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How to Spend 40 Days in the USA

by Travelbag on 23 July 2019, 10:07AM

Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco

To celebrate 40 years of Travelbag, we’ve created a series of 40-day itineraries covering some of the most-loved places in the world. Our fourth and final itinerary is all about how to spend 40 days in the USA.

Spanning six time zones across concrete jungles and vast deserts, America is one of the most diverse countries on Earth. But the US isn’t just a bucket list destination – it’s a bucket list experience. People dream about seeing the Grand Canyon. Browsing the stores on Fifth Avenue. Driving through Monument Valley in a Mustang. Thanks to films and TV shows, America’s cities and landscapes are instantly recongisable. An American road trip is on a lot of travellers’ lists – and we’re going to help you tick it off. Here’s how to spend 40 days in the USA, on an unforgettable coast-to-coast holiday through seven states.

 

Days 1–10: San Francisco and Yosemite National Park

Your 40-day adventure begins on the west coast in sunny California. After an 11-hour flight to San Francisco, spend a few days exploring this amazing city at your leisure. You can hire bikes and cycle over the Golden Gate Bridge, visit the notorious Alcatraz Island, and ride the famous San Francisco cable cars up and down the steep streets. Break up your busy sightseeing schedule with lunch at Fisherman’s Wharf, where you can watch lazy sea lions while you tuck into fresh clam chowder.

San Francisco also makes a great base for a couple of day trips. While you’re in the area, it’s worth taking a drive down California’s coast, either on a tour or in a hire car. The route from San Fran to picturesque Carmel-by-the-Sea will take you along two of California’s most scenic roads – the Pacific Highway and 17 Mile Drive. Or, you could head north to America’s premier wine region, Napa Valley, where you can take a tour around the pin-striped vineyards and try some delicious Californian wines. 

After five days in and around San Francisco, your road trip begins. Pick up your hire car and head out of the city towards Yosemite National Park. This area of stunning natural beauty lies about 200 miles east of San Francisco, and the drive takes between three and four hours, depending on your route. Your GPS will probably suggest going along highway 41, but we’d recommend driving along highway 120 – it’s much more scenic and only 30 miles longer. Stop off in Oakdale for reasonably priced petrol and a bite to eat, before reaching Yosemite.

Covering a whopping 1,200 square miles, Yosemite National Park is renowned for its gigantic trees and dramatic peaks. It’s also home to lots of wildlife, including black bears, mountain lions and deer. Make sure you visit Tunnel View for postcard vistas over Yosemite, where you’ll be able to see the mountains of El Capitan and Half Dome. Another must-see is Mariposa Grove. This idyllic spot is home to 500 of the park’s ancient sequoia trees, which can grow to be 75 metres tall and nine metres in diameter. If you want to chill out after a few days of hiking, pack a picnic and head to Tenaya Lake for a swim.

Yosemite National Park

 

Days 11–20: Death Valley, Las Vegas & the Grand Canyon

Your American road trip continues as you head to Las Vegas, via Death Valley. You could split this into two days, or do it in one day – which means you’d be in the car for about six hours. Whichever option you choose, it’s best to head south from Yosemite to Bishop, then Lone Pine, then into Death Valley National Park. One of the hottest places on the planet and the driest place in North America, Death Valley regularly reaches 50°C in summer. The vast, barren landscape looks like something from a sci-fi film, and is well worth the detour on your way to Sin City.

As the sign famously says, welcome to fabulous Las Vegas. With neon lights, themed hotels and enormous casinos, this is America’s playground for adults – and it’s a whole lot of fun. All the hotels are open to non-guests, so you can explore these weird and wonderful spaces, ranging from the pyramid-shaped Luxor to the ornate Venetian, complete with canals and gondolas. Visit the aquarium in Mandalay Bay, watch the dancing fountains at The Bellagio, and enjoy a medieval banquet at Excalibur Hotel. And, of course, each hotel has its own casino if you fancy a flutter. But Vegas isn’t all about gambling. You can also see jaw-dropping shows, shop in the town-sized malls, and enjoy a day in the sun at a pool party.

After a few days in the city, it’s time to get back on the road. You’ll cross the state line from Nevada to Arizona, as you travel towards one of America’s most iconic landmarks: the Grand Canyon. We’d recommend heading to the South Rim, which is about a five-hour drive from Vegas – but the straightforward route follows paved highways, and you’ll pass the Hoover Dam on your way.

Stretching for 3,000 square miles, the Grand Canyon is impossibly vast. To make the most of your time here, get up early the first day and hike the Bright Angel Trail before it gets too hot. The path snakes for 10 miles down into the Canyon, eventually reaching the Colorado River. Or, for a shorter hike, you could walk down to the 1.5 Mile Resthouse and then retrace your steps back to the top. Alternatively, hire bikes and cycle along Hermit Road for scenic views of the canyon. Make sure you set your alarm very early one morning to see the sunrise – watching the Grand Canyon turn pink and orange is a truly spectacular sight.

