Sometimes people ask me about trips I haven’t done yet or places I haven’t been, thinking there must not be much left after decades of doing this. The truth is, there are a whole lot of places I still want to go and experiences I want to try out, including roaming around parts of the USA in a camper travel van.
The Southwest region of the United States is a veritable playground for outdoor enthusiasts, boasting some of the most awe-inspiring national parks and natural monuments in the country. From the towering cliffs of Zion National Park to the rugged beauty of the Grand Canyon, the Southwest is a treasure trove of natural wonders waiting to be explored. I’ve been to a few of them, like Zion and Bryce Canyon, and I rode Route 66 to the Grand Canyon and Flagstaff not too long ago.
But there’s so much more.
The idea of doing it in a gas-guzzling RV doesn’t seem very economical and much of the year those organized campgrounds with all the hookups are expensive and packed. But you don’t have to empty your pockets to experience these breathtaking landscapes, according to the people who have done it before in a travel van.
Vegas keeps coming up as a good place to start for a lot of reasons. By embracing the camper van trend and getting a camper van rental from Las Vegas, you can embark on an unforgettable adventure in ultimate style while keeping costs in check.
I got some tips from a Vegas resident to put this article together. We’ll delve into the art of vanlife, uncover some tips for affordable travel, and highlight the incredible destinations you can visit after flying into Sin City (and getting out).
Embrace Vanlife and Rent a Camper Van
Vanlife offers a unique and liberating way to travel, allowing you to experience the beauty of the great outdoors while enjoying the comforts of home. But buying a camper van can cost a small fortune, especially if it’s anywhere close to new. Renting a camper van from reputable companies like VegasCampers.com changes the equation from owner to user, the equivalent of using Uber instead of buying a new Toyota. Plus you can avoid hotels, which are often priced higher near major national parks.
These well-equipped vans provide comfortable sleeping arrangements, kitchen facilities, and bathroom amenities, giving you the freedom to explore the national and state parks at your own pace.
Fly into Las Vegas for Affordable Access
Las Vegas serves as an excellent starting point for exploring the Southwest parks and landscapes, and it’s often possible to find affordable flights into this bustling city from almost anywhere. Keep an eye out for flight deals, sign up for airline newsletters, and utilize travel search engines to compare prices.
I usually start out with Google Flights, Kayak, or Skyscanner, but you often see deals to this city on sites like Skiplagged and Going.com that are finding hidden fares. Also search Southwest, Frontier, and Allegiant as their rates don’t always appear in travel aggregators.
Traveling during off-peak seasons or on weekdays can also help you secure cheaper airfare. Once you arrive in Las Vegas, the only question is… where to?
Discover the National Parks of Southern Utah
Southern Utah is a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts, offering a remarkable array of national parks and jaw-dropping scenery. From Las Vegas, you can easily reach iconic destinations such as Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, and Capitol Reef National Park. Zion National Park features majestic red rock cliffs, breathtaking hikes, and the iconic Angels Landing trail.
Bryce Canyon National Park’s surreal hoodoos and natural amphitheaters create an otherworldly experience, while Capitol Reef National Park beckons with its striking canyons and historic orchards.
If you keep going in Southern Utah, you can reach Arches National Park and Canyonland. Then you’ve got sights like Monument Valley, Bear’s Ears, and Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument. These are just the most famous spots. The region is filled with epic landscapes and interesting trails to hike.
Explore the Spectacular Landscapes of Arizona
Arizona is a treasure trove of natural wonders too, housing iconic national parks and awe-inspiring attractions. After leaving Las Vegas, venture south to experience the breathtaking grandeur of the Grand Canyon National Park, one of the world’s seven natural wonders. Explore the canyon’s rim or venture into the depths on a hike to truly appreciate its immensity.
Near the town of Page, witness the surreal beauty of Antelope Canyon and the iconic Horseshoe Bend. For a unique experience, visit Saguaro National Park near Tucson, where towering saguaro cacti dominate the landscape.
I was impressed with how much there was to see around Flagstaff too, such as Walnut Canyon National Monument and Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument. Flagstaff is not very big and it’s surrounded by long stretches of nothing but nature, so it would be very easy to find a place to park for the night around these parts of you can be off the grid comfortably. (Plus Flagstaff has some great craft beer.)
Delve into the Beauty of Death Valley
Just a few hours west of Las Vegas lies Death Valley National Park, a surreal and captivating landscape that must be seen to be believed. As the hottest and driest place in North America, Death Valley offers a unique and dramatic backdrop.
Explore the mesmerizing salt flats of Badwater Basin, hike through the golden sand dunes of Mesquite Flat, and witness the vibrant colors of the Artist’s Palette. As the sun sets, the park’s vast expanse transforms into a stargazer’s paradise, offering unparalleled opportunities for astrophotography.
Despite what the name may imply, there’s plenty of wildlife in Death Valley around if you pay attention.
Advantages of #Vanlife
Living in a camper van is not for everyone, which is why I’ll probably be doing this trip solo when the time comes. Maybe if I’m lucky my wife will join me for a night, but the lure of the outdoors is not enough to get her away from a comfy hotel room.
For those who like the idea of sleeping closer to nature, however, and having more freedom when they’re on a road trip, here are a few advantages of a camper travel van.
1. Flexibility: Vanlife grants you the freedom to create your own itinerary, allowing you to stay longer in places you love and easily change plans if you discover a hidden gem along the way.
2. Cost-Effective Accommodation: Renting a camper van eliminates the need for expensive hotel stays. With the convenience of a built-in kitchen, you can prepare your own meals, saving money on dining out. You’ll need to avoid the most popular campgrounds though as those can cost as much as a roadside motel. Boondocking is a better bet.
3. Unparalleled Access to Nature: By camping in or near national parks, you can wake up to stunning vistas and embark on hikes or outdoor activities without having to travel long distances. Consider “boondocking” on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) or national forest land, where camping is often free or at a very low cost.
4. Comfort and Convenience: Modern camper vans come equipped with cozy sleeping arrangements, kitchen facilities, and even bathrooms, ensuring a comfortable and convenient travel experience. When you get tired from driving, your vehicle is also your bed.
More Tips for Affordable Camper Van Travel
– Summers out west, when families have school vacations, can be a nightmare of crowds. Plan your trip during the shoulder seasons, such as early spring and winter, when the weather is pleasant and crowds are thinner. This can result in lower prices for flights, accommodations, and even camper van rentals. Just understand that some high mountain roads may be closed, such as the one through Glacier National Park in Montana.
– Cook your own meals using the kitchen facilities in your camper travel van. This can save a significant amount of money on dining out. Additionally, plan ahead and pack snacks and drinks for your day trips to avoid expensive convenience store purchases or bad-for-you fast food outlets.
– Camp at designated campgrounds within the national parks or consider boondocking on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) or national forest land, where camping is often free or at a low cost. This is officially called “dispersed camping” by the government agencies.) Websites like Freecampsites.net and Campendium provide information on free or low-cost camping options.
– Take advantage of national park passes such as the America the Beautiful Pass, which provides access to multiple national parks and can save you money on entrance fees after just a few visits.
– Research and book your accommodations well in advance to secure the best deals. This applies not only to camper van rentals but also to campsites or other lodging options.
I’ve thought about buying a used travel camper van, road-tripping across the USA, then selling it on the other end, but this would tie up a lot of cash and comes with inherent risks. Maybe big repairs pop up, maybe it depreciates more than I expected, or maybe some distracted texting driver runs into me and I’ve got body damage to repair.
I’ve been eyeing these things enviously since I road-tripped across Montana a few years ago. But the sensible side of me says I should do a trial run first and check out van rentals for road trips. This way I’ll know first if I’m up for a long trip in this style, especially since my wife is having none of it. Tune in next year or the one after to see the end of this story.
Experiencing the national parks of the Southwest USA in ultimate style without breaking the bank seems entirely possible by embracing vanlife and renting a camper van for travel. Flying into Las Vegas offers affordable access to this magnificent region, allowing anyone to explore the natural wonders of Southern Utah, Arizona, and the captivating landscapes of Death Valley.
Done right, it seems like this could come out costing less than renting a car and staying in seedy motels by the highway in crappy locations. (They seem to start at around $84 per night.) Plus it would be an unforgettable adventure.
I know some of you readers have embraced traveling around by camper travel van for a while. How did it go and how did the costs compare to other travel experiences?