The greatest US road trip I’ve ever taken was from San Francisco to Moab with 8 national parks in between. This truly was the trip of a lifetime where everything went off without a hitch. If you are a hiker and love nature, I highly recommend recreating this trip.
My friend and I carved out 12 days to glamp our way through the western US. We stayed in tents (with a mattress), wagons, cabins, hostels and low-budget hotels. What an incredible way to see diverse sites of nature in such a short amount of time. I hope you can use my trip as an inspiration guide for your own road trip travel in the western US!
The first part of this trip included venturing around the celebrated city of San Francisco. From its poised technological realm to its scenic landscapes, San Francisco is easy to fall in love with. There’s a welcoming warmth in the air that invites you to explore and feel at ease.
I encourage you to go more in depth on my fantastic trip to San Francisco in my previous blog post. This section of the blog goes in depth about all of the extraordinary national parks I hiked through in the western US.
From San Francisco, we drove around 4 hours to get to Yosemite stopping at In ‘N Out on the way. The animal style fries were a must, of course. With a chill playlist and nature surrounding us on the roads, we had such a serene drive. Especially going into Yosemite--you can feel the grandeur in the air as you drive closer.
We stayed at Evergreen Lodge, which is about an hour outside of the park. Many people stay on the park grounds, but those fill up insanely quickly. With booking less than a month out, we had very limited options. If you want to stay in the park, make sure you book very far in advance.
However, this didn’t end up being a problem at all. Evergreen Lodge was absolutely beautiful and the perfect place to do yoga in the woods and meditate. It had gorgeous cabins amongst tall trees along with a pool that overlooked a forest and mountains in the back--incredible views especially during a sunset. There was an elegant restaurant for nice dinners along with a mini-store that became our best friend in the mornings for coffee and clif bars.
We stayed in the tent portion of the lodge, which was the beginning of our glamping. Our tent had a comfortable mattress in it where I can swear to you I got the best night of sleep of my life there.
When we first arrived to the lodge, we got help from a local tour guide about what routes to take. We only had two days to explore Yosemite, and we wanted to make the most of it. We arrived in the afternoon and found a nice little trial to hike that was outside of the park called Hetch Hetchy.
Hetch Hetchy consisted of a dam with a shimmering blue lake as the main attraction. We hiked around for a bit and marveled at the ornate construction of the dam.
With a 15-mile hike planned for the next day, we settled in our tent early. As the sun rose, we awoke and headed out, coffee and clif bars in hand along with a few trail snacks. We drove into Yosemite surrounded by trees on the winding roads.
Our 15-mile hike started with waterfalls and stairs. As we climbed, we passed exquisite rivers and rocks along with a spraying waterfall that produced a rainbow any direction you looked.
The rest of the hike was basically all switchbacks--trails that are zig-zags up and down a mountain. There were so many “are we there yet?” moments, but when we reached the top, I’ve never been so blown away in my life.
The view was a panoramic of Yosemite with the Half Dome rock formation in full sight. This view was worth every step and ounce of sweat. We still had four and a half miles to go of switchbacks to get back down to the car.
When we finally made it to the ground, we were delirious with joy. We just hiked 15 miles! How incredible is that! We were wobbling to the car as we could barely walk from all of the climbing.
This trek was an experience of a lifetime. It also was perfect that we did it early on in our trip since it would be the hardest hike we would do.
We woke up at the crack of dawn again to head on our way to Sequoia National Park. This was about a 4-hour drive. When we finally made it to the national forest, we did two mini-hikes about 2 miles each. This was the perfect contrast to the hike we did at Yosemite.
The hikes at Sequoia were flat with totally disparate scenery than Yosemite. The contrast was striking, which made it all the more beautiful to look at. The trees were gigantic with huge, smooth, tan stumps--some of which had been burnt by fires, yet still stood stoic and tall. Most of the trees were so large that if there was an opening in the stump, you can go inside it and explore.
We got to gaze at the largest tree in the world, General Sherman. This tree sure lives up to its title standing so tall that you feel like a literal ant next to it. Taking in the beauty of all of the Sequoia trees genuinely made my jaw drop. I was in awe because I had never seen nature like this.
