A road trip through the best national parks in the USA

The USA has some really stunning national parks which are best visited by car and by foot. Here is a suggestion for a one week road trip through the best national parks in the USA.

Road trip from Las Vegas to Grand Canyon

We finally left  the hot and bustling city of Las Vegas on I-15 North towards Grand Canyon. After about a two hour drive was our first stop in St. George to buy some food and water supplies at Walmart and then we had dinner at a Thai restaurant across the street. My Pad Thai was delicious.

We drove on and eventually found a camp site at Jacob’s Lake for 20$ (without showers). It was awesome to just pitch our tent in such a beautiful nature spot and sleep on grass among trees, being woken up by birds and sunrays.

The next day, we started the entrance road to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon NP. At the entrance, we bought the annual pass for 80$ and then proceeded towards the visitor center. It is located next to a beautiful lodge at the picturesque Bright Angel Point.

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I hadn’t remembered which part of the Grand Canyon I had been to in 2009 but obviously, it was the South Rim, because everything here seemed new to me. And very impressive. After having seen so many canyons and gorges in Australia, the wideness of Grand Canyon still didn’t cease to amaze me.

We drove to Cape Royal from where we walked to Angel’s Window and then had lunch in the shade of the trees close to an outdoor chapel on the brim of the canyon.

On the third attempt, we finally spotted the starting point of the Cliff Springs walk. That was really cool with orange overhanging cliffs and the path was often shaded by trees. Even children will like to go hiking in this terrain. It’s a real adventure.

In the end, we drove to Cape Imperial. From there, Grand Canyon looks never-ending, spreading along the whole horizon.

Road trip to Lake Powell and Page, AZ

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Although, we had achieved a lot in the first half of the day at Grand Canyon, we still had enough time to drive to Page. And that with about a 100mile detour do to a landslide over the normal road. We had dinner in a delicious pizza place and then found a campsite on the Wahweap Campground at Lake Powell.

Unfortunately, the shower building was so far away from our campsite, that we had to drive back down by car. In a machine, I exchanged 2$ to get 8 quarters, with which we paid for a 17min shower (if you don’t have to pay for a shower on campsites in the US, the campsite is a lot more expensive).

The night was a bit restless because there was a group of drunk adolescents close by. They were French, like 80% of the visitors in the US seem to be at the moment. In Australia, almost every person I met was German and now here, everywhere you turn to, people speak French.

We enjoyed our daily breakfast donut with a beautiful view on Lake Powell. Then we drove to Horseshoe Bend, which luckily, was accessible, although it was along the road with the landslide. This river bend definitely is one of the highlights in this area! It was still early morning when we got there but the heat was already picking up. We walked across the sandy path to get to the edge of the cliff and had a nice view on the beautiful bend the Colorado River had carved into the rocks here. The different colors looked so intense next to each other, you shouldn’t miss this stop if you go to Page, Arizona and do a road trip through the best national parks of the US.

Horseshoe Bend

Horseshoe Bend

 

A road trip through Monument Valley

Then, we drove back to Lake Powell, to take a cooling bath before heading on to Monument Valley. I was very much looking Forward to this landscape that reminded me of films with Indians. We stopped at the Welcome Center to enquire about horseback riding. Someone then told us to go to the Visitor Center to get a better deal. Normally, you’d have to pay an extra 20$ just to get to the visitor center, from where you then drive down to the monuments (you need a 4×4, which we didn’t have). Since, we weren’t sure whether we’d really do the horseback riding, we asked whether we just could quickly drive up there to ask about the price. To our surprise, they let us in for free.

The best horseback ride option would have been a sunset trip but for that we’d have had to wait  for at least two hours and there wasn’t really anything else to do there. However, from the visitor center, we had an amazing view on the monuments, which you don’t have from the road. We saw everything! Therefore, I didn’t really feel the need to go down there and see them from up close. Plus, we thought we could go horseback riding in Arches or Bryce Canyon. So, we hit the road again to drive towards Moab, the closest town to Arches. And wow, what a beautiful drive! That road was amazing. We weren’t the only ones who felt this way, because there were cars stopping everywhere along the road to take pictures of the straight long roads and monuments.

We camped at the cute Up the Creek Campground for 32$ and walked to the Mexican restaurant for dinner. It was okay but didn’t match the deliciousness of Pokéz in San Diego. I miss it!

Monument Valley

A road trip to Arches NP

On the fourth day, we drove into Arches NP. It turned out that all the horseback riding here was outside the park and therefore we postponed that idea to Bryce. It was very hot in the park and therefore hiking wasn’t so agreeable. We still made it to the big Landscape Arch and saw the famous Delicate Arch from further away. I liked the Windows section the best.

In the afternoon, we drove on towards Bryce. Black storm clouds started to appear on the horizon and unfortunately, we were heading directly towards them. It started raining and it got colder by the mile. A night in our tiny tent would have been very unpleasant and therefore we opted for a motel.

