There’s no better way to explore the incredibly diverse landscapes of the USA than by road trip. If you need a little help to get started planning your USA road trip then look no further. Our friend Mitchell from The Mad Lifestyle just finished an epic 23 day road trip out of California visiting everything from snow capped mountains, deep orange hues of the Utah National parks, to the neon lights of Las Vegas. Check out Mitchell’s full road trip itinerary below including tips on making the most of out of your time on the road.
Make sure to check out Part 1 of Mitchell’s blog here where he shares his top tips for planning and budgeting for your USA road trip.
OUR COMPLETE MAPPED ITINERARY!
Our trip started and ended at 1 (Los Angeles). Follow the numbers below to track our route. Click here for full details of our journey!
DAY 1- LOS ANGELES
We made it! After a VERY long 14-hour direct flight from Sydney to Los Angeles, we were lucky enough to be greeted at the airport by Mira’s mother before picking up our RV from the LA depot in Bellflower, which was only 30 minutes from LA Airport.
The process of picking up the RV is pretty straight forward. Here is an overview:
- Sign the documents for the rental agreement.
- Quick chat about what you can and can’t do with the RV ( I cover some of this in the do’s & don’ts section in this journal).
- Walk-through of your RV where you are shown in detail how everything works. This is VERY important, so focus now, otherwise you’ll constantly be referring to the user manual during your trip.
- Grab the keys and hit the road!
Next step; stocking up the RV with food & camping supplies.
Ready to start our journey in the morning!
DAY 2 – HITTING THE ROAD
After a good nights sleep and our last home-cooked breakfast, we hit the road after the crazy LA morning traffic settled down.
After a few hours on the road, we found out a huge storm was approaching (-4 C 😳🥶). We realised we weren’t going to make it before dark to Sequoia National Park, so we decided to stop at Bakersfield.
We were craving our first American style meal, which was of course BBQ. After putting ourselves into a food coma we found a Walmart parking lot to spend the night.
TIP OF THE DAY: American portions are absurd, but don’t worry if you order too much, because you can take half home and reheat it the next day.
DAY 3 – WAKING UP IN A WALMART PARKING LOT
This wasn’t quite what we had in mind for our first night, but that’s part of RV life; not knowing what’s ahead of you. You learn to just go with it!
Feeling a little weary from being moved one parking lot to another by Walmart security the night before, we both were in need of an extra coffee to kick us into gear as we headed towards Sequoia National Park.
TIP OF THE DAY: Make sure it’s a Walmart that allows overnight parking, otherwise you’ll be woken up by security to move your RV, which can be rather frustrating after a long day of driving.
Sequoia National Park
Unfortunately, upon arrival at the South entrance we were advised that our 25ft RV was not suitable for the winding road into the park and would have to turn around and take the entrance via Kings Canyon. This was our first real lesson on the road; always check ahead when entering the parks to see which roads are open and suitable for your RV. This can save you a lot of time!
Lesson learned. We headed north to Kings Canyon National Park, which hosts some of the biggest Sequoia trees in the area.
DAY 4 – KINGS CANYON NATIONAL PARK & GRANT GROVE VILLAGE
After camping at the Azalea campground just inside the park ($18 fee paid on arrival), we were up at morning light to explore the Grant Tree Trail. Surprisingly, we had the place to ourselves. This was also our first look at snow in many years!
Grant Grove Trail, done. Next stop, Yosemite National Park!
DAY 5 – WAKING UP IN YOSEMITE VALLEY
Early bird gets the worm…and also the best photos!
Standing with a freshly brewed coffee in hand, watching the first light hitting the famous rock formations surrounding the valley is something magical you need to witness with your own eyes.
Inspiring us to load up our packs and go exploring. Embarking on an ambitious six-hour walk through the park, we managed to visit many of the popular sites including Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls, Mirror Lake, and Sentinel Rock. Even though we spent two nights in Yosemite, it still felt like we only scratched the surface of what the park has to offer. We can safely say we’ll be back.
TIPS OF THE DAY:
- Plan at least three full days to really experience the best of Yosemite.
- Always stop at the visitor centre for free advice on how to best manage your time in the park, and also to find out if any trails are inaccessible due to weather conditions.
