Holly Thomson from Lichfield takes a road trip through no less than five of the USA’s most famous national parks spanning 1,300 miles, three states and plenty of iconic sights.
Five years ago I had the opportunity to live in the mid-western state of Utah for a year. Whilst Utah may seem like an odd choice when compared to sunny California or bustling New York, what I discovered made me fall in love with the state and the surrounding region.
There are eight national parks in Utah and Arizona alone, all with their own highlights and unique landscapes which lend to one epic road trip.
I loved driving along the vast and open highways and did so with my family as well as with friends.
This area of the US is perfect for a post-covid escape into some of the most otherworldly landscapes the world has to offer. I’ve drawn together my various experiences of this region to create one ultimate road trip that covers five national parks, three states and short drive times to make for one unforgettable trip!
The journey starts in the brilliantly lit and bizarre Las Vegas.
Situated in the middle of the Nevada desert, this metropolis is full of fun and excitement for any age. I particularly enjoyed the Venetian Hotel and the Bellagio, both for the features they offer such as the spectacular water show at the Bellagio and the replica of Venice in the Venetian.
Choose to spend only a few days here or take more time to enjoy the sounds and atmosphere of this famous city.
To travel from Nevada onto Arizona and finally to Utah, any good SUV style car will suffice. To add an extra layer of adventure to the trip, driving in an RV along the wide and quiet roads of this region will add an element of freedom that cannot be replicated. These vary in size but ours slept four of us comfortably.
Of course the first stop on this adventure has to be the Grand Canyon, a four and a half hour journey which features dramatic rock formations and vast desert landscapes.
The drive along Route 11 also takes you past Hoover Dam, a must-do detour to soak in the grandeur of this feat of engineering. Built in 1931, the dam borders the state line of Nevada and Arizona and holds back the mighty Colorado River.
A tour can be arranged here to see the inner workings of this man-made wonder. Or for the ultimate wow seeing it up high by helicopter is a must do bucket list item.
Upon your arrival towards the Grand Canyon National Park you have many options for an overnight stay. Flagstaff, a small city an hour and a half away from the canyon, is a green oasis amongst the desert. During my stay here I enjoyed the lush mountain views and small town feel of the city.
One memorable night was spent at Fat Olives, an authentic Italian restaurant in the city where we enjoyed woodfired pizzas and local wine with cheerful and intriguing locals. If you would prefer to stay closer to the national park there are many camping spots such as Trailer Village RV park, perfect for a comfortable stay.
There are many ways to view the Grand Canyon. Popular options include guided tours and hikes to the floor of the canyon or even horse rides and skydives! My family and I chose to see the canyon by bike which was a great way to cover good ground and see multiple aspects of the national park.
The bike route we took from the visitor centre to Hermits Rest was quiet with great views all to ourselves.
The canyon is unmistakable, with a sheer drop an average of 4,000ft around the rim, the view is breathtaking. The canyon is also the best known example of arid-land erosion in the world and the visitor centre does well in explaining the many fascinating geographical and geological marvels within the park.
The Grand Canyon lays a great foundation to this epic road trip and will allow you to appreciate the varied landscapes you will encounter as you continue.
From here we leave the desert of Arizona behind and trade it for the very similar looking desert of Southern Utah, just over a five hour drive away. Although the crossing over Lake Powell into Utah may look similar, the landscape surrounding Bryce Canyon National Park will soon change your mind.
The towns surrounding Bryce Canyon will make you feel as if you have stepped into an old western movie. Stay in Bryce or Tropic for that outlaw feel.
There are also two camping sites if you stay in an RV. The first, the North Campground, is perfect for those who want more freedom as it is first come first served. The second campground, Sunset, accepts bookings on a six-month rolling basis.
There is nothing better than stepping out of your RV in the morning to look over the canyon as the sun rises whilst you drink your morning coffee!
This National Park is one of the lesser known amongst America’s portfolio. However, it is by no means less impressive. It is the largest concentration of hoodoos (irregular formations of rocks) anywhere on Earth. The shades of red, orange and white rock make for spectacular viewing and shift in colour depending on the sun’s light.
