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The National Parks of USA in an RV

Updated on December 11, 2014

USA National Parks in an RV

Should you rent an RV (i.e. campervan, mobile home) and explore America?


This article gives travel advice for road-trips in America and details my experiences from when I took a career break and set off on a road-trip in an RV, round the national parks of the USA: Zion Park; Bryce Canyon; Canyon Lands; The Arches; Moab; Yosemite and of course Yellowstone where we saw coyotes, mountain lion, wolves...


Here is a description of the journey and some hotel and travel tips, advice and recommendations.


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The Road-trip. Starting in Las Vegas

4,500 mile road-trip in a 24' long RV round the national parks of Utah, Montana, Wyoming, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona...

I am a very keen traveler, living in the U.K. I have been to many obscure places around the world and there is so much to see right on my doorstep in Europe so I wasn't really intending to explore America at the moment. I have been to the USA more than ten times, mostly on business, working for a Silicon Valley company for the last 15 years, but it was now time to take a career-break and my partner was out of work too. The weak dollar made a trip to America very tempting and I do love the national parks in the USA.

My initial plan for our 2008 adventure was to fly into the south then drive up through the US in an RV for a few weeks, through the national parks ending at Yellowstone and fly home from Denver. Unfortunately this would have cost a lot of money. We'd be far better off flying in and out of Las Vegas, to avoid the additional costs of flying into one airport and out of another, and for the drop-off fee for the RV.

We flew from London to Las Vegas in March 2008 and stayed for one night at the Planet Hollywood Casino/Hotel. I had been to Vegas once before and didn't intend to spend very long there.

Map of National Parks in USA - Map of Utah and Wyoming

show route and directions
A markerBryce Canyon, Utah -
Bryce Canyon, Utah
get directions

B markerYellowstone -
Yellowstone
get directions

C markerMoab -
Moab
get directions

D markerThe Arches, Utah -
The Arches, Utah
get directions

E markerSalt Lake City, Utah -
Salt Lake City, Utah
get directions

The Truck (Rental RV)

We rented the RV from Cruise America: http://www.cruiseamerica.com

for about £1000 ($2000) for 3 weeks. Their smallest model, based on a Ford V8 pickup truck with a huge house bolted on top. 24 feet long, 10 feet wide and 12' to the top of the air-conditioning unit. Inside the RV was very spacious, with one permanent double bed over the cabin, a double sofa-bed and the four-seater dining area converts into a third double bed, so 6 very friendly people could theoretically be accommodated. This would save us a fortune, rather than staying in expensive hotels. Cruise America provided bedding and kitchen equipment for a small extra fee of about $100 in total, and because it was our first time, gave us a briefing on how to empty the various fluid tanks. We watched a short film about what to do and what not to do, then set off. We stocked up on food and other camping supplies, and set off North.

We didn't get very far though. Cruise America, very sensibly, won't let you pick up a vehicle on the same day you arrive on a long-haul flight, so we had to wait until the following day. There is also a very expensive "early-bird" option with the RV rental costing between $200 and $400 depending on the day, to pick it up in the morning. We didn't pay this and left quite late and only got as far as Mesquite, just south of the Nevada border. We stayed in the Oasis Casino Motel (just $70 for the room), rather than camp.

It wasn't quite National Park camping experience I was hoping for: Huge numbers of keen gamblers had made the Friday night journey over the border to Nevada, where the laws allow them to feed their addiction. The motel had no other redeeming features apart from a reasonable bar and restaurant in which to while away the evening.

The National Parks: Zion Park

We continued the next day towards Utah's wonderful national parks. Our first night in the RV was at Zion National Park, in the beautiful campsite near Zion Lodge. It was just $18 for the night and for that you get a good sized parking space with a picnic table and an electric hookup to plug the RV into for lights and air-conditioning etc. but most important of all, that view. An absolutely stunning place to sit outside and watch the sun go down behind the hills, and the red soil gradually change colour. I then cooked a nice meal in the ample galley kitchen and we went to bed. We had propane heating and there was still some snow around, so it was cosy. My other half disagreed. The heating was too noisy so we had to turn it off and my cooking was too smelly and she couldn't sleep. Oh well. Only another 3 weeks to go. Zion Park has a 6 mile scenic road running through it which gives an excellent view of the scenery. Various trails are accessible along the way, and at the end of the road, a car park, viewing area and more trails. Soaring rock faces with twisted trees clinging to them and a strange surreal light. What could be more beautiful?

Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon was our next one night stop, and really is even more beautiful than Zion. Stunning vertical columns of reddish sandstone are even more impressive than the Grand Canyon. Going in mid-March had the advantage that very few tourists had arrived yet, and seeing Bryce covered in snow is a sight few will have seen, making it perhaps even more special. Bryce has a similar setup to Zion, but the lodges inside the park didn't open for a couple of weeks (mid-March is a bit early in the season) and, rather than spending two nights in a row in the RV we opted for an hotel, Ruby's Inn, just outside the park. Bryce Canyon has another beautiful 10 mile scenic drive with several places to stop, photograph and marvel at the wonderful views.

Ruby's Inn

Ruby's Inn, Bryce Canyon was the only hotel open, near-by, but also appeared to be the best option for miles around. It was ancient, by American standards, established in 1916 and still retained it's character. It is now run by Best Western, which in no way diminishes the experience. The roaring fire in the Foyer (I mean lobby) is surrounded by leather chairs and makes a wonderful place to thaw-out and read. A large, useful camping shop on one side of the lobby and a restaurant on the other provided our entertainment. There is no bar, as such, perhaps due to rather strict licensing laws in Utah, but if you ask permission from the staff, drinks purchased in the camping shop can be consumed next to the fire (I did feel rather naughty though, so we went to the licensed restaurant for a meal) The restaurant was O.K. rather than good, and provided the usual options in ridiculously huge portions. I hate wasting food, and quantity is no substitute for quality, but outside cosmopolitan cities that's the only option.

Recommended Photographic Equipment: Nikon DSLR

If you don't already have an SLR camera it would be a good idea to get one before taking a big road-trip like this, a compact camera will not get such good results, in some situations, although is more convenient. Typically a zoom lens going from wide-angle (e.g. 18mm) to telephoto (200mm or more if you want to take wildlife photos) would also be ideal.

I used a Nikon D80 and an F4S for the pictures shown on this web-site, but any of the current Nikon range will give excellent results.

I have written a more detailed recommendation of cameras here:

Nikon DSLR Cameras

digital compact cameras

but here is some good kit for a road-trip:

Capital Reef to Moab and the Arches National Parks

Our journey continued through Capital Reef, another national park with similar, but still striking scenery, to Moab, Utah. The intention was to get to Moab in one day, but ended up staying in a Day's Inn in Tooley, for just $100 for the night, which was very good value for money for a good simple comfortable room and access to a child infested swimming pool, but no restaurant. There is a coffee shop next door, and a diner/restaurant a short walk up the hill nearby, where more enormous quantities of steak or chicken could be consumed. Not too bad, in fact, but extremely fast service and certainly not a relaxed experience.

Next stop was Moab, Utah, an ideal base for Canyonlands and the Arches National Parks. Two more stunningly beautiful national parks, with similar scenery, perhaps with the exception of the arches themselves (huge arches of sandstone carved out by the winds) We had perhaps seen enough of this kind of scenery, by this stage, but were certainly not bored. The town of Moab is a popular tourist destination, particularly with sporty types, with plenty of climbing, "horse-back riding" (as they say in America) and off-road driving opportunities. There are a good selection of standard American hotels and restaurants and bars. If you want a drink in a bar, you must buy some chips (i.e. fries) to get round the strict licensing laws.

Driving out of Moab, at high altitude and up hill, we managed just 4 miles per gallon and after 30 miles without seeing a petrol (i.e. gas) station we ran out of petrol. The steering became impossibly heavy as the engine cut out and I struggled to keep the monstrous truck on the road. We started walking, and we immediately picked up by a very kind man, who took us 25 miles to the first petrol station, bought 5 gallons in a plastic container and some more extremely helpful people took us all the way back to the RV. 24 miles later we ran out of petrol again within sight of the petrol station.

We drove north to Salt Lake City via Lima, a one horse town, with just a snow-covered, empty RV park to stay in, for the exorbitant price of $8 and an empty bar where frozen pizza was lovingly thawed out by the chef.

And finally to Yellowstone National Park

We eventually reached Yellowstone, North Entrance, just over the border in Wyoming. The highlight of our trip. I have wanted to go there ever since seeing Yogi Bear cartoons as a child. The west & south entrances were still closed for winter and many of the roads through the park impassable due to snow. This is an important consideration if planning to go to Yellowstone during the winter. Some of the lodges are open most of the year, but most are closed in the winter. There is a two-week period in late March each year when all lodges are closed, and access to much of the park is not possible, because the roads that are usually closed all winter are being cleared and even the snowmobiles, the usual means of getting around in the winter can't be used on them. By a slight miscalculation we chose this time to arrive, so the whole place was deserted. This however turned out be a bonus. Few other tourists were there, with virtually no traffic on the north road, which remains open all year. Driving between the Gardiner, Montana, near the north entrance and Cooke City at the north-east entrance takes a couple of hours in snowy conditions and provides wonderful snowy views of the park. We saw three coyotes eating a deer, very close to the road, then a pack of 12 wolves, lots of bison, big-horn sheep...

