This border-to-border road trip takes road trippers from the Great White North to the Wild West, across borders, through college towns and big cities, up mountains and down into the valleys, past dormant volcanoes, art installations, lakeshores, and historic sites. The border-to-border run between Jasper National Park in Canada to Nogales, Mexico, is brimming with bucolic splendor, unique characters, wildlife, fresh pie, and majestic national parks. Be prepared to pull over…a lot.
Border-to-Border road trip fast facts
- Route: Jasper National Park in Alberta, Canada, to Nogales, Mexico
- Mileage: The route itself is approximately 2,245 miles before adding any in-town or in-park driving or extra detours.
- Drive time: Without stopping and no traffic, the border-to-border Route 93 road trip could be knocked out in 38 hours.
- Suggested travel time: Ten days requires averaging a little under four hours of driving a day. Add days if you want to spend more time hiking parks or exploring big cities, especially if you’ve never been to Las Vegas.
Jasper National Park, Alberta Canada
As it’s made up of more than 2 million acres, you could spend a week exploring in the largest national park in the Canadian Rockies and barely make a dent in what there is to observe. Don’t miss the towering limestone walls of Maligne Canyon, ice crashing off the hanging Angel Glacier, Spirit Island scenery, splashing around Miette Hot Springs, or skipping through a super bloom in Cavell Meadows. Also highly encouraged: having a leisurely picnic in the sun. Remember it’s never too early in your border-to-border adventure to bust into the 25 best road trip snacks.
Where to eat and stay: Grab a Jasper Haze (a play on a London Fog tea latte) at Coco’s Café to sip while waiting in the inevitable line for artisan loaves at Bear’s Paw Bakery. And since you already waited, you might as well grab a slice of berry pie topped with homemade ice cream. Live out log cabin fantasies at Alpine Village. Some date back to 1941 while others have been built in the last couple of decades. All are alongside the Athabasca River, frequented by bears and elk, and a short walk from downtown Jasper’s collection of eateries.
Lake Louise and Banff, Alberta Canada
Another day, another breathtaking part of the Northern Hemisphere. The Icefields Parkway links Jasper to Lake Louise and it in itself is a spectacular stretch of road dotted with 100 glaciers, azure lakes, and crashing waterfalls. The mesmerizing, almost turquoise Lake Louise, one of the most crystal clear lakes in the world, is worth a few hours of explorations. It’s in Banff, Canada’s first national park, which offers four seasons of fun. When it’s warm enough outside, opt for biking, hiking, fishing, paddling, and mountain climbing. You can even scuba dive to see a sunken Victorian resort village in Lake Minnewanka. With snow, comes a host of different activities like ice climbing up frozen waterfalls, sleigh rides, polar bear plunges, snowshoeing Laggan’s Loop or Fairview Lookout, and cross-country skiing.
Where to eat and stay: Surrounded by mountains, the posh Fairmont Banff Springs aka The Castle In The Rockies is straight out of a fairytale with its gable roof, soaking tubs, high teas, glacial mud facials, daily s’mores, roaring fires, and hot-stone massages. Be forewarned: feeling like royalty comes with a hefty price tag, but some things in life are worth paying for. Pair beer-braised jackfruit tacos and pulled pork tortas with striking panoramas on the hotel’s Lookout Patio.
Welcome to Montana: Glacier National Park & Whitefish
You’ve reached the first international crossing of your border-to-border road trip. Cross into the Big Sky at Roosville and in less than two hours you’ll be at the park entrance. Whether you’re there for spring wildflowers, summer swims in more than 700 lakes, autumn leaves, or winter wonderlands, Glacier National Park is simply one of the most spectacular settings on Earth. After grabbing something to eat at one of the chalets, hop aboard the retro red buses to let someone else handle the curves and steep climbs of the Going-to-the-Sun Road. Cruise Lake McDonald aboard a classic wooden boat keeping an eye out for bald eagle nests and bears. Or use people-powered transportation on more than 700 miles of paths from beginner (wheelchair-accessible Trail of Cedars) to incredibly taxing (Grinnell Glacier).
Where to eat and stay: Shake off road-trip rage and stretch incline-ravaged legs in a rooftop yoga class followed by a steep in the hot tub with a view of bustling downtown Whitefish at The Firebrand Hotel. It’s within a five-minute walk from shopping, the theater, and 20 restaurants including LouLa’s (breakfast and pie) and Tupelo Grille (Southern Cuisine meets mountain meats like elk and bison).