The next morning it was still raining cats and dogs and so we profited from the wifi at the motel and tried to find an accommodation in San Francisco as it was almost the end of our road trip. This wasn’t so easy either. There was a big music festival coming up and I think all the people from the festival decided to come to San Francisco before that.

Arches

Arches

Before noon, we finally made it into the park. It was still raining and the clouds were hanging deeply in the rock towers of the canyon but to just do the drive to the viewpoint and take a picture-tourist thing it was ok. Luckily, the sun then came out and the clouds disappeared. I have been in Bryce in 2009 and I loved it. It’s like a wonderland built out of orange and white sand that somebody had let dribble to the ground and built castle towers with.

Brice Canyon, one of the best national parks in the USA

We had saved Bryce Point for our last stop and in my opinion that actually was the nicest spot of all. We then even tempted a 5 mile hike. It could have started raining again but luckily it was dry all the way. The paths were a bit muddy but it was awesome to walk in between these rock formations. It was a bit like a labyrinth with one correct way. We weren’t the only people who decided to go down there despite the weather and guess what, they were all speaking French! Sometimes, I forgot that I was in the US.

We made it back to our car before sunset and then took Highway 12 toward Boulder. The guy at the motel had told us that that was the second most scenic route in the US. I forgot to ask about the first one but it’s probably Highway 1 along the West Coast.

Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon

We stopped in Escalante because it looked like a cute place to spend the night and it was very cheap compared to the other places too. We had a very delicious burger and then decided to take a cabin for 50$ instead of camping (for 16$, the cheapest we have seen), since it was still freezing compared to the other nights.

A road trip to Zion National Park

In the morning, we continued on to Boulder. From here, the route really started to be beautiful, with a wide landscape and canyons. When we then continued on to Zion, it started raining again. We were hoping that it would be better weather once we arrived in Zion.

We finally reached it at 4pm. The canyon was dry and it was a nice drive through the mountains. In the visitor center, we looked at what hikes we could do. I would have liked to do Angel’s Landing but on the website they had written that it was closed a few days every week to recover the park and we were one day early for it to be reopened. However, in the visitor center, it then was written that the East Rim and not the West Rim trail was closed. So, I asked whether the hike was possible and the guy confirmed that it was. Great, now we only had 4,5 hours until the last shuttle bus and the hike should take about 4 hours. Either, we’d make it or we’d have to walk an extra 2 miles back to the car park. We would have hurried a bit more to get to Zion if we had known that this trail was open.

Bryce Canyon

Anyways, we then took the free shuttle to The Grotto station (no public vehicles are allowed in the park, which probably is a good idea ecological wise.)

Hiking to Angel’s Landing

The hike had an easy beginning on a concrete path. We saw a male deer drinking from the river. Then there was a steep zick-zack path but we were very surprised when we already arrived at the top. We had planned for a very strenuous hike, like the description said but there was no way we’d need four hours for this. Well, we weren’t at the top yet. Now the fun part with climbing along the mountain crest began. There was a metal chain to hold on to. You wouldn’t want to be up here during a storm. It went 400m straight down to both sides of us. But the views down into the valley were absolutely stunning. It looked like a place where dinosaurs could still be alive and poke their heads up in between the trees.

Once at the top, there were still other people up there having a picnic and enjoying the view. And there was even a pair of cute chipmunks playing around. I want one as a pet!! 🙂

View from Angel's Landing

On the way down, luckily safely back on the big path, a tarantula (!!!) crossed our way. One of these big hairy things. Ugh, couldn’t it have crawled across the path a few minutes later? I had to leave Australia and come to the US to see one of them. A few more meters farther down, we then saw a foe and her baby, that made me like nature better again.

In the end, we had only needed 3 hours (with breaks) for the hike and therefore made the shuttles without any problem.

We drove out of the park to have dinner in the charming Springdale and then already covered some miles toward Las Vegas. We found another expensive campsite for 31$ a little outside Hurricane.

 

Heading Back to Las Vegas

Our last day with the rental car we spent driving back to Las Vegas. We dropped the bags off at JB’s couchsurfer’s house. They were so nice to just let me spend a night there too. Since we still had a lot of time before returning the car, we drove to Primm to have a look at the fashion outlets there. But they weren’t the same as they used to be anymore either. Plus, it rained again and the roads were flooded with rivers of water. Still, we made it back to Las Vegas before our assigned time and dropped the car off. It was said to seperate ourselves from that Little VW bug, since we had such a good time with it this week.

Two deers in Zion

Two deers in Zion

Since JB hadn’t really seen anything of Las Vegas’s strip yet, we went to have dinner there and spent 3 more hours in the casino jungle before taking the bus back to the couchsurfer’s house.

One week ago I hadn’t even been sure if this road trip would happen at all because I didn’t have anybody who wanted to come with me and then it all worked out perfectly. This rather spontaneous week in the best national parks and canyons  had been amazing.

It has been an amazing trip!best us np

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