THE MAD LIFESTYLE HITS THE ROAD TO TAKE ON THE BEST OF USA'S GREAT OUTDOORS!
If you already follow us on Instagram, you know that we're made up of a close group of friends sharing our love for travel & living a healthy lifestyle! Living by our MAD motto - Memories being created, Adventures to be had, Discovering the world one destination at a time.
This was a last minute trip to the USA, so we had to put a quick plan together before we set out on this journey. The plan; to share with you our love of the diverse countryside that is the USA and the amazing RV culture. (Aussies; RVs are American campervans).
For our readers, we hope this post inspires you to ditch your hotel room, hit the road and experience what has become one of our favourite countries to explore! We will even throw in a few tips to help you on your way.
Tips on what you need to know before you travel
Expected costs & how to save
What to pack
Do's & Don'ts on the road
Our complete itinerary & map
IMPORTANT 'MUST KNOWS' BEFORE YOU HIT THE ROAD
BOOK IN ADVANCE: We highly recommend booking your RV & some camping spots in advance. Most National Parks get super busy and require bookings to secure your spot, especially in summer and around any holidays! The last thing you want is to turn up to an amazing park and then find out you have nowhere to stay and have to move on and/or drive hours to find the nearest overnight camping spot.
COMPARE & SAVE: Compare the flight cost from your country/city to the RV pickup destinations to find the cheapest option. Apollo Motorhomes have depots all over the country, so you can save some money this way. When booking with Apollo, be sure to check their website for any relocation offers, as you can score RV's at a heavily discounted rate if your route & schedule is flexible.
VISA: Make sure you have a tourist Visa for entry into the USA, if needed. Plan this before you leave your own country as they are very strict and will decline your entry without the correct paperwork.
PACKING: Check the weather at all your expected locations, and pack accordingly. If you'll be hiking and spending a lot of time outdoors, the weather can change fast, so keep that in mind and don't forget those layers!
CHOOSE QUALITY: There are many RV companies out there, but our personal choice has always been Apollo Motorhomes. We have traveled with Apollo numerous times, and everything from their excellent customer service to their modern and well maintained vehicles exceeds expectations every time! Apollo also has their own “Apollo Connect App” which will help you find nearby attractions, campgrounds & hot deals. The app also has informative videos about the RV and how to operate the vehicle to help you along the way.
ROADTRIPPERS APP: We also recommend downloading the Roadtrippers PLUS app to plan your trip both in advance and whilst on the road. The app lets you calculate the total route miles, expected fuel consumption/costs, must see locations & attractions along your route, and much more. You can also share the trip itinerary with family & friends, so you can plan your dream trip together. Once you're on the road you can use the app as a live guide along the way! Click here and use the code "MADLIFESTYLE30" for 30% off the annual subscription!
NATIONAL PARKS PASS: Buy the annual National Parks Pass if you’re planning on visiting multiple National Parks. You will save a lot of money with the pass ($80) compared to paying per visit ($25-$35USD). NOTE; State Parks are not included in the Annual National Parks Pass fee and require an extra fee per entry.
HIKING: It's very important to have a map either loaded on your phone or printed out when going on any serious hikes. We used the AllTrails app, which allows you to download your trail and access it offline for areas without reception. Download the AllTrails app here!
HOW TO BUDGET FOR YOUR ROAD TRIP
PLAN & SHOP: Buy your groceries & camping supplies on day one so you’re setup for the whole trip and get into a routine. Most RVs have a refrigerator/freezer, stove and microwave and all the cooking equipment for you to prepare most meals easily. So stock up on cheap groceries and save money. Besides, half the fun of road tripping is preparing your own meals in your RV!
FUEL CHECK: Always check the price of fuel and try to time when you fill up. Use the 'search for petrol stations along your route' function on Google Maps to compare fuel prices.
GO EASY ON THE UTILITIES: Avoid using the water, generator & propane gas unnecessarily. The less you use, the longer you can go without paying for overnight camping.
