Updated: Feb 17
So you've FINALLY got a week off of work and you're the farthest from a lounge-at-the-beach kinda person. The thought of a relaxing, do-nothing vacation seems like a waste of this time you worked so hard to earn. An opportunity sits in front of you to adventure, but you don't know where to start. I totally get you! I've been there; I am your people. My husband, Colton, and I's first anniversary present for each other back in July of 2018 was a hiking trip out west. I had countless Instagram posts saved of incredible hikes in UT and AZ, but thought getting there and experiencing them to the extent I dreamed of was basically impossible in a one week vacation.
Man, was I wrong! Good preparation and detailed organization can make your ideal trip a reality. This post is going to share the steps we religiously follow when starting to plan this type of trip. It has become our vacation of choice, one I begin dreaming about the second we get home from the previous. Over the past 2 summers alone we have been able to check 8 national parks and various famous hikes off of our bucket list! We have gotten numerous questions on the planning process, so follow along with me as I highlight the steps to planning a multi national park vacation:
STEP ONE: Where to?
Although this seems kinda obvious, I wanted to emphasize the fact that having desired, realistic destinations are essential in beginning the planning process. I cherish my vacation time, so I wanted to include this to show that we do not take our brainstorming time lightly.
Here are some tips to figure out where you should hit the road:
Is your subconscious already telling you? This is SO me before every trip...
Are there destinations highlighted in other's social media posts that reoccur under the posts you've saved over time? Do you already have a Pinterest Board dedicated to spots you're dying to go? Pay attention to little things like this and you'd be surprised how easy it can be to come up with your first stop.
Do your research
-YouTube is a great resource in starting to figure out cool places to visit nearby your initial desired location.
-Search #(specific location) and find travelers/hikers on Instagram that have already visited these spots and see what they've posted about it. If you're bold, DM them with questions (I love to share about our previous adventures and help people by suggesting stops I enjoyed)
-Read up on specific hikes you plan to take on, especially if they're epic ones. For example, we set our hearts on Half Dome in Yosemite National Park and learned that this hike requires a permit to reach the summit. The permits are only given out via a lottery which was occurring within the week I learned about it. The National Park Service is a good spot to read up on hikes each park as to offer, https://www.nps.gov/index.htm. This website will commonly rate hike's intensity, give a brief description, and can even share information about potential closures.
-Don't underestimate the power of Facebook's tool of "looking for suggestions." If it's a cool spot, there's a good chance someone you're already friends with has been there or knows someone who has. I posted about wanting suggestions on our trip to Zion and a friend told me about Valley of Fire State Park. I was so set on national parks that I totally would have missed out on this gem if I didn't ask!
-MapQuest is also a great tool. Like I mentioned before, these trips involve a lot of driving. Mapping out your stops in advance can help you determine the most sensible/fastest route. It can also show you cities/areas you'll be driving through that can spark ideas for other stops/activities you wouldn't have thought about previously.
The image of the whole trip mapped out also makes for a cute keepsake if you're a scrapbooker!
STEP TWO (technically optional but I wouldn't have it any other way): RENT A CAMPERVAN
Sure, there are cons in choosing this option (no guaranteed shower/toilet and limited space), but in my opinion, this is part of the full experience. In truth, these types of trips are taxing on driving, so we've found it beneficial to be able to take our "home" with us instead of lugging bags in and out of expensive hotel rooms on a nightly basis.
When you rent a campervan you wake up to new places to explore and fall in love with every day. And if you're anything like me, you'll become obsessed.
Escape Campervans is the rental company we use. The company offers several models to choose from and each van is painted obnoxiously and hilariously different. Located in bigger cities, we usually spend the first night in a hotel after stocking the van up with food from a local grocery store. Spending the first and last night in cities gives us an opportunity to mix in a little urban life, which is a nice change of pace from the main style of the rest of the trip!
You can return the rental van in the same city you started in or another Escape Campervan location.
Each day you get a certain number of miles depending on the package you choose, anything after that is a small fee per mile.
Click on the picture below to be taken to the Escape Campervan Website :)
(Having each van different than the next has become a fun little detail of our trips. We spend the long drives yelling out ideas for names, which have become as ridiculous and silly as their paint jobs. Pictured above is Donna Starbright: The Queer Queen, parked in Joshua Tree National Park)
STEP THREE: Organization is KEY
(We make a binder for each trip...I'm talking like different colored divider tabs, organization. Over organizing a trip will never hurt you in the long run)
Things included in each binder:
-Packing list (clothes, hiking gear, grocery list, medications, bath wipes, etc)
-Daily breakdown of locations, driving times, and planned activities
-Extra cash for tolls and gas
-Reservations for campervan, campgrounds/hotels, backcountry hiking permits
-Menus for various restaurants nearby planned stops
-Park maps, state maps, general trip route
-Mix CD of current favorite jams- good for the long drives & a great keepsake
*Give someone you trust a copy of your itinerary so someone else knows where you are/when you should return
*We buy a national park pass every year- ($200) Flashing the card is so much easier than paying entrance fees- which add up quickly. Usual entry fees for parks are around $40/car.
*We highlight the entirety of the trip on state maps prior to...GPS signals are not always reliable + it makes for a fun keepsake to look back on
Helpful Hint: Gas stations are few and far between on trips like these- play it safe and fill up often!
Here's an example of our California trip layout we stored in the binder. Having a mapped out week like this seems extreme, but it's helpful to keep us on time and accomplish all the activities we want. No trip ever goes 100% according to plan, but this has been a helpful resource in setting the pace for each day.
ANOTHER HELPFUL TOOL TO KEEP IN MIND:
AllTrails is an app that we've grown accustom to using, even at home. It can help you find the perfect hike wherever you are. All you have to do is type in your location in the search engine and it comes up with hikes nearest you. It categorizes trails by difficulty level, length, elevation gain, and route type. The app supplies a hike map and shows your location on it while you're hiking. It even has a category for trails that are dog friendly. You can use it to track all of the trails you've accomplished. You can then upload pictures from your experience as well as give a trail rating and review for other hikers to view in the future.
Click the logo to try it out!
Well, that's all the behind the scenes planning secrets we have for now! Thanks so much for reading; I hope you found something new and beneficial for future trips/hikes you dream of taking on! Please drop a comment below to share some of the incredible national parks and hikes you've accomplished.....if you know anything about me by now, I'm already planning our next trip :)
"Travel far enough, you meet yourself" -David Mitchell