There is something very fulfilling about hitting the open road by yourself and taking as much time as you want to enjoy your surroundings. The United States is full of incredible points of interest and there are so many places worthy of your time.
Taking a solo road trip from San Francisco to the mountains of Missoula is one of the best ways to clear your mind, get in touch with nature, and find your inner peace. San Francisco is an extremely busy new-age city, while Missoula is on the sleepier side in its own little bubble.
This 17 hour trip to Missoula can be broken up across a week-long period where you will get to experience a broad range of climates, terrain, and attractions. You will be able to check out a few cities along the way, but most of the trip will feel like you are traveling back in time due to the untouched beauty that will surround you.
While San Francisco can feel a little hectic, Missoula is a sleepy paradise that goes under the radar as a vacation destination. Hang out in town and eat some wonderful food or head to the nearby slopes to enjoy the winter weather; the choice is all yours. This road trip is a true nature lovers' dream, so pack your van and get ready for a trip of a lifetime!
Owned and operated by the nearby City of Salmon, the Sacajawea Interpretive, Cultural & Educational Center is a must-stop on your road trip if you are wanting to learn more about the Salmon and Lemhi River Country.
The center offers visitors plenty of interesting exhibits to view and features plenty of information on the Agai’dika Shoshone-Bannock Tribes and the Lewis & Clark Expedition. Trained docents are also available during the peak season to guide visitors around the center and answer any questions they may have.
If you are visiting during the off-season, you can call ahead and organize the center to be opened by appointment so you don't have to miss out on all of the fun. Make sure that you call at least 24 hours in advance if you are interested in visiting outside of the regular opening days.
Featuring over four million acres, Salmon-Challis National Forest is a great choice to stop at as you make your way to Missoula from Boise. Within the forest is the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness, which has been recognized as the largest continuous wilderness within the whole country.
Solo explorers will never run out of things to do and places to see during their time in Salmon-Challis National Forest. Since the forest is so large it is important to plan out what you want to do in advance so you can stay on schedule.
One of the more unique features of Salmon-Challis National Forest is the Custer ghost town. Previously a mining hub, the town was founded in the 19th century and now has few remnants of what life used to be like during the mining boom.
There are over 80 campgrounds within Salmon-Challis National Forest along with two cabins that could be a nice luxury for the night!
The last major city before you reach Missoula is the capital city of Idaho, Boise. Proclaimed by residents for being a vibrant city, this is a place where you can park your van without much trouble and make your way around the streets easily.
The downtown area of Boise is a hub of activity that features over 100 stores, 80 restaurants, and plenty of bars. If you love to drink you should check out one of the many microbreweries (such as the 10 Barrel Brewing Co.) in this part of the city since you won't be close to anything like it until you reach Missoula.
During your time in Boise you should also stock up on any supplies you may need since the next destination is well and truly out in the middle of nowhere. The Trader Joe's here is a great place to find some food and there are also many pharmacies in the city.
Since phone reception can also get a little sketchy on the next leg it would be wise to finish anything online that needs to be done so you can get back to nature.
Since you are going solo on this road trip you will have the chance to participate in activities that not everyone in a group would usually be into. Playing golf is often a divisive activity, but since you are traveling by yourself you should take the time to hit the fairway if you love the game.
The Winnemucca Municipal Golf Course is the perfect way to break up the drive and it can serve as your last stop before you exit Nevada and make your way into Idaho. The course is suitable for golfers of all skill levels and consists of nine holes that are well-groomed during its open season. If you didn't pack any clubs in the van, there is also a fully operating clubhouse where you can rent some sticks and maybe even meet some of the locals.
Drive a short distance from the course and you will find New Frontier RV Park which is the highest-rated accommodation option in the area suitable for those living the #vanlife.
Once you drive around 100 miles past Reno on the 80 you will see the Humboldt State Wildlife Management Area. If you look up this location on the map, you may be surprised when you arrive to find that the lake isn't what a standard body of water usually looks like. Humboldt State Wildlife Management Area is home to the largest drainage basin in all of Nevada and since this is where the Humboldt River ends there might not be any water at all during your visit.
The terrain here is very different from what is in and around Reno and what you will see for the rest of your trip, so stopping by at Humboldt State Wildlife Management Area will give you the chance to see a completely dry lake or one that is thriving if there has been recent rain in the area.
There are no van-friendly camping amenities at the Humboldt State Wildlife Management Area so you will have to continue a few more miles to the town of Lovelock to find a place to stay.
Known as "The Biggest Little City in the World", Reno is the ideal place for travelers wanting to have some fun before making their way through the natural areas that are waiting over the next few days.
Reno is a very popular gambling location thanks to the multiple casinos that are within its city limits, such as The Nugget, Eldorado, and Silver Legacy. If gambling isn't your thing Reno is also home to the National Automobile Museum, so car nuts will be very happy to spend more than a few hours in the city. If you are lucky you might also be visiting during an air race held by the Reno Air Racing Associate.
While most visitors to Reno choose to stay in one of the many casino hotels, if you wish to stay in your van you can find the Shamrock RV Park only a few minutes away from downtown Reno.
Often overlooked by many travelers, there is a lot of fun to be had in Sacramento for solo road trippers no matter what time of year you are making your trip.
The capital of California is home to the Sacramento Kings NBA team and plenty of interesting museums, including the Crocker Art Museum, California State Capitol Museum, and the California State Railroad Museum. If you love to bike there is also an epic trail that runs along the Sacramento River, or you could spend the day seeing the animals that call the Sacramento Zoo home.
No matter what activities you choose to do, visiting Sacramento as your first stop will be a nice change of pace from the hustle and bustle of San Francisco. There are plenty of camping options for your van near the city too, all of which are privately owned and operated.
Known worldwide, Alcatraz is the infamous island that formerly operated as a military and then as a federal prison. Taking the trip to Alcatraz will require you to park your van on the mainland, but this small inconvenience will be well worth it.
Over 1,700,000 visit the small island each year looking to get a taste of what life was like for the prisoners stuck here years ago. Operated by an official concessionaire of the National Parks Service, cruises and tours of Alcatraz are available throughout the year if you want to delve deeper into the history of the prison.
Back on the mainland, there are so many things to do before you depart San Francisco that you could spend a whole week here! If you are short on time it is worth getting a glimpse of the Golden Gate Bridge if the weather is clear, or Fishermans Wharf if you want to grab a bite to eat.
Arriving in Missoula can feel like you are entering a new planet. The small city is tucked between the surrounding mountains and is the perfect place to end a trip that you will remember forever.
With a population of only 66,000, Missoula is a far cry from the beginning city of your trip back in San Francisco, but the small-town atmosphere is very welcoming and there are many things you can do during your visit.
The downtown area is full of local businesses, including Massala, which is an incredible (and incredibly cheap) casual curry house. Make sure you grab a meal here and if the weather is nice, sit outside and watch the day or night go by. If you are visiting during the college months you will have to catch a basketball game, especially if they are playing their arch-rivals Montana State University.
You will definitely need a comfortable place to rest after your long trip and the Missoula KOA Holiday is ideal for you and your van to call home.