Go West: Military spouse maps out perfect trip for those U.S. bound

Go West: Military spouse maps out perfect trip for those U.S. bound

by Story and photo by Megan Fox
Stripes Okinawa archives

Last summer I returned to my home country after my husband was stationed in South Korea for three years.  Together we embarked on a month-long road trip through the Western United States, getting reacquainted with my homeland like I never dreamed: through a Great American Road trip! If you are stationed in the United States, there is no better way to get to know your local surroundings then exploring the National Parks near you!

Thanks to the National Park Service military members and their family can enjoy free access to all of the National Parks located throughout the United States.  These parks are amazing holidays for all kinds of travels!

I had no idea of the amazing beauty I was about to discover in the FAIRY TALE LANDS that make up the National Parks throughout the Western United States! After traveling to over 60 countries I was amazed to find some of the world’s most tremendous beauty in my very own country! So get out there and explore!

Los Angeles

We began and ended our adventure in Los Angeles. By doing a round trip, this helped us to save money on our rental car and flight.

5 hour drive

Heat Advisory: The beginning of this trip is in the dessert.  Make sure to pack plenty of water and be prepared for extreme temperatures.  Day time temperatures in the summer time reach easily over 100 degrees.  I recommend keeping at least 2 gallons of water in your vehicle at all times, in addition to any water you will regularly be drinking,  in case of an emergency, a cooler filled with ice, and a full 5 Liter bladder for 3 hours of hiking.  Don't forget sunscreen and a hat!  At night time temperatures do cool down making it comfortable for tent camping.

Palm Spring

We mainly stopped at this location to reconnect with some good friends, however this is a good stopping point if you do not want to drive 10 hours from Los Angeles to the Grand Canyon.  This town has been a tourist destination for locals for many years.

·       Joshua Tree National Park

·       Night life and dinning in downtown Palm Springs


Sedona is an artsy little town located in the center of dramatic Red Rock scenery. One of the most popular things to do here is take a Jeep Tour into the dessert.  Jeep tours run around $100 per person.  There are many hikes that will allow you to see the landscape on a small scale.  Make sure to bring plenty of water if you attempt one.  On a hot day, be sure to visit Slide Rock State Park and slip and slide in the refreshing water of the natural waterfalls. Sedona is an upscale town that can be quite expensive for the budget traveler. A day is sufficient to see Sedona, but if you want the full experience, leave a few to relax and wander the art galleries and small shops.  If you are looking for a discount and do not mind sitting through a time share presentation several ‘tourist shops’ offer this in return for a free night stay at an upscale hotel and reduced tour.

·       Chapel of the Holy Cross    

·       Cathedral Rock

·       Slide Rock State Park

·       Devils Kitchen/Seven Sacred Pools

·       Jeep Tours

·       Devils Bridge    

·       Slide Rock

Grand Canyon

The possibilities of exploring the Grand Canyon are limitless.  From biking around parts of the rim, hiking into the canyon, to rafting through Snake River, there is so much to explore. Be advised if you would like to do any overnight hiking in the canyon you must get a permit online, prior, so plan ahead.

The Grand Canyon is one of the best places in the United States to gaze at the stars.   For several weeks in the summer they host a Star Party where all lights are turned off in the park and hundreds of telescopes are set up with explanations of the night sky.  The event is free of charge.

·       Wake up early and watch the sunrise, or sleep in and see it set

·       Try a day hike like: Bright Angels Hike

·       Don’t forget to get your hiking permit in advance for long trips

·       Enjoy leisurely rim hikes

·       Ride a horse into the canyon

·       Gaze at our galaxy during Star Party

·       Raft along Snake River (must book months in advance)


The area around Page, Arizona was one of my favorite places of the trip!  The non-built up tourist location of Horse Shoe Bend is absolutely breath taking!  (Make sure to be alert on the roadway for the National Park sign marker)  If you are looking for a fun adventure rent a kayak and paddle through the waters of the bend, but make sure to see it from overhead as well.

Book a guided tour to see the absolutely breath taking slot canyons of Antelope Canyon.  (You must book a tour.  There is no way to do this attraction on your own).  Rent a boat or spend the night camping out by Lake Powell.  I absolutely loved my night at the budget friendly Lone Rock State Campground. Spend some time exploring the MASSIVE Grand Staircase Escalante and the many natural wonders that are hidden along its dirt roads.

Horse Shoe Bend    

Antelope Canyon

Lake Powell    

The Wave –permit required

Grand Staircase- Escalante- National Monument

Zion National Park

This is our absolute favorite park! Do not miss the vibrant colors and natural beauty of Zion National Park.  If you don’t mind heights make sure to climb up to Angel’s Landing for a 360 view of the park.  Pack you’re hiking poles and water shoes and get wet hiking through a river on the Narrows trail!

