American Southwest RV Trip Guide

Nov 20, 2020 | Travel, US

American Southwest RV Trip Guide | Go Messy or Go Hungry

1300+ miles, 10 days, three amigos, one 24-foot RV. This was a trip of epic proportions very unlike anything we’d done before, but hey β€” after 6 months of no travel due to the pandemic, I was more than ready for it!

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If you’d have asked me a year ago (hell, even at the beginning of this year) if I had any desire to take a trip in a 20ish-foot driving windsail β€” aka, an RV β€” I’d have given you a pretty solid NO THANKS. But desperate times call for desperate measures, and with no end in sight to pandemic-related safety measures, I was ready to do anything to get out of my house for an extended period of time.

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American Southwest RV Trip Guide | Go Messy or Go Hungry

Which is how we ended up driving through the American Southwest for 10 days on what I started referring to as our “Great Escape.” If you’re looking for a safe way to escape the endless loads of dishes or home renovation projects, or just want to live vicariously through our travel photos, then this post is for you!

Travel Logistics

This trip was HEAVY on the logistics, both because of the pandemic and because we stayed in so many places. Here’s some tips and notes about what we did!

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American Southwest RV Trip Guide | Go Messy or Go Hungry

Getting there

We flew in and out of Las Vegas, which gave us easy access to the greatness that is Utah and Arizona. For us at least, we were able to get cheap direct flights on Southwest from Austin.

National park pass

We purchased the America the Beautiful pass, which cost $80 and covered our entire party (park entrance fees usually cost $25-35 per vehicle). You can buy it on the USGS store and have it mailed to you, but we opted to buy from REI and pick it up (along with some new hiking gear, obvs) to make sure we had it in time.

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American Southwest RV Trip Guide | Go Messy or Go Hungry
American Southwest RV Trip Guide | Go Messy or Go Hungry
American Southwest RV Trip Guide | Go Messy or Go Hungry

Getting around

We rented our RV via RVshare, which is basically AirBnb for RVs. (Outdoorsy is another RV rental site.) We rented this RV, which I highly recommend if you’re looking for something in the Vegas area! It was the perfect size for 3 adults β€” not so big that it was a pain to drive, but big enough that we could still fit all our luggage and supplies. Everything was super straightforward to set up, and it was much less intimidating than I expected! (Although I will note that I did not drive the thing β€” Marc drove the whole time, bless 😍)

One important thing that I did not take into consideration when planning originally is that it takes longer to drive places in an RV than in a car. We probably averaged 1.5x what Google maps said. You can see our schedule and route below (I updated the driving times to be accurate to what we actually did)!

RV Trip Schedule

Campgrounds

All the campgrounds we stayed at had full hookups (meaning electric and water, sometimes cable) and bathrooms and showers. We took advantage of the campground facilities as much as possible, which helped us maintain our sanity and sense of personal space, as well as helped keep the RV clean.

Packing for the weather

In the desert in late September, the temps ranged from high 30s to mid-high 70s. Due to the dryness though, even low 70s in the sun felt hot enough for just shorts and a sports bra for me. So basically: all the layers!

American Southwest RV Trip Guide | Go Messy or Go Hungry
American Southwest RV Trip Guide | Go Messy or Go Hungry

Food

Lastly, as is no surprise by now, I was sure to be armed with plenty of snacks and food I could eat while on the road. Our first stop was technically Whole Foods in Vegas, where I loaded up on lactose free yogurt, protein bars, sourdough bread, and obviously things like deli meat and booze (all the essentials basically). 😜

American Southwest RV Trip Guide | Go Messy or Go Hungry

Zion National Park

This was my third time to Zion, and it’s still one of my favorites. Zion was my first introduction to the American Southwest, and where I fell in love with this area of the country. The town of Springdale is literally right at the entrance to the park, making it easy to both get into the park and to find a decent bite to eat!

Zion National Park | Go Messy or Go Hungry
Zion National Park | Go Messy or Go Hungry

Driving time

4 hours from Vegas to Zion (remember this is for driving an RV, it’s shorter in a car)

Getting around

Once you’re in Springdale, there are free shuttles that can take you basically wherever you need to go. The Springdale shuttle stops in various points in the town and will take you all the way to the pedestrian entrance to the park. Once in the park, the Zion Canyon Shuttle will take you from the visitor center to all of the trailheads. Note that due to Covid, they’re limiting the number of people on the Zion shuttle, and you’ll have to reserve tickets in advance. There’s more information here, and you buy the tickets here. We bought our tickets at 9am the day before and had no trouble.

Where to stay

Zion Canyon Campground and RV resort

This campground had probably the most epic views of the trip (every view in & near Zion is epic). It was also within walking distance to the park entrance which was awesome. Showers took tokens that were worth 6 minutes of shower time (it’s longer than you think it is, promise), which they gave out for free at check-in. Wifi was basically nonexistent.

Zion National Park | Go Messy or Go Hungry
Zion National Park | Go Messy or Go Hungry

A typical lunch for me. Hot tip: frozen and then thawed sourdough is v crumbly!

Where to eat

We ate outside at Zion Canyon Brew Pub, which was right at the pedestrian entrance to the park and had a fun vibe. The NY strip steak I got (which I was too hungry to take a picture of, apparently) was just ok, but I have pretty high steak standards. We’ve also eaten at Bit & Spur on a previous trip and I remember it being good. For coffee, the boys went to FeelLove one morning, and brought me back a oat milk macchiato. (The rest of the trip, we made coffee in the RV) But really, Springdale has quite a lot to choose from for a national park town, and I don’t think you can go too wrong!

Zion National Park | Go Messy or Go Hungry
Zion National Park | Go Messy or Go Hungry
Zion National Park | Go Messy or Go Hungry

What to do

ALL THE HIKING

If you’re looking for an epic and challenging hike, Angles Landing (5.5 mi, 1500 ft elevation gain) is one of my favorite hikes of all time. The last section β€” which involves holding onto chains along a narrow ridge with 1,000 foot drop-offs on both sides β€” was closed due to Covid while we were there, so we continued up the West Rim trail for another half mile or so before heading back down. The Watchman trail (3 mi, 350 ft elevation gain) is my favorite moderate hike in Zion, and the Riverside Walk (2 mi, 60 ft elevation gain) is a nice easy walk (although it’s also going to be the most crowded). And if it ever opens back up again, Observation Point (8 mi, 2100 ft elevation gain) is another of my all time favorite hikes.

(Did I mention that I love Zion? 🀣) 

Zion National Park | Go Messy or Go Hungry

Bryce Canyon National Park

I had seen pictures of and read about Bryce β€” people describing it and the “hoodoos” that it’s famous for as otherworldly β€” but none of that even came close to preparing me for the actual experience. Bryce was definitely the sleeper of the trip β€” it totally blew our expectations out of the water, and ended up being my favorite stop!

Bryce Canyon National Park | Go Messy or Go Hungry
Bryce Canyon National Park | Go Messy or Go Hungry

Driving time

3 hours from Zion to Bryce via the Zion-Mount Caramel highway, which was one of the most epic drives of the trip (and that’s saying something!)

Note that if you’re in a large vehicle (technically taller than 11’4″ and wider than 7’10”, but they didn’t even measure us), you’ll have to purchase a $15 permit for the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel at the entrance to Zion. They’ll stop traffic going the opposite direction so you can drive down the middle of the tunnel.

Getting around

Bryce also has a free shuttle that stops at all the trailheads and lookout points. There’s a stop literally right at the entrance to the campground that goes into the park which is super convenient. No tickets required; they did have seats blocked off to limit the number of passengers, but Bryce was not crowded at all so we had no issues.

