The Great Western American Road Trip

Travel

From Death Valley and Yosemite to Redwoods and Yellowstone

This past April, we took one of our longest road trips yet! With over 7,000 miles driven across three weeks, we journeyed from Fort Wayne, Indiana all the way to the west coast in California and back! Our six main stops included Death Valley National Park, Yosemite National Park, San Francisco, Highway One, Redwoods State/National Parks, and Yellowstone National Park.

Browse Prints of Trip

Now, of course each of those six spots deserves its own blog post! Across the last three months, I have done six separate blog posts featuring tips for exploring each of those six regions. The blog you are now reading will serve as an overview of the entire trip and includes links to those other six detailed blogs. That will also include several other fantastic spots along our journey outside of those six core locations. Here we go!

I won’t show too many photos from those six locations, since they each get featured in their own blog. Instead, I’ll pick out (with some difficulty) my four favorite photos from those six locations. The focus here will be more about all of those other spots in between.

In case you are reading this and want to recreate this trip for yourself, I’ll write about this journey in order, so you can see how it plays out.

*You can also take a look at my Youtube Shorts series  (11 videos under a minute each that highlight ALL parts of this trip). These are also on my Tiktok but they may be buried by the time you read this. You can also take an aerial tour of this trip  in this short video. Keep in mind that you cannot fly drones in National Parks (which were the bulk of this trip), so this footage is of the few places I was able to fly at.

INDEX:

Part One: Journey to California
Part Two: Death Valley
Part Three: Yosemite
Part Four: West Coast
Part Five: Journey to Yellowstone
Part Six: Yellowstone in Winter
Part Seven: Journey Home
Part Eight: Food
Conclusion

Part One: Journey to California

Days 1 to 4

It certainly was a bit of a grind making this part of the journey, with about 2,400 miles needed to get to Death Valley (our first stop in California). However, there were LOTS of great spots to stop along the way to break up the journey.

St. Louis Gateway Arch, MO

It is always worth taking a small break to check out this stunning piece of architecture. This was the first stop for us on day one. The time of year we picked (April) was aimed at the weather in California being refreshingly spring. That did mean a lot of our stops along the way were still in the early stages of spring. Here, there were still a lot of trees with no buds yet, however I was pleasantly surprised by the beautiful cherry trees in full blossom around the arch.

St Louis Gateway Arch warped panorama

St Louis Gateway Arch warped panorama

Beautiful cherry tree blossoms

Beautiful cherry tree blossoms

Gateway Arch from pond with cherry trees

Gateway Arch from pond with cherry trees

St Louis Gateway Arch from below

St Louis Gateway Arch from below

Lost Canyon Cave and Nature Trail, OK

On day two, we made a stop to this VERY unique location. It is a self guided golf cart tour through some beautiful waterfalls and a stunning cave. The formations were discovered on a golf course when a sinkhole took out a chunk of the course! It was very windy for us and similar conditions of the trees as in Missouri (mostly still no buds but plenty of cherry trees). It is truly a one of a kind experience to take a golf cart through such stunning scenery! View in 360!

We also spent the night in Oklahoma City, where I ended up getting some nice aerial photos/videos of the downtown area from Bricktown.

View of caverns next to golf course

View of caverns next to golf course

Stunning golf cart path under waterfalls

Stunning golf cart path under waterfalls

Stunning bridge for golf cart over river

Stunning bridge for golf cart over river

Church by golf course

Church by golf course

Waterfalls by Trail

Waterfalls by Trail

Path to cave

Path to cave

Paved path right over waterfalls

Paved path right over waterfalls

Small cavern by path

Small cavern by path

Twin falls in cliffs

Twin falls in cliffs

Bridge over waterfalls

Bridge over waterfalls

Aerial of Oklahoma City

Aerial of Oklahoma City

Route 66 Nostalgia, TX/AZ

While Route 66 was not part of our plans, we did find ourselves along its path for a good chunk of our journey since our start and end points were so similar. Having made the journey fully and officially along Route 66 back in 2009 with my best friend (crammed into just two weeks), it was definitely satisfying to revisit some of the spots along the way.

The first main spot we revisited was the Route 66 Midpoint Café in the Texas panhandle (day 3). As the name suggests, this is the exact halfway point along Route 66 and features an iconic diner and gift shop.

The second main stop was at the Jack Rabbit Trading post, known for its iconic “Here you are” Jack Rabbit billboard. The post itself is packed with Route 66 gifts. View in 360!

Here It Is iconic billboard

Here It Is iconic billboard

Looking down Route 66

Looking down Route 66

Jack Rabbit Trading Post

Jack Rabbit Trading Post

Diner at Midpoint of Route 66

Diner at Midpoint of Route 66

Décor outside of Midpoint Cafe

Décor outside of Midpoint Cafe

Route 66 emblem on road

Route 66 emblem on road

Route 66 Truck at Midpoint Cafe

Route 66 Truck at Midpoint Cafe

Sycamore Falls, AZ

Now on day 4 of our journey, we stopped at Flagstaff and took the short drive over to check out Sycamore Falls. Unfortunately, these falls were a bit dry. However, the canyons themselves were still quite beautiful and on the drive to the falls I also found myself taking lots of photos as it was a red sandy road going through a stunning plain with mountains in the distance.