LOOK OUT FOR FREE CAMPSITES: All RV parks and National/State Parks charge a fee for overnight camping, so we try to limit this as much as possible to save $25-$80USD per night. Try to only stay at RV parks when the facilities are necessary, like filling up fresh water, dumping waste tanks and doing your washing, etc. Use https://freecampsites.net/ to find all FREE campsites across the country.
Here is a total cost breakdown for TWO people in USD for 23 days on the road! (Not including flights from Australia):
RV - $1940 (22-25ft RV - base rate via Apollo Motorhomes, not including mileage, insurance, and generator costs, etc.)
Food - $2150 (we eat A LOT)
Fuel - $1284 (3500 miles)
Lodging - $362 (Saved a lot here by avoiding RV parks unless necessary & finding free camping)
Miscellaneous - $220 (Unexpected costs)
TOTAL: $5956 USD ($2978 per person)
WHAT TO PACK FOR YOUR ROAD TRIP
Packing for a road trip can be tough especially when it’s in-between seasons and you’re doing a variety of different activities that require specialised attire. When we pack we try to keep it as light and compact as possible.
These were some of our packing essentials -
Comfortable, durable, waterproof, every day and athletic clothes (shorts, jeans, t-shirts, jackets, boots, runners, etc).
Quality hiking gear (Don’t cut corners here; the difference between a quality pair of hiking boots & pants can make a HUGE impact on your hiking experience).
Wet weather gear (waterproof jackets, outer shells, boots, etc)
Shower sandals as you'll be in shared bathrooms & showers in the campgrounds & RV parks.
Satellite navigation (GPS) & mobile SIM for data and cell! Pick two different carriers if you're buying multiple SIM cards (we used AT&T & T-Mobile), so you get more coverage in remote locations.
Apollo equips you with bedding that is more than adequate, but if you need your special pillow, bring it along.
Cooking supplies from home (if you can’t live without Vegemite like us Aussies)
Bluetooth music speaker
Cards & board games
Some last minute shopping essentials that really came in handy...
Spotlight/torch for walking to the park facilities at night or setting up in the dark
Small bucket for your dirty washing
Dish gloves for washing
Multiple latex gloves for when you need to dump the waste tank
Bath mat (keeps the bathroom floor dry)
Door mat (stops you from dragging dirt into the RV)
DO'S & DON'TS ON THE ROAD!
PLAN AHEAD, but be flexible with your itinerary as spontaneous detours are the best decisions on the road!
KNOW YOUR RV height and length, and make sure to follow parking and road restrictions.
USE APPS to help plan your itinerary & expected costs.
WATCH THE WEATHER when planning your day's activities.
STUDY about the motorhome by watching Apollo videos and reading their welcome guide to get comfortable with how to operate everything smoothly.
CLEAN & TIDY your space. No one likes coming home from a big day of activities to a messy environment. Make it your home, and treat it that way!
TIME YOUR HIKES & BE PREPARED by starting early in the morning, or later for sunset (carry a torch) to avoid crowds and get better photos. (IMPORTANT: Download the AllTrails App before you hike and load your offline trail map in case you lose reception and find yourself lost like we did)
OVER-PACK because it will cramp your RV and make the experience less enjoyable as you’ll be climbing over everything to get to and from the door!
DRAIN YOUR FUEL or let it get below 1/4 of a tank, especially in remote areas where gas stations are sparse.
GO OFF ROAD, stay on sealed roads. RVs are not 4WD; if you get stuck off-road it will be at your own cost to get assistance.
LITTER or leave a trace at the RV parks, campgrounds or on any hiking trails you visit. Dump rubbish & waste tanks in authorised areas ONLY.
APPROACH WILDLIFE or disrespect park rules. There will be many opportunities to come across beautiful wildlife, but keep your distance and stay on designated trails.
OUR COMPLETE MAPPED ITINERARY!
Our trip started and ended at 1 (Los Angeles). Follow the numbers below to track our route. Click here for full details of our journey!
DAY 1- LOS ANGELES
We made it! After a VERY long 14-hour direct flight from Sydney to Los Angeles, we were lucky enough to be greeted at the airport by Mira’s mother before picking up our RV from the LA depot in Bellflower, which was only 30 minutes from LA Airport.
