A family road trip on the West Coast has endless options — so many that it can make it difficult to choose. That’s why we’ve put together five of our favorite Western road trip destinations. Whether you make them your main destination or a stop along the way to somewhere else, these family-friendly divergences from the usual road trip hot spots are sure to make your next road trip a hit for the whole family.
5.) Lake Hemet, California
Ah, the California road trip. So many places and, yes, so many people. Escape the crowds at this beautiful recreation area in the San Jacinto mountains, just two hours from downtown Los Angeles. With boat rentals, a water park and fantastic fishing, Lake Hemet is a stress-free camping experience geared towards the whole family. With cabins available for rent, tent sites and RV spots, there are a variety of ways to enjoy an overnight stay. The “Rent My Tent” program makes camping hassle-free, setting visitors up with all the camping amenities for between $99 and $145 a night. It comes with a s’mores kit for roasting marshmallows over a fire and even a cooler.
Thanks to its prime location, a stay at Lake Hemet could easily be combined into a longer family road trip around Southern California. But with so many readily-available activities, this is a stop worthy of more than a single night’s stay.
4.) Mono County, California
Craving a wintry spring break excursion instead? Look no further than this mountain paradise in California’s Eastern Sierra. Take a drive along US Highway 395, a State-Designated Scenic Byway, touted as “California’s grandest road trip” by Visit California. This iconic highway traverses high deserts and mountain valleys, passing along majestic lakes and streams and charming mountain towns. Make this road a destination in itself with stops at Bodie State Historic Park for a genuine California gold‐mining ghost town experience or explore Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve for a beautiful nature adventure.
Branching off from 395, take a drive through 15 miles of dramatic Sierra peaks and alpine scenery on the June Lake Loop. Skiing families may consider June Mountain Ski Area (where kids 12 and under ski for free). Or go for a backcountry experience (and overnight stay) with High Sierra Snowcat and Yurt. The Double Eagle Spa & Resort offers highly comfortable accommodations, including the best restaurant and bar in town. The high terrain of the Eastern Sierra offers endless adventure guaranteed to make for a successful road trip.
3.) Truckee, California
This iconic Old West town — famous historically for the ill-fated Donner party and presently for its proximity to world-class ski resorts — is the ideal road trip stop to enjoy incredible alpine scenery and outdoor recreation. This scenic mountain town serves as a base camp for every type of outdoor adventure. With its location right on the I-80 corridor, it’s an easy stopover en route to other destinations. Though even a full week isn’t enough time to take on all of Truckee’s scenic adventures. For example, take the family out skiing at Northstar California or venture down Highway 89 for the more challenging terrain at Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows. Warmer weather opens a whole host of other outdoor opportunities, from mountain biking or hiking to kayaking to fishing.
Increasingly, Truckee is a popular shopping destination, too. After a weekend of skiing or hiking, spend the evening strolling along historic downtown Truckee, checking out cool local shops such as lifestyle boutique Tahoe University and crafting favorite Atelier. Plus, stop in for a beer at the popular tap house Alibi Aleworks and grab dinner at the locals’ preferred sushi restaurant, Drunken Monkey.
2.) Silver Falls State Park, Oregon
For those considering a trip in the Pacific Northwest, Silver Falls State Park lies only an hour and a half south of Portland, and features nearly 20 spectacular cascades, without the crowds of the nearby Columbia River Gorge. Visitors can view 10 stunning falls in one 7-mile loop alone. With trails that pass behind waterfalls, Silver Falls offers a one-of-a-kind perspective. So make sure to bring your camera! Plus, Silver Falls Lodge is the perfect place to stay the night. With a range of lodging, cabins, cottages and camping sites — not to mention delicious dining — it will suit any preference.
Thanks to its central location, a stop here is easy to connect to visits to Oregon’s other waterfalls. Oregon offers a multitude of family road trip destinations with incredible outdoor adventures sure to please the whole family. For more waterfall stops, consider tying this in with a stop at the iconic 620-foot Multnomah Falls. Or perhaps take a hike past the many falls on the 79-mile North Umpqua Trail.
1.) Ely, Nevada
Prefer to get even further off the beaten path? Consider a visit to the Lower 48’s most remote town, Ely, Nev. This hidden gem in the Nevada desert is home to the Nevada Northern Railway, the last and best-preserved standard-gauge short line railroad in America. Visitors can spend the night in a caboose of a 19th-century railcar for an authentic Old West experience. This is a visit the whole family can enjoy, with opportunities to Ride with the Engineer in the front and center of a steam engine, or drive it yourself with the railway’s Be the Engineer program.
Ely also offers the chance to venture into some of the incredible (and under-appreciated) Nevada scenery. Stop in at Great Basin National Park, just an hour from Ely, for a drive along the rugged Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive or take a tour among the epic stalactites and stalagmites of the Lehman Caves. Alternatively, stay close to Ely and hunt for gems at Garnett Hill.
With a population of just 4,000, Ely doesn’t seem like much. However, the history and scenery of this town make it much more than a one-dimensional road trip destination. And if your family road trip is a summer affair, be sure to check out the White Pine Horse Races, August 17-19.
Looking to do an East Coast road trip instead? Be sure to check out our Top5 Unforgettable East Coast Road Trip Destinations.