The ultimate family road trip in the American West

Travelling as a family: there's just no better way to create memories that will last a lifetime, right? 

But taking your children to explore the wide open spaces of the American West can be a little daunting.

Here is a perfect Western USA family vacation that will please everyone, without tiring the young ones out!
 

Road trip map

USA family itinerary
Map of the family road trip


Road trip summary

Days 1-2 : San Francisco 

family district san francisco
Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco

Day 1

Your road trip begins with your arrival in San Francisco, the most European, and most tolerant, city in the United States. 

You'll quickly see this as you visit its different neighbourhoods, each more unique and flamboyant than the last!  

Spend 2 days here to immerse yourself in the spirit of the city and get over your jet lag.   

You can't visit San Francisco without seeing its must-see attractions, including the famous Golden Gate Bridge .   

If your children are very young or less athletic, I suggest a cruise under the bridge. Otherwise, take a walk across it at dusk.

  

Day 2

After a good night's sleep, get up early to take a ride on the famous Cable Car . That way you'll avoid the crowds! 

Next, pay a visit to Fisherman’s Wharf . The kids will love watching the sea lions. 

There you will be able to board a boat for Alcatraz , which needs no introduction. Be sure to book your tickets several months in advance, as this activity is extremely popular.

The tour of the legendary prison is well suited to families. Visitors of all ages will find it fascinating.


Days 3-4 : Yosemite  (315 km)

yosemite blog
Tunnel Dome, Yosemite

Day 3 

Today is the start of your USA road trip. Time to set out along the beautiful scenic roads of California!

You leave the coast behind and head for a true jewel of the great American parks, high in the Sierra Nevada mountains: Yosemite. 

Once arrived and settled in, make your way to Yosemite Valley. An easy 30-minute walk (round-trip) will take you to the base of Yosemite Falls  and amazing postcard-worthy scenery!  

In the evening, why not toast some marshmallows over a campfire? 
 

Day 4

You have several options for your full day of visiting Yosemite

The Visitor Center features interactive exhibits that will captivate the whole family. Behind it, you will also find an Indian village that invites discovery.  

If you are a family of hikers, pay a visit to Tunnel View . Turn right at the first intersection in the valley.

From this scenic viewpoint you can see Bridalveil Falls , Half Dome  and El Capitan .  

 

Day 5 : Mammoth Lakes  (164 km)

mammoth lakes family vacation
Convict Lake, Mammoth Lakes

Time to hit the road again. Today's destination is Mammoth Lakes,  

To get there, take the famous Tioga Road , which offers magnificent landscapes of mountains, lush forest and sumptuous lakes.  

Mammoth Lakes is a paradise for outdoor activities. Make the most of your day with some mountain biking, hiking or fishing

Please note: if your trip takes place between October and May, the Tioga Road will be closed due to snow at high altitudes. You will have to take a detour to the south.

 


Day 6 : Death Valley  (291 km)

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Dante's View with the family

This morning you head for Death Valley. Despite its morbid name, Death Valley will charm you with its mountains, canyons, dunes and salt pans

I strongly recommend taking Route 190 and paying a visit to Furnace Creek . It's a real oasis in the middle of the desert! 

You won't want to miss Badwater Basin , the lowest point in North America, at 86 metres below sea level

You'll find that easy to believe when you see it. 

Go from one extreme to the other at Dante’s View , where you will have a sweeping panoramic view from 5,000 feet above the valley floor

The outlook can be reached from Furnace creek. 

Please note: Daytime temperatures in the valley can reach 50 degrees Celsius in summer. Plan your more strenuous activities early in the morning or towards the end of the afternoon.

 


Day 7 : Las Vegas  (242 km)

entertainment las vegas
Aerial view of Las Vegas

After the desert landscapes, it's time for a little opulence. Today, direction Las Vegas!  

The City of Sin known for its casinos and festive atmosphere can be a great place to visit with children. 

Many casinos have arcades where kids can enjoy a wide range of games. 

