What happens when four friends convene on the outskirts of Phoenix to rent an artist-painted travel van? An epic, two-week Arizona road trip through the scenic southwest, full of desert critters, red dirt roads, and campgrounds full of amenities.
Carly E., a new ranger on The Dyrt, works as a nurse in Connecticut where she lives with her husband, an Assistant Recreational Director at a local town. It wasn’t their first time renting an Escape Campervan. “We rented out of San Francisco the first time, and Vegas the second,” Carly told me. The first trip had been with her husband on a scenic loop through northeastern California. They visited the essentials: Yosemite National Park, June Lake, and traveled highway 395 along the Eastern Sierras and Lake Tahoe. On her second trip, their couple-friends tagged along as they toured southeastern Utah from Las Vegas to Denver.
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She’d stumbled upon Escape Campervan’s website in 2016 when she and her husband decided to embark on a camping road trip vacation out west. For them, it made more financial sense to rent a van than deal with all the moving parts that come with planning a camping trip thousands of miles from home. “You don’t have to worry about packing your tent or camp stove or cooler,” said Carly, “All that stuff is there which makes the whole experience so much easier.” Plus, the nightly rate for an Escape van roughly equates to a night in a nice hotel.
The Arizona Road Trip Begins at Mather Campground
Up first on their southwest tour? Mather–Grand Canyon National Park, the most reviewed campground on The Dyrt.
After driving the 3.5 hours to Grand Canyon National Park, the group rested and prepped for a big hike the next day: South Kaibab Trail to Phantom Ranch, a 20-mile roundtrip trek from the rim of the Grand Canyon to the valley below. Generally speaking, heat rises. In the Grand Canyon, though, that isn’t the case. “It’s easily 20-degrees hotter down in the canyon than up on the rim,” Carly told me. And, in true desert fashion, they awoke to a few inches of fresh snow the next morning.
What Antelope Canyon is Actually Like
Their next road trip stop for camping in Arizona took them farther north to the orange slot canyons of Page, AZ. You’ve probably heard of Page, or seen pictures on Instagram from adventurists and travelers around the world (or in a Britney Spears music video from the 90s). Home to Antelope Canyon, the trekking foursome hired a local Navajo Guide to enter the highly publicized canyon. What they found though, didn’t quite match their expectations.
“We were in a group of 10-15 people, and we thought we were in for a solitary experience,” Carly said. “It wasn’t.” A more realistic version of Antelope Canyon includes a short 1/2 mile hike through a narrow canyon, and groups of people, who, one at a time, sidle up for their solitary shot as they run their fingers along the sandy corridor. “That’s what Instagram doesn’t tell you!” Carly said, laughing.
Want to take an Arizona road trip? Find these campgrounds on Carly’s camping list
They loaded up the campervan and ventured farther east to the sandstone cathedrals of Monument Valley. Having ventured through the National Parks in Utah, they had an idea of the geographic landscape. Other than that, “We had no idea what to expect.” Like most who visit, they took the 17-mile scenic drive through sandstone skyscrapers and clumps of cactus. For the night, they stayed at The View Campground, one of the few campgrounds in the area.
One thing to note about The View: “There is an additional $5 fee to enter the tribal area, in addition to the camping fee,” Carly wrote in her review. She also added a pro-tip, “Sites 17-24 (or 25, can’t remember), had the most unobstructed views.”
Exploring Sedona and Saguaro National Park
Next up: the energy vortexes of Sedona, AZ, and hiking through the unique rock formations of Northern Arizona. While many visit Sedona for the world class mountain biking, Carly and her crew were there to hike Devils Bridge trail and Cathedral Rock. But the weather wouldn’t cooperate, so they packed up the van and traveled from Pine Flat Campground West to Lost Dutchman State Park for two nights.
The final stop of their 11 day Arizona road trip landed them in Catalina State Park just outside of Saguaro National Park. An important note: Carly and her friends reign from the east coast, where thick forests blanket peaks like Mt. Washington and Acadia National Park. Entering desert terrain put them on edge. “I know what lives in the woods, and I know what lives near me, and the desert is different,” Carly told me. On a hike she and her friends came across scorpions and tarantulas and rattle snakes, “Let’s just say, a campervan is definitely the way to explore camping in the desert!”
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