Over the past couple of years there has been a significant rise in domestic travel across the United States including an increase in road trips through many of America’s National Parks. One of the top routes traverses through the National and State parks in the southwest across Nevada, Utah and Arizona.
In fact, many of the most popular parks, including Arches National Park, Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park are located within the state of Utah. To reach these iconic locations many travelers will begin their trip out of Denver, CO, Las Vegas, NV or Salt Lake City, UT.
A Utah National Park road trip offers visitors views of some of the most unique and diverse landscapes in all of the United States. With long stretches of sandy desert, oddly shaped red rocks, landscapes that look like Mars and deep canyons, you’ll be in awe with every turn you make along your Utah road trip.
One of the best ways to explore the state is by renting a camper van and driving around Utah at your own pace. Discover everything you need to know about renting a camper van for your Utah road trip to explore all the National Parks and State Parks.
What is a Camper Van?
A camper van, also known as a camper, is a van which has been converted to accommodate both sleeping and driving. Camper vans range in size from just a bed and storage to having a full kitchen, toilet and shower. Unlike larger RV’s, camper vans offer similar accommodations while remaining small enough to maneuver easily through towns and narrow roads.
Why You Should Rent a Camper Van for a Utah Road Trip
Filled with unique landscapes that resemble another planet, Utah has a lot to offer and you’ll want to maximize your time traveling around the state. The best way to embark on your adventure is to explore Utah’s National and State Parks in a camper van.
Renting a camper van allows you more freedom and flexibility than the traditional rental car and hotel option. You have the ability to stay closer to the parks for sunrise and can find a nearby location to sleep for the night if you get too tired to continue driving.
Another main reason to rent a camper van for your Utah road trip is that you’ll be able to prepare and cook your own meals. This will not only save you time but also money. Traveling around Utah in the summer meant that the sun would set around 9PM and we would end up eating dinner around 10PM. Having the option to cook our own meals allowed us to maximize our time seeing the parks while not worrying about finding a place to eat.
How to Choose the Right Camper Van for a Utah Road Trip
Choosing the right camper van for your Utah road trip will depend on a few different factors: cost, amenities and size. For me, the main considerations were cost and allowed mileage. After comparing multiple camper van companies based out of Denver, CO I decided that KúKú Campers offered the best options to meet my criteria. I’ve also traveled with KúKú Campers twice before during two separate road trips in Iceland so I already knew the company well.
KúKú Campers is a camper van rental company based out of Littleton, Colorado which is nearby Denver. If you are beginning your Utah National Parks road trip out of there then this is the perfect option for you. They offer unlimited mileage, which is huge considering all the other companies put a cap on daily mileage and then charge a fee per mile after you’ve reached the limit.
The AB Camper van is the one that I rented and it was the perfect size for 2 people. The van was fuel efficient and was supplied with everything we needed for making our meals each day. The compact size made it easy to navigate through town and fit into any parking spot.
With a fleet of 40 vans, ranging in all sizes, you’ll be sure to find something that fits your needs. You can easily book your KúKú Camper online or call one of their reservation specialists if you have questions or aren’t sure which van is right for you.
Add on Rentals for Your KúKú Campervan
Luckily KúKú Campers provides quite a bit with their camper van rentals including kitchen supplies, pillows and a 400W power inverter. Additionally, KúKú Campers offers a variety of add on options for you to rent during your Utah road trip which you can book directly through their site or once you arrive. A few of the rentals I would recommend would be some of the items that are too large to pack yourself but would be essential during your trip. These would include a blanket for the cold desert nights, a lantern to help you see in the evening and a towel for drying off after your evening showers.
If you plan on cooking you’ll want to get some butane cans for the camping stovetop that KúKú Campers provides. Luckily you can get those on site when you arrive. Also be sure to check out the shelf full of food, supplies, spices, etc that other campers have left behind. We snagged some cooking spray, spices and toilet paper which meant less things that we needed to buy.
