May 21 – May 27, 2019
Vegas – Valley of Fire – Zion National Park – Bryce National Park – Zebra Slot Canyons (Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument) – Hanksville – Little Wild Horse Canyon (Goblin state park) – Salt Lake City – Shoshone Falls – (Arches National Park) – (Fifth Water Hot Springs) – Salt Lake City – Shoshone Falls – Bruneau Sand Dunes state park – Boise – Leavenworth – Bellingham – Vancouver
(Places in brackets were spots we hoped to check out but didn’t get to due to weather or time)
*prices are as of May 2019*
This trip is not the most direct route, nor is it the best sights. We didn’t plan too much in advance and went with the weather, how we were feeling, and what we wanted to see/do. And it was epic. Use this information as a general guide but I encourage you to find your own route!I had been inspired to try a one way RV or campervan rental since my New Zealand trip last year and had been watching Immova for months. Immova advertises one way RV, campervan and car rentals for as low as $1 a night and depending on how badly they need the vehicle moved, they’ll throw in incentives like free gas or free ferry.A one way camper van rental from Vegas to Vancouver (home) seemed like an epic way to check out some parts of America I hadn’t yet explored and Jucy had a deal so a few friends and I booked it for 6 nights with no real itinerary.
When we arrived at the Jucy lot in Vegas we got the full run through of the camper van (approx. 1 hour) including that there is no toilet and you are NOT to poop in the kitchen sink. There were multiple upsell options making the bargain nightly rate grow significantly if you aren’t prepared (bedding package, kitchen kit, s’mores sticks, etc.)
The van was spacious and comfortable for road tripping and Jucy has thought of everything you could need including a kitchen sink. The van was an older mini van but once we got the hang of driving her we had no trouble navigating city and country roads. A few tips for renting an RV or campervan:
– check your insurance as many credit card insurances do not cover RVs or campervans. If you don’t have coverage through your credit card your cheap rental can get significantly more expensive by adding their insurance.
– pack warm clothes and blankets. The campervan was not much warmer than tent camping.- know where you can park and camp your campervan/RV for free if you want to avoid costly RV parks. There are many sites out there with this information. We had our best luck in parking lots of large hotel chains so we could use their amenities (and free breakfast) after realizing many of the free sites we found online did not have toilets. I’m not sure if this was technically allowed by hotels so use this tip at your own risk!- download Google offline maps AND pack a paper map for areas with no cell reception.
– bring an aux cord to connect your music to the CD player (no Bluetooth in these vans)
– be careful how you pack your food as things do slide around. We lost a jar of pickles and a jar of spaghetti sauce when opening the door after some twists and turns.
– do not poop in the sink. It is for kitchen dishes only. Seriously.
We planned to spend the first night in Vegas and after a free upgrade to Comfort Plus on Delta Airlines with free flowing free drinks, we stayed at the Rio as we scored a comp’d room. I love free shit and nothing starts a trip off better than an upgraded flight to a free hotel room.
After a night out in Vegas we made a quick stop at Trader Joes on our way out of town (because the van had a fridge!) and headed to our first stop, Valley of Fire state park, about an hour from Vegas. We paid our $10 entry fee (per car) and got a map of all the lookouts and hikes. We did the fire wave hike. When we first started we had trouble believing it would take an hour to do a one km. hike. Once we started on the hike, stopping to take photos every 2 steps, we understood why we needed the time.
What isn’t on the park map but is 100% worth doing is that after the fire wave, keep hiking towards the left of the fire wave and you’ll come across the pastel slot canyons. This was a serious highlight. You can also visit the pastel slot canyons from a shorter route coming right off the road – on the park map it is not listed but is halfway between P2 and P3. You can find it on Google maps but there is no park signage so easiest is to ask people or continue on the trail from the fire wave.
Next we headed up to Utah. We were waiting to get a photo at the welcome to Utah sign as we crossed state lines so were very surprised to see a sign saying “Welcome to Arizona”. Didn’t quite catch that little top corner of Arizona on the map. Did I mention we are all blonde?
