Visit National Parks and Monuments on the Cheap

“Welp, I’m doing it.”  I decided to make the trip I’d been dreaming about for a good while.  I wanted to see more of Utah, Colorado, and Arizona.  It was going to be 23 days of waking up at the crack of dawn and seeing some of America’s best National Parks, Monuments, and other treasures.

Here is my final itinerary:

  • Zion National Park
  • Cedar Breaks National Monument
  • Red Canyon
  • Bryce Canyon National Park
  • Kodachrome Basin
  • Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
  • Capitol Reef National Park
  • Canyonlands National Park
  • Mesa Verde National Park
  • Valley of the Gods National Monument
  • Monument Valley
  • Grand Canyon National Park

Grad Trip Map

You can do this trip on the cheap!  There are LOADS of free areas to camp in Utah, Colorado, and Arizona. Many of them are a few miles away from the National Park Entrances.  The campsites are free, you get more room, and they’re generally quieter.  Many of them do not have facilities, so you should buy some Go Anywhere Toilet Kits to be prepared.  Digging a hole can work but is harder on the environment.  You should pack your toilet paper out if you go that route.  I found the best procedure was, if possible, to wake up and drive into the National Park and make breakfast and use the facilities there.

The easiest way to find free places to camp is the Wikicamps app.  I’ve used it many times in the USA, Australia, and New Zealand.

The most expensive part was the rental car, but even that was less $600 for the entire time.

If you can, I would suggest starting any hikes you want to do before/as sun comes up.  There will be way less people and you’ll be in front of the heat of the day.  You’ll get into a rhythm after a few days, I promise.

My favorite place of the trip was Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.  There were so many cool slot canyons to hike into.  I found a great campsite and didn’t see anyone walk or drive past; I did add it to WikiCamps if you’re in the area – PJ’s Forest Camp.

I also loved the Capitol Reef National park.  The apples were ripe in the orchards when I got there.  Plus, the hikes were awesome.

I did some backpacking in Canyonlands National Park, but needed to bring in all my own water.  Thus, I thought it would be easiest to stick with overnight hikes.

Overall, I found myself normalizing the beauty of the park by the number of people I shared the area with.  With this rationale, the National Monuments were better than some of the parks.  The back country was definitely a great part of the National Parks.  I would suggest giving it a try if you can.  Even if you have to pick up some gear, it’ll be cheaper than a hotel after a few trips.

I met lots of people on the trials, which was great.  I did get a fair amount of time to reflect on life as well.  On the trip, I tried to be mindful.  This was helpful for me and helped me grow as a person.


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