Surrounded by seven wilderness areas and sitting at the confluence of three rivers, this lush college town with a quirky granola vibe is known for blue-ribbon trout fishing as seen in A River Runs Through It, zero sales tax, multiple disc golf/golf courses, breweries, bookstores, and surfing. Yep, you read that right, surfing. It may be landlocked but thrillseekers grab boards and try to tame Brennan’s Wave, a constant surge of a rushing river. Rent a board and try not to wipeout. About an hour outside Missoula, art and nature meet at Blackfoot Pathways: Sculpture in the Wild, a free park that challenged international artists to create mammoth works inspired by the town’s environmental and industrial (mining, ranching, and forestry) heritage using site-specific materials.
Where to eat and stay: The Hip Strip Condo is a luxe vacation rental in a funky triangular-shaped building. It takes its name from the immensely popular shopping district located on the same street, which is known for 100-percent locally owned and operated clothing and vintage boutiques, bookstores, record shops, cafes, and bakeries. Importantly and conveniently, it’s also within walking distance of the much-heralded Big Dipper Ice Cream. Find the best ice cream shop in your state.
Craters Of The Moon National Monument, Idaho
This otherworldly plain of hardened lava flows, cinder and spatter cones, rock bombs, namesake craters, and deep dark lava tubes transport visitors to another planet. In fact, in 1969, Apollo astronauts trained on its unique topography to prep for the lunar landing. There’s a good variety of short and easy trails for families and seniors and sturdier sets can push up the windy Inferno Cone to catch a glimpse of the Great Rift. The park is especially stunning when covered in snow.
Where to eat and stay: End a long day in Twin Falls, Idaho, at The Fillmore Inn, an antique-filled bed and breakfast inside a brick Tudor-style house. See the cascades that gave the town its name as well as the taller Shoshone Falls, take a boat ride through Snake River Canyon, and marvel at BASE jumpers diving from Perrine Bridge. Suit up if you dare. There’s a monument to Evel Knievel’s failed attempt to jump the canyon on his Skycycle in 1974. Recount the thrills over Kobe beef meatloaf, local Ruby Red trout, and house-made cheesecake at Elevation 486, which happens to be the height of the bridge.
Nevada’s Great Basin Highway
In the Silver State, Route 93 eventually becomes known as the Great Basin Highway. Towns are few and far between, but filled with mining history and outlaw lore. Worth a stop are Pioche’s Million Dollar Courthouse or Caliente’s Mission Revival railroad depot. There’s a bevy of state parks in the region including Ward Charcoal Ovens, six still-standing beehive kilns used to make charcoal for smelters in the 1870s. The town of Ely offers railroad history and train excursions on the Nevada Northern Railway, preserved dwellings from the early 20th-century copper boom period, a mural project, and Garnet Hill, where novice rockhounds can search for actual stones. For the holidays, the railway is converted to Santa’s Train, a themed chug similar to these magical Christmas cabooses.
Where to eat and stay: Racks Bar and Grill dishes up comfort food, like 10 flavors of burgers, in the town’s only smoke-free dining establishment. Once the tallest building in the state, Ely’s Hotel Nevada is a Prohibition-era landmark. But beware. Some folks apparently enjoyed their stay a little too much as it’s purportedly haunted, even appearing on a couple of ghost hunter TV shows. Interested in something more rustic? Reserve a yurt in Cave Lake State Park, where you can ice fish in winter and cycle Success Loop once the snow melts. These are more of the best luxury camping adventures.
Great Basin National Park & Valley Of Fire State Park, Nevada
Two more parks are possible (and worthwhile) detours from your border-to-border road trip. About an hour from Ely, Great Basin National Park, the youngest member of the National Park System, redefines remote on a road trip full of desolate highways and massive forests. For one, it’s off Highway 50 which has been dubbed “The Loneliest Road in America.” The lack of competition for prime photo ops with thousand-year-old Bristlecone pines, stalactites in Lehman Caves, or Nevada’s last glacier is appreciated. It also affords the best visibility of the Milky Way in the continental United States. Valley Of Fire, by comparison, is heavily visited for its red sandstone formations, desert bighorn sheep, and petroglyphs left by ancestral Puebloans.