The process of picking up the RV is pretty straight forward. Here is an overview:
Sign the documents for the rental agreement.
Quick chat about what you can and can’t do with the RV ( I cover some of this in the do’s & don’ts section in this journal).
Walk-through of your RV where you are shown in detail how everything works. This is VERY important, so focus now, otherwise you'll constantly be referring to the user manual during your trip.
Grab the keys and hit the road!
Next step; stocking up the RV with food & camping supplies.
Ready to start our journey in the morning!
DAY 2 - HITTING THE ROAD
After a good nights sleep and our last home-cooked breakfast, we hit the road after the crazy LA morning traffic settled down.
After a few hours on the road, we found out a huge storm was approaching (-4 C 😳🥶). We realised we weren’t going to make it before dark to Sequoia National Park, so we decided to stop at Bakersfield.
We were craving our first American style meal, which was of course BBQ. After putting ourselves into a food coma we found a Walmart parking lot to spend the night.
TIP OF THE DAY: American portions are absurd, but don't worry if you order too much, because you can take half home and reheat it the next day.
DAY 3 - WAKING UP IN A WALMART PARKING LOT
This wasn't quite what we had in mind for our first night, but that's part of RV life; not knowing what's ahead of you. You learn to just go with it!
Feeling a little weary from being moved one parking lot to another by Walmart security the night before, we both were in need of an extra coffee to kick us into gear as we headed towards Sequoia National Park.
TIP OF THE DAY: Make sure it's a Walmart that allows overnight parking, otherwise you'll be woken up by security to move your RV, which can be rather frustrating after a long day of driving.
Sequoia National Park
Unfortunately, upon arrival at the South entrance we were advised that our 25ft RV was not suitable for the winding road into the park and would have to turn around and take the entrance via Kings Canyon. This was our first real lesson on the road; always check ahead when entering the parks to see which roads are open and suitable for your RV. This can save you a lot of time!
Lesson learned. We headed north to Kings Canyon National Park, which hosts some of the biggest Sequoia trees in the area.
DAY 4 - KINGS CANYON NATIONAL PARK & GRANT GROVE VILLAGE
After camping at the Azalea campground just inside the park ($18 fee paid on arrival), we were up at morning light to explore the Grant Tree Trail. Surprisingly, we had the place to ourselves. This was also our first look at snow in many years!
Grant Grove Trail, done. Next stop, Yosemite National Park!
DAY 5 - WAKING UP IN YOSEMITE VALLEY
Early bird gets the worm...and also the best photos!
Standing with a freshly brewed coffee in hand, watching the first light hitting the famous rock formations surrounding the valley is something magical you need to witness with your own eyes.
Inspiring us to load up our packs and go exploring. Embarking on an ambitious six-hour walk through the park, we managed to visit many of the popular sites including Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls, Mirror Lake, and Sentinel Rock. Even though we spent two nights in Yosemite, it still felt like we only scratched the surface of what the park has to offer. We can safely say we'll be back.
TIPS OF THE DAY:
Plan at least three full days to really experience the best of Yosemite.
Always stop at the visitor centre for free advice on how to best manage your time in the park, and also to find out if any trails are inaccessible due to weather conditions.
Free shuttles run every 15 minutes throughout the park.
Yosemite National Park is busy all year round. We highly advise reserving a campsite in advance.
DAY 6 - YOSEMITE TO LAKE TAHOE
Feeling well rested after a night under the stars, we made our way for Lake Tahoe. This four-hour drive takes you through some pretty incredible countryside, and to our surprise, a lot of it was covered in snow. One thing that caught our eye was this beautiful field (pictured below).
Being from both Australia and Bali (Indonesia), neither of us get to see snow very often, so our first reaction was to run out onto the field. Luckily we were stopped by a local who said the "field" was actually a huge lake frozen over, and to be very careful stepping on the thin ice. Falling through would have been mortifying...gladly that crisis was averted!
Arriving at Lake Tahoe around lunch time, we found ourselves craving barbecue (again). Aside from a great feed, Moe's BBQ also had some of the best views in the area. As you can see from the photos below, it didn't disappoint....
