The Ultimate Oregon Roadtrip Itinerary For The 5 Best Waterfalls in Oregon

From its stunning coastline to its mountainous regions, the Pacific Northwest of the USA is home to many incredible natural wonders and some incredible waterfalls. Oregon has undoubtedly some of the most spectacular waterfalls in the country. The best thing is, they are relatively easy to explore on an Oregon roadtrip and only a short easy to moderate hike away from your car.

 

Oregon Roadtrip to See Best 5 Waterfalls in Oregon

 

This Ultimate Oregon Roadtrip itinerary takes you to the 5 best waterfalls in Oregon, including the three highest waterfalls in the state! Plus, if you have some extra time we’ve included a few bonus nearby waterfalls and hot springs to take in while you are in the area.

 

Your Ultimate Oregon Roadtrip Itinerary to See the Best 5 Waterfalls in Oregon

 

The best way to start your Oregon roadtrip is from Portland, the main city of Oregon. Portland is known for its independent breweries, great food, and its hip vibes and definitely worth a visit. Spend a few days there to explore its culinary specialties before starting your Oregon roadtrip to explore Oregon’s 5 best waterfalls.

 

Multnomah Falls in Oregon

 

Oregon Roadtrip Map

 

The below Oregon roadtrip map shows you the location of each waterfall and the driving distances included in this itinerary. The map closely follows our recommended itinerary but feel free to switch things up if you would like to explore other places along the way.

 

 

Day One of Oregon Roadtrip - Multnomah Falls and Abiqua Falls

 

The first day of this Oregon Waterfall Roadtrip Itinerary is a big day, knocking out arguably the most famous of Oregon’s waterfalls: Multnomah Falls, and also our personal favorite, Abiqua Falls. With so much packed into the first day, getting an early start is imperative, but getting up early should not at all a problem when you have the best waterfalls in Oregon to look forward to.

 

Multnomah Falls

 

Starting off from Portland, it is an easy half hour drive East along the Columbia River until you reach Multnomah Falls. You can’t miss this one as there are a ton of signs, and the waterfall is easily seen from the highway. The parking lot is actually in the middle of the highway, and from there it is a short 5-minute walk up to the base of the falls.

 

Multnomah Falls in Oregon

 

Multnomah Falls is incredible to see in person. The size of the falls is immense, as water plunges over 600 feet (180 meters) from the top of the cliff. As you get closer and closer you will be craning your neck to see up to the top of the falls! There is an accessible bridge halfway to better take in the falls, though be sure to get the famous photograph from below, including the bridge, before venturing up onto it.

 

Cost to see Multnomah Falls: Free

Estimated time to see Multnomah Falls: 1 hour

Difficulty Level: Easy. The entire walkway to the bottom of the falls is paved.

We recommend you wear: Something waterproof as you might get a bit wet depending on the wind direction. If you are planning to take professional photos here, consider bringing rain protection for your camera.

 

Abiqua Falls

 

As Multnomah Falls is easily accessible on the highway, and with only a short walk to the falls, it is easy to see another one of the best waterfalls in Oregon on the same day. Abiqua Falls is an hour and a half to two hours drive south from Multnomah Falls. You will pass through some of the Southeastern Portland suburbs, which is a great time to fill up on gas, water, and snacks to make sure you are ready for this mini adventure.

 

Bettina twirling at Abiqua Falls, Oregon

 

Abiqua Falls is the most difficult of the best waterfalls in Oregon to access, requiring some driving on gravel roads, and a steep hike down to the falls, but it is all worth it!

 

Start by driving to the town of Scotts Mills and then take the Crooked Finger Road almost 11 miles until you reach an unnamed gravel road. Turn right, and follow the road downhill for the last 2 miles. The road will get rougher as you go and the last 1.5 miles of this requires a high clearance four wheel drive vehicle. You can either park at the top of the hill and hike the 2 miles down the road, or drive as far as they can, and then park on the side of the road.

 

Tree covered in moss at Abiqua Falls Oregon

 

You will know you have reached the trailhead, when you come across a large gate blocking the road. About 100 feet back from the gate is the beginning of the trail, heading down on a forest trail towards Abiqua Creek. The trail gets very steep as you near the creek, and there are a number of ropes to help aid in getting up and down the hill. Use these ropes as they are very helpful!

 

Abiqua Falls in Oregon - Photo taken with Neutral Density Filter

 

Once at the creek level, it is a relatively short hike upstream to Abiqua Falls. The falls are absolutely breathtaking, cascading over a cliff of basalt columns, and reminded us very much of Svartifoss in Iceland. If you are curious to know what we are talking about, check out our weekend in Iceland guide here.

Enjoy your time here, and take in the quietness and solitude at the falls, but don’t enjoy it for too long as you still have to hike back up the hill!

 

Cost to see Abiqua Falls: Free

Estimated time to see Abiqua Falls: 2 hours (add more if you have to hike on the road)

Difficulty Level: Moderate. The hike to the falls is definitely a bit more involved and pretty steep in the beginning.

We recommend you wear: Good shoes with traction and pants you don’t mind getting dirty as you will have to climb over tree trunks.

 

If you are hiking in the summer, there should still be a few hours of daylight left after you see both falls. We would recommend the 45 minute drive to Silver Falls State Park in the evening. The park has a great campground, or cabins to stay at, which puts you within walking distance of South Falls, which you’ll explore on day two. If you are new to camping and are worried about sleeping under the stars, make sure to read these Camping Tips for Beginners and you will be all set.

 

 

Day Two of Oregon Roadtrip – Hiking to the South Falls

 

Day two includes another great waterfall, South Falls, located within Silver Falls State Park. The best part about Silver Falls State Park is that there are over ten great waterfalls and you can walk behind 4 of them! We completed the Trail of Ten Falls hike to take them all in, and highly recommend spending the time to enjoy this park while you are here.

 

South Falls and Silver Falls State Park, Oregon

 

South Falls

 

South Falls is unique in that you can walk completely behind the falls! There is something so magical about walking behind a waterfall and seeing it from a completely different angle.

 

Walking Behind South Falls in Silver Falls State Park

 

If you have camped at Silver Falls State Park, South Falls is an easy 20 minute walk away from the campground. Alternatively, if you are driving into the park for the day, there is a very large parking lot near South Falls.

 

You will hear the thundering sound of the water plunging over the edge and see the mist rise into the air, well before you see the falls. The falls are impressive to see from any angle, but the best is surely from underneath the falls, on the narrow trail that circumnavigates the falls. You will likely get wet, but it is totally worth the experience!

 

South Falls at Silver Falls State Park, Oregon

 

While at Silver Falls State Park, we would highly recommend you to hike the Trail of Ten Falls hike which continues from South Falls, and meanders throughout the park, taking in (you guessed it) ten more waterfalls, including more that you can walk behind! The full hike should take about three hours, and is on an easy to follow 7 mile (11.5 km) trail. We really enjoyed hiking through the peaceful backcountry of the park, taking in the waterfalls and meandering river all to ourselves on a brisk March morning!

 

Oregon Waterfall in Silver Falls State Park

 

Cost to see South Falls: $5 park day-use permit

Estimated time to see South Falls: Thirty minutes to only see South Falls. Just over three hours for the Trail of Ten Falls

Difficulty Level: Easy to Moderate. The ground might be a bit slippery if it rained recently and some of the inclines can get your heart rate up.

We recommend you wear: Good shoes with good traction as the muddy trail can be slippery when wet. Also make sure you bring a rain jacket and a protective bag for your camera as you will likely get wet when walking behind the waterfalls.

 

After spending most of the day exploring Silver Falls State Park, you can either stay another night in the campground here, or drive an hour and a half south towards Eugene, Oregon where there are many accommodation options.

 

Day Three of Oregon Roadtrip – Exploring Salt Creek Falls and Watson Falls

 

The third day is the last day of your ultimate Oregon roadtrip to see the 5 best waterfalls in Oregon. Packing in two more powerful waterfalls, this day also requires the most driving. If you spent the night at Silver Falls State Park, it is a two and a half hour drive to Salt Creek Falls, or just over 1 hour from Eugene.

 

Salt Creek Falls

 

Once you reach the Salt Creek Falls they are super easy to access, as there is a parking lot right near the falls. Salt Creek Falls is known for it’s main drop of 286 vertical feet (87 meters), the third highest in Oregon! Third only to Multnomah Falls (check!), and Watson Falls (coming up next!).

 

Cost to see Salt Creek Falls: $5 park day-use fee

Estimated time to see Salt Creek Falls: Thirty minutes

Difficulty Level: Easy

We recommend you wear: Anything you would like.

 

Back on the road, it’s an hour and a half drive to Watson Falls which are in the Umpqua National Forest.

 

Watson Falls

 

Watson Falls involves a short but steep hike up a heavily trafficked path. The hike will take you past beautiful mossy rocks and trees, as well as some small rapids, before Watson Falls comes into view. Watson Falls are the second highest falls in Oregon and are just as impressive as you would imagine. There are multiple viewing platforms and a bridge that crosses the river below the falls, allowing you to get the perfect viewpoint.

 

Watson Falls, Oregon

 

After snapping a few photos, you can take an alternate path back down to the parking lot for some more variety in your hiking views.

 

Cost to see Watson Falls: Free

Estimated time to see Watson Falls: Less than 1 hour

Difficulty Level: Moderate but short. The hike is steep and can be a bit muddy.

We recommend you wear: Good shoes with traction.

 

Day Three Bonus - Toketee Falls and Umpqua Hot Springs

 

While you are visiting the Watson Falls in the Umpqua National Forest on your Oregon roadtrip, make sure you check out a few other highlights, only a few miles away – namely Toketee Falls and Umpqua Hot Springs.

 

Toketee Falls

 

The drive to Toketee Falls from Watson Falls is less than five minutes and the hike to Toketee Falls is relatively easy and less than one mile. The falls are viewed from a platform, high above the river below, and you can feel the power of the water as it cascades over the edge. Toketee Falls is very impressive as it is also surrounded by basalt columns, similar to Abiqua Falls.

 

Toketee Falls Oregon

 

Cost to see Toketee Falls: Free

Estimated time to see Toketee Falls: Less than 1 hour

Difficulty Level: Easy to moderate. It’s a relatively steep but short walk to the platform on forest ground.

We recommend you wear: Good shoes as you climb over some roots.

 

Umpqua Hot Springs

 

The road that the Toketee Falls parking lot is on, also happens to be the road to Umpqua Hot Springs, which is only a few miles further. If you haven’t heard of Umpqua Hot Springs before, they are a series of pools on a hillside overlooking the North Umpqua River which we visited on our first month of vanlife. The pools are filled with natural hot mineral water, pouring out of the hillside, filling the top pool and continuing to flowing into lower level pools. The way the hot springs are situated, you will experience the hottest water at the top. The water temperature cools down the further down the hill you go.

 

Bettina at Umpqua Hot Springs Oregon

 

If you enjoy cold water, you can walk downhill to the North Umpqua River for a short dip and warm back up in the hot springs.

To get to the Umpqua Hot Springs from the parking lot, you will do a short but steep hike. Note that the Umpqua Hot Springs can be extremely popular. We recommend you visit early in the morning or during the week and either in Spring or Fall.

