7 Epic Places You Can Get To By Car In the Western U.S.

Posted on by Defensive Driving | in Born to Drive, Defensive Driving Online, Road Trips

With gas prices predicted to stay near record lows, 2016 is a great year to plan that road trip you’ve been putting off. The only problem is that with so many great spots in the U.S. you can drive to, choosing where to go can be tough. Take the western United States for example. Just about any road you take out west will lead you to at least one breathtaking destination. And you’ll see plenty of cool scenery along the way.

If you’re ready for a road trip this year but you’re not sure where to go, here’s a list of 7 epic places in the western U.S. you can get to by car (all photos taken by Eric Bennett).

1. Joshua Tree National Park, California

(Sunrise at the Cholla Cactus Garden, Joshua Tree NP, CA)
Established as a national park in 1994, Joshua Tree covers nearly 800,000 acres of remote desert, and yet it’s easy to get to by car.

Driving through the park you’ll experience the beauty of both “high” and “low” desert ecosystems, giving rise to a variety of unusual desert vegetation. Among the park’s main attractions you’ll find massive rock formations, fan palm oases, occasional gardens of blooming Cholla and Ocatillo cactus, and forests of giant branched yucca’s known as Joshua Trees.

Along the scenic paved roads you’ll find a number of viewpoints, campgrounds and trailheads. And if you want to learn more about the park’s ecology, wildlife and human history while on your auto tour, take in any of the several roadside interpretive exhibits scattered along the way.

Once you experience the beauty of Joshua Tree, the word desert will take on a whole new meaning.

2. Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

(Sunset over the Grand, Grand Teton NP, WY)
Rising to a high point of 13,775 feet, the majestic Teton Range stands watch over a 485 square mile area of protected natural beauty known as Grand Teton National Park. Boasting scenic alpine terrain, pristine lakes and an abundance of amazing wildlife, the park is an epic road trip destination in every way.

Depending on the time of year, visitors to Grand Teton National Park can enjoy a vast array of outdoor activities including, mountain climbing, hiking, snowshoeing, skiing and fishing, to name a few. Road trippers with less time to spend at Grand Teton can take a scenic drive from the southern boundary of the park to Yellowstone Park via the outer highway 26/89/191. The trip takes a little over an hour, but there are several stops along the way if you have more time. Another good option that takes a little longer is to drive through the park via Teton Park Road. Wildlife can often be spotted on the road and there are lots of scenic turnouts provided to let you stop, take pictures, and learn more about the park.

Grand Teton National Park is open year round, but you’ll have better access to all the park has to offer if you plan your road trip in the spring or summer.

3. Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

(Colorful rock formations, Valley of Fire, NV)
Located off of the I-15 Interstate, 55 miles northeast of Las Vegas, Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada is one of the most beautiful and unusual spots you’ve probably never heard of. Dedicated in 1935, the park literally takes visitors on a journey far back in time to the era of early man. Along with strange and colorful rock formations, you’ll discover areas of petrified wood and marvel at the site of 3,000 year-old Native American petroglyphs. Camping, hiking, picnicking, and taking lots of photographs are among the park’s most popular activities, most of which can be enjoyed by visitors all year-round.

4. El Matador State Beach, California

(Sunset though a sea arch, El Matador, CA)
Southern California beaches are always popular road trip stop-offs. And one of So Cal’s most picturesque beaches—and best-kept secrets—is El Matador State Beach. Located just off the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu, El Matador’s long stretches of sand, sea birds, beautiful rock structures, tide pools and sea caves make it a favorite spot among the locals.

The main attraction at El Matador is a massive rock with several rugged arches carved out by ocean waters over millions of years. Professional and amateur photographers alike are drawn to the natural beauty of El Matador, especially at sunset.

5. Trillium Lake, Oregon

(Fishing at sunrise, Trillium Lake, OR)
There are lots of places in the western U.S. that aren’t associated with a state or national park that still qualify as epic road trip destinations. And Trillium Lake, sequestered in Oregon’s Mt. Hood National Forest, is clearly one of them. Named after the native Trillium flower that grows abundantly in the area, Trillium Lake provides the perfect backdrop for a host of fun outdoor activities, with Mt. Hood looking on in the distance.

Located roughly 40 miles SE of Portland, this beautiful mountain lake should be near the top of every western U.S. road tripper’s bucket list.

6. Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

(Sunrise after a blizzard, Bryce Canyon NP, UT)
If ever there was a place in the continental U.S.—a place so breathtakingly beautiful that words just don’t do it justice, that place is Bryce Canyon National Park in Southern Utah. And if you could pick just one word to describe Bryce Canyon, that word just might be “otherworldly”.

Boasting the world’s largest collection of Hoodoos—fiery orange and red pillars of rock that rise up from the canyon floor—the wonders of Bryce Canyon are like none found anywhere else on earth. Appearing either singly, or in great clusters assembled in natural horseshoe-shaped “amphitheaters” these strange silent hoodoos seem to come alive, dancing in light and shadow as the sun makes its way across the sky.

Bryce Canyon is easy to get to via Utah’s All American Road, Hwy 12. And much of its beauty can be enjoyed by car. And there are ample overlooks that allow you to get out of your car and experience unimaginable views.

7. Yosemite National Park, California

(Rainbow in the valley after a storm, Yosemite NP, CA)
A point of destination for road trippers and world travelers alike, California’s Yosemite National Park is one of the nation’s crown jewels. Among Yosemite’s famous, must-see attractions are Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, El Capitan, Cathedral Park, and the Mariposa Sequoia Grove.

Few parks offer such a vast array of natural wonders, at the same time being so easily accessible by automobile. And since visitors from all over the world travel in droves to Yosemite each year, you’ll want to plan your trip ahead to avoid the crowds.

Ready for your next road trip?

While driving to any of the epic places listed above is fun and easy, the challenge for you and others who take road trips this year will be having to drive away from them.

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