Crisp mountain air, rock formations, soaring alpine forests, colorful deserts, pristine coastlines, and miles and miles of smiles. This was an epic road trip that we did with our family in 2017. With both of us being teachers, we have the freedom to travel for long periods of time in the summer months. If you don’t have a month, you can do part of this route, or pick and choose places that interest you the most! This year, we didn’t camp too much, and I highly regret that! There were SO many awesome places to camp at the places we visited, and I suggest camping if you can! Below is our itinerary, duration of time visited at each place, places to stay, and a few NOT TO MISS activities to do at each stop. Of course, there is so much more to see than what is listed. When visiting national parks, be sure to always check out the visitor center, talk to a park ranger about suggested hikes for the ability level of your group, and grab a park map for a list of all the hikes and sights you can see within the park.
Because there is just SO much to cover and share with you…too much for just one post, I will write separate posts for each location with lots of detailed information and useful tips. Keep checking back for updates! I hope you can use these resources to create your own adventures with your family and friends!
Road-tripping from Chicago to the West Coast: A Month Long Adventure Through 9 National Parks and More!
Week ONE: Colorado
|Your adventure begins! Head for Colorado! |
Stay in Kearney, NE; 1 day
*View the “Green Giant” on the way
|Stay in hotel in Kearney or camp at Windmill State Park near Kearney, NE or Eugene Mahoney State Park|
|Colorado Springs; 2 days|
Check out detailed description of our trip here.
*Garden of the Gods
*Drive to Pike’s Peak
*Swim at Great Wolf Lodge
*Cheyenne Mountain Zoo
*Swim at Great Wolf Lodge
|Great Wolf Lodge in Colorado Springs or camp at KOA Colorado Springs|
|Great Sand Dunes National Park; 1 day |
Check out detailed description of our trip here.
*Rent a sand sled from Great Sand
Dunes Oasis at front entrance
*Play in Medano Creek (May and June). This creek is created from mountain runoff and usually dries up by July.
|Zapata Falls Campground near Great Sand Dunes OR Pinon Flats Campground within the park|
|Mesa Verde National Park; 1 day|
*Check out detailed description of our trip here
*Get tickets for Cliff Palace (largest cliff dwelling). Best selection of times for tours is at the Visitor Center.
*Mesa Top Loop Road: Within 6 miles, you will see 12 surface dwellings and cliff-dwelling overlooks. You can also see Cliff Place from this drive.
*Point Fire Lookout
*Petroglyph Point Trail: view petroglyphs, vistas, and canyons along the trail.
|Mesa Verde Motel |
(no frills motel but close to park entrance)
|Zion National Park; 2 days|
*Emerald Pools Trail
*Weeping Rock Trail
*Canyon Overlook Trail
*Explore downtown Springdale; swim at
Bumbleberry and enjoy the views from the hot tub
*Hike the Riverside Walk Trail (2.2 roundtrip) to the Narrows Trail (9.4 miles; but you can turn around anytime)…if you have older kids and don’t mind getting wet. The Narrows “trail” is in the Virgin River.
See National Park Road Trip From Vegas to Chicago for more info on The Narrows and Zion NP
*Angels Landing…if you aren’t afraid of heights and have older kids
*If you have small children, hiking the Pa’rus Trail (wheelchair accessible as well) or doing just the Riverside Walk would be great options.
Week TWO: Utah and California
| Joshua Tree National Park; 2 days|
Day 1: Joshua Tree NP
*Barker Dam Trail
*Cholla Cactus Garden
*Hidden Valley Trail
Day 2: Palm Springs
*Palm Springs area to explore
*Rest and swim day
|Westin Desert Willow Villas|
|San Diego/La Jolla Cove, CA; 2 days|
*La Jolla area for seals and Shell Beach
*Point Loma Tide Pools
*Cabrillo National Monument (Blue Whale watching…Mid June-September)
*San Diego Zoo
*Corvette Diner for dinner
*Mission Beach Park area
|Camp at South Carlsbad State Beach (we tent camped here right on the beach!)|
|Anaheim, CA; 2 days |
*California Adventure Park
|Best Western Plus, Anaheim (walking distance to parks)|
|LA and Hollywood, CA; 1 day|
*Explore LA and Hollywood Walk of Fame
*Hollywood Sign at Griffith Observatory
*Beach in evening at Carpinteria State Park
|Camp at Carpinteria State Park, CA|
Week THREE: California
|Pinnacles National Park, CA; 2 days|
Day 1: On the way to Pinnacles, stop at…
*Avila Valley Barn on the way. 560 Avila Beach Drive. Farmer’s Market.
*Moonstone Beach State Park
*Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery
Day 2: Pinnacles National Park
*Moses Spring to Rim Trail Loop: Bear Gulch Cave (need a flashlight). Self guided small cave. Great for kids.
*Condor Gulch Trail
*Balconies Cave-Cliff Loop Trail
|Harvest Valley Inn in Soledad, CA (simple motel, no frills but very close to the national park)|
|Monterey Bay, CA; 2 days|
*Monterey Bay Aquarium
*Fisherman’s Wharf at Monterey Bay
*Dennis the Menace Playground
*Point Lobos State Natural Reserve (research what time of day low tide is for your visit so you can see the tide pools here….SO COOL!)
*Pfieffer Big Sur State Park and the Bixby Bridge
|The Stevenson Hotel at Monterey Bay|
|San Francisco, CA; 3 days|
*Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf
* Ride in the cable cars
*Golden Gate Park
*Muir Wood National Monument
*Muir Beach Overlook and Muir Beach
*Exploration Day/Rest Day
|Columbus Motor Inn|
Week 4: California and Colorado
| Yosemite National Park; 2 days (use these ideas as guides for your two days)|
*Park at Visitor Center (shuttle stop 5) and take shuttle to locations of your choice. This is a huge lot.
*Yosemite Falls. Short walk from visitor center or get shuttle to stop 6.
*Bridalveil Fall Trail
*Yosemite Falls Trail
*Vernal Falls Trail to waterfall (shuttle stop 16)
*Half Dome Trail (strenuous, but iconic hike; you need a permit)
*Tunnel Viewpoint: One of the most spectacular
viewpoints we’ve ever seen. This is a pullout on the side of the road.
|Yosemite View Lodge or camp inside the national park|
|Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks; 2 days|
King’s Canyon and Sequoia
King’s Canyon Area…
*King’s Canyon Scenic Byway
*Cedar Grove Area
*Roaring River Falls
*General Grant Tree Trail
*General Sherman Tree
*Big Trees Trail
|Grant Grove Cabins at |
Kings Canyon National Park
|Grand Junction, CO; 1 day|
*Swim at hotel pool
|Holiday Inn Express Hotel |
and Suites at Grand Junction
|Vail, CO; 2 days|
*Betty Ford Alpine Gardens
*Pirate Ship Playground in downtown Vail
*Epic Discovery at Adventure Ridge
*Shopping in downtown Vail
|Evergreen Lodge at Vail|
Week 5: Colorado and Home
|Rocky Mountain National Park, 2 days |
*Explore downtown Estes Park
*Explore the Stanley Hotel
See National Park Road Trip From Vegas to Chicago for more info on Rocky Mountain NP
|Camp in the national park|
|Denver, 1 day|
*Museum of Natural Science
|Denver Hotel, or Camp at Cherry Creek State Park outside of Denver|
|Home, or stop halfway overnight. Kearney, NE. We drove home straight through.|
This planning is just AWESOME! It makes me wish my husband could take off a whole month to travel. We have only gone to some of these places on this itinerary but now you are making me want to go back. What where the ages of your girls on this trip? Thanks so much for sharing!
Hi Nancy! Thank you so much for your kind words! You don’t have to plan for a month! Realistically, most people can’t take off a month of work, so I’d suggest picking a chunk of the trip that you’d like to visit the most and go from there. And sometimes, flying out to the destination, and seeking out a rental car company where you can return the car at your home destination would save on time, too! If you don’t mind tent camping some of the time, that is the most economical way to go! Not to mention the ability to star gaze and sleep in the parks…sometimes right on the edge of a tranquil river or base of a mountain…there’s nothing like it! Our kids were turning 8 and 6 at the time of this trip! Many adventures to you! -Shelley