 

Cost to see Umpqua Hot Springs: $5 day-use fee

Estimated time to see Umpqua Hot Springs: Less than 30 minutes hiking time; stay as long as you like in the hot springs pool!

Difficulty Level: Moderate. The hike to the Umpqua Hot Springs is steep on forest ground but short.

We recommend you wear: Good shoes with good traction. As the hot springs are completely natural, there are no changing rooms. If you would like some privacy to change into your swimwear, you would have to do so before starting the hike. The area is also popular with nudists so don’t be surprised if you end up seeing more than expected.

 

The drive back to Portland to complete your Oregon roadtrip is 4 hours and if you have spent all day exploring the Umpqua National Forest, you will likely want to camp in the area rather than driving through the night. As an alternative to visiting Umpqua Hot Springs on Day Three, you could also extend your Oregon roadtrip by one day and enjoy the hot springs the next day, first thing in the morning.

 

Kyle Standing at Abiqua Falls, Oregon

 

It will be hard to leave the state after completing the ultimate Oregon roadtrip to see the 5 best waterfalls in Oregon. We were simply amazed at the power of nature, and impressed by the natural beauty of Oregon! The state of Oregon has so much to offer, with these 5 waterfalls, being some of our favorite places to visit! If you are yearning to explore more of Oregon, check out our summary of the first month on the road of vanlife, where we also explored nearby Crater Lake in Oregon!

If you are looking for a road trip adventure in Colorado, make sure you check out these tips for the perfect 6 day Colorado road tip!

 

Bettina twirling at Crater Lake in Oregon

 

The Next Trip Top 5 Tips for Your Oregon Roadtrip

 

1) Prepare for Muddy Trails

Most hiking trails to these waterfalls on your Oregon roadtrip are on forest ground and can be quite muddy in spring after the snow melt or after rain. Make sure you have good shoes with good traction to facilitate the hike. Also prepare to have your clothes get dirty on some of these hikes.

 

2) Expect to Get Wet

Expect to get wet! You are at a waterfall after all and any wind gust can transport the waterfall mist and get you soaked. Especially if you are planning to walk behind waterfalls or get close to them, be prepared to get wet and bring a rain jacket. We also recommend bringing water protection for your camera if you are planning to take professional photos.

 

3) Let Someone Know Where You're Going

Many of these places on your Oregon roadtrip don't have any cell reception or only spotty reception. Before you leave, make sure you let someone know where you're going and when you expect to be back. That way, in case something happens, they know where to look for you.

 

4) Pack Some Snacks

Some of these waterfalls are remote and there aren't any restaurants or coffee shops nearby. Make sure you pack some snacks for your Oregon roadtrip so that you don't end up being hungry on your hike.

 

5) Plan Your Oregon Roadtrip for Between April and October

Due to the higher elevation in these locations, it can get quite cold and snowy during the winter months. The best time to go on your Oregon road trip to see the best waterfalls is between April and October. Any earlier or later in the year and you might still have snowy and icy trails.

 

Save this post on Pinterest to plan your Oregon roadtrip to chase waterfalls!

 

The Ultimate Oregon Roadtrip Itinerary to the 5 Best Waterfalls in Oregon

 

The Ultimate Oregon Roadtrip Itinerary to the 5 Best Waterfalls in Oregon

 

The Ultimate Oregon Roadtrip Itinerary to the 5 Best Waterfalls in Oregon
The Ultimate Oregon Roadtrip Itinerary to the 5 Best Waterfalls in Oregon
The Ultimate Oregon Roadtrip Itinerary to the 5 Best Waterfalls in Oregon
The Ultimate Oregon Roadtrip Itinerary to the 5 Best Waterfalls in Oregon

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Month 2 on the Road – Best Slot Canyons of Utah and Self-Isolating

How have we been on the road for two months already? On the one hand vanlife feels like our normal life now, as we explore the best slot canyons of Utah and watch as many sunrises and sunsets as we can. On the other this is still all crazy and new. Welcome to our second monthly update on our overlanding adventure!

 

Toyota Tacoma and Four Wheel Camper Swift Model at Sunset

 

April was a difficult month on the COVID-19 front. Many states were (and are still) in complete lock-down. Even in Utah, many National and State Parks closed due to COVID-19 which made vanlife incredibly difficult. Our daily tasks involved checking the news and doing a lot of research on where we were going to camp and what we were going to see and do.

Luckily for us, there is one thing Utah has plenty of and it’s called BLM Lands. BLM stands for the Bureau of Land Management, which manages the public lands where it is free for anyone to camp and explore. So that is exactly what we did!

 

Couple Walking Towards Monument Valley at Forest Gump Hill Utah

 

 

Hole in the Rock Road - Walking Amongst Dinosaurs

 

We started our second month on the road in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, which has over 1 million acres of BLM land to explore. Hole in the Rock Road is a historic Mormon trail, which has great outdoor activities all along it and as it turns out, the best slot canyons in Utah!

 

While we like to do the occasional hike, here we did 3 hikes in 3 days, all with unique sights. We made an attempt at hiking Zebra Slot Canyon. I say attempt, as when we reached the slot canyon it was partially filled with water. We waded in up to our knees, but it got deep fast and we couldn’t see the bottom anymore after a few feet in. It didn’t help that the water was incredibly cold! We decided to turn back and admit defeat. Luckily, Tunnel Slot Canyon is close-by which saved the hike from being a failure!

 

Bettina Hiking to Golden Cathedral Utah

 

Our second hike was the longest, over 9 miles (15 km) including a few river crossings. The day was a bit overcast which was a very welcome change given that we trekked across the desert with nobody else around. We made it to the Golden Cathedral as another hiker was ending a spontaneous concert. The acoustics of the Golden Cathedral were incredible, and her voice was amplified throughout the slot canyon which sounded incredible.

 

@thenexttrip

 

Bettina at Golden Cathedral Utah

 

Hole in the Rock Road also offers some other incredible sights, which are much easier to access and worthy of exploring if you are in the area. Devils Garden is full of hoodoos and rock formations, just waiting to be explored. In case you are not familiar with the term, hoodoos are columns of weathered rock and while a pile of rock doesn’t sound overly exciting by itself, these piles are a lot of fun!

 

Bettina at Devil's Garden Escalante Staircase Utah

 

Bettina at Devil's Garden Escalante Staircase Utah

 

For any ancient history and dinosaur lovers, exploring 20 Mile Dinosaur Tracks is a must! The area has over 350 individual dinosaur tracks created by plant eating sauropods over 150 million years ago. The footprints have been preserved over time as they are pressed in sandstone. It was incredible to think that we were walking in the exact same spot as these creatures from so long ago.

 

20 Mile Dinosaur Tracks in Escalante Staircase Utah

 

Our third hike along the Hole in the Rock Road was our favorite as it includes some of the best slot canyons of Utah. The hike led us to Spooky Slot Canyon and Peekaboo Slot Canyon.

 

The Best Slot Canyons of Utah - Spooky Slot Canyon and Peekaboo Slot Canyon

 

With names like Spooky and Peekaboo, these slot canyons better be good - spoiler alert, we think these are the best slot canyons of Utah! And no, we are not making this up! You start the hike into a dry canyon where access to the slot canyons is relatively quick and easy. We read online that the best route is to start with Peekaboo and end with Spooky, travelling in a loop, so that is exactly what we did.

 

Overlook of Peekaboo and Spooky Slot Canyon Utah

 

Peekaboo starts with a 12 foot (4 meter) climb up the slick rock to the entrance, which is fairly manageable due to multiple footholds and handholds. Once you find yourself in the canyon, you quickly see where Peekaboo gets its name from! The slot canyon is a compilation of very curvy twists and turns with smooth sandstone.

 

Peekaboo Best Slot Canyons of Utah

 

These curves allow you to play a quick game of peekaboo along the way. We spent at least an hour hiking through the canyon and taking tons of photos along the way.

 

Bettina Twirling at Peekaboo Slot Canyon Utah

 

@thenexttrip

 

Once out of Peekaboo, it was a relatively short hike cross-country to the entrance of Spooky Slot Canyon. Spooky is definitely not for the faint of heart. It was incredibly narrow in spots (we had to take off our backpacks, and shuffle sideways as there wasn’t even enough space to turn our hiking boots sideways). Spooky also has rougher rock and is much deeper and darker than Peekaboo.

 

Bettina in Peekaboo Slot Canyon Utah

 

The piece-de-resistance is a massive car-size boulder that you need to climb up and over while in the slot canyon, and then proceed to climb back underneath it, and then crawl through a passageway to continue. The fact that we saw a random shoe stuck in a crevice here definitely added to the spookiness!

 

Kyle in Peekaboo Slot Canyon - Best Slot Canyons of Utah

 

All in all, this was one of our favorite hikes and both Spooky and Peekaboo live up to their names! The canyons made it one of our favorite days this month and they are easily some of the best slot canyons of Utah.

 

Big City Living in St. George, Utah

 

After a few days spent in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, we headed to Cedar City for some rest and relaxation at an Airbnb for a few days. Pizzas were baked, movies were downloaded, and clothes were washed. Unfortunately, the weather was cold and rainy, so we again hit the road to somewhere warm. We headed further south to St. George, Utah, the largest city we had been to in a long time. We were looking for some of the best things to do in St. George, Utah so we hit up In-N-Out take-out for delicious burgers (more than once), indulged in Sugar Cookies take-out (more than once), and went a bit nuts at Costco – all while social distancing of course.

 

One thing we haven’t really talked about yet is Wal-Mart, the savior of all overlanders and vanlifers in the US. Most Wal-Marts allow overnight camping in their parking lots for free, which is a great way to keep costs down in cities, where camping options are few and far between. Since most campgrounds are closed due to COVID-19, we were even more grateful to have the option to camp at Wal-Mart. We spent a couple nights at the Wal-Mart in St. George, but don’t have any photos to share as it is just a parking lot and not as exciting as hiking the best slot canyons of Utah!

 

Mountain View in Yant Flats Utah

 

We wanted to explore the area around St. George and drove to the surrounding forests. One of the great things to do in St. George is taking a quick drive to hike to Yant Flat Cliffs. The Yant Flats are an area with beautiful swirling sandstone and very much reminded us of White Pocket, which we explored just a few weeks ago and which you can read about here.

 

View of Yant Flats Utah

 

Getting to the Yant Flats is an easy 3.4-mile hike from the parking lot (return) and you are rewarded with incredible views, peculiar rock formations, and vibrant orange wavy sand stone. If you are in the area, seeing Yant Flats is one of the best things to do in St. George, Utah.

 

Bettina at Yant Flats Utah

 

Run Forrest Run to Monument Valley

 

Monument Valley was one of the destinations we were most looking forward to in Utah. But once again, COVID-19 forced us to change our plans as Monument Valley closed. We held off going here as long as possible, hoping the Monument Valley loop would re-open. However after a bit more research we realized that some of the most famous views are actually just from the main highway near Monument Valley, so off we went!

