The drive from Denver to LA is about 15 hours, but not to worry—you’ll pass a ton of cool places on the way! As you go through Colorado, Utah, Nevada, and California, you’ll come across wildlife, natural wonders, historical artifacts, and much, much more. From alpacas and petroglyphs to dinosaurs and national parks, prepare to be amazed by what lies on the road through the Western United States!
Alpacas are some of the cuddliest, most lovable farm animals that you’ll ever meet. But don’t take our word for it—see for yourself when you visit Sopris Alpaca Farm just outside of Silt, Colorado. About three hours from Denver, this family-owned ranch raises show-quality alpacas and invites visitors to make a new fleecy friend when passing through the I-70 corridor in Western Colorado. Owned by Corey and Kim Wesson, Sopris Alpaca Farm has over 50 alpacas that you can feed, pet, and, of course, take photos with when you stop by their humble abode in between New Castle and Silt.
Located on a historic property that has roots that go all the way back to 1896, Sopris Alpaca Farm is a delightful stop to make as you’re driving across the Colorado River Valley, and you can even buy your own alpaca-yarn hats, scarves, mittens, socks, and more when you visit the farm’s Alpaca boutique. Not only are the alpacas gentle and friendly animals, but the farm’s warm, welcoming atmosphere is sure to make this wholesome destination one that you’ll want to come back to in the future.
Just before you cross the state border between Utah and Colorado, you’ll come across Colorado National Monument, a national park on the outskirts of Grand Junction that’s around a four-and-a-half-hour drive from Denver. Ranked by National Geographic as one of the country’s “Top 10 Unappreciated National Parks,” Colorado National Monument might not have the same level of name-recognition as some of the other national parks in the Western United States, but it’s a detour on the way from Denver to LA that you won’t regret making.
Whether you drive the 23 scenic miles on Historic Rim Rock Drive, go for a hike, do some rock climbing, or just enjoy a nice picnic, you won’t be able to get enough of the park’s stunning landscapes and peaceful atmosphere. Home to an array of distinctive geological formations, Colorado National Monument is famous for its picturesque cliffs, canyons, and overlooks. Some of the park’s most-visited sites include Window Rock, Independence Monument, and Kissing Couple. The park’s desert terrain provides habitats to a variety of animals, the most common of which are mule deer. Other wildlife includes bighorn sheep, coyotes, mountain lions, foxes, chipmunks, lizards, hawks, and eagles.
Mother Nature is full of surprises, some of which are so extraordinary that they’ll make you feel as though you’ve set foot on another planet. Around six hours from Denver, you’ll find an instance of this phenomenon at Goblin Valley State Park near Green River, Utah. Named after its unique sandstone formations known as “hoodoos” or “goblins,” Goblin Valley State Park is a one-of-a-kind destination that’s as beautiful as it is bizarre. The outlandish terrain actually made an appearance in the 2000 movie Galaxy Quest, serving as the set for the film’s alien planet.
Hiking, camping, canyoneering, mountain biking, and stargazing are all popular activities at Goblin Valley State Park—and you definitely won’t be short on photo ops, either. Open daily from 6 am to 10 pm, the park has trails that range from easy to difficult, and the centerpiece of the park, Goblin Valley, is a sight that simply can’t be missed. There are 25 camping sites, and if sleeping outside isn’t your style, you can even rent a yurt equipped with heat and air conditioning.
The area surrounding Little Salt Lake holds remnants of yesteryear with meanings that modern-day scholars are still struggling to determine: the Parowan Gap Petroglyphs. Native American tribes that once traversed through this region of Utah left behind an assortment of rock carvings known as petroglyphs, and today, the site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Hiking, mountain biking, ATVing, and camping are some of the activities that can be enjoyed in the nearby area, but in order to preserve the art, visitors are asked to refrain from touching the petroglyphs, and it’s actually illegal to do so.
Parowan Gap is about a half-hour drive from Cedar City, Utah, and only a few miles from I-15. This remarkable point of interest is free to the public, and informational signs dot the path so that you can learn more about the history behind the ancient art. If you’re interested in getting a more comprehensive background the petroglyphs, the land, and people who once roamed the area, you can stop at the Parowan Visitors Center in Parowan City, east of Cedar City.