- Free shuttles run every 15 minutes throughout the park.
- Yosemite National Park is busy all year round. We highly advise reserving a campsite in advance.
DAY 6 – YOSEMITE TO LAKE TAHOE
Feeling well rested after a night under the stars, we made our way for Lake Tahoe. This four-hour drive takes you through some pretty incredible countryside, and to our surprise, a lot of it was covered in snow. One thing that caught our eye was this beautiful field (pictured below).
Being from both Australia and Bali (Indonesia), neither of us get to see snow very often, so our first reaction was to run out onto the field. Luckily we were stopped by a local who said the “field” was actually a huge lake frozen over, and to be very careful stepping on the thin ice. Falling through would have been mortifying…gladly that crisis was averted
Arriving at Lake Tahoe around lunch time, we found ourselves craving barbecue (again). Aside from a great feed, Moe’s BBQ also had some of the best views in the area. As you can see from the photos below, it didn’t disappoint….
After spending a relaxing afternoon by the lake, we found a nice hidden spot in a random carpark with not only an amazing view for sunset, but also a place to spend the night for free. Score!
DAY 7 – LEAVING RAINY LAKE TAHOE
Unfortunately, our plans to snowboard all morning at the Squaw Valley Ski Resort were completely foiled by the rain. This was a huge bummer as we had made a bet to see who was better. In retrospect Mitch might have won, so seeing as we’re both extremely competitive people, it’s probably for the best we didn’t get that chance.
We headed to Emerald Bay in South Lake Tahoe instead, a very popular tourist destination. After a few hours of Mitch vs Drone, he finally earned his title as ‘Drone Master’ and we had our first successful flight!
Next up, the longest drive of our entire trip.
Lake Tahoe to Salt Lake City is essentially 8 hours of straight flat roads and underwhelming views. Mira decided to sit this one out, which we both agreed Mitch at the wheel was probably safer for everyone anyway….
We made it about 6 hours before calling it a day. We managed to find the nearest recommended RV park with trusted reviews and great facilities very easily using the Roadtrippers PLUS app.
DAY 8 – CHANGE OF PLANS
It’s day 8 and the first time we’ve paid for RV camping. It was time to attend to the boring, but necessary, jobs of RVing; Emptying waste tanks, filling up fresh water, doing the laundry and giving it a good clean.
After experiencing two days of miserable, wet & windy weather, we were disheartened that the forecast was predicting more of the same for our planned route for the next two weeks. This is where Roadtrippers PLUS app becomes incredibly handy. As such, we completely changed course to head south instead of our original plan to head north into Canada.
But, first things first, Salt Lake City. This was a must-do for one reason, and one reason only…The Pie Pizzeria. This was Mitch’s non-negotiable stop on the entire trip. After months of talking about it, we are happy to report the pizza really is THAT good.
DAY 9 – FIFTH WATER HOT SPRINGS
Heading south was definitely the right move. From this point on we were blessed with perfect weather.
Only a 1.5 hour drive from Salt Lake City, we hiked to Fifth Water Hot Springs; 4.5 miles of beautiful snowy trails that lead to a waterfall and three different sections of steaming hot springs, all varying slightly in depth and temperature.
Not expecting hot springs to be a ‘hot’ Springs Break destination, we didn’t anticipate crowds of teens drinking and celebrating. But despite the romantic intrusion it was a very beautiful spot and well worth the hike.
What did romance us was the drive out through the Uinta National Forest during sunset. It took our breath away. A photographers playground; sun beams lighting up the colourful landscape, a herd of horses grazing by the road and snow-capped mountains in the backdrop. It was a surreal moment that a camera can’t capture to perfection but we tried.
DAY 10 & 11 – ARCHES NATIONAL PARK
Arches National Park is what one might envision Mars to look like. The deep orange hues, that spanned farther than the eye can see, and the sheer grandeur of the rock formations really make you feel as though you’ve left planet Earth. Completely in awe, we spent the morning driving through the park stopping at various spots along the way to take photos. Arches is every photographer’s paradise.
TIP OF THE DAY: Make sure to book ahead, because you can camp inside the park!