 

Girl looking at Monument Valley Utah

 

Toyota Tacome at Forest Gump Hill Monument Valley Utah

 

The most famous of all is the Forrest Gump Hill, where Forrest Gump ended his cross-country run in the movie with Monument Valley in the background. We were fortunate to have this famous area almost to ourselves. We spoke with one other traveler who had been here before, and said that there are usually tour buses and tons of other travelers at this exact spot.

 

Bettina at Monument Valley Utah

 

Luckily there isn’t much traffic on this road as we took our time taking a lot of photos, although we did have to run to save the tripod more than once as a semi-truck barreled down the highway.

 

Bettina and Kyle at Forest Gump Hill Monument Valley Utah

 

We spent the night camping at nearby Mexican Hat. We’ll let you take a wild guess where this town got its name from.

 

Bettina Twirling at Mexican Hat Utah

 

Campsite at Mexican Hat Utah

 

And while we were in the area, we checked out Goosenecks State Park, also aptly named. Goosenecks State Park seems like a few Horseshoe Bends all in a row. In case you haven’t seen Horseshoe Bend, make sure you read up on it as it is one of our favorite road trip destinations in the Southwest US.

 

Goosenecks State Park at Sunset

 

Here at Goosenecks, the San Juan River flows over 6 miles, but only travels about 1.5 miles from East to West as the crow flies, not exactly the most direct route.

 

Bettina Overlooking Goosenecks State Park at Sunset

 

 

Unearthly Views at Valley of the Gods

 

Valley of the Gods is the lesser known, slightly smaller version of Monument Valley, but we would have to say that it is almost even more impressive. That is because it is far less popular, and you can enjoy this incredible area with just a few others off in the distance. In addition, there is a ton of Valley of the Gods camping spots, allowing you to choose your favorite view. The valley is made up of many monuments, each towering higher than the last!

 

Drive Through Valley of the Gods Utah

 

Driving along the Valley of the Gods road, each monument has a specific name, and story to tell. Some of our favorites were Santa and Rudolph Butte…

 

Santa and Rudolph Butte at Valley of the Gods Utah

 

…Lady in a Tub Butte…

 

Lady in a Tub Butte Valley of the Gods Utah

 

… and the suspiciously shaped Castle Butte.

 

Castle Butte in Valley of the Gods Utah

 

We dragged ourselves out of bed before sunrise and scrambled up the slope above our campsite to take in the sunrise as the sun rays reached each of the monument towers. It was an unearthly sight and definitely worth waking up early for!

 

View of Valley of the Gods Utah

 

Kyle at Valley of the Gods Viewpoint Utah

 

We can highly recommend spending a night or two in Valley of the Gods camping. As a bonus it is also super close to another one of our other favorite camping spots, Muley Point!

 

Best Camping Views and Muley Point

 

We learned about Muley Point a few weeks prior when talking to some other travelers who highly recommended it. Once we saw the pictures of their campsite, we immediately added it to our list. To get there from our Valley of the Gods camping spot, we needed to drive up the twists and turns of the Moki Dugway, which is a road that has been cut into the cliffside and zig-zags to the top near Muley Point.

 

Campsite at Muley Point Utah

 

Once at the top of the plateau, the road to Muley Point is easy and smooth. There are a number of dispersed camping sites here, and you really can’t go wrong with any of them. We picked our favorite and set up for the night, enjoying an incredible sunset.

 

Bettina Sitting on Cliff at Muley Point Utah

 

The views from Muley Point are unbelievable. You can see out over the valley with the San Juan River snaking in the foreground and Monument Valley in the background.

 

Sunset at Muley Point Overlooking Monument Valley Utah

 

A Taste of Moab

 

We continued our travels through Southeast Utah up to Moab, known for its location next to the famous Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, and incredible scenery. Unfortunately, the National Parks are still closed due to COVID-19, and it is actually illegal to camp anywhere in this county at the moment. To avoid breaking the law, we drove out of the county each night to camp.

 

Bettina Sitting on Cliff at Needles Overlook Utah

 

Fortunately, we were able to look out at Canyonlands National Park in the distance, and we found a few other arches nearby. Stay tuned and on the look-out for the next monthly update to see some of our favorite spots around Moab!

 

The Stats – Month Two

 

We created a map and compiled stats so that you can follow along our trip easier and which you can use to plan your own adventure!

 

 

Miles driven: 1,188

Nights in Swifty: 28

US States crossed: Utah, Arizona (but we did cross this border 8 times)

Number of Slot Canyons of Utah Hiked: 6

Sugar Cookies Consumed: 12

Number of Nights the Police Woke Us Up and Told Us to Move: 1

Number of Nights We Had to Use the Furnace: 6

Days of Sunshine: 25

Favorite Meal: Burgers at In-N-Out in St. George, Utah

Favorite Campsite: Valley of the Gods, Utah

 

In Summary

 

We are now getting settled in to life on the road, but yearning to experience the full freedom of vanlife. As the COVID-19 closures are gradually re-opened, we have been able to see a few more new sights while still primarily living off the grid and self-isolating. The weather has been spectacularly warm for what we are typically used to for April, which has definitely kept our spirits high. And hiking some of the best slot canyons of Utah was a great highlight!

We are looking forward to the next month on the road as news of Utah’s National Parks gradually reopening are being announced, giving us a hint as to what is to come.

 

Tacoma and Swift Camper At Utah Sign at Monument Valley Utah

 

 

The Night the Police Woke Us Up

 

Oh, and if you are wondering about the stat of the number of nights the police woke us up and told us to move: here it is. We were camping in a park near a city. The spot was well known online and there were many reviews of people camping here, as recently as one week prior, without any issues. There were no “No Camping” signs in the area, and we didn’t think twice about camping there as we set up and went to bed. However, at 12:30AM there was a loud knock on the door and a man yelling “Police.”

 

Campsite at Valley of the Gods Utah

 

We were jolted awake, jumped out of bed immediately, and had flashlights shone in our faces. The policeman was very nice and apologized for waking us up. He told us it was a city park and that we couldn’t camp there, but there was public land a few miles down the road where we could go. So we packed up Swifty and made our way over to another campsite with our hearts still racing. It was fair to say that Bettina almost had a heart attack because of the entire situation. Overall, it was not a big deal, but definitely a night to remember!

 

Save this pin in our road trip Pinterest board for when your next road trip across the US!

 

VanLife in Utah! These are the best slot canyons in Utah, the most instagrammable places in Utah, and the best campsites!

 

VanLife in Utah! These are the best slot canyons in Utah, the most instagrammable places in Utah, and the best campsites!

 

VanLife in Utah! These are the best slot canyons in Utah, the most instagrammable places in Utah, and the best campsites!
VanLife in Utah! These are the best slot canyons in Utah, the most instagrammable places in Utah, and the best campsites!
VanLife in Utah! These are the best slot canyons in Utah, the most instagrammable places in Utah, and the best campsites!
VanLife in Utah! These are the best slot canyons in Utah, the most instagrammable places in Utah, and the best campsites!
VanLife in Utah! These are the best slot canyons in Utah, the most instagrammable places in Utah, and the best campsites!

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10 Best Southwest USA Road Trip Ideas – For When We Can Travel Again

Road trips are by far my favorite way to explore the USA. There is so much vast and remote beauty which is impossible to fully explore without really getting into nature. Given the sheer size of the country, this often involves driving for a few hours. For me the drive is just as much the fun as the destination! With endless roads disappearing over the horizon, roadside diners and classic motels, a road trip will transport you to all these places and more.

 

best Southwest USA road trip destinations

 

One of the most iconic road trip destinations is the Southwest of the US. You can find some of the most beautiful scenery and Instagram-worthy views here. If you’re ready to get out there on your great American road trip, here are our favorite Southwest USA road trip destinations from Utah, Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico. For each location, we’re sharing the best time to visit, our tips for visiting the location, and the most useful resources.

 

Girl leaning agains canyon walls in Utah

 

Note: At the time of publishing this article, national parks in these states are closed and many of these destinations are not accessible. Make sure you save this post for when it is safe to travel again!

 

Why You Need to Visit the Southwest USA

 

The Southwest has all these natural wonders you usually only see in high gloss travel magazines. Think Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, Arches National Park, Route 66, and more! You probably already know all of these from popular movies and TV shows but there is nothing better than experiencing these destinations first-hand doing a Southwest USA road trip!

 

Girl walking on rock formation at White Pocket Arizona

 

One note when driving through the Southwest, a lot of these places are very remote and require a fair amount of driving. You will get to see some incredible and untouched parts of nature but on the flipside, gas stations, restaurants, and hotels, are less frequent.

Make sure you fill up on gas before leaving a town if you don’t know where the next gas station will be. And the worst thing to happen on an iconic American road trip is to run out of gas!

 

Best Time to do your Southwest USA Road Trip

 

You will generally find the best weather in the Southwest between December and April. This area of the USA can get incredibly hot and dry and hiking to some of these places will become extremely strenuous in the heat.

Since some of the places in Utah are at relatively high elevation and could be covered in snow, I would recommend planning your Southwest USA road trip for March or April. During this time, temperatures are going to be around a comfortable 65 F (18 C) in the northern areas and 75 F (24 C) in the south.

 

Girl with sand running through hands at White Sands National Park

 

As most of the US Southwest road trip destinations are in the desert, it may get very hot during the day, but cool down substantially during the night. Make sure you bring a warm sweater or hoodie and a scarf for when the temperatures drop at night.

 

Map for an Iconic Southwest USA Road Trip

 

There are so many different attractions throughout Utah, Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico that it is hard to decide where to go. The below map shows all of our favorite attractions and the order in which we recommend seeing them in on your Southwest USA road trip. You can use this map to plan out and to figure out the best order these road trip destinations fit with your travel plans.

 

Utah Road Trip Destinations

 

Utah is one of those states that I had incredible expectations for, and you may too. It was the last state I visited out of all 50, and easily became one of my top favorites. You can read about our story on how we crossed into Utah and saw our last state here. These Utah destinations will make your Southwest USA road trip unforgettable.

 

Reflections at Bonneville Salt Flats

 

The Bonneville Salt Flats are exactly what the name suggests; an area with densely packed salt. They are located on Interstate 80 just outside of Salt Lake City, close to the Nevada border, and the perfect start for any Utah road trip.

Given the huge flat area, the salt flats make the perfect background to take photos and be creative. Get out there and have fun! Think about working with different perspectives, play with the reflection off the water, and just enjoy the view.

 

 

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Tips:

  • Given that the ground is covered in salt, don’t wear your favorite leather shoes or anything else that could be easily damaged by the salt. Salt can be extremely difficult to remove from clothing and fabrics afterwards. I recommend wearing rubber shoes or boots.
  • Keep in mind that the salt flats are covered in water which is also extremely salty, but more importantly there may be no dry place to set down a bag or anything you bring with you.
  • Temperatures on the salt flats vary greatly. In Summer, they often reach over 100 F (38 C) degrees and can drop below freezing in winter. Make sure you wear protective clothing and sun screen.

Hours: Open 24 hours a day. The Bonneville Salt Flats are managed by the Bureau of Land Management and open to the public most of the time. During events and/or filming projects, there might be restrictions. You can check out the event calendar here.

