Affordable Ultimate Western National Parks Road Trip

In this article you will discover how to have an affordable ultimate western national parks road trip through my adventure. Travelling in my SUV I was able to visit 10 United States National Parks in 14 days. Experience parks like Arches, Zion, Sequioa, Yosemite and more with all the details to travel on a budget.

The outdoors and all it’s beauty with the wild and freedom it offers is a powerful energy for the soul. Exploring new places and meeting new people keeps us energized and feeling alive, don’t let this light burn dim for you.

For some time, mostly due to social media friendships made and the conversations that followed, I made a mental list of places that I badly wanted to see first in person.

Near the end of summer the holiday policy with my employer changed and it was stated that we couldn’t carry over any unused vacation days. With this new policy and the fact I had a substantial bank of days due to being more of a weekend warrior for my hikes and climbs, I decided on using up two weeks straight in the fall.

With two weeks coming to me I looked at my options and decided on a road trip throughout the Western United States. I presented my game plan to the wife and she was very supportive (she really is the best) of my ambitious plans. A solo adventure would allow me to attack the trip in a manner with no set boundaries. There would be no worries of what others wanted to see or do, achieve as little or as much in a single day and to pick objectives within my comfort zone or physical challenge.

Affordable Ultimate Western National Parks Road Trip

The following will be a recap of my trip starting from my home on Vancouver Island . I will cover the locations I visited, driving routes and all my costs to help show you that its as easy as just pointing your car a direction and going for it.

I planned to travel in a nomadic or “dirtbag” manner living out of my Hyundai SantaFe , tenting as required and cooking all my meals out of the car. This allowed traveling affordably and helped with my loose laid travel itinerary. In this trip review all costs will be in US funds for ease being that most all of the trip occurred there.

Lets Start This Affordable Ultimate Western National Parks Road Trip

Day 1 – The trip would start on Saturday November 28th leaving my town of Chemainus on Vancouver Island at 8am headed to Victoria to catch the Coho Ferry to Port Angeles at 10:30am. I started the day at 140,330km with the first cost being $68 for my fare and breakfast as we sailed. I enjoyed all aspects of the ferry ride and service provided by the Black Ball Ferry Line. 

As soon as I arrived in Port Angeles , Washington I headed out on Hwy101 south to Olympia with my first stop at a Walmart to get food supplies, stove fuel and some batteries for my headlamp for $63. Once at Olympia I joined up on the I-5 south to Portland, Oregon where I would begin heading east on the I-84 towards Idaho making a few fuel stops along the way. I wished I hit this spot during daylight hours as seeing Mt St.Helens and Mt Hood would have been a treat. I pushed on reaching a rest stop just past Baker City near the Oregon/Idaho border at 10:45 pm. I would sleep here for the night at 141,240km , a solid day at 910km and $65.50 in fuel stops.

Affordable Ultimate Western National Parks Road Trip

Hwy 93 south towards Wells Nevada

Day 2 – I awoke and hit the road at roughly 5:45 am quickly crossing into Idaho , my first stop would be in Twin Falls as I wanted to see the Perrine Bridge on Hwy93 south as I turned off I-84 at 11:30am. The bridge is 1500ft across and 486ft over the SnakeRiver . I saw photos of Shoshone Falls here prior to my trip so I stopped and hiked down to the falls as a break from driving also. I would leave Twin Falls at about 2:30pm and head south to Wells, Nevada as I wanted to escape the Interstate and see more remote areas, the drive was beautiful and glad I made this choice. The East Humboldt mountains over Wells looked magnificent and here I would head east again on I-80. Choose unique routes and directions to plan your Affordable Ultimate Western National Parks Road Trip.

The second reason I chose this route as the link-up would take me to West Wendover and home of an incredible abandoned US Air Force base. Check out this link  Wendover Airfield Wikipedia  and search google also for some incredible photos . Wendover AirField housed 19,500 military personnel at its height in 1943 and was the home of the Enola Gay B-29 Superfortress bomber that carried the atomic bomb to Hiroshima.

