Hit the Road and Camp America!
Hit the Road -
Ready to answer the call of the open road? Then you've come to the right place. Here you'll find great ideas for finding the best camping and RVing road trips. We'll show you which routes to take, which exits have a "don't miss attraction and profile great campgrounds along the way. So grab your gear, pack the car or the RV and get ready to hit the road.
Road Trip - Las Vegas to Zion
There's a special mystique about the American Southwest. This is a place where desert sands stretch out for miles, broken only by spiny cacti and dramatic plinths that rise up like deep red sky scrapers. This desert is a land of paradox, a place that's arid and lush and the same time, full of emptiness and also full of life. Only in this desert can you see the green hanging gardens of Zion National Park, the almost endless blue waters of Lake Mead, and the staggering depths of the Grand Canyon. If you're ready for a truly breathtaking journey, don your sunglasses and head to Interstate 15 and the bustling city of Las Vegas.
Las Vegas, the most famous desert city in the United States, is known all over the world as an adult playground. But did you know that Las Vegas has also become a first-rate family destination? Over the last decade, the city has worked hard to expand its offerings, and now it has attractions for visitors of every age. Whether you're looking to stroll the casino floor, catch a show at the Venetian, or see the wild burros at the Red Rock Canyon, Las Vegas can fit the bill. This amazing city sees its tourist population boom in the spring and fall, so if you're looking to avoid the crowds, visit in winter or summer. Given Las Vegas's warm desert climate, it's a great place for northerners to visit in January or February.
If you love houseboating, jet skiing, fishing, and water skiing, you won't want to miss this chance to visit Lake Mead. Lake Mead National Recreation Area offers a wealth of things to do and places to go year-round. Its huge lakes cater to boaters, swimmers, sunbathers, and fishermen while its desert rewards hikers, wildlife photographers, and roadside sightseers. It is also home to thousands of desert plants and animals, adapted to survive in an extreme place where rain is scarce and temperatures soar.
With Lake Mead and Lake Mohave as the central focus, visitors to Lake Mead National Recreation Area may enjoy a variety of water recreation activities in a rugged and picturesque setting. Lakes Mead and Mohave offer some of the country's best sport fishing. Boating and water skiing are favorite activities on the broad expanses of open water, along with kayaking and canoeing.
Several paved roads wind through the dramatic desert scenery of Lake Mead National Recreation Area. Towering stark mountains, plateaus, desert basins of cactuses and creosote bush, and vertical-walled canyons are some of the sights motorists can discover. Short desert hikes lead to places you will never see from a boat or car.
From either Lake Mead or Las Vegas, you can hit the road by turning onto Interstate 15 and heading north. Your route will take you through the stunning scenery of eastern Nevada, across the northwest corner of Arizona, and into Southern Utah. Keep your camera handy as you pass through this dramatic country.
Interstate 15 will carry you to the charming city of St. George, which is perched on the edge of Zion National Park, one of the loveliest in the park system. To experience Zion, you need to walk among the towering cliffs, or challenge your courage in a small narrow canyon. These unique sandstone cliffs range in color from cream to pink to red. They could be described as sand castles crowning desert canyons.
By 1909, Zion Canyon was practically inaccessible to outside visitors, and while only a few had laid eyes on the towering cliffs, the country still understood its significance and established Mukuntuweap National Monument. In 2009, National Park Service will celebrate the Nation's commitment to preservation and protection of the natural and cultural resources and providing visitor enjoyment in Zion National Park over the past 100 years.
While you're at Zion, be sure to take a hike to see the spring wildflowers or changing autumn leaves. During any season, look for the 271 species of birds or go biking on the Pa'rus Trail. You'll find plenty of hikes, long and short, horseback riding opportunities, and special ranger-guided tours and programs.
As you leave Zion, you'll be faced with a difficult choice. To the north, Interstate 15 will carry you into the Dixie National Forest, then on to the mountainous areas of central and northern Utah. To the east, you'll find the great wonders of Southern Utah: Natural Bridges National Monument, Capitol Reef National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, and Arches National Park.
