Tips for Western road trips

Driving through the Western US is beautiful, although you need to be prepared for what comes along with driving through long stretches of barren land, diverse geography, and oftentimes harsh weather. Driving out West is much different than taking a road trip across any other area of the country. Distances between cities are far, the landscapes are more desolate, gas stations are few and far between, and extreme weather events can occur in any season. Western road trips are often the most inconvenient due to the lack of services, but on the other hand, the most scenic due to the mountain views.

Tips for driving through Arizona

I love driving out West; it gives me time to think. There is less traffic, more stars in the sky, and beautiful mountain landscapes everywhere you look. Being prepared is the best way to ensure that your road trip goes smoothly. Keep these tips in mind when planning your next road trip out West!

Driving out West scenic mountains

1. Fill up the tank before you leave

On many long Western drives, especially through the deserts of Arizona, New Mexico, and Nevada, you may not see a gas station for miles upon miles. Fill up every time you see a gas station. Never wait until the last minute because you never know when the next one will come around. On a few trips through New Mexico we almost ran out of gas after putting it off too long, so make sure to keep the tank full! Never let your tank go below the half way mark!

2. Stop at every rest area

The rest areas are few and far between. Make sure to stop, not only to stretch your legs, but also to use the restroom, eat lunch, drink water, or pick up any snacks you need. Or else, you could be waiting hours until the next stop.

Scenic overlook and rest stop on i-17 from Flagstaff to Phoenix

3. Don’t overload on caffeine

Caffeine is a diuretic, which will make you have to stop more often to use the restroom. Because you will be driving long distances in between rest areas, you are better off not filling up on the coffee. Always use the bathroom before leaving and stop at every rest area, especially if downing coffee and tea. I made the mistake too many times of enjoying a large mug of tea while driving out West; waiting an hour for the next rest area made me wish I would have skipped the tea!

4. Leave a cooler with snacks and water in the backseat

In the extreme heat of the summer months, you are going to want a handy cooler filled with snacks and water. It is nice to have this at your convenience rather than waiting for the next rest stop, especially when driving through the 100+ degree heat in the dead of summer. You are not going to want to wait in between gas stations for that next drink or snack. An electric cooler works perfectly well when traveling through the desert because of the high temps, lack of gas stations to refill ice, and lack of snack options/restaurants in many areas.

5. Plan plenty of detours along the way

Stopping at unique roadside attractions will add some novelty and excitement to your trip. Here’s an odd attraction we visited: The Hobo Pool in Saratoga, Wyoming. This natural mineral springs is open 24/7 year round; it definitely made a nice treat on a winter’s day to step foot in the hot water as the snow fell down around us. The perfect stop to break up the time on a very long road trip from Idaho to Illinois.

Scenic road trip in Arizona

Check out more oddball roadside attractions I have come across on my travels

6. Carry chains during the winter

Many people aren’t aware that numerous roads out West require that chains be put on your tires during extreme weather conditions. Always keep a set of tire chains in your car to prepare yourself for drastic weather changes.

Winter driving in Northern Arizona - chains often required!

7. Break up the trip

Take out the stress and boredom of a long trip by splitting the trip into several nights. I think that 7-8 hours of driving a day makes the perfect distance; not too long, but long enough to get some mileage in. I usually stop driving before it gets dark; you tend to get more sleepy and bored as the night goes on. We made the mistake once of driving 30 hours without stopping; we lost the entire next day. Trust me it is not worth it!

8. Plan out your hotels in advance

There is nothing worse than driving around late at night after being on the road all day and finding out that every hotel is booked. You are wasting both gas and time! Save yourself some extra hassle and cash by booking your hotel online before you leave. This also allows you to find a hotel with your required amenities (pets friendly, free breakfast, pool, etc.). Being tired at night and searching for a hotel is not fun!

9. Invest in Sirius Radio

Sirius/XM Satellite radio comes in handy when driving long distances out West as many areas lack radio reception or quality stations. I can’t even explain how much Sirius has helped us get through some long 20+ hour drives! The combination of fun stations like ’80s on 8, ’90s on 9, sports radio, comedy, and more really keep you interested after you get bored of traditional stations.

10. Check for road closures

Road closures often happen for a variety of reasons whether it be due to construction, weather, or something else. On a cross country trip from Illinois to Nevada, Mike and I were excited to take off on the final portion of our journey: a 7 hour drive from Phoenix to mid-Nevada. We were glad to have such a short drive as our previous day’s drive was over 30 hours.

Unfortunately, our drive turned out to be much longer than expected. When reaching the Hoover Dam, we were forced to turn around. Due to the construction they weren’t letting any trailers cross. We had to turn around and go back over 3 hours and take another road; this added over 6 hours to our trip! The worst part of all is that we planned on driving through Las Vegas at night to see the lights; well we ended up not passing Vegas until the morning hours! Make sure to check for road closures on the Federal Highway Administration website.

Scenic route from Flagstaff to Phoenix