Road Trip the Best of the West

Experience the magic of USA’s West Coast with this detailed road trip itinerary taking you through Washington, Oregon, California and 7 National Parks.

Trip Outline & Tips

  • Total KM: 5630km / 3498 miles
  • Suggested Trip Length: 2 – 3 Weeks
  • Suggested Time of Year: May – June

In 2018 my now husband and I decided to spend 3 weeks touring the West Coast of the USA. I’ve been lucky to experience the magic of Highway 101 several times, but this road trip consisted of so much more than just seaside wonders.

We started down the 101, stopping in beachside campgrounds along the way. We went as far south as LA and from there the real adventure began. On our route North, we decided to try to stop off at as many National Parks as possible and were blown away by the vast, unique, and truly majestic landscapes.

This trip was the experience of a lifetime, which is why I want to share it! I hope this itinerary and trip route serves as an inspiration for your next life-changing adventure.

TRIP NOTES

  • CITIES: We stopped in quite a few cities, mostly because we had family and friends nearby that we could stay with. If cities aren’t your thing, or you’re trying to stay on a strict camp-only budget, this same route can be done with no city stays.
  • NUMBER OF STOPS: This route splits the drive times up so you’re not driving more than 6hr a day. You could remove some stops and have some longer drive days to maximize your time in some places.
  • NATIONAL PARKS: Due to the popularity of the US National Parks, you must plan ahead and reserve your campsite ahead of time. Some parks may also require a timed entry reservation (if you don’t camp there), which I’ve highlighted below.

Stop 1 – Portland, OR

  • Suggested Length of Stay: 1 night
  • Suggested Stops:
    • Powell’s Bookstore
    • Annex Bar (great patio)
    • Voodoo Doughnuts
    • Little River Café
    • The Pearl District (great for shopping)

From Vancouver to Portland, Oregon is a comfortable 5hr day drive so, we started our trip with a quick city stop. It was also my husband’s birthday so we celebrated with a night out in the city enjoying many of Portland’s incredible bars and restaurants.

Powell’s’ Bookstore – Portland, OR

Stop 2 – Lincoln City, OR

  • Suggested Length of Stay: 1 night
  • Where to Stay: Devil’s Lake Campground
  • Suggested Stops:
    • Pacific City – Pelican Brewing

This is where the coastal magic begins as you head southwest from Portland toward Pacific City. It’s a quick drive so you’ll either have lots of time to hang out in Portland that morning or more time to enjoy the beach later in the day. We made a pit stop at the stunning Pelican Brewing in Pacific City and enjoyed some brews beachside before we carried onto our pit stop at Devil’s Lake Recreation area.

Devil’s Lake Recreation area offers tent, electrical, and full hook-up sites along with 10 pet-friendly yurts. Along with all the best amenities (hot showers, flush toilets), you’re just steps from the beach.

Stop 3 – Port Orford, OR

Another day of sea-side views, you’ll carry on south towards Port Orford. We made a stop to see Thor’s Well which is about halfway between Lincoln City and Port Orford.

Humbug Mountain State Park Campground is located right off the 101. From the campsite, you can take a short walk on a path that leads under the highway and to the beach. The campground has flush toilets, showers, and both tent and electrical hook-up sites.

Stop 4 – Eureka, CA

Carrying on south, you’ll finally cross the border into Northern California. I highly recommend taking time to stop and pose in front of the iconic Welcome to California sign, if time allows, and more importantly take a drive through the Redwood National Forest along the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway. Eureka is a great mid-way stop between Port Orford and your next key destination, but you can just carry on to Calistoga if you want to avoid an additional stop.

If you’re wanting to break up the drive time, the Humbolt Redwoods Campground is a great opportunity to sleep among the redwoods. It’s a beautiful chance to immerse yourself in nature and your first taste at one of the many National Parks this road trip will take you on!

Crossing the CA / OR border

Stop 5 – Calistoga / Napa, CA

  • Suggested Length of Stay: 1 night
  • Suggested Stops:
    • Castello di Amorosa
    • Oxbow Market
    • Calistoga Downtown

We actually did not have Napa on our route originally, but as we were on the way to visit family in Concord, they suggested we take the scenic route through Calistoga. After being there for one afternoon we wished we had time to stay longer. It’s definitely a must-see for wine enthusiasts, but I would even suggest those not as fond of wine to make the pit stop as well. The downtown area of Calistoga is stunning and driving through the rolling winery hills is a great change of scenery.

Though we didn’t actually stay in Calistoga, I’d recommend trading in your tent for a night of indulgence at one of their many unique hotels and inns.