We chose to explore by horseback with Canyon Trail Rides. This made for a unique and somewhat amusing experience. My mum and younger brother took to it with ease whilst my dad struggled to gain the trust of his horse, who tried to take him off the beaten path multiple times!
As the horses navigated the paths with precision I was able to take in the many intricacies of this landscape and what may have occurred to form it. I later found out that it was an ancient lake with rare minerals which caused the colour and formations of the HooDoos.
In the evening a must do is to visit the site to look at the night skies. Bryce Canyon has hardly any light pollution and one of the most memorable experiences of my life is lying down on the edge of the canyon looking up at the night sky. My dad pointed out many constellations such as Orion to me whilst shooting stars soared over our heads. With no one else around us it felt like the sky was putting on a show for us alone.
The park arranges astrology nights where you can get a better look at the planets and stars through a telescope and learn more about the mysteries above our heads.
Bryce Canyon is one of my favourite national parks due to its unique formations and the wonderful memories I was able to take away from it.
The third and fourth National Parks of this roadtrip are Arches and Canyonlands. Situated four and a half hours drive away from Bryce Canyon, these two parks are sisters but not twins.
The town of Moab is the perfect stopping point to see both of these parks and has a lot of events to enjoy throughout the year. These include The Red Rocks Art Festival held each October and the Easter Jeep Safari where four-wheelers from all over come to challenge the rough terrain of the backcountry.
Arches, only 30 minutes drive from Moab, is famous for the Delicate Arch which also adorns the license plate of every Utahn car and gives the National Park its name.
Be sure to take the moderate hike to this landmark from Wolfe Range Parking lot but also do not miss out on other gems in the park too. I enjoyed the hike to the Double O Arch and Balanced Rock. The scenery here is very different to Bryce and the Grand Canyon, with sweeping vistas scattered with intriguing rock formations.
Canyonlands is the larger of the two national parks sitting astride Moab and offers a lot of ground to cover. The park features canyons of the Colorado River, smaller than that of the Grand Canyon but no less impressive and other features which make it unique.
The Mesa Arch Trail offers spectacular scenery from 1,200ft above Buck Canyon and is a great sunrise spot for those easy risers who don’t mind a 20 minute hike before the sun has fully risen.
During our evenings spent on the edge of the colorado river in Moab we sat and ate with other travellers on the site and built a fire big enough to keep us all warm late into the early spring night.
We visited Dead Horse State Park which is right next to Canyonlands. This was particularly memorable as the park was so quiet I was able to get perfect pictures of some of the most incredible scenery.
The park has a story behind the name which involves cowboys and a tragic incident, but I’ll let you find out more on your visit there. The views here rivalled the Grand Canyon and left me in awe with sweeping views of Moab, the La Sal Mountains and the Colorado River.
A five hour drive from Moab, th Zion National Park will give you another perspective of the varied landscape in this region of the US. Zion, named after the term coined by the Mormon community in the state, is a huge park with tight canyons, incredibles climbs and mesmerising views.
For those not of the faint of heart, Angels Landing has fantastic pay off with a view that is out of this world. Come prepared however, the last part of the hike which features slickrock and long drop-offs is notoriously tricky. A good view can still be found lower down at Scouts Landing which is as far as I dared to go!
Zion Canyon was created by flash floods and in good weather is the most unique hike amongst ancient old river beds. Be prepared to get your feet wet though!
Each national park has its own unique charm and will be sure to send you off with new memories and incredible photos. This part of the US makes me want to come back again and again due to the vast amount on offer and the chance to always explore a new hike or landmark.
The final journey was a short three hour drive back to Las Vegas where you can choose to continue your trip amongst the metropolis of hotels and attractions or say a fond farewell to the land of the free until the next special trip.
Read more of Holly’s travels on her blog: www.everydaygetaway.co.uk
To plan and book your holiday to the USA call RB Collection on 01543 258631, remember to mention J’AIME when you call.