When my exploration was done and a quick stop at McDonalds ($5) for the free wifi I headed only a few miles west to the Bonneville Salt Flats as Wendover sits right on the Nevada/Utah border. It was dark out but I did drive out to the where the Bonneville race area starts and enjoyed a star filled sky. I then pulled back onto the interstate and drove to the outskirts of SaltLake City where I found a parking lot to stop in and sleep at 10pm at 142,207km for a total of 967km , another solid day with $44 fuel and $10 for a US road atlas. Boom!, another day in the books on the Affordable Ultimate Western National Parks Road Trip.

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Day 3 – I woke up from my luxurious parking lot hotel and finished my drive through SaltLake City linking up to the I-15 and heading south to Spanish Fork where Starbucks would supply some wifi time to catchup on social media posts and upload my photos so far to my laptop. $6 later I would head east on Hwy 89 and then Hwy 6 at roughly 10:30am . This route would be taking me to the I-70 where I would then drop south again on Hwy 191 for my goal of the day  the Moab region where Arches and Canyonlands National parks call home. Explore the parks yourself online to a great overview on the National park websites at Arches NP and CanyonLands NP .

Sunset at Delicate Arch at Arches National Park in Utah

I made my way directly to Arches national Park visitor centre where I bought a National Park pass for $80 (amazing price, get’s you into every US national park for a full year). It was now 4pm so I quickly made my way to Delicate Arch within the park to catch a sunrise at this incredible spot. I quickly made the 2.4 km hike and setup to relax and enjoy mind blowing conditions for sunset , this spot was on my must do for the trip and was incredible. I enjoyed the spot and chatted with others, they said in the morning the best sunrise would be Mesa Arch in Canyonlands. After the sun set I hiked out and got back to the car in the dark, this was perfect as while driving out I got some great night sky views and shots. I made my way to Moab at about 6pm for fuel and some McDonalds wifi action ($8). I then headed back north to Canyonlands and found a spot out of view to sleep for the night at about 11:30pm at 142595kms for 388km and $56 in fuel/carwash. Wow what a 3rd day, stoked for the days to come.

Arches National Park

Day 4 – I woke up from a great sleep but very cold morning, glad I packed my Marmot downslide -10 bag as it hit those temps at night in SW Utah. It was 6:30am and I had a short drive to reach the trailhead for Mesa Arch and sunrise was approaching fast. I hiked down to the arch, I was in no way prepared by the surreal beauty of this spot, hands down the most photos of one spot I took. The changing colors from dark to sunrise to sun higher in the sky is indescribable and hope my pics do a bit of justice. At 9am I went back to the car , made breakfast and coffee then drove back out of the CanyonLands National Park.

After stopping at some of the viewpoints and then making my way back to Arches National Park to hike the Devils Garden Trail where the largest arches with the park are found. I hustled the trail to SandCut arch quick and then I started on the trail at 1pm and would hike to Landscape arch, Partition and then Navajo arch followed by the long hike to the end of the trail for Double O Arch. This trail was incredible as I enjoyed perfect hiking weather of 5′ celsius with bluebird skies and sunshine. I couldn’t imagine doing it in the sweltering heat of summer in 40’c weather . The other huge fact that would be prevalent through my trip is ZERO crowds, I barely ran into people and those I did were doing similar to me, solo adventure touring, I can’t recommend this time of year enough.

After 6.4km of hiking and soaking up the great views I made it back to the car at 4pm. I would drive back to the Visitor centre and then south to Moab for fuel and that MickeyDs free wifi again ($8) I then drove south on Hwy 191 until I reached the rest stop at Kane Springs to sleep for the night. Not much driving today ending at 142,857km for 262km with $18 in fuel.

