I always say that for the highest concentration of breathtaking views and mind-blowing adventures one doesn’t need to look further than the West Coast of the US. Sometimes we travel far seeking picture-perfect landscapes and epic hikes, and forget to explore our backyards. For those lucky enough like me to live in the West Coast, our backyard happens to be packed with world wonders.
This is my list of top 10 sites – I tried to balance best views with best hikes, depending on what you’re looking for, you will want to prioritize differently. But you might not need to choose, all of the below can be tackled in a 3 week ultimate road trip! If you go for this, get the National Parks Annual Pass.
1- Antelope Canyon
Surreal slot canyon, the eroded orange rock and the beams of light make it a photographer’s heaven. I’ve never been more in awe, nor taken more and better pictures. There are actually two canyons, Upper and Lower, and both are equally worth visiting. The one downside: It’s Navajo land rather than a National Park, which means there is no free wandering, you need to go on an organized tour (and pay separately from your National Parks Pass), and in high season gets packed and you’re treated like cattle.
In my memory, Yellowstone is the Disneyland of National Parks. It’s spectacular and it has so much to see and do that you need to devote at least 3 days. It’s even organized in thematic areas! My favorites experience are the Prismatic Pool (climb the hill across the road for the best views), Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone (great hike including the 3 waterfalls), the Geyser Basin (short walk), and spotting black bears, elks and bisons from the car.
3- Havasu Falls
A hidden gem in the Grand Canyon, less known and accessible than the main areas because it is in Indian land rather than in the National Park. The blue-green pools and powerful waterfalls among vermillion cliffs are as amazing in person as in the pictures (no Photoshop!). You will need to drive to Hualapai Hilltop, and hike down to Supai Village and onwards to the campground and waterfalls. It’s 10 miles each way, 4-5 hours on the way down and 5-7 hours on the way up, so best to make it into a 2 day excursion. Probably the most strenuous hike in this list, because it gets really hot and you need to carry all your stuff, including ample water. But so worth it! Go while it’s still relatively isolated, it won’t last.
4- Bryce Canyon
A landscape that makes you feel like you’re not on Earth. With its red-orange hoodoos organized in a massive amphitheater, Bryce offers the perfect combination of effortless sights and great hikes for those who are more active. I recommend parking by Sunrise Point, hiking down through Queen’s Garden Trail and up through the Wall Street side of Navajo Loop Trail, and from there, hike the rim all the way through Inspiration Pint to Bryce Point. You’ll thank me later.
5- Grand Canyon
Magnificent. We all have an image of the Grand Canyon, but can’t grasp how massive and spectacular it is until we see it in person. The best way to experience is to spend 1 day checking out the different viewpoints along the rim, and 1 day hiking the Bright Angel Trail down to Plateau Point and back. It’s 12 miles roundtrip, 5-7 hours, and similarly to Havasu Falls, can be strenuous in a hot day – canyons are trickier than mountains because of the heat and the fact that the second half is uphill 😉
Speaking about second halves, numbers 6-10 of this list coming next…