Two week itinerary for USA road trip
How many of you would like to make a road trip in the USA: music singing on the radio and an endless route ahead of you? We did it when we were 24 years old and guess what? You can do it too!
Back at the beginning of the year 2018, I had no idea that summer that year will be the best summer of my life. My boyfriend and I decided to go for Work and Travel in the USA where we not only spent 3 months working on the East coast but also traveled for almost one month around the States. That included the 2-week road trip in the USA plus 8 days spent on amazing Oahu, Hawaii.
You wonder how we managed to do this? Have you ever heard about student program Work and Travel? I have written a detailed blog post about it.
Exploring the USA with a car is, honestly, the best possible way to it. The gas is way cheaper than in Europe, roads are huge and easy to drive on. The airplane is maybe a faster way to get somewhere but, it is all about the journey, not the destination 😊
Crucial things to know before planning a road trip in the USA
I know it’s hard and overwhelming: The USA is huge, you have only two weeks and you want to see a lot. But where to start? Well, head below and read everything you should know before you chose to follow this or create your own USA road trip itinerary.
1. First things first: check your visa status. For entering the USA many nations (Croatian including) still need to have a tourist visa. The fee for obtaining this is 160$ per person and you have to go to the embassy for a short talk. It’s pricey and a bit complicated I know, but that’s how it is.
2. Did you know that the USA has 62 national parks and 8565 state parks? To be honest, before going there I thought that all of them are just national parks. Well apparently, not: the national park is for example Arches, but Dead Horse Point is a state park. Deciding which national or state park you want to see is an important task before going for such a road trip.
3. If you’re visiting more than one national park it’s safe to say that the best is to buy a yearly pass for only 80$. The pass is valid per car so you can share this expense with other companion travelers. And the best thing is: pass is transferable so you can sell it to another person after this trip (exactly what we did). Check more here.
4. On the other hand, each state park has its own entry fee. Dead Horse Point State Park entrance fee was, for example, 20$.
5. Gas is cheap in the USA, but there are still cheaper and more expensive states. The lowest we paid for a gallon was 2,4$ in Utah and the most expensive was California with 4,4$ per gallon. One gallon has 3,78 liters. Other people recommend to use GasBuddy to check the prices on your route. Nevertheless, gas was our lowest expense.
6. DON’T UNDERESTIMATE HOW HUGE USA IS! If you will follow the itinerary below, be prepared to drive a lot and stand up early to catch everything you want to see. While driving, you will notice that there is a huge gap between the places you will visit. Sometimes you will drive for one hour and be the only car on the road. It didn’t happen that often, but it did.
7. San Francisco was the most expensive city in our road trip itinerary in the USA – more expensive than Hawaii.
8. Accommodation on this USA road trip itinerary was mostly chosen based on our next day’s stop and price. We wanted to be as closest we could, but we didn’t want to overpay (some motels near national parks are crazy expensive).
9. Renting a car is probably, after the accommodation the biggest expense you will have. Some factors can affect the price: fee for drivers younger than 25 which can be 15-25$ per day or a one-way fee if you’re returning the car in another state (200$ in our case). As you can see, this easily adds 400-500$ to your expense.
Now that we know all the basic info let’s dig more into itinerary itself. Below you can find a map of the USA road trip with all the places you will be visiting for two weeks. For a more detailed view, head on this link here and check.
Day 1 – the start of the USA road trip
Your road trip starts at Denver airport where you will pick up your best friend for the next 14 days: rental car!
We reserved our car using Expedia and we chose Fox Rental Cars. They didn’t have the greatest reviews (3 of 5) but the price was the reason why we decided for them. Our car was SUV, KIA Sportage and it was serving us well during the whole road trip. Despite all the bad reviews, our experience was pleasant.
Your plan for the first day depends on your time of arrival. We arrived pretty late and we picked up our car at almost 2 pm so we decided just to make a grocery shopping and head to our hotel located 3 hours away.
Our first stop was Walmart and this is an essential step: buy a lot of energy bars, a lot of water and all the other supplies that come to your mind. You will spend a lot of time driving the next days and having something to bite will be more than desirable.