Affordable Ultimate Western National Parks Road Trip

Mesa Arch sunrise in Canyonlands National Park Utah

Mesa Arch Sunrise Progression

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Affordable Ultimate Western National Parks Road Trip

Landscape Arch located on Devil’s Garden Trail in Arches National Park Utah

CanyonLands and Arches National Park

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Day 5 – Up early from a very cold night , it hit -12 overnight and know it was cold as my water bottles nearly froze solid. I made some oatmeal and coffee after posh rest stop bathroom micro fibre cloth shower, oh the good times of being on the road. I hit the road again at 8am making my way south on Hwy 191. I stopped at Blanding where went to a grocery store for more food ($16) and some fuel. I headed west of Hwy 95 from here heading to Natural Bridges National Monument. Along the way I spotted a tiny sign and pull out for Butler Wash Ruins. From here I would hike into the hidden cave dwelling ruins over 700 years old . Here is a great link describing the spot Butler Wash Ruins to read more about it.

Once done exploring the ruins I carried on back to the highway to Natural Bridges reaching the National Monument site at noon. I couldn’t believe another beautiful day and this amazing place only seeing 6 other people. I drove to the viewpoints for Sipapu and Kachina Natural Bridges first and then hit Owachomo trail to explore the nicest natural bridge in my mind. Learn more about the park on the US Park page Natural Bridge NPS website .

Affordable Ultimate Western National Parks Road Trip

Hike through and looking back at Owachomo bridge in Natural Bridge National Monument

I left the park at 2pm and backtracked to Hwy 261 to head south towards Arizona via the Moki Dugway. A crazy gravel section of the highway that switchbacks down 1200 feet in 3 miles to the Valley of the Gods and the town of Mexican Hat. Dangerous Roads has a good website review and information here – Moki Dugway Overview . Aren’t picking unique roads to travel a fun part of planning your Affordable Ultimate Western National Parks Road Trip.

I made it to Mexican Hat where I would connect with Hwy 163 heading southbound to Arizona and through Monument Valley which was on my to do list. This area is most notably know for where Forest Gump stopped his cross country run alongside the highway . Many other westerns were filmed here and you can see more on this website Monument Valley Movie Scenes . After getting my shots I hit the road again , I would mention if you are heading south I think sunrise or mid morning would give you the great photos and views of the Monument hoodoos as you won’t be shooting into the sun.

I continued south on Hwy 163 to Kayente, Arizona where I hit Mcdonalds as usual to upload my photos from the day and use the free wifi plus a supper ($9) I then left town connecting to Hwy 160 south that would take me to Hwy 98 that would take me back north to Page Arizona where I planned to stop for the night. I found Mcdonalds ($8) to have a bedtime ice cream treat, surf a few websites to plan my next few days and then found the Walmart parking lot to sleep for the night at 10:30pm. I finished the day at 143,329 km which knocked off 472km and $21 in fuel.

Butler Wash Ruins and Natural Bridge National Monument

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Monument Valley on the Utah Arizona Border on Navajo Lands

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Day 6 – I spent the night in Page Arizona so that I could catch sunrise at Horseshoe Bend on the Colorado River just south of the city on Hwy 89. I got up made coffee and my oatmeal hitting the road at 6:30am. The size of the river valley isn’t done any justice by the photos and was a great view. I then got back on the road to head north from Page stopping quick at Glen Canyon Dam which blocks the Colorado River and created Lake Powell.

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After taking a few pics I got back in the car and worked back into Utah up to Kanab and then Mt Carmel Junction where I went north on Hwy 89 to get to Bryce Canyon turning onto Hwy 12 and passing through Red Canyon to Bryce Canyon City at 12:30pm . I got my park map from the visitor centre  Bryce Canyon NPS website and off I went to Sunset Point to park and begin my dayhike .

As I left the car and walked to the viewpoint I was literally astounded, never have I seen something like this place….once again photos do nothing to grasp the size an beauty. I then set out on my hike going from Sunset Point to Sunrise Point and then dropping down on the Queen’s Garden Trail followed up by connecting to Navajo Loop trail. The hike would take me from the the canyon rim down into the bottom of the valley and back up over a short 5km and 183m elevation gain. After I finished the hike I made lunch at a picnic table relaxing in sunshine and about 4 degrees celsius, once again nearly had the park to myself. I then drove to Inspiration and Bryce Points to get the final views of the Canyon before heading back on the road at 5pm.