After spending a relaxing afternoon by the lake, we found a nice hidden spot in a random carpark with not only an amazing view for sunset, but also a place to spend the night for free. Score!
DAY 7 - LEAVING RAINY LAKE TAHOE
Unfortunately, our plans to snowboard all morning at the Squaw Valley Ski Resort were completely foiled by the rain. This was a huge bummer as we had made a bet to see who was better. In retrospect Mitch might have won, so seeing as we're both extremely competitive people, it's probably for the best we didn't get that chance.
We headed to Emerald Bay in South Lake Tahoe instead, a very popular tourist destination. After a few hours of Mitch vs Drone, he finally earned his title as 'Drone Master' and we had our first successful flight!
Next up, the longest drive of our entire trip.
Lake Tahoe to Salt Lake City is essentially 8 hours of straight flat roads and underwhelming views. Mira decided to sit this one out, which we both agreed Mitch at the wheel was probably safer for everyone anyway....
We made it about 6 hours before calling it a day. We managed to find the nearest recommended RV park with trusted reviews and great facilities very easily using the Roadtrippers PLUS app.
DAY 8 - CHANGE OF PLANS
It’s day 8 and the first time we’ve paid for RV camping. It was time to attend to the boring, but necessary, jobs of RVing; Emptying waste tanks, filling up fresh water, doing the laundry and giving it a good clean.
After experiencing two days of miserable, wet & windy weather, we were disheartened that the forecast was predicting more of the same for our planned route for the next two weeks. This is where Roadtrippers PLUS app becomes incredibly handy. As such, we completely changed course to head south instead of our original plan to head north into Canada.
But, first things first, Salt Lake City. This was a must-do for one reason, and one reason only...The Pie Pizzeria. This was Mitch's non-negotiable stop on the entire trip. After months of talking about it, we are happy to report the pizza really is THAT good.
DAY 9 - FIFTH WATER HOT SPRINGS
Heading south was definitely the right move. From this point on we were blessed with perfect weather.
Only a 1.5 hour drive from Salt Lake City, we hiked to Fifth Water Hot Springs; 4.5 miles of beautiful snowy trails that lead to a waterfall and three different sections of steaming hot springs, all varying slightly in depth and temperature.
Not expecting hot springs to be a 'hot' Springs Break destination, we didn't anticipate crowds of teens drinking and celebrating. But despite the romantic intrusion it was a very beautiful spot and well worth the hike.
What did romance us was the drive out through the Uinta National Forest during sunset. It took our breath away. A photographers playground; sun beams lighting up the colourful landscape, a herd of horses grazing by the road and snow-capped mountains in the backdrop. It was a surreal moment that a camera can't capture to perfection but we tried.
DAY 10 & 11 - ARCHES NATIONAL PARK
Arches National Park is what one might envision Mars to look like. The deep orange hues, that spanned farther than the eye can see, and the sheer grandeur of the rock formations really make you feel as though you've left planet Earth. Completely in awe, we spent the morning driving through the park stopping at various spots along the way to take photos. Arches is every photographer's paradise.
TIP OF THE DAY: Make sure to book ahead, because you can camp inside the park!
If you find an overnight spot inside the park, make the most of your morning and catch sunrise at one of the famous arches. The visitor centre map lists all the places recommended for sunrise and sunset; we chose The Windows. We promise, it's completely worth getting out of bed for. The rocks become so vibrant as the morning light touches them, it's as if you are watching them come to life.
After our hike to The Windows we drove deeper into the park towards the Devil's Garden Loop Trail for a much harder hike. Getting completely distracted by the incredible views, we realised halfway through that we were super lost! Luckily we had pre-loaded the trail using AllTrails app, so even without reception we were able to eventually trace our way back.
Lesson learned here...just because Mitch walks with confidence does NOT mean he knows where he is going. And, men never ask for directions.
On the plus side we got some pretty epic photos!
As if our morning hike AND the Devil's Garden Loop Trail weren't enough, we refueled with a quick lunch and set out for the most famous arch in the park, the Delicate Arch (pictured below). This hike is an iconic Utah landmark, which actually features on their license plates. It was by far the busiest park but absolutely stunning.
