Although each section of the US has its’ own beautiful places, I have to say the West’s diversity & breathtaking natural wonders is pretty hard to top. The diverse geography, beautiful mountains, and abundance of natural wonders make it an easy choice for me. Beautiful desert landscapes, sandy beaches, towering redwood trees, bustling cities, charming rural towns, historic national parks: you have a little bit of everything out West!
Some of my favorite areas out West include Northern California, Southern Idaho, and Southern California. I have compiled a list of 10 of my favorite Western attractions (I have yet to visit Oregon or Washington, hence, why you will not see any wonderful areas in this section of the country on the list). Mike & I love combining nature and fun, so you will find many hiking, biking, & other recreational activities on this list. What are your favorite Western attractions? What would you add to this list?
Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone, America’s First National Park, is one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited. The highlight of a drive through this park is the opportunity for wildlife sightings. Although we never caught sight of any bears during our drives through the park, we were fortunate enough to come across both bison and elk. We were able to catch amazing shots of bison crossing the road right in front of our car! It is such an amazing experience to watch wildlife freely roam around the park. We were also lucky enough to see photographers capturing images of a bear in the distance, although it was much too far for the naked eye to see.
One of the most popular sights in the park is Old Faithful, the most predictable geyser in the world, with eruptions occurring approximately every 91 minutes. In addition, you will find waterfalls, rivers, beautiful mountains, hot springs, geysers, and mud pots.
Admission normally costs $25 per car or $12 per adult by foot, bike, etc. However, if you visit during National Park Week, you get in for free! During the winter months, various companies offer snow coach tours through the park. I imagine a ride through the snow covered roads and forests would lead to a breathtaking experience – this is one activity at the top of my winter bucket list!
Yellowstone is located primarily in Montana, with small sections in Idaho and Wyoming. I recommend staying in West Yellowstone, as there are plenty of hotel, dining, & entertainment options in the area. The West Yellowstone Visitor’s Center gives out free park maps, and staff is more than willing to give their advice on the best wildlife viewing paths.
The West Entrance of Yellowstone is located on US 287 in West Yellowstone, Montana.
Mesa Falls Scenic Highway is a spectacular Southern Idaho drive which takes you through forests and rivers until you finally reach the incredible Lower and Upper Falls. This 29 mile drive, which begins near Ashton, Idaho, provides some of the most spectacular scenery you will find anywhere. There are plenty of breathtaking overlooks along the way for taking pictures. The drive is peaceful and uncrowded, with absolutely no feeling of being a tourist attraction.
Both the Upper and Lower Falls are spectacular, at 110 and 85 feet. These are the only Idaho water falls not used for irrigation purposes,which leads to a more peaceful, rustic setting. The Upper Falls, the more scenic of the 2, is set up with a wooden pathway and observation deck. As you stroll along, you will hear nothing but the soothing sound of the rushing water and river below.
If you are lucky you may catch a glimpse of some wildlife, either along the drive or near the waterfall. Unfortunately, cows on the road were the extent of wildlife on either of our trips. Mike & I were both so impressed with the drive, that we came back for a second (and third) visit! Mesa Falls is well worth a trip in itself, but if you are heading out to Yellowstone & limited on time, you might as well plan for a stop here along the way. The scenic drive is generally open from Mid-May until October.
Golden Gate Bridge
The Golden Gate Bridge is one of the most photographed bridges in the world, and for good reason. Driving across this bridge is an incredible experience, however, walking across it is a thrilling once in a lifetime experience. Did you know that there is a 1.7 mile long pedestrian walkway along the bridge? What better way to experience the sights of San Francisco (which are fabulous, by the way) then by walking across this historic landmark?
Great views of the San Francisco skyline and surrounding hilly landscape will have you reaching for your camera every step of the way. Don’t just drive across the bridge – the walk is a much more memorable experience! Yes, it is a little noisy and windy, but that is just part of the fun! Visit the Golden Gate Bridge website for information on operating dates and parking. There is no charge to walk across the bridge, so you can add this to your list of San Francisco freebies!
Redwood National Forest
I had seen pictures of Redwoods in print, but that didn’t prepare me for the majesty of these trees. These tall beauties are absolutely stunning and you really do not appreciate the size until you view them yourself. Most of these trees are between 500-700 years old, with the oldest surviving up to 2000 years!
Amazingly, these trees can reach over 300 feet tall! The truly amazing aspect is the size of the diameter – standing next to these trees you feel incredibly small, as you can see in the photo above.
Trees of Mystery (a tourist attraction off of Hwy 101 in Klamath, CA) offers a fun, unique way to take in the beauty of the redwood via a gondola ride which soars up over 1500 feet to a scenic overlook. This is a great experience for first timers to the area. You will be mesmerized, both with the fun & scenic ride up pass the gigantic redwoods, and the views from the overlook at the top.
You also have the opportunity to walk around learning about the different types of trees via an interpretive trail and taking a look around a really unique Redwood/Bigfoot themed museum (also on-site). Although many have rated this attraction as too touristy, I have to say I completely disagree! It’s a great time that is both educational and fun, and the views are amazing! Please visit my Pacific Coast Highway Roadtrip post for pricing information, dates of operation, and additional pictures.
Trees of Mystery is located at 15500 Hwy 101 N. Klamath, CA 95548.