In September 2019, my friend and I went on a road trip through Nevada, Utah, Arizona and California. (For more information about this road trip, click here) While on this road trip, we of course visited the Grand Canyon National Park. How could you go to Arizona and not go to the Grand Canyon?! But, not only did we want to see it from the top like you can see in all the pictures, we kind of wanted to see it from the river too. And the best way to do that was to go rafting! Since we didn't have much time, the 14 days rafting trip through the whole Colorado River wasn't exactly a possibility, but with Hualapai River Runners, we could go rafting for a day at the West end of the Grand Canyon.
We arrived the day before in Peach Springs, Arizona, a small reserve on road 66. We were to leave early in the morning from the Hualapai Lodge, and since there was no campground in Peach Springs, we were allowed to park and spend the night in their parking lot. The lodge is beautiful and there is a restaurant and small shop where you can purchase everything you might need or have forgotten for your day of adventure, like sunscreen, watershoes, dry bags, etc.
Early in the morning, we had breakfast in the van and walked to the front desk to wait for our guide. There were about twenty of us going on this expedition that day so we all climbed on a bus for the 1-hour drive to the Colorado River. The ride wasn't exactly peaceful as it is a dirt road, but the views as we climbed down the canyon was incredible. Soon, we had made it to the end of the road where the rafts were waiting for us to board. We put on our lifejackets, put our personnal items in a barrel for safe keeping and climbed aboard. There were 6 of us in our raft, plus our guide, as we started our journey down the river.
As indicated on the website, the first few miles are rapids, small ones and medium ones, nothing to make you fall overboard, but just enough to be completely drenched and have fun! The water is freezing cold and my hands were white from holding on to the raft as hard as I could, but I don't think I had laughed that much in a long time. The whole time, our guide was telling us about the region, its climate, vegetation and history, about the Hualapai tribe and their legends and traditions, about the history of his ancestors and how they try to preserve their way of life while adapting to the 21st century.
Once we were completely drenched to the bones, it was time for our first stop on the side of the canyon. We hiked a short way through a side canyon to a beautiful waterfall where we could sit in shallow pools and take pictures or relax for a while. Then, it was time to get back on the raft and get through the last rapids before lunch.
For lunch, we stopped at a small beach. Lunch was provided and thankfully dry as we had a sandwich with our choice of juice, water or soda, chips, cookies and fruits. I probably ate way too much and it wasn't the most healthy, but after hanging on in the rapids, hiking and swimming, I was hungry! We had some time to dry off in the sun and get to know our boat mates while we ate and then it was back to the water as it was really hot in the sun. I think I put sunscreen on about four times that day and still got sunburnt.
The rest of the afternoon was spent cruising along the canyon and looking around trying to convince ourselves that we were living this for real. I think the canyon is even more impressive from the bottom. The walls somehow seem taller and the river seems narrower.
Our boat mates had also made the reservation to be helicoptered out and go to the skywalk, so in the middle of the afternoon, we left them on the side of the canyon where the helicopter would pick them up and continued our journey just the two of us and our guide. Since it was just the two of us for the remaining 10 miles, our guide let us drive the raft and decide when we wanted to stop for a swim so we had a great rest of our afternoon and definitely took advantage of the swimming and walking along the shores.
We arrived at the dock at about 7 PM and had an hour of bus ride by ourselves to head back to the lodge. Both of us were exhausted and slept almost the whole way back, but we were also very satisfied of this day on the Colorado River.
So, was this day crazy expensive and definitely not something I could afford at the time? Absolutely! Do I regret it? Absolutely not!
I think it was a once in a lifetime experience and I am so happy we took the opportunity. How many people can say they were in the middle or the bottom of the Grand Canyon? I would definitely recommend it or even the multiple day expedition. I would have kept going for a few more days without tiring.