No rest for the weary! Being the hyperactive humans that we are, we pushed on towards Capitol Reef National Park, even after a very very big day of hikes.
The drive into the park is nothing short of jaw dropping. We saw some of the most unique land formations and incredible pastel-coloured rocks and trees. It was hard to know where to look first!
TIP OF THE DAY: Make sure to experience the drive coming in as well as the park itself during late afternoon hours. Once the light softens, all the incredible colours look 10x more dramatic.
DAY 12 - CAPITOL REEF NATIONAL PARK
Capitol Reef is full of amazing hikes, but being too exhausted from our big day at Arches, we followed the visitor centre's advice and went on an easy afternoon hike up the Cohab Canyon Trail. Followed by sunset at Chimney Rock.
Next on the list; Lower Calf Creek in Boulder. We are quickly running out of adjectives to justly describe the beauty of the landscape that hugs us as we drive from place to place. It wasn't possible to stop anywhere safely to get a photo but imagine driving on a one lane road along a ridge with a sheer drop off on either side of the road..... if you're afraid of heights keep your eyes on the road and don't look down!
DAY 13 - CALF CREEK LOWER FALLS
Having slept in the campground parking lot, we were able to start our hike to Calf Creek Lower Falls very early.
The trail begins at the campground and is a very pleasant 5.5 mile round trip hike. The entire creek around the 130 foot tall waterfall is surrounded by lush greenery. Out of the two waterfalls on Calf Creek, the lower falls is the most famous and attracts many visitors every year.
TIP OF THE DAY: This trail can get quite busy around mid morning onwards, so go early to beat the crowds!
Only minutes after hitting the road we passed by Kiva Coffeehouse, which was the first proper coffeeshop we had seen in quite some time. Being the coffee addicts that we are, we had to stop in.
Kiva Coffeehouse turned out to not only have amazing coffee in an incredibly unique space, but also offered spectacular panoramic views of the entire canyon!
Great views, great coffee, and great pastries. What more can you possibly ask for?
Adequately fuelled with sugar & caffeine, we made it to Bryce Canyon National Park just in time for sunset.
Bryce Canyon is known for its crimson-colored hoodoos, which are spire-shaped rock formations. The main lookout points are set up like an amphitheatre, so we were able to look down into the snowcapped canyon while watching the sun set behind.
DAY 14 - BRYCE CANYON TO ZION NATIONAL PARK
Due to the recent heavy snowfall we unfortunately weren't able to do our planned morning hike down into the canyon, so we drove on towards Zion. Along the way we passed through the appropriately named Red Rock Canyon (pictured below).
Upon entry into Zion National Park, we realised quickly that scoring a camping spot in the park was unlikely. Luckily, a last minute cancellation saved our day and secured us a spot at the Watchman's Campground.
And yes, once again we did not book ahead, which is why we stress that you really should.
DAY 15 - WAKING UP IN ZION NATIONAL PARK
Waking up in Zion National Park is pretty damn spectacular! Opening the RV curtains, looking out and finding yourself immersed in a cascading red beauty of soaring rock formations would make even the most unenthused person eager to get out and explore!
We set out early to hike the famous "Angel's Landing". It's 5.4 miles round trip, which doesn't seem far, but the second half is quite steep and the path gets incredibly narrow towards the top. Imagine holding on to a chain, scaling up rocks, wind blowing hard enough that it makes your body sway, all the while having 1500 foot drops on either side of you. It's definitely not ideal if you're scared of heights; luckily neither of us are and we thoroughly enjoyed the challenge. Not to mention the view is incredibly rewarding.
There are many other incredible hikes in Zion; we hope to come back for them one day.
TIP OF THE DAY: Zion runs free shuttles throughout the park to all the major attractions & hikes. The driver also gives you information about your surroundings. The experience was slightly reminiscent of Jurassic Park! Haha!
NEXT STOP: Coral Pink Sand Dunes.
