Camping

2020 National Parks Trip – Detailed Itinerary

My trip to the American West and Southwest is fast approaching and I have been very busy putting together a detailed itinerary for our trip.  There are no flights or hotels involved in this trip, so you would think the planning process would be easier.  On the contrary, I have found that the logistics of planning a cross-country camping road trip are even more complex than planning your typical fly-and-stay vacation.  Add to that the complexities of the COVID-19 situation and it has been a very interesting travel planning exercise.

Utah Road Trip

I originally wasn’t going to post much on the logistical planning of this trip beyond what I posted previously in the outline for my Summer Park Roadtrip (linked for you to review below).  However, considering all that I have learned throughout this process, and the fact that many people I speak with on social media are looking for advice on road-tripping in the United States, I thought it would be a good idea to post my detailed itinerary and travel planning process for you to benefit from as well.

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Summer National Parks Road Trip

Before I start getting into the details of our trip and how I planned the logistics of this cross-country, two-week adventure, I would like to point out how this trip has changed and explain the genesis of those changes.  Like many other aspects of our lives, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a big impact on the travel industry.  Not just international travel, but also travel within the United States.  Of course, the trip that I have been planning is no exception and has been impacted by the pandemic in a few ways.  I have included a list of some of the changes that I have had to make to our trip because of the pandemic below.

No Monument Valley This Trip

When I started putting together the plans for our trip, I quickly discovered that one of the big destinations on my list is mostly shut down to the public.  Because it exists primarily on tribal lands, Monument Valley in Northern Arizona and Southern Utah doesn’t follow the same protocols, guidelines, and schedules that the public lands that are part of the US Park Service.  While many of the public lands in the United States are slowly starting to re-open, the Navajo Nation has decided to be more cautious with its re-opening plans, and Monument Valley, as of right now, is currently closed to visitors.  I want to be crystal clear that I am not complaining, do not in any way fault the tribe for its decisions, and have the utmost respect for their efforts to protect their community.  I just needed to adjust my plans in light of this information, which I have done.

Instead of making a stop in Monument Valley, I will be exploring the one park in Southern Utah that I haven’t spent a lot of time exploring.  Capitol Reef is a park that I have visited in the past, but have not done a lot of extensive hiking or exploring off the beaten path.  This will be the perfect opportunity for me to give that park a little bit more of my attention and do some much-needed exploration of the back-country within the park.

Rocky Mountain National Park Reservation

Another one of the curveballs thrown my way during the planning of this trip because of the COVID pandemic was the precautions that national parks in some states are taking during the reopening process.  The most notable example for me was Rocky Mountain National Park’s quota on the number of people that can be in the park at one time and the entry reservation system that they currently have in place.  I needed to pick a two-hour window on a day to enter the park, which means that I need to make sure that we are at the park during that time to enter.  Again, I am not going to complain about health and safety precautions but did want to mention this because it is something that I had to adjust for during my planning process.

Efficiencies in Planning Made Room for More Destinations

One of the reasons why I am so detail-orientated and anal when it comes to planning for my trips is because I like to be able to cram every bit of exploration I can into my adventures.  Many people will look at the itineraries for my trips and feel exhausted just reviewing the plans, but that doesn’t mean that these itineraries are rushed or hastily organized.  On the contrary, I put weeks of time into meticulously planning each of my trips and have followed my processes for so long that I know how to walk the fine line between rushing a trip and efficiently filling a trip.

Really, it just boils down the reasons for why you travel.  Unlike many people, I do not travel to relax.  Primarily, I travel to experience and to explore.  That means I don’t build much if any, time into my itineraries to sleep in, lounge around, sit by the pool, etc.  For many people, relaxing is one of the joys of traveling.  I get that and understand completely if you think my travel style is insane.  However, it works for me.  I just needed to explain my purposes for traveling so that my methodology of planning a trip makes more sense to you.

When I first crafted an itinerary for this trip, I put together a rough outline for what I hoped we would be able to see.  However, I was fairly conservative with the timeline.  As I started to put together the detailed itinerary, I started to play with different factors of the trip to try and make the timeline more efficient.  This allowed me to add additional stops to my itinerary that I didn’t initially think I would have time for.  To give you a better understanding of how I plan my road trips, I have outlined my process for you to review below.

Decide Number of Driving Hours a Day

The first thing I do is decide how many hours a day I am comfortable driving.  Not only will this dictate how long my trip needs to be, but it will also dictate how many hours a day will be left for sight-seeing.  I am an early riser and don’t mind driving that much, so I am comfortable driving up to 6 hours a day when I do these road trips.  For you, the threshold may be more or less.  Apart from the first day of driving that we will be doing (which will be a twelve-hour day to get out west), I did a fairly good job of sticking to the roughly 6-hour driving days in my itinerary.

Create a Rough Itinerary

Once I have the number of hours I am comfortable driving decided, I put together a rough itinerary based on how many days I have available to travel multiplied by how many hours a day I am comfortable driving.  This gives me a good baseline of roughly how far I can travel on my trip.

Map Out the Trip

Next, I map out all of the places that I want to see that are along my route and then start to figure out where the logical places are to stop for the night.  On some days, I may stop at my destination and then camp out near the park I am visiting.  For instance, on this trip, we will be camping out for two nights near Moab as we explore Canyonlands, the Corona Arch, and other things of interest in the area.  However, on other days I may drive for 4 hours, spend most of the day exploring a park, and then drive another two hours before settling down to camp somewhere along the way to my next destination.  It is important to keep that daily driving average near 6 hours or else you will have to make that time up on another day.

Scenario Out Each Day of Your Trip

I will often scenario out various different options to see which works best with my timeline and which gives me the most flexibility.  This is where I often tend to find more time to see stuff on my trip.  For instance, I may arrive at a park late in the day, but I will still spend a few hours checking out some things in the park before it gets dark.  This will save me a few hours the next day that I can spend at a stop on the way to my next destination.

I am going to definitely write-up an article in the next few months that goes into more depth on the way that I have learned to make road trip itineraries as efficient as possible, but for the sake of this article, I think the high-level explanation that I provided above should do.  Using that methodology, I was able to find some time to explore a few additional destinations on my road trip.  These destinations include the Crater of the Ancients National Monument and Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado and the Craters of the Moon National Monument in Idaho.  After switching out Monument Valley for Capitol Reef National Park and adding these new destinations, I have posted my updated itinerary for you to review below.

2020 Summer Road Trip Map - Updated

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Updated Trip Itinerary

For a better understanding of where and how long we will be driving each day, what we will be exploring, and what options we have for camping each day, I have included detailed itinerary pages for each day of our trip linked below for you to review.

Day 1 – Driving to Colorado
Day 2 – Visiting Rocky Mountain National Park
Day 3 – Climbing Gray’s Peak
Day 4 – Visit The Great Sand Dunes National Park
Day 5 – Visit Mesa Verde NP and Canyon of the Ancients
Day 6 – Visit Canyonlands National Park
Day 7 – Explore Capitol Reef National Park
Day 8 – Drive to Great Basin National Park
Day 9 – Explore Shoshone Falls and Craters of the Moon
Day 10 – Explore Yellowstone National Park
Day 11 – Visit Little Bighorn and Badlands National Park
Day 12 – Drive Home

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9 replies »

  1. This sounds like such a great trip! So many things to say:
    1. You live in Prior Lake?!? Why did I always think you were in the greater Milwaukee area?
    2. In Durango, right on a corner on the main street, is Jean Pierre where you will find the best pastries outside of Paris. In fact, Jean Pierre is a 2-store “chain.” There’s one in Durango and one in Paris! Go figure! I’m partial to the pastry that looks just like an almond croissant, but it’s called something different.
    3. So excited about your ascent of Gray’s. Any plans to hit Torrey’s on the same hike?
    4. We’ll be in the Moab area, too, but since we’ve both been to Arches twice before, and I did part of my Outward Bound course in the Canyonlands, we’re going to see Dead Horse Point SP this time, though I’m going to look into that Corona Arch trailhead you listed.
    5. We got a timed entry ticket to RMNP as well. I wonder if it will feel different with restricted numbers. We’re doing a combination of cycling and hiking there, so I’m going to take a close look at your hiking trail list.
    6. Are you staying at Sandcreek RV park in Torrey? We stayed there two years ago!
    Great post. Thanks for the helpful info and safe travels!

    • Hi there!! Sorry for the delayed reply as it has been a busy weekend.

      1. I do live in the Milwaukee area, but I am traveling with my father and uncle (the wife opted out of this trip because of my insane itinerary) and they live in the Twin Cities.
      2. Awesome recommendation! Will check it out for sure!!
      3. I hope to summit both Grays and Torreys, but will be doing so solo and don’t know how much time I will have.
      4. Dead Horse is high on my list too! You should definitely check out Corona. Short hike and beautiful arch. Too easy to access so it has been the victim of a lot of graffiti 😢
      5. I am very curious to see how the timed entry effects the experience as well!
      6. We are! Thank you, as always, for reading and for the thoughtful comment! Safe and happy travels to you as well!! 🙂

  2. Your trip is going to be awesome!

    It’s so cool that there are so many cross over points on our trips this summer!

    Whose bus is that? Do you have a Bus?

    It’s an exciting time!!

  3. New to your blog, and I can already see what an amazing life you’ve got with all these wonderful travels doing more of solo travels is on my bucket list, so fingers crossed the pandemic is over soon indeed. I just hit follow!

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