Stop 6 – San Francisco, CA

  • Suggested Length of Stay: 1 – 2 nights
  • Where to Stay: Union Square
  • Suggested Stops:
    • Presidio of San Francisco
    • Bakers Beach
    • Pier 39
    • Lombard Street
    • Boudin Bakery

Having family in Concord, we were able to leave our car at their place and take the B.A.R.T into downtown San Francisco for a night. We crammed a lot into our short stay there, but you’d definitely be able to see most of San Francisco with only 1 or 2 nights there.

The hotel we stayed at has since closed, unfortunately, (we loved it there), but I would recommend staying in the Union Square area. It was cheaper than staying right at Fisherman’s Wharf but was still close to great restaurants and within walking distance of key sights.

View of Golden Gate Bridge from Presidio San Francisco

Stop 7 – Big Sur, CA

  • Suggested Length of Stay: 1 – 2 nights
  • Where to Stay: Pfeiffer Big Sur SP
  • Suggested Stops:
    • McWay Falls
    • Pfieffer Beach
    • Andrew Molera Beach

One of the main reasons I wanted to do this trip, was because I was dying to see Big Sur. While I’d road-tripped as far South as San Francisco with family, I’d never made it as far as Big Sur. This time, I made sure it was on the itinerary. Unfortunately, a lot of the places we wanted to go were closed due to a recent slide, but we soaked in what we were able to see.

We stayed at the main campground within Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park and enjoyed its proximity to many of the main attractions. There were many trails connected directly to the campground and it was super convenient to pop back on the highway from this camp.

Note – at the time of posting this blog (April 19, 2024) Highway 1 North of Big Sur is currently closed at Palo Colorado due to a slip. Due to the closure all Big Sur state parks are closed until further notice. Please check traffic and road updates before going.

Sunset in Big Sur, CA

Stop 8 – Los Angeles, CA

  • Suggested Length of Stay: 1 – 2 nights
  • Suggested Stops:
    • Hollywood Blvd.
    • Griffith Obesrvatory
    • Bungalow, Santa Monica
    • Venice Beach
    • 82 Bar

LA was a pit stop for us simply because we had a friend that lived there who we wanted to see and were able to stay with. I loved getting to see the city and experience some of their iconic attractions, but if I were to do this trip again I would not make a pit stop in LA. For me, LA is a once and done kind of destination. It’s definitely worth a stop if you’ve never been, but once you see the main stuff, it’s really just a big, busy (and kind of dirty) city. I’m more partial to spend my vacation time enjoying parks, so take my recommendation of LA with that in mind as well!

Stop 9 – Death Valley NP, CA

  • Suggested Length of Stay: 1 night
  • Where to Stay: Furnace Creek Campground
  • Suggested Stops:
    • Artist’s Palate
    • Zabriskie Point
    • Mesquite Sand Dunes

This is where the real adventure portion of the trip begins. We added Death Valley to the itinerary without much research into the park at all, but a knowledge that it would be like nothing we’ve ever seen before. We were blown away by the vast and incredible wonders Death Valley offered. It was 38°C (101°F) while we were there, cooling down to about 30°C (86°F) overnight. While it was hot, and we barely slept, we survived it even in a car with no A/C.

We were there in what is considered Death Valley’s shoulder season, so we did not make any reservations and just rolled into a first-come first-served campground. If you want to book ahead, Furnace Creek Campground is located closest to the Visitor Center and is the only campground in the park that accepts reservations.

Mesquite Sand Dunes – Death Valley NP

Stop 10 – Sequoia / Kings Canyon NP, CA

  • Suggested Length of Stay: 1 – 2 nights
  • Where to Stay: Lodgepole Campground
  • Suggested Stops:
    • Morro Rock
    • Tunnel Log
    • Tokopah Falls

Carrying on North, your environment will drastically change from the hot and dry desert of Death Valley to the diverse and healthily vegetated foothills of Sequoia NP and Kings Canyon NP. If you enjoyed the Redwoods, you’ll be blown away by the giant Sequoias.

There is no shortage of camping options within Sequoia National Park with 14 available campgrounds (two of which are open year-round). We stayed at Lodgepole Campground and enjoyed the layout as well as the easy access to the Tokopah Falls trail.