We had lunch at the Big Bear Diner while deciding where to go next. Zion won out and we drove to Zion planning to get a hike or two in before sunset.Right before Zion national park was a little attraction with western style buildings and llamas (and sheep, donkeys and mini horses). As soon as we saw the llamas we did a highway u-turn to get back to the attraction, paid the $1 entry and hung out with the animals feeding them carrots and getting spit on (truth).
We had read that we could park for free in Springdale and take the free shuttle to Zion. The parking in Springdale was in fact not free so we decided to chance driving right into Zion despite signs saying the lots were full. We found a (free) spot at the visitor centre after purchasing our America national park pass valid for one year for $80 (vs. $35 entry for Zion, Bryce, etc. individually)We were disappointed to find out the Narrows was closed due to raging waters from a later winter melt. There were a few hikes closed so if you’re intent on doing a specific hike, check if it is open first.During the spring to fall months, you cannot drive in Zion park but must take their mandatory (free) shuttle. The shuttles come SO frequently and have some useful facts so was actually a good thing! They say the last shuttle is 9:15 pm and there are no Uber or other options out of the park but rumour has it there may be one last unadvertised one for stragglers (but don’t count on it, try to be prepared).
The shuttle takes 40 minutes end to end from the visitor station to the final stop (where the Narrows hike begins).
We did the Angels Landing hike and the lower Emerald Pool hike. Angels Landing was everything I could have imagined and totally recommend it for epic views of Zion. Emerald pool was not so emerald, more brown due to recent rainfall but a nice, short trail.
After sunset we drove 2 hours to Bryce to attempt a sunrise hike the following day. I don’t recommend the Zion to Bryce drive after dark for two reasons:
1. It looks like the drive would have epic views that we missed out on.
2. The number of deer we saw on the road and crossing the road are a very significant hazard to night time driving.We had scoped out a free camping spot right near the entrance to Bryce Canyon National Park but it was SNOWING so we opted for the Best Western Bryce Canyon parking lot for easy use of their amenities. The hotel is large enough that we could use their bathrooms, fireplace, coffee and tea without being noticed. Sadly the pool and hot tub were closed by the time we arrived.
After a freezing night in our camper van we woke up to MORE SNOW (end of May – wtf!?)Our sunrise hike was a bust since the sun never came up due to grey skies from the snow but we did a couple trails in Bryce and it was actually really pretty in the snow!
There were a million other places we wanted to go down in this area including sand dunes, slot canyons, and more parks and hikes but we had to prioritize and chose to do the Zebra slot canyon trail and then the Peekaboo and Spooky slot canyons in the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument.
It had just rained so the dirt road to the slot canyons was super sketchy – I recommend a vehicle with 4WD or jumping in with a vehicle that has 4WD as we did. We found a stranded German in the mud and after we bailed him out, opted to drive to the hike together in his Jeep.**zebra canyon does not have any clear trail markers and is very easy to get lost!!!**I suggest screenshot saving the directions in the earthtrekkers blog as well as keeping an eye on google maps which does show where the canyon is (it works with no service if you download offline maps ahead of time)We were warned by other hikers we wouldn’t get too far into the canyon as it was full of water. It sure was. Freezing cold water. It wasn’t so bad once our legs and feet were numb but as it approached thigh height, we turned back.
By the time we finished the hike to zebra canyon the road had dried up. We could have made it down to spooky slot canyon/peekaboo but didn’t want to chance it so we headed up to capitol reef national park. Capitol Reef doesn’t have as many amenities, trails or services as Zion or Bryce but is worth a stop if it’s on your way.
Since we didn’t get to see much of the slot canyons in Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, we decided to try for more slot canyons the next day near Goblin state park. We stayed in a town of Hanksville that night and opted for the RV park over the LDS church parking lot. Dukes Slick Rock Campground had fantastic amenities (for an RV park) and a great price. If you prefer more rustic camping (and star gazing!) you can camp out by the cliffs near Goblin state park instead.
At Duke’s Slick Rock Grill we got a lesson in Utah liquor laws – only certain bars can serve “heavy” beer (beer with more than 3.2%) and you must order food with alcohol.
