Nuggets of Knowledge from our Three Week Western USA Road Trip

We learn and discover so many things while travelling, but there are always some things that stand out as “I wish I would have known that ahead of time”! Here is our list from out Three Week Western USA Roadtrip.

BLM = Bureau of Land Management = Camping

This is actually quite significant because there are a ton of options available to camp on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) grounds all over the States but particularly in Utah and Arizona. You can even get super handy maps at most tourist centres that shows land ownership in the state and if you ask the right person “Where are the nearest BLM camping areas?” you are likely to find a super affordable (often free) off-the-beaten-track campsite nearby. Keep in mind you’ll likely need your own water, a digging spade for washroom business, and baby-wipes if you fancy a quick “shower” at the end of the day.

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Free BLM campground outside Zion National Park

“Dispersed Camping” are two magic words

We found that while BLM campgrounds generally have fees (for example, the very popular BLM campground around Moab were generally $15/night), dispersed camping on BLM and US Forest Service lands on the other hand is generally free. Once again, you can find some amazingly helpful maps that show where dispersed camping is allowed at information sites like the one we stopped in Flagstaff, Arizona. There are also rules to follow for dispersed camping similar to those for camping on Crown Land in Canada and zero amenities other than amazing surroundings and relative remoteness.

It can be hard to find a campsite after 12 noon around Moab

When we rolled into Moab after driving for two days straight, we were headed to a small tent campground in town that we had read about in a the Southwest USA Lonely Travel Guide for the night, looking forward to the luxury of a hot shower. We were thankful that there were three sites left but surprised that there were none available the following night: a Friday. When we asked someone at the local visitor centre about camping the next morning they suggested that we find a site at a nearby BLM campground before noon to ensure we had a spot. We found a spot at the third BLM site we stopped by and promptly set up the tent for the day. Later that evening when we returned, all sites were occupied and cars were still driving through the campground hoping to find a place to pop their tent.

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Up the Creek campground in Moab

Moab is pronounced Mo-ab

We had some debates about it: silent “a” or two syllables? Apparently it’s a frequent question, but it’s definitely pronounced Mo-ab.

April IS the busy hiking season in the Grand Canyon

Although travelling in April seems like it should be the middle of shoulder season when there is plenty of availability and reservations aren’t required, this isn’t the case in the Grand Canyon backcountry world. We were lucky to be able to purchase a backcountry camping permit to spend one night (there was no availability the following night) below the rim when we did. Taking a look at the backcountry camping options and making reservations ahead of time would have been a good move.

April IS NOT the busy season outside the desert

In fact, outside the desert a lot of attractions do not open mid-May including Lassen Volcanic National Park, Crater Lake National Park, Mount St. Helen’s National Monument, Mount Rainier National Park, and pretty much all the visitor information centres along with state and provincial campgrounds with the exception of those on the coast of Oregon. So while April is a great time to visit arid regions, it’s too early for a lot of other geographic locations. We found it frustrating that we couldn’t drive the last 6 km to the trailhead of some great hikes around Mount St. Helen’s, but this mid-May opening date made more sense at Crater Lake National Park where there were still 6 meter snow banks lining the road up to the rim of the crater.

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Snow banks at Crater Lake National Park, April 24

National Park week was april 16-24, 2016

We did do some research before going on our roadtrip and found that anyone can buy an annual America the Beautiful Pass to get unlimited access to all US National Parks for a full year for only US$80. We bought our pass as soon as we crossed the border and were thrilled when we didn’t have to pay the $25 entry fees for Arches National Park and Cannyonlands National Park. The next time we went to use is, at the Natural Bridges National Monument, we were told we didn’t need it since National Park Week had begun. As a way to celebrate the 100th anniversary to the US National Parks services, all national parks and monuments had free admission from April 16-24, 2016. Although we did save a lot of money on national park admission, it wasn’t because of our pass in the end. Any other week, any other year, and it would have been a different story.

Happy travelling!

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