The sad news of this location is that this location is where I managed to crash my DJI Mini 2. It was a pretty windy day and I thought it could handle it. However, only a few minutes after takeoff I had a huge gust of wind slowly drift my drone into a nearby tree. I was able to retrieve the drone, however it was beyond repair (broken camera/gimbal and the motors were not looking great). Not a great situation to be in, but I was thankful I had opted to also bring my DJI Phantom 3 (a much sturdier/bigger drone). It wasn’t with me (nor would I have tried to also fly it in these winds), but at least it did mean I was able to get more drone shots later in my trip.

Sycamore Falls

Sycamore Falls

Wavy cliffs by falls

Wavy cliffs by falls

Beautiful lone tree in plains

Beautiful lone tree in plains

Dirt path into forest

Dirt path into forest

Part Two: Death Valley

Days 5 to 6

Read my full blog about Death Valley

Finally, our first main destination! This trip being relatively crammed into three weeks meant that each of our six main destinations only had one or two full days to explore. My goal really was to hit several iconic national parks for the first time to gauge which are worth coming back and spending more time at.

I can honestly say that just one full day at Death Valley was satisfying. I won’t dig into all of the details here, since there is a full blog about it (link above). Despite feeling like one day was enough, it was jam packed literally from sunrise to sunset and was an absolutely stunning journey from start to finish.

As mentioned, and with much difficulty, here are just four of my favorite images (seeing as the main blog features dozens and dozens more):

Zabriskie Point

Zabriskie Point

Artist's Drive

Artist's Drive

Badwater Basin

Badwater Basin

Ghost town of Rhyolite

Ghost town of Rhyolite

Part Three: Yosemite

Days 7 to 8

Read my full blog about Yosemite

Similar to Death Valley, I had just one full day to explore Yosemite. We didn’t arrive on day 7 until the evening and so day 8 was spent 100% on Yosemite. In fact, I literally got into the park at 2am to get some stunning astrophotography (some of my best yet, I am proud to say)! Spending 2am until about 6pm at Yosemite was an intense experience. Of ALL the locations on my trip, this is the one I could see wanting to spend another couple of full days (minimum) being able to explore. 

Here are my favorite four shots, but if you are craving more just click the link above for WAY more photos:

Tunnel View

Tunnel View

Stars over El Capitan

Stars over El Capitan

Sunset by Half Dome at Mirror Lake

Sunset by Half Dome at Mirror Lake

View of Lower and Upper Yosemite Falls

View of Lower and Upper Yosemite Falls

Part Four: West Coast

Days 9 to 14

The journey from Yosemite to the coast featured some fun random spots, such as almond farms and beautiful horses and foals!

Almond Farm

Almond Farm

Vibes leaving Death Valley

Vibes leaving Death Valley

Finally out of the desert

Finally out of the desert

Adorable family of horses

Adorable family of horses

San Francisco, Highway One, and the Redwoods

We finally made it to the coast, with the first stop being to settle in at San Francisco. We spent a lot of time exploring the Golden Gate Bridge from all different angles, as well as driving south a couple of hours to explore the stunning Highway One coastline. Both of those locations have earned get their own blog posts (links below), being two of the six main spots on this trip.

Read my full blog about the Golden Gate Bridge Read my full blog about Highway One

We then journeyed north along the coast to explore the Redwoods. Here are my four favorite shots from each of these three main locations:

Read my full blog about Redwoods

Golden Gate Bridge through fence of locks

Golden Gate Bridge through fence of locks

Iconic Lombard Street from drone

Iconic Lombard Street from drone

Foggy beach by Golden Gate Bridge

Foggy beach by Golden Gate Bridge

Sunrise at San Francisco with trolley and bridge

Sunrise at San Francisco with trolley and bridge

Bixby Bridge on Highway One coast

Bixby Bridge on Highway One coast

Beautiful McWay Falls on Highway One

Beautiful McWay Falls on Highway One

Detail of Tide Pools

Detail of Tide Pools

Beaches of Highway One

Beaches of Highway One

Stunning hollowed out tree of Redwoods

Stunning hollowed out tree of Redwoods

Tour Thru Tree by Redwoods

Tour Thru Tree by Redwoods

Path through large Redwoods

Path through large Redwoods

Redwood in boardwalk of State Park

Redwood in boardwalk of State Park

Across these five days there were several other spots worth highlighting other than my three main stops. Three others, in fact:

Point Reyes Shipwreck, CA

This was the first shipwreck I have photographed, and I was not disappointed! It is just resting behind some houses at the Point Reyes National Shoreline, begging to be photographed. This was our first stop as we journeyed north from San Francisco towards the Redwoods. View in 360!

