Moving across the country can be a daunting task. Stressed with logistics, packing, and saying goodbye to friends, usually leads to a miserable move. To combat this, we decided to make this 5,000 mile move into an amazing cross country adventure. Keen on seeing as many national parks as possible, we packed up our SUV, and headed west from North Carolina to our new home in Washington State. We traveled through so many places we never thought we would visit. Cross country road trips are on everyone’s bucket list and we’re so glad we had this opportunity to see America’s most stunning sights. Armed with a Canon 70D and a new Sigma wide angle lens, we enjoyed every second of our Great American experience. Here is the full list of the places we hit up along the way:
Starting our trip off right we drove through the humid southeast to good ol’ New Orleans! Known for its amazing French Quarter, Garden District, and of course infamous Bourbon Street, New Orleans offers a little bit for everyone. After snagging a haunted room at the Old No. 77 Hotel and & Chandlery (one of the only dog friendly hotels in the area) we set out on a walk through the french quarter. First stop: Pat O’Brien’s for an out of this world frozen hurricane to keep us hydrated and liquored up for our exploration. As we wander though Bourbon Street we realized that unless you are here for Mardi Gras, Bourbon Street can definitely be skipped. Unfortunately, the abundance of public drunkenness and southeast heat leads to a pretty intense stench, however if you enjoy people watching as much as we do, it can still be quite rewarding. We moved down to explore some of the touristy New Orleans Voodoo museums, which although silly, ended up being quite fun. After a fun day exploring the French Quarter we ended the night early with an amazing Cajun Dinner.
Waking up early we headed to the famous Cafe Du Monde for Beignets and Cafe Au Lait. Beignets are delicious fried square fritters, originally brought to Louisiana by the Acadians, which are sure to blow your taste buds away. After a delicious breakfast, we headed to the garden district to enjoy the beauty of old above ground cemeteries and Creole architecture. If you are looking for a quieter day, be sure to explore the Garden District, as it acts as a direct parallel to craziness of Bourbon Street and the French Quarter.
San Antonio and Caverns of Sonora
It’s not everyday that you have an opportunity to explore one of America’s most iconic monuments outside of D.C., but while driving through the great state of Texas we were fortunate enough to stop and enjoy San Antonio’s legendary Alamo. Buried in the heart of the city, this national monument has been preserved to its original state, while the bustling city of San Antonio has grown around it. Famous for its 13 day siege during the Texas Revolution in 1836, the fall of the Alamo is responsible for the resurgence of Texan pride ultimately inspiring the state to defeat Santa Anna’s army in April of the same year. Complete with live action performances, the Alamo is a great stop for anyone looking for a family friendly time. Be sure to swing by San Antonio’s beautiful river walk for lunch and a beer while you’re in town!
A few hours west of San Antonio are the Caverns of Senora. First discovered in 1955, these Caverns of Sonora are a series of 5 million year old limestone caves. Formed along a primary fault line, the cave has a unique look formed from a mix of gasses and water from a nearby aquifer. Being a “wet” cave, the caverns are warm and do not require any extra layers. Be sure to check them out if you are ever near Sonora ,TX!
Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico
If you want an experience unlike any other, be sure to check out Carlsbad Caverns. Carlsbad Caverns National Park is in the Chihuahuan Desert of southern New Mexico, and features more than 100 underground caves. With incredible features like “The Big Room”, Carlsbad Caverns National Park takes you down 800 feet into a prehistoric chamber filled with stalactites and stalagmites. Often confused with one another, Stalactites and Stalagmites are formed from limestone and calcium deposits dripping onto the ground from the caves ceiling. An easy way to remember which is which is by remembering the following. Stalactites must hold on TIGHT from falling off the ceiling, while Stalagmites grow from the ground up (where you might find dust MITES). All of these incredible stalactites and stalagmites are dimly lit up so that you can see their formations and details despite the total darkness of the cave. In the summer, when bats are in season, you can sit at the cave’s entrance and watch a spectacular sunset show as 1000’s of bats fly out to feed. If looking for a genuinely unique experience, I highly recommend traveling to this cave or researching caves in your area!
White Sands, New Mexico
By far one of my favorite parks! Driving through New Mexico was such a blast. Passing by countless Indian reservations and miles of desert, we often forgot that we were in the same country that is filled with towering pines and beautiful beaches. Don’t let this barren place fool you, there is an abundance of amazing spots to explore, number one on our list being White Sands National Monument.
As you drive through White Sands National Monument you are engulfed by the vast white gypsum dunes that paint the landscape. Designated a national monument in 1933, White Sands is the largest gypsum dune site in the entire world, at almost 150,000 acres.
If you are in search for the ultimate experience, backcountry camping is allowed in White Sands National Monument with the required permits. Be sure to pack up your Osprey pack and hit the dunes for a surreal sunset and sunrise, or go plan a camping expedition to watch the gypsum dunes glow from the luminescence of the full moon.
Due to frequent missile testing from the nearby Air Force Base, be sure to check closure before you plan your backcountry trip at: https://www.nps.gov/whsa/planyourvisit/monument-closures.htm
If you unable to backcountry camp due to closures, there is a beautiful place for primitive camping nearby at Holloman Lake. Being public lands, Holloman lake offers a great lake view, as well as beautiful distant views of the gypsum dunes and mountain back drops.
This park is for the books, you need to make the trip. It’s totally worth it!