Every time someone asked where I was going on vacation this summer and I answered excitedly "Delaware", I got weird stares and lots of questions: Why Delaware? What is there to do in Delaware? Isn't that a long drive from Quebec? Why don't you go to Maine instead? Apparently, visiting a state that people don't usually visit confuses a lot of people and our trip actually has a pretty interesting back story, so here it is!
This story begins in March 2017, while my friend Amy and I were getting ready to leave Vancouver Island to visit California on a two-week road trip. Driving to California would take us two days and about 22 hours of driving on pretty boring interstates: we needed to think of games to keep us entertained! So I started researching and found plenty of car games that you can find here. One of those activities was to print a map of the United States and try to find a license plate from every state. Let's just say this little game quickly became an obsession after being stuck in traffic for 5 hours in Seattle and, not only did we play during the whole two weeks in California, but kept the game going on every road trip we went on that year.
After our two weeks in California, we were missing 18 states, but by the end of the year, we were missing only four.
Now, 5 years later, I have played this game way too many times to count, including on a two-week road trip in Utah, Arizona and Nevada in 2018 where we were missing only one : Delaware. So in almost 6 years of playing, the only state that we have never found is Delaware. There are only two conclusions that can come from this: either Delaware is a myth and only exists on paper, but no one actually lives there, or, it is so incredibly beautiful that once people arrive, they never want to visit any other place ever again. Let's just say, we were curious to find out!
So fast forward to the summer of 2022, Covid rules are starting to ease up, the borders are finally open, we have a long weekend in Canada for July 1st and a few extra vacation days, it seems like the right time to finally discover what's up with Delaware. We stopped on the way for a night in New York City where we had the chance to see The Lion King on Broadway, a day in Philadelphia where I had never been before, and then made our way to Delaware.
And wouldn't you know, after two whole days, in New York and Philadelphia, of looking, once again, for a Delaware license plate, we finally found it on a walk near our Airbnb in Philadelphia. Just a few hours before actually visiting the state! I don't know whose car that is, but thanks for visiting Phily!
We arrived in Delaware on July 3rd with no expectations. We knew there would be beaches as we were staying at the Delaware Seashore State Park campground, but we didn't know much else and we were excited to visit during 4th of July weekend as it was Amy's first time in the States for the 4th and my first time outside of Disney World (which I don't think is a fair representation of the holiday).
Honestly, I was pleasantly surprised! The beaches in Delaware stretch for miles, the sand is soft beneath your feet and the coastline is really beautiful. The waves were pretty intense though, and the beach towns are clearly not meant for so many people to visit at the same time as the street lights are set for little to no traffic.
We spent the afternoon at the beach just enjoying the sunshine and warm weather, but in the evening is when it got interesting. Obviously, we knew there would be fireworks for July 4th and I guess it makes sense if people go back to work on the 5th that they would need to leave in the afternoon of the 4th to go back home, but we weren't expecting fireworks on July 3rd too! Starting at about 8 PM, all around Rehoboth Bay and Indian Bay and even in New Jersey, on the other side of the Bay of Delaware, there were fireworks going off until at least 10 PM when we went back to our campground and stopped watching. I had never seen so many firework displays going off at the same time, it was just incredible! Americans clearly have a big fireworks budget for 4th of July!
The next day, we explored Rehoboth Beach, went souvenir shopping and spend the afternoon at the beach near our campground before driving to Dewey Beach where we knew there would be official fireworks for 4th of July. And once again, for the second night in a row, we were treated to a 360 degrees fireworks show. Before and after the official fireworks, people were lighting them on the beach beside us, on the other side of the bay, on boats over the water, literally everywhere! But this time, although we didn't bring our own fireworks, at least we were part of the celebration as we had 4th of July cupcakes and red, white and blue glow stick bracelets. It was fun seeing the excitement and the pride that the American people show for this holiday, even though I think it's a little too political and it's kind of ironic to be so proud of their freedom when they are trying to control half of the population, but that is just my opinion as a Canadian looking at it from the outside. I personally don't even celebrate Canada Day so it was a bit of a shock to see how big a deal Independence Day was in the USA, even if we see it in movies and on TV.