DAY 16 - CORAL PINK SAND DUNES STATE PARK
Just our luck, we were greeted by an intense storm that rolled in a day early. With the RV shaking vigorously in the wind, and temperatures dropping below freezing, what better excuse to stay inside, open a bottle of wine and watch Game of Thrones reruns in bed. After all our hiking, it was a much needed break anyway.
Sidenote...being two people who grew up around warm sandy beaches, it's a very very odd sight looking out at sand dunes, and yet snow is falling from the sky.
Thankfully, the storm passed overnight and we were able to spend the morning playing in the dunes! You can actually hire sand boards from the camp ground office for $20 USD a day. Embrace your inner child and get out there!
TIP OF THE DAY: Staying overnight in the state park cost $30 USD, but it included water, electricity & a dump station. No WiFi though.
NEXT UP: Arizona!...and then back into Utah.
DAY 17 - HORSESHOE BEND & MONUMENT VALLEY
We are considering changing this post title to 'Finding Free RV Parking' as we've developed quite a knack for it. Day 17's free parking was brought to you by McDonald's in Page, Arizona. Only 5 minutes from Horseshoe Bend, plus free WiFi and easy access to coffee...we call this a WIN!
Despite the smell of sausage & egg McMuffins wafting into our RV, and the incredibly tempting '2 for $4 deal' that came with it, we did our own healthy breakfast cook-up. If that's not willpower, we don't know what is. Note; this really only applies for Mira. Mitch wouldn't touch McDonald's even if you paid him.
Unlike most other notable sites we've been to, Horseshoe Bend requires little to no effort. It's an easy 10 minute walk from the carpark to the attraction site and boom! You're there.
On a mission to catch the afternoon light over at Monument Valley, we hit the road back into Utah.
This red-sand desert region on the Arizona-Utah border had been on our radar for some time, and the drive in did not disappoint. The landscape is like no other, with towering sandstone buttes popping up out of nowhere! It felt like we had been dropped in a set of an old school Western Movie.
Head to the visitor centre and drive the 17-mile loop they call 'Valley Drive'. It's the most scenic way to see Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, bringing you past some of the most popular sites in the area. A 4×4 is not necessary; but we should note it’s a bumpy, dusty road, with a very low speed limit.
If you want to see some untouched hidden gems, we recommend doing a tour with one of the following local guides:
Monument Valley was a beautiful spot to conclude our drive through Utah. Onwards south we go towards Sedona, Arizona!
DAY 18 - LOOKING AROUND SEDONA
Sedona was like nowhere else we had been.
It's one of those places where you feel a strong, indescribable positive energy, even just walking down the main streets. Its tangible regenerative and meditative effects, along with its sprawling beauty have made Sedona an internationally renown mecca amongst healers and the more spiritually inclined. Not to mention everyone seemed genuinely happy and eager to help us find our way around town!
Here are some things you can do in Sedona -
Stroll through the town where you will find multiple unique craft and crystal shops.
Take one of the many hikes. Ask the visitor centre for recommendations.
Photograph the surroundings of Sedona; there's no shortage of breathtaking views.
Take a helicopter ride through the valleys and see parts of Sedona that are unreachable by car.
TIP OF THE DAY: Mobilising an RV around the small and busy town of Sedona can be quite difficult. You should also be aware that there are many police patrolling the area, so don't park illegally. Sedona is also very strict on unauthorised overnight parking, but if you drive around 10 miles south of the town there are free overnight camping areas available, which is where we stayed.
DAY 19 - HIKING DEVIL'S BRIDGE IN SEDONA
We woke up at first light, eager to hike Devil's Bridge Trail. With the exception of the very last section that required some climbing, the trail was a mostly flat easy 4 mile round trip hike. We were surprised and immediately disappointed to find that this well-known hike turned out to be purely an Instagram photo opportunity. People were lining up for ten minutes just to run out along the natural bridge to get their shot. Unable to enjoy the view in peace, we left feeling a little frustrated.
We ended up having similar unpleasant experiences at other locations; the car parks were completely full, and trails extremely packed. It really was a pity that we came during Spring Break because there was still so much to see, but being one of a million tourists was extremely off-putting.
We cut our visit short and head to Williams on Route 66 for something a little different.