Want to see 7 National Parks on a 2 week vacation? Here is how we did it.

What I am sure most of you already know is that Mike and I took a two week, National Park road trip this summer. But what you might not know is how much time and planning goes into planning our adventures. Each summer, we try to take some kind of extended trip. With two careers and no kids, we are fortunate to have these opportunities. Yet, they don’t come easy and we plan our entire year about them in order to afford and enjoy ourselves along the way.

Almost always when the world sees all the crazy and beautiful adventures through pictures on Instagram, videos on Youtube or blogs and the rest of the internet, we forget that there is a process of careful organization and planning. So how do you do it?

To plan a summer trip we start looking in November and December of the previous year (ahem, planning starts now) at prices… camping, glamping, hotel, AirBnb, flights, rental cars etc. We gather a list of lowest prices and make an estimate on whether or not this is a trip we could support. Through notes, e-mails, and long talks, we start making decisions on where to go, where to start, where to stay, etc.

For our National Park Road Trip, we had (ok I had) about 10 rough drafts of what our road trip would look like… it looked like a mad scientist at work. We knew we had to start in San Francisco (MIke was working out of that office, but we did fly from Chicago) and we had to end in Aspen for a wedding (shoutout #vanderstokely). Eventually, flew home out of Denver. *Note we flew into Reno because of a race I did prior to this trip (Tahoe Rim Trail 100). Then made our way to San Francisco, where we would start our 7 National Park Road Trip!

After creating several outlines of where we wanted to go, we finally decided on a final route. Once the actual locations were mapped out, then it was time to look at time spent driving from place to place in order to figure out how many days we would stay in each location. It was also important for us to check out attractions, must sees at the park through Lonely Planet and other websites. For example, we wanted to stay longer in Yosemite than in Sequoia to see more.

Here is what we came up with:

Credit: Mike Nolan

Credit: Mike Nolan

 

Here is the FInal Outline with details added (Changes made while traveling written in italics)

Saturday, July 22nd: Leave San Francisco for Yosemite ✔️

  • Camp from Friday to Sunday (21-24) ✔️
  • ***Not so fast - Yosemite forest fires kept us from camping outside of the park. Detoured down the 1 to Monterey for the night. Not bad, eh?
Monterey, California

Monterey, California

Sunday, July 23rd: Spent the Day in Big Sur (Gorgeous!)

  • Found a retreat in the mountains through an app called Hotel Tonight (Mike to the rescue)
  • Got up early for our trip to Yosemite
Big Sur, California

Big Sur, California

Monday, July 24th: Stay at Cute Air BnB Cabin (booked) ✔️

  • Yosemite! All day at this gorgeous park. I really don’t need to say much more. If Yosemite isn’t on your list, you aren’t doing it right.
  • Absolutely loved this AirBnb
  • Great local brewery close to AirBnb for post park meal and beer
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Mike on the Left, Half Dome on the Right

Mike on the Left, Half Dome on the Right

El Capitan! Absolutely amazing day!

El Capitan! Absolutely amazing day!

Yosemite Micro Cabin #13 in Ahwahnee, California

Yosemite Micro Cabin #13 in Ahwahnee, California

Tuesday, July 25th: Drive from Yosemite to Sequoia (Buckeye Flat Campground-booked) ✔️

  • All - Day Sequoia!  Death Valley? Never made it to Death Valley, but it’s an option
  • We ended up car camping, so we didn’t have to bring tents, sleeping bags, etc. You could always pack a bivy or sleeping and just sleep outside. But, also... bears.
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Wednesday, July 26th: Drive from Sequoia to Vegas (6.5 hrs)

  • Stay in Vegas one night 
  • This was the one night we had a nice meal and walked the strip
  • Found a quick, cheap hotel on Hotel Tonight

Thursday, July 27th-30th: Drive from Vegas to Zion Ponderosa Ranch-booked (2.5 hr) ✔️

  • All-day Hiking in Zion National Park! You could spent 2-3 days at this park, if not more! Must hike Narrows and Observation Point. Wanted to do Angels Rest, but didn’t have time.
  • I can’t say enough great things about Zion. This place is insane (and crowded) and is a must see!
Arriving!

Arriving!

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The Narrows Hike

The Narrows Hike

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Observation Point Hike

Observation Point Hike

Reached the Top!

Reached the Top!

Zion National Park from Observation Point

Zion National Park from Observation Point

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This place is incredible!

This place is incredible!

Sunday, July 30th: Zion to Grand Canyon to Kanab (1hr 20m)

  • Visit Grand Canyon (OMG, magic!) Started hiking at North Kaibab Section
  • Left early from Zion to visit Grand Canyon all day
  • Kanab, UT  ✔️
  • Mike found an amazing yurt set-up, called BaseCamp 37 through a website called, HipCamp
  • This place was incredible. I was a little skeptical at first, because it is literally in the middle of nowhere, but that is exactly what makes it so damn special. Plus, their wifi password is GoPackGo, so obviously I knew I was in the right place.
The Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon

Shoutout to the Coconino Cowboys!

Shoutout to the Coconino Cowboys!

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Chicago meets The Grand Canyon

Chicago meets The Grand Canyon

Wide Open Spaces 

Wide Open Spaces 

Making Our Way Back

Making Our Way Back

After a long day of hiking the Grand Canyon, this is the epic evening we rolled in: BaseCamp37

After a long day of hiking the Grand Canyon, this is the epic evening we rolled in: BaseCamp37

Bruh!

Bruh!

Sunset in Utah, Looking at Arizona

Sunset in Utah, Looking at Arizona

Sunrise and time to head to Bryce Canyon 

Sunrise and time to head to Bryce Canyon 

Monday, July 31st - Thurs, Aug 3: Kanab to Bryce to Moab (5hrs) ✔️

  • From Kanab, we stopped at Bryce Canyon for a morning hike and left around 1pm. Then made our way to Moab. (this was a long day)
  • The Virginian Motel
  • Arches National Park (10 min from downtown Moab)
  • Canyonlands National Park (right outside Moab)
  • Moab is SO rad! It is a town with anything and everything to keep you busy in the great outdoors. Plus great restaurants, ice cream, bars, and shops, that are very walkable.
Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon National Park

woah, this is what they're talking about...

woah, this is what they're talking about...

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hot temps, cool peeps

hot temps, cool peeps

They say Zion was formed by the waters and Bryce was formed by the wind

They say Zion was formed by the waters and Bryce was formed by the wind

Arches National Park

Arches National Park

Arches! 

Arches! 

We are at the bottom of the Arch, holding up 2 for 2 years of marriage (anniversary)

We are at the bottom of the Arch, holding up 2 for 2 years of marriage (anniversary)

Priorities: Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate and LOVE LIFE

Priorities: Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate and LOVE LIFE

Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands National Park

shade vibe 

shade vibe 

Thursday, August 3rd: Moab to Aspen (3hr 40 min) ✔️

  • Wedding Resort Reservations
  • *Note: If you end up flying out of Denver, you could tack on Rocky Mountain National Park to your list! We wanted to add this one, but time ran thin.

All-Around Tips:

  • Don’t be too married to your plan. Things will come up and you’ll just need to adapt.
  • Book some spots and leave others open for last minute reservation
  • Write down your must-see spots or sections. You don’t want to leave thinking, OMG I can’t believe we never saw that.
  • Almost all of these parks had food or one/two restaurants in the area
  • With that said - Pack your own water (take a large Nalgene or water bottle with you), snacks, and lunches
  • Breakfast: coffee, granola bar, banana
  • Lunch: peanut butter and jelly, apple, chips, granola bar, trail mix
  • Dinner: Usually we would find a local spot and share a meal or find something easy/cheap
  • Talk to locals! Ask for ideas on food, must-see hikes, day-trips, etc.
  • Read signs! Don’t be ignorant to Park Rangers or guidelines, they are there for a reason
  • Carry your map with you at all times
  • Sunscreen, Sunglasses, and more water than you think
  • Pack light: a couple of t-shirts, easy dry shorts, sports bra, nice warm sweatshirt or fleece, a rain jacket, hat, hiking socks, and trail shoes
  • Must BUY National Park Pass-it is 100% worth it and a big $ saver: https://www.nps.gov/planyourvisit/passes.htm
  • Look for any car rental discounts through your employer or your credit card company. The rental car was one of the most expensive parts of our trip, but was still manageable and easy for us. You might want to take your own car or research other ideas.

This trip is something I have wanted to share for a while because it really was so magical! Enjoying the incredible environment, sights, and sounds, that the United States of America gives us, is truly inspiring and incredibly memorable! It was an adventure unlike any other!

I hope December, has you thinking of your 2018 goals. Whatever those might be, write them down and make an organized plan to achieve them. Keep that positive, encouraging crowd around you and go after whatever it is you’ve been thinking about. I believe in you.

Questions? Thoughts? Ideas? Leave them in the comments below.

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