I really hope one day I get to visit Delaware again as these few days barely scratched the surface of what there is to see. Even driving through the state on our way back to Canada, I wish we had time to stop at Cape Henlopen State Park to bird watch or go pick some peaches and cherries in one of the many orchards. I also wish we had time to learn some of the history of this first state that I'll just have to Google. For being the second smallest state and one that nobody seems to visit, I found a lot to love in Delaware.
Although it definitely exists and it is truly beautiful, I don't think people stay there forever without visiting other states so we'll need to look for another reason why we never found this license plate on our travels ;)
other articles you might enjoy
I absolutely loved the road trip I went on with my friend Karine in Utah, Nevada and Arizona. These states are gorgeous all around with their mountains of red limestone, deep creeks, deserts as far as the eye can see and narrow canyons, but, in September when we went, it is HOT. In some parts, it is scorching.
On the second day of our road trip, we were hiking in the Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada before driving to Zion National Park in Utah. We started early as we knew it would be hot. I had intentionally chosen small hikes so we could slowly get used to the heat as, being from Canada, we are not used to this. The two hikes were about 30 minutes each, but after the first one, I could feel myself getting dizzy and dehydrated even after drinking from my water bottle every two seconds. As a lifeguard and having lived in Florida before, I can recognize the signs of heat exhaustion and this was it. We took a break before deciding to do the second hike. We stayed in the shade, drank cold water from our refrigerator, ate fruits and veggies and salty snacks and we were both feeling good enough to go. And it was so worth it as the view on the deep red and orange mountains and valleys took my breath away.
We then started the drive to Zion with the air condition bringing as much relief as possible from this heat. Unfortunately, as soon as we started going up a hill, the engine was not strong enough and the air condition would stop. Let's just say that when we arrived in Zion at about 4PM we were both sweaty and exhausted, but excited to be there. Zion is also a lot cooler than Valley of Fire and, as the sun was starting to hide behind the mountains surrounding the canyons, we felt a huge relief. Unable to resist getting a first glimpse of the canyon, we both put on our swimsuit under our clothes and headed to a small trail called Lower Emerald Pools, with the intention of going for a swim in the river afterwards.
We took the shuttle and exited at Zion Lodge, crossed the bridge and started walking on the easy path. On the way, we noticed tracks heading to a small beach by the river and called it: if we were to swim in the river today, this would be the perfect spot. A huge boulder hid a small pool from the current and the bottom looked sandy and soft.
North America has a lot to offer to travelers, especially the ones who enjoy nature. I consider myself lucky to have explored it from coast to coast, but there is still so much to see. One of the regions I had not visited yet was the American Southwest, home to canyons, deserts, cacti and so much more. In September of 2019, one of my friends and I set off out of Las Vegas on a two-week road trip through the red rocks and arches, going from National Park to National Park. Here are some of the places I think everyone travelling through the area should visit.
1. Zion National Park
I listed Zion as number one, not only because it was one of our first stops, but also because it was my absolute favorite. The narrow canyon, rough hikes, clear turquoise river and incredible vistas did not disappoint. It is also home to my two favorite hikes of the whole trip: The Narrows and Angel's Landing. We spent two full days in Zion to make sure we had plenty of times for the hikes and also to take our time exploring the park and not overexerting ourselves in the heat. We also took a moment to swim in the Virgin River (if you want to know more about that particular experience, you can read it here.) I loved the atmosphere in Zion. Even though it was crowded and felt squeezed between the canyon walls, it felt different from the other parks we visited. I guess seeing the canyon from the bottom probably gave a different perspective.