Facilities: There are no washrooms at the Bonneville Salt Flats.

Cost: Visiting the salt flats is free!

Location: Bonneville Salt Flats

 

Explore Peek-A-Boo and Spooky Canyon

 

Have you ever heard of two slot canyons called Peek-A-Boo and Spooky? Me neither until I went there. These canyons completely live up to their names, are a lot of fun to explore, and definitely worth adding to your Southwest USA road trip. The canyons are closest to Escalante, Utah and are a 3-hour hike round-trip from the parking lot. The hike starts off on a flat sandy trail and continues to a climb down into the dry canyon area. The steep climb down is over smooth slick rock.

 

View at the Trailhead of Peek-A-Boo and Spooky Canyon

 

The best way to hike these two slot canyons is in a one-way loop, starting with Peek-A-Boo, traveling cross-country to reach Spooky, and then exiting Spooky in the original canyon area near the Peek-A-Boo entrance.

 

Peek-A-Boo Canyon Loops Utah

 

Once you reach Peek-A-Boo Slot Canyon, you need to climb up about a 12-foot (3.7 meters) rock face to enter the canyon. I am 5’5” (1.7 meters) and managed to get up there on the first try. Once you start walking through, you quickly understand where the name Peek-A-Boo comes from.

The canyon has some fun rock loops you can climb through and each corner is hidden – providing the best peek-a-boo game! As the slot canyon is not overly deep, you can also play peek-a-boo with people in the canyon, while walking along up top.

 

Girl in Peek-A-Boo Canyon Utah

 

Man Standing at Tight Opening at Peek-A-Boo Canyon Utah

 

When you reach the end of Peek-A-Boo, there is an easy to follow trail that travels cross-country to the entrance of Spooky Slot Canyon. The canyon very much lives up to its name. It is incredibly narrow! In some places, we could only pass by taking off our backpacks, and shuffling sideways.

Spooky also has one technical section halfway through where you need to climb overtop some car-sized boulders, and then crawl back underneath them to continue through the slot canyon. These canyons will definitely make your Utah road trip more interesting!

 

Girl Leaning Against the Peek-A-Boo Canyon Utah

 

Tips:

  • Please don’t visit these canyons if you’re claustrophobic! Both canyons have some very narrow spots and are dark at times.
  • Bring enough water but carry a small backpack. A large backpack is much harder to squeeze through the tight corners of Spooky Slot Canyon.
  • There is weak to no cell reception on the hike with T-Mobile.

Hours: Open 24 hours a day

Cost: Visiting Peek-A-Boo and Spooky Canyon is free.

Facilities: There are two outhouses at the trailhead.

Location: Peek-A-Boo and Spooky Slot Canyon. The slot canyons are located along Hole-In-The-Rock Road, and require driving about one hour on dusty gravel roads - the perfect adventure on your Southwest USA road trip. The roads are fine for a car when dry, but do not attempt to drive when the ground is wet as it instantly turns to slick mud.

 

Stunning Grosvenor Arch

 

If you love arches but don’t feel like battling the crowds at Arches National Park, Grosvenor Arch is your destination. It is a unique double arch about 150 feet (46 meters) tall and is located within the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah. The double arch is an easy 5-minute walk from the parking lot and is extremely impressive to look at! You can’t climb around or on top of the arch but the view you get from the bottom is definitely worth it!

 

Girl Standing in Front Of Grosvenor Arch

 

Tips:

  • Grosvenor Arch is easily reachable by car but you will mostly drive on a gravel road. Make sure you fuel up before hitting the road as there are no gas stations anywhere close.
  • There is weak to no cell reception at Grosvenor Arch with T-Mobile.

Hours: Open 24 hours a day

Cost: Visiting Grosvenor Arch is free.

Facilities: There are two outhouses at the trailhead.

Location: Grosvenor Arch

 

Running Around at Devil’s Garden Escalante

 

Devil’s Garden Escalante is very much like a playground for grownups and offers so many photo opportunities. It is a perfect addition to your Southwest USA road trip. It is located in the Staircase-Escalante National Monument and known for its countless hoodoos and two small arches. Its location provides for some amazing views and given that it’s possible to climb onto the base of the hoodoos, you can let your creativity run wild.

 

Girl Sitting in front of Hoodoo at Devil's Gargen Utah

 

Girl sitting between two Hoodoos at Devils Garden Utah

 

Tips:

  • Devil’s Garden is easily reachable when driving down the Hole in the Rock road. Make sure you fuel up before your trip and bring enough water and food for the day.
  • Cell reception at Devil’s Garden is spotty with T-Mobile. I had the best reception at higher points.

Hours: Open 24 hours a day

Cost: Visiting Devil’s Garden Escalante is free.

Facilities: There are two outhouses at the trailhead.

Location: Devil’s Garden This is located on the same road as Peek-A-Boo and Spooky Slot Canyons and is great to combine into the same day.

Arizona Road Trip Destinations

 

Similar to Utah, Arizona is home to some incredible natural wonders and trying to figure out where to go can be a daunting task. These are our favorite Arizona road trip destinations, some of which you may never have heard of and which you cannot miss out on your Southwest USA road trip!

 

Girl Sitting on Rock Formation Wave at White Pocket Arizona

 

Off the Beaten Path in White Pocket, Vermillion Cliffs National Monument

 

White Pocket is an area within the Vermillion Cliffs National Monument in Arizona. It has some of the most amazing rock formations. Think orange lined rocks like the Wave, white pillow-like rock surfaces and sliver thin rock layers. You are free to walk around and explore as much as you like.

The area is a 10-minute walk on a sand trail from the parking lot. It is one of the best kept secrets but a great addition to your Southwest USA road trip.

 

Girl Standing on Rock Formation Wave in White Pocket Arizona

 

View From White Pocket Arizona

 

Getting to White Pocket is a bit more difficult.. It is a 3-4 hour drive from Kanab, UT or Page, AZ. The first hour of the drive is on a paved highway, followed by a maintained gravel road. The last 5 miles are in deeply rutted sand. A high clearance vehicle with four-wheel drive is highly recommended. That being said, most rugged SUVs and pick-up trucks with four-wheel drive should be able to make it without issue.

 

Rock Formations at White Pocket Arizona

 

Girl Jumping at White Pocket Arizona

 

Tips:

  • There are no facilities at White Pocket. It’s very remote so be sure to bring enough water, food, and sun protection.
  • Don’t leave anything behind, not even personal waste. We recommend bringing bags designed to hold human waste.
  • I had surprisingly good cell reception at White Pocket. I had 2 bars LTE with T-Mobile.

Hours: Open 24 hours a day

Cost: Visiting White Pocket is free.

Facilities: There are no facilities at White Pocket.

Location: White Pocket Vermillion Cliffs

 

Catching the Light at Antelope Canyon

 

There is nothing quite as magical as catching the sunrays as they shine through a slot canyon! Antelope Canyon is one of the most famous slot canyons in Arizona and a must see on your Southwest USA road trip. It is completely worth a visit. You will need to book a tour to access the canyon and I recommend booking far in advance as the slot canyon is incredibly busy, especially in Summer.

 

Sunrays in Slot Canyon at Lower Antelope Canyon

 

You may not know this but there is an Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon. Lower Antelope Canyon is slightly less busy and tours are cheaper. We visited Lower Antelope Canyon and loved the tour and the canyon itself.

 

View at Lower Antelope Canyon

 

Tips:

  • The tour moves quite fast and taking a lot of pictures can be difficult. If you’re planning to take photos, consider booking a tour first thing in the morning or late in the afternoon.
  • The light in the canyon is best around midday, which is also the busiest time to visit.
  • The descent into the canyon is a very steep staircase. Make sure you wear good shoes.
  • It was incredibly windy when we were there and we found orange sand in our pockets days after we walked through the canyon. Expect to have sand blown everywhere.

Hours: You cannot access Antelope Canyon without a tour. Tour hours are 7:30am – 5:45pm.

Cost: Costs for a tour at lower Antelope Canyon starts at $40 for a 1-1.5 hours tour plus $8 Navajo Parks fee. Cost for a tour at upper Antelope Canyon starts at $54 for 1.5 hour tour plus $8 Navajo Parks fee. If you decide to take a tour of both Upper and Lower, you only pay the Navajo Parks fee once!

Facilities: There is a visitor center at the Antelope Canyon with washrooms.

Location: Antelope Canyon

 

Enjoying the View at Horseshoe Bend

 

Horseshoe Bend is one of the most iconic places to visit in Arizona and on your Southwest USA road trip and definitely worth a stop! We visited the Horseshoe Bend in 2017 and also just recently in March 2020. The river formation is just as stunning the second time we saw it as the first time. The area around it has completely changed though.

You can easily drive up to the parking lot and walk 5-10 minutes on a gravel trail to get to the bend. There are two covered areas where you can get some shade along the trail as it gets extremely hot here in Summer.

 

Guy Sitting on Rock at Horseshoe Bend Arizona

 

Once you get to the very tip of the cliff, there are some areas which are fenced off for safety reasons. However, you are still free to roam around in other areas and the iconic “rock” is not fenced in and you can get one of the most Instagram-worthy photos from here.

 

Girl Sitting and Overlooking Horseshoe Bend Arizona

 

Tips:

  • Take a lot of water! Yes, the hike is short – only 5-10 minutes. However, it gets extremely hot and there is not a lot of shade. We visited in March and didn’t think we would need the extra water but we wish we had brought some.
  • Apply plenty of sunscreen! Even if you’re not planning to stay very long, the sun reflects of the rock surfaces and is very intense.
  • Horseshoe Bend is extremely popular and gets super busy. Consider visiting early in the morning or late in the evening for some amazing sunset photos.

Hours: Open daily from Dawn to Dusk according to the City of Page.

Cost: Entrance fee to Horseshoe Bend is $10 per car. You pay upon entering the parking lot.

Facilities: There are washrooms available at the parking lot.

Location: Horseshoe Bend

 

Grand Canyon Road Trip

 

Any Southwest USA road trip would not be complete without a stop at the Grand Canyon! I’m sure you have seen countless photos of the Grand Canyon and might be wondering if it’s worth going there given that you have already seen it in photos. It is absolutely worth it! Standing on the edge of the canyon and overlooking the entire area is an incredible feeling and very much worth a trip.

 

Sunset at Grand Canyon South Rim Arizona

 

The Grand Canyon has a North and a South Rim. The South Rim includes all of the popular viewpoints and it is what people usually think of when you mention Grand Canyon. It is much easier to get to and unlike the North Rim, it is open all year round.

Getting to the North Rim is for those who like to take the road less traveled. It is generally closed in Winter and lodging is only open from May to October due to the snow. Make sure you make a reservation at the North Rim lodge or campground if you’re planning to visit the North Rim, as lodging options are very limited.

 

View of Grand Canyon South Rim Arizona

 

A Grand Canyon road trip can be as long or short as you like. The South Rim is a 4.5-hour drive from Las Vegas and you can easily see some of it in a day. If you’re short on time and only have one day to spend here, I recommend visiting the South Rim as it is much easier to access. Start your day at Mather Point which is a great place to view the sunrise or sunset.