On the way back to our accommodation, we got to view Kings Canyon from afar. If we had more time, we would have definitely done some hikes in this national park. However, we had a very tight itinerary, so we were not able to spend more time there. The view was beautiful, yet it left us wanting more. Guess we will have to go back!
We stayed at John Muir Lodge in a little cabin. This was a nice stay even though it ended up being cold all night long. The plus side is that we explored the campgrounds and staked out a spot in a little forest to star gaze. This is a memory that will always stand out in my mind. Viewing the sky that night from that spot was so tranquil that it felt like time stopped for a moment.
The next morning we woke up early again and drove 6 hours to Death Valley making a pit stop at Subway for some food fuel. There was a point in the drive where it felt like we were in some simulation driving on a road that never ended surrounded by the same scenery for hours. It was a two-lane road and on both sides desert with a mountain far off in the distance. I could’ve been convinced it was a green screen, and I wasn’t really driving.
Finally, when we made it to Death Valley, it felt like something out of a wild wild west cowboy movie. Barely anyone was around, and I could have sworn a tumbleweed rolled by.
Our first hike at the Golden Canyon Loop resembled something of Star Wars. It felt like we were the only two people on Earth, hiking around the sand. This scenery and nature was quite different than anything we have seen before on this trip with more dune-like, sandy terrain.
After our hike, we drove to Artist Drive to see all of the distinct colors in the valley. It was a slow, fascinating drive to see all of the rock forms of varying hues stacked on top of each other. We enjoyed this part of the trip because our legs got a break, yet we were still able to revel in the scenery.
The final stop of Death Valley included the sand dunes. It was quite windy, but we enjoyed seeing all of the aspects Death Valley had to offer. What they say is true, Death Valley is indeed hot as hell. Although we were grateful for the breeze that rolled in often.
Lastly, we ended the night stargazing on some benches outside of our 3-star hotel, Paramint Springs.
This was another night that I wanted to last forever. I could lay looking at the vivid starry sky all night.
The next morning, you guessed it, we woke up early to head on our way to Zion National Park in Utah. We were crossing through Arizona and Nevada state borders even passing through the Alien-infested Area 51! We did so much research on alien conspiracies that night.
Since Zion is a bigger park with more sights to see, we decided to spend two days there instead of one.
The 5 and a half hour drive was a hefty one, yet this was our last long drive since the rest of our stops were less than 3 hours apart in Utah. Riding through the outskirts of Las Vegas and seeing the distinctive, grandiose rocks in Arizona, the drive went by quickly.
When we finally arrived to Zion, we did the Emerald Pools Trail where we climbed 2 miles zigzagging between rocks to reach beautiful pools of water. We also enjoyed seeing Zion’s terrain by walking and chatting on the flat road near a river.
We stayed at Zion Ponderosa Ranch Resort where we slept in a quaint wagon. It was basically the epitome glamping experience; however, the nights were freezing and we had to curl up in all of our blankets. Even though the days are hot, the nights sure are cold. Make sure to pack some long sleeves or zip-up jackets for layers.
Our final day at Zion, we climbed the iconic Angel’s Landing. This hike is considered dangerous since you are ascending up a rocky, unenclosed trail. The signs warn you to be extraordinarily careful since multiple people have died specifically scaling the route. What makes it even harder is that it is a one-lane trail packed with people. You have to navigate through the herd of people coming down while you’re trying to go up and vice versa. What should have only taken an hour or so took us 3 since we had to stop and go.
Although it took a long time, we practiced patience as we climbed. Thank goodness because the view is beyond worthwhile. You can see the picturesque divide of the river splitting the mountains lined with gorgeous greenery. We sat for a while to let it all soak in.
When we finally made it down, we ended the day with The Narrows trail where we trekked through numerous streams and rocks. Water shoes definitely come in handy for this specific trail. This was a fun, unique and memorable trail. Some parts of the water can get deep, so make sure you are okay with getting your pants wet if you plan to go!