If you are heading out on an epic west coast road trip, here are 10 unique landscapes from Arizona to Washington that you should add to your list!
The Hoh Rainforest, Washington
If you’ve ever dreamed about frolicking in a fairytale forest, the Hoh Rainforest inside Olympic National Park is the place to do it. Imagine a place where you can watch giant banana slugs meander through giant ferns. Imagine listening to a babbling brook while marveling at the moss that drapes itself across the tree branches. Nestled at the very tip of the Olympic Peninsula, a four-hour drive from Seattle, you’ll find the largest temperate rainforest in the United States. Even though it gets up to 14 feet of rain per year, you definitely want to add this World Heritage Site and UNESCO Biosphere Reserve to your west coast road trip.
Related video: How to Spend One Day Exploring Olympic National Park.
Diablo Lake, Washington
The long drive on Highway 20 into the remote Cascade mountain range in Northern Washington state is a must-visit. It will take you through breathtaking valleys carved by glaciers and across foggy mountaintops to the beautiful Diablo Lake inside North Cascades National Park. The vibrant turquoise waters are unlike anywhere else in the US because it’s made from glacier melt. You won’t find yourself surrounded by many crowds, the remoteness of this park makes it one of the best hidden-gems on the west coast.
Related video: North Cascades National Park
Crater Lake, Oregon
You won’t find this crystal clear water anywhere else on earth! Crater Lake was formed by a collapsed volcano and is the deepest lake in the United States. Snow covers the area for eight months out of the year – October through June- so make sure to visit during the summer months. The deep blue color is unlike anything you’ve ever seen and is created only by snowmelt and rainfall because there are no incoming or outgoing streams or rivers. Take a boat tour out to Wizard Island, the formation in the middle of the lake, for an up-close view of the 800-year-old trees that call the island home.
Related Video: Exploring Crater Lake National Park
Walking amongst the tallest trees on the planet is one of the most humbling experiences you can ever have. The stretch of land from Big Sur to Southern Oregon is the only place on earth you can see the Giant Redwood trees. They stand 380 feet tall and can live up to 2,500 years old. Standing at the base of these giants really helps to put a good perspective on our place in this world. Don’t miss hiking through Fern Canyon, which you might recognize from movies such as Star Wars: Return of the Jedi and Jurassic Park 2.
Related Video: The Tallest Trees in the World
Lassen Volcanic National Park, California
Northern California is scattered with active volcanos and you can find bubbling steam pits at Lassen Volcanic National Park. Considered to be the “Yellowstone of California,” it houses the world’s largest plug dome volcano. In fact, you can find four types of volcanos here—shield, composite, cinder cone, and plug dome— and they are still ACTIVE. The last eruption here was in 1921. To find the beautifully colored pits like the one pictured, hike the Sulphur Works trail, which was a former sulfur mine. You will smell them before you see them!
Related Video: The Yellowstone of California
Channel Islands, California
Even though you can’t actually drive to the islands on your west coast road trip, you should still check them out. Considered North Americas’ Galapagos, the Channel Islands house over 150 unique plant and animal species that can’t be found anywhere else in the world. Native foxes who have evolved on the secluded islands prance through the long grass along the craggy cliffs that make you feel as if you’re in Ireland. The (mostly) uninhabited islands attract the largest breeding colonies of seabirds in Southern California and every summer is home to the largest population of blue whales in the entire world. Even though these islands are located a quick boat ride from Santa Barbara, you will feel like you’re a world away.
Death Valley, California
The landscape doesn’t get any more unique than it does in Death Valley. From colorfully painted mountains to barren salt fields, to giant sand dunes, and a massive crater- Death Valley National Park has it all. What makes it the most unique though, is that it’s the lowest point in North America at 282 feet below sea level and the hottest place on the planet. This park is very isolated from nearby civilization, so make sure your car has plenty of gas and you come prepared with lots of water, a hat, and sunscreen. The elements here are VERY harsh but it’s definitely worth a stop on your west coast road trip.
Related Video: A Guide to Death Valley National Park
Joshua Tree National Park, California
The Joshua Tree is one of the most iconic trees in the California desert. You can find them scattered amongst giant boulder fields and on top of mountains with sprawling desert views. Stay overnight and camp inside the National Park so you can see the brilliant display of stars at night. This park might be one of the most easily accessible, as it’s only a three-hour drive from both Los Angeles and San Diego, so it tends to get a little crowded on the weekends. Remember, you are in the desert, so bring lots of water!
Horseshoe Bend, Arizona
Just north of the Grand Canyon, you’ll find one of the most beautiful natural formations in Arizona- Horseshoe Bend. It was created over billions of years as the Colorado River cut and carved a massive bend in the canyon walls. The best time to visit is when the sun lights up the orange sandstone as if it’s on fire at sunset. Make sure to arrive a little early to find a safe spot along the cliff edge, as many people have fallen to their deaths here. It’s a bit out of the way, but if you’re in the area already visiting the Grand Canyon, don’t miss Horseshoe Bend on your west coast road trip.
Antelope Canyon, Arizona
The power of flash flooding and rain has written its story all over the sandstone walls of Antelope Canyon. This slot canyon has walls towering as high as 120 feet high and is one of the most beautiful landscapes in the United States. You’ll be awestruck by the differing colors and shapes, like the eagle head pictured above, that give off unique personalities on the walls. The canyon sits on Navajo land and requires a guided tour to enter, so please be respectful.