Southwest USA Roadtrip
We used Campendium to find free campgrounds throughout the Southwest, and never had to pay for our stay. Although none of them had shower or bathroom facilities, they were all pretty close to gas stations/McDonalds or Walmarts that we could use. If you prefer somewhere with facilities, you can find some on Campendium as well, but you will need to pay.
We rented our 2-person van from Escape Campervans and would definitely book with them again. Having a camper van was super convenient because it allowed us to sleep really close to the national parks, and we were able to make all of our meals in the back of the vehicle. The van came stocked with all cooking equipment, a fridge, sink, cooktop and fresh water tank that we could refill.
- Water jugs to refill (we got four of these at Walmart and refilled them whenever we could)
- a camelback water bladder that you can fill, and then use to refill your smaller bottle throughout your hikes
- Water shoes for the Narrows
- I used an old pair of runners, and those worked really well for me
- a comfortable, small backpack you can use for day hikes that will fit some light layers, water, snacks/lunch, first aid supplies
- use Google Maps to download and map out your route
- a lot of the time we didn't have service, so having a route mapped out that we could see when offline was really helpful
Ten Day Itinerary
Day One / Las Vegas to Zion National Park
We arrived at McCarran Airport at noon, and took an Uber from the airport to Escape Campervans to pick up our home on wheels. From there, we drove to Walmart to stock up on groceries, water, and wine--the essentials.
Day Two / Zion National Park
We woke up bright and early, made some breakfast and headed to our first National Park of the trip--Zion! We jumped on the first shuttle bus of the day and hopped off to begin the hike to Observation Point. If you plan on doing this, make sure you start early enough in the morning so you won't be hiking up in the heat of the sun.
The view was beautiful from the top, and well worth the hot, strenuous hike uphill to get there!
After hiking down, we dipped our feet in the ice-cold river at the trailhead to cool off, and then took the shuttle back to our van to rest and eat.
Next up, we did the Emerald Pools Trail (which wasn't very emerald at all...)
Day Three / Zion National Park + Bryce Canyon National Park
Once again we made it back to the park from our campsite and hiked up The Narrows. We didn't have time to go all the way up, so we hiked for 1.5 hours and took a break to eat lunch before hiking back down.
Then, it was off to Bryce Canyon -- with a million pullovers on the way to take photos of the view.
Day Four / Bryce Canyon National Park
Woke up super early and drove to the trailhead parking lot to make our breakfast sandwiches. We started at Sunrise Point, continued through Queens Garden Trail and made our way to Peek-a-boo Trailhead. We finished all of that by noon, and decided to make a stop for the night in Capitol Reef NP.
If you're planning on driving through Capitol Reef, beware that the road is rough, there is no cell service, facilities, park staff or other people in sight. We braved the roads to reap the rewards of having the park to ourself for the night.
Following the GPS coordinates, we made it to the Temple of the Sun and Moon just in time for sunset. After soaking up the view (and silence) we drove just down the road and parked for the night. The stars were amazing, and I'm not sure I've ever been somewhere so peaceful.
Day Five / Arches National Park
Leaving Capitol Reef, we set off for Arches National Park. Arches NP is the most accessible park, with a lot of short distance hikes or pullover viewpoints. We saw Double Arch, Balanced Rock, Garden of Eden, and hiked to Delicate Arch all in one day. I felt like I should have seen Clint Eastwood around every corner.
We spent the night at a free campground on Potash Road where we had the perfect sunset while we made our grilled cheese dinner.
Day Six / Monument Valley + Lake Powell
We left Arches National Park and began the journey south to Monument Valley. I was under the impression that Monument Valley would be remote, with no service or facilities, but it turns out it was super busy, and had a nice visitor's centre.
We drove the loop around Valley Drive, stopping along the way at a bunch of different scenic points. Directional signage wasn't great, so we ended up doing the same loop a couple times!
We had to head to Lake Powell in Page, Arizona before dark, so it was a short but sweet pitstop in Monument Valley. Arriving at Lake Powell we took a chilly dip (and shower) in the lake, and made dinner on the beach. We stayed the evening at Red Dirt Road campground, which had very limited camping spots. If you want to stay here, make sure you arrive shortly after sunset. After parking in the last available spot, a lot of other camper vans had to turn around and find somewhere else to stay. The campground was nice because there was a picnic table at each spot, but there isn't much privacy and you're very close to your neighbours.
Day Seven / Horseshoe Bend + Lake Powell
We woke up before sunrise, stopped off at Walmart down the street, and then made our way to Horseshoe Bend to catch a glimpse at the famous sunrise. It was beautiful, but there were a lot of people there, so we were happy we got there super early.
The rest of the day we spent lounging on the beach, swimming, getting sunburnt and drinking wine. We also met George...
Day Eight / Upper Antelope Canyon Tour + Grand Canyon National Park
We started the day with a 7:30am tour of the Upper Antelope Canyon. My understanding is this is the only way to access Antelope Canyon, because of prior vandalism and damage to the canyons. I'm normally not one to enjoy a tour, but learning about the formation and history of canyon on Navajo land was fascinating. It was crowded with about 5 other tour groups, so it made it quite difficult to take photos without anyone else in them, but it was still beautiful to see.
Leaving Page, it was time to head to the Grand Canyon. Arriving in the early afternoon, we pulled over at a couple stops along the road with about a million other tourists, and decided to head to our campground for the evening to drink some much deserved wine. We found the perfect spot on Forest Road 688, not too far from the park.
Day Nine / Grand Canyon National Park + Valley of Fire State Park
Once again we were up before the sun to begin our longest hike of the trip--Bright Angel to Three Mile Resthouse. The views were incredible, and because we got an early start to the day, there weren't many other hikers on the trail. I would suggest starting really early, because the way back is 100% uphill switchbacks. Make sure to wear light layers, because the morning will be cool, but once the sun rises, it will be very hot. Each resthouse has a washroom and water refill, so take advantage and stay hydrated.
Instead of staying another night at the Grand Canyon and driving all the way back to Vegas, we decided to stay near Valley of Fire State Park at Valley of Fire West for the night, to cut the driving time down on the last day. This was one of my favourite campsites that we used the whole trip, because there was only one other camper that parked about a mile away from us. Once again, we made dinner and drank a bottle of wine before crashing for the night.
Day Ten / Valley of Fire State Park + Las Vegas
We were the first ones to Valley of Fire SP, and watched the sunrise light up all of the red rocks--no wonder it's called Valley of Fire. Once the sun rose, it was HOT. We managed to do a couple hikes in the park before deciding it was too hot and that we should head into the city to return the van and take a couple hours to explore Vegas, where I ended up losing all of my money at the casino...