The Turquoise Traveler Experiences Campervan Rental USA Adventures in Utah’s Mighty 5 National Parks!
A quick note from the Lost Campers Crew-
Thank you Chelsea, for sharing your vantastic experience with us on the Lost Campers Blog Within A Blog! We look forward to your next #vanlife adventure with us! For anyone interested in learning more about submitting a post of their own to us please click here.
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Tillie Takes on Utah’s Mighty Five
Who is Tillie you may ask? Great question. Tillie is the name of my trusty stead, my constant companion, my Lost Campers Sierra Campervan. She took me on the most incredible adventure- solo hiking and camping around Utah’s five national parks.
I had such a great experience working with the people at Lost Campers-on pickup they showed me all the nuts and bolts of the campervan rental car so that I could feel confident driving her into the sunset. They checked in with me via email throughout my travels to make sure everything was going smoothly. They even put together a super comprehensive binder with all the information you could possibly need if something went wrong- think: flat tire, accident, etc.
Tillie my trusty stead
Tillie’s backseat folds out into a bed- which is sink-into-the-mattress comfortable, and all of the linens are provided in your rental. They also provide you with privacy curtains- which are nice for when you want to shut out the world. The trunk area has been turned into a kitchen- fully equipped with a functioning sink, propane stove, cooler, and dishes.
I initially found Lost Campers by reading through this list of campervan rental companies by Bearfoot Theory. I ended up choosing them because of their amazing affordability. I essentially ended up paying a similar price per day as I would have for a rental car- and I had all of my accommodations with me. It was truly a steal.
Renting a campervan was definitely the way to go for this particular road trip and I think it is a great option for any sort of National Parks road trip, especially out West. Here is my week-long itinerary, I hope you find it helpful for planning your trip, and please let me know if you have any questions.
My road trip route
PICK UP TILLIE AND SUPPLIES
Tillie fully stocked up with groceries
I flew in to Salt Lake City from Pittsburgh, PA and picked up Tillie at the Lost Campers depot in SLC. They also has locations in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Seattle. Sometimes they have deals where you can do a one-way trip from one certain location to another for a discount- so be sure to check into that prior to booking!
Before hitting the road, I made a quick pit stop to Wal-Mart to pick up all my camping essentials including: paper towels, trash bags, a $7 tea kettle, propane fuel, instant coffee with some delish Reese’s PB creamer and allllll of the groceries.
For breakfasts I picked up pop tarts, granola bars and some instant oatmeal which I was able to make by boiling water in the kettle.
For lunches and dinners, I went a little bit crazy in the canned food section. Some of my more successful meal ideas were: canned chili, authentic ramen noodles (not that 99 cent stuff- just to be clear), soup and rice. I am no chef- but I was proud that I was able to sustain myself and barely ate out at all. If you are wanting to do it up fancier- please look elsewhere for those tips.
ZION NATIONAL PARK
I then set off in my new campervan rental USA hire car for my first destination- Zion National Park, which was a 4.5hr drive from Salt Lake City. It was a pretty uneventful drive overall. I listened to some amazing podcasts and was thrilled that the speed limit was 80mph almost the entire way. The last hour of the drive is where things get beautiful so be prepared to open your windows and gawk away.
HIKING- THE WATCHMAN TRAIL
This was a fairly easy 3 mile out and back hike that took me about 2 hours (only because I stopped to take pictures every other minute ). The trailhead leaves directly from the visitors center so there is no messing around with the shuttle. It takes you up to some pretty panoramic viewpoints and was a great first hike/ intro to Zion and is a wonderful place to watch the sunset.
View from the watchman trail near sunset
CAMPING- ZION CANYONS CAMPGROUND
This was a great facility to camp in- it was walking distance from the park’s entrance and surrounded by cute little restaurants and shops. It cost $30 per night and the campsite included showers- which becomes a huge perk when you are living out of a campervan. I stayed there for both nights that I was in Zion.
My campsite setup- right by the river.
HIKING- ANGELS LANDING, 5 miles out and back
Trailhead: The Grotto
Probably one of my favorite experiences of the entire trip- which you can read about in this blog post. This is the one hike that you absolutely must do if you have only one day in Zion. My biggest tips for this hike are to get there as early as possible and check the weather in advance.
