Planning a vacation with the family? Going on a road trip with friends? Whatever your reason for travel and wherever your final destination, if you find yourself in the great American West, you can’t miss these ten best places to visit:
1) Grand Canyon
The quintessential landmark of the American West and Arizona’s greatest treasure. We’ve all heard about the Grand Canyon and have pictures in our head of the red-brown cliffs and precarious railings. But the Grand Canyon is more than just a hole in the ground, and there is a reason why tourists from all of the country and the globe make the journey every year. However, the Grand Canyon isn’t limited to the tourist railings and gift shop. Take a mule ride, bike, or hike on some of the most beautiful trails in the world that take you up and down the canyon’s geological strata like a journey through time. For a thrilling and picturesque view, you can see the famous transparent Grand Canyon Skywalk, allowing you to walk directly above the gaping canyon. For a little extra, you can find companies around the canyon that sell aerial tours via small, twin-engine planes!
Spanning the largest uninhabited region of the Sierra Nevadas, Yosemite National Park is often cited as the most popular camping destination in the United States. With beautiful hikes, waterfalls, and wildlife of all sorts, Yosemite is the dream destination for any outdoorsy type. There are epic full-day trails for more spirited travelers and more family friendly ones as well. Be sure to find a trail that gives you a view of the impressive Half Dome rock formation, or look into giving it a climb yourself!
3) Las Vegas
The only actual city on this list, clearly Las Vegas is more than just another city. From the world-famous casinos like the MGM Grand, Luxor, and Rio to critically acclaimed performances like Penn & Teller, Cirque Du Soleil, and more, Vegas is a desert city designed to be an oasis of creature comforts. Some of the best musical and stage performers make Vegas their home, and while there are certainly parties to be had if that’s what you’re searching for, the lights, the sights, and the electricity of Vegas make it one of the West’s national treasures and a must-visit.
4) Carlsbad Caverns
Stepping into some of the vast, open chambers of Carlsbad Caverns can sometimes feel like stepping onto a different planet. The impressively gigantic stalactite and stalagmite formations dwarf its visitors, giving an overwhelming feeling of awe and wonder. The area includes more than 188 caves, with guided tours and expeditions for every level of spelunker. This huge network of caves is home to more than 17 species of bats, at nearly 800,000 in Carlsbad Cavern’s alone. The park arranges viewings of the bats mass exoduses and returns from the caves—another incredible sight you’ll never forget!
5) The Bay Area (California)
One of the main reasons people out west in Silicon Valley refer to San Francisco and the dozen plus cities bordering the San Francisco Bay as “The Bay Area” is because their public rail, B.A.R.T. (Bay Area Rapit Transit) is one of the most convenient and easy to understand public transportation systems in the country. Park your car somewhere cheap in the eastern part of the Bay Area, like Dublin or Richmond, and travel all over San Francisco, Berkeley, Walnut Creek, Oakland, and more without draining your wallet. After a long road trip, the Bay Area makes for the perfect end to a westward journey where you can stretch your legs and still see some sights!
Yellowstone National Park was the first National park established by congress and spans nearly three and a half thousand squire miles of a region in Wyoming replete with mountain ranges, lakes, canyons, and rivers. So whether you like kayaking, hiking, camping, or just want to take pictures of its famous geyser, Old Faithful, Yellowstone is a can’t miss location. While in Yellowstone, take a moment to appreciate that beneath your very feet and powering Old Faithful is the planet’s largest active supervolcano, the Yellowstone Caldera. How many tourist attractions can claim that?
7) Wine Country
Northern California and the Central Valley are home to some of the world’s best wine and grape vineyards. From Lodi to Napa Valley, over a hundred vineyards are within half an hour to two hours’ drive from Sacramento. Get world-class wine and relax in the scenic part of California that seems to be spring and summer year round.
8) Monument Valley
Chances are if you’ve seen more than a couple western films in your life, you’ve seen Monument Valley centered off in the background. Monument Valley is the picture-perfect landscape of the American West, and an awe-inspiring destination worth devoting a whole day and night to, particularly if you’re a stargazer. The giant rock bluffs and plateaus that make up Monument Valley are located on the Arizona-Utah border of the Colorado Plateau, a region that is sacred to the Navajo people.
9) The Four Corners
Just an hour or two drive from monument valley, you can’t pass up taking a picture at The Four Corners, the only spot where four different states in the country touch borders. Though also part of and overseen by the Hopi and Navajo Nations, the Four Corners Monument marks the quadripoint where the state lines of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona intersect. Be sure to get some unbelievably delicious traditional Native American fry bread while you’re there!
10) Redwood National parks
Whether you are a child or an adult, how can you resist visiting a forest comprised of the tallest trees in the world? California’s redwood forests span hundreds of miles from north of San Francisco to the Oregon border. There are actually two types of redwoods that make up the almost two dozen redwood state and national parks, the giant sequoias which can reach up to 300 feet, and the coastal redwoods, which are actually the record holders for tallest trees on our planet topping out at 360 feet tall! If you want to check out the tallest of these mammoths, make sure to visit Prairie Creek Park. However, when you stand next to any of these ancient beauties, you will be amazed how tiny you feel whether they’re a two hundred or three hundred footers. For any nature buff, the redwoods are a definite bucket-list item.