Sister Road Trip to America
It all started back in June of 2018. My sister and I once again decided to plan a trip. We both love hiking and camping. I wouldn't say we're "experienced" hikers, but you could say we're pretty nifty when it comes to the outdoors. Needless to say, we love adventures. So we started by inspiring ourselves through Instagram and Pinterest posts. This helped us outline our agenda for the trip. Jessica (my sister - for those who may not know), had a few "bucket list" items already in mind - so that helped us figure out the itinerary (I was mostly there to enjoy the ride - because if you know me, you know I'm all about those "life experiences"). Nonetheless, it definitely wouldn't be fair for me to take credit for this detailed itinerary on my own. So... as requested by many, here is our American road trip itinerary.
Day 1 - California, US
Los Angeles, CA
We landed in LA for our first day. I'll admit, this one was on my bucket list. I really wanted to see the city as well as visit Santa Monica Beach. We walked around most of the day and found the famous art walls off of Melrose Ave. There was lots of shops - vintage stores as well as well-known and new brand stores. Jessica and I were tempted to shop until we saw the price tags... but that didn't stop us from window shopping.
Santa Monica, CA
We headed to Santa Monica for supper and went to a nice Mexican restaurant near the pier. It was happy hour when we got there so we evidently had a drink (or two). After stuffing our faces, we went out on Santa Monica Pier, which was literally a 30 second walk from the restaurant.
The Pier was as beautiful as the pictures (see pics below). It had a very cool vibe to it as well. You could find local talent (dancers, entertainers) showing off their different styles all the way down the boardwalk of the pier. We made it to the edge of the pier and decided on more drinks at the Mariasol Restaurant (another Mexican restaurant). Although our stay in LA was short, we had lots of fun while it lasted.
That night, we slept at a nice Airbnb near LAX (in Inglewood, approximately 5-7 minutes away from the airport).
Using Ubers are quite cheap (we paid around 20-25$ USD for almost an hour drive). We also heard about Lyft (another app similar to Uber) but stuck with Uber for our stay.
Day 2 - California, US
We woke up quite early, like every other day on this trip, to make it to our next destination. We made it back to the airport to fly to Oakland (1-2 hr flight). Oakland (which is near San Francisco, for those who don't know) had stunning views.
We had some family here, so we decided to spend a few hours in town after picking up our "Escape" Campervan Rental (the car we'd be living in for the next week). We visited St Mary's College and drove around for the rest of the day with the fam. Finally, we stopped at the "famous" In N Out take-out before heading to our first camping destination.
Yosemite National Park, CA
We drove on US highways for the next 3 hours to get to Yosemite National Park. We didn't book any campgrounds / motels while we had the van, we decided we were going to "wing it". We got to the park entrance after sunset and parked our camper van in a small "rest" area on the side of the road - other campers we're parked there so we figured we could squeeze in. We used the "iOverlander" app for the rest of our trip. to find camping spots.
iOverlander app will become your best friend.
Get to your camping spot before dark! It can feel a bit sketchy when you get somewhere and it's dark (and you are alone or surrounded with people you don't know). It's a lot easier to assess your surroundings while it is still sunny out.
Day 3 - California, US
Yosemite National Park, California
We woke up and got ready to go to Yosemite National Park. This one was very picturesque to drive through and probably the one most similar to Canada. You could find lots of big tree's, mountains and lakes in this park.We stopped by a few scenic spots and did a few hikes that day.
Hike Details - Sentinel Dome & Taft Point
Difficulty: Easy to intermediate
Distance: 3.5km loop (1-2hrs hike. You can see the half dome from this hike- on top of sentinel dome).
The trailhead for both is located off Glacier Point Road (open seasonally May-November).
Hike Details - Glacier Point
Difficulty: Easy - Scenic Point
We actually weren't able to see this one. It was packed with tourists and had a huge line up. We decided to turn the van around when we saw it. We got there late afternoon so I'd suggest going early in the morning for a parking spot.
Hike Details - Tenaya Lake
Distance: 2.5 miles (4 km) loop around the lake
We did not complete the loop and only walked a few km's following the shore. However, the trail goes around the lake which can take up to 1-2hrs of hiking.
That night, we used our iOverlander app to find a place where we could set up camp. Once again, we were seeking last minute for a place to sleep. We ended up in a small town called Bishop (about 2 hours from Yosemite National Park). We drove about 15 mins through a dirt road, between valley’s to get to our camping location. Again, we found a few other camper units and camper vans there.
PS. Believe it or not, we saw (what we thought was a UFO) a rocket launch in the sky that evening. We found out later on that this was the first rocket launch from SpaceX on the west coast (click here to check it out). It was a pretty cool thing to experience. Mind you that the stargazing in this place is already a wonder to look at.
Make sure to dress warm. It can get pretty cold in the mornings and evenings (weather varied between 8-25 degrees Celsius while we were there).
Set your alarm bright and early. National Parks have limited parking spaces and they can fill up quite fast.
Day 4 - California, US
Death Valley, CA
It was another day of driving, this time we were on our way to Death Valley (located about 3-4 hours from Bishop). We went from freezing to boiling hot real quick. Death Valley goes bellow sea level which makes the weather very dry and hot. We went straight to the “salt flats” (Badwater Basin) and made it all the way down to 282 feet below sea level.