If you find an overnight spot inside the park, make the most of your morning and catch sunrise at one of the famous arches. The visitor centre map lists all the places recommended for sunrise and sunset; we chose The Windows. We promise, it’s completely worth getting out of bed for. The rocks become so vibrant as the morning light touches them, it’s as if you are watching them come to life.
After our hike to The Windows we drove deeper into the park towards the Devil’s Garden Loop Trail for a much harder hike. Getting completely distracted by the incredible views, we realised halfway through that we were super lost! Luckily we had pre-loaded the trail using AllTrails app, so even without reception we were able to eventually trace our way back.
Lesson learned here…just because Mitch walks with confidence does NOT mean he knows where he is going. And, men never ask for directions.
On the plus side we got some pretty epic photos!
As if our morning hike AND the Devil’s Garden Loop Trail weren’t enough, we refuelled with a quick lunch and set out for the most famous arch in the park, the Delicate Arch (pictured below). This hike is an iconic Utah landmark, which actually features on their license plates. It was by far the busiest park but absolutely stunning.
No rest for the weary! Being the hyperactive humans that we are, we pushed on towards Capitol Reef National Park, even after a very very big day of hikes.
The drive into the park is nothing short of jaw dropping. We saw some of the most unique land formations and incredible pastel-coloured rocks and trees. It was hard to know where to look first!
TIP OF THE DAY: Make sure to experience the drive coming in as well as the park itself during late afternoon hours. Once the light softens, all the incredible colours look 10x more dramatic.
DAY 12 – CAPITOL REEF NATIONAL PARK
Capitol Reef is full of amazing hikes, but being too exhausted from our big day at Arches, we followed the visitor centre’s advice and went on an easy afternoon hike up the Cohab Canyon Trail. Followed by sunset at Chimney Rock.
Next on the list; Lower Calf Creek in Boulder. We are quickly running out of adjectives to justly describe the beauty of the landscape that hugs us as we drive from place to place. It wasn’t possible to stop anywhere safely to get a photo but imagine driving on a one lane road along a ridge with a sheer drop off on either side of the road….. if you’re afraid of heights keep your eyes on the road and don’t look down!
DAY 13 – CALF CREEK LOWER FALLS
Having slept in the campground parking lot, we were able to start our hike to Calf Creek Lower Falls very early.
The trail begins at the campground and is a very pleasant 5.5 mile round trip hike. The entire creek around the 130 foot tall waterfall is surrounded by lush greenery. Out of the two waterfalls on Calf Creek, the lower falls is the most famous and attracts many visitors every year.
TIP OF THE DAY: This trail can get quite busy around mid morning onwards, so go early to beat the crowds!
Only minutes after hitting the road we passed by Kiva Coffeehouse, which was the first proper coffeeshop we had seen in quite some time. Being the coffee addicts that we are, we had to stop in.
Kiva Coffeehouse turned out to not only have amazing coffee in an incredibly unique space, but also offered spectacular panoramic views of the entire canyon!
Great views, great coffee, and great pastries. What more can you possibly ask for?
Adequately fuelled with sugar & caffeine, we made it to Bryce Canyon National Park just in time for sunset.
Bryce Canyon is known for its crimson-colored hoodoos, which are spire-shaped rock formations. The main lookout points are set up like an amphitheatre, so we were able to look down into the snowcapped canyon while watching the sun set behind.
DAY 14 – BRYCE CANYON TO ZION NATIONAL PARK
Due to the recent heavy snowfall we unfortunately weren’t able to do our planned morning hike down into the canyon, so we drove on towards Zion. Along the way we passed through the appropriately named Red Rock Canyon (pictured below).
Upon entry into Zion National Park, we realised quickly that scoring a camping spot in the park was unlikely. Luckily, a last minute cancellation saved our day and secured us a spot at the Watchman’s Campground.
And yes, once again we did not book ahead, which is why we stress that you really should.
DAY 15 – WAKING UP IN ZION NATIONAL PARK
Waking up in Zion National Park is pretty damn spectacular! Opening the RV curtains, looking out and finding yourself immersed in a cascading red beauty of soaring rock formations would make even the most un-enthused person eager to get out and explore!
