Pro-tips and bucket lists
I was getting some FOMO the other day and realized that it was in part because I was sad to be missing out on things in Boston, but also that I was sad to not have enough time to do all the cool things I want to on my road trip. So I’m writing them down!
- Ouachita forest: so many rec areas!
- Just all of it again but slower
- Backcountry office is way less busy than the visitor center, it has flush toilets, and parking fills up less quickly than the visitor center
- camp in the forest just outside the park: you won’t be alone. If you’re not in an RV, have dinner at a picnic area in the park first, stop by a bathroom, and then head to the forest. Don’t lock yourself out though.
- Tanner Trail
- Rim to rim hike
- Bright angel again, but start a bit earlier and go all the way to Plateau Point
- Check out the North rim
North of Grand canyon/South Grand Escalante, Kanab region
- Badger Canyon “camp” is awesome
- All of it! Spencer Lake trail for next time, but I’d definitely do Cathedral Wash again.
- Buckskin gulch trail (starting from Wire tap)
- Actually get your shit together to go do The Wave lottery (but remember: Arizona and Utah might be an hour different if it’s daylight savings!)
- Maybe the Peek-a-boo slot canyon that’s to the west of Kanab?
Zion National Park
- as many trails as possible from the East side
- hike through the Narrows (with a friend who knows how to prepare for a hike through a river)
Bryce Canyon National Park
- Bryce Canyon Coffee Co in Tropic is super lovely! Also attached to a motel.
- All of the viewpoints have parking, so if you’re early enough in the day you probably don’t need to take the shuttle. (It comes every 15 min, so it’s not as frequent as in Zion). The additional parking seems to fill up by 10 am or so.
- If I’m feeling like backpacking: the under-the-rim trail seems awesome.
- If not, figure out what the trail is that leaves from Rainbow Point and goes out to the point in front of it.
- Maybe try to find some hikes in the forest between Bryce and Tropic (or go back and do Red Canyon hike?)
Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument area
- Unlike most other areas I’ve camped in, this one has no service!
- Lots of washboard on the main road, and trails to find campsites are fairly rough – high clearance recommended
- Petrified forest state park
- Willow Gulch trail, all the way to the arch at the “end”
- Come prepared for some overnight backpacking hikes
- BRING A DOG TO PLAY
- Come with enough time to hang around the campsite and explore the surroundings
Road between Grand Staircase and Moab
- Omg pies at Capitol Reef what a lovely surprise! Come prepared to nom.
- Figure out backcountry camping and permits for the area around scenic byway 24 and go exploring
- Actually drive on 95 like Janyne told me to (AKA between Hanksville, Fry Canyon, and Blanding)
- Spend more time at Capitol Reef, but preferably only there so it doesn’t get diluted by all the other cool things nearby
- Re-do the Little Wild Horse slot canyon near Goblin Valley State Park, but do the whole loop and don’t die in a flash flood. Also, explore that area more and camp closer to the slot canyon hike (rather than the weird parking-lot-like BLM campsite)
- Make sure you have your shit together and book a campsite in advance, otherwise it’s very hard to find somewhere. BLM campsites are fairly small but reservable, Canyonlands is also an option.
- Take the road that goes along the Colorado instead of highway 191 if you’re heading out and going northeast.
- The campground is really cheap: $12 if you have the America the Beautiful pass, and it’s right next to a lovely diner with internet, warmth, and beer
- Just come camping here for a trip, and hike around
- Mt. Rushmore, I guess…
Yellowstone and Grand Tetons
- Learn how to prepare for bears. If you want to hike, it’s better to find a friend for this part of the trip.
- Old Faithful erupts every ~90 minutes. There’s a couple of short hikes to do around there. Plan to be there for at least 2 or 3 eruptions if you can, since some of them are less whelming.
- Hike all up in those Tetons.
- Also hike in Yellowstone, but with a friend who’s ready to fight bears.
- Little Big Horn forest (??) to the east of Yellowstone is spectacular. Their slogan is “Like Yellowstone but without the crowds” and it isn’t totally inaccurate. Would be fun to go back and explore that area.
- Idaho BLM doesn’t really have maps available, either on Avenza or in the (Idaho Falls) office. But they do have a nice booklet with recreation opportunities, which includes some campsites
- There are campsites near Swan Falls dam. I also found one at the top of the canyon which was right by the road but quite nice.