Stop 11 – Yosemite NP, CA

  • Suggested Length of Stay: 2 – 3 nights
  • Where to Stay: Wawona Campground
  • Suggested Stops:
    • Lower Falls
    • Mirror Lake
    • Bridal Veil Falls
    • Sunset at Glacier Point

Though California boasts many well-known National Parks, none are quite as popular as Yosemite. We didn’t do much research about the park before staying with my relatives in Concord and were lucky to get lots of recommendations from them before going. While I found Yosemite to be like the Disneyland of National Parks (crowded, loud, lots of kids and families, hard to find parking) I was excited to be there to experience it. We only stayed for 2 nights, but if we were to return I’d stay for a minimum of 3.

We camped 45 minutes outside of the valley, but still in the park, at Wawona Campground. Not only was this campground quieter than those nestled right in the bustling valley, but we had a refreshing creek running right next to our campsite that we were able to cool off in at the end of the day. While it was a bit of a drive getting to the main areas the next day, I’d still stay here over the campgrounds in the valley simply because of the privacy and quiet.

*Note – Yosemite National Park requires a timed entry reservation during certain times of the year. If you are not camping in the park, you will be required to make a reservation to enter.

Sunset at Glacier Point – Yosemite NP

Stop 12 – South Lake Tahoe, CA

  • Suggested Length of Stay: 1 – 2 nights
  • Where to Stay: Meeks Bay Campground
  • Suggested Stops:
    • Tenya Lake
    • Tioga Lake
    • Tahoe City

Next up was the last Californian pit stop, South Lake Tahoe. By the suggestion of my relatives, we took the scenic route getting there (through North Yosemite Valley along the Tioga Pass) and were SO glad we did. This was probably our favorite drive day of the entire trip and we made so many stops to enjoy the sights along the way. The drive through Tioga Pass and a few nights in Tahoe felt like the perfect way to say goodbye to California.

We camped at Meeks Bay Campground due to its proximity to the lake. With the nice weather, we were able to spend the entire day lounging there (and even got some sunburns).

Stop 14 – Crater Lake NP, OR

  • Suggested Length of Stay: 1 night
  • Where to Stay: Mazama Campground
  • Suggested Stops:
    • Cloudcap Overlook
    • Merriam Point

We then said goodbye to California and hello to the one and only National Park in Oregon, Crater Lake. I had been to Crater Lake once before, but I don’t think I could ever get over the magic of that place. We had rain clouds chasing us around the entire perimeter drive, but nothing could dampen the beauty of Crater Lake.

Mazama Campground was not open when we went, as it’s only open once all snow has melted. Though there are options down the mountain, if you have the chance I’d definitely recommend staying right up at Crater Lake at Mazama Campground. You can’t beat the location and it gives you more opportunity to enjoy the park.

Crater Lake NP

Stop 15 – Mt. Hood, OR

  • Suggested Length of Stay: 1 – 2 nights
  • Where to Stay: Trillium Lake
  • Suggested Stops:
    • Umpqua Hot Springs
    • Timberline Lodge

Though it may not be a National Park, I would personally classify Mt. Hood as a must-see while you’re in Oregon. I’ve been three times and am blown away by the beauty of the region every time. After stopping off at Umpqua Hot Springs during our drive, we pitched our tent and drove up to Timberline Lodge to enjoy some beers and views.

I love the Trillium Lake campground simply because of its location and views. It’s a quick drive up to Timberline Lodge from where the camp is and there really is no shortage of trails to explore in the area. As a bonus, you’ll get an incredible view of Mt. Hood from the lake.

Mt. Hood from Trillium Lake

Stop 16 – Mt. Rainier NP, WA

  • Suggested Length of Stay: 1 – 2 nights
  • Where to Stay: Cougar Rock Campground
  • Suggested Stops:
    • Carter and Madcap Falls

Our original plan was to drive straight from Mt. Hood back home to Vancouver, but looking at the map we decided to make a one-night stay in Mt. Rainier NP. Unfortunately because of our last-minute decision to stay there, we were a bit early in the season and many of the trails we wanted to do were still closed due to snow. However, we still got to see the majestic beauty of Mt. Rainier and got to check off our 7th and final National Park on this trip.

We were able to grab a first-come first-served site at Cougar Rock Campground. It was within walking distance of the Wonderland Trail (access to Carter and Madcap Falls) and was a pretty central location to see other amazing views in the park.

*Note – Mt. Rainier National Park requires a timed entry reservation during certain times of the year. If you are not camping in the park, you will be required to make a reservation to enter.

Wonderland Trail, Mt, Rainier NP

While it was a lot to cram into just 21 days, both my husband and I still talk about this trip constantly. This incredible West Coast adventure strengthened our love for the outdoors and inspired my husband and I to make it our goal to try to see every National Park in the US (and as many as possible in Canada). This trip is definitely one for the books. I hope you get to enjoy it one day!

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