USA Monumentvalley2
USA Monumentvalley3
USA Monumentvalley

Pass through the Painted Desert with its kaleidoscope of colours to reach Monument Valley on the Arizona-Utah border. Visitors are welcomed by a distinct desert scape of finger-like sandstone monoliths that reach 300m above the valley of sweeping arid wilderness — the epitome of the American West.

21 days

Discover Western USA

A route combining top cities and wilderness attractions
Los Angeles (1 days) San Diego (1) Palm Springs (2) Sedona (1) Grand Canyon (1) Monument Valley (1) Lake Powell (1) Bryce Canyon (1) Zion National Park (2) Las Vegas (1) Mammoth Lakes (2) Yosemite National Park (2) San Francisco (2) Monterey Peninsula (2) Santa Barbara (1)
View itinerary
16 days

The best of the American West

A route to the top natural and historic attractions
Los Angeles (1 days) Palm Springs (2) Sedona (1) Grand Canyon (1) Monument Valley (1) Lake Powell (1) Bryce Canyon (1) Zion National Park (1) Las Vegas (2) Mammoth Lakes (1) Yosemite National Park (2) San Francisco (2)
View itinerary
  • Los Angeles

    Los Angeles

    Stroll along Hollywood Boulevard, spot your favourite TV and film stars on the Walk of Fame, and you can’t miss the hillside Hollywood sign...
  • San Francisco

    San Francisco

    California's greatest city
    Crammed into less than 50 square miles and with a population of less than a million, small San Francisco packs a mighty punch...
  • Napa Valley

    Napa Valley

    Napa Valley is filled with lush vineyards that can be visited on foot or with the vintage railcars of the Napa Valley Wine Train which covers 36 miles...
  • Yosemite National Park

    Yosemite National Park

    There are 800 miles of trails through the mountains and woodlands of Yosemite, where you can spot black bears, coyotes, bobcats and mule deer among other wildlife...
  • San Diego

    San Diego

    A two hour drive south from L...
  • Palm Springs

    Palm Springs

    Set in possibly the most biologically diverse ecosystem in the Americas, Palm Springs is not only a winter playground for celebrities, but also a stylish place to relax in hot springs, spas and top-class golf courses at the base of the San Jacinto Mountains...
  • Las Vegas

    Las Vegas

    Spend a day or two discovering the grandeur of Las Vegas and its famously flamboyant attractions...
  • Sedona

    Sedona

    On arrival to the unique geological area of Sedona, you will be welcomed by red-rock monoliths, with names such as Coffee Pot and Cathedral, protruding from the desert landscape...
  • Grand Canyon

    Grand Canyon

    Follow the trails to explore Grand Canyon National Park and be sure to stop at the canyon edge to fully appreciate its enormity...
  • Lake Powell

    Lake Powell

    The concrete Glen Canyon Dam would dominate the scenery if it was not for the commanding Colorado River and the bright blue waters of Lake Powell that lap against the tall red walls of the canyon...
  • Bryce Canyon

    Bryce Canyon

    Within the Mormon State of Utah is this multi-coloured spectacle of protruding sandstone pinnacles that gather along the edges and deep inside Bryce Canyon...
  • Zion National Park

    Zion National Park

    Visit Zion National Park with its towering rock formations that have been carved over time with the help of the mighty Virgin River...
  • Mammoth Lakes

    Mammoth Lakes

    Journey through Death Valley and ascend the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the alpine resort of Mammoth Lakes, famous for its skiing and hiking trails...
  • Santa Barbara

    Santa Barbara

    Backed by the dramatic Santa Ynez Mountains, Santa Barbara, is a hot-spot for white-sand beaches and palm-lined promenades...
  • Monterey Peninsula

    Monterey Peninsula

    Monterey Peninsula offers a mix of wind-whipped beaches, hidden coves and delicious seafood...
  • Lake Tahoe

    Lake Tahoe

    Explore the surroundings of this clear mountain lake by bike, kayak or cruise, or relax on one of its beaches to enjoy the unique views of the Sierra Nevada mountains and the Carson Range...
  • Sacramento

    Sacramento

    You can easily spend a few hours at the 28-acre Old Sacramento State Historic Park learning about The California Gold Rush, which took place in 1848–1855...

Month-by-month

The seasons greatly affect travel in the national parks of the western United States. During the summer months between May and September, temperatures in desert parks like Death Valley can soar to 110 degrees and higher. These months are also the busiest times for visitors to national parks like Yosemite National Park and Crater Lake National Park.