Continue to Yavapai Point which is very close and make your way West. You can easily drive to all the viewpoints and if you have time, doing the South Rim Trail is an easy way to take in all the epic views. The hike is relatively easy with minimal elevation gain.

 

Golden Light at Sunset at Grand Canyon South Rim in Arizona

 

Other viewpoints which are easy to get to by car and have an amazing view are Maricopa Point, Powell Point, Hopi Point, and Mohave Point where you can see the Colorado River. If you’re looking for wide views of the canyon, Lipan Point is another great viewpoint.

 

Sun Setting over the Grand Canyon South Rim in Arizona

 

If you have more than one day here and are planning a longer Southwest USA road trip, I highly recommend waking up early and enjoying a sunrise over the canyon and seeing the sun set behind this majestic landscape. It truly is an experience like no other.

Tips:

  • There is a lot to see at the Grand Canyon, make sure you plan out your time here and know what you want to see.
  • The South Rim viewpoints can get very busy. Being here early in the morning and later in the evening helps avoid the crowds.
  • If you want to make the most out of your Grand Canyon road trip, bring water and food with you so that you don’t have to stop in the village but can chase the amazing views instead.

Hours: The South Rim is open 24 hours daily. The North Rim is closed to all vehicles from December 1 to May 15.

Cost: Entrance to Grand Canyon National Park is $35 per vehicle. Your pass will be valid for 7 days and includes both the North and South Rim.

Facilities: The South Rim has multiple visitor centers and is fully outfitted with facilities, restaurants, and lodging. The North Rim has one visitor center which is open from May 15 to October 15 and limited lodging.

Location: Grand Canyon South Rim, Grand Canyon North Rim

 

Nevada and New Mexico Road Trip Destinations

 

You may not think of Nevada and New Mexico when planning your iconic American road trip. Trust me when I say that both states have some beautiful road trip destinations you absolutely need to add to your Southwest USA road trip!

 

Loneliest Road in America in Nevada

 

The Loneliest Road in America, also known as U.S. Route 50, goes straight across Nevada. It very much deserves the name of being the loneliest road as there is little to no civilization along the way, other than the odd ghost town. This is exactly why it’s the perfect Southwest USA road trip destination!

Fueled up and with plenty of water and food, you can hit the road and explore the vast countryside of Nevada which ranges from salty flat areas to mountains, and grass lands full of hidden hot springs. The road itself goes straight for a large portion and offers incredible photo opportunities, sharing the vastness of the state.

 

Sand Mountain on the Loneliest Road in America in Nevada

 

Stopping in a ghost town is a must if you like the idea of traveling back in time and seeing America as it used to be. I can particularly recommend Austin, Nevada which is full of old-school houses, store fronts, and signs.

 

Girl Walking along Ghost Town Store Front in Austin Nevada along Loneliest Road

 

Other fun activities along the way include enjoying a sunset on Sand Mountain, horseback riding through the wide grass lands, and searching for hot springs. Because of its remote location, the Loneliest Road in America offers the perfect opportunity for some stargazing.

 

Girl Sitting in Heart-Shaped Bartine Hot Springs in Nevada

 

Tips:

  • The Loneliest Road in America used to be only travelable by people with survival skills. While it’s definitely easier to drive these days, make sure you fuel up before you leave and get gas every opportunity you get. Gas stations are few and far in-between.
  • Make sure you bring plenty of water and food with you.
  • Nevada has an incredible amount of hot springs and no road trip across the Loneliest Road would be complete without taking a dip. Make sure to stop at the popular Spencer Hot Springs or smaller heart-shaped Bartine Hot Springs.
  • There is surprisingly good cell reception along the Loneliest Road in America. I had 2 bars LTE with T-Mobile.

Hours: Open 24 hours a day

Cost: Driving the Loneliest Road in America is free.

Facilities: There are only few facilities along the Loneliest Road in America, whenever you hit a ghost town.

Location: Loneliest Road in America

 

White Sands Monument in New Mexico

 

White Sands National Park is everything you think of when you hear the name. It’s in the Chihuahuan Desert in New Mexico and is covered in rare white sand. While you may have never heard of it, White Sands is extremely beautiful and definitely worth adding to your Southwest USA road trip.

The white gypsum sand is like nothing I have ever seen before. As you enter the park, you will notice how incredibly quiet it is. There is no sound other than the wind forming new sand dunes.

 

Girl in Dress at White Sands National Monument

 

Girl with Sand running through hands at White Sands National Park New Mexico

 

You can easily access the dunes on the Dunes Drive which is a looped road from the visitor center to the dune field. We were able to park almost anywhere we wanted and just get out of the car to explore the area. If you would like to spend more time in Mexico, you could visit the White Sand National Park in the morning and head to Albuquerque for a weekend.

 

Couple Kissing in White Sands National Park

 

Tips:

  • The White Sands National Park is a desert and as such extremely dry and hot. Make sure you bring plenty of water.
  • You can easily get lost wandering around the dunes as there is not a lot a variety in landscape. Make sure you don’t visit alone and follow trail posts.
  • The sun reflection off the white sand is very intense. Make sure you use sunscreen with high SPF and wear protective clothing. Visiting in the early morning is best to avoid the afternoon heat.
  • There is poor to no cell reception at White Sands National Park.

 

Hours: The White Sands National Park opens at 7am daily. Closing hours vary depending on the time of the year and are generally between 6pm -7pm in winter and 8pm-9m in summer. Make sure you check the current operation hours on the official website as there might be closures for missile testing.

Cost: Entrance fee to the park is $25 per vehicle and $15 per person if there is only one person in the vehicle.

Facilities: There is a visitor center at the entrance of the park with full washrooms.

Location: White Sands National Park

 

The Next Trip Top 5 Tips for Your Southwest USA Road Trip

 

1) Prepare for the Heat

The weather in the Southwest US is very dry and hot. Especially during the Summer months, temperatures often rise over 100 F (38 C) and spending time outside can be unbearable. Make sure you are prepared for the heat  during your Southwest USA road trip. Make sure your car has air conditioning and if you plan to visit in Summer, plan accommodation with air conditioning as well. I would recommend doing your Southwest USA road trip in March or April when temperatures are more pleasant.

 

2) Stay Hydrated

Staying hydrated is key during the heat for safety but also to stay energized. Many of these incredible destinations are very dry and windy and you will end up needing more water than you expect. Make sure you bring plenty of fluids. I add Hydralyte to my water for extra hydration on all of my hikes to make sure I don’t get de-hydrated.

 

3) Bring Good Hiking Shoes

A lot of these Utah and Arizona road trip destinations are in rocky and sandy terrain. Make sure you bring good hiking shoes with great grip on the sole to get around easier. I have done some hikes in normal sneakers which slowed me down a bit as I wasn’t able to climb down rocky sections as easily.

 

4) Bring a Good Camera

You will undoubtedly see some incredible landscapes on your Southwest USA road trip. Make sure you bring a good camera and have it fully charged. You will want to look back to this iconic road trip years down the road and will want photos to remember all the incredible places you have seen. On our trip, we took thousands of photos of the amazing rock formations and continue to enjoy looking back on them.

 

5) Plan Around Sunrises and Sunsets

Generally, the best time to explore these places is early in the morning or late in the afternoon. Temperatures are not as hot, there will be less people on the road, and the golden hour provides for amazing photos. Make sure you know your sunrise and sunset hours as traveling in the dark can quickly get very dangerous. I would especially recommend to not do any off-road driving or hiking in the dark.

 

Girl in Dress Behind a Plant at White Sands National Park

 

Have you ever taken a Southwest USA road trip? Let us know if we missed any places we should be adding to our list! We love to explore more and hear from you! What have been your favorite road trips to date?

 

Save this post on Pinterest to plan your future iconic Southwest USA road trip!

 

The 10 best Southwest USA road trip destinations you can't miss including Grand Canyon, Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend, and more!

 

The 10 best Southwest USA road trip destinations you can't miss including Grand Canyon, Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend, and more!

 

The 10 best Southwest USA road trip destinations you can't miss including Grand Canyon, Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend, and more!
The 10 best Southwest USA road trip destinations you can't miss including Grand Canyon, Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend, and more!
The 10 best Southwest USA road trip destinations you can't miss including Grand Canyon, Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend, and more!
The 10 best Southwest USA road trip destinations you can't miss including Grand Canyon, Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend, and more!

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How To Best Prepare for Full Time Camper Living

Planning for a multi-year overlanding trip results in a long list of pretty much everything you can imagine. Decisions, decisions, decisions on what to buy, bring, sell or modify before you even begin your adventure. The biggest decision by far is what vehicle you will drive and how you will sleep. These are all of our thoughts and considerations for the ‘perfect for us’ home on wheels for full time camper living.

 

If you are wondering why we are taking this trip and adventure into full time camper living and tackling the Pan-American Highway, you can read all about our transition from corporate America to living in a camper. The decision of pursuing Van Life or living in a camper is certainly not an easy one to make but it has been fully worth it for us. If you're wondering if you should try full time camper living, this article on Van Lifer's Comments might help with your decision making.

 

Love Where You Live Mural in North Park, San Diego

 

What Vehicle Should I Choose For Full Time Camper Living?

 

The vehicle you choose to tackle the Pan-American Highway with is obviously one of the biggest decisions to make. For us, it was a relatively easy decision, but still well thought out. When we moved to Chicago in 2015, we purchased our 2011 Toyota Tacoma, knowing in the back of our minds that it might be used for this adventure.

 

Unmodified Toyota Tacoma

 

The main requirements in a vehicle to go on such an adventure are for it to be reliable, durable, capable, and relatively fuel efficient. The Toyota Tacoma is one of the most popular trucks in North America due to its well-known Toyota reliability and durability, as well as being quite capable off-road. Fuel efficiency is not its strong-point, but when driven with care it is manageable. All of these factors, make it an excellent choice for full time camper living.

 

Do I Need To Modify My Vehicle? 

 

Depending on what vehicle you pick and what type of home you are planning to live in (think rooftop tent, van, camper, pop-up camper, etc), you may need to do some modifications to your vehicle. Also, if you are planning on doing a lot of off-roading, stock tires and suspension might not get you everywhere you want to go. In our case, we had to put some work into our Toyota Tacoma for it to be able to safely support our pop-up camper called "Swifty" (more on it below). We made the following modifications to get ready for the road.

 

  • Old Man Emu Heavy Duty 3” Lift Kit and rear airbags (for extra ground clearance and to support the weight of Swifty) - after our first month on the road, we are already super happy we have a lift.
  • 33” BF Goodrich All-Terrain T/A KO2’s (for better traction off-road and to support the weight of Swifty)
  • RCI Off Road engine skid plate (to protect the engine if we don’t see a rock that is too big to drive over!)
  • RCI Off Road rock sliders (to protect the underside of the truck and provide an appropriate jack point for the now higher truck)
  • New brakes, a full-size spare tire, spark plugs, and fresh fluids all around (for overall better driveability and reliability)

 

Toyota Tacoma Being Modified at Performance Rovers in Charlotte

 

A special thanks to Performance Rovers (Charlotte, North Carolina), MULE Expedition Outfitters (Issaquah, Washington), and Overland Outfitters (Cloverdale, British Columbia) for completing the modifications and helping us along the way! We can highly recommend all of them for quality work and excellent customer service.