HIKING- EMERALD POOLS, 3 miles round trip
Trailhead: Zion Lodge
Waterfall at the lower Emerald Pools
This is a wonderful, casual and family friendly hike. Nothing super exciting- especially after all the thrills at Angel’s Landing that morning, but its a nice scenic stroll and makes for some great pictures.
HIKING- THE NARROWS BOTTOM UP, 6-8 miles out and back
Trailhead: Temple of Sinawava
Trekking into those ice cold waters
Another classic and popular ZNP hike. This is another one where it is a great idea to get there early to avoid crowds. It is also a good idea to rent gear for this hike as you WILL get wet. There is a gear rental store just before you enter the park from the pedestrian entrance- they provide you with water shoes, pants and a walking stick for $20. From what I hear- it is totally worth it.
I met a friend at my campsite the night before who joined me for this hike.
Unfortunately, it was raining on the day I had planned to do this hike which makes it dangerous to venture into a slot canyon due to the risk of flash floods. I met a friend at my campsite the night before who was also planning to hike the narrows that day- so we decided to investigate our options. We went and talked to the ranger that morning to assess the danger, and as expected they were “not recommending” the hike.
After our conversation with the ranger, we decided not to rent the gear. But we still wanted to see what all the hype was about and metaphorically, (or was it literally?) dip our toes in the water. We hatched a plan to take the shuttle out to the trailhead and walk the Riverwalk portion right up until the actual slot canyon- at which point we would take pictures and turn back.
Naturally, that is NOT what ended up happening.
Walking along the Riverwalk trail was gorgeous and intimidating. The canyon walls jutted up so high and were so majestic and murky looking at the same time. This part of the park has an entirely different feel from Angel’s Landing instead of walking on TOP of the canyons you are walking THROUGH the canyons- which honestly makes them feel even bigger.
When we got to the Narrows- we were so entranced by the beauty of it all we just had to get in the water and keep going. Just a little further. The water was ice cold and our hiking boots were almost immediately water logged, but that didn’t stop us.
We probably got a mile in, when it started raining again and all signs of land had disappeared. We also realized- we had no idea what to do if we were caught in a flash flood. This made me uneasy enough that we decided to turn around so we could make it back in one piece. Which we did.
Although we didn’t get the full Narrows experience, I am so happy we got that little taste of it while still managing to keep our safety a priority.
DRIVE TO BRYCE CANYON NATIONAL PARK- 2 HRS
Spontaneous road side picnic anyone?
The drive from Zion to Bryce in the campervan rental car is unbelievably, stop-and-take-a-picture-at-every-turn, kind of gorgeous. My friend and I (yes he came with me to Bryce too!) stopped and had a road-side picnic just to soak it all in. We also stopped off at the checkerboard mesa- which I didn’t totally get the hype about, but I think still worth a quick pull over if you have time.
SUNSET AT SUNSET POINT
Be sure to get to sunset point at least an hour or so before the sun actually sets. The cool part about watching the sunset at this particular viewpoint is the way the light falls on all of the hoodoos, but if you get there too late (like we did) you only get to see the beauty of the light on a small sliver of the park.
Although we were late to the party, we were just in time to watch the full moon rise above the hoodoos while the sky did some water-color magic so I would say it was still a win.
Can you believe how gorgeous this is?
CAMPING AT NORTH CAMPGROUND
We camped out at North campground which was within Bryce Canyon National Park. No showers at this campground- so make sure to shower up before leaving Zion. Word of warning- it gets weirdly cold at Bryce Canyon so be sure to bring layers on layers to bundle up and stay warm- especially if you are camping.
HIKING ALL OVER THE HOODOOS
Our day spent playing in this vast hoodoo playground was so fun it needed a post of its- so you can read about it here. Suffice it to say- this was one of my most memorable and fun hiking experiences of the trip.
I would say set aside the better part of a day to hang out in the hoodoos- because there is so much to see and do. Some people also like to spend time driving from one view point to another and taking pictures which would be another incredible way to experience this park. We got so many different viewpoints hiking up and down the hoodoos that we didn’t end up doing any of the scenic driving. To each his own.
