Filling your passport with stamps is exciting but sometimes there is nothing better than exploring your own country. The United States has some incredible places and there are some great road trips to drive. As a bonus, depending on how you budget, a road trip can be much cheaper than a trip with flights.
Here is our budget-friendly road trip from Texas to Whistler Canada. Hopefully, this gives you points of inspiration. If you aren’t starting out in Texas nor want to invest that much time in the driver seat, pick it up at any of the many stops. It will really get you a feel for the west coast of the United States on your epic road trip.
This trip took us about 3 weeks. But, we stopped and visited some family for about a week in Seattle. And since we are teachers, the best part is the extra time we have. But without that, the time can be shortened to best if your schedule. There were a lot of hotel bookings with this one, which inspired our hotel double dip strategy.
Leg 1: Fort Worth, Texas to Flagstaff, Arizona
First, we loaded up our car with gas, a cooler and some snacks and drove to Flagstaff Arizona. This was our longest stretch, so we got the longest drive out of the way early.
We stayed at Baymont by Wyndham at Flagstaff, which is located fairly close to the highway in a great town with plenty of restaurants and things to do. But we weren’t there for long, spent the night and then headed out to the Grand Canyon in the morning.
Leg 2: Flagstaff, Arizona to Las Vegas, Nevada via the Grand Canyon and Hoover Dam
The south rim of the canyon is only about an hour and a half away from Flagstaff. If this is just a stop along the way make sure you get up early enough to beat the lines at the points of entry into the park.
Las Vegas, the next stop, only being 4 hours away from the Grand Canyon provides you the time necessary to stop at multiple viewpoints along the south rim and maybe even enjoy a morning snack or early picnic lunch.
As an important side note the South Rim and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon provide both stunning views of the power of erosion but are polar opposites in every other category. And they are not really feasible to be seen and enjoyed on a one day journey. So if you want to see them both or really explore all the Grand Canyon has to offer stay local and spend another day or so.
One of my favorite things about the Southwest during the summer is monsoon season, which is when about half of Arizona receives half of its annual rainfall. You can watch a storm build miles away while you are in sunshine. The best part of the the scenery in the southwest. And while you are driving this drive, stop in Boulder City Nevada we highly suggest a pit stop at the Southwest Diner, Stacey and I would highly suggest the strawberry rhubarb pie.
You will want to plan your trip so that you get to Vegas on a weekday, the hotel rooms are super cheap. We paid $75 for the Luxor on the strip. But that didn’t include a little extra that fell into the slots!
Leg 3: Las Vegas Nevada to Fresno, California thru Death Valley
Although there’s not a whole lot to see in Death Valley the drive-through is pretty astonishing in the summertime especially when you watch the temperature gauge in your car go up. Prepare yourself though, it will seem like Death Valley will never end causing you to think you missed your turn or even worse you might be lost in the hottest place in the United States. Once out of Death Valley you have a choice to make, try and head north to make it through one of the mountain passes or head south and basically skirt around the southern edge of the mountains and then make your way back north thru San Joaquin Valley.
Leg 4: Fresno to Rohnert Park (Napa Valley)
Stop in San Francisco at Canary Wharf, and the Exploratorium. Options also include taking the tour of Alcatraz, which we passed on due to the time and current weather in the bay area.
Bonus side trip-drive across the Golden Gate Bridge to the Marin Headlands National Park. This side drive provides the picturesque view back across the Golden Gate Bridge into the bay as well as provide a chance to see some of the sea life that lives in the are
Leg 5: Rohnert Park to Brookings Oregon
Sonoma and Napa Valley, Redwood National Forest, and a hotel on the beach. Maybe our favorite part of the drive. We got picturesque views of the ocean from towering cliffs, we were dwarfed by towering redwoods and saw the true green of the forests of the Pacific Northwest. Take your time, stop at any roadside attraction that piques your interest.
Our great hotel, Beachfront Inn in Brookings, gave us great ocean views and beach bonfires with the locals. There is a fun pizza place, Zola’s for an easy meal on the water.
Leg 6: Brookings to Eugene Oregon
Anytime I get out on the road I like to stop at any university I can and just take my own walking tour and grab a shirt or something. This provides an opportunity especially being a teacher to provide my students with information about colleges around the country. A must-have here if staying overnight is a local brew at one of the many establishments and if you're lucky like we were you’ll get to enjoy some live music on the patio in the amazing northwestern weather.
Leg 7: Eugene to Tacoma Washington
Now this leg might be a stretch for some, just because we made the decision to make our way back towards the coastline to enjoy one of the most beautiful drives of the trip with tons of small beach towns and opportunities to see the grey whales that call some of the waters in the area their summer homes. If you love the Goonies, you will love this easy stop in Astoria on the way. Check out this BBC article about your guide to a Goonies side trip.
Leg 8: Seattle to Vancouver Canada (Whistler)
We stayed in the Seattle/Tacoma area visiting some family. But that didn’t mean our trip was over. A short drive north you can make it to Vancouver in a few hours as long as the border doesn’t hold you up too long. Don’t forget that you need your passport to go across.
Vancouver is an amazing city and has tons of activities within the city as well as outside the city. Some of our favorite sites in the city were Stanley Park which is a massive green area that has an aquarium and lots of amazing views. We love aquariums, so check out some of the best ones around the world!
We stayed and explored Vancouver for the night and then started to drive to Whistler. The drive can pretty much be summed up in this repeated exclamation from the car: “These are some of the biggest mountains I’ve ever seen!” Now I don’t know if its because we are from Texas which is predominantly flat or we just hadn’t seen mountains in a while but they were massive.
Whistler, which was home to some of the Winter Olympic events is a great destination for a mountain trip. Like most mountain towns in the summer, the ski trails become home to hundreds of mountain bikers racing down the hill as if they were skiing. Believe it or not, there was some skiing happening in the middle of the summer, but you had to make your way up to the glacier on the backside of the mountain. One must do is to ride the Peak to Peak Gondola, this was an experience unlike any other, especially when you look through the glass bottom and imagine yourself scraping the tops of tall pine trees.
And Back to Texas
This was our end, we obviously had to make our way back from Canada to Texas and that will be a discussion for another time. This trip gave us a unique opportunity to visit the south and northwest! Pick it up at any route for a great experience, or use it as an inspiration for your future road trip adventures.
What advice do you have for your favorite road trip destinations? Or drop us a line about any of these stops.