Meanwhile, winter snowfall in mountainous parks (Yosemite National Park, Rocky Mountain National Park) results in facility closures and limited access, particularly between November and March. Destinations including Yosemite’s Tuolumne Meadows and Rocky Mountain National Park’s Trail Ridge Road are closed during this time of year.

January and February are ideal times to visit Death Valley National Park. Daytime temperatures in the park hover around 60 degrees (15.5 Celsius), while nighttime brings cool but not freezing temperatures around 40 degrees (4.5 Celsius). February is when the desert’s many wildflowers begin to bloom, painting the park with colour.

Nearby Joshua Tree National Park is prime for visiting in March due to that month’s mild temperatures and wildflower displays. It’s also the best time to go hiking or rock climbing on the park’s granite rock formations.

With snow on the peaks of the Sierra Nevada Mountains melting, April and May is when Yosemite’s famed waterfalls roar to life. Though the park’s higher elevation areas will still be closed, visitors are treated to Yosemite Falls and Vernal Falls at their grandest along with blooming wildflowers and smaller crowds.

Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the highest national parks in the country and ranges from 7,680 feet (2,396 metres) to 14,259 feet (4,346 metres) in elevation. The park’s popular Trail Ridge Road, which gives visitors access to alpine tundra, is only open from June to September. Likewise, the summer months of July and August are the best times to visit Olympic National Park due to less rainfall in the region and the park offering more activities to the public.

September and October are prime visiting times for Grand Canyon National Park, when there’s both cooler temperatures and smaller crowds. The autumn months also offer a window to visit rugged Channel Islands National Park off the coast of California. Before the winter rains come, the islands are warm and dry.

November and December bring cooler temperatures out west and snow at high elevations. For the unique experience of ice skating in a national park, head to Yosemite to glide around on the Curry Village Ice Skating Rink. Or, wait until mid-December to enjoy skiing or tubing at Yosemite’s Badger Pass Ski Area.

Festivals and events

In the summer months, western US national parks have a full schedule of guided hikes, talks, campfire presentations and more. The offseason find the parks hosting more specialised annual festivals and events meant to draw people into the parks during less busy times.

Spanning six sessions in January, Chef’s Holidays brings world-renowned chefs to Yosemite National Park’s Majestic Yosemite Hotel for cooking demos and multi-course meals. In February, Colorado’s Mesa Verde National Park puts on a Winterfest, where visitors can explore the park in moonlight while being warmed up by hot chocolate and hot cider.

At the height of summer, Grand Canyon National Park throws the Grand Canyon Star Party in June, one of the best times of the year to see the night sky in all of its glory. Throughout the park, volunteer astronomers set up telescopes to bring stars, planets, and more into focus for visitors.

Celebrate the old, wild west at the Death Valley 49ers Encampment and Western Music Festival at Death Valley National Park in early November. Expect music, scenic horseback rides, blacksmithing, and gold panning at Furnace Creek inside the park.

Step back in time for the holiday season at Yosemite National Park’s Bracebridge Dinner, which has been going on since 1928. The December festivities in The Majestic Yosemite Hotel are meant to evoke Christmas Day in England in 1718 with song and a seven-course feast.

Where to go in Western USA

Our recommended places

Los Angeles

Los Angeles

Stroll along Hollywood Boulevard, spot your favourite TV and film stars on the Walk of Fame, and you can’t miss the hillside Hollywood sign. Kids can also get up close to their own entertainment stars in Disneyland.

San Francisco

San Francisco

Crammed into less than 50 square miles and with a population of less than a million, small San Francisco packs a mighty punch. Its patchwork of different neighbourhoods -- Mission District, Haight-Ashbury, Chinatown and many more -- all offer a different side to the city, while the big attractions -- Alcatraz, Golden Gate Bridge and Fisherman's Wharf -- are all worth the visit.

This is also a city of culture. There are Michelin-starred restaurants. There are pop-up diners and incredible food trucks. There is a world-class music scene and plenty of outdoor adventures, from whale-watching at Land's End to hiking in Mount Diablo. Just watch out for the earth tremors -- San Francisco's proximity to the San Andreas faultline means it experiences several hundred tremors a year.

Napa Valley

Napa Valley

Napa Valley is filled with lush vineyards that can be visited on foot or with the vintage railcars of the Napa Valley Wine Train which covers 36 miles. The family owned wineries offer guided tours, and some hotels even have their own. When you’re not drinking wine, enjoy kayaking on the Napa River and enjoy the region’s famous cuisine.

