Editor’s Note: We’ve met so many terrific people in person and via social media that love the National Parks as much as we do. Those who enjoy taking road trips to many National Parks at a time (like us) we’ve come to refer to as #ParkNuts. Our young friend Lydia is one of the nuttiest. She is also one of the best. We think you will enjoy her account of her most recent National Park adventure.
Lydia’s National Park Road Trip
My name is Lydia and I connected with Don and Shelly (my national park enthusiast idols) last fall before I made a trip to visit some national parks. Similar to Don and Shelly, it is my goal to visit all 59 national parks. Although I absolutely wish I could visit them all in a 59-week time frame, for now my goal is to reach them all by the time I am 30 (7+ years to go!). I If you read their post of our email correspondence last September, you will see how kind and wonderful their response to my original email was. Their advice for each park was so helpful I still cannot express enough gratitude. If you are planning a trip to any of the national parks we discussed I highly recommend taking a look at their suggestions. Seeing as I didn’t get to go to everywhere I had planned, but did end up adding some more fun national parks to my itinerary, I am going to share my adventure with you and some useful tips I learned along the way. Hopefully this will inspire you to get out and visit these awesome parks!
I should preface this post by saying I am a planner. I LOVE to plan things. So naturally when my sister asked me if I wanted to join her after a work conference to road trip around Utah and see some national parks, I went to town planning our big adventure. She even mentioned at one point “there are a ton of national parks around Utah, we won’t be able to go to all of them but we can make a dent.” So I planned for us to hit a few parks in Utah and to end in Las Vegas, where I would meet up with my boyfriend and continue towards Los Angeles with him, stopping at some more national parks along the way. I had absolutely everything planned out perfectly. There was no room for error. That is, until we got to Arches National Park and said “Ok. We can’t leave here we must stay at least another day.” And so we did. And, as luck would have it (and totally going against all plans) my sister and I visited all of Utah’s Mighty 5.
I learned 3 valuable lessons on my first epic national park road trip, and for anybody planning on making a big trip like mine, please heed my advice.
1) Stay flexible. Be okay with changing things up and be prepared to do just that.
2) If you’re a planner like myself, plan to have one day with nothing planned. Once you get to each park you will discover more things you want to do that you didn’t plan for, and having that extra day will give you more wiggle room to explore.
3) Give yourself at least 3 full days to visit each park (AT THE MINIMUM!) I learned this the hard way and deeply regret it.
Despite not being able to visit each park for as long as we would have liked, our trip was still extremely memorable. From our last minute decision to stay around Arches an extra day, to adding Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef to the itinerary on our way to Zion (FYI, even though it takes 5 hours to get from Arches to Zion, it also takes 5 hours to get from Capitol Reef to Zion), every decision we made was well worth it.
In total I visited 8 national parks. Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, Zion, Death Valley, Joshua Tree, and Channel Islands (Santa Cruz Island). Many people have asked me what my favorite park is from this trip and honestly I cannot pick. Each park is extremely different and uniquely beautiful. However, I would like to give a shout out to Bryce Canyon for their excellent commitment to sustainability and conservation, you guys rock.
While I cannot share a favorite park, I can share with you some of my favorite things that I did at each park, as Don and Shelly did for me. I hope that those who read this will find use in these tips and have as much fun as I did.
Arches National Park: Devils Garden hike- hands down. Go at sunrise for cooler temperatures.
Canyonlands National Park: The hike to Mesa arch is fun and nice and the arch view is unparalleled.
Capitol Reef National Park: Most of our time was spent driving to the Strike Valley Overlook in the southern end of the park. The water pocket fold view is stunning however this was a very long drive and you will need 4-wheel drive.
Bryce Canyon National Park: The Navajo Trail Loop is a very fun and relatively short hike into and out of the canyon.
Zion National Park: While it was too windy for us to attempt Angels Landing, I really did enjoy the Ranger-guided walks. They were fun and educational.
Death Valley National Park: I can’t limit myself to one suggestion here. Dante’s View at dusk, Mesquite Sand Dunes at dawn, and Badwater Basin whenever it’s not super-hot.
Joshua Tree National Park: Cholla Cactus Garden! While driving there you might think “…maybe we passed it?” and then BOOM you’re there. The light there was beautiful at sunset.
Channel Islands National Park (Santa Cruz Island): Camp overnight, bring flippers, rent a kayak (online and in advance). Also, Scorpion Trail from Scorpion Ranch is a long and very steep, uphill hike. You have been warned.