 

The list of modifications you could make to your overland vehicle is endless, especially for full time camper living. With what we chose we hope to strike the right balance of increased capability, maintaining stock reliability, and keeping overall weight down.

 

What's The Best Camper For Full Time Camper Living?

 

Finding the best camper for full time camper living highly depends on your preferred lifestyle. If you are looking to live a minimal lifestyle, don't mind being exposed to the weather, and are wanting to keep the overall vehicle cost and weight down to explore places, a rooftop tent might be a great option for you!

 

Toyota Tacoma and Four Wheel Camper Swift Model at Performance Rovers in Charlotte

 

If you are the opposite and are looking for a tiny house which is comfortable but can still get you places, you might like getting a camper or a van. Campers or vans are really great but restrict where you can go as they don't perform as well off road. If you are somewhere in the middle and want a comfortable home but also don't like to be restricted in where you go, a pop-up camper might be your best option for full time camper living.

 

Bettina in Front of an Ocean View in San Diego

 

Why We Chose A Pop-Up Camper

 

Our initial plan was to complete this trip with a roof-top tent, however after a two-week long camping trip to Colorado in 2017, we realized that tenting wasn’t going to work for such a long trip. We needed to have a complete indoor place to work, relax, and cook when the weather turned sour, to be able to enjoy full time camper living.

 

Bettina looking at a crashing wave in Hawaii

 

While getting a full RV, camper, or Sprinter van would provide a comfortable tiny home, we wouldn't be able to go and explore all the places on our lists. This left us with the third option: a pop-up camper.

 

Which Pop-Up Camper Is Right For Me?

 

The decision of getting the right pop-up camper very much depends on your vehicle. Given that we have a Toyota Tacoma, our options were very limited, as there are not a lot of pop-up campers on the market to fit a short-bed.

 

Toyota Tacoma and Four Wheel Camper Swift Model Drifting in the Snow

 

The Four Wheel Campers Swift model is specifically designed for the short-bed Toyota Tacoma and was thus perfect for us. This pop-up camper is designed to be strong (to withstand flex and tension when driving off-road), relatively lightweight (given the Toyota Tacoma’s poor payload capacity), relatively compact (so we can still fit in a shipping container) and to include just about everything you need to live indoors.

 

Buying a Four-Wheel Campers Pop-Up Camper

 

Four-Wheel Campers are not cheap, and get snapped up quickly on the used market. I began actively searching for a pop-up truck camper about a year before we planned on leaving Chicago, and over the next nine months, it became apparent that 1) the campers are listed and sold within days 2) there are virtually no campers available east of Colorado.

 

Camp Set-Up for full time camper living

 

If you are looking to buy a Four-Wheel Campers pop-up camper, but prefer to get a used version to save some money, prepare to wait or fly west. Because of their unique features, the pop-up camper is very popular and doesn't stay on the secondary market very long. I found our Swift model on Expedition Portal and immediately got in contact with the seller who had received multiple requests the day he listed his camper.

 

Toyota Tacoma off-roading in the sand in Utah

 

Because camping and off-roading is more popular in the western half of the U.S., your chances of finding a used pop-up camper are much higher there. If you have the option of researching and purchasing one in the western states, it will make your search easier and shorter.

 

Four-Wheel Campers Pop-Up Camper Interior

 

Our Four Wheel Campers Swift model (which Bettina calls Swifty) is complete with a refrigerator and freezer, two-burner propane stove, 20 gallon water tank with sink, hot water heater with outdoor shower head, propane furnace, two solar panels and two batteries, and a massive 270-degree awning.

 

Four Wheel Camper Swift Interior Pre Modifications

 

Four Wheel Camper Swift Interior Pre Modifications

 

The original look of our used Swift model was not exactly what Bettina had in mind for full time camper living. The kitchen counter top and table were a darker brown granite lookalike and the couch cushion fabric was very camp-chic. Given that the Swift model is not overly spacious, she decided to redecorate the interior and include brighter colors to visually enlarge the space.

 

Four Wheel Camper Swift Interior Pre Modifications

 

For the counter tops, she ordered a white marble counter top sticker. This was by far the cheapest option to upgrade the look of the counter top. The installation was a bit tedious and took a few hours but the final look is definitely worth it. After a full month on the road and cooking inside Swifty, the sticker has held up nicely and still looks great.

 

Four Wheel Camper Swift Interior Post Modifications

 

Four Wheel Camper Swift Interior Post Modifications

 

To upgrade the couch cushion covers, Bettina decided to go with a light grey durable fabric that would go well with the marble and add a clean look to the camper. She took all the old cushions apart and sewed new ones herself to save some money.

 

Four Wheel Camper Swift Interior Post Modifications

 

Four Wheel Camper Swift Interior Post Modifications for full time camper living

 

Lastly, we added a carpet to the camper floor which would make it more comfortable to walk around barefoot. The end result is a clean, bright, and cohesive interior, perfect for us to enjoy full time camper living.

 

Four Wheel Camper Swift Interior Post Modifications

 

5 Other Camping Essentials

 

If you made it this far and decide to give the full time camper living a go, there are a few camping essentials you shouldn't leave without! We compiled a list of our top 5 things you should consider getting before embarking on your adventure.

 

1. Portable Bathroom: From the list above, you can see that Swifty has just about everything we could possibly need, with the one glaring exception being a toilet. We decided to purchase a collapsible toilet seat, sanitary bags, and a privacy tent to make up for the missing bathroom. The set-up works perfectly and the tent does double-duty as a shower tent using our outdoor shower head.

2. Outdoor Kitchen: If you're looking into living the camper life, it's safe to assume you like to be outdoors. And since cooking takes up a lot of time on the road, you might as well do so in your outdoor kitchen! Having a camp table and camp chairs is essential to us as we like to sit and eat outside. If you are looking to fully cook outside, like we do, adding a camp stove to your inventory is essential. We got the Coleman camp stove and can highly recommend it so far as it works great and can function on either Coleman camp fuel or unleaded gasoline.

3. Recovery Gear: The last thing you want to do while living on the road is get stuck in the middle of nowhere with no help in sight. If you are traveling alone (without a second vehicle), we highly recommend you invest in some recovery gear. We are traveling with multiple tow-ropes, a Hi-Lift Jack, two MAXTRAX, a shovel, a saw, a portable air compressor, and a tire repair kit. Carrying a spare fuel can with you is also extremely helpful and can save you when gas stations are few and far between.

4. Packing Cubes: Space comes at a premium on the road - especially closet space. If you have been following us for a bit, you know that Bettina loves her flowy dresses and an extensive wardrobe. To solve our closet space solution, we use the Genius Pack compression packing cubes to store our everyday clothes underneath the couch in Swifty. The compression cubes help greatly when it comes to packing efficiently. Bettina also has a carry-on size suitcase in the back of the truck to store all of her dresses and shoes.

 

Packing Cubes Under Seat Storage Four Wheel Camper Swift Model

 

5. Portable Battery Pack: With your cell phone being your main communication, internet, and entertainment device it will always be running low on battery. We recommend bringing at least one portable battery pack to recharge your phone on the go when you don't have an electrical outlet. We are using the Revel Gear Day Tripper Solar Pack (get 15% off using THENEXTTRIP15 at check-out) which comes with a solar panel to charge up your battery pack. It also has an integrated LED light! Needless to say, it is one of our most used gadgets on the road as we use it to charge our phones, the portable speaker, and power our camp lights.

 

Looking Ahead - Full Time Camper Living

 

The adventure that lies ahead will no doubt change who you are and your views on life. We find ourselves at a bit of a mid-life crisis, unsure how to navigate the world. There will be too many ups and downs to count along the way, but the goal is to explore new places and cultures, try new foods and experiences, and grow even closer together, with an overarching theme of adventure. One quote that really resonates with us and helps define our journey is that “Adventure is the pursuit of oneself.” We don’t know what we will find or discover, but are ready for the challenge.

 

Bettina and Kyle at White Sands Monument

 

Bettina and Kyle at White Sands Monument

 

Save this pin to your adventure travel or vanlife Pinterest board for when you are ready to hit the road!

 

How To Best Prepare for Full Time Camper Living 36

 

How To Best Prepare for Full Time Camper Living 37

 

You want to try full time camper living but don't know where to begin? Here is everything you should know, how we prepared, and our essentials for the road.
You want to try full time camper living but don't know where to begin? Here is everything you should know, how we prepared, and our essentials for the road.

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Corporate Careers to Living in a Camper for 1 Year – Our Crazy Transformation

If you have been following us for a while, you know by now that we quit our jobs in corporate America and decided to pursue living in a camper for the foreseeable future. Our goal was not to be living in a camper to save money, but to explore areas of the world that we wouldn't be able to get to otherwise. How our journey came to be is a long story. Let me start from the very beginning.

 

Bettina and Kyle at a Corporate Holiday Party

 

The Trigger

 

It was almost a decade ago that it hit me. I’m not sure exactly when it was, or what the exact trigger was, but I had stumbled upon a blog of a couple that quit their jobs and were driving the Pan-American Highway. I instantly jumped headfirst down the proverbial rabbit hole and read every blog post they wrote along the way from Alaska to Patagonia. The weekly posts included my kind of exploration: remote mountain ranges, beautiful colonial towns, camping on secluded beaches, eating as many tacos as they could, and basically doing whatever they pleased.

 

Toyota Tacoma and Four Wheel Camper Swift in the Sand

 

Over the next year I poured over as many overlanding blogs and forums I could find. Everyone wrote about their experiences with such enthusiasm and zest for life, and not one person regretted their choice to hit the road. This is when I knew this was something that I wanted to do.

 

The Wait

 

Having just started a career in accounting, and Bettina still studying for her Masters, it was not the ideal time to drop everything and travel the world. As we progressed in our careers and started to earn a living wage, we were soon able to start saving away for this future adventure. A move to Chicago brought enough new adventure opportunities that we decided to stay twice as long as we initially planned.

 

Bettina and Kyle in front of the Chicago Mural

Bettina's Top / Bettina's Jeans / Bettina's Shoes

 

It is truly one of our favorite cities, and if you haven’t been, we can highly recommend it. These our our favorite things to do in Chicago, even if you're only there for a few days. Corporate America does have some perks, but after five years we were ready for a change.

 

Kyle and Bettina at Magnificent Mile in Chicago

Bettina's Dress / Bettina's Shoes 

 

With no new city calling our names, this was the perfect opportunity to live our dreams. Or perhaps live my dream. When I initially proposed this trip to Bettina years ago, it was absolutely out of the question for her. A few years of stressful work and a new passion for travel blogging quickly turned her around.

 

Toyota Tacoma and Four Wheel Camper Swift Model and Chicago Skyline - Living in a Camper

 

 

Why Overlanding

 

“Overlanding” is self-reliant overland travel to remote destinations where the journey is the principal goal.  Overlanding typically involves off-road capable transportation and often lasts for extended periods of time (months to years). It is not an expedition, as an expedition is a defined journey with a purpose, whereas with overlanding the journey is the purpose.