2. The Grand Canyon
You can't visit the American Southwest without visiting the Grand Canyon. I mean, you could, but you would miss out on one of the most impressive feats of nature. We were incredibly lucky and, not only did we get to see the canyon from the rim, meet moose and walk around the rim at sunset, we also went rafting on the Colorado river, in the middle of the Grand Canyon! It was an incredible experience. The Canyon in itself is impressive and breathtaking, but to be in the middle of it showed me how small we all are compared to the immensity of this canyon.
3. Arches National Park
Arches is a very small National Park compared to the other two, but it is definitely worth the visit. Not only does it offer beautiful views on the surrounding lands, but it is also home to more than 2000 natural stone arches! Isn't it amazing that these arches were naturally made by wind, water and sand over the years?
4. Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon, like Zion and Arches, is located in Utah and is the home of the Hoodoos. You can walk along the trail that zigzags to the bottom of the canyon and see these stone spires from up close or watch them from the rim of the Canyon, but they still make for an impressive view.
5. Anteloppe Canyon
You have probably seen the pictures of Antelope Canyon all over Instagram, but it's hard to imagine exactly how deep and twisted the canyon really is until you have stepped into it. It looks beautiful on pictures, but you cannot understand how much better it is in real life until you have seen it with your own eyes. The visit is expensive and time restricted, but having a guide with you showing you the particularities of every turn and giving you cues about the best spots for photos is really worth it.
6. Valley of Fire
Valley of Fire was one of our first stops of this journey and I'm still not sure if the name is from the bright orange and red hues of the rocks or because the air is so hot it might actually burn you. Good thing the hikes were pretty short and we had cold water in the van because I am not used to this heat. But the different colors of the surrounding canyons and the enormous boulders made for an interesting stop and I would go again if I had to start the trip over. It was worth it!
7. Coral Pink Sand Dunes
I know I'm no better than a 5 year old, but I still love playing in the sand. Especially this much sand! Coral Pink Sand Dunes is a very small park that only takes an hour to visit if you want to walk around the dunes for a while, which we did. It wasn't in our itinerary at first, but since it was basically on the way, we decided to stop by and I'm so glad we did. The dunes were about 10 meters high and the sand was a deep orange color that contrasted so well with the blue sky, my arts teacher could have used it as an exemple in 5th grade arts class. Plus, I love walking barefoot in the sand so I will always make a detour to visit a desert or a beach.
There are still so many places in this area that I wish to visit like The Wave and Havasu Falls, but I am very satisfied with our trip. Being in nature for two weeks, camping and taking our time was exactly what I needed at that moment. And filling my eyes and memories with so many gorgeous views was certainly a huge plus of this whole experience.
Have you been on a road trip through the American Southwest? If so, please let me know what you think are not-to-miss places.
other articles you might enjoy
It's no secret, road trips are one of my favorite ways to travel. It allows you to see so much more of a destination than just taking a train or a plane. You get to stop wherever you want and for as long as you want and make your journey, the destination. Although I have taken multiple road trips with my little blue Nissan Versa, Dory, I decided to leave her at home this time and get the full road trip experience, even sleeping in the car. True I've slept in Dory before, but I don't think that would be comfortable for a long trip. Instead, my friend and I opted for a rental, and not any rental. A camper van from Escape Campervans.
Escape Campervans started in New Zealand in 2003 and now has 12 locations in America, spread across Canada and the United States. They specialize in small camper van rentals with one little detail: their vans are all hand painted by LA artists and all feature an original, one of a kind and colorful design. So not only are the vans easy to drive and well equipped, they are also amazingly beautiful. Out of the 600 of their fleet, we saw at least 40 and I can honestly say I was disappointed by maybe two. Not that I found them ugly, they just weren't as beautiful as the others in my opinion. But obviously, the prettiest one was ours: Poppy.