Where to stay

Ruby’s Inn RV Park & Campground

This was probably the nicest campground we stayed in. Spots were spread out throughout a pine forest, and it was just so peaceful and quiet! Showers were unlimited and were accessed via a door code. They also had pretty decent wifi.

Bryce Canyon National Park | Go Messy or Go Hungry
Dinner in Bryce Canyon National Park | Go Messy or Go Hungry

Where to eat

The town of Bryce really just exists to serve the park, so there’s not a ton of options, and I think “Ruby’s” owns them all. πŸ˜„That being said, the salmon I got (to go) from Ruby’s Inn Cowboy’s Buffet & Steak Room was really good!

Lunch | Go Messy or Go Hungry

Gave up on the crumbly bread and just ate meat & chip bowls for a few days

Bryce Canyon National Park | Go Messy or Go Hungry
Bryce Canyon National Park | Go Messy or Go Hungry

What to do

We only had a half day in Bryce, but definitely could’ve spent a full day or two here. We did the Navajo Loop and Queen’s Garden Trail (3 mi, 600 ft elevation loss) which was a great way to see the canyon. I normally prefer hikes that involve going up or down a bunch of elevation, but this hike was just super fun. Definitely do it going clockwise (start at sunrise point and end at sunset) β€” the ending of the hike will be the best part!

Bryce Canyon National Park | Go Messy or Go Hungry

Moab, Utah

Moab, UT, serves as the gateway to two national parks: Arches and Canyonlands, but is also an actual town in its own right. We stayed on a Friday and Saturday night, which I would not recommend if you can help it β€” Moab gets busy!

Moab, Utah | Go Messy or Go Hungry
Moab, Utah | Go Messy or Go Hungry

Driving time

6-7 hours in an RV from Bryce to Moab, depending on how many stops you take and traffic.

This was a beautiful drive across Utah, but also the most grueling. (Going up and down four mountain ranges in an RV is no joke!) Also, traffic getting into Moab on a Friday night is not great.

Getting around

Neither Canyonlands nor Arches has a shuttle system, as they’re both very large parks. Which would’ve been fine if we had a vehicle that wasn’t 24 feet long, and it wasn’t the weekend… but as it was, this ended up putting a wrench in our plans.

Also note that it’s going to be at least 30-45 minute into either park from Moab, depending on where you’re going. Don’t be like us, and plan accordingly!

Where to stay

Canyonlands RV Resort & Campgrounds

Moab is an actual town, and this felt like a city campground. Spots were packed in next to each other (note: there was still enough of space around us, and we still felt plenty safe), which was a bit of a change after Bryce! Showers & bathrooms were also accessed via door code and were unlimited. I think the wifi here was passable (plus there was actual service out here too).

Moab, Utah | Go Messy or Go Hungry
Moab, Utah | Go Messy or Go Hungry
Moab, Utah | Go Messy or Go Hungry

Where to eat

The Texans can’t go too long without without tacos, so we got some (to go) from Gilberto’s which were very good. Our second night we got food (also to go) from Moab Brewery, and the burger I got was absolutely delicious. (something about camping makes me want only burgers and steak? πŸ€·πŸΌβ€β™€οΈ) The boys each got an order of wings, which was so much we turned it into five meals!

I also saw a sign advertising gelato from the Moab Brewery on our way in, so obviously we had to get gelato too.

Moab, Utah | Go Messy or Go Hungry

Finally found some better sourdough in Moab

Jeep Tour in Moab, Utah | Go Messy or Go Hungry
Moab, Utah | Go Messy or Go Hungry

What to do

Well… the original plan was to visit Canyonlands in the afternoon when we got in and maybe stop at some scenic points β€” which we didn’t do because it took way longer to get to Moab than we expected. And then we were going to go into Arches and do the Devil’s Garden loop trail the next day, which I was pretty excited about as you got to see 7 arches in one trail! But as mentioned, it was very crowded and we were worried about driving 45 mins into the park and not finding parking.