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park

There are 800 miles of trails through the mountains and woodlands of Yosemite, where you can spot black bears, coyotes, bobcats and mule deer among other wildlife. Get up close to the famous El Captan, Half Dome, Bridal Falls and Yosemite Falls which plunges a dramatic 739m.

San Diego

San Diego

A two hour drive south from L.A. is San Diego, the second largest city in California, which is renowned for its entertainment parks, including Sea World, San Diego Zoo and Balboa Park, the latter of which boasts some stunning historic buildings and green spaces. Leave some time to relax on some of California’s most beautiful palm-lined beaches.

Palm Springs

Palm Springs

Set in possibly the most biologically diverse ecosystem in the Americas, Palm Springs is not only a winter playground for celebrities, but also a stylish place to relax in hot springs, spas and top-class golf courses at the base of the San Jacinto Mountains.

Las Vegas

Las Vegas

Spend a day or two discovering the grandeur of Las Vegas and its famously flamboyant attractions. Stroll along the Strip, visit casinos, enjoy a Broadway-type, and relax at one of the popular restaurants and bars with city-scape views, such as Top of the World at The Stratosphere or Skybar at the Waldorf Astoria.

Sedona

Sedona

On arrival to the unique geological area of Sedona, you will be welcomed by red-rock monoliths, with names such as Coffee Pot and Cathedral, protruding from the desert landscape. Climbing up the sandstone spires is fascinating, as are the popular hiking trails that weave between them.

Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon

Follow the trails to explore Grand Canyon National Park and be sure to stop at the canyon edge to fully appreciate its enormity. At 446km long, up to 29km wide and 1,857m deep, the yawning gorge is full of caves and crevasses in which Native Americans built settlements. You can learn about this rich culture and history by visiting a reservation on the Canyon's south rim or inside the canyon.

Lake Powell

Lake Powell

The concrete Glen Canyon Dam would dominate the scenery if it was not for the commanding Colorado River and the bright blue waters of Lake Powell that lap against the tall red walls of the canyon. The extraordinary scenery is appreciated best from atop the dam, which is the second highest concrete arch-dam in America.

Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon

Within the Mormon State of Utah is this multi-coloured spectacle of protruding sandstone pinnacles that gather along the edges and deep inside Bryce Canyon. The canyon is set beside dense pine woods that are popular for walks and camping.

Zion National Park

Zion National Park

Visit Zion National Park with its towering rock formations that have been carved over time with the help of the mighty Virgin River. Walk along the forest trails that line the river, alongside the Emerald Pools to admire their waterfalls, and to the deep chasms of Zion Narrows.

Mammoth Lakes

Mammoth Lakes

Journey through Death Valley and ascend the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the alpine resort of Mammoth Lakes, famous for its skiing and hiking trails. It was a successful gold mining town in the 19th century and you can take a tour of the ruins, mining equipment, and mine shafts.

Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara

Backed by the dramatic Santa Ynez Mountains, Santa Barbara, is a hot-spot for white-sand beaches and palm-lined promenades. Look out for A-class celebrities, many of which have extravagant homes here.

Monterey Peninsula

Monterey Peninsula

Monterey Peninsula offers a mix of wind-whipped beaches, hidden coves and delicious seafood. The towns of Monterey and Carmel-by-the-Sea are laid back seaside towns showcasing the region's sea trawling history, replete with cosy restaurants and excellent gastropubs.

This is a perfect stop for those wanting a getaway from San Francisco's bright lights.

Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe

Explore the surroundings of this clear mountain lake by bike, kayak or cruise, or relax on one of its beaches to enjoy the unique views of the Sierra Nevada mountains and the Carson Range. Secret Cove is the ideal secluded spot to relax in.

Sacramento

Sacramento

You can easily spend a few hours at the 28-acre Old Sacramento State Historic Park learning about The California Gold Rush, which took place in 1848–1855. Perhaps even try panning for gold in the river! You can even step back to those historic days by taking a ride in a horse-drawn carriage.

Why Horizon Guides?

Impartial guidebooks

Impartial guidebooks

Our travel guides are written by the leading experts in their destinations. We never take payment for positive coverage so you can count on us for impartial travel advice.

Expert itineraries

Expert itineraries

Suggested itineraries and routes to help you scratch beneath the surface, avoid the tourist traps, and plan an authentic, responsible and enjoyable journey.

Specialist advice

Specialist advice

Get friendly, expert travel advice and custom itineraries from some of the world’s best tour operators, with no spam, pressure or commitment to book.

Loading...