What to visit during Western USA road trip
In 2022 we planned our first intercontinental trip since Corona slowed down the world in 2020. After a Team Gathering in Vail (Colorado, USA) Marie-Claire joined me for a 15 day roadtrip through Western USA. We started at the airport of Denver and headed West. Nothing planned or booked, so we just started driving in the direction of the famous National Parks. We were blessed with 14,5 days of blue skies out of 15 days of travelling.
First we thought that reaching Las Vegas would have been a far stretch, but once you are around Zion National Park, it’s only a few hours drive to reach the famous gambling city. Also, when you want to reach the South Rim of the Grand Canyon from Zion NP you also need to drive quite some hours. With our route we could add Hoover Dam and drive the iconic Route 66. For years we were talking about Las Vegas, and being so close to it, made us go for it.
One of the best things with our road trip was that we didn’t book anything and were fully flexible. Sometime we moved slower than we would have imagined and then again we were catching up. We love the freedom and not being forced to be somewhere at a given moment in time. Like this we could stay longer in Grand Canyon because we were so much impressed by it.
Final roadtrip route
We visited 4 states during our trip. Although we technically drove in New Mexico, we don’t count it as we didn’t really visit something of that state. Remember, you always need to leave something for a next visit. We did try to visit the 4 Corners Monument, but it was closed due to a threat of violation. For each of the states you can click below to find all kinds of information about the famous National Parks and Las Vegas.
Just like during our road trip in Westfjords (Iceland) we rented a van at Kuku Campers. I have to admit that the name sounds a little strange but the service and cars are of very good quality. Their vans are furnished in a very smart way. You have a sink, fridge, kitchen utilities and you can optionally even add a (gas) BBQ if you want. The overnight heater is also very handy certainly in the shoulder season as at night we had temperatures close to 0° C. During daytime it easily goes to 23° C, but once the sun goes down, temperature drops very fast.
The van was a smooth drive, you can park it anywhere and you have always everything at hand when you are hungry or thirsty. Inside you find a removable table and seats which you can convert in less than 2 minutes into full size bed which suits me even if I’m rather tall. We liked the bigger size of van we had as you have quite some space and that’s convenient in the evenings when the sun is down and it gets colder.
Dispersed camping (camping in the wild)
Can you camp in the wild or do dispersed camping in USA? I Googled the question myself many times and did not always find a conclusive answer. I did find some information but still it was not fully clear when we left. You can effectively do wild camping in many places. Either on Bureau of Landmanagement zones or in National Forests. Be aware that after peak season many zones might be closed for winter season. Sometimes we had to continue our journey to find another location.
There were 2 days that we just didn’t passed any BLM or National Forest by the end of the day. Here we decided to park in a quiet area and sleep there over night. It does lead to extra adventure, like the day we were on our way to Black Canyon of the Gunnison and park in a isolated construction yard. About one hour after we went to sleep the local Sheriff knocked on our van to find out if we were all good. He was worried about us as he thought we had a break down with our car. After declaring we were good and asking if we could stay he mentioned something about safety of the area. He would patrol during the night to make sure we were safe. Friendly of him, but his remark made that we were not instantly at ease…
All other nights we stayed overnight in BLM or National Forest and this really add to the nature experience. We not only did not loose any time with check-in or check-out but we also stayed in marvellous and isolated areas. A few nights we were even able to spot the Milky Way!
Read and respect the rules
Once you have spotted a BLM or National Forest zone, you should find almost instantly extra information about where you can camp and a refresher of the rules. Probably the most important one is to not leave anything. And with this I mean really don’t leave anything! All the campsites we have used were clean when we arrived and that’s also how we have left them behind.
One thing to keep in mind is that often the sign for an entry of the forest are very close to the effective entrance, so keep your eyes open and certainly when it’s getting darker it might be challenging to not have to turn back.
Sometimes the camping zones can be relatively far away from the main road and the roads are not always of the best quality. However, we never had trouble with our van to reach a good spot. It might be sometimes more challenging to get your car levelled out fully. You don’t want to sleep with your head down 😉