Viva Las Vegas
There’s probably more lights, noise, and people in this desert oasis then you’ve experienced at the rest of the stops put together. Don’t let the shellshock of your return to the big city slow you down for too long as there are too many things to see and do including gambling, zip-lining over Fremont Street, flying over the Grand Canyon with Maverick Helicopters, wandering around the old signs at the Neon Museum, or operating a full-size bulldozer at Dig This. Cirque Du Soleil shows alone could fill a week. Impress friends with a snap for your socials at Seven Magic Mountains, day-glo totems created by Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone. These are more of the must-see attractions in Las Vegas that aren’ casinos.
Where to eat and stay: Accommodation options are nearly endless. A more recent addition to The Strip is New York export NoMad, a boutique hotel within a hotel with a sophisticated residential feel thanks to hardwood floors and velvet window seats. The signature restaurant looks like a library (there are 25,000 books from David Rockefeller’s personal collection) and serves elaborate cocktails fit for a gallery exhibit.
Sin City to the Southwest
Hit the Hoover Dam on your way out of town. (It opens early, like 5 a.m. early.) Ride the original elevator to the top of the massive Depression-era feat of engineering, still taming the Colorado River today and causing a vibration that can be felt on the power plant tour. Continue on through Kingman, Arizona, and consider stopping at the Route 66 Museum, where you can get inspiration for a future Mother Road trip to see these unique attractions. A more recent 66 sight, Giganticus Headicus, a 14-foot green tiki head, makes for a wacky Instagram post as do these most unusual roadside attractions in every state. If you haven’t spent time in Phoenix or Tucson, you should allocate a day or two to poke around each.
Where to eat and stay: Pit stop in Scottsdale where you can taste Arizona vintages in five tasting rooms along its urban wine trail. Soak up the alcohol with veggie-heavy dishes at Farm & Craft. There are lots of good options for the next overnight stop in between Phoenix and Tucson like CIVANA Wellness Resort & Spa in the delightfully named town of Carefree. Undo hours in the car with classes in yoga, meditation, and Pilates or by working the spa’s hydrotherapy thermal circuit and sanitarium. Or push through to Tanque Verde Ranch in Tucson to cowboy/girl up. You’ll share the 60,000-acre adobe dude ranch with 196 equine residents and likely see some of the 250 winged species that make the Sonoran Desert a birding hot spot.
Titan Missile Museum, Sahuarita, Arizona
Today’s first stretch gives new meaning to defensive driving, About 30 minutes from Tucson just off I-19, sits complex 571-7. Once one of the most top-secret sites in America, it’s now all that remains of the 54 Titan II missile silos that were the first line of defense against nuclear attacks during the Cold War (1963 to 19887). One-hour guided tours take visitors 35 feet underground to the control center (where a simulated launch shakes things up), the long cableway, and to the silo to see the Titan itself. Silo locations were far from the only covert program or research conducted by the government to combat communism and stay a step ahead of the Soviets, but they were far less scandalous than these 10 classified ops.
Call ’em the Twin Cities, Southwest edition. Although Nogales, Arizona, and Mexico’s Nogales sit on either side of the border, there is plenty of linguistic and cultural crossover. The Hilltop Gallery has exhibited artists from both countries since its 1968 founding, the historic cemetery on the Arizona side observes Dia De Los Muertos, and the favorite summertime treat is a Finito, a play on shave ice that comes in a variety of flavors including horchata, tamarind, Jolly Rancher, or cotton candy and can be topped with chili sauce, hot fudge, salted dried prunes, or Nerds. If you haven’t found a souvenir of your border-to-border road trip yet, customize new kicks at Paul Bond Boot Company, which has handmade cowboy boots for stars like Johnny Cash, Clint Eastwood, and Paul Newman since the 1940s.
Despite being on a road trip, it’s time to ditch the wheels in a cheap lot near the border as the recommended way of getting to the other side of the wall is by walking. Most of the restaurants, shops, and pharmacies are just on the other side. Bartering for pottery, straw hats, tin décor, and other typical trinkets is expected, the dollar is the preferred payment, and U.S. Customs and import rules apply.
Where to eat and stay: Celebrate your finds with margaritas and mochomos at La Roca, housed inside an 1800s boarding house built into a rock, before returning to America. Overnight at Hacienda Corona de Guevavi, a high desert hideaway just outside the cities that features a sparkling pool and vintage murals by a Mexican bullfighter turned painter. Next, read on to discover the 50 best road trips in the United States.
For more on where to go and what to see around the country, check out our Ultimate American Road Trip Guide.
Some sites listed here may not be open or may have limited hours or other restrictions due to COVID-19. Please check with them before you go.
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