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 roadtrip 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 and ~150 nights camped under the stars in the spectacular National Parks and public lands of the United States.
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 roadtrip across this beautiful country!
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 it’s 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, but the most amazing part feature of this island is the free-roaming heard of over 500 American bison.
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 7 small islands.
But the are plenty of reasons to visit this national park. In addition to beautiful coral reef 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.
5. Desert View Watchtower, Arizona
The Grand Canyon is one of the most iconic and awe-inspiring sights 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 and 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 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.
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.
8. Joshua Tree National Park, California
9. White Pocket, Arizona
White Pocket, Arizona is one of the most picturesque places in the United States. The marbled orange and white sandstone has been eroded into incredible formations that just don’t seem real until you see them with your own eyes.
10. Racetrack Playa, California
Death Valley is one of the most barren and remote National Parks; full of unworldly landscapes including huge sand dunes, expansive salt flats, and the mysterious Racetrack Playa. Here large stones drift across the dried-up lake bed on thin sheets of ice that form when weather conditions align perfectly.
11. Christine Falls, Washington
Mount Ranier National Park is often overlooked by people traveling through the USA. But if you’re planning a west coast road trip then this national park should definitely be a part of it. It’s full of stunning waterfalls that are easily accessible from the road; make sure you check out Myrtle Falls and Christine Falls. And, if you’re visiting in the summer, the skyline trail offers some of the most photogenic vistas you’ll encounter in the entire USA!
12. Sequoia National Park, California
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 which has a circumference of 102.6 feet at its base.
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. Visit in the summer if you want to swim in the crystal clear waters or come in the winter if you want 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
15. Monument Valley, Arizona
16. Anzo-Borrego Desert, California
17. Point Reyes, California
Just 30-miles Northwest of San Francisco, Point Reyes Peninsula is a wild and beautiful place to explore. In addition to exploring miles of hiking trails and epic sea kayaking along the rugged coastline, you can visit the Point Reyes Lighthouse, check out the Inverness Shipwreck, and walk through an incredibly photogenic tunnel of massive old cyprus trees!
18. Ramona Falls, Oregon
19. Big Sur, California
The Bixby Bridge in Big Sur, California is one of the most iconic stops along a Pacific Coast Highway road trip. It’s just 18 miles south of Monterey and the drive offers spectacular coastal views as the road winds it’s way along the sea cliffs high above the Pacific Ocean.
20. White Sands National Monument, New Mexico
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 9pm. Camping out under the stars in this vast white desert made White Sands on of our favorite experiences on our road trip and one of our top alternatives to the country’s busier National Parks.
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!
22. The Wave, Arizona
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 but 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 then make sure you check out our ultimate guide to visiting The Wave.
23. Druid Arch, Utah
24. Temple of the Sun, Utah
Located in the remote Cathedral Valley section of Capital Reef National Park, the Temple of the Sun and The Temple of the Moon are stunning. You’ll need a some patience to get out there as it’s 15 miles down a rough dirt road but it’s definitely a worthy adventure.
PS. Capital Reef is one of the more underrated National Parks in the US and you should absolutely visit if you can!
25. Angels Landing, Utah
Angels Landing is one of our favorite hikes in the USA and a highlight of everyone’s Zion National Park itinerary. It offers sweeping views of Zion Canyon, but 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”) that will test your endurance and end it by scramble 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 so 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
27. Zapata Falls, Colorado
28. Alvord Desert, Oregon
Preparing for a road trip in the USA? Check out our favorite resources!