Top Things to Pack for Your Utah Road Trip
Hiking or trail running shoes
When hiking around the boulders and rocks within the National and State Parks of Utah you’ll want some shoes that provide a bit of traction or grip. Most of the rocks are slick and smooth without any type of barrier or rope to prevent you from sliding so you’ll need to wear proper footwear. Most people love hiking boots because they give the ankles a bit more support but I personally love the train running shoes since they are more compact and lightweight. My personal favorite trail running shoes are the ones from Salomon and you can browse their selection here.
Flip Flops or Shower shoes
You’ll want to pack some flip flops or comfortable shoes that you can use in the evening or when you don’t want to be sitting around in your hiking shoes. Extra bonus if they can double as shower shoes for the public restrooms and showers at campgrounds.
Lantern and headlamp
While we used the lantern more than the headlamp both would be quite useful in the evenings during your Utah National Park road trip. This lantern from Goal Zero is the one I used on this trip and highly recommend. It has a magnetic bottom which you can stick to your van and is easily rechargeable.
Also, if you plan on doing any of the hikes before sunrise you’ll want to use a headlamp or some sort of light as it is still pretty dark outside. I hiked to Delicate Arch starting at around 4:55AM, an hour before sunrise and found the additional light to be helpful especially since there isn’t an obvious path.
Solar panel to charge your devices
A not so common but highly effective device to pack is a solar panel which you can use to charge your devices on the go. These panels are super handy if you are out on a long hike and need to juice up your phone or other devices but aren’t anywhere near a power charger. Keep in mind that the solar panel does not hold a charge and will only activate with the sun.
Where to Park Your Campervan on a Utah Road Trip
Renting a camper van to travel around Utah creates freedom and flexibility allowing you to pretty much stay the night almost anywhere you want. However, you do need to keep in mind that some areas do not allow you to freely park your van and figuring that out requires a little bit of planning. Below are some of the options where you can stay during your Utah National Parks road trip.
Figuring out where to stay is as easy as a Google search or browsing through The Dyrt app. The Dyrt is a free app with a paid option available that provides users easy access to finding campgrounds and even public land that is free to camp on. One of their key features in their PRO plan is that they allow a user to layer maps by locating BLM land, the National Park services and US Forest services. You can also use the app offline as part of the PRO plan which costs only $35.99 a year. I only used the free version and felt it was sufficient enough for my short trip but if you are an avid camper it might be worth while to upgrade.
Campsites and RV Campgrounds
Established campsites and RV campgrounds offer a number amenities including bathrooms, showers and wifi. However, one of the downsides of staying at a campground is that you will be parked pretty close to other people with limited privacy. We ended up doing a few nights at a campground and the rest of the time on BLM land to experience both options.
Most campgrounds offer a tent spot for around $20-35 USD which is all the space you’ll need to park your camper van. They do have other options for larger RV’s so if you need a bigger space you can check that out as well. You can either make a reservation online or book on site. However, if you choose to book on site you will need to do so during the hours that the reception is open. Otherwise if you book online and arrive after hours the campground will leave you instructions and your campsite number. I would highly recommend reserving a space online if you are going to be visiting a highly popular park such as Arches National Park or are traveling on the weekend.
BLM is the Bureau of Land Management and is responsible for managing public lands where visitors can either camp for free or stay at developed campsites. The campgrounds vary in price and amenities which you can search for on their website. The BLM also manages the dispersed camping which is public land that you can camp on for free. Be aware that there are no facilities on the public land and that you will need to make sure you leave no trace if you choose to go this route.
National parks and State Parks
Many of the U.S. National Parks and State Parks have on-site campgrounds where you can reserve a spot to stay overnight. Typically these campgrounds cost between $20-50 USD and are a convenient launching point for exploring the parks. During high season they tend to book up quickly so make sure to reserve well in advance.
Important Things to Know for a Utah Road Trip
Download an Offline Map
One thing I discovered early into my Utah road trip is that the cell service is either extremely limited or non-existent. This posed quite a challenge when it was time to navigate to that off-the-beaten path spot I had marked on my google maps that wouldn’t load. Keep that in mind and do yourself a favor by downloading an offline map such as maps.me or just save google maps as an offline map.