I drove back down to Mt Carmel Junction and turned on the incredible highway 9 through Zion on its famous red asphalt and 1.7km tunnel portal through the mountain into the park (built in 1930) . I once again drove a section in the dark that I will have to return in the future to see during the day to make sure the driving part is enjoyed in the Affordable Ultimate Western National Parks Road Trip.

I made my way through to Zion so I could reach Hurricane for the night to grab some fuel and food/wifi at Mcdonalds ($5) . I found a secluded parking lot to stay for the night at around 10:30pm . Total day knocked out 443km even with all my stops ending at 143,772km with $34 on fuel.

Bryce Canyon National Park

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Affordable Ultimate Western National Parks Road Trip

Overlooking Bryce Canyon in Utah

Day 7 – Today was the day of one hike I had been waiting for the on my trip and couldn’t wait to get started. I left Hurricane at roughly 7am and drove back to Zion to my 5th National park in Utah, learn more why this is a must stop on the NPS site at  Zion NPS website . I stopped at the visitor centre and then made my way to the Grotto parking area which is the start of the trail to Angel’s Landing. At 9am I set out on the trail with only 2 others in site, a far cry from what I’m told about summer where this park sees 3 million visitors annually. The trail switchbacks out of the river valley and then through a drainage gully before starting the long winding hike up to the side of Angels Landing to the top bluff where the ridge begins and the exposed hike to the summit of Angels Landing is reached.

Angels Landing in Zion National Park

Affordable Ultimate Western National Parks Road Trip

Luke enjoying the view atop Angels Landing looking back into Zion National Park

I enjoyed the summit with only 3 others in sight when I met Luke Barber who called my name out. It was an odd occurrence having someone asking if you are “Chris” when you are 1000s of kms from home. Luke lives on Vancouver Island and knows me from my Instagram account. We enjoyed the summit with Molly who was a park ranger road tripping as well, it was nice hanging with a few people after 7 days by myself. We got our photos and hiked down back to our vehicles and went on our way at 2pm. The weather was a beautiful 12′ C and great for a 9.5km hike with 531m elevation gain.

I left Zion heading back through Hurricane and connecting back onto the I-15 to head south into Nevada and onto Las Vegas. The craziness of the city was not what I was after so I just stopped for a quick snack and wifi then back on the road to catch fuel at Prim and a latte’ ($7). Still wanting to get further into California I pushed on until Barstow finding a parking lot near the shopping centre to sleep at for the night at 11:30pm. I finished the day at 144,350km for 577km and $38 in fuel.

Zion National Park

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Day 8 – After a busy 1st week I would take it easy and sleep in with the warm temperatures in Barstow getting to finally put on shorts. I went over to Starbucks and relaxed all morning uploading photos and having breakfast ($10) with the free wifi. I fueled up and hit the road towards the Sacramento Valley at 12:30pm leaving the I-15 for Hwy 58 west and turning on Hwy 99 at Bakersfield to begin going north. I turned at Visalia onto Hwy 198 that would take me into Sequoia National Park. Once in the park I went to Potiwash Campground as it was the only tent site ($22) open in winter and setup my tent at 6pm . I enjoyed a good meal and went to sleep in my tent shortly after. This was an easy day ending at 144737km for 387km and $48 fuel.

Day 9 – I woke up at 7am and made a nice breakfast , enjoyed some coffee and then headed back down to the visitor centre to get some park info and maps for Sequoia Kings Canyon NPS . From the visitor centre I drove up the beautiful tight and twisty General’s highway  to the Sequoia Museum and parked for my hike. I visited the museum first and then hit the trail at 9am. I would hike Moro Rock trail to Soldier’s trail and then Alta Trail back to the trailhead. I covered 10.5km with 406m elevation gain over 3.5hrs seeing views of the Sierra Nevada mountains and the largest Sequioa trees in the world including the General Sherman tree (worlds largest tree by volume) .

I continued from Sequoia in Kings Canyon side of the park and chatted with the Rangers in the visitor Centre at Grants Grove doing the hike loop to the Grant Tree. I left the park at 4pm driving out on the Generals Highway (198) then turning on Hwy 180 to Fresno. I stopped at Starbucks for coffee ($9) and wifi after a long day. I finished my coffee and made my way to Oakhurst on Hwy 41, fueling up and then grabbing some groceries ($15) . I found a secluded corner of the mall parking lot and snuggled into my down bag for the night in the Hyundai Hotel as I had now named my car. End of day had me at 144,982km for 245km and $27 fuel.