The Fun Dungeon  at the Excalibur Hotel  also offers redemption games where players earn tickets that can be exchanged for prizes.  

The Circus Circus  hotel houses the Adventuredome , an indoor theme park with rides for visitors of all ages. 

Be sure to take a walk along the Strip  and watch the spectacular fountain show at the Bellagio Hotel!  

To end the day in style, pay a visit to The STRAT , at the end of the Strip. With a height of 350 metres, its observation tower offers a magical view of Las Vegas.

 

Days 8-9 : Zion  (325 km)

what to do in Zion
Zion landscape

Day8

After this eccentric stop, the adventure continues with Zion National Park. 

The area was named by the Mormon pioneers who discovered it. Zion means ‘‘paradise’’, and you will quickly understand why!  

Take the famous Zion-Mount Carmel Highway  just after entering the park. It's one of the most scenic routes in all of the American West.  
 

Day 9

On your second day in the park, take the free park shuttle, which drives along the 13 kilometres of the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive .   

I highly recommend the Court of the Patriarchs Trail  and, if the kids are a little older, The Narrows 

The Narrows is a hiking trail along a riverbed, a one-of-a-kind experience to add to your family adventure!

 

Day 10 : Bryce Canyon  (112 km)

bryce canyon 2 days
Aerial view of Bryce Canyon

Today, direction Bryce Canyon !  

With its large natural amphitheatre filled with hundreds of sandstone spires and pillars, Bryce Canyon is one of the most spectacular parks in the United States.  

Queen’s Garden Trail  is a great option with kids. 

In less than 30 minutes, you will reach the Queen’s Garden, named after a rock formation said to bear a striking resemblance to Queen Victoria.  

Bryce Canyon is also the perfect place to do some horseback riding  or take in a rodeo. The kids are sure to love this authentic cowboy experience! 
 

 

Days 11-12 : Lake Powell  (232 km)

lake powell what to do
The contrasts of Lake Powell

Day 11

This morning, you head for the second-largest artificial lake in North America.   

The contrast between the bright blue waters of the lake and the surrounding stark red sandstone rocks is quite spectacular

Lake Powell is 3,150 km of coastline, made up of beaches, gorges and bays.  

For an impressive view of the Colorado River, Horseshoe Bend  is a family-friendly hike you won't want to miss.

It will only take you 30 minutes there and back.  
 

Day 12

For your second day in the region, why not treat yourselves to a tour of Antelope Canyon ?  

You will have a hard time believing that this marvel of erosion was created as-is by flash flooding after summer storms.  

Explore Upper Antelope Canyon (above ground level) or venture below ground with a tour of Lower Antelope Canyon, in the company of a Navajo guide.  

Please note: Antelope Canyon tours have limited space and can be booked up several months in advance. Plan your day as soon as you are sure of your itinerary!

 


Day 13 : Monument Valley  (277 km)

valley drive monument valley
Monument Valley landscape

Fans of the Wild West and Western movies? You're in luck! Today's road leads to an iconic symbol of the Far West.   

It's time to put on your cowboy hats, as many John Wayne movies were filmed in this very location.  

It will be important to remember that you are on Navajo Tribal Land

You will need to pay a fee to enter the tribal park, and members of the Navajo Tribe operate all services and tours within the park. 

The best way to explore the heart of this legendary park is along Monument Valley Scenic Drive 

Your car is not your only option: you can also go by jeep, on horseback, or with a private Navajo guide

Go to the Visitor Center to learn about the different possibilities.  

The Visitor Center is also the place to watch the unforgettable sunsets that transform the valley into a magical, colourful panorama.  

Please note: If you are travelling between the second Sunday in March and the first Saturday in November, you'll have to adjust your watch! The Navajo Nation and the state of Utah switch to Daylight Savings Time. Monument Valley is one hour later than the rest of Arizona.

 


Days 14-15 : Grand Canyon  (369 km)

grand canyon south rim viewpoints
Sunset over the Grand Canyon

Day 14

Thought you'd seen it all? Well, we mustn't forget the famous Grand Canyon!  

