Cross-Country National Park Road Trip
Six guys who just graduated college, a bright yellow campervan with robots painted all over it, a lot of non-perishables from Costco, and Life is a Highway on repeat. The ingredients for a perfect cross-country road trip if I do say so myself. This was the trip of a lifetime, and I am utterly surprised we all made it out the other side every time I look back on it. After months of planning this trip, graduation had finally arrived, so we said bye to our families, packed up all of our stuff, and shipped off to LA for an amazing 17 days.
The trip started very civilized with our first stop being in LA. I think the reality of this road trip only set in once we actually picked up the van and started driving around. The van’s name was Bot, due to his awesome paint job, and he was everything we could have asked for: an in-van table, a running sink, a refrigerator, the back row turned into a queen bed, and a rooftop tent on top. Definitely the best thing I have ever driven. Once we got Bot rolling, we spent most of the day down in Santa Monica and Venice beach, riding Bird scooters around walking along the beach and the pier. It was most of the group’s first time in California and to see the Pacific Ocean, so the special memories were being made from the very start. Sam’s sister lived in the area, so she showed us around Santa Monica a bit, which was nice. It’s always good when you can have a local show to good places. Lucky for us, we had another local relative in the area: Devin’s uncle. Thanks to him, we had a free place to sleep in Hollywood for the two nights we were in town. He also gave us some great recommendations for bars to go to out in the city. For our last morning in the area, he also took us all out to probably a Top 5 breakfast place in Hollywood that was featured on Entourage. Easily the best French toast I have ever had. After filling up, it was off to the next destination: Las Vegas.
What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas (as did my money). Sorry, can’t break the rules.
After Vegas, the trip turned from party life in the cities to roughing it out in the woods for 2 weeks. Having been the only one to go camping before, I was nervous to see how our group would fare. First stop: the Grand Canyon. The first morning out in nature was amazing. We got up early enough to see the sunrise over the canyon and we were just all in awe at the sight. It was one of the most amazing things I have ever seen. Everyone was just happy to be there together experiencing something new and it was a good feeling. That all went south once we started on the ol’ South Kaibab Trail. It was this day, Day 5 let me remind you, that Devin probably wished he hadn’t agreed to all of this. The problem with hikes in the Grand Canyon is that most of them start at the rim and go down into the canyon. If you’re wondering why that’s so bad, it’s because the second half, when you’re already tired, is all uphill. So yeah, we may have ventured a little far down thinking it was easy, only to experience hell on the way back, but it was good exercise and we got to see Devin get bit by a squirrel so that was funny. After this exhausting hike, we made the decision to go on another 5 mile hike that we spontaneously extended to 9. It was a brutal first day to say the least, but we were only at the park for a day and wanted to get the most out of it.
After the Grand Canyon, we headed out to Page, AZ, which I was excited about because I really wanted to see Antelope Canyon. As excited as I was, I didn’t even know that you have to make reservations, and there’s a perfect time to go to see the light beams. The slot canyons we saw were still very cool, but I messed up what could have been awesome. Oh well, live & learn. One good thing that came from not planning was our campsite – it was amazing. We had Wifi, laundry, showers, a pool, and a hot tub where we met some pretty cool people. The next morning, we spent our last hours in Page out at Horseshoe Bend for sunrise. It’s crazy seeing places in real life that you usually see on default computer screens. It really is surreal. Now that Page was done, we were off to arguably the highlight of our trip: Zion National Park.
The first day in Zion had one of the best hikes I’ve ever been on: the Narrows. At first I thought trekking through water for hours would be miserable, but once you get the gear on, nothing bothers you. Walking through these deep and narrow canyons that twisted and turned all over with hidden waterfalls here and there was so much fun. We were shaded a good amount of time, and even when we weren’t, we were wading through water, so we were always nice and comfortable. The Narrows was personally one of my favorite parts and I can’t wait to go back. Luckily we had this mentally & physically easy day, because what was to come the next day would be neither of those.
It was finally time to see what we were all about. It was time for Angels Landing – one the scariest looking hikes out there. There’s bumper-to-bumper traffic the entire hike. Some parts are one lane wide. At on point, you’re on a 3-foot wide step with no railing and a 1500-foot drop on either side of you. Once you get to the top though, the feeling of accomplishment rushes over you. I don’t think any one in our group thought Devin, who’s terrified of heights, would it make it up here. Not even Devin thought he would. It was a good time to come together as a group and be proud of ourselves. 10/10, I would do it again though.
Between Zion and our next planned stop, we made a detour recommended by the gift shop cashier to Sand Hollow state park. This was a great recommendation and you should do it if you’re in the area. It’s a giant lake with plenty of cool areas to go cliff diving. We didn’t stay too long, but it was a great little side trip where we got to feel dangerous again. One of the coolest moments of the trip for me was when we left. Six best friends from college just finished cliff diving and were now driving with the windows down towards some mountains with Rascal Flatts blaring through the speakers. It was something out of a movie.
The next few stops were cool, but for the sake of time and space, I will just list them for now: Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Arches, Mesa Verde National Parks, and river rafting in Idaho Springs, CO. All of them had their own unique highlights, especially our rafting guide, but I’m excited to get to Rocky Mountain.
Rocky Mountain National Park might be the most gorgeous place I’ve ever been. It’s not my favorite park I don’t think, but wow is it breathe taking. Snow-capped mountains all around, wild animals roaming free everywhere you look, the crisp mountain air filling your lungs. I could go on and on about this place. We spent more time here than anywhere else, and for good reason. Every sunset, hike, and sunset was more than I could have ever imagined. The four days we spent here has even inspired me to wanting to move to Colorado.
After the beauty of Rocky Mountain, we went out to our last stop: North Dakota. The first few hours in South Dakota were spent at Mount Rushmore. We got there late afternoon so that we could see everything in the daylight, but didn’t have to stay too long to see the lighting ceremony. The ceremony was super cool. There were about 40 veterans there who were all honored right before lighting up the mountain, and just a lot of history in one place. It was another one of those surreal moments of seeing such an iconic landmark. The next day was our last day of fun and our last National Park. The Badlands was a very strange park. It had all the features of any other National Park, but everything seemed shrunken down. For example, there would be what looked like a giant butte off in the distance, but then you realize it was a lot closer and only about 20 feet tall. Again, cool, but it through off my perception of everything. After a day at the Badlands, it was time to head home.
We got in the car early the next morning and hit the gas all the way from South Dakota to New Jersey where we would drop off Bot and say our farewells to each other. There were plenty of highs and lows to this trip, and that was expected with such a diverse group on a wild road trip like this, but I don’t think anyone would not go if we were to go back and do it again. It’s not very often you get to hang out with all of your best friends and do something that amazing. My last piece of advice: Travelling the world is cool and all, but check out what’s right here in your backyard. The United States has so much to offer, especially with the National Parks, but few people take advantage of it.
If you made it this far, you must really like me or something. Thank you for reading. Stay tuned for more!