So, we booked a last minute Jeep tour with Dan Mick’s (we did the afternoon tour), which ended up being incredible! Apparently Moab is also the off-roading capitol of the world. Our guide, Robbie, took us out to Hells Revenge and told us stories of how his dad β€” Dan Mick himself β€” created the trails out there. All while driving us around on these crazy rock formations like it was easy (always taking the “fun” aka hard route) β€” it was absolutely wild. We really lucked out here but I would 100% recommend this as a thing to do. There’s a lot of companies that do tours in Moab (we know because we called all of them trying to get something booked), but definitely do Dan Mick’s if you can. The fact that lots of other people out there stopped what they were doing to watch what we were doing proved that they’re clearly still the best.

Lake Powell

This “lake” is actually a filled in canyon β€” they put dams on either side of a portion of the Colorado river to create one of the craziest lakes I’ve ever seen. Just absolutely stunning, with sections of the canyon walls descending straight down into pure blue water. We could only get reservations for one night, but I definitely wish we’d had more time here!

Lake Powell | Go Messy or Go Hungry
Forrest Gump Hill | Go Messy or Go Hungry

Driving time

5.5 hours from Moab to Lake Powell.

This was the second longest drive of the trip, but a much easier one, especially once you get into Arizona.

Also of note: we took the the scenic route (literally on US-163 Scenic) for a photo ops at Forrest Gump Hill and Monument Valley (there’s lots of stop off points driving down into the valley from Forrest Gump hill).

Where to stay

Wahweap RV & Campground

This is the only campground on Lake Powell; everywhere else is in nearby(ish) Page, AZ. The campground was nice and spread out, but there wasn’t much shade. Showers cost actual money (I think it was $2 for 4 mins), which was the only place we experienced this.

Lake Powell | Go Messy or Go Hungry
Lake Powell | Go Messy or Go Hungry

Where to eat

We almost ran into trouble here β€” the Wahweap Marina restaurants, which were the only options close by, were all basically closed due to Covid. Luckily we still had 3 servings’ worth of wings from Moab Brewery the night before, so we just ate that and some baby carrots!

Lake Powell | Go Messy or Go Hungry
Lake Powell | Go Messy or Go Hungry

What to do

We spent our day here chilling by the beach, which was a welcome day of relaxation after all our driving and adventuring. We had originally planned to do a tour of Antelope Canyon (of instagram fame), but the Navajo Nation reservation was closed due to Covid.

We also stopped by Horseshoe Bend on our way out the next day. It costs $10 to enter and park (plenty of RV parking) and was one of the more crowded places we visited, so we wore our masks the entire time, but it was definitely worth it!

Lake Powell | Go Messy or Go Hungry

Grand Canyon National Park

The grandest canyon of them all. I had visited for like an hour on a school trip back in high school, but had never really “been” to the Grand Canyon, so I was particularly excited for this. The canyon itself is, obviously, mind-blowing and majestic and all that. The facilities here though? Disappointingly haven’t been updated since the 60s.

Grand Canyon | Go Messy or Go Hungry
Grand Canyon | Go Messy or Go Hungry

Driving time

4.5 hours from Lake Powell to the Grand Canyon.

This drive was relatively easy, a welcome break after climbing up and down mountain ranges for the past few days.

Note that we went to the South Rim, as the North Rim is less accessible and basically just an outpost for people doing the rim to rim hike.

Getting around

Grand Canyon does have a shuttle system (hooray!), but the line that ran from our campground to the visitor center was closed due to Covid (boo). We did use it on our first day to get from the visitor center to the trailhead, but otherwise we walked a lot.

Where to stay

Trailer Village RV Park

In terms of campground and facilities, this was definitely our least favorite of the trip. Lots of things were closed due to Covid, including the campground showers! The whole Grand Canyon complex felt like it had been really great and cutting edge when they built it in the 60s, and hadn’t been upgraded since then.Β Wifi was literally nonexistent, and service was spotty.