Mesa Verde, Colorado
Mesa Verde is one of those places that makes you wish you had a time machine. This National Park is known for its ancient Puebloan cliff dwellings. Mesa Verde, Spanish for green table, offers a spectacular look into the lives of the Ancestral people who made it their home for over 700 years, from 600 AD to 1300 AD. Can you imagine what life was like back then? Every day proved a challenge against nature: the weather, elements and predators. Back then, people only grew to nearly 5 ft tall, so these humble communities could house up to nearly 100 people. I think it would be spectacular to be able to go back in time to see this civilization at its prime. The way humans developed and evolved throughout time is such an incredible story to think about…
Monument Valley, Utah/Arizona
Exploding from the desert floor lies the three iconic monoliths that make up Monument Valley. A site located in the heart of Navajo Nation, Monument Valley is a group of beautiful orange sandstone buttes. The buttes are clearly stratified, with three principal layers. The lowest layer is the Organ Rock Shale, the middle is de Chelly Sandstone, and the top layer is the Moenkopi Formation capped by Shinarump Conglomerate. The Navajo Nation allows visitors in from all across the globe to immerse themselves in the beauty of the red sandstone. As you can see, these views are some of the most definitive images of the American West.
In hopes of enjoying a fully immersive experience, we set up camp on the ridge line overlooking the valley. While obtaining a $40 camping permit requires some pre-planning, reservations can also be made at the The View hotel. After enjoying a beautiful sunset, we braced for an early April storm which left all three of us huddling for warmth in our tent. Despite extreme winds and a few inches of flooding, our Mammut Tungsten 2P Tent withstood the storm. As we rose for an incredible sunrise, we noticed that we were the only campers who survived the night. Rule of thumb, invest in your gear, because the right set up is the difference between staying dry and blowing away in the wind.
Heading down the Utah/ Arizona border, we stopped in the amazing town of Page. Best known as the gateway to Glen Canyon, Page, Arizona offers visitors an amazing experience of exploring local slot canyons, scenic views, and the beautiful Lake Powell beach. We reserved a tour through the Navajo Nation to explore upper antelope canyon. Famous for its unique orange sandstone walls, this slot canyon is sure to impress. Unfortunately, in recent years Antelope Canyon has been flooded with a huge wave of tourism, leading to difficult reservations and a very crowded tour. Despite this, the canyon itself is inspiring and is worth every second spent inside. Located on Navajo land, it is necessary to tour the canyon with a certified Navajo Guide. The best times for sun beams are between 10-11 am, so be sure to make your reservations ahead of time in order to secure the best spot. Reserve your tour now at:
Located on the west side of town is Horseshoe Bend, one of the northeastern most parts of what becomes the Grand Canyon. A short 1.2 mile hike will take you from the trail head to the scenic viewpoint that overlooks this spectacular “U” Shaped bend in the Colorado river.
Set up camp on the beach front of Lake Powell at the Wahweap National Park Ranger Station. Offering both RV/ tent campsites and primitive camping, cool off with a nice swim in the breathtaking Lake Powell. Get your campsite now at :
Zion National Park, Utah
Oh, Zion. Words cannot express the stunning beauty of this National Park. Before we went into the park, Scott told me that this was his all-time favorite. Leaving the park, it was my favorite as well. This park is for everyone of all hiking levels, but Scott and I chose to focus on some of the more difficult trails, with more rewarding views. First we hit the ground running by climbing the Angel’s Landing trail. Angles landing is a, 1488-foot tall rock formation with switchbacks hugging its side. Once you reach the top plateau you must ascend a narrow trail which takes you on the side of the ridge line to the summit. This trail is not for the fainthearted, offering little to keep you from tumbling to the bottom. After an intense hike you are rewarded with one of the most spectacular views Zion National Park has to offer. Climbing Angel’s Landing is one of those “I’m on top of the world” feelings, AKA the best feeling ever. An obvious “Must See” while spending time in the park.
The next day we drove through the park, admiring its beauty while searching for some short, easy hikes. Swing by the Zion Lodge in the middle of the park to enjoy a quick lunch in the beer garden.
Our last day in Zion National Park we explored the infamous Subway. This hike requires a backcountry permit, which can sell out fast. The park only offers 80 permits a day, so be sure to reserve yours ahead of time. Different than our previous hikes, this hike took us up a river for 4 miles before ending at the Subway. It was slippery, wet, and a little cold because you are so far down in the caverns. It is obvious when you reach the entrance to this magnificent natural tunnel, created by erosion over thousands of years. Green and opal pools litter the tunnel, giving it an amazing look. The way the rocks turn and have a tubular shape to them goes to show you why it’s called “The Subway.” If you swim through the last series of pools, which we did, you will be rewarded with a waterfall in waist deep water. Of course it was freezing cold, but it really added some extreme adventure to the hike.
Bryce Canyon, Utah
While driving across the beautiful southwest, we decided that Utah offers the most diverse beauty in the region. From alpine wilderness in Park City, to mars like red rocks in Canyonlands National Park, Utah offers something for everyone.
Bryce Canyon National Park is known for its crimson-colored “hoodoos”, which are spire-shaped rock formations. The glow of these orange rocks are best viewed at both sunrise and sunset. We woke early in hopes of capturing the sunrise beauty with our camera. Although we didn’t have time for a full exploration of the park, Bryce Canyon will inspire you even from afar.
Finally A New Home…
After a few incredible weeks on the road, we pushed for one long last haul from Utah to Oregon. Stopping and admiring the beauty of Idaho and the Snake River along the way, arriving through the Columbia River Gorge to our new home was incredible. We hope that one day you too can experience as much of the amazing diverse beauty America has to offer as we did on this incredible trip! Be sure to check out our other road trip, national park, and day hike guides to help on your next expedition!