USA - Major Attractions and Hikes of the West - A Travel Guide
Below you'll find some of the experiences I made, while I was on vacation in the western USA in August/September 1998. Since this happened a while ago it might be a little bit out of date.
So this is only a short and very rough review of this part of the states:
When to go to the western states and how long to stay
Best time to go to the western states is certainly between May and October, especially for the states up north like Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. The weather is quite nice at that time, sunny, warm (it can get quite hot even in the mountains) and dry. Sometimes in early may and october snow showers may occur and temperatures at the higher elevation drop below freezing. We happened to wake up at the campsite with one inch of fresh snow on our tent in early october.
Considering the length of your stay...we traveled 6 weeks through the western part of the USA and saw all the National Parks. But to be honest...it was only a quick visit for each attraction. It's certainly better to take more time and find all the hidden places but then you'll have to limit your trip to a small number of places and come back another time for the other ones. If you really want to see all the major sites in one ride, 6 weeks is the absolute minimum...after all it's more then 6000 miles of driving!
Getting to the western states
Any big city should be fine as a starting point for a roundtrip through the western states. Flights from europe to cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle or Denver are reasonably priced, especially off season (before July and after August). Fares start as low as 350 Euro from Frankfurt to San Francisco. If you plan to fly during the peak season though, you should book your flight well in advance since the cheap flights fill up quickly.
Getting around in the western states
No way to get to all the places in a reasonable ammount of time by bus! They are certainly guided tours to attractions like Grand Canyon, but with your own car you're a lot cheaper and more flexible.
Unless you book guided tours I would strongly recommend to take a rental car.
Quite common way of travel in the states but you'll still have the problem to get to the attraction from the local airport which can only be done by rental car or guided tour. But if you just want to travel from city to city that's probably the fastest way to do it. Sometimes there are specials as low as 50$ one way.
Like in the rest of the US a car is a definite MUST. If you like to travel on your own a rental car gives you the flexibility to reach any place you want. Actually, there is no other way to reach the major attractions. Prices range between 200 and 300$ a week. Even the smaller towns have a whole lot of rental car companies. The big ones like Hertz and Avis are located at the airports but it might also be worthwhile to check out the smaller ones. They usually offer better rates and also pick you up at the airport.
Camping in the western states
There are lots of camping facilities in the western states. I would especially recommend the campgrounds of the state parks. They are usually well maintained and very affordable ($8-15 per party). There are also wilderness campgrounds where you don't have to pay anything. Of course, they don't have sophisticated facilities which means that they are usually located at a small river where you take out your drinking, washing and cooking water. Usually, you don't have to plan on which campground to spend the night. Within an hour at least one will show up along the highways.
If you're not able to find a campsite or if it rains too heavy, there are also reasonably priced motels along the highways or in the larger cities. Prices between $30-50 a night for a double room.
Groceries and prices
Every town has at least one supermarket with the usual US selections and pricings. It's no problem to buy food anywhere although it can be a quite long drive to the next village...
Arches National Park / Bryce Canyon National Park / Canyonlands National Park / Capitol Reef National Park / Crater Lake National Park / Death Valley National Monument / Grand Canyon National Park / Lassen Volcanic National Park / Las Vegas / Lava Beds National Monument / Mesa Verde National Park / Monument Valley / Mount Rainier National Park / Olympic National Park / Petrified Forest National Park / Point Lobos State Park / San Francisco / Salt Lake City / Seattle / Sequoia National Park / Valley of Fire State Park / Yellowstone National Park / Yosemite National Park / Zion National Park