This is Poppy, our Mavericks camper van. It was surprisingly spacious and had a couch and table that converted into a queen bed, as well as a fully equipped kitchen in the rear. It came with all of the essentials like pans, silverware, an actual refrigerator, a sink, a gas stove, a solar panel, etcetera. We even had a solar shower, that we ended up not needing as the campgrounds were well equipped with actual showers everywhere we went. Being used to a tiny Versa, it was weird at first driving in the van, but you get used to it quickly and it was super easy to drive. You can park in regular parking spaces and there is a distance detector when backing up to help you avoid any accidents. Except for a fan or heater during the night, I can't think of anything more we could have needed. After roughing it in a tent in Banff a few years ago, I had trouble calling this camping. It was way too comfortable!
We landed in Las Vegas and rented the van out of there. We had roughly planned our itinerary, but had plenty of time for surprises and spontaneous detours. We hadn't made reservations either except for our two nights in Zion and one night in Kanab. We ended up visiting Hoover Dam, Valley of Fire, Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Arches, Canyonlands, Lake Powell, Antelope Canyon, Grand Canyon and ending our trip in Death Valley before driving back to Sin City. Two full weeks of camping and I would have kept going for another two weeks!
The Escape Campervans Experience
When I rent a hotel room or car, or purchase a particular activity while traveling, one of the things I always notice is the service. Working in the travel industry, I know what kind of guest service I should expect depending on what I purchased. I don't know what exactly I was expecting, but the service that we had with Escape Campervans was way above my expectations. We arrived early and were welcomed and assisted right away. The man working that day spent almost an hour with us, not because the process and paperwork took a long time, but to go over our itinerary, see if we had any camping experience or needed any information and answer our questions. The paperwork was done swiftly, but thoroughly, he gave us all the instructions in case we had an accident or had any issue with the van during our trip. All of that was done while other employees were getting our van ready, so when we were done, it was waiting for us in front of the door. We went around it together, noting any scratch or bump so we wouldn't be charged for something that wasn't our fault and he explained how every part of the van worked: the stove, the refrigerator, the sink, etcetera. And off we were, ready for all the canyons, deserts and cacti.
At the end of our trip, the same employee welcomed us back. Even though he was already helping other customers, he explained the process so we could start gathering our luggage and filling paperwork while he was finishing up. He then inspected the van with us, noted the number of kilometers and wished us a safe trip home. Everything was simple and well organized and I really enjoyed the whole experience.
What I wish I knew before the trip
I don't think there is anything that I would change about this trip, but I wish I had known what the weather was going to be like. We didn't rent the bedding as sheets are not hard to pack and after a quick visit to Walmart, we both had a cheep pillow and blanket, but looking back, it might have been a good idea to just rent everything. On our first night in Lake Mead, it was so hot it took me a while to go to sleep. We were lying in the van, with the windows open as far as they would go and we were just sweating. Even turning up the engine to start the AC for a while did not help. But for all of the other nights, we were freezing. I guess I knew the weather dropped in the desert at night, but I never expected it to be this cold. On one night there was even snow on the ground when we woke up. Aa actual comforter or sleeping bags would have made it easier.
It also would have been good to know that National Parks campgrounds fill up very quickly even in low season. We were never stranded and always managed to find a place to sleep. Having a camper van that can fit anywhere really helped, but we probably should have made reservations for the busier places we visited like Bryce Canyon and the Grand Canyon. Luckily we had reservations in Zion or I have no idea where we would have ended up!
This trip was perfect in my opinion. We had good weather, the scenery was absolutely gorgeous, and our ride certainly helped. Not only was it super comfy, but having everything we needed onboard made it very convenient to just stop by the side of the road and cook tacos for lunch. Having a refrigerator was the best in this warm weather as we would come back to the van after a hike and have cold water waiting for us. Plus, with the beautiful design, we met so many people who just stopped by for a chat. I would do the whole thing again any day.
