Planning For the Ultimate National Park RV Road Trip

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The Ultimate National Park RV Road Trip

We’re doing it! We are renting an RV and embarking on a six-week road trip this summer with the kids. The total drive time for this route 156 hours and 39 minutes and will cover 9,468 miles, not including driving within the parks. Yikes! It’s going to be a whirlwind, there’s no doubt about that, but we are so excited for this National Park RV Road Trip!

Our Why

Ashley and I have always wanted to go on a trip like this with our kids. We have both driven cross country before and have loved it. In fact, early on in our relationship, Ashley drove out to the West Coast with a friend. I flew out to San Francisco and her friend flew back home and then we made the trip back together. Let me tell ya, if you want to find out if your significant other might “the one” or not, take a cross-country road trip in a tiny Honda Civic. We had a great time and I knew she was the girl I wanted to marry.

We wanted our kids to experience the magic of this country while also seeing some new sights for ourselves. Since we both work in education, we can afford to take this 6-week chunk of time during the summer. And after working in schools this year, man do we need a vacation!

This summer, C will be 8 and B will be 6. Originally, we had planned to do this trip when the kids were a bit older, mostly with the thought that the kids would be able to do more moderate hikes and maybe some mountain biking as well. But, as we started to think more and more about the idea, we decided to move it up a bit.

We moved this trip up to this summer for a few reasons.

1. Covid-19

We knew that air travel had the chance to be limited and potentially dangerous as Covid continues. The last thing we wanted was to get excited for a vacation, only to find out that we couldn’t go because of a significant spike in cases. We looked at a National Park RV road trip as being one of the safest ways to get some travel in while this virus is still a part of our lives.

2. Commitments

Second, we realized that in the very near future, our kids might have some athletic commitments over the summer that might interfere with the trip. We would probably still do the trip instead of the sports tournaments, but moving this trip up solves that potential future issue. Additionally, we have no major weddings or other events that would interfere with this summer.

3. Happy Kids

Third, our kids really, really love spending time with us. They’re still at that age where they want to be around us all of the time. And while that can be exhausting and draining as parents, it’s also so AWESOME! So, we figured we’d take advantage of this now and go on the trip. If we wait a few more years, they might be at the point where they’d rather be hanging out with their friends instead of their parents for the whole summer.

Also, they have been on some fairly long road trips before and have done really well with it. We are hopeful that this experience will be just as impactful as some of the other trips we have taken with them.

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The RV

Boy, oh boy are RVs expensive! We learned that very quickly.

In fact, we were so shocked by some of the early rental inquiries that we considered buying an RV with the intent to sell it after we got back from our trip. After doing some research, we realized two things:

  1. RVs cost a lot of money – even 25-year-old used ones with lots of miles. Go ahead and try a search in your own area. My guess is you will be hard-pressed to find any RVs that look like they could make it on a cross-country National Park road trip for under $20,000. That was way too much money for us to be comfortable spending, especially with how little we knew about RVs
  2. Demand is very high right now because of Covid. In another year or two, the market will most likely be flooded with newer RV owners trying to sell now that they can travel all over the world again. Therefore, we will be selling in a saturated market at the same time as everyone else – a potential recipe for disaster.

So, renting it was. We searched around some of the more popular rental companies like Cruise America and RVShare, but they were more expensive. The benefit from a company like Cruise America, though, is that you get roadside assistance throughout the trip and the peace of mind knowing that if something were to happen to your RV, they will replace it with another one and you’re back on your way.

We ended up stumbling across Outdoorsy and eventually found a (comparatively) great deal. As I stated earlier, these things are expensive, but we seemed to have gotten one of the better offers.

We ended up renting a 2003 Freedom Express for our National Park RV road trip. This was one of the cheapest RVs available in our area, but the real selling point for us was that it offered unlimited miles. All of the other RVs had a higher daily rate and also charged a fee after 100 miles/day, a number we will certainly surpass during this trip.

Here she is!

All in, the RV rental ended up costing us $7,621.63! Yikes! Obviously, this is a huge number, but we will be traveling for 6 weeks, so any vacation of that length would be expensive. Believe me, Ashley and I don’t take spending this much money lightly, but we really felt that this was a trip of a lifetime and would be such a worthwhile experience for ourselves as well as our kids. And, we are all about experiences in this family!

Our National Park RV Road Trip Route

Here’s our planned itinerary:

  1. Shenandoah National Park, VA
  2. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, TN
  3. Hot Springs National Park, AR
  4. Rocky Mountain National Park, CO
  5. Arches National Park, UT
  6. Canyonlands National Park, UT
  7. Capitol Reef National Park, UT
  8. Bryce Canyon National Park, UT
  9. Zion National Park, UT
  10. Grand Canyon National Park, AZ
  11. Joshua Tree National Park, CA
  12. Sequoia National Park, CA
  13. Yosemite National Park, CA
  14. Redwood National Park, CA
  15. Olympic National Park, WA
  16. Mt. Rainier National Park, WA
  17. Glacier National Park, MT
  18. Yellowstone National Park, WY
  19. Grand Teton National Park, WY
  20. Badland National Park, SD
  21. Indiana Dunes National Park, IN
  22. Cuyahoga National Park, OH

As you can see, we are planning on hitting up 22 different National Parks throughout our 42-day RV road trip. Ashley and I talked about quality vs. quantity when deciding on the itinerary for the trip. Clearly, we tended to choose quantity, hopefully without giving up too much quality. We decided to travel to so many parks because we knew that if we didn’t see them now, we may never get back. If we find a few places that we absolutely love and wish we had more time at, we figure we can head back there on a separate trip someday.

Where We’re Staying

We chose to stay within most of the National Parks during our RV road trip. In these instances, we realized we chose location over amenities. If we had stayed at private campgrounds outside of the park, we would have had more access to hookups for the RV. Instead, we are staying inside the National Park. This option is usually much cheaper (prices ranging between $20-$35/night), it’s closer in proximity to the sights we want to see, and it’s a more natural experience. The private campgrounds outside of the parks cost at least twice as much but did have hookups for electricity, wifi, and water.

We are also staying at a number of Harvest Hosts along the way. We heard about this program from the owner of the RV we are renting. Harvest Hosts is a network of wineries, farms, breweries, and other attractions. When you sign up for a Harvest Host annual membership, you can park your RV and stay at any of these locations overnight for free. All that is asked is that you buy some wine, beer, or produce depending on what the location has to offer. During our trip, we plan to stay at Harvest Host locations where we can taste some wine, go horseback riding, visit some alpacas, learn how vodka is distilled, and sample some craft beer. It seems like a win-win for us and these small businesses, so we are excited to try them out.

National Park RV Road Trip Suggestions

Have you traveled in an RV before? Perhaps you have visited many of the National Parks we are planning on seeing. We would love to hear your suggestions and experiences as we get ready for this trip of a lifetime.

3 thoughts on “Planning For the Ultimate National Park RV Road Trip”

  1. Does each letter on your map designate an overnight stop? If so I see some distances that are very optimistic to say the least!!

  2. Jackie Hodges Alves

    How exciting for your family! And very smart of you to plan while your kids still like uyou!😉

  3. Congratulations, Dave, I’m happy for you and excited to see what kind of adventures you guys are going to get into!

    Great story about taking a cross country trip in a tiny vehicle to really see if your significant other is compatible with you.. That’s giving me a lot of ideas.

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