Point Reyes Shipwreck front wide angle

Point Reyes Shipwreck front wide angle

Point Reyes Shipwreck back

Point Reyes Shipwreck back

Point Reyes Shipwreck side

Point Reyes Shipwreck side

Point Reyes Shipwreck front

Point Reyes Shipwreck front

Cypress Tree Tunnel, CA

Not but 15 minutes from Point Reyes Shipwreck is this quick little spot. This is a historic and beautiful walking path pretty much in the middle of nowhere. View in 360!

Stunning tunnel of Cypress trees

Stunning tunnel of Cypress trees

Glass Beach, CA

Still along the journey to Redwoods, this is a unique beach where the sandy beaches are filled with small smooth and colorful pieces of glass. The cause is that this beach was a bump site for discarded glass back in 1906. It was full by 1949, it no longer was a dump site. After cleanup and over time, all that remained were broken down pieces of glass that can now be safely enjoyed by tourists. View in 360!

Glass Beach detail

Glass Beach detail

Hands full of glass stones

Hands full of glass stones

Aerial over beaches

Aerial over beaches

Tide Pool snails

Tide Pool snails

Gorgeous fields of flowers by beach

Gorgeous fields of flowers by beach

Part Five: Journey to Yellowstone

Days 15 to 16

16 hours to Yellowstone, yes you read that right! We pulled it off, nonetheless, in two days. Between Redwoods and Yellowstone was, in short, nothing. I am in fact quite surprised by how long we would drive and LITERALLY see nothing. No stops, no gas stations, no towns, just empty roads sometimes for 4 hours or more. The terrain changed rapidly as well, literally from forests to desert plains to snowy hills and then back to forests and deserts before getting snowy again towards Yellowstone.

We did take a stop at Twin Falls in Idaho for the Shoshone Falls. This was a quite nice waterfall, even in early spring like when we arrived. View in 360!

Main view of falls

Main view of falls

Wide angle of entire falls

Wide angle of entire falls

Detail of main falls

Detail of main falls

Part Six: Yellowstone in Winter

Days 17 to 18

Read my full blog about Yellowstone

Here we are, at the LAST main destination for this road trip. It was still winter in Yellowstone, with much of the park closed. However, the main spots were available. I definitely want to come back here in summer, as the hot springs and pools are covered in steam very aggressively when it is not warmer outside. Despite that, I greatly enjoyed my day exploring here.

Stunning Lower Yellowstone Falls

Stunning Lower Yellowstone Falls

Hot Springs by mountains

Hot Springs by mountains

Small spring by river

Small spring by river

Terraces of Mammoth Hot Springs

Terraces of Mammoth Hot Springs

Part Seven: Journey Home

Days 19 to 21

The drive home from here was about 24 hours, yes! We did it in three days (complete madness), with the third day being us arriving home around 3am (so just 3 hours into day three, some might say that doesn’t count as three days).

The drive leaving Yellowstone for the first few hours was fascinating, going through a stunning valley surrounded by huge snow capped mountains. Our final main stop for this entire trip was to Wall, South Dakota. Here, there were two highlights:

Wall Drug Store, SD

Recommended by a friend, I am sure we would NOT have been able to miss finding this spot either way, given the dozens upon dozens of billboards in all directions advertising this tourist spot. Wall Drug Store, in a nutshell, is basically its own mini shopping center. Everything from food and gift shops to stunning arts and craft stores and amusements. We spent a good few hours exploring this one “store”.

Signage in hallway

Signage in hallway

80-foot dinosaur advertisement

80-foot dinosaur advertisement

Café with stained glass ceiling

Café with stained glass ceiling

Hallway of western-themed shops

Hallway of western-themed shops

The Travelers Chapel

The Travelers Chapel

Shop of amazing art

Shop of amazing art

Gift shop with tree of necklaces

Gift shop with tree of necklaces

Hallway of photos

Hallway of photos

Miniature of Mount Rushmore

Miniature of Mount Rushmore

Badlands National Park, SD

Wall, South Dakota is literally just 15 minutes north of the Badlands. I didn’t have much time to spend here, but I did get here right during sunrise to enjoy some beautiful views. View in 360!

Badlands at sunrise

Badlands at sunrise

Detail of cracked ground

Detail of cracked ground

Endless hills in sun

Endless hills in sun

Part Eight: Food

I didn’t want to fill up the above parts with foods, since we did find most of the time that food was not particularly special. However there WERE some fantastic spots that I wanted to share with you. I decided it was best these top 17 restaurants got their OWN blog post, so check that out here:

See my top 17 restaurants

Conclusion

That’s that! A long but fantastic three week trip through some stunning national parks and other  amazing locations. By the end, I had a little over 4,000 photos to sort through. After spending most of May editing these images, I am glad to finally have been able to share some of them with you.

Browse Prints of Trip

About the Author

Nicholas Klein

Founder and visual artist, specializing in all aspects of a businesses presence from imagery and video to graphics and web. A graduate of IPFW with a Bachelor in Fine Arts, Concentration Photography as well as an Associates Degree in Business. His personal photography works are focused on landscape, travel, and aerial photography.

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