Hike Details - Badwater Basin
Distance: Approx. 1 mile walk
The salt flats are at the lowest elevation in North America and go for kilometres long. We went for a walk on these and made it a few km’s before it was too hot for us to bare. Getting there was a bit off route, but worth the detour.
Death Valley was beautiful to drive through, but I wouldn’t recommend staying too long as the heat can be difficult to endure if you don’t have a proper set up (camper with an air condition unit, etc.).
We pretty much drove the rest of the day to our next destination, going towards Zion National Park in the state of Utah. We pasted the Californian borders, crossed through Nevada to get there. We stopped at a Walmart that night in a small city near Las Vegas to sleep for the night (Mesquite, Nevada).
PS. Cannabis is legally sold for recreational purposes in California and Nevada, but NOT in Arizona and Utah - so be careful if you plan on crossing borders with some of those goodies.
Day 5 - Utah, US
Zion National Park, Utah
It was an early rise once again to make it quick to Utah (about an hour from Mesquite). Every state had a very different scene and vibe. Utah was probably one of my favourites to visit. Driving between the mountains and into these big rocks made me feel like I was playing real life Mario Kart. The scenes there were beautiful and so picturesque that it felt surreal just being there.
The park had a free shuttle system. We took advantage of the shuttle that day and had to find a place to park. Once again, I'd suggest getting there early to find a good spot to park as there is limited parking. It was approx. 10$ per day for parking (we parked at the information centre right before entering the park, approx. 2 minute walk to a shuttle stop). We did our first hike that day in Zion to Angels Landing.
Hike Details - Angels Landing
Difficulty: Strenuous; steep with exposure to long drop-offs.
Distance: 5 miles round trip (4 hrs)
The first part of the hike is reasonable and follows the West Rim Trail. The trail is broad and well groomed. I'd say that the switchbacks of this trail is definitely worth hiking.
The second part is getting closer to the mountain peek with another set of shorter switchbacks, called Walter's Wiggles. If you haven't gotten a good cardio workout in a while, this will be it.
Getting near the top is where it gets challenging. For the 1/2 mile up we had left, it was difficult to go up and come back down as it is very narrow - also, there were a lot of hikers that day which made it difficult to pass through. But the views were very well worth the challenge, if I do say so myself.
We made it to our camping spot before dark this time. This spot was amazing! We we're located 15-20 minutes away from the entrance of the park. We could see the mountains from afar and the sunset that evening took our breath away.
Buying a 1 year pass (approx. 80$ USD) for National Parks instead of paying 30$ entry fee each park may save you some money (we did 5 national parks so it was worth the investment for us).
Day 6 - Utah, US
Zion National Park, Utah
The next day we stuck around Zion and did our second hike: the Narrows.
Hike Details - The Narrows
Difficulty: Easy to Strenuous (depends how far you go)
Distance: Variable, up to 16 miles (we completed around 7-8 miles round trip)
It is known to be the most popular hike in Zion. And let me tell you - there is a reason why it is so popular. This hike was unbelievable. It takes you along the Virgin River and into the Narrows. The canyons can get quite Narrow and may even require you to swim or wade through the river in certain spots. So if you don't plan on getting wet during this hike, think again.
Hiking this trail took up most of our last day in Zion, but it was time well spent. This one would definitely be on top of my list if I was to return.
We showered "a la mitaine", changed and then headed to Zion's Brewery to finish off the day. The local beer (Zion Pale Ale) was delicious - so was the Zion Brew Burger we had.
We slept at a local spot that night in a small town and to be completely honest, I had literally no clue where we were until we looked it up the next day (Twin Hollows area, East of Zion NP).
PS. iOverlander and I became frenemies that night. Le me put you in concept... (keep in mind that it is pretty late at this point and my sister and I are both pooped) an ATV pulls up between our van and his trailer with a big gun strapped to the front of it. To be real, it seemed like we where on this small town's local hunting ground. Needless to say, we felt quite flashy with our pink flower printed van (this is another reason why I'd suggest getting to your camping destination before sunset).
Day 7 - Arizona, US
We we're on the road again and heading to Page, Arizona. We had booked a tour that day to visit the Lower Antelope Canyons. This was by far one of the most amazing experiences I've had during this whole trip.
This land is owned and managed by a native tribe from the Navajo Nation. Listening to their stories while walking through the underground canyons was something that cannot be described into words.
The trail is rocky, sandy and can get quite narrow - it is recommended to wear good shoes, as well as a hat to prevent snakes or scorpions falling on your head (yeah.. you read that right). And it is not recommended if you don't like enclosed spaces.
Hike Details - Lower Antelopes.
Distance: 1.1 mile round trip
The only way to complete this hike is through an organized tour. It cost us around 40$ USD each - but it was worth every penny. The hike takes from 1-1.5 hrs and is easy to follow. The people were also very friendly and made us feel at home.
Horseshoe Bend is another one of the hikes we did that day. It is located about 15 minutes from the "downtown" area of Page. This spot was quite crowded but nonetheless very beautiful to visit.
Hike Details - Horseshoe Bend