·       Angels Landing    

·       Narrows


Bryce is a smaller park but its amazing beauty and fascinating rock formations easily make up for its size.  There are many short hikes that can be done in just a few hours.  If you want a fun experience, book a horseback ride around Bryce.  Try one of the restaurants outside of Bryce that offers yummy home cooking.

Arches & Canyonlands National Park

These are two beautiful little parks with lots to explore, however, based on your timeline and all there is to see I recommend delegating one day for the two parks.  Wake up at sunrise and have the park to yourself as you watch the light bounce off of the amazing natural arches before the heat of the day comes.  It is an experience like no other!

From here you will leave the desert.  Temperatures can very throughout this leg of the trip.  Make sure to pack layers.


Your drive from Arches to Rocky Mountain National Park will take you throughout much of Colorado.  Stop along the way at some of Colorado’s mountain towns like Steam Boat or Vale.  Take a hike up to Hanging Lake.  Spend the day in the charming city of Boulder and while you’re there take a tour of Celestial Seasonings Tea Factory for free!   Don’t miss a drive through Rocky Mountain National Park where it will be clear that you’ve left the desert.  On a typical day you are surely likely to encounter some elk and snow!

·       Hanging Lake     

·       Colorado National Monument

·       Rocky Mountain National Park    

·       Flat Irons Hike

·       Celestial Tea Factory    

·       Downtown Boulder

Rapid City

This area of America will put you on the Oregon Trail and you can visit some of the sites that the Pioneers passed by.   Nebraska is long and flat but these fun sites along the way keep things interesting!

Royal Arch   

Flagstaff Monument

Scotts Bluff National Monument    

Gering, Nebraska    

Chimney Rock    

Carhenge (alliance NEB)

Mount Rushmore

See an American Icon in person!  Mount Rushmore is a truly amazing man – made creation.  Take advantage of the free Mount Rushmore Museum and make sure to walk up close and personal to the carving. When you finish continue up the road to Crazy Horse and get a guided tour of the work in progress, or simply view it from the road.  Make sure to also factor some time for a drive through of the Black hills and Badlands.  Both parks are small but surely worth a visit! Another great monument in the area is the truly bizarre natural rock formation, Devil’s Tower.  A walk around the monument takes about 1 hour.  If you are a fan of caves there are several national park cave attractions in the area that are available for viewing by guided tour.

If you are looking for free parking at Mount Rushmore there is a small parking lot on the road about a half mile past the main entrance.  The National Park Pass does not include parking fees into Mount Rushmore.

Black Hills    

Devils Tower

Crazy horse    




Yellowstone is a massive park with varying landscapes and wildlife. Be sure to plan your trip to manage your time and pack as much as possible into your budgeted time. Yellowstone requires a lot of driving.  Distances from attractions are far and can take hours to get between.

Pay attention to your speed limit.  There is a lot of wildlife on the road.

Make sure your gas tank is full before entering the park.  There are gas stations in the park but they are at inflated prices compared to nearby towns.

Grand Canyon Yellowstone

Upper Geyser Basin    

Old Faithful

Grand Loop Road    

Mammoth Hot Springs

Grand Tetons

The Tetons are just another WOW park! On day 19, when I had been blown away by the drastically changing scenery, great day hikes and unbelievable vistas, I was impressed yet again.  Take the ferry across the lake near the visitor’s center and embark on one of the many hikes around the Tetons.  If you are fit, I highly recommend taking the day to experience a hike to Lake Solitude.  If the weather is warm at the base still be prepared for snow on this hike.  The trip runs flat along the canyon and then has an incline when approaching the lake.  Starting early will help you avoid the heat of the day.

There is wildlife, particularly bears located in this area.  Make sure if you are going on a long hike to plan accordingly.  Always dispose all of your waist appropriately.

·       Day Hike: Lake Solitude

·       Short hike: Inspiration Hike

·       Chapel of the Sacred Heart

Butte, Montana

If you are looking to break up your upcoming long drive, a stop in the charming mining town of Butte will not disappoint.  Check out the historic mining monument and have dinner in one of the restaurants in the walkable downtown.  If you do not want to stay in the town, rent a cabin or guest house for the night.  Along your drive, make sure to stop at one of Montana’s ghost towns in the area.  If you are a fly fishing fan this is a great place to take advantage of the sport!

·       Historic Mining town    

·       Ghost Towns

·       Fly fishing

Coeur d’Alene

Just when you thought you were in the middle of nowhere, the gem of the town of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho pops up! This was relatively on our route to Seattle, however, off our radar until one of our good friends moved here! We were so pleasantly surprised by this lovely town.  Spend a day on the lake and wander around in the fresh air of this beautiful resort town.