We could certainly pack a few bags in a car and hit the road, and that is exactly what some others do. However, I have a yearning for exploring places off the beaten track and that generally requires a vehicle that is more capable and the ability to be self-sufficient while “off the grid” for days at a time. Our trip will have a diverse mixture of remote backcountry travel and stopping off in every major city along the way.

 

View from White Pocket Arizona

Bettina's Dress

 

 

The Pan-American Highway

 

The Pan-American Highway is the longest motorable road in the world. It stretches from the very north at Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, and travels 19,000 miles (30,000 kilometers) to the very south in Ushuaia, Argentina. It is, in short, a very long way.

Our route, will loosely follow the Pan-American Highway, in our quest to reach Ushuaia. The first half of the route spans Canada, the United States, Mexico, Belize (not officially), Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama. There are no roads between Panama and Colombia thanks to the infamously dangerous Darién Gap, which means you must organize your vehicle to be shipped via container ship to Colombia, one of the major hurdles of the Pan-American Highway. Once in Colombia, it is on to Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Argentina.

 

Toyota Tacoma and Four Wheel Camper in the Snow

 

The Preparation

 

Planning for a trip such as this is daunting, even for self-proclaimed planners and list-makers like ourselves. We had an ongoing destinations list that we updated over the years, as we saw new “must-see” destinations. However, about a year and a half before our intended departure we got a little bit more serious. Meetings were had, lists were made, and a schedule was created.

Over the next few months, life took its own course and we fell seriously behind on our planning goals. Nevertheless, we tediously researched and acquired the gear we would need, and eventually came to the conclusion that no matter how much you prepare, you will never truly be “ready” to leave. We embraced that spirit, and hit the road on March 5, 2020.

 

Four Wheel Camper in Front of Arizona State Sign

Bettina's Dress

 

Living in a Camper - Swifty

 

What we hit the road with was our Toyota Tacoma, sprouting a few more modifications than before, and our Four Wheel Pop-Up Camper Swift, affectionately known as “Swifty.” Swifty had been beautified by Bettina, to bring the interior aesthetics up to her standards. We also spent a large amount of time on camper organization so that every nook and cranny of the Tacoma and Swifty were filled with what we thought we might need over the next year or so for living in a camper.

 

Living in a Camper - Four Wheel Camper Swift Interior

 

We put together an in-depth explanation and tour of Tacoma and Swifty, in case you are curious to learn more about our home on wheels. We also included some before and after Swifty beautification photos - you can't miss out on those original seat cushion covers!

 

On the Road

 

The morning that we left, we still had a huge to-do list of things we wanted to complete, but that had no hope of being accomplished over the next few hours. Nevertheless, we packed up our remaining belongings and set-off from home, only a few hours behind schedule. Border crossings can be one of the main headaches when completing the Pan-American Highway, and as we were unemployed and living in a camper, we didn’t know what the border agent would think of us.

 

Living in a Camper - View from Camper of Alstrom Point, Utah

Bettina's Dress / Bettina's Shoes / String Lights (get 15% off the string lights with THENEXTTRIP15)

 

However, we are happy to report that the first border crossing, only 10 minutes into our journey, went off without a hitch. Hitting the road south, we didn’t really know how to feel or what to expect of this trip and living in a camper, but we knew that great adventures lie ahead. If you're curious to know how we are doing on the road so far, check out our post about our first month on the road.

 

Save this post to your road trip Pinterest boards for when the travel bug bites and you are looking to get away for a few months as well!

 

From Corporate America to VanLife! How we made the crazy transition and decided to live a life on the road!

 

From Corporate America to VanLife! How we made the crazy transition and decided to live a life on the road!

From Corporate America to VanLife! How we made the crazy transition and decided to live a life on the road!

 

From Corporate America to VanLife! How we made the crazy transition and decided to live a life on the road!

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Month 1 On The Road – Now Hitting The Road

Welcome to our new monthly update series! This is where we will share everything that we've been up to since hitting the road. While we still plan to create blog posts on specific destinations and topics, this series is more like a diary for you to follow along on our trip. Stay tuned each month for new updates on what we’ve been up to along the way!

 

Girl Sitting on Top of Horseshoe Bend

 

Sleepless in Seattle

 

To be fair, the title here doesn’t accurately describe our time in Seattle as we slept in every day, but were desperate for a catchy title. After leaving home and hitting the road a few hours late, we were lucky that the border wait was short and the friendly agent only asked us a few questions before wishing us the best on our adventure. This border crossing was certainly unlike any other we have experienced in the past.

 

Twirling in Front of Space Needle in Seattle

 

We were on a mission to catch the last factory tour of the day at the Boeing Factory in Everett. It was already passed lunch and the last tours start at 4pm! We pushed through and arrived, only a few minutes after the tour started, with Bettina running to the entrance while Kyle parked Swifty. They literally held the bus for us, and we are very grateful!

 

The Boeing Factory in Everett is absolutely immense. Our jaws dropped when we walked into the main building, the largest building in the world by volume (472 million cubic feet / 13.3 million cubic metres). Seeing the gigantic 747’s moving along the production line was a special avgeek moment for Kyle. Unfortunately, pictures are prohibited so you will just have to take our word for it for how cool it really was!

 

Hitting the Road in Seattle

 

The next few days we toured around Seattle, catching up with friends, and indulging more than once at the Starbucks Reserve Roastery, which has THE BEST pastries that we have tried on this side of the Atlantic. COVID-19 was on our minds, as we kept our distance and practiced better hand washing than usual, but we still went out to drink and eat, and there was only a mild level of concern in the city.

 

Waterfalls – Oregon vs. Iceland

 

Soon enough it was time that we were really hitting the road. As we have been to Seattle multiple times before and we were staying with friends, it didn’t really feel like we had truly started our trip yet. Heading South into Oregon, we were off to new places and our first night in Swifty. Our first night actually turned out to be one of our worst nights as the campground we stayed at had freight trains rolling by on the hour throughout the night. We were right next to the tracks and every time a train passed, Swifty would shake and we would wake up from the noise.

 

Multnomah Falls in Oregon

 

Luckily it was sunshine and blue skies the next day as we quickly toured Multnomah Falls, stocked up on supplies in Portland, and headed into the mountains to find Abiqua Falls.

 

Abiqua Falls Oregon - The Next Trip

 

The hike to the falls was steep and muddy, but didn’t take too long. The reward at the end was breathtaking and totally worth the hike. Abiqua Falls is set in an amphitheater like setting of basalt columns.

 

Abiqua Falls Oregon - The Next Trip

 

Abiqua Falls Oregon - The Next Trip

 

Our waterfall tour of Oregon continued with a visit to Silver Falls State Park, an undiscovered gem. Here you can complete the Trail of Ten Falls, featuring the famous South Falls. A 177 feet (54 meter) curtain of water falls over the cliff, and you are invited to walk behind the falls. It was at this point we had a bit of deja-vu without our previous trips to Iceland. Abiqua Falls had us thinking of Svartifoss, and South Falls of Seljalandfoss. Who knew you could see so much so close to home. You can read up on our Iceland adventures here.

 

Silver Falls in Silver Falls State Park Oregon - The Next Trip

 

We weren’t done with Oregon though. A trip through Umpqua National Forest on our water to Crater Lake allowed us to take a relaxing dip at Umpqua Hot Spings, and take in Toketee and Watson Falls. Umpqua Hot Springs can be very popular and crowded at times, so we were lucky to have a pool to ourselves for most of the time, though we thought it was a bit busy for a random Tuesday morning in March.

 

Umpqua Hot Springs Oregon - The Next Trip

 

The next day we made it to Crater Lake and were instantly rewarded with amazing views of this fascinating lake. Did you know that Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the United States?

 

Crater Lake - The Next Trip

 

Interestingly there are no inlets to fill Crater Lake, so it is completely filled via rain and snow. Even more interesting is that there are also no outlets, and nobody really knows where the water goes!

 

Crater Lake - The Next Trip

 

Twirling at Crater Lake - The Next Trip

 

 

Spelunking in Lava Beds National Monument

 

We planned to camp at Lava Beds National Monument for only one night on our way South to Nevada.

 

Hitting the Road for Sunset at Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge - The Next Trip

 

Sunset at Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge - The Next Trip

 

Once we arrived though, we were loving the (new to us) warm weather and took the day to relax. The next day, we hid out underground and explored some of the many caves in the park. Exploring these caves gave us a new appreciation for true darkness, as we walked far underground in the cave system.

 

Spelunking at Lava Beds National Monument - The Next Trip

 

Our favorite cave was Golden Dome. It was clear once we were inside where the cave got it's name from as the ceiling shimmered in gold. When you looked closely though, the gold color comes from tiny water droplets that form on bacteria on the cave rock.

 

Golden Dome Cave at Lava Beds National Monument - The Next Trip

 

Deer at Lava Beds National Monument - The Next Trip

 

Dramatic Sunset at Lava Beds National Monument - The Next Trip

 

Winter weather was fast approaching, so we continued on to Reno, having to hunker down in Susanville for a few hours as the highway was closed due to high winds for over-height vehicles, and Swifty counted as an over-height vehicle! We made it to the Biggest Little City in the World in the evening and spent a few nights in hotels, our first hotels since hitting the road.

 

Uncertain Times in Reno

 

Our time in Reno was great in that we got to ride out the Winter storm from inside a hotel room, but it created a lot of anxiety and stress for us as the COVID-19 situation dramatically worsened in the United States during this time. We were bombarded with daily news updates, panic on social media, and messages urging us to stop traveling. We went back and forth for days on what we should be doing, with our situation being more complex than may first meet the eye. We passed these days, with our newly rekindled love of red wine and dark chocolate, which helped us get through the worst times.

 

Biggest Little City in the World Sign in Reno - The Next Trip

 

Solitude on The Loneliest Road in America

 

We decided to continue our adventure as we would be safest camping in the countryside, automatically self-isolating.We set off on the Loneliest Road in America, which cuts straight across Nevada from the California to the Utah border. The name dates back to a Life magazine article from 1986, which the state re-purposed as a marketing slogan.We were thoroughly impressed by the diverse sights along the way.

 

Sand Dunes on the Loneliest Road in America - The Next Trip

 

We had two more refreshing dips in some of the many natural hot springs near the road, and experienced true solitude away from everything.

 

Spencer Hot Springs in Nevada - The Next Trip

 

Bartene Hot Springs Nevada - The Next Trip

 

Although, surprisingly, cell reception was great the entire way and we were able to keep everyone updated about our adventures on Instagram. We didn't have any real expectations for the Loneliest Road in America, which caused us to be surprised by the dramatic mountain ranges, old ghost towns, and everything in between.

 

Ghost Town Austin in Nevada - The Next Trip

 

Vermilion Cliffs National Monument – A Relatively Undiscovered Gem

 

The Vermilion Cliffs National Monument is not well-known, but contains some very well-known natural attractions like The Wave. You need to have a permit to visit the Wave, however you either have to apply four months in advance online, or enter the daily lottery at the Ranger Station. Since the station was closed due to COVID-19, we didn’t get a chance to see The Wave, but we saw so much more instead.

