Traveler: Nick Iverson
Length of Trip: 21
Summertime in the American West is something close to magic.
On the road with nothing but open sky and air above you, long days, drawn out sunrises and sunsets, and vast swathes of land that swallow you up in awe. The moonless night sky courses with stars. And the horizon is pierced by mountains that divide the continent.
Take it at your own pace, enjoy the moments, and share the time with your companions.
On this journey we went by convertible, top down from dawn to dusk, seeking out campgrounds from Seattle to Montana, then south through Wyoming, Utah, and Arizona for some of the most magnificent landscapes America has to offer.
These are wide and beautiful places which you must see once in a lifetime. Buy a national park pass and hit the road.
We first traveled through Glacier National Park, Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons, Arches, Canyonlands, Bryce Canyon, the Grand Canyon, Valley of the Gods, Monument Valley, and Zion National Park.
From Zion we continued to Las Vegas and then into California. Then to Sequoia National Park and north via the Pacific Coast Highway. We cruised from Big Sur through San Francisco to wine country in Napa, then drove through the coastal redwood forests to the Oregon Dunes. Upon returning to Washington State we passed through the Olympic Peninsula and concluded our journey in the San Juan Islands.
We headed north out of Seattle to get on the North Cascades Highway and stopped for the turquoise blue vista of Diablo Lake. It’s a gorgeous but bone chilling swim for those who are willing to take a dip.
On the east side of the Cascades you’ll enter the famous Methow Valley. You can stop at a cowboy themed town called Winthrop or find a campground near Twisp.
We continued through the golden wheat fields of central Washington, stopped for a look at Grand Coulee Dam, kept to Highway 2 through Spokane, and briefly into Sandpoint, Idaho.
Shortly after we drove past Lake Pend Oreille and into western Montana. The next day we headed for Glacier National Park, starting from Libby, Montana.
We had lunch on the shore of Lake McDonald before heading over the pass on the Going-To-The-Sun-Road. Do not miss this one. The views here are nothing short of spectacular.
On the east side you’ll meet big sky country. With Glacier to the west we were then looking east over the vastness of Montana from Highway 89. We set up for the night at a campground called Fort Ponderosa.
The next stretch of driving took us through the Lewis and Clark National Forest and the tiny town of White Sulphur Springs. As we drove we were fixated on the vast plains to the east.
We entered Yellowstone at Gardiner in the north and headed straight through to the Shoshone National Forest. National Parks fill up quickly and are often booked well in advance. So we continued to the National Forest and found a place to tent for the night.
In Yellowstone we visited the Norris Geyser Basin perplexed by their magical colors and activity. Clouds roll off of hot prismatic pools as sulfur smelling steam rises from geysers.
We then visited Yellowstone Lake, Old Faithful, and the Upper Geyser Basin. Old faithful erupts over 100 feet into the air every 45 to 125 minutes.
Big game like Bison, Bear, Elk, Moose and reintroduced wolves roam in Yellowstone’s 3,500 square miles. On our way south we encountered grazing herds of Bison.
On the way out from Yellowstone we stopped at the Grand Tetons. These mountains are no better described as majestic. They reflect over Jackson Lake.
Our route continued east on Highway 26, following the Wind River through Dubois. We caught a view of the striated red rocks in the sunset. We continued straight through Crow Heart to Rock Springs after dark.
Next morning we made it into Utah, crossing shortly over into Dinosaur, Colorado for lunch before hopping onto Highway 128. This scenic road follows the Colorado river towards Moab, through red river canyons and past the Fisher Towers.
We camped on the banks of the Colorado River and met travelers who had driven here all the way from the state of Louisiana.
It is best to head to Arches National Park early in the morning when the temperature is still cool and before tour busses start pouring in with tourists. It’s a short hike to the iconic Delicate Arch, a 65-foot high freestanding natural rock arch.
We returned to the town of Moab for lunch and bought some wide brim hats to keep the sun off of our faces. Then went on to discover Canyonlands National Park and Dead Horse Point. The high vistas here offer you breathtaking views of canyon scoured earth.
The next day we drove Highway 163 through the Valley of the Gods and Monument Valley, then set our sights on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.
Connect with Highway 89 and 89A. As you pass the Vermillion Cliffs onto the high plateau, you’ll find that the desert soon turns to forest. Meadows are again occupied by bison rolling in the dust. Turn onto the Grand Canyon Highway, 80 miles in, you’ll finally make it to the rim.
At the edge the world seems to bend. The canyon is over one mile deep and the view across spans several miles. The earth beyond the canyon transforms into mountains on the far horizon. At this time in July 10 foot agave flowers were blooming from the cliff side. We retired to a campground near to the North Rim Lodge.
In the following two days we headed to the Dixie National Forest, Bryce Canyon, and Zion. We stayed at Cedar Breaks, a campground at 10000 feet of elevation. Perfect for high altitude stargazing. At Bryce Canyon high rock formations called hoodoos strike upwards towards the sky. Visitors can hike into the canyon and walk amongst the hoodoos.
Later on we arrived Zion National Park. We entered from the east on Highway 9.
Zion unleashes to the eyes formidable domes, canyons, and rock formations. We parked in Springdale and caught the park shuttle to the Angels Landing trailhead. This is a strenuous 4.8 mile hike to the top of the canyon on paved paths, dirt trail, and along a narrow ridge flanked by steep drop-offs. The views are as exhilarating as the hike but take care and go safely. Hold onto the chains pinned into the rocks.
From Zion we got off the byways and onto the interstate for Las Vegas, Nevada. We won a few games of poker at the Link casino, cashed out, and headed for California. From I-15 you can see the Ivanpah Solar Thermal Project. Its superheated thermal towers glow bright white.
Into California, we drove along the edge of the Mojave Desert, stayed near Palm Springs, and later visited the boulder laden landscape of Joshua Tree National Park.
An hour and a half away there is a unique monument called Salvation Mountain. This colorfully painted adobe clay mountain is one man’s gift to the world as he explored his art and faith in the Niland desert.
We stayed one night in Los Angeles before jumping to Sequoia National Park. There we visited the giant sequoias, the largest trees on earth.
We headed for the California coast by way of San Luis Obispo. After two weeks of remarkable inland landscapes we were finally heading north on Highway 1, the Pacific Coast Highway, through Big Sur, Monterey, San Francisco and then to Napa. Wine country.
In Napa we occupied the day with wine tasting and the evening hiked to the top of Skyline Park which overlooks the town. We witnessed sunset with the red glow of forest fires blazing over the southeast horizon.
We drove Highway 128 the next day. Winding through Sonoma county, watching the rolling hills and groves of trees, the rows of wine and fields of yellow grasses.
Eventually our route merged with Highway 1 and later Highway 101. We continued north through the coast redwoods and into Oregon.
Portions of the Oregon coast are dominated by ocean spray and sea stacks. Near the central coast lies the Oregon Dunes. A national recreation area where adrenaline seekers play in the sands with buggies, dirt bikes and ATV’s.
The marine layer usually burns off by the afternoon and by that time the ocean sparkles with glints of sunshine. As we headed north we rested at the beach, napping in the sun, watching a fisherman cast a line from the mussel beds, and surfers taking to the waves.
Entering into Washington the on the 101 you’ll cross the 4 mile long Astoria-Megler Bridge spanning the mouth of the Columbia River. From southern Washington we passed through the Olympic Peninsula with the Olympic Mountains to the west and caught two ferries across the Puget Sound.
We concluded our journey in the gorgeous San Juan Islands where in the summertime it is common to see bald eagles, deer, sea otters, harbor seals, and orca whales.