We set out early to hike the famous “Angel’s Landing”. It’s 5.4 miles round trip, which doesn’t seem far, but the second half is quite steep and the path gets incredibly narrow towards the top. Imagine holding on to a chain, scaling up rocks, wind blowing hard enough that it makes your body sway, all the while having 1500 foot drops on either side of you. It’s definitely not ideal if you’re scared of heights; luckily neither of us are and we thoroughly enjoyed the challenge. Not to mention the view is incredibly rewarding.
There are many other incredible hikes in Zion; we hope to come back for them one day.
TIP OF THE DAY: Zion runs free shuttles throughout the park to all the major attractions & hikes. The driver also gives you information about your surroundings. The experience was slightly reminiscent of Jurassic Park! Haha!
NEXT STOP: Coral Pink Sand Dunes.
DAY 16 – CORAL PINK SAND DUNES STATE PARK
Just our luck, we were greeted by an intense storm that rolled in a day early. With the RV shaking vigorously in the wind, and temperatures dropping below freezing, what better excuse to stay inside, open a bottle of wine and watch Game of Thrones reruns in bed. After all our hiking, it was a much needed break anyway.
Sidenote…being two people who grew up around warm sandy beaches, it’s a very very odd sight looking out at sand dunes, and yet snow is falling from the sky.
Thankfully, the storm passed overnight and we were able to spend the morning playing in the dunes! You can actually hire sand boards from the camp ground office for $20 USD a day. Embrace your inner child and get out there!
TIP OF THE DAY: Staying overnight in the state park cost $30 USD, but it included water, electricity & a dump station. No WiFi though.
NEXT UP: Arizona!…and then back into Utah.
DAY 17 – HORSESHOE BEND & MONUMENT VALLEY
We are considering changing this post title to ‘Finding Free RV Parking’ as we’ve developed quite a knack for it. Day 17’s free parking was brought to you by McDonald’s in Page, Arizona. Only 5 minutes from Horseshoe Bend, plus free WiFi and easy access to coffee…we call this a WIN!
Despite the smell of sausage & egg McMuffins wafting into our RV, and the incredibly tempting ‘2 for $4 deal’ that came with it, we did our own healthy breakfast cook-up. If that’s not willpower, we don’t know what is. Note; this really only applies for Mira. Mitch wouldn’t touch McDonald’s even if you paid him.
Unlike most other notable sites we’ve been to, Horseshoe Bend requires little to no effort. It’s an easy 10 minute walk from the carpark to the attraction site and boom! You’re there.
On a mission to catch the afternoon light over at Monument Valley, we hit the road back into Utah.
This red-sand desert region on the Arizona-Utah border had been on our radar for some time, and the drive in did not disappoint. The landscape is like no other, with towering sandstone buttes popping up out of nowhere! It felt like we had been dropped in a set of an old school Western Movie.
Head to the visitor centre and drive the 17-mile loop they call ‘Valley Drive’. It’s the most scenic way to see Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, bringing you past some of the most popular sites in the area. A 4×4 is not necessary; but we should note it’s a bumpy, dusty road, with a very low speed limit.
If you want to see some untouched hidden gems, we recommend doing a tour with one of the following local guides:
Monument Valley was a beautiful spot to conclude our drive through Utah. Onwards south we go towards Sedona, Arizona!
DAY 18 – LOOKING AROUND SEDONA
Sedona was like nowhere else we had been.
It’s one of those places where you feel a strong, indescribable positive energy, even just walking down the main streets. Its tangible regenerative and meditative effects, along with its sprawling beauty have made Sedona an internationally renown mecca amongst healers and the more spiritually inclined. Not to mention everyone seemed genuinely happy and eager to help us find our way around town!
Here are some things you can do in Sedona –
- Stroll through the town where you will find multiple unique craft and crystal shops.
- Take one of the many hikes. Ask the visitor centre for recommendations.
- Photograph the surroundings of Sedona; there’s no shortage of breathtaking views.
- Take a helicopter ride through the valleys and see parts of Sedona that are unreachable by car.