 

White Pocket, Arizona - The Next Trip

 

Deep in the National Monument is White Pocket, accessible by a 4x4 only road with deep sand and ruts. We made it without issue and were in total shock about the craziness of this place.

 

White Pocket, Arizona - The Next Trip

 

It is a huge area of very diverse natural rock formations, with hardly anyone around. We were blown away by its beauty and spent a few days there, camping and taking it all in. There aren't any facilities at White Pocket and it remains protected by its relative inaccessibility.

 

White Pocket, Arizona - The Next Trip

 

Four Wheel Camper at White Pocket, Arizona - The Next Trip

 

Nearby Wire Pass and Buckskin Gulch slot canyons were the other highlights of the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument. The day we hiked the slot canyons, it was a relatively balmy 39 F (4 C) but was a mix of on-and-off snow and sun all day. We somehow managed to time our hike mostly in the sun, and were well rewarded! We had these canyons all to ourselves, and marveled at how these must have been formed over generations.

 

Wire Pass and Buckskin Gulch Slot Canyon - The Next Trip

 

Wire Pass and Buckskin Gulch - The Next Trip

 

Petroglyphs at Wire Pass and Buckskin Gulch

 

The entrance into Wire Pass presents an interesting challenge, as there is an 8 foot (2.5 metre) drop in one of the narrowest parts of the canyon. There is a make-shift "ladder" which is just a tree stump, and it looks very intimidating from the top. However, after a little bit of patience and sliding slowly down, it really wasn't that bad!

 

Horseshoe Bend - Arizona

 

Having been to Horseshoe Bend in 2017, we more or less knew what to expect. What we didn't think of is that in the meantime, Horseshoe Bend would turn into a commercialized tourist attraction! Entrance fee to the attraction is $10 which we paid to see the bend again. The parking lot was quite empty as COVID-19 has gotten worse in the last couple of days. From the parking lot, it is only a short 0.2 miles walk to the viewpoint. The viewpoint was everything we remembered it being - stunning, breathtaking, incredible, and a bit scary!

 

Horseshoe Bend, Arizona - The Next Trip

 

Since we almost had the entire Horseshoe Bend to ourselves, we decided to take a lot of photos to remember this rare moment. (We were told that this attraction is usually incredibly busy and we can see why.)

 

Guy Overlooking Horseshoe Bend, Arizona - The Next Trip

 

After spending the morning here, we headed into Page, Arizona, to spend a few days at an AirBnB. We desperately needed to catch up on laundry and all things online.

 

 

Utah – Saving the Best for Last

 

Our goal when we moved to Chicago in 2015 was to see all 50 states before we left the United States. We *almost* achieved this, reaching 49 by the time we returned to Canada. We weren’t too concerned though as we knew we would be spending a ton of time in Utah on this trip. We finally made it though and had our own mini-celebration, as we don’t feel like travel milestones are appropriate to boast about at this time.

 

Utah Sign Highway 89 - The Next Trip

 

So far, Utah has not disappointed at all. We are currently waiting out park closures, and taking in the some of the Southern sights (i.e. warmer weather).

 

Turning a Page at Alstrom Point

 

We planned a few recharge days at an apartment in Page, Arizona, and completed a full clean out of Tacoma and Swifty, washed all laundry, baked pizzas in an oven, and caught up with everything online. This was exactly what we needed, and also allowed us to refill our water tank, propane tanks, fuel tanks, and fridge before hitting the road again, to Alstrom Point.

 

View from Alstrom Point, Utah - The Next Trip

 

The road in to Alstrom Point is not long, but it is slow. 4x4 and high clearance are recommended, and we would highly recommend both. The vast majority of the route is a maintained gravel road, but the last few miles are where the going gets rough. The road travels over slickrock with quite a few more technical areas.

 

Camp at Alstrom Point - The Next Trip

 

We made it without issue but it took us quite a while to navigate the at times non-existent road. We were definitely rewarded with the best campsite we have every had the pleasure of staying at.

 

Girl Overlooking Alstrom Point - The Next Trip

 

The views from Alstrom Point are almost other-worldly, with Lake Powell and surrounding cliffs dominating the horizon. You are perched high above the lake with steep drop offs on all sides.

 

Camp at Alstrom Point, Utah - The Next Trip

 

Four Wheel Camper at Alstrom Point at Night - The Next Trip

 

Sitting here watching the sunset we both had the realization that this is exactly one of the moments that what we were looking for when we set out on this trip. Quiet, peaceful solitude, and viewing awe-inspiring nature in epic proportions.

 

Sunrise at Alstrom Point, Utah - The Next Trip

 

Alstrom Point at Night - The Next Trip

 

The Stats – Month One Hitting the Road

 

We created a map and compiled stats so that you can follow along our trip easier and which you can use to plan your own adventure!

 

 

Miles driven: 2,058 miles

Nights in Swifty: 18

US States crossed: Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona

Bottles of Red Wine Consumed: 12

Bars of Chocolate Consumed: 22

Number of Nights the Propane Tank Ran Out and Furnace Turned Off: 1

Number of Nights Too Windy To Sleep: 3

Days of Snow: 7

Favorite Meal: Homemade pizza at an Airbnb in Page, Arizona

Favorite Campsite: Alstrom Point, Utah

 

White Pocket, Arizona - The Next Trip

 

In Summary

 

The trip so far has been full of ups and downs. Since hitting the road, we are still getting used to living full-time in Swifty, and Bettina really struggled with the endless nights where the temperature was below freezing. COVID-19 dominates the headlines and we realize that our situation is unique.

 

We have no true home other than Swifty, and are practicing appropriate hygiene and social distancing everywhere we go. We realize we are fortunate to be able to continue our adventure for the time being while chaos ensues around the world. We see vanlife and camping as one of the best options to stay safe, mentally and physically, and it is moments like this that reminds us how important it is to be out in nature.

 

Save this pin in our road trip Pinterest board for when your next road trip across the US!

 

Our first month living the vanlife. These were our favorite sights from Seattle to Utah.

Our first month living the vanlife. These were our favorite sights from Seattle to Utah.

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Best Things to Do in Banff in Winter

By now everyone has seen pictures of the beautiful turquoise lakes of the Canadian Rockies. Banff and Lake Louise are the epicenter of the Canadian wilderness, and are equally worth a trip in summer or winter. Here is everything you need to know to visit Banff in winter - where to stay, the most impressive natural wonders, and how to pack for your trip.

 

Sunflare through snow covered tree in Banff

 

Make sure you don't miss our top five tips to make the most of your visit to Banff at the end of this post!

 

Banff National Park

 

Banff National Park is one of the most popular of Canada’s national parks. And for good reason! Banff is full of beautiful glacial lakes, majestic flowing rivers, and towering snowy peaks.

 

View from Fairmont Hotel Lake Louise - The Next Trip

 

Banff National Park was formed in 1885, making it Canada’s oldest national park. The park encompasses over 2,500 square miles (6,600 square km) of beautiful Canadian wilderness. With this much space, you can definitely find your own picturesque slice of nature.

 

View of Fairmont Springs Hotel in Banff - The Next Trip

 

The Canadian Pacific Railway was instrumental in the early growth of the park, building two of the most famous Canadian hotels here, the Banff Springs Hotel and Chateau Lake Louise. These magnificent hotels established Banff National Park as a popular tourist destination.

 

View of Banff - The Next Trip

 

Winter tourism in Banff was fairly limited until 1968, when the Banff Springs Hotel modernized and became winterized! Previously it was only open during the warmer months of the year.

 

Getting to Banff in Winter

 

Even though Banff is in the middle of the Canadian Rocky Mountains, it is relatively easy to get to any time of the year. If you don’t already live within driving distance, you will most likely be flying into Calgary, which is about an hour and a half drive away. In comparison, our drive from Vancouver, took about 12 hours.

 

Toyota Tacoma driving in the snow - The Next Trip

 

If you don’t want to drive through the Canadian Rockies in the middle of winter, there are a number of shuttle buses driving from Calgary to Banff.  Additionally, once in Banff there is a good public transportation system, and you can visit some incredible off the beaten path destinations with tours, such as the Winter Wonder Tour.

That being said, if you have your own vehicle, or a rental car, you can explore all that Banff has to offer at your own pace! Ensure that you have winter tires, as they are mandatory on all highways during the winter months until April.

 

Bow Valley Parkway

 

The Bow Valley Parkway is the scenic alternative to drive between Banff and Lake Louise. The road stretches 31 miles (50 km) with many great sights along the way. It's the perfect place to start exploring Banff National Park and you can't miss out on what it has to offer.

 

View from Bow Valley Parkway - The Next Trip

 

 

Johnston Canyon

 

One of the best stops along the Bow Valley Parkway, Johnston Canyon is dramatically carved into the limestone bedrock with steep canyon walls, and plunging waterfalls. During winter, the falls freeze over, forming dramatic ice features. This is a very popular spot for ice walking and ice climbing and the views don't disappoint.

 

Entrance Gate to Johnston Canyon - The Next Trip

 

Frozen lower falls at Johnston Canyon - The Next Trip

 

The two main falls, Lower Falls and Upper Falls, are a relatively easy 0.7 miles (1.1 km) and 1.6 miles (2.6 km) hike from the parking lot. If you're like us and are visiting in winter, we recommend you wear good traction hiking shoes or bring ice cleats. The path can be quite slippery and difficult to master without the right shoes. The temperatures can be a few degrees cooler at the falls than in the parking lot. Bring your warm jacket to ensure you don't get cold during your hike!

 

Ice Climbers on Upper Falls at Johnston Canyon - The Next Trip

 

Morant's Curve

 

This is, not surprisingly, one of the most photographed spots in all of Banff National Park. And for good reason, as you can snap some epic pictures here. Canadian freight trains curve through Banff National Park, with the Bow River in the foreground and large mountains in the background.

 

Girl in Red Dress at Morant's Curve in Banff - The Next Trip

 

Finding Morant's Curve is relatively easy as it is well signed. Once you get onto the Bow Valley Parkway (driving from the North), it is a short five to ten minute drive. There is a small parking lot right across the street from the viewpoint. However, getting an iconic photo with a freight train is the difficult part. The freight trains passing through here do not run on a schedule and run at different times every day. As such, you can wait for hours and not see a train, or you may spot one in just a few minutes. Either way, make sure you're prepared and bring snacks and water, and a lot of patience.

 

Snowy Winterland View from Morant's Curve Banff - The Next Trip

 

We visited the Morant's Curve twice during our stay in Banff. While we did not get to see a full freight train, we did see a small locomotive and snow plough come through Morant’s Curve.

 

 
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Lake Louise

 

Lake Louise is another one of the quintessential Canadian Rockies “must-sees” that should be at the top of your list any time of year. You might know the lake due to its striking blue waters. In winter, the lake is covered in ice and snow, but it is no less beautiful.

 

Ice Hockey Game at Lake Louise - The Next Trip

 

Instead of canoeing, you will find the lake turned into a hockey rink, an ice castle, and the perfect place to snowshoe and cross-country ski.

 

Ice Castle at Lake Louise - The Next Trip

 

Girl Twirling at Ice Castle Lake Louise - The Next Trip