Sequioa and Kings Canyon National Park

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Affordable Ultimate Western National Parks Road Trip

In Awe standing among the Parker Group in Sequioa National Park

Day 10 – I crawled out of my sleeping back and hit the road at 7:30 am heading out of Oakhurst on Hwy 41 towards an exciting stop, Yosemite. I finally reached the tunnel carved through the mountain that opens up to the famous tunnel view as you exit into the beautiful Yosemite Valley. I drove into the valley in awe of El Capitan and views of Yosemite Falls. I made my first stop at Bridal Veil falls , a beautiful  view at 586 ft in height. I then made my way to Visitor Centre ( explore Yosemite yourself Yosemite NPS website ) at noon to see the museum and then to the village for groceries ($12) .

Much like the other parks, being that it was winter there were very little people visiting this time of year and I could drive right into all the areas in the park. I made my way to HappyIsles parking lot and hiked to the trailhead at 12:30pm . I hiked up to Vernal Fall (317 ft tall) and then up to Nevada Fall (594 ft tall) via the winter route and Clarke Point. The views of Liberty Cap peak and the back of Half Dome were the backdrop to the hike.

I returned to the car at 4:30 pm covering 16km and approx 610m cumulative elevation gain. I drove back to the village centre parking lot to make a quick supper and then left Yosemite at 6pm via Hwy 140 west to Merced turning north on the I-5 to Modesto. I would get a hotel room ($55) here for a much needed shower and warm bed for the night at 10pm. Odometer rolled over at 145,264km for 282km and $26 fuel. This was the most I had spent so far on my Affordable Ultimate Western National Parks Road Trip.

Yosemite National Park

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Affordable Ultimate Western National Parks Road Trip

The Iconic Tunnel View – Yosemite National park

Day 11 – Waking up from a bed and that hot shower was great as I left the hotel and wandered over to Starbucks for some wifi to catch up on social media updates and upload photos to my laptop. I enjoyed breakfast and coffee  ($12) and then set out from Modesto at 10:30am heading north on Hwy 99 to I-205 and then I-580 into Oakland and then onto I-80 across the Bay Bridge into San Francisco at noon. I drove through this beautiful city of which I now must actually visit making my way to and across the Golden Gate Bridge.

I stopped and got some photos at Vista Point and then headed across to Marin Headlands National Park to get more views of the Bay area and the Golden Gate Bridge. The interesting part of the park is that it is home to the abandoned military bases that guarded san Francisco at the turn of the century and into the 1960s as well as the 150 year old Bonita Lighthouse,  Learn more here Marin Headlands NPS website After touring around the park until 3pm I headed north again on US Hwy 101 making it as far as Trinidad Rest Stop just north of Eureka CA at 10:30pm . I really put some distance on the ground this day ending at 145,908km for 644km and $30 fuel.

Marin Headlands National Park

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Affordable Ultimate Western National Parks Road Trip

Windswept cliffs of Marin Headlands National Park in San Francisco

Redwoods National Park

Day 12 – I woke up at 8:15 am and headed back north on Hwy 101 making my way to Redwoods National Park enjoying as the highway now skirted along the west coast and Pacific Ocean. I reached Crescent City at 11am and went to the Visitor Centre where the Ranger told me to drive the Howland Hill Rd , an old stagecoach trail now single lane dirt road deep into the forest. It took me to Stout Grove where I was able to hike amongst a rainforest of huge redwoods.

After enjoying the forest I drove back to Hwy 101 and made my way north into Oregon stopping at places like Whales Head beach at 1pm and other various beautiful views along the route.The further I went north the worse the weather got unfortunately so I left Hwy 101 at turnin east on Hwy 126 at Florence and reaching Eugene at 8pm to stop and get weather reports and coffee/food ($12)as well as fuel. I decided to push north on the I-5 to Portland as the weather was getting bad with extreme rainfall warnings in effect. I passed through Portland and stayed at a rest stop just north of the city at 12pm. I stopped at 146,628km logging 718km and $53 fuel.