TIP OF THE DAY: Mobilising an RV around the small and busy town of Sedona can be quite difficult. You should also be aware that there are many police patrolling the area, so don’t park illegally. Sedona is also very strict on unauthorised overnight parking, but if you drive around 10 miles south of the town there are free overnight camping areas available, which is where we stayed.
DAY 19 – HIKING DEVIL’S BRIDGE IN SEDONA
We woke up at first light, eager to hike Devil’s Bridge Trail. With the exception of the very last section that required some climbing, the trail was a mostly flat easy 4 mile round trip hike. We were surprised and immediately disappointed to find that this well-known hike turned out to be purely an Instagram photo opportunity. People were lining up for ten minutes just to run out along the natural bridge to get their shot. Unable to enjoy the view in peace, we left feeling a little frustrated.
We ended up having similar unpleasant experiences at other locations; the car parks were completely full, and trails extremely packed. It really was a pity that we came during Spring Break because there was still so much to see, but being one of a million tourists was extremely off-putting.
We cut our visit short and head to Williams on Route 66 for something a little different.
DAY 20 – ROUTE 66
“Getting our kicks on Route 66″…we didn’t know what to expect but we were pleasantly surprised by this cool little town called Williams. The streets are lined with themed diners, souvenir shops, trendy restaurants and a brewery.
There’s also the famous Grand Canyon Railway, which does themed train tours all the way to the Grand Canyon. Had we not already planned accommodation in Las Vegas, we definitely would have done this tour; it looked amazing!
Having a taste of Route 66, we decided to check out another town we found on Roadtrippers called Seligman, which also had old-school diners, themed gift shops, and vintage cars. It even had the exact model Ford in the Disney movie, Cars. Where’s Mater at?
Mira, unsurprisingly, simply had to try the ‘local cuisine’, so she got herself a corn dog at the famous Delgadillo’s Snow Cap Drive Inn. Meanwhile Mitch made a quick call back home to let everyone know he was doing just fine……
Tourist 101 complete! It’s now time to party….next stop…Vegas, baby!
DAY 21 – LAS VEGAS
We’re not ashamed to say, we love Vegas. The neon lights, over-the-top architecture, ridiculous statues, hordes of people (drunk people mainly); we love it all!
After 20 days of being surrounded by nature, a dose of sensory overload was a welcomed change.
No photos here. Sorry, but not sorry. Besides, what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas! 😉
Here’s a snippet of what we did:
- Explore the strip and enjoy the people watching…it’s a crazy city.
- Saw the Cirque du Soleil show “O” at Bellagio. Highly recommend.
- Spent probably too much time at the casinos…but, ya win some ya lose some! 🙂
TIP OF THE DAY: Ask your hotel to direct you towards the most convenient and safe option for oversized parking. We parked at Excalibur’s for $10 a night.
DAY 22 – MOJAVE DESERT
With a sluggish start, we eventually made it out of Vegas towards our final destination, Joshua Tree National Park.
Surprised to see that our route passed through the Mojave desert, we quickly researched the hot spots and found Kelso Dunes, the largest field of aeolian sand deposits in the Mojave Desert. Despite the struggle up the dunes, the pure and perfect landscape become one of our favourite places from the entire trip.
Arriving in Joshua tree in time for dinner, we went straight for Mitch’s favourite…drumroll please…more barbecue. But this wasn’t just any barbecue…it was the BEST BBQ we had all trip! (Note; we ate it way more times than we have actually admitted, because it’s a little embarrassing how many times we stopped for it. At one point we ate it twice in one night. Yes, you read that right.)
TIP OF THE DAY: Do your self a favour and lock in a dinner at The Rib Co. It’s well worth the food coma.
DAY 23 – JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL PARK
On our last official day on the road (cue: sad face), we had our final hurrah in Joshua Tree. The park boasts Joshua trees as far as the eye can see, along with massive rock formations, and fan palm oases. It was the perfect place to relax and reflect on our entire trip.
If we learnt one thing from this road trip, it’s that some of your best memories are the unplanned and spontaneous ones. So leave some room for mystery!
……. With Memories that will last us a lifetime, etched from Adventures that brought us to Discover some of the USA’s most beautiful destinations, it’s left us with a feeling of wanting to explore even deeper into the unknown. Until next time…..