Western USA in detail

Planning Tips


  • Visit the USA (www.visittheusa.com) The USA's official tourism website.
  • National Park Service (www.nps.gov) Information on national parks and monuments.
  • Recreation.gov (www.recreation.gov) Camping reservations on federally managed lands.
  • Lonely Planet (www.lonelyplanet.com/usa) Destination info, bookings and forums.
  • Roadside America (www.roadsideamerica.com) Find offbeat tourist attractions.

Top Tips

  • Don't try to cram too much into your itinerary – drives between sights can be longer than expected.
  • Summer is crowded and wicked hot, but if you choose higher elevation destinations (eg the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, which is cooler), it's still a great time to go.
  • A National Parks Annual Pass ($80) gets you into many top sights and is a great investment.
  • Verizon has the best cell and data coverage in the region, but do not count on being able to connect in rural or wilderness areas – bring a real map as a backup to using your phone for navigation.
  • Gas stations and grocery stores can be scarce – fill up on fuel, food and ice whenever possible, and don't forget the cooler on road trips.

What to Take

  • US adaptor
  • Water bottles
  • Sunglasses and sunscreen
  • Wide-brimmed hat and ski cap
  • Day pack
  • Bathing suit
  • Quick-dry synthetic tops and pants
  • Fleece
  • Down jacket
  • Waterproof shell
  • Lightweight, grippy shoes
  • Closed-toe sandals
  • Lip protection
  • Car charger for electronics
  • Cooler
  • Camping gear
  • Compass
  • Headlamp
  • Binoculars or scope.

Pre-Departure Checklist

  • Book a rental car.
  • Reserve campsites and park lodges months in advance in summer.
  • Secure permits for popular backpacking routes.
  • Check passport validity and visa requirements.
  • If you're eligible, arrange your visa waiver through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization
  • Arrange travel insurance and make sure it covers outdoors activities.
  • Confirm airline baggage restrictions.

What to Wear

Casual dress is the way to go in the West, and your goal is to pack layers that are versatile and outdoors-friendly. Expect extreme weather that changes quickly, particularly at high elevations. Even in midsummer, favor synthetic layers (which don't absorb moisture) over cotton – a waterproof shell and a fleece are a good idea in any season. Sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat are also essential.

LA and San Francisco are the most style-conscious of the Western cities, but even then expect an anything-goes vibe, unless you're out for a night on the town. Along the SoCal coast, beachwear (flip-flops, shorts, T-shirt) is usually fine. For footwear, lightweight trail shoes and closed-toe sandals are both useful for outdoor adventures.