea kayaking along the rugged coastline.

Visit the Point Reyes Lighthouse built in the 1800s to help sea travel from San Francisco north. There’s also the Inverness Shipwreck located on a sandbar in Tomales Bay. Make sure you don’t miss walking through an incredibly photogenic tunnel of massive old cyprus trees!


18. Ramona Falls, Oregon

The hike to Ramona Falls is a 7.1-mile loop trail near Rhododendron, Oregon. With an elevation of over 1,000 feet, it might be a challenge for some and takes roughly three hours to complete. If you’re not up for the trek, you can also complete the trail on a fun horseback ride! 

Whether you opt to hike or go on horseback, it’s a worthy adventure to check out the 120-foot-tall waterfall. Lace up your hiking boots and get ready to be in awe at this amazing waterfall!


19. Big Sur, California

Bixby Creek Bridge, Big Sur, California by Wandering Wheatleys

The Bixby Bridge in Big Sur is one of the most iconic stops along a Pacific Coast Highway road trip. It’s just 18 miles south of Monterey. The drive offers spectacular coastal views as the road winds its way along the sea cliffs high above the Pacific Ocean.

The bridge is made of reinforced concrete with an impressive arch. It’s also popular among photographers and one of the most photographed bridges in California!


20. White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

Sunset over White Sands National Monument, New Mexico by Wandering Wheatleys

Miles of white gypsum sand dunes make White Sand National Monument in New Mexico one of the most strikingly beautiful places in the United States. It contains only 10 designated campsite and visitors without a camping permit must exit the park before 9 pm.

Camping under the stars in this vast white desert made White Sands was one of our favorite experiences on our road trip in the USA. It is also one of our top alternatives to the country’s busier National Parks.

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21. Penny Hot Springs, Colorado


Penny Hot Springs is an inviting little off-the-beaten-path hot spring located just outside of Carbondale, Colorado on the banks of the Crystal River. The landscape is particularly stunning in the winter when the riverbanks are covered in snow!

If you visit during the winter, it’s the perfect place to relax after a day of hiking or skiing. The boiling water seeps up from the ground with a few pools sectioned off right alongside the river. The water gets hot! However, if the tide is right, cool water from the river can flow in making it the perfect temperature.


22. The Wave, Arizona

The Wave is famous for its orange and white swirls of sandstone that come together to form – you guessed it – a perfect wave.

We spent a week in Kanab, Utah attempting to obtain a permit for The Wave. It’s one of the most difficult pieces of public land in the USA to visit. It is also one of the most stunning.

If you want to try your luck at obtaining one of the daily permits to hike through Coyote Buttes North, make sure you check out our ultimate guide to visiting The Wave.

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23. Druid Arch, Utah

The Druid Arch Trail is a challenging hiking trail. But rest assured, it is well worth it to take in the views of the 150-foot-tall arch! Located within the Needles District of the Canyonlands National Park, its Druid name comes from its resemblance to the Stonehenge monument.

You can start your hike to the arch at the Elephant Hill trailhead. It’s about a 10.8-mile distance, so it takes an average of 4-5 hours to complete. Keep going to enjoy epic vistas of the canyons and the towering “needles” until you reach Druid Arch.

This hike is so spectacular it will be the highlight of your road trip in the USA!


24. Temple of the Sun, Utah

The Temple of the Sun and The Temple of the Moon are stunning! You’ll find them in the remote Cathedral Valley section of Capitol Reef National Park. You’ll need some patience to get out there as it’s 15 miles down a rough dirt road. However, it’s definitely a worthy adventure!

The Temple is a large, freestanding rock formation composed of Entrada Sandstone formed by deposition of sand and slit. If you have time for some hiking, there are a few round-trip hiking routes you can take. There’s the Jailhouse Rock and Temple Rock route, which roughly takes about 2-3 hours to complete.

If it’s a bird’s eye view of the Temples that you’re searching for, take the Lower Cathedral Valley Overlooks route. The path is faint, so keep that in mind, but the hike roughly takes about 1-2 hours to complete. Make sure to add this location to your road trip in the USA bucket list!

PS. Capital Reef is one of the more underrated National Parks in the US. You should absolutely visit if you can!


25. Angels Landing, Utah

Angels Landing is one of our favorite hikes we did during our road trip in the USA and a highlight of everyone’s Zion National Park itinerary. It offers sweeping views of Zion Canyon. However, it’s not a hiking trail for the faint of heart or for hikers with a fear of heights. 

You’ll begin the hike by ascending a set of 21 steep switchbacks (known as “Walter’s Wiggles”). It will test your endurance! You’ll end it by scrambling along rock ledges while holding onto metal chains 1,400′ above the canyon floor!

Angels Landing is one of the most popular Zion National Park hikes. As such, it’s best to hike it early in the morning or midweek. On busy weekends, you’ll almost certainly have to wait in line for your turns using the chains at the end of the hike.


26. Goblin Valley, Utah

Goblin Valley is as close as you will get to visiting Mars (that is until it is actually possible to travel to Mars!). This state park is full of unique mushroom-shaped rock formations referred to as goblins. It was also featured in films like Galaxy Quest, City Slickers II, and The Tree of Life due to its otherworldly scenery.

Not for the faint of heart, adventure-seekers can rappel into Goblin’s Lair – a 70-foot sandstone cave on the east side of the valley. Backcountry permits are required for this adventure, and you can also rappel with a guide. For something a bit more mellow, there are also plenty of opportunities for hiking, biking, and stargazing.

We recommend a visit during the spring and fall seasons as it can get very hot during the summer. Winter is a good time to visit too, but the nights get very cold (sometimes they reach 0°F!). Nothing a good cuddle won’t fix!

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27. Zapata Falls, Colorado

Zapata Falls – a 25-foot secluded waterfall hidden by rocks – is a Colorado hidden gem worthy of a visit during your road trip in the USA!

Even from the parking lot, you can appreciate the views of the Great Sand Dunes and the San Juan Mountains. Make sure you arrive early, so you don’t miss the sunrise against the landscape. It is breathtaking!

The trip to Zapata Falls will make you work for it as you hike through chilly waters and slippery rocks. But don’t worry, it’s only about a half-mile from the parking lot, and it’s well worth the effort.


 28. Alvord Desert, Oregon

Sunrise over the Alvord Desert, Oregon by Wandering Wheatleys

Located in Harney County in Oregon, the Alvord Desert is an 84-square-mile dry lake bed set in the shadows of Steens Mountain. It’s the perfect place to go driving around in your 4×4 during the day and stargazing at night.

You can hike up the dunes at the far end of the playa or pick out any spot of the desert to set up camp for the night. There’s also the privately owned Alvord Hot Springs. Head out there for a relaxing soak. You can also stock up on groceries and firewood if you’re camping out.

Preparing for a road trip in the USA? Check out our favorite resources!


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Paul
Paul
4 years ago

Hey what a great list! I’ve spent years road tripping the USA and haven’t seen most of these. LOL – What the heck was I doing???

Gerri Berger
Gerri Berger
4 years ago

My amazing grands! My armchair travels through you!

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