The Ultimate Road Trip Guide to Explore US Western Peaks

The United States has one of the most beautiful and diverse geographic landscapes in the world. Inside just one nation, you can explore forests, deserts, alpine peaks, rich pinewoods, dense swamps and endless rolling meadows in our US Western Peaks Road Trip Guide. How many other countries can truly claim such a distinction?

Explore US Western Peaks Road Trip Guide

Experiencing it all in one lifetime, however, seems nearly impossible. But seeing the highlights is much more reasonable, even in one epic road trip. When it comes to visiting some of the best summits, one doesn’t even have to venture too far from the Southwest to hike the best this country has to offer. From Mount Rainier to Half Dome to the north rim of the Grand Canyon (it most certainly is a summit if you’re hiking up the canyon), this is the ultimate trip route to see our nation’s most beautiful peaks.

Explore US Western Peaks Road Trip Guide, sunset, hikers, backpacks,mountain,view
Two hikers with backpacks enjoying sunset view from top of a mountain

Gearing Up

Depending on how remote you’re willing to get, you need a vehicle that’s both reliable and capable of handling less-than-ideal road conditions. There’s no need to buy a new car for one road trip. However, if you have access to a high-clearance vehicle (like a truck or SUV) with all-wheel drive or part-time four-wheel drive, then all the better. Keep in mind this is will be a long road trip, and a large V8 engine will burn up a lot of fuel. Thus, V6-powered vehicles like a Toyota 4Runner or Subaru Outback will save money at the pump.

Depending on the season you travel, you’ll also want to equip your car with the right tires. If there’s some winter conditions involved, get to know the difference between winter and all-season tires before deciding what’s best for your trip. Some other necessities for the road include:

  • Recovery gear to change flat tires and tow out of mud
  • Extra water/food
  • Emergency blankets and overnight gear
  • Maps in case GPS fails

Stop 1: Humphreys Peak (Arizona)

The trip starts in an unlikely state to find alpine peaks—the Grand Canyon State—but Arizona is home to one summit that stands more than 11,000 feet near Flagstaff. Humphreys Peak sits adjacent to a popular skiing destination and has plenty of parking at the base to explore. As for lodging, your best options include camping or finding a hotel in nearby Flagstaff.

Stop 2: Mount San Gorgonio (California)

Travel four to five hours west on Interstate10, just past Joshua Tree National Park, and you’ll find the beautiful San Benardino Mountains in Los Angeles County. San Gorgonio is the tallest of the peaks on this range, but it certainly isn’t the only one to explore. The entire area is rich with wilderness, and there are plenty of quaint mountain towns in which to find cabins and lodging nearby.

Stop 3: Half Dome (California)

This stop requires the most planning, because it sits inside one of the most popular national parks in the country—Yosemite. Half Dome is a marvel to be seen. As the name suggests, it has a smooth, rounded edge on one side and a jagged, steep face on the other. Half Dome can be climbed, but even seeing it from afar makes the trip worthwhile. Lodging in national parks is very scarce, and it’s a good idea to book this spot months in advance.

Explore US Western Peaks Road Trip Guide, Half Dome, lMoonlight, Startrails, Yosemite National Park
Half Dome lit by Moonlight with Startrails, Yosemite National Park: Photo on Flickr by Jeff Krause / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Stop 4: Mount Hood (Oregon)

Mount Hood is a rare treat (and a preview of its big brother up north) in that it towers more than 11,000 feet upward, but also is adjacent to Portland, a booming Pacific Northwest city that’s worth spending time. While Mount Hood is a challenging peak to climb, the surrounding wilderness offers plenty to explore.

Stop 5: Mount Rainier (Washington)

The grand finale was worth the wait. Mount Rainier is the only 14,000-foot peak west of Colorado and has one of the tallest base-to-summit elevations in the lower-48. It’s so prolific, in fact, that some consider it part of the Seattle skyline. Mount Rainier National Park is one of the most scenic national parks in the country. Like Yosemite, you’ll want to plan ahead for lodging, but you also have the option of staying in Seattle proper.

About Richard Wolskel

Website: http://www.newzealand.com.au

Richard is a UK expat Sandgroper. As owner of Go New Zealand he has been a frequent traveller to New Zealand and the “Land of the Long White Cloud”. His love of travel has taken him to all points of the globe, and loves learning about new cultures, hiking on remote trails, meeting the locals, and experiencing life in other countries.

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