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Affordable Ultimate Western National Parks Road Trip

Whales head beach – Oregon Coast

Day 13 – I just realized as I type this blog that my craziest day was lucky #13 , funny now that I look back on this. I started the day at 6:30 am and left the rest stop heading north on the I-5 until I hit a detour and roadblock only after a short drive . The heavy rain created a mudslide and blocked all 3 lanes of northbound traffic with no way around . Traffic crawled at a snails pace as I slowly made the detour, turned around stopped to get on my laptop and grab breakfast ($10) to find a way around and out of here . I headed back south on I-5 into Portland to west on Hwy 30 and the only other bridge that crosses the Columbia River at Rainier and across the Lewis and Clark Bridge into Longview.

Finally making the bridge I grabbed some Subway thankfully right beside the road. At 6pm and 12 hrs later nearly clocking only 100kms !! , I was back just north of the blocked section of I-5 heading north to Seattle, Washington. I hit Seattle at 9pm for Starbucks ($10), of course it is the home of the company LOL . I fuelled up and then headed to the Canadian border to reach Tsawwassen Ferry and sleep for the night at 11pm . My night ended at 147,195km with 589km and $45 fuel. Crazy day for not seeing any sights or hiking and not the most exciting part of the Affordable Ultimate Western National Parks Road Trip.

Day 14 – I woke up and boarded the 5:15am ferry ($55) from Tsawwassen to Duke Point making my final stretch back home across the water. The ferry docked and I made my way down to Chemainus , returning home at roughly 8:30am and final odometer of 147,232km.

Recapping The Affordable Ultimate Western National Parks Road Trip

My trip was over and was a whirlwind to to decompress all the amazing places I saw and experiences along the way. This solo trip was a great time to be with yourself and reflect on your life and plans for the future as well as creating an urge to do this again as soon as possible. I really hoped to see more of Oregon but that will just have to wait for another adventure.

My GPS said I logged 6787km with a total of 83hrs moving in the vehicle, it really didn’t seem like that much and some impressive numbers. After exchange rate to Canadian, my total cost including the 2 ferry crossings and the national park pass was approximately $700. A great bargain of a price when your goal isn’t extravagance but rather the exploring new places and the beautiful outdoors.

There is so much to see in and do out across the United States and Canada. Rather than looking at that expensive commercial tourist trap trip, consider to #ExploreBeyondTheUsual. Hopefully my recap on the Affordable Ultimate Western National Parks Road Trip helped you see how that is possible

Thanks for reading my Affordable Ultimate Western National Parks Road Trip

What was your favourite road trip memory? Where do you want to go to make new road trip memories?

Hit me up in the comments below, your feedback is very appreciated.

Join the discussion 8 Comments

  • barb says:

    Hi Chris
    just finished your report and I am exhausted!
    Great read. Awesome pics.
    Was there a reason you did so many parks in 2 wks?

  • DustySpider says:

    LOVED this post. I have never been to Utah/Colorado area, but it’s definitely on my list. Richard (my husband) went this past March, and STILL talks about it.

  • Chris – your header image totally caught my eye!

    I just road tripped from Indio, CA to Vancouver, BC and passed through the Red Canyon arches. Isn’t the freedom of the open road one of the best ways to travel? And isn’t SE Utah and northern Arizona just a pocket full of wonder? I feel like I have more on my list to see since visiting, than I did in the first place. Now…where can I get a glamper and a truck on the cheap?

    Jenn +

    • Chris Istace says:

      Hi Jennifer , thanks for reaching out and leaving a great comment. I loved all of the arches and left so much behind unseen that another hiking trip is required not to mention a third separate trip with my mountain bike lol

  • Ty says:

    I would LOVE to make this trip during the winter. Bryce Canyon capped in snow is too beautiful – can’t imagine it in person.

    Thanks for taking the time to recap this trip!

  • When things go back to normal, I want to take this trip.

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