The redeeming quality about this campground was that it was inhabited by a family of elk. One baby elk (we named him Fred) was just absolutely enamored with our slightly drippy water hookup, and spent many hours trying to get every last drop of water, which was quite entertaining. (Can you spot the bull elk in the photo? They’re quite good at the camouflage thing.)

Elk at the Grand Canyon | Go Messy or Go Hungry

Important note about campsites here: If you want full hookups (you do, if you want electricity to charge your phones & turn on lights and such), book the “RV site” β€” NOT the “classic RV site.” You’ll need to click “view available rooms” or “view more rooms” to expand the options (it defaults to showing the best available rate, which is misleading). I accidentally booked us a classic site, which was almost tragic considering we were here for three nights and arrived with our phones and battery packs all basically drained (luckily we managed to switch to a full hookup site after the first night).

Grand Canyon | Go Messy or Go Hungry

Our last night we just bought food (and pumpkin beers!) from the grocery store next to the campground and grilled burgers and sweet potatoes.

Lunch options were even spottier β€” I ended up very hangry and having to eat a bratwurst and potato chips for lunch one day because there was literally nothing open that I could eat. 😭Definitely plan on just packing your own lunches until things start opening up more.

Where to eat

Unfortunately, lots of things were closed and it wasn’t very clear on the park website (which we had trouble getting due to spotty service) what was open and what was closed. Definitely check what’s open and make a plan BEFORE you go!

We ate (indoor but could have easily gotten to go) at the Maswik Food Court the first night (I got hard shell tacos lol), which was very reminiscent of school lunches or summer camp, except with beer. It does look like this might have closed for the season starting 11/1/2020 though.

The second night we ate at El Tovar Dining Room which was a super fun experience β€” our waiter was great and it was nice to eat in a real restaurant after quasi-camping for so long. Safety note: they did only have indoor seating, but the tables were spaced apart.

Our last night we just bought food (and pumpkin beers!) from the grocery store next to the campground and grilled burgers and sweet potatoes.

Lunch options were even spottier β€” I ended up very hangry and having to eat a bratwurst and potato chips for lunch one day because there was literally nothing open that I could eat. 😭 Definitely plan on just packing your own lunches until things start opening up more.

Grand Canyon | Go Messy or Go Hungry
Grand Canyon | Go Messy or Go Hungry
Grand Canyon | Go Messy or Go Hungry

What to do

Hiking at the Grand Canyon is mostly catered to people hiking rim to rim (which we did not do… this time. Some day). So your options are basically: strenuous hikes, or super easy hike.

The first day we hiked down the South Kaibab trail to Cedar Ridge (3 mi, 1000 ft elevation loss). This hike was awesome and really gave you an idea of the sheer scale of the canyon. The NPS only recommends you go down as far as Skeleton Point (another 1.5 mi from cedar ridge) as a day hike. We stopped at cedar ridge because we hadn’t come prepared with enough water, but I’m pretty sure we could’ve handled it otherwise (as in, it wasn’t as hard as I’m making it look in the photo 😜).

The next day we walked the Rim Trail. The entire thing is 13 miles, so I guess it could be hard if you walked the entire thing and back! But it’s mostly paved and goes along the rim, obviously, so the elevation gain is basically nothing. We walked from our campground to Mather Point, and then walked the trail out to the Bright Angel trailhead and back, about 5-5.5 miles.

Grand Canyon | Go Messy or Go Hungry

Final Thoughts

Phew! What an epic trip, right? At the end I was sad to be done, but glad to return back to my comfy bed. And now I can say I’ve taken an RV trip, AND driven basically across the entire state of Utah! πŸ˜‚

I hope this post was helpful! If you have any more questions about what we did or how we did it, I’m happy to answer questions in the comments!

Stay messy πŸ’™

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