And for the truly intrepid, this is your jumping off point for a tour of the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area (featuring the robin's egg blue waters of Lake Powell), Monument Valley, and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. If you have the time, this is an area that deserves a slow exploration. There are so many hidden treasures and exceptional things to see, you'll find more than enough to fill your time.
I-80, San Francisco to Salt Lake City
From the oak groves of the Bay Area to the drama of the Utah salt flats, you'll cross a wide variety of terrain as you head from San Francisco to Salt Lake City. Your route will carry you from the City by the Bay, over the Sierra-Nevada Mountains (by way of the famous Donner Pass), down into Reno, Nevada, and across northern Nevada. You'll experience the soothing basin and range Nevada landscape with its long stretches of flat lowlands (the basin) and pretty ridges and upswells (the range). In eastern Nevada, you'll see the border town of Wendover, which has half of its territory in Utah and half in Nevada, then head across the salt flats to the Great Salt Lake.
East of San Francisco
As you leave the Bay Area, be sure to stop off for a sweet treat at the Jelly Belly Factory outside Concord or a tour of the Capitol Building or Governor's Mansion in Sacramento. You can visit the Griffith Quarry Historic Landmark at exit 112 or stop at the historic town of Auburn, a Victorian village in the Sierra foothills that has a fabulous Christmas craft fair.
After you pass Emigrant Gap, you'll find plenty of Sno Parks for tubing, sledding, and snowman building. If you visit in the winter, be sure to stop and stretch your legs -- or throw a snowball or two. The sparkling little town of Truckee is famous for its fishing, rafting, and other outdoor pursuits. Just beyond, you'll find the Donner Pass Ski Area, from which you can make an easy side trip to Lake Tahoe.
Donner Pass is breathtakingly beautiful. For those who know the story, it's hard not to think about the group of California-bound pioneers who were stranded here in the 1800s. Their guide had led them across the salt flats, where the team was repeatedly lost and slowed down, all of which resulted in their getting a late (and tragic) start into the mountains. Most of the group didn't survive the winter, but a few hearty souls actually hiked over and out of the mountains from their final camp near Donner Lake.
The old-fashioned cowboy town of Reno is filled with modern bright lights and lively casinos. Reno is where the basin and range ecosystem starts in earnest. Biologists have described the range areas of this desert as islands for the wildlife that live there. The flat, dry desert stretches of the basins act as an effective ocean, keeping the animals locked on their fertile ranges. Reno is a great place to do a little gaming, catch a show, or enjoy a fabulous dinner.
Be sure not to miss the fun city of Winnemucca with its historic downtown, casinos, mini golf, and the museums with its exceptional wildlife exhibits. There are a number of superb RV parks near Winnemucca, plus western saddle and boot shops where you can get your own ten-gallon hat. Winnemucca is known as the "basecamp to Nevada's backcountry," an area dominated by the stunning Battle Mountain.
This city is famous as the Cowboy Poetry Capital. Every year, a giant cowboy poetry festival is held in this lovely town.
Wendover and the Salt Flats
The curious town of Wendover is where two cultures come together. On the western side, the town sits in Nevada where casinos and gaming are all permitted. Just across the border, the town has a quieter aspect where it reflects the values of Utah.
The brilliant white salt flats of Utah are so perfectly flat, they're used to set land speed records. At the rest areas here, you'll get a great view of this curious land that used to be the base of the ancient Lake Bonneville. Be sure to check out the messages written by past travelers in the salt flats, spelled out with black rocks.
With its bright weather, longer days, and feeling that the world is just waking up, the Easter season is a perfect time to go camping. You can see the forests coming to life, watch wildlife coming back into the hills, and see plenty of buds and brilliant new-born green leaves. And because Easter is a holiday weekend, it's a great time to get away with the family.
Traffic tips: to avoid traffic snarls in Seattle and Portland, plan your trip in advance. If you can, travel through Seattle in non-commuter hours and consider taking Highway 99 or another alternate route around the city. In Portland, take Interstate 205 to the east side of the city and avoid the worst of the traffic no matter what the hour.