·       Lake    

·       Each summer Iron man is hosted here

Seattle, Washington

There are endless possibilities of what to see and do in and around Seattle. Take advantage of great restaurants and museums in the heart of the city or if you are not tired of nature, visit one of the stunning parks located around the city.

·       Mt. Hood National Forest

·       Olympic National Park

·       Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

·       Chihuly Museum

·       Pikes Place Market

·       Along the way: Ape Cave Lava Tube

·       Don’t miss this 2 mile self-guided hike inside a lava tube from the foot of Mount Saint Helen. Be sure to pack a flashlight and headlamp!


Spend the day ‘Keeping Portland Weird’ and explore the great food, craft breweries and rose gardens that make Portland one of my favorite American cities!  This is a great place to try out Couch Surfing and really get to know the city through the eyes of a local!

·       Powell’s Bookstore    

·       Thrift Store Shopping

·       Craft Breweries     

·       Cafes

Columbia River Gorge

Camp out along the Columbia River Gorge and take in the scenery of Multnomah Falls or enjoy one of the 100’s of hikes in this area.

·       Multnomah Falls    

·       Horsetail Falls

·       Punchbowl Falls

Crater Lake

America’s deepest lake!  Hike, swim and explore around this stunning and strange National Monument! It’s just one of those places you gotta see.

Oregon Coast Scenic Drive

There is no other place quite like the lush Oregon, Coast.  Drive down the coast and stop at the incredible small fishing towns and treat yourself to a delicious seafood lunch.  If you are lucky, you may catch Circles in the Sand creating one of his fascinating labyrinths.

·       Bandon     

·       Haystack Rock    

·       Circles in the Sand    

·       EAT Seafood

Redwood Forest

Drive into the Redwoods Forest and be amazed at these colossal giants.  Lay on your back and gaze up at the skyscraper sized trees or tap dance along the trunk of a fallen giant.  Drive your car through the old car bridge or go on one of the many short hikes.  If you can find a vacancy, camp out in the park and set your tent up right among the red woods!

Napa Valley

Spend the day sipping wine in Napa Valley.  The valley is generally rather expensive and is a host to luxury travel, but there are ways to surely do it on a budget.  Pack a picnic lunch and soak in the sun at one of Napa’s beautiful vineyards.

San Francisco

Another one of Americas must see cities! Take in this charming city and experience the contrast between SoCal and NorCal!  Make sure to enjoy some of the gourmet food San Francisco has to offer.

·       Walk across the Golden Gate Bridge

·       Tour Alcatraz- This must be booked months in advance if you want the National Parks rate

·       See the city from above at Twin Peaks

Big Sur/ Monterey

Take a tour down NorCal’s Coast and experience the contrast between Oregon and California.  Make a stop at the Iconic Big Sur Waterfall.


Another one of America’s finest national parks.  Yosemite has been written about and photographed by some of America’s finest artists for a reason.  The views at the park are breath taking.  You can tour the park by car, take a leisurely stroll or partake in one of the many hikes that appeal to hikers of various levels.

Half Dome- Permit Required, book in advance

Glacier Point    

Yosemite Valley

Sentinel Dome    

El Captain

Death Valley

Back to the desert, so pack your water and check out the wide range of attractions at this very drivable park.  Stop off at the many landmarks throughout the park (because they vary so drastically) or go on a hike into the valley.

Dante’s View    

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes

Artists Palette    

Mosaic Canyon

The Racetrack

Las Vegas

Vegas BABY!  Vegas isn’t all about gambling and a wild party, but there is plenty of that on offer.  There is something for everyone in this fine city that springs up in the heart of the desert.  You can spend your days betting big or simply wandering around the strip and gazing at the amazing architecture. Feast at one of Vegas’ “state of the art” buffets, see a show or lounge by the pool.

See a show    

Visit Red Rock National Park

Eat your heart out at a buffet

Santa Barbara

Check out the charm of Oprah’s favorite city. Wander around the many boutiques or soak up the sun at the beach.



The Mission

Los Angeles

Spend your last few days experiencing LA!  Visit Hollywood and try to get on a talk show or try to site a celebrity.  Have lunch at the farmers market. Soak in the sun at a local beach.  Hike up to the Hollywood sign.


Farmers Market    


In conclusion, if you are considering taking a road trip around the western United States, I say DO IT! I don’t care who you are or what you like, there is a little bit of something for everyone and many styles to travel (luxuriously or on a budget.) From tent camping and RVing to 4 star hotels, casual drives, day hikes or extreme sports, no matter how you do it, it will be a trip you will never forget!




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