We encountered a variety of camping areas during our southwest road trip. Some sites required reservations months in advance, while others were first-come first-served or nearly empty free sites.
Here they are, in chronological order:
Lower Rush Creek Campground – Adin, California
This was a small and simple place in Adin, California where we spent our first night on the road. Since it was the off-season, only two other sites were occupied which was a welcome sight after a long day of driving. There was no indication of how or where to pay and the other campers had not encountered any officials since they arrived. We logged it as a free night and gave a thumbs up for the accommodations budget. There were a couple outhouses but no other amenities (at least none that were available for the season). Nevertheless, the site worked just fine for a short stopover before hitting the road early the next morning.
Stovepipe Wells – Death Valley National Park, California
Although this was basically a gigantic gravel parking lot, the surrounding scenery was beautiful and it was sparsely populated; perfect for a quick stop after a long day of driving. It was located within Death Valley National Park and cost $14/night. The bathrooms were clean, there were faucets for refilling water jugs and sinks for washing dishes, and an adjacent store sold basic goodies. Plus, the trailhead for hiking to the Mosaic Canyon was just across the highway.
Red Rocks Canyon BLM Campground, Nevada
A lack of camping options at Red Rocks National Conservation Area landed us at this first-come first-served campground for $15/night. We snagged one of the last available spots which was located in a separate loop with only a handful of spaces and was away from the main camping area. Although it was a bit of a trek to get to the outhouses, this area ended up being nice and quiet and felt more private. The outhouses were always clean and there were faucets with potable water. A few of the sites in the main camping loop had shade structures but otherwise the sites were exposed and sparsely separated by desert shrubs. There was no protection from the strong winds, but I don’t know if this is a frequent issue for the area.
Belle Campground – Joshua Tree National Park, California
There are several campgrounds within Joshua Tree and this was the first one we arrived at upon entering the park. We had no reservations so we could only wing it with first-come first-served sites, and definitely lucked out with getting this particular site just as the previous campers were leaving. For $15/night, there was no water but the outhouses were clean and the scenery was interesting. The biggest benefit was the massive boulder pile next to our site which had several climbing routes for Alastair to play on. I enjoyed being able to keep a watchful eye on him from the comfort and convenience of our camp site, plus the boulders added privacy and seclusion from the other campers.
Watchman Campground – Zion National Park, Utah
Although this is quite a large camping area with several loops of sites, we lucked out with having quiet neighbors and a great view of the Watchman from our site on the outside edge of a loop. The site itself was maintained well, as was the entire campground. For $25/night we got clean bathrooms with an outside sink for washing dishes and a spigot to refill our water containers. Surrounding Cottonwood trees made it feel like it was snowing in the warm, breezy afternoons which was pretty to look at but created a mild challenge when preparing meals. It was a short walk to the Visitor Center where we could catch a free shuttle that took us all the way up the canyon, making for a nice break from driving and a good rest for the Nanavan. There were also a few resident deer that wandered through the area several times a day and occasionally settled in among the grasses and trees behind our site. One evening we ended up with a deer at our site that couldn’t stop sneezing.
Mather Campground – Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
The camping area at the Grand Canyon felt a little cramped but scattered trees helped provide some privacy and division between sites. I think we paid $25/night for this spot which included clean bathrooms and a faucet with supposedly potable water (which I’d recommend filtering). A shuttle stop was a short walk away, as was a building with laundry and shower facilities. A couple elk called this place home and causally wandered around the campsites. They seemed quite unfazed by our presence.
Wild Camping at Coconino National Forest – Flagstaff, Arizona
We were coming up short on campground options near Flagstaff when we decided to give wild camping a try. We had done this with Michael Jackson in South America a few times, but it was our first time with the Nanavan. We drove into the National Forest on a dirt road and found a pull-off with a minimal number of potholes to navigate around. We had no amenities other than relatively flat ground, but this wild camping spot made for a pleasant experience. It was quiet and peaceful, and we were able to enjoy a beautiful sunset all by ourselves. Plus it was free, which made it very budget-friendly.
Superbowl Campground – Indian Creek, Utah
The campground we initially intended to go to required a bridge-less river crossing of unknown depth. Not wanting to test the Nanavan’s limits, we turned around and headed to this campground instead. For $5/night we had access to a couple open-air outhouses (a few walls and a chain to hang across the entrance to indicate that it’s occupied, but no actual door and no roof) but no other amenities were available. Shrubs provided a little privacy and sites were spread out so it was quiet and spacious. It also had nice views of the surrounding rock formations and canyon walls.
Williams Bottom Campground – Moab, Utah
After coming from the Superbowl campground, $15/night felt a tad steep considering this campground also only had a couple open-air outhouses (one which provided partial views of someone’s campsite while sitting on the toilet) but no other amenities. It had really quick access to both Arches and Canyonlands, as well as Moab, so it did have the convenience factor going for it. Our site had a nice tree for shade and the campground butted up against a pretty rock wall. It was also right next to a road which wasn’t very busy during the evening but traffic picked up during the day.
Maple Canyon – Manti-La Sal National Forest, Utah
After so much time in the desert, this campground in the forest felt quite refreshing! Reservations can be made in advance and are probably recommended at busier times of the year, but we had no problem getting a site on a first-come first-served basis. There were barely any other campers around so it was very quiet and we had the choice of nearly any campsite when we arrived. It cost $8/day for our relatively secluded site which had access to a clean outhouse but no other amenities. The best part was the ridiculously easy access to several climbing areas of conglomerate rocks.
Donner Pass Westbound Rest Stop, California
Although rest stops make me feel slightly stressed and paranoid of others, it’s hard to complain when they provide you with a nicer bathroom than some paid campgrounds do. This rest stop in particular is set away from the freeway and surrounded by trees which helped block noise from passing traffic. The area was clean and relatively quiet, with just a handful of cars and trucks staying overnight. That being said, this was the only night on our trip that we locked ourselves in.
Upper Pines Campground – Yosemite National Park, California
We had to reserve this campsite well in advance as it tends to be fully booked this time of year. Many of the sites in this campground were hit or miss; ours was somewhere in the middle. Although there were some trees to break up the lines of sight, the campsites were nestled quite closely so there was little room for tents or general hanging out space. Because of bears in the park, everyone is required to store all food, cooking supplies and toiletries in a bear bin which is a mild inconvenience but worth it to avoid unexpected visitors. There were two clean bathrooms per loop as well as a faucet with potable water and a basin where you are required to dump your waste water.
Elk Prairie Campground – Redwoods National and State Parks, California
For our last night of the trip we stayed at this campground which ended up being the most expensive site yet at $35/night. We were able to book a site just one week in advance but most, if not all, of the other sites had been reserved by the time we arrived. It had clean bathrooms with hot water as well as a shower and a faucet to refill water containers. The sites were all quite woodsy which made it dark but provided privacy between sites.