Coyotes in Yellowstone National Park:

Wolves in Yellowstone National Park:

The one that got away... A Bobcat?:

Conclusion

Should you rent an RV and drive 4,500 miles through the national parks of USA? I would say yes, but unless you are very hardy don't do it until the snow has melted. Having your own kitchen means that you can have decent food in even some of the more remote parts of America, it is very inexpensive and ought to be fun for all of the family.

More North American Travel Articles & Photos on Squidoo (or add your own lenses to the list)

Yosemite, National Park, California

Half Dome Mountain, Yosemite
Half Dome Mountain, Yosemite

In a separate road-trip, from my base in San Francisco (I am from the U.K. but was working for a Silicon Valley consultancy firm) I have also explored Yosemite National Park, with it's stunningly beautiful rock formations. The most famous view in Yosemite National Park is probably that of Half Dome Mountain.

http://www.zazzle.com/AndyPo?rf=238063010056357900

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    • Kalafina profile image

      Kalafina 4 years ago

      One year we did the same thing. The RV beat camping until the air conditioning broke down in Death Valley. I remember laying pressed against the fridge while my mom rationed out the ice cubes. I have to say it is a national park visit tie between RV vs Camping. Although my parents usually fly now instead of camping.

      Nice lens! My latest one showed it as related and you brought back so many memories. Blessed if it lets me!

    • profile image

      MissMalaprop 4 years ago

      My boyfriend and I did a 1,600+ mile motorcycle roadtrip through Nevada and California in 2006. We also flew in and out of Las Vegas, and rented a motorcycle there. And we also had an incident where we mis-judged the distance between gas stations and ran out of gas, in the middle of the desert! Luckily we were saved, shortly after pulling over to the side of the road, by a very nice German couple on their way to Las Vegas.

    • agoofyidea profile image

      agoofyidea 5 years ago

      I have traveled in an RV all my life. It is the best way to see America.

    • flicker lm profile image

      flicker lm 5 years ago

      Sounds like a wonderful road trip. Enjoyed the photos.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Awesome stuff! I've been looking for a cool road trip to go on. You may have just inspired me. I think I'll have to use Utah's business directory to find places to eat, though. I'm not very good at roughing it when it comes to food :-\

    • SayGuddaycom profile image

      SayGuddaycom 5 years ago

      Good stuff

    • CoolFoto profile image

      CoolFoto 6 years ago

      Congrats on your LOD. I have never traveled in an RV. Blessed by Squid neighborhood Travel angel. Added to www.squidoo.com/angel-of-travel .

    • CoolFoto profile image

      CoolFoto 6 years ago

      Congrats on your LOD. I have never traveled in an RV. Blessed by Squid neighborhood Travel angel. Added to www.squidoo.com/angel-of-travel .

    • ElizabethJeanAl profile image

      ElizabethJeanAl 6 years ago

      My husband and I talked about traveling in an RV after retiring but now we've decided to get a van and stay in hotels/motels. Neither of us wants to try and drive an RV through the mountains.

    • rt8ca profile image

      rt8ca 6 years ago

      You got some beautiful photographs posted!

      We're from Canada and travel to National Parks quite often.

      Will definitely link back to you in some of my future travel articles on my website.

      Thanks

    • MargoPArrowsmith profile image

      MargoPArrowsmith 6 years ago

      My parents traveled the country for 15 years in an RV. They loved it.

    • profile image

      Road_Trip_Warrior 6 years ago

      I loved reading about your trip!!! There is such breathtaking scenery out west! What did you think of the RV campsites you stayed at?

    • Andy-Po profile image
      Author

      Andy 6 years ago from London, England

      @Road_Trip_Warrior: I thought the RV campsite were excellent, in general, although I am really no expert in this area, as it was my first RV adventure (first of many, I hope). The ones in the parks were mostly quite basic, but in wonderful locations and of course when you have an RV (with it's own generator) you really don't need very much apart from a nice place to park up for the night.

    • profile image

      Road_Trip_Warrior 6 years ago

      @Road_Trip_Warrior: The Zion site seemed like a good experience but it sounds like your camping options were limited at some of the other destinations?

    • kimark421 profile image

      kimark421 7 years ago

      Although I traveled the U.S. decades ago, one of my goals is to take a 60 day vacation and bum around the Western States. I'm getting there...

      Great lens! 5*s

    • ElizabethJeanAl profile image

      ElizabethJeanAl 7 years ago

      Have a wonderful Christmas

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      Hi Andy. Just trying to get back into the swing of things after a very relaxing vacation. Only thing is I would wake up in the morning or from a nap and be thinking of what I needed to do on lenses, but no computer. I actually thought my sister Shelly how to update lenses for me and be the administrator of a couple of lenses I keep close tabs on. All was well when I got back, even better than I expected. I'll leave her in charge to update more often.