The St. George Dinosaur Discovery Site at Johnson Farm is just that—a place to explore years long past and the giant reptiles that once walked the earth. This indoor natural history museum is built on land where dinosaur tracks were uncovered in 2000, and the grounds were determined to be the known oldest Jurassic dinosaur site in the state of Utah. Thousands of fossils were later found on the property, which the owners called a “paleontological jackpot” that they decided to open to the public in 2005.
At the St. George Dinosaur Discovery Site, you’ll find yourself surrounded by a two-hundred-year-old ecosystem, complete with replicas of the plants and animals that would have lived in a similar habitat in Prehistoric times. Learn about dinosaurs and their ancient counterparts in the museum’s classroom, see how fossils are treated and preserved in an authentic fossil lab, and take a walk through the outdoor Dinosaur Park where you can also enjoy a picnic. The museum is a fun stop for visitors of all ages, and it’s definitely a must-see for dino-enthusiasts!
If you’re taking Interstate-15, the drive from Denver to LA will take you right through Las Vegas. But whether you’re traveling as a family or just not too jazzed about casinos, don’t worry—there are plenty of non-gambling (and even kid-friendly) activities to choose from in and around Sin City, like the Neon Museum and the Pinball Hall of Fame. And if you or someone you’re traveling with is an animal-lover, then SeaQuest Las Vegas is the perfect place to go when you’re in the Vegas area.
Located in Paradise by the Las Vegas National Golf Course, SeaQuest is an aquatic discovery center with a wide range of sea animals, as well as a few land-dwellers. Jellyfish, sea horses, eels, sharks, stingrays, crabs, otters, and an array of fish are just some of the creatures that you can find in this diverse space. You’ll also have the opportunity to feed and pet some of the animals, and the aquarium’s staff will be happy to help you learn more about SeaQuest’s inhabitants.
If you drive about an hour and a half south of Vegas, you’ll come across the city of Primm, Nevada, just before the Nevada-California state border. Primm’s main draw is its three casinos, and even if you’re not one to gamble, you might still be interested in venturing into the lobby at Whiskey Pete’s Hotel & Casino, where Bonnie and Clyde’s Getaway Car is on display to the public for free.
Also called the Bonnie and Clyde Death Car, this 1934 Ford Deluxe is one of the most notorious cars in the history of American crime. On May 23, 1934, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were shot and killed by police while driving the stolen car in Louisiana, finally bringing an end to their 21-month-long spree that resulted in the deaths of 13 people. Along with the bullet-riddled car, also on display at Whiskey Pete’s is Clyde’s blood-stained shirt that he was wearing when the two were gunned down.
The Teutonia Peak Trail in Mojave National Preserve is a three-mile hike that rewards visitors with some of the best views of the park. Walk through a Joshua tree woodland—the densest concentration of Joshua trees in the world—and cross over Cima Dome, a symmetric, upland dome that rises 1,500 feet above the desert plain. Lizards, birds, and jackrabbits are some of the wildlife that you might encounter as you hike the trail.
Whether you hike the full length of the trial (which, fair warning, is relatively strenuous) or just a portion of it, the Teutonia Peak Trail is among the most popular paths in the Mojave National Preserve, due to its close proximity to the highway and, of course, its spectacular scenery. With 1.6 million acres, the preserve is a gigantic wealth of natural beauty, and other activities that you might want to take advantage of while visiting are camping and stargazing.
Chinese-born sculptor Weiming Chen bought this 36-acre piece of land off of I-15 in order to celebrate freedom and condemn oppression. Though the park is growing, it’s well worth the short detour to take a look at some of Chen’s handiwork and appreciate his incredibly tangible approach to social activism.
Some of the pieces that are on display at the park include sculptures of the Native American leader Crazy Horse, the labor rights activist Li Wangyang, and two works commemorating the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre. Chen unveils new work on what seems to be an annual basis, so this point of interest in Yermo will be worth coming back to if you’re ever in the area again.
Road trips are a time-honored form of travel that Americans have been enjoying for generations. And when it comes to sightseeing, you just can’t beat hopping in a car and hitting the road. Journey through mountains, deserts, cities, and remote landscapes as you drive across the ever-versatile Western United States. No matter what route you take on your way from Denver to LA, you’re sure to fall in love with the new places that you experience—and make countless lifelong memories while you’re at it.