On the other hand, if you arrived in the morning, you could use the first day to visit White River Forest National Park. It’s directly on the way to the hotel so after stocking up in Walmart, you can head there. We didn’t have time for it but if we did this is something we would do.
The hotel is exactly halfway from Denver to Arches, our next day stop. Colorado is an amazing state with amazing nature. Even the drive there was iconic with a lot of mountains around you. Waking up in our hotel with an amazing view of the mountains was a great way to start this journey.
ACCOMMODATION: Our accommodation first day was Rodeway In Glenwood Springs Motel. The hotel was decent and had an excellent location considering our next stop. The total price was 78$, room for two people.
Rise and shine my dears because it’s day two of ultimate USA road trip. You have 2 hours and 45 minutes to get to Arches. Start your day at 6,6:30 am, grab something to eat, take some coffee and head to Arches National Park. In this way, you will be there around 9 am and you have more than enough time to explore the park.
About Arches NP
I loved this national park. You enter into the park with the car and then, based on what you want to see, make stops. There are parking spots everywhere, made exactly for this purpose.
We spent at least 6 hours exploring Arches. Since our breakfasts and snacks were only energy bars, we were very hungry at around 3 pm. We decided to finish with Arches and head for lunch at a nearby restaurant. We had 2 and a half hours to reach our motel for the day.
First optional detour in USA road trip itinerary
Only because we live only once and who knows when we will do the USA road trip again, we decided to visit the famous Dead Horse Point, State Park. It was located only half an hour from Arches. When we got there it was already almost 5 pm so we stayed there for an hour or so.
At this point, you are 3 hours away from your hotel in Richfield. I know that this sound exhausting but we wanted to see a lot and we don’t regret a thing. Anyway, what are you going to do in the motel if you arrive at 6 there 😊? We arrived around 9, 9:30 pm and we still had plenty of time to take a shower and rest.
ACCOMMODATION: The motel where we stayed on the second night of the USA road trip was Super 8 by Wyndham Richfield in Utah. Things are moving fast: We are already in another state. 😊 With breakfast included, room for 2 was 67$.
Richfield was a great location because it’s less than 2 hours away from Bryce Canyon, our national park for day 3. Again, we get up pretty early, around 7, ate breakfast and hit the road.
At 9 am we were already entering, in my opinion, in the most impressive national park on this itinerary. It’s amazing how diverse nature is there: huge orange rock combined with plenty of green vegetation on the other side. We spent a day hiking on various trails and in the afternoon, we headed in 1 and a half-hour away town: Kanab. After eating an excellent dinner in a local Mexican restaurant we headed to our motel to take some rest.
ACCOMMODATION: Motels here were the most expensive on the whole road trip in the USA. The reason is that this town is located near many national parks, including Antelope Canyon that was our next day’s stop. We paid 106 for a basic motel room, with breakfast included and that was the cheapest option.
Day 4 of our road trip is probably the best but also the most exhausting one: today we will explore Antelope Canyon and Monument Valley.
Antelope Canyon is part of the Navajo Land community. Only special tour companies are permitted to give Antelope Canyon tours and our choice was Ken tours. Booking a tour in advance for Antelope is essential because that’s the only way to explore it. Our tour was at 11 am and since Antelope was 1,5 hours away from the motel, we went there around 9 am.
Note that you can come without a booked tour and our friends did it. But they got a late afternoon tour and they couldn’t go with us to explore Monument Valley. But it depends on availability on the given day.
Since Horseshoe Bend is located only 12 minutes from Antelope Canyon, we made a stop there before. This place is free and it’s amazing.
To go back to Antelope Canyon: since it’s located on Navajo land, there is a special fee for this. There are two canyons: Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon, with Lower being the slightly cheaper one. But cheaper doesn’t make it cheap one: price per person was 51$. For Upper, the lowest rate is 65$. We opted for Lower Antelope Canyon.
About Antelope Canyon Tour
What can I say about Antelope? This is an amazing place. This canyon is a slot canyon: narrow canyon, formed by the wear of water rushing through rock and it’s UNDERGROUND. Amazing, I’m telling you!
I have read a lot of reviews with people saying how it was overcrowded with people during the tour. I was afraid that we will experience the same, but I must say that at the time of our tour, there were not so many people. On the other hand, our friend who visited the same day around 2 pm had a similar experience as on the reviews. The tour itself lasts around 1 hour and 15 minutes and you have to be there 10 minutes before the start of the tour. Anyway, this road trip wouldn’t be complete without this canyon.
Second optional detour in USA road trip itinerary
We finished the tour around 12:30 pm already and our next motel was 3 hours away, reasonable thing was to eat some lunch and head to the motel. Since we are everything but not reasonable, we decide to drive to 2 hours away located Monument Valley.
Valley is huge, and it’s not a national park so we had to pay the entry 20$. We explored the park only shortly because of the shortage of time. And if I want to be 100 percent honest with you: don’t pay if you have only limited time. A lot of people come only for Forrest Gump’s point which is located outside of the park so you don’t have to pay the fee if you don’t want to explore the park.
Without any exaggeration, this place, even in the cost-free area, is like painted and I don’t know what words would be good enough to describe this place. Our time there was short compared to other places, but we don’t regret it at all. Contrary, we are so happy that we decided to include this on our USA road trip itinerary.
This is highly optional since now you have to drive for 3 hours to get to your next motel that is near Grand Canyon. It was dark and it’s not all fun driving tired, but we manage it. We even got one hour “back” because of the time difference. 😊
ACCOMMODATION: We stayed at Grand Canyon Inn and Motel, conveniently located 30 minutes from the Grand Canyon entrance. The best fact is that this was probably the cheapest motel on our whole trip: 55$ for a room for two.
We spent day 5 on this road trip exploring Grand Canyon South Rim.
Grand Canyon, as the name says, is a huge national park and it consists of 4 parts: South Rim, North Rim, Grand Canyon West, and Grand Canyon East. Since South Rim was the closest to our accommodation we went there. South Rim is also the most popular one and it’s for a reason: scenery there is remarkable.
You can choose how much time you want to spend there: if you start early, 8-9 pm, you can explore without any problems till 3 pm.
Immediately after Grand Canyon, around 12 pm, we decided to go to 4,5 hours away located in Las Vegas. You can choose of course either to spend the night somewhere in the middle of the road or go like us directly to LV.
Next 3 nights we spent in Las Vegas.
ACCOMMODATION: We chose the hotel Stratosphere and for 3 nights we paid (with room update) 200$. If you go for the basic room, the price will be lower. But if you go there during the weekend prices can also go higher. The Stratosphere is not directly on the strip but it’s short Uber drive to the city.
These two days we spent in Las Vegas. Las Vegas is a world for itself: during the day a desert where you can only swim at the pool or go shopping. Las Vegas is home to one of the best outlets and you can find great pieces for a fraction of the price you would pay in Europe.
But in the evening the city starts to live. Gambling at Caesars Palace, fountain show at Bellagio’s, gondola ride at Venetian are only a few among many things you can do there. Don’t forget to visit also old Las Vegas – Fremont street or explore Mob museum. Las Vegas is a must on every USA road trip.
Day 8, 9, 10
After checking out, we headed out to our next stop -the city of Angeles, Los Angeles. LA is 4 hours drive from LV and we arrived there around 1 pm. We went straight to explore the city. There are more than enough things to do in LA but that’s a story for a special LA blog post. 😊
ACCOMMODATION: We booked a room on Airbnb for a total price of 190$ for three nights. It was a pretty decent room located not so far away from downtown. But, and I can’t emphasize this enough: traffic in LA is horrible and nothing takes that much as it should be. You need a car to get everywhere so prepare for it.
Third optional detour in USA road trip itinerary
If you go early enough from LV, you can make a stop at the Mojave Desert. We haven’t done that but it seems like a good idea for next time.
Our next stop after LA was San Francisco and we could drive up straight there. But we decided to drive Pacific Coast Highway – it is one of the most famous road trips in the USA, but also in the world. You will be driving almost all the time next to the coast which will literally and continuously make your jaw drop.
Normally SF is around 5,5 hours away from LA but taking this route and stopping out at all the amazing places on the way can easily be a 10-day trip. Of course, we didn’t have even close that much time, so we decided to visit only some of the places and divided the trip in two days.
Pacific Coast Highway itinerary
We started very early from LA to avoid the traffic jam (if that’s even possible in LA) and drive to Santa Barbara. It’s a small little town, best known among Slavic people from telenovela Santa Barbara. It’s 1 and a half hour away from LA and it’s 100 percent worth stopping by. I have never been to Mexico, but this is how I imagine the small towns there.
We traveled in September and the temperature was lower then we expected: 15-20 degrees. If the weather allowed us, we would stop at Pismo beach. We heard so many good things about it but considering the temperature, we decided to skip it.
Now you drive directly to the Elephant Seat Vista point for the cutest thing you will see on the road. A bunch of seals are lying on the beach and just chilling. Best thing ever.
At this point, you are driving almost 4 hours from LA. With all the stops you had (if started around 7 am like us) it’s almost 2 pm. Ahead of you is probably the biggest highlight of this road: Big Sur. Amazing seaside cliffs together with many winding turns are what make this stretch of the road a special place. Bixby Creek Bridge is one of the famous stopping points but trust me, just drive and stop wherever you want. Following this itinerary, this will be already late afternoon so I’m pretty sure you will catch an amazing sunset here.
ACCOMMODATION: We decided to spend the night in Salinas in a motel which I, unfortunately, don’t remember the name. But I do remember that it was around 60$ for two people.
TIP: as already mentioned, we traveled in September. The problem can be a strong fog that will cover all the amazing views on the way while driving the Pacific Coast Highway. Fortunately, we didn’t have that much fog but our friends that went a few days after couldn’t see a lot because of the fog. This is a risk that you need to consider when planning this drive.
Day 12,13,14 – end of the USA road trip
Based on when you want to arrive in SF, you can choose what to see between Salinas and San Francisco. The direct drive is only 1,5 hour and we decided after a busy day yesterday to go directly there. We also needed to leave our car day today so we wanted to cross this from our list.
And this is where our 2-week trip ends. What are you going to do in SF is again a topic for some other blog post (that I will for sure prepare in the future).
ACCOMMODATION: The cost of accommodation in SF was the highest: we paid Airbnb room in not so central part of SF for 3 nights 250$. I find this quite expensive since the room was nothing special and quite far from downtown. But it is how the prices are in SF.
The total cost of 2 week USA road trip
I know that this all sounds great but we are all always interested in expenses. The truth is that planning a USA road trip can be overwhelming but it’s essential if you have some budget. Of course, it’s nice just to drive and not plan – if you have money for it. A good plan can save you a lot of time and money. Below you can find a breakdown of our 15 days expenses. You need to add food and the cost of coming to Denver.
Car rental, 12 days; insurance, one-way fee, and fee for the driver below 25 included – 916 $
Gas expense – this is approx. but not more than 300$.
National Park Yearly pass – 80$ per car. However, I sold mine at the end for 40 so it ended up to be 40$ 😊 For the sake of calculation let’s stick with 80$.
Other park/canyon fees – 146$ per car.
Accommodation for two people: 1006$
To be honest: I don’t think this is a lot. This whole USA road trip is around 3600 kilometers and you will see a lot. Don’t forget also that this is an expense for two persons and there is a lot of place for savings. If it’s 4 of you, you can divide all car expenses into 4 parts. You can buy a lot of groceries in Walmart and avoid restaurants. In the end, a lot of things are up to you.
I want you to have the same experience as we did and I know that not everyone is a crazy planner as I am. That is why this comprehensive guide will help you to plan your trip. I’ve done it myself and I can confirm it’s awesome. And don’t get me wrong, you will not get to see the whole USA in two weeks. This is just a small piece of a huge country, but it’s still a piece with a lot to do and see.
I gave my best to summarize and give you all the necessary details for an ultimate USA road trip. In case of any questions, the comment section is always open.
If you like the post, share it with your friends, comment or simply just let me know if you like it. Nothing makes me happier than when I help someone.
Till next reading,