In March 2019, Casey and I road tripped from Austin to Seattle with all of the belongings she needed for a nine-month farm internship. I flew right back to Austin after we moved her in at the farm, and a week later, a friend of mine asked me about the specific stops we made. He wanted some suggestions since he's planning to move to Seattle with his wife soon. It’s a long drive that, without proper planning, could just end up feeling exhausting. Alternatively, it’s an opportunity to get a taste of the awe-inspiring, geologically diverse American countryside that will probably inspire you to do some more exploring! This itinerary is for a quick “point A to point B” style trip, where you’re really on a deadline to move - but I’ve worked in some beautiful hiking spots to stretch your legs along the way. If you’re meandering more slowly between Seattle and Austin, you’ll definitely want to take more stops than this, but it might still be a good starting point. Below you’ll find:
A 5-day itinerary - the trip is about 2,200 miles, or 34 hours on the most direct route. You could definitely do it faster, but I’ve spread it out so that the daily driving time decreases as you make your way west to toward mountains and national parks.
A few important considerations and planning hacks you can use to tweak the itinerary to fit your style of travel and schedule.
5 Day Itinerary
Day 1: Austin to Albuquerque Driving time: 11 hours
Stops: Mezamiz Deux Coffee House, Abilene (lunch and wifi)
The longest driving hours are packed into the first day, since you’ll be fresh and the Texas countryside you’ll be traversing is flat and easy. You gain an hour going into New Mexico, so you can leverage the daylight you gain going west. For a healthy lunch at a funky cafe and a good wifi, stop in Abilene at Mezamiz Deux Coffee House. If you don’t make it all the way to Albuquerque, Roswell is another good stopping point for the evening.
Where to stay in Albuquerque: we used Hipcamp.com to find a spot to pitch our tent in a backyard, but ended up staying in a beautiful and cozy airbnb room run by a Hipcamp host. I highly recommend Danielle’s place - she keeps an urban homestead with a garden, laying hens, and rabbits in the back, and has hosted hundreds of travelers from all over the world!
Extra adventures: if you have an extra day to spend, check out White Sands National Monument. You’ll pass through the gorgeous Lincoln National Forest on your way there, and the mountain hamlet of Cloudcroft (I stayed at the hostel tucked away on a ridge on my way west - I recommend it as a no-frills, friendly and definitely affordable spot for travelers).
Day 2: Albuquerque to Moab Driving time: 6 hours
Stops: Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, Cortez, Colorado
Leave Albuquerque at 8 or 9am so that you can spend the middle of your day in the Four Corners region of southwest Colorado - the area is full of natural beauty and archaeological sites. Canyons of the Ancients National Monument borders the highway the closest, so this is your best spot for a quick stretch of your legs (Lowry Pueblo) or a couple hours exploring (Sand Canyon Trailhead, which we opted for) without straying far from the route. Make sure that you leave with enough daylight to get to Moab before dark, though, since the landscape as you enter Utah is beautiful and rugged and you don’t want to miss it!
Where to stay in Moab: if you don’t mind occasional highway sounds, I highly recommend ACT Campground and Environmental Learning Center, which is just a few minutes from the entrance to Arches National Park. It’s $28/night for a 2-person tent site (tent sites are separated from the parking area by a privacy screen). They have a large, well-maintained community kitchen with great wifi, and outdoor grilling area where you can pick up some free food left by other campers passing through and make some new friends over dinner. Bathrooms are big and clean, and they have showers as well. The campground I really wanted to try out was was Up the Creek campground in downtown Moab, but it wasn’t open for the season yet when we passed through.
Day 3: Moab to Miracle Hot Springs, Idaho
Driving time: 8 hours
Stops: morning hike at Arches National Park, Moab, Utah. Park City for a late lunch.
If the weather’s good, rise early to take a morning hike at Arches National Park, which is just a few miles up the road from ACT Campground. It was super windy when we passed through, and I spent the morning doing some work on my laptop in the community kitchen, so we didn’t have time to go into the park. Here are the trails close to the entrance that were recommended to me by fellow campers: Courthouse towers, Balanced Rock, and Delicate Arch. I hope to visit them on my next trip that way! On Day 3 you’ll be driving through Price Canyon and the pass between Loafer Mountain and Spanish Peak as you head toward the Great Salt Lake. Mountain passes and canyons can be breathtaking, but make sure to check the weather for a snowstorm, and plan accordingly! We drove through a snowstorm at the beginning of March and we were pretty unprepared.