- Craters of the Moon national monument
- Apparently going North-South is pretty stupendous, and Idaho has the best wilderness areas of any state. So go find those and do that.
- Shoshone falls
California highway 1
- all of the pull-outs seem to have a day use fee. Park on the side of the highway and walk in (alleviate your guilt by avoiding eye contact with the ranger)
- Los Padres National Forest starts near the south of Big Sur. There are signs to campgrounds up the hill, Prewitt Ridge was where I headed.
- Bring a friend to drive so you don’t almost kill yourself looking at the views on the windy road. (Not speaking from experience, of course…)
- All of it again but slower. But I’d need to figure out the (free) camping situation…
Tools, apps, and maps
- Avenza is key: you can download geo-located PDFs, so that you can be located on the maps. I used this to find campsites on public lands.
- If you have an Apple phone, there’s apparently a USFS and BLM app that shows the boundaries of all public lands. I wasn’t able to find an equivalent on Android.
- I did find Freeroam on Android, which was pretty good for the parts of the US that don’t have a huge amount of public lands. The “just park anywhere along this road” campsites aren’t super well-marked (and the forest service roads aren’t all correct), but it was a pretty good thing to cross-reference. It also has all the public land boundaries, and some layers that show where you can get service. So it’s pretty handy overall.
- freecampsites.net was also good to find places to camp, but less user-friendly
- Tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad
- Extra blankets for extra comfort (and, at times, warmth)
- Camping chair
- A sharp knife
- Camping stove - mine had two burners but that’s not strictly necessary. It was good to have it be fairly wind-proof, though.
- One pot and one pan
- Camping plate, bowl, cup, and silverware
- Can opener
- Tupperware for leftovers, preferably water-tight for swimming in the cooler
- 5 gallon water jug
- Heavy-duty battery to recharge laptop
- Paper towels
Nice to have
- Fancy car with all-wheel drive, which kept me safe multiple times
- Multiple large water bottles, for long drives and long hikes
- Portable speaker, for those nights when you’re just chilling in your car
- Cambodian picnic mat, made of woven plastic so you can sit anywhere
- Thermos, for those cold nights when you make tea and extra hot water and retreat to the car
- Flat plywood “mattress”, for evening out the bump where the seats fold down
- Extra two-by-fours, for adjusting the angle of the plywood when parked at an angle
- A bubble level app, for figuring out just how angled you’ve parked (I found 2-3 degrees palatable, but more than that was fairly noticeable)
- Solar-charged lantern, for those nights when you’re chilling in your car
- AC converter that plugs into the cigarette lighter
- Organic dish soap, which was fine to not fully rinse off of dishes
Would have been nice to have
- Fancy car with all-wheel drive and high clearance
- Room to sit up in the back of said car
- Different-sized pots and pans or at least smaller ones, for making individually-sized meals
- An actual nice cooler, so the ice wouldn’t immediately melt and submerge all the food
- A non-broken phone with a working hotspot, since most places had service
- An actual system to wash dishes
Camping on public lands
- In case you didn’t realize, camping is free on almost all public lands (AKA forest service or BLM land). This sort of camping is called “dispersed camping” or sometimes “primitive camping”
- The BLM and Forest Service also have lots of campsites, some of which are free. Be careful though, and make sure they’re open when you’ll be there. I found that many forest service campgrounds didn’t open until April or May (and many were delayed because of the shutdown). The USFS website tends to have this information fairly easily accessible, you just have to remember to check for it.
- In well-frequented areas like forests outside of national parks or Utah, you don’t need to stress too much to find the areas you’ll camp because once you get there you’ll see other people.
- Speaking of which, lots of national parks have free camping in the national forests just adjacent to them. I loved camping right next to the Grand Canyon – for free!! Highly recommend.
- If I were traveling for longer and needed internet more frequently, I’d make much more use of public libraries.
- The single-serve Indian food packets and pre-cooked rice or quinoa were awesome: delicious and easy dinners.
- Relatedly, scrambling eggs with yesterday’s leftovers is delicious regardless of what the leftovers are.
- If you’re camping in your car, make sure you have some meals available that don’t need cooking just in case it’s raining and you can’t really cook. I liked dried salami and tuna as easy options. These are also good for food on hikes.
- Everywhere you go, ask the people you meet if they’ve been where you’re going next and if they have recommendations.
- The National Geographic Road Atlas is super handy, highly recommend!