#VanLife - Exploring Utah's National Parks
Updated: Dec 27, 2021
Visiting Zion National Park was on my list for so long I can't even remember, but we always ended up going for other trips. Then 2020 came, and with it, many plans got canceled. Multiple trips that we had planned for months, itineraries researched, reservations, flights... didn't happen. But, my friends, 2020 took me to explore Utah's mighty five, and for that, I am thankful, for this is a trip that we just did not plan and one I will cherish forever.
Working from home definitely has its pros and cons, and after so many months, it started to take a toll on me. I can't stand routine. Change fascinates me. I am one of those people that lives for new experiences, that craves new sights. I am always open to see the world through different perspectives, taste other flavors, learn from new cultures, and nothing makes my eyes shine brighter than arriving at a place for the first time. I needed to feel that again.
We took a week off work, rented a camper van, and just went. No plans, no reservations, no tickets. No, we didn't even know where we would sleep until the end of each day. And for someone who is always way too anxious to travel like it's the first time, I have to say; this was sweet. We booked the van on Sunday, and one week after, we were on the way to our first stop of this trip, Las Vegas.
Now, I have been to Vegas countless times - and I have a complete guide to Sin City that you must read, so click here - but we stopped here for two reasons: to get the camper van (cheaper than LA) and to eat beef Wellington at a Gordon Ramsay's restaurant for the first time.
Initially, I had thought of visiting Zion and Bryce Canyon, but then I saw that Arches National Park was a can't miss. Then, as we were about to start our journey, I noticed that we would be likely driving by or close to the other two parks that complete Utah's Mighty Five, so we decided to see as much as possible with no rush or pressure. Plus, we wanted to finish the trip with one last stop: The Horseshoe Bend in Arizona. We were sleeping in the van anyway.
This was not our first road trip on an RV. We rented a big motorhome back in 2018 to explore Big Sur, but the truth is that it was way too big for just two people, hard to find parking, and not as fun to maneuver in a strenuous and windy highway. We decided to go with the smallest of the camper vans available at Cruise America, and I'm happy we did it.
We rented an F-150 truck with a camper attached, which included everything we needed: a bathroom with shower, a kitchenette, fridge, dining table, and a bed. It was a tight space, yes. However, for a couple, I found it more than enough. In fact, this trip was so wonderful that now I want to buy one of these Lance truck campers.
Below you can see our route and the locations of the National Parks and places we stopped during our trip. It was a total of seven days on the road, where we pretty much stayed one day at each location, driving to the next at sunset.
This red-rock wonderland will amaze you
Since this trip was not actually planned, once we got the camper truck in Vegas, we needed to decide where to spend the night, and that's when an app called iOutlander came to the rescue. We remembered that we had watched a youtube video in which this app was mentioned, and we thought it was very interesting but never downloaded or looked into it. This app made our trip so much fun! This blog is not sponsored by iOutlander; I'm sharing this because it was really a great resource to find amazing wild camping locations with breathtaking views, all free.
All of the spots (mostly BLM land) we stopped at were completely wild, meaning no infrastructure was available, which, to us, made them even cooler.
It's worth mentioning, though, that Utah offers many dumping stations along the road, which was helpful since we did not stay at paid campgrounds.
A lovely surprise was the BLM campsite we found by the Mexican Hat. We drove here at night, so we had no idea what was around us. We found this location at iOverlander, and given the great reviews, we decided to spend the night on our way to Horseshoe Bend. When we woke up and opened up the window: boom! We had parked the camper right in front of the Mexican Hat, which up until that point we did not know what it was, and enjoyed breakfast with a view!
Now, off to the good stuff: here's the list of places we visited. I am writing full guides on each of the locations pretty soon, so stay tuned!
Zion National Park
Zion was the first National Park we visited during this trip as it is the closest to Las Vegas. After I've been to Yosemite, I confess I thought nothing could ever beat it, and even though I always wanted to visit Zion, I wasn't expecting to be blown away. Again, traveling is learning. I've learned that Zion is just as breathtaking as Yosemite or any other majestic place I've visited. They are beautiful in different ways. Read more on my guide to Zion National Park.
Bryce Canyon National Park
Probably my favorite hike of the entire trip was the Navajo Loop trail at Bryce Canyon. You start at the top at Sunset point and work your way down to walk through the hoodoos, just unforgettable. There are tons of lookout points to stop at the scenic drive, and all of them will take your breath away.
Capitol Reef National Park
We only drove by Capitol Reef and its impressive canyons, and it was incredible to see the red and white rock formations and the orchards.
Arches National Park
I wanted to visit Arches to hike to Utah's postcard, pictured on the state's license plates: Delicate Arch. To say it was awesome is an understatement, but the truth is that the park has over 2,000 natural stone arches and will totally amaze you!
This park looks and seems endless. Rivers divide the park into four districts: Island in the Sky, The Needles, The Maze, and the rivers themselves. We made a quick stop at Island in the Sky, as it is the easiest area of Canyonlands to visit in a short period, and the views at Grand View Point left us speechless.
Monument Valley + Horseshoe Bend
On our way to Horseshoe Bend, accidentally we came across Monument Valley, which was another place I wanted to visit, and got to stop at Forest Gump point for some pictures!
Also referred to as the east rim of the Grand Canyon, after it became popular on Social Media, the Horseshoe Bend became Glen Canyon's National Recreation Area most visited attraction. This place is one of a kind, and I highly recommend the visit!
Drive. Camp. Hike. That pretty much sums up our road trip to Utah and beyond. We got to cruise through California, Nevada, Utah, and Arizona. It was an unforgettable time disconnected from much of the challenges that this year brought, and an appropriate time to connect with things that matter. This has become the year to make the most of what we have, and despite not being able to travel according to the plans, sometimes, life brings you the sweetest surprises when you least expect it. This trip was that.
Download a checklist of National Parks in the US, all divided by state! How many can you cross off this list?
Follow me on IG @wlovefrombella to see more about this trip and many others!
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