Insurance for your Camper Van Rental
KúKú Campers does offer additional insurance packages for the duration of your rental if you choose to add that on. I used my personal car insurance through my own company and luckily didn’t have any problems along the way. You will need to have access to your policy ID number just in case so I recommend taking a printed copy or a screenshot on your phone prior to departure. You won’t have very good cell service so if you need to pull it up you may run into some issues.
There is also the option of adding windshield and tire coverage for an additional $8 USD a day. The roads can be a bit rough in some areas of Utah and rocks may fly and hit the windshield. You can decide when you arrive whether or not you’d like to add on the additional insurance.
Designated Roads for a Utah National Park Road Trip
If you are planning to do a similar road trip from Denver, CO all the way to Capitol Reef, UT with a stop in Moab then you will most likely be sticking to a similar route. The designated roads to reach these destinations are I-70, US-191 and UT-24. All of which are paved, well maintained roads making them easy to drive on with any type of vehicle.
However, if you are interested in finding some of the off-the-beaten path locations in Utah then you will need to check the conditions of the roads prior to embarking on them fully. Some of these roads do require a 4WD, high clearance vehicle which would mean that the smaller camper vans are not suitable. All of the dirt roads that we traveled along were fine for 2WD and we made sure to take it very slow and turn around if we felt uncomfortable.
Toll Roads in Utah and Colorado
KúKú Campers charges a flat processing fee of $35 if you accrue any toll charges from the toll roads in Colorado or Utah. You also have the option of going online and paying the toll using the camper van’s license plate if you know you have driven through a toll.
The KúKú Campers headquarters is located in Littleton, CO and there are 3 main toll roads in the state: E-470, Northwest Parkway and Pikes Peak Highway. Additionally, these express lanes might also require a small toll fee to be paid:
- I-25 Express Lanes
- US-36 Express Lanes
- C-470 Express Lanes
- Central 70 Express Lanes
- I-70 Mountain corridor express lanes
If you are traveling from Denver, CO to Moab, UT along I-70 then you should not have to pay any toll road fees.
Gas Stations in Utah
In the part of Utah that we explored, gas stations were only located within the towns and not on the longer stretches of the drive. I would recommend filling up when you can so that you don’t run into any issues on the road. Especially since you’ll have intermittent or no cell reception if you do have any problems. Luckily, the KúKú AB Campervan gets excellent gas mileage and I never worried about running low on gas.
buy a national parks pass
Purchasing the National Parks Pass is worthwhile if you plan on visiting more than a few National Parks during your Utah road trip. In fact, if you have future plans to explore other National Parks around the U.S. then it is definitely worth buying. The America the Beautiful Parks Pass costs $80 for an annual pass. There are numerous discounts for active military, senior citizens, school age children, volunteers and more.
When is the Best Time to Go on a Utah National Parks Road Trip
Visit Utah in the Spring
Temperatures in Utah during the Spring are slightly cooler during the day with a more significant drop overnight. Visitors may experience more than average rainfall with the occasional snowfall if you are traveling at the start of spring. Tourism during this time will just be picking up and by the end of the season there will be an increase in visitors to the popular destinations such as Moab and Zion National Park.
Visit Utah in the Summer
Summertime in Utah is the most popular season for tourism due to the dry, hot days and cooler nights. Plus the days are longer with sunrise starting around 5AM and the sun setting around 9PM. These long summer days are a huge draw for outdoor enthusiasts who want to make the most of their time exploring Utah’s diverse landscapes. The nights during the summer months can be quite cold so make sure to pack appropriate clothes to stay warm while you sleep. Summer is also a popular time to go because school is out and Utah is perfect for a family vacation.
Visit Utah in the Fall
Fall in Utah is the perfect time to visit. Visitors will experience the beauty of Utah’s National and State parks with less crowds and comfortable daytime temperatures. The days will be slightly shorter than in the summer but you will still have plenty of time to explore the area during daylight hours.
Visit Utah in the Winter
The area around Moab usually experiences a fairly mild winter with the occasional light snowfall at locations with higher elevation. Winter is the least popular time to take a Utah road trip especially in a camper van due to the colder days and even cooler nights. However, places like Bryce Canyon look exceptionally beautiful during winter with the contrast of the white snow against the red rocks.
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