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Pack it up, we're hitting the road with the windows down and the music blasting. Here's my list of some of the best U.S. road trips. Plus, I have tips to road trip on a budget, including apps, websites, and packing tips.
Okay, so maybe this last year wasn't the one for traveling the world. Since I've been grounded in the U.S., I decided to make the most of my time here, and I set off on some incredible road trips.
Now, I have some amazing recommendations for some the of best U.S. road trips you absolutely shouldn't miss. The U.S. is vast, the terrain is varied, and there are seriously natural wonders around every corner. I'll give you tips for oceans, mountains, deserts, and national parks. Plus, at the end, I go through exactly what you need to know to road trip on a budget (even if you're a beginner).
Oregon and the Pacific Northwest in general is an absolute dream for road trippers and nature enthusiasts. As an east coast kid, I didn't get to explore the PNW until I moved out to Oregon on a whim, and I was stunned. Oregon offers what might be the most diverse landscapes in the nation, an is home to rainforests, high desert plains, snowy mountains, and the mighty Pacific Ocean. For a road trip, you can cruise up and down the Oregon Coast, stopping along beaches, seeing sea lions in the wild, and visiting the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area.
If you're craving dense forests, head into the Columbia River Gorge, the massive prehistoric canyon which offers some of the most stunning nature in the country. Or visit the peaks of the Cascade Mountain Range, which offer picture-perfect snowy capped mountains. Don't miss Crater Lake National Park, the deepest lake in the nation, which was formed when an ancient volcano exploded.
Colorado is almost stupid amazing when it comes to road trips. It's incredible for driving, hiking, biking, and camping, and is home to some of the best ski and snowboarding mountains in the country. (and arguably the world). Denver is a great place to start (especially if you're flying in), and you can drive on to Boulder, the town hipster dreams are made of.
While you're driving with the radio blasting make sure you hit Garden of the Gods, Great Sand Dunes National Park and Mesa Verde, which contains the stunning archeological sites of the ancestral people who lived there. Colorado is called "Colorful Colorado" for a reason: the landscapes are stunning.
If you're like me, you never thought much about visiting Utah, but damn was I wrong, and I only wish I visited sooner., because it seriously is one of the best U.S. road trip spots by far. It has stunning desert landscapes, some seriously gorgeous national parks, and one of my favorite natural features I've ever seen, the Bonneville Salt Flats. You should definitely visit Arches National Park, the picturesque park with other-world geological arches, but take care to avoid crowds. I was there on 4th of July during the pandemic, when the park had limited capacity, and we went bright and early because we were with a dog, but by the time we left at 10:30 am, the park was full and turning away visitors.
When you got to Arches, please for the love of goodness, make sure you visit Canyonlands National Park, often cited as one of the most underrated national parks in the country. It's absolutely massive, and when I was there, nearly empty.
This next stop on my list is out of the way of those parks, but I highly recommend the Bonneville Salt Flats, the remnants of an ancient and huge salt lake. It's now land protected by the Bureau of Land Management, and home to the Bonneville International Speedway. You can drive on it's crunch surface, and it makes for some pretty insane photos.
Home to most of the country's first national park, Wyoming is a natural wonderland. Yellowstone National Park definitely lives up to the hype, with it's geysers and geothermal pools (the whole thing is actually a massive volcano). You'll likely see bison (which are stupid cute, but don't try to take selfies with them), and can see bear, moose, and even wolves. Yellowstone isn't too far from Grand Teton National Park, which has tons of camping and incredible lakes. The mountain town of Jackson Hole makes for a nice pitstop, and is full of country and cowboy flair. And it's not too far from the Idaho border, where we found the cutest Airbnb we ever did see. Called The Spud, it has cabins in the back of the property, that are cozy and perfect for resting up after a long drive.
As of this writing, the borders to Canada are closed to U.S. travelers. But definitely earmark this for later: the Trans-Canada Highway. This was a roadtrip I took out of need, because I needed to get back from Oregon to New York, and took the Canadian route for various reason, and damn was I floored. You can start on either end (Vancouver or Toronto are good starting points) and drive across the entire thing. You'll hit beautiful British Columbia, and pass through incredible places like Banff National Park (stay in Lake Louise as long as you can) and even a bit of the Canadian part of Glacier National Park.
The middle is vast plains that are fairly empty, but still stunning, and you'll pass through the town of Thunder Bay, which is on the shores of Lake Superior (I thought it was the ocean when I first saw it, I had to check my map). You better believe I hopped out of the car and jumped in the lake, even though it was freezing. Pro tips: get gas often, as some of the towns are incredibly far apart, and watch out for wildlife on the roads at night (moose can pop out onto the highway and be a hazard).
Knowing how to find places to stay on your road trip can make things go much smoother. When you're on road trip, you can camp, stay in your vehicle (especially if it's an R.V. or camper), use Airbnb's, or hotels. I like to do a mix of camping and Airbnb's to break it up if I'm going to be camping for a lot of nights in a row (I'm rugged, but enjoy a hot shower and comfy bed). Here are some resources to find cheap and free campsites, or places to sleep in your camper van for the night:
Deciding what to bring on your road trip can be daunting, because what the heck, you might need everything. I won't do a full packing list here, but here are some of my favorite must-haves for road trips: