Looking for the perfect two week road trip out west?
#1 You could spend a lifetime exploring the western United States, so if you’re looking at just two weeks, you’re going to have to narrow it down a bit. You just cannot possibly see the entire thing in two weeks.
#2 Part of “narrowing it down” is going to be deciding on exactly what “out west” means to you…is that Wyoming and Montana? Colorado? The big National Parks in Utah and Arizona? The Pacific Coast Highway from California to Washington? Yosemite? Santa Fe??
We’re talking a looooooot of area that could be considered “the west.”
I personally think of “the west” as Wyoming and Montana. But after doing a lot of research about western road trip itineraries, I see a lot of people are thinking northern Arizona and southern Utah (what I would call the southwest) then you’ve got the Pacific Northwest, California, etc…you’ve got a LOT of options!
You could play this out a million different ways and you’re going to have to make some decisions because these states are BIG out here.
9 Two Week Road Trips Out West
So on that note, I’ve sketched out NINE different two week road trips “out west” and technically, if you’re coming from the right half of the country, all of these are going to fit the bill ; )
They’re all road trips so you’ll definitely need a car, but they all have different starting and stopping points that I’ve organized around major airports so if you’re flying out west and renting a car you should be good to go.
You could also connect some of these together if you have more than two weeks (or want to cut down on the number of days in each place and cover more ground in two weeks).
So I’m going to lay out eight two week road trips out west that I would 100% take PLUS the one that I actually did on my first big western road trip in 2009.
My Favorite Tip
When most people think about the American west, they usually connect that with the big National Parks. And there are sooooo many epic ones in this part of the country. The first big road trip I did when I was about 19, I bought a National Parks Passport at the first park we stopped at and I have FAITHFULLY been taking it with me all over the country to be stamped at National Parks, National Monuments, and National Historic Sites. And it’s become one of my favorite travel traditions.
If you’re overwhelmed with all of the planning and just looking for a quick suggestion…
If you haven’t spent much time traveling the American west and want to see the very best, I would strongly recommend trip #2 (the Rockies, Grand Tetons, and Yellowstone via Denver to Bozeman) and trip #6 (the “Utah Big 5” and northern Arizona classics via Phoenix to Las Vegas).
I’ll give basic recommendations about how to break each trip up below and general areas you should consider staying, but so much of what you choose for your western road trip accommodations are going to depend on what you personally like. If you’re camping or traveling in an RV/van then you’re going to have a LOT of options and you can pretty much stop wherever you want.
If you like nicer hotels (me!) then things can get trickier to plan in more remote places and you may end up doing some segments as day trips. I personally don’t like changing hotels every night so I would probably opt to pick 3-4 different places to stay on a two week road trip and stay in each place for longer and do more driving back and forth to places each day.
So I will make recommendations if there’s a place that I personally really like, but a lot of this is going to depend on your budget, preferences, and specific itinerary.
And one final note…if you’re interested in staying at accommodations in the National Parks (especially the lodges, but also campgrounds), you are going to need to book those WELL in advance.
Okay, here are ALL the details:
#1 Albuquerque to Denver
Highlights: Santa Fe & Taos, The Million Dollar Highway, Big Time Colorado Ski Towns, Rocky Mountain National Park
Airport Codes: Albuquerque (ABQ) and Denver (DEN)
If you want to see the best of New Mexico plus some of Colorado’s most epic scenery, this itinerary is for you!
I would plan a week in New Mexico between Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and Taos (with the most time spent in Santa Fe).
Albuquerque: Stay at El Vado (a historic renovated Route 66 motel) or Hotel Albuquerque (a historic luxury hotel in Old Town next to the Sawmill District. Don’t miss breakfast at Tia Sophia’s, all the Route 66 neon, the Sandia Park Tramway, and the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center.
Santa Fe: This is one of my favorite towns EVER. Stay at El Rey Court (another renovated motor court) for a cool vibe or if you want to be on the Plaza try La Fonda or Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi. There are some true luxury resorts in the Santa Fe area so if you want to really splurge, try the Four Seasons Rancho Encantado or Bishop’s Lodge. Don’t miss brunch at Cafe Pasqual, the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, and shopping for turquoise jewelry around the plaza. I also think Bandelier National Monument is a don’t miss!
Taos: Taos feels like a more low key version of Santa Fe. Stay at El Monte Sagrado and don’t miss Taos Pueblo, breakfast at Michael’s Kitchen, dinner at Orlando’s and La Junta Point in the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument.
The Colorado/New Mexico border is a great place for a scenic train ride and you’ve got a couple of options here both of which are on my to do list:
Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad from Chama, NM to Antonito, CO: The 64 miles trip crosses the state border 11 times as it winds along canyon walls, through aspen forests and across high meadows filled with wildflowers. It’s a full day trip.
Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad from Durango, CO to Silverton, CO: This 45 mile trip is probably one of the most jaw dropping train rides in the world
If you choose to do one of the railroad trips, you’re probably going to want to stay the night close to the departure point. It’s a little under two hours to get from Taos to Chama so you could possibly just drive back and forth, but there are quite a few small inns and b&bs in Chama if you want to stay there.
Taos to Durango is almost four hours so you’d definitely want to stay overnight in Durango or possibly even Pagosa Springs if that looks interesting to you.
Also, depending on how you allocate your time, you could detour from Durango to hit Mesa Verde National Park and Canyon of the Ancients National Monument.
Whether you choose to do a railroad trip or not, you’ll eventually want to end up in Durango heading north towards Silverton and Ouray for what is routinely at the top of all of the “world’s most scenic drives” lists. They call it the Million Dollar Highway and there’s a few theories as to why but I personally believe it’s that once people drive it they say “I wouldn’t drive that again for a million dollars!”
Just kidding! It’s a beaut though. They call Ouray “Little Switzerland” and it’s easy to see why. It’s one of my favorite places in Colorado and I’ve spent many summers here riding ATVs on the trails in the area. It’s a great place to spend a couple of days doing mountain activities, hiking, or just driving around.
Telluride isn’t too far away and it’s a great town to visit.
Head north to Montrose to visit Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
Aspen, Vail, or Breckenridge: Between Montrose and Denver, I would pick a town to stay for a couple of days to spend some time hiking or doing whatever kind of mountain activities sound fun (fishing, horseback riding, etc.). Aspen, Vail, and Breckenridge are all very cute and charming towns with plenty of amenities and places to stay in all budget ranges (especially in the summer).
Rocky Mountains National Park: Cap your trip off in style with the very best of the Rockies! Plan to spend at least a full day here enjoying the park. Estes Park is the basecamp/gateway for the park and I would recommend staying at Trailborn Estes Park.
From here you could spend a few days in Denver, fly home, or hop on the interstate and start making your way back home.
**The travel bucket lister in me just has to make a note here…my current big travel project is to visit all 50 states so I spend a LOT of time looking at maps, checking places out, and plotting out different routes to make that happen while actually seeing the best stuff instead of just crossing state lines, etc.
Well, if you’re like me and you’re working your way through all 50 states, I just have to mention that this is an excellent time to visit Nebraska. From the Denver area, it’s just about 3 hours to Scottsbluff, NE where you could visit the Scottsbluff National Monument. It was a pivotal stop on both the Oregon and Mormon trails plus it’s incredibly stunning. I will always go out of my way to visit a National Park or a National Monument and this is the big one in Nebraska. I mention it here because it’s sooooo far from the more populated eastern side of the state (Omaha and Lincoln) but super close if you’re already out this way.
#2 Denver to Bozeman
Highlights: Rocky Mountain National Park, Steamboat Springs High Meadows, Jackson Hole & the Grand Tetons, Yellowstone
Airport Codes: Denver (DEN) and Bozeman (BZN)
If you’re starting in Denver, head to Rocky Mountains National Park first. As I mentioned above, Estes Park is the best place to station yourself for exploring the park and I would recommend staying at Trailborn Estes Park.
From Estes Park, head over to Steamboat Springs which is one of my personal favorite spots in Colorado. The hiking around here is phenomenal in the summer and if you like horseback riding, the high meadows are pretty idyllic.
After a couple days in Steamboat, head on to Wyoming to see (what I think is) the best of the west.
Jackson, WY is pretty much the quintessential western mountain town and you could easily spend 4ish days here. It’s the gateway to Grand Tetons National Park, there’s white water rafting on the Snake River, the rodeo in the summer, and just so much to do.
There’s also a lot of places to stay at all budgets and accommodation types so you won’t have any trouble finding the perfect spot.
From Jackson, it’s about an hour to the southern entrance to Yellowstone so a lot of people stay in Jackson and visit Yellowstone for the day, but keep in mind that it’s an hour TO THE ENTRANCE. And there’s nothing at the entrance. You’ll drive another hour+ to get to the sites you want to see.
If it were me, I would probably drive to Yellowstone for the day from Jackson to see the highlights in the southern part of the park including Old Faithful and the lower and midway geyser basins and then when you’re leaving Jackson and moving onto Montana I would drive through the park and be sure to stop at Mammoth Hot Springs near the northern entrance.
Gardiner is the closest town to the north entrance and there are some small hotels there but other than that it’s an hour and a half from Mammoth Hot Springs into Bozeman which is where I would stay.
Bozeman is the place to be in Montana currently if you don’t mind more “transplants” than locals but it’s going to be the most convenient place to stay. Alternatively, you could spend a few days in Big Sky (closest to the western entrance of Yellowstone).
If you’re flying home, Bozeman is the most sizable airport in the area and all the major airlines offer service even if it’s a little $$$.
***Want to save major $$$ on hotels? My favorite travel hack is cashing in points to score free nights at some of the island’s most high end resorts. My go to hotel brand is Marriott so I use this Marriott Bonvoy Boundless card to rack up points for a lot of my trips to Florida. If you pay for your monthly expenses on the card and are responsible about paying it off every month, the points add up really fast. Plus, if you sign up through my link, you’ll get THREE bonus free nights to use. There are some really great Marriott properties out west and a lot of National Park towns like Springdale (Zion) and Moab (Arches) have super nice Springhill Suites that are $$$ but a good deal using points.
#3 Salt Lake City to Calgary
Airport Codes: Salt Lake City (SLC) and Calgary (YYC)
Highlights: Jackson Hole & the Grand Tetons, Yellowston, Bozeman, Glacier National Park, Seattle
This is the only itinerary that includes crossing over the Canadian border, but the goal of this itinerary is to get you to Glacier National Park and it’s soooooo remote that it makes a lot of sense to head into Canada to see Banff National Park and fly home from Calgary.
Alternatively, if you don’t want to do Canada, from Glacier National Park it’s about 4.5 hours back to Bozeman OR 8 hours to Seattle where you could tack on some Pacific Northwest sites (see the next itinerary).
So, to start…follow the second half of the itinerary above (Jackson, Yellowstone, Bozeman/Big Sky), and then make your way north to Glacier National Park.
Kalispell is the most sizable town near Glacier so that’s where you’ll want to stay.
From Glacier it’s about 5 hours north to Banff. I don’t know a lot about the area because I’ve never been but it’s high on my list!
#4 Seattle to San Francisco
Airport Codes: Seattle (SEA) and San Francisco (SFO)
Highlights: Pacific Coast Highway along Washington, Oregon, and Northern California; Redwoods National Park
THIS is the trip that I’m currently working on (I’m actually getting ready to leave for the first part of it as I write this) and I am sooooo excited. I’ve wanted to drive the Pacific Coast Highway for a LONG time and everybody says that the northern Californian and Oregon bits are the best parts.
Here’s what I’m thinking/planning so far:
Fly into Seattle and do the typical touristy things: Pike Market, Space Needle, Chihuly Garden & Glass, Pop Culture Museum, etc.
For me, seeing an orca whale is my #1 priority when I’m in the Seattle area. If you’re short on time, you can do a tour that leaves from downtown Seattle, but if you’ve got longer I’d head to the San Juan Islands north of Seattle and explore that area.
From Seattle, I think Olympic National Park is a DO NOT MISS in the area. The Hoh Rainforest has been on my travel list for YEARS.
Leave Seattle early and head towards Port Angeles to see the part of the park around Hurricane Ridge.
Book two nights at the Woodland Inn in Forks, WA to give yourself the best chance to see everything in the park. Besides the Hoh Rainforest, visit Rialto Beach and if you have time go all the way out to the western tip of Washington and do the Cape Flattery Trail.
When you’re done in the National Park, take the 101 (Pacific Coast Highway) south towards Oregon.
The stretch of coast from Astoria through Tillamook is PACKED with sites to see. The Bowline Hotel in Astoria is a place I would definitely do an overnight and the Ashore Hotel in Seaside, OR looks great too.
Don’t miss the famous Cannon Beach!
From here you’ll have to decide if you want to detour east over to Portland for a few days or make this strictly a coastal trip.
Keep heading south towards California and you’ll definitely want to stay a bit in Crescent City or Eureka to visit Redwood National Park.
The road moves inland a bit until you pick up the California 1 on the coast at Leggett.
This stretch of road in Northern California is supposed to be one of the most stunning parts.
And the closer you get to San Francisco, the better your options are for finding really cool places to stay.
Sea Ranch looks really neat and I’ve been wanting to visit Russian River (Guerneville).
Don’t miss the Muir Woods National Monument and Stinson Beach before you hit San Francisco!
#5 San Francisco to Las Vegas
Highlights: Lake Tahoe, Yosemite, Death Valley, Palm Springs
Airport Codes: San Francisco (SFO) and Las Vegas (LAS)
This trip is really more like the “best of California” but California is literally as west as it gets in this country so I think it totally counts ; )
Fly into the San Francisco Bay area and head east towards Lake Tahoe. It is BEAUTIFUL no matter the season and there’s great hiking/lake activities, etc. Truckee is the most sizable town and has a good range of places to stay but try Kings Beach if you want to be right on the water.
From Tahoe, head south to Yosemite to see one of America’s most visited National Parks. It’s pretty phenomenal and depending on how much you like to hike and explore, you may want a couple of days here. I would recommend staying at Autocamp in one of their vintage Airstream trailers.
You could probably also day trip to Kings Canyon National Park and Sequoia National Park while you’re staying at the Autocamp.
From here you’ve got a couple of options: If you want to fly home from Las Vegas, you could visit Death Valley National Park on your way across the desert (I’m not sure I would want to do this in the summer though).
OR if you want to extend the trip a bit, you could head south to the Palm Springs area where there is more than enough to keep you busy for several days. You won’t want to miss Joshua Tree National Park and all the famous Mid Century Modern architecture. There are also a ton of really nice resorts plus golf and tennis in Palm Springs. It’s definitely a place where you can have a vacation.
If you pick the Palm Springs option, it would be closer to fly home from one of the SOCAL airports in the LA area. Palm Springs (PSP), Ontario (ONT), LAX, etc.
**If you REALLY want to see the best of California and you’ve got time, consider starting this trip in Napa/Sonoma before you head to Lake Tahoe.
Side Note: If you’re looking for a rental car for your trip, I LOVE Discount USA Car Rental. They’re seriously the only company I ever use. I started using their sister company (Discount Hawaii Car Rental) on my Hawaii trips almost 10 years ago and now I use their main site for all of my other trips. They’ll give you the very best prices, you don’t have to reserve with a credit card or pay until you show up, you can cancel and re-book anytime if you find a better rate, and they usually have a special that adds additional drivers for no fee. It’s a no brainer. Click here to check rates for your trip.
#6 Phoenix to Las Vegas
Highlights: Sedona, Antelope Canyon, Monument Valley, the Utah Big 5, Grand Canyon
Airport Codes: Phoenix (PHX) and Las Vegas (LAS)
This two week itinerary is definitely the best of the southwest! Make sure you’ve got a National Parks passport because you’re going to be collecting stamps left and right.
Sedona: Those famous red rocks of Sedona are home to some of the best hiking in the Southwest. Whether you’re super active and want to tackle Cathedral Rock Trail or go for a ride on one of the famous Pink Jeep Tours, you’ll find something to love about Sedona. And it just might be that this is a true resort town so good hotels and restaurants are abundant.
Flagstaff: When I did my big Route 66 adventure, Flagstaff became my unexpected favorite town. I LOVED staying at the High Country Motor Lodge and while there’s a lot to do around Flagstaff, I cannot recommend Walnut Canyon National Monument and Wupatki National Monument enough (plus Sunset Crater Volcano). If you’re up for a big day, you can do all three. Walnut Canyon requires a fairly moderate hike, but the other two are more or less drive through (stopping to get out and look around) parks. It’s also possible to do the Grand Canyon as a daytrip from Flagstaff.
Grand Canyon National Park: The Grand Canyon just might be the most famous National Park of them all so you’re definitely not going to want to miss out. The south entrance is the most popular and easily accessible.
Page, AZ: You’ll want to spend at least a full day in Page to see Horseshoe Canyon and Antelope Canyon. Make reservations to tour Antelope Canyon in advance (especially during the summer when the time slots to see the famous light beams book out quickly). And if you’re majorly into collecting National Park stamps, this would be the best place to detour to visit Vermilion Cliffs National Monument.
Monument Valley: Monument Valley is at the top of my bucket list for spots to see in the great American west and I haven’t hit it yet because of its remote location, but if you follow this route you’ll drive right past it. You will want to spend the night there to see the sunset and sunrise.
Moab, UT: Moab is getting to be the premier destination in the Southwest so you’ll definitely want to make it your basecamp for exploring as much as possible. A lot of seasonal “glamping” type properties are starting to call Moab home like Undercanvas, Ulum, and Field Station so you can definitely stay in style. Make time to see Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park and you’ll definitely want to squeeze in a little offroad time.
Capitol Reef National Park: Capitol Reef is pretty much right in between Moab and Zion/Bryce so you could get an early start and stop to visit it on your way and then stay the night wherever you’re going to be staying to do Zion/Bryce, but if you want to see and explore much you’re probably going to want to stay the night. Checkout the new Skyview Hotel in Torrey, UT.
Zion National Park & Bryce National Park: Zion National Park is one of the most popular parks in the Southwest and has a LOT of hiking trails. Bryce is a much smaller park but still a must visit. They’re about two hours apart, but I would probably choose to stay near Zion and just drive over to Bryce for the day. Alternatively, if you spent the night in Torrey and you’re quicker at Capitol Reef, you could see Bryce on your way to Zion. There are a lot more places to stay near Zion than Bryce. Springdale has a really nice Springhill Suites plus there are also OverCanvas camps near Zion (and Bryce). Most people will probably spend one day at Bryce and one day at Zion, but if you’re a serious hiker, you’ll want more days at Zion.
From Zion, it’s only about 2.5 hours to Las Vegas.
#7 Las Vegas to Salt Lake City
Highlights: Utah Big 5 (Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, Arches) plus Provo & Park City
Airport Codes: Las Vegas (LAS) and Salt Lake City (SLC)
If you want to see the Utah Big 5 (and don’t care as much about the northern Arizona stops in the previous itinerary) this is the most efficient way to do it.
Flying into Las Vegas will put you closest to Zion and Bryce. From there head to Capitol Reef on route to Moab where you’ll see Canyonland and Arches before heading onto Salt Lake City.
You could add stops in Provo and Park City on the way.
Doing this more slimmed down itinerary is a good option if you want to spend more time in each place to take advantage of hiking or other recreation options (ATVing in Moab, etc.).
#8 Denver to Las Vegas
Highlights: Colorado Ski Towns & the Utah Big 5
Airport Codes: Denver (DEN) and Las Vegas (LAS)
This itinerary is a mash up of two previous ones and you’ll be able to see the best of Colorado and Utah in two weeks.
Starting in Denver, plan to split your time between the Breckenridge, Vail or Aspen areas to enjoy the Rockies before moving visiting Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park on your way to Telluride
From Telluride, you could take a roundabout route to Moab that detours to see Mesa Verde National Park, Canyons of the Ancients National Monument and Monument Valley (stay overnight here).
Once you’re in Moab, you’ll follow the itinerary for hitting the Utah Big 5 (working your way east to west) that I’ve outlined in previous itineraries. Arches & Canyonlands > Capitol Reef > Bryce > Zion.
#9 My First Big Western Road Trip
I’ve traveled quite a bit through the American West, but I usually prefer to do shorter trips concentrated in one area. But in 2009 we set off on a huge two week road trip out west and it was really the first time I’d ever done that.
Parts of this trip are covered in other itineraries above, but since we were starting in Oklahoma, we added in South Dakota and it ended up being such a great state!
If you’re driving from home and your home is in the middle (or eastern) part of the country, you might want to consider adding on a few days in the Great Plains either coming or going.
Okay, if you’re nosy like me and just like to know what other people have done, here’s everything we saw and did on this trip:
We started in Tulsa, OK and instead of getting a sunrise start, we actually left late afternoon/early evening and spent the night somewhere in Kansas to break up the drive.
We cruised through Kansas and Nebraska the next day before arriving in Rapid City, South Dakota.
We stayed at a hotel that had an indoor water park attached because my cousin was still pretty little and we thought it would be more fun than a regular hotel. It looks like it’s now the WaTiki Indoor Waterpark.
We of course saw Mount Rushmore and at the time they were still building the Crazy Horse memorial but we got to see it partially finished. We hiked around Sylvan Lake and it was BEAUTIFUL. We drove over to Wall Drug because everyone kept telling us about it and I guess if you’re not from somewhere where tacky/over the top souvenir shop/gas stations exist then it’s probably really something to see.
We drove through part of the Badlands, but we didn’t go into the National Park and if I had it to do over again, I would make that a priority and also I would add a stop at Wind Cave National Park since it’s in the area.
From Rapid City we drove almost all the way across Wyoming in one day. It’s about an 8 hour drive on the interstate, but we were seeing bears up in trees from the car so keep your eyes peeled!
For the big western portion of our road trip, we decided to use Jackson, WY as our basecamp. In retrospect, I don’t know if we realized how much driving that would mean. It was honestly a lot trying to do Yellowstone while staying in Jackson, but we made it work. If you want to just casually see Yellowstone for the day it’s doable, but if you’re hardcore about wanting to explore the park, then you’re going to want to stay closer.
In Jackson, we stayed at the Rustic Inn and it was BEAUTIFUL. There’s a creek running through the property and you get the feeling of being in a cabin in the wilderness but you’re pretty much in the middle of town.
We went to Grand Tetons National Park where we hiked around Jenny Lake and SAW. A. MOOSE. We went white water rafting on the Snake River which to this date is in my top 5 most terrifying life experiences ; ) We did a BIG day trip to Yellowstone, went to the rodeo, and shopped around town.
I really can’t recommend Jackson enough as a destination if you want to experience “the West.”
We left Wyoming and dropped down into Colorado to stay at Steamboat Springs for a couple of days. We went horseback riding at High Meadows Ranch (it looks like it’s no longer open) because I used to go there as a kid and had the best memories. Seriously though…the high meadows around Steamboat Springs are pretty much the most idyllic place in Colorado.
And we stopped in Breckenridge for a little exploring around town before heading back home through Kansas.