Other articles you might enjoy
Last year, I lived in Comox, British Columbia. I spent the whole year working, traveling and having the time of my life. Unfortunately, when June came around, my contract also came to an end and it was time for me to say goodbye and go back home to Quebec City. Goodbyes are always hard, but nothing helps more than a brand new trip to take your mind off the old one. So instead of driving straight to Quebec, I took the long way home and brought a friend along. And that is how our 26 days of driving through North America started. It was a trip full of ups and down, but we saw the most beautiful places where you should definitely stop while on a road trip through North America.
First stop, Vancouver. Of course, the first stop always depends on where you start, but in our case, since we started on Vancouver Island, the city of Vancouver was our first stop. Vancouver is the third biggest city in Canada and probably the most breath-taking. Its location right by the Pacific Ocean and next to a magnificent mountain range makes it the perfect mix of nature and city life. Check out my article on What Not to Miss on a Short Trip to Vancouver to see the different activites you should plan for your trip to VanCity.
2. The okanagan
The Okanagan Valley is a wide region of the South East of British Columbia. It is located on lake Okanagan and includes multiple cities like Kelowna and Pentiction. If you want to thoroughly explore this area, plan for at least a couple of days as there is a lot to see and the distances between the different activities are long. The area is renowned for its wineries and if you are looking to taste some good wines during your stay, I suggest going to Naramata. The little village will transport you to Tuscany while you drive through winding roads and walk in the orchards with a beautiful view of lake Okanagan. The tastings are affordable, the wine, delicious and the ambiance, irreplaceable.
3. the rockies
You can’t drive through North America and not stop in the Rockies. If you thought the mountains were beautiful in Vancouver, prepare to be blown away by this mountain range that stretches way further than you can see in every direction. And once you start getting used to the mountains, the colour of the lakes astonish you by their blue hues that range from baby blue to teal to a bright electric blue. For a more complete look at the Rockies and the different National Parks of this region check out The Canadian Rockies: from Mount Robson to Waterton.
Yellowstone was the first national park ever created in the United States, but also the first in the world. It was created in 1872 to protect the biodiversity of the area and its many geothermal features. The park is home to bison, elk, grizzly bears, wolves and hundreds of other species of mammal, birds, fish and plants. Half of the world’s geothermal features are kept safe in the park and you can spend days checking out lava flows and different coloured geysers and lakes, but a visit to Yellowstone wouldn’t be complete without an eruption from Old Faithful. The geyser is very predictable and erupts approximately every 90 minutes. I was so impressed that we stayed a complete 93 minutes to see it erupt a second time.
5. mount rushmore
Mount Rushmore National Memorial is an emblem of the United States located in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The sculptures represent presidents Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, George Washington and Theodore Roosevelt. It took fourteen years and four hundred workers to complete the sculptures, but the results, although a little creepy from up close, are impressive and show true talent from sculptor Gutzon Borglum.
6. badlands National Park
Badlands was one of the surprises and highlights of my trip. I had come across the website while researching for things to do in South Dakota and thought it looked pretty cool, but the pictures really didn’t do it justice. I had very low expectations since I had never heard about it before, but the warm and dry air, the little prairie dogs and the endless buttes and spires charmed me. The sunset was absolutely breath taking and the open hiking policy allows you to really explore the park.
Chicago is the third most populated city in the United States and is home to the second busiest airport in the world. Let’s just say, it is big and there is lots to do! Just in the downtown area, there is Millennium Park with its silver bean (Cloud Gate), Navy Pier, a dozen museums, Willis Tower and its Skydeck, boat tours on Lake Michigan and, before you know it, you have been there for a week and haven’t seen everything yet! I loved the view of the city from Lake Michigan. The lake is so big and blue; it feels like the city is right on the ocean.
Whether you go East to West or North to South, you will find plenty of surprises and natural beauty in North America. I hope one day I will get the chance to see all of the Canadian provinces and all of the American and Mexican states.
Other articles that might interest you
Last March, during my trip to California, we decided to do as much as possible in a very short period of time and ended up visiting three National Parks in three days. Was it the best way to go? Probably not. Am I happy I did it? Absolutely! After all, isