I’ve spent a fair amount of time in the US, but I had yet to fully explore the western part. When I received an invitation to attend an event in Northern California, I knew it was the perfect excuse to spend a week traveling around Colorado, Utah, Nevada and California, and meeting up with friends along the way. I wanted to begin my journey in the Rocky Mountains. I had been told that one could easily spend a month traveling among those snow-capped craggy peaks and visiting small mountain towns. I decided to book a van through Native Campervans. Through recommendations, I had come across this Colorado-based rental company and was excited to test out one of the newer vans in their fleet—a Ram ProMaster, which they call the “Biggie.” I jumped on a plane to Denver and landed in the Mile High City to find my particular van, nicknamed Timber, ready to hit the road.
As I grabbed the keys to the van, I called my good friend, Simon (@findingsimon), who was planning to meet me on the trip. But unfortunately, Simon’s van had broken down. I found him and his van at a mechanic shop in Denver. With sad spirits, we parted ways, crossing our fingers that we would reunite later on in my journey. I spent that first day driving from Denver to Carbondale. I was looking forward to meeting vandwellers Kathleen (@tinyhousetinyfootprint), Jane (@rockmeetssoil) and Tasha (@tinyvantravels). We gathered for an impromptu meetup along a dirt road. At night, we sat around a great bonfire chatting about our travels. In the morning, we awoke to an astonishing view of Mt. Sopris and spent some time catching up on work at Bonfire Coffee in town. Later, we hiked Mushroom Rock Trail in the heat of the day, stopping to point out the desert plants that lined the trail. In particular, we made sure to avoid stepping on cryptobiotic soils as they take between 5,000-10,000 years to form and contain living organisms.
I didn’t want to leave Colorado, but I had to continue on through the high deserts and canyons of Utah. I drove three hours to Moab where I met up with the Roldan family (@roaditup). With three children and one dog, this family lives out of a '84 Wanderlodge Bus that pulls a VW Westy. It was great to see some familiar faces and learn about the local mountain biking trails.
Moab is a vanlife mecca with so many amazing spots to boondock, and every day will take you on a different adventure. Stop in town and you might find some creative adventure rigs built for all the various outdoor activities this area has to offer. You can choose between biking, hiking and exploring some of the best national parks, such as Arches, Dead Horse or Canyonlands. With so many options, it can be overwhelming.
Remember my friend Simon at the beginning of the story? He was able to get his van fixed in Denver and met me in Moab. It was good to have him along as he was able to capture some amazing photos while we caravanned together the remainder of the trip. I have never seen as many scenic view signs as I did while cruising through Utah. Leaving Moab, we took the family’s advice and drove down Route 24, dipping south to Route 12. By taking that route, we were able to see some of Dixie National Park, Goblin Valley State Park, Capitol Reef National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park. If you’re afraid of heights, you may not want be the one holding the steering wheel. Capitol Reef is one of the only locations in the US where you’ll find so much darkness at night, a must for any stargazing fan.
Browsing through so many Instagram travel accounts, I sometimes feel like I’ve spoiled the “wow factor” from the several places I visit. Driving through Zion National Park was nothing like that though. My mind was blown away by the scenery. Hiking up the 2.5 miles to get to the breathtaking Angel’s Landing lookout (1,500 feet of elevation) will leave you speechless while offering a good workout after so much driving.
Now it was time to make our way to San Francisco. I had to figure out which side of the Sierras I wanted to go. Whichever route you end up taking, make sure to drive across Death Valley National Park. The sand dunes of Death Valley, the infinite view of the desert and the 13-mile detour up to Dante’s View won’t disappoint you.
Camping at Alabama Hills, just a few hours outside the park, felt similar to camping at Joshua Tree National Park, and all I could do was stare at the Sierras in the background. We made our way to Sequoia National Park and were amazed at how quickly the landscape changed from the desert to mountains again. As we continued on up the California coast, we finally made our way to San Francisco. I couldn’t help but be impressed at all the places I had been in just a week in a campervan.
Looking back, I only had two plans when I booked my trip—start in Denver and end in San Francisco. I knew that I wanted to take as many scenic routes as possible, but that was about it. Little did I know that I’d been dreaming about this road trip for a while but for some reason, I kept pushing it back. Now I can check this one from the list and wish you all do the same (or do it again)!
This story was made possible with the support of:
Special thank you to Kathleen Morton for editing the story.