Grand Canyon

 

Days 21–30: Monument Valley, National Forests & Denver

You’ve driven through California, Nevada and Arizona – now it’s time for Utah. Heading northeast, you’ll enjoy a scenic 180-mile drive to Monument Valley. This dramatic rust-coloured desert is famous for its distinctive peaks and towering plateaus. It’s been used as the backdrop for countless Western films, along with cult classic Forrest Gump and popular TV series Breaking Bad. In Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, you’ll see sandstone towers up to 300 metres high – just be sure not to climb on any of them, as the ground is sacred to the Navajo Nations.

If you just want to pass through Monument Valley, the Tribal Park Loop is a must. This 17-mile dirt road starts at the Visitor Centre, and circles round some of the valley’s most incredible sites. But if you want to see some off-the-beaten-track areas, you’ll need to have a guide. In that case, we’d suggest doing the Tribal Park Loop when you arrive, then staying overnight in the valley. The next day, you can do a full-day tour and discover more of this fantastic landscape.

Monument Valley

Your American road trip continues into Colorado, as you begin the 500-mile drive to Denver. And what a drive it is. You have several beautiful national forests to choose from, so the route is really up to you. You could head east through the scenic San Juan National Forest, then on to Rio Grande National Forest. Together, they cover a gigantic 3.6 million acres, made up of dramatic mountains and rich greenery. You’ll then travel north through the Pike and San Isabel National Forests, where you’ll find hundreds of hiking trails.

Alternatively, you could drive north from Monument Valley towards White River National Forest – the most visited national forest in the US. Mountains, ski resorts and trees span 2.3 million acres, and there are more than 2,500 miles of walking trails here. So, while this route only passes through one national park, there’s a lot to keep you busy.

After six days in the wilderness, you’ll reach the city of Denver. This vibrant metropolis boasts 300 days of sunshine a year, giving you ample opportunity to explore its tree-lined streets and diverse neighbourhoods. The Art District on Santa Fe is Colorado’s largest art gallery region, while the cultural area of Capitol Hill and Golden Triangle is home to eight museums. Cherry Creek is great for shopping and dining, or you could follow the ‘Denver Beer Trail’ for a more causal tasting session. Denver has a thriving beer scene, with over 100 tap rooms and breweries dotted across Downtown, Highlands, Five Points, East Denver and South Denver. Five states, 30 days and a 1,500-mile road trip later, it’s time to say goodbye to your hire car and board a flight to Washington DC.

Washington DC

 

Days 31–40: Washington DC and New York

A direct flight from Denver to Washington DC takes around three and half hours – much quicker than driving. And you’ll want as much time as possible to take in this fascinating city.

Home to no fewer than 71 museums, America’s capital is a living, breathing monument. Washington DC’s Smithsonian Museums are all fantastic, but it’s best to cherry-pick a few – admission is free, but you could easily spend a whole day in a single museum. The Air and Space Museum is a must-see, and the American History Museum is incredibly interesting, as it takes you through the country’s Colonial past, the American Civil War, and the US Presidents and First Ladies.

You can visit – or, at least, stand outside – political landmarks like the White House, the United States Capitol and the National Monument. But the National Mall is the real heart of DC, and indeed the country. It’s a good idea to devote a whole day to the Mall, as there’s so much to see. There are lots of tours available, where you can learn about the Lincoln Memorial, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, and more.

Your 40-day American adventure wraps up in – where else? – New York City. There’s an endless amount of things to see and do in New York, but five days gives you enough time to tick off the Big Apple’s iconic sites. No visit to New York would be complete without a trip up the Empire State Building, but make sure the Rockefeller Centre is also on your list, as the view from the Top of the Rock actually includes the Empire State. Take in the bright lights of Times Square, walk over Brooklyn Bridge, and catch the ferry to the Statue of Liberty.

For a slice of culture, stroll through the galleries of MoMA – the Museum of Modern Art – and learn all about New York’s immigration history at Ellis Island. Catch a show on Broadway, or treat yourself to a few souvenirs on Fifth Avenue. If you want to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, buy a salt-beef sandwich from a deli and have a picnic in leafy Central Park. This green haven always has something going on, whatever the time of year.  

After 40 days and seven states, it’s time to fly back to the UK. But there’s still plenty more of the USA to discover, next time around.

New York City

Feeling inspired? Take a look at our escorted and self-drive tours of America and browse our birthday offers.

Or, for somewhere completely different, read about how to spend 40 days in Southeast Asia.


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