The Grand Canyon needs no introduction. Its eastern section, South Rim , is the most popular – and for good reason! 

You can't start your visit without stopping at the park's most impressive viewpoint: Mather Point .  

You'll quickly forget the crowd as you gaze out over the majestic landscape.

Take a moment to immerse yourself in the site's history with a visit to Grand Canyon Village .  
 

Day 15

Take advantage of the park's free shuttle service during your full day at the Grand Canyon.

There are four different routes, but I recommend the purple route, which runs every 20 minutes.  

If you want to do some hiking, Hermit Road  is the must-do option for families. 

It leads to Mohave Point , a spectacular overlook where you will feel like you are floating above the Grand Canyon.  

 

Day 16 : Barstow  (595 km)

barstow route 66
Calico Ghost Town

It is time to head back towards the California coast. You have a long drive ahead of you today.   

You reach Barstow at the end of the day. This stopover town has some interesting things to see and do.  

Barstow's Main Street is actually an old section of the mythical Route 66  and contains many relics from this iconic road. Be sure to pay a visit to the Route 66 museum. 

The family will enjoy a stop at Calico Ghost Town , a nearby abandoned silver rush town.
 

 

Days 17-18 : San Diego  (285 km)

good plan san diego
Balboa Park

Day 17

Back under the warm California sun! Today's destination is San Diego.  

The city abounds in activities and attractions that are great for families. Pay a visit to Balboa Park , where you will find the San Diego Zoo  as well as 15 museums - something for everyone!  

The Fleet Science Center  is a must for kids. This science museum and planetarium features more than 100 interactive exhibits that are sure to pique your curiosity!  
 

Day 18

Lego fans simply must pay a visit to Legoland , a theme park that offers the ultimate Lego experience. Don't lie, we know that your inner child can't wait to go! ;-)

Or do you prefer a day at the beach? Pacific Beach  is the most welcoming for families and offers many activities.

I recommend ending the day in the Gaslamp Quarter , a small neighbourhood that will charm you with its restored 19th century buildings and its many boutiques, cafes, theaters and trendy restaurants.  

 

Days 19-20-21 : Los Angeles  (203 km)

disneyland los angeles
Santa Monica

Day 19

Enjoy your morning in San Diego before heading for your final destination: the City of Angels! 

One don't-miss, iconic activity for the whole family is, of course, a Hollywood studio tour . Universal Studios offers the best tour for children.   

On your way there, discover some of the beautiful neighborhoods of Beverly Hills . Drive along Melrose Avenue or Sunset Boulevard and soak in the sights.

Stop on Hollywood Boulevard  to take a picture next to the star of your favourite celebrity.  
 

Day 20

Los Angeles is not just about glitz and glamour. During your second day, spend some time exploring the neighbourhoods along the Pacific Ocean coast. 

Head to Venice , the artists' district.

Enjoy a gourmet breakfast on Abbot-Kinney Boulevard , and while you're there, why not do a little shopping?

Time to go to Venice Beach . Take a walk along the lively Venice Boardwalk , enjoy the beach, and don't forget to take your picture with the famous Venice sign !

Spend the evening in Santa Monica . The iconic Santa Monica Pier offers magnificent views and is home to the Pacific Park  amusement park. Fans of Forest Gump are also in for a surprise ;-)  
 

Day 21

For your last day, head to downtown Los Angeles. 

Sports fans will want to explore the area around Staples Center. There are also a number of museums that are interesting for families.

If you prefer a bit of nature, Echo Park  in the heart of downtown Los Angeles is popular with the locals. You can enjoy a fun pedal boat ride on the lake.

For one last look at the City of Angels, pay a visit to the Griffith Observatory . The spectacular view will be the perfect way to end your trip to the American West.

It's already time to fly home, your heads and hearts filled with memories of the land of Uncle Sam !  

 

So are you ready to become a family of adventurers? Don't hesitate to share your comments or suggestions below! 

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2 comments

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Karolane Lessard July 7, 2021, 17h36
Thank you for your kind words.
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