DRIVE TO MOAB- 4 HRS
CAMP AT SLICK ROCK CAMPGROUNDS
Another pleasant campground with the appeal of showers that was minutes outside of the city of Moab. I stayed there for the two nights that I was in Moab. There are also a plethora of campsites on BLM lands around Moab, however since it was almost 10pm when I was getting in- I just stopped at the first campsite I could find and called it a day. And plus, did I mention the showers?
OFF-ROADING IN CANYONLANDS
To drive the White Rim road in Canyonlands National Park you need a vehicle with 4WD. You also need to be comfortable driving on hazardous dirt roads that are frighteningly close to the edge of a cliff.
I had neither of those things so I decided to go on a group tour to get my off-roading fix in. I booked a full day tour with Navtec Expeditions which I found through a Groupon. We went off-roading in Canyonlands in the morning and white-water rafting through the Colorado River in the afternoon.
Trapezoidal anthropomorphic man
Tony was our tour guide for the morning and he was full of energy, enthusiasm and information. He was also a fantastic photographer. He first took us to see some Petroglyphs- which are symbols carved into the sides of the sandstone by Native Americans. My favorite symbol was the trapezoidal anthropomorphic figure, pretty snazzy name right?
I got lost in the amazing views of Canyonlands. I could have honestly sat on a rock ledge and stared off into the vast abyss for ages, but Tony had a schedule to keep.
Colorado River viewpoint
WHITE WATER RAFTING
Now this experience was wonderful, but it wasn’t what I expected white water rafting to be. It was more of a gorgeous and relaxing float down the river with great conversation and a moment or two of turbulence.
Although slightly disappointed by the lack of thrill, it was not a lost afternoon. My tour guide was such an incredibly interesting human being. He lived in his car for 8 years back in the early 2000s. He essentially invented van life.
Sometimes when you are traveling, you don’t get the experience you are expecting, but if you can keep an open mind, there is usually a different and equally incredible experience lurking around the corner.
EXPLORING ARCHES NATIONAL PARK
Hanging out under Turret arch in the Windows area
To be honest, Arches is not my favorite national park. I kind of stand by the idea that if you have seen one arch- you’ve seen them all. Now this isn’t completely true, but the arches just didn’t do it for me the way the hoodoos or the slot canyons or the expansive canyon vistas did.
There are lots of bloggers with tips and stories about arches, and since I didn’t have as great of a time there I don’t think what I have to say will add much to the arches literature.
I did my due diligence and drove around about half of the park. I stopped and got out at Park Avenue and did the 1 mile out and back hike. This was the first time I truly felt like I was walking through the desert. I trudged along (and trust me- it was trudging) and made it to the windows area which I explored for a bit.
And then I decided to pack up my campervan rental car and head back to my true love, Canyonlands.
SUNSET AT CANYONLANDS
Do this. I drove out to the Grandview overlook and sat on a rock with a bunch of professional photographers and their tripods. I got my DSLR out to look cool, although I had no idea the ins and outs of photographing a sunset and I’m pretty sure I was taking pictures at all the wrong times.
Once I got over myself and put my camera away, I was able to just sit there and bask in the brilliance of the sun sinking down below the Western ridge of the canyon.
STARGAZING AT DEAD HORSE POINT STATE PARK
I have a mild obsession with the moon, which also extends to the stars and all of the celestial bodies above us. Dead Horse Point State Park is an International Dark Sky Park which means it is a prime spot for star gazing. At certain times of the year they even have star parties- which is essentially a ranger led star gazing session. I prefer to do it on my own.
I camped out here for the night and spent most of the evening lying on Tillies roof looking up at the sky. It is actually unreal how many more stars pop out at you in places like these. The whole sky seems alive. I was even able to catch a glimpse of Neptune- according to my Google Night Sky app. Can you believe that!?
DRIVE BACK TO SALT LAKE CITY- 3.5 HRS
My final day I drove back to salt lake city and decided to rent an Air bnb for the night before flying out the following morning. After 6 nights in a van- this turned out to be exactly what I needed. I think its important to know when to push your comfort zone and also to know when its time to come back into your comfort zone.
And there you have it. My week long venture into the #vanlife thanks to campervan rental USA company Lost Campers is now complete. What hikes or spots did I miss on my roadtrip? What are some of your favorite adventures in Utah? I am also interested to know- what are some of the lessons that you learn while traveling?