The Classic American Roadtrip
You hear a lot of people talking about the “Classic American Road Trip”, but I never appreciated how easy or spectacular it could be. In ten days I: saw the bright lights of Vegas, cycled through San Francisco, visited National Parks, hopped on a plane, hired a boat and drove through some of the most breathtaking scenery I’ve ever seen. It was a holiday to remember, and not just because it was my honeymoon!
Here are my tips that I can pass on from my first attempt at doing a road trip in the States and some stories along the way
Planning is essential
Plan what you want to see carefully and don’t try and do too much – we plotted our original wish list into Google maps and found that we’d need to drive about 600 miles a day to visit all the landmarks, National Parks and Cities we wanted to visit!
Don’t be worried about taking internal flights to cut down on driving time if you really want to cover a lot of ground. We flew from San Francisco to Vegas and saved a good few hundred miles of driving time.
On your bike
In San Francisco, we hired bikes and cycled over the Golden Gate Bridge. It was a really sunny day and we caught the ferry back from Sausalito so managed to get a really close up view of Alcatraz. If we’d had more time, we would have gone on the Alcatraz tour though they get booked up in advance. I’d recommend organising this before you leave the UK to avoid disappointment.
Do visit Las Vegas, but don’t spend too long there. Two nights is enough to experience pretty much all it has to offer, you could lose yourself and a lot of money if you stay longer! Have a try at gambling, a posh meal and if you can get into one, try and see one of the Cirque du Soleil shows – discount ticket outlets can be found the length of the strip. We saw the “Beatles–Love” which was just brilliant.
The scenic route
America’s National Parks service is pretty staggering, both in terms of the scenery it encompasses and the organisation of facilities and visitors. Try and see as many as you can and on the way, you’ll probably drive past some National Forests, National Monuments and National Recreation Areas. If you are planning to visit four or more National Parks, it works out cheaper to buy an annual pass from the National Parks website nps.gov The site also has some great PDF maps and resources for planning your visit.
The ‘wow’ factor
We managed to squeeze in three National Parks, Zion, Bryce Canyon (pictured) and the Grand Canyon in our trip. Whilst the most famous of these is the Grand Canyon, and they are all stunning in different ways, our favourite in terms of jaw dropping was definitely Bryce Canyon. It had the ‘wow factor’ and I’ll never forget my first view from the top of the Bryce ‘amphitheatre’. There isn’t much to do in Bryce Canyon of an evening, so this is also where I found myself on stage with a Cowboy band playing the washboard. TOP TIP: Never sit at the front at a cowboy cabaret!
A real hidden gem in the Utah / Arizona area is a town called Page in Arizona which sits at the bottom of Lake Powell. There is so much to see and do here in terms of sight seeing that we ran out of time. I’d recommend seeing Antelope canyon – a bit touristy but still pretty special – taking a speedboat out on the lake and visit Horseshoe bend, but don’t stand too close to the edge.
Do ask the locals
We spotted a place mat in a diner that showed a very thin dotted line which looked like a road. The waiter was able to tell us about this ‘unmade’ road and recommended a different hire car for the journey. We upgraded our car to an SUV (4×4) and spent one day driving down this back road – officially called a scenic byway between Utah and Arizona. It was probably quite mild off road driving, but to me it felt like real adventure.
The advice we got from a lady who ran the store at one end of the road was, “There’s no phone reception, nobody lives on that road but take plenty of water and you should be OK, if you get stuck, someone will eventually come along and give you a ride out. This is the wild west honey…”
As well as driving through it, a spectacular way to see Monument Valley is from a hidden viewpoint that the Navajo Indians call “Moki Dugway”. Drive through Monument Valley going north to a place called Mexican Hat. About four miles north of Mexican Hat turn left, drive towards a big rock escarpment and up a series of quite terrifying hairpin bends. At the top, turn left onto another unmade road and follow it along to the end. The view over Monument Valley is just breathtaking.
After 10 days in the desert…
After 10 days spent in the desert, scrubland and canyons of Utah and Arizona, we decided to change the scenery and visit the Napa Valley north of San Francisco and its rolling green hills. Most of the vineyards and wineries do very comprehensive tastings, some are free and some are chargeable. TOP TIP; decide who’s going to be your designated driver before setting out on a day of wine tasting! Also, Angele Restaurant in the town of Napa itself is a great place to eat after all the wine tasting.
Words by Tim Clarke