Where to Stay in Southwest Idaho: Miracle & Banbury hot springs is the place! It’s about 30 minutes off the route, but totally worth it. Tent sites at Miracle Hot Springs are only $10 / night. We used one of the VIP hot spring pools for an hour ($28) before heading off to sleep. It was so relaxing - an amazing way to decompress after three days of driving! Note that there’s no cell service or wifi here. They have fancier domes to glamp in too. The queen camp dome at Miracle Hot Springs seems like a pretty good deal, at $89 for a night for 2 people with swimming included.
Extra adventures: if you have an extra day or two to hang around Moab, it’s a great opportunity to get a little deeper into Arches National Park, or head southwest 30 miles and check out the Island in the Sky district of Canyonlands National Park. I like The Globetrotting Teacher’s blog on how to spend one day at Arches or in Canyonlands National Park.
Day 4: Miracle Hot Springs to Hood River, Oregon
Driving time: 7 hours
Stops: Boise, Hood River Enjoy the hot springs in the morning and head out towards Boise for lunch, which is just 2 hours further on the route. I didn’t know about this until after our trip, but next time I take this route I’ll check out the Basque block in Boise, which celebrates the Basque people and culture of the the western Pyrenees. I heard the language, Euskara, for the first time while living in Barcelona, and it was captivating - turns out it is one of only a few pre-romanic languages still spoken today. Once you enter Oregon, you may notice the gas attendants at gas stations - instead of getting out of your car to fill up yourself, hand your card to the attendant who will do it for you. This blew my mind the first time I encountered it, so if you haven’t been driving in Oregon before, heads up!
Driving through the Columbia River Gorge is a breathtaking experience. Hood River is nestled right where the gorge meets the Cascade mountain range that reaches up into Washington state. I volunteered at Hiyu Wine Farm in Hood River just as they were getting set up in 2016, and fell in love with the town, but will save most of my recommendations for another day. Since you’re only passing through (this time!), grab a waterfront seat at pFriem Family Brewers or Solstice Wood Fire Cafe for dinner. pFriem is a great local hangout. I realized this two years after leaving the wine farm, when I sat down to dinner there on my one night in town and a former coworker walked through the door a few minutes later, completely unplanned!
Where to stay in Hood River: Tucker Park in Hood River has tent sites and showers, with the huge benefit of being right in town so that you can enjoy the funky Hood River vibes and a waterfront dinner and local beer before heading to camp. In summer you can swim in the river - since the water comes from the mountains, it will be glacially cold, but certainly refreshing! Day 5: Hood River to Seattle
Driving time: 4 hours
Stops: Multnomah Falls
This is the shortest driving day, and especially if it’s a weekday, it’s best to take your time getting over to the Portland area to avoid morning rush hour. Plan to pass through Portland in late morning, which will get you in that sweet spot where you arrive prior to Seattle rush hour too! Just forty minutes past Hood River is a gorgeous waterfall visible from the highway. There’s a parking lot for it carved out of the middle of the highway, in fact - exits from both directions - and it takes a few minutes to get to the base observation point. There’s also a 2-mile trail that heads up to a bridge viewpoint and continues to the top of the falls. It’s a strenuous two miles because of the elevation change to the top, but once you get there, it’s nice and serene, since not much of the tourist traffic ventures past the bridge viewpoint.
Important considerations and hacks
Time of Year
The ideal months to do this trip are April, September, and October, because you’re most likely to avoid both snowstorms in Utah and Idaho (November-March) and wildfires in Oregon and Washington (May-August). If you’re doing the drive on a different month, be sure to watch carefully for these environmental conditions and plan extra time in those areas in case of delays. Night Driving Hazards
In the Northwest, there are a bunch of conditions that make it worse than usual to drive in the dark. After having several unpleasant experiences with low visibility in the middle of nowhere, I highly recommend driving in the daytime as much as possible! Especially in Colorado, Utah and Idaho, where you’ll be winding through mountains and canyons, and fog can extremely limit visibility. Terrain is less of a big deal in the southwest, where you’ll mostly be driving on flat, straight roads. Resources
Gasbuddy.com - Gasbuddy has a trip cost calculator that will recommend places to stop for gas along the route. Planning gas stops before taking off each day based on Gasbuddy can help you avoid paying premiums for the one gas station in a 60 mile stretch of desert...oh wait, that was a different trip. But it could happen on this route too!
Hipcamp.com - private campsites rented by hosts to travelers, like airbnb! There are a few other sites like this out there, I’ve just had especially good experiences with Hipcamp.
I’m continuously amazed by the natural beauty of the American countryside, and this route goes through a ton of it! I hope this itinerary helps you take advantage of some of its wonders even if you’re on a tight schedule, and gives you some ideas for beautiful places to revisit.