The benefit of staying in the RV park was the chance to meet people – including Les, a fun guy from Missouri who took us out riding the sand dunes in his UTV (like an ATV but pimped out!)
After riding the sand dunes we drove 40 minutes away to do some slot canyon hiking. Little wild horse canyon has 8 miles of beautiful slot canyon hiking, no crowds, totally free and is accessible and easy to hike (other than one boulder climb) so is a great option for anyone wanting to check out slot canyons without the price of Antelope or road drama of Peekaboo/Spooky.
The only downside of little wild horse canyon were the toilets. Oh my god. Avoid if you can help it.
Having avoided the toilets, we stopped at the next town on our route, Woodside. Woodside is nothing more than an RV selling rocky’s roadside jerky with a port o potty so if you don’t take the slight detour to Green River you won’t find a washroom until Wellington.If you had an extra day, throw in Arches National Park here.
We had planned to visit the fifth water hot springs as the “winter” road closure added 3 miles to the hike and it was raining at the time we would have gone – although it was end of May we had encountered winter conditions for much of this trip so opted to play it safe and head to Salt Lake City early.We checked into the Hampton Inn (although I enjoy roughing it with backpacking or camping, I always break trips up halfway with a hotel stay) and substituted their hot tub for the hot springs! We had an amazing dinner out and explored the city. Temple Square was the coolest spot – basically like Disneyland for Mormons. Unfortunately they do not issue guest passes for the Temple, members only so we were denied but enjoyed checking out all the other buildings in the square.
Despite the hardcore Mormon influence, Salt Lake City is a seemingly normal city with an abundance of craft breweries and an abnormally high number of sex stores. Since there aren’t many liquor stores, the state liquor store at closing time on a Friday was similar to the madness you’d see at Best Buy on a Black Friday.The next day it was time to leave Utah and head to Idaho. We drove to Shoshone Falls ($5/car) near Twin Falls Idaho which is known as the Niagara falls of the west and did not disappoint.
We found a nearby park and had a little mid day fire in a fire pit to cook our lunch. After lunch we stopped at the Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument to learn some historical stuff.With an extra day would have hit the hot springs loop in Idaho as there are some beautiful natural springs but all require a couple hours of driving from the highway to Boise.
Bruneau sand dunes state park ($5/car but if you go on the same day you can use your Shoshone Falls ticket as it is valid for any Idaho state park on the same day) was our major afternoon stop – bring a sled or rent a board but still epic without them. Pack bug spray if you are going to walk the trail to the biggest dune (largest single standing dune in North America!) as I was savaged by mosquitos.We stopped in Boise for some Saturday night city life checking out the Ethiopian restaurant (yes we ate Ethiopian in Idaho), the freak alley gallery (must do!) and wandered the adorable downtown area with all the craft breweries and park around the zoo.
Knowing we had a lot of driving remaining, we opted to do a 4.5 hour stretch at night to Kennewick and spent the night in the lot between Walmart and the Best Western utilizing an unnamed hotel chain to freshen up and enjoy the complimentary breakfast buffet – it never actually said it was for paying hotel guests only…
Rather than going through Seattle to get home, we took a small detour to check out the Bavarian town of Leavenworth. I can’t believe I hadn’t visited this town yet! A charming village full of breweries, wineries, sausage serving restaurants and cute shops. We spent a few hours wandering the streets of Leavenworth before driving the last stretch home.
We had an uneventful time returning the Jucy van to the lot in Point Roberts before catching our ride home. The one problem with this lot is that it isn’t served by public transit or Uber so unless you have someone to pick you up, it can be a rather expensive taxi ride back to Vancouver. The lot is about 40 minutes from Vancouver and does require a border crossing as it is technically in the US.
The number one question I get asked about this trip is “would you do it again?”
Absolutely. The campervan allowed us to go wherever we wanted, whenever we wanted without worrying about food or accommodations. We could pull over at any time to open the fridge and make something to eat on the stove, or pull down the bed for a sleep. It was an epic trip and I’m hoping to do more exploring with these amazing one way deals for campervans or RVs!