      Lensrolling this to my national park lenses. Thanks for stopping by! :)

      P.S. Still need to go through picture and see what I have!

    • ElizabethJeanAl profile image

      ElizabethJeanAl 8 years ago

      Thanks for sharing.

      Lizzy

    • Kiwisoutback profile image

      Kiwisoutback 8 years ago from Massachusetts

      I'm not an RV kinda guy, but I've done some National Parks road trips by car, it was great. Consider this one lensrolled (to my Nat'l Parks lens)!

    • SandyMertens profile image

      Sandy Mertens 8 years ago from Frozen Tundra

      I haven't travel RV but I have been to some of these Parks that you have listed. We have talked about someday getting a small RV. Very nice travel lens. I enjoyed the pictures.

    • ElizabethJeanAl profile image

      ElizabethJeanAl 8 years ago

      Now this is something I have a shot at doing. My husband and I have talked about it. What a great way to spend our retirement.

      Great lens.

      Lizzy

    • profile image

      Joan4 8 years ago

      Once more, your pictures are breath-taking! Despite the inconveniences, it sounds like you had a wonderful trip. Delightful read!

    • OhMe profile image

      Nancy Tate Hellams 8 years ago from Pendleton, SC

      You sure have an interesting life and I am so glad that you are capturing it with your camera. Great lens.

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      I would love to travel around the country in an RV. Unfortunately I don't like driving big vehicles so that would leave all the driving to my husband. It would take us forever to get anywhere.

      Great lens

      Lizzy

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      I love this lens. I want to travel by RV. I think it woud be awesome.

    • WhiteOak50 profile image

      WhiteOak50 8 years ago

      Some of the rock formations in the pictures reminded me of the Garden of the Gods in Colorado. Have you ever been there? Great pictures as ALWAYS! Love the wolves....

    • debnet profile image

      Debbie 8 years ago from England

      Wow! What a fabulous trip and such good value! the RV rental would cost that, maybe more, for just one week in the Uk I'm sure! Does Yogi Bear not live at Jellystone Park anymore Andy? :(

    • jimmielanley profile image

      Jimmie Lanley 8 years ago from Memphis, TN, USA

      I so want to do this! I'd love to have an RV and explore the West.

    • jimmielanley profile image

      Jimmie Lanley 8 years ago from Memphis, TN, USA

      I so want to do this! I'd love to have an RV and explore the West.

    • nightbear lm profile image

      nightbear lm 8 years ago

      Have no desire whatsoever to travel by RV, but it may be the only way to see some of these things, oh well. Love the bobcat. Great lens.

    • profile image

      Mayflowerblood 8 years ago

      thats cool! look at the bobcat high tail it

    • evelynsaenz1 profile image

      Evelyn Saenz 8 years ago from Royalton

      Visiting the National Parks in an RV sounds like an ideal way to spend the summer getting to know this vast country and it's natural beauty. Wonderful pictures!

    • greenerme profile image

      greenerme 8 years ago

      Excellent work! I love Zion, Bryce, Yosemite and Arches, I've been to all of them. Wonderful pictures.

    • K Linda profile image

      K Linda 8 years ago

      Your lens intrigued the gypsy in me! I'm not a cold weather fan, though. It would have to be late spring or early fall.

    • anthropos lm profile image

      Lamar Ross 8 years ago from Florida

      Another good one for you. Thanks for joining ”Anything and Everything Travel” Group. We look forward to seeing your other travel related lenses in our group. Keep up the good work.

    • TonyPayne profile image

      Tony Payne 8 years ago from Southampton, UK

      Very nice lens and I agree some great pictures. I still have to visit the great national parks out west, haven't been there yet, but I hope I can one day. 5***** for a really good lens.

    • CherylK profile image

      Cheryl Kohan 8 years ago from Minnesota

      What a very nice lens with beautiful pictures! It would be great if you could do it during the summer or early fall and miss all that cold weather, though. Plus the foliage is fantastic.

    • CherylK profile image

      Cheryl Kohan 8 years ago from Minnesota

      What a very nice lens with beautiful pictures! It would be great if you could do it during the summer or early fall and miss all that cold weather, though. Plus the foliage is fantastic.

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      Beautiful pictures! And, you are a great writer AndyPo. 5 of Them *****

    • KimGiancaterino profile image

      KimGiancaterino 8 years ago

      Our RV has been parked in the driveway way too long! Welcome to All Things Travel.

    • profile image

      anonymous 9 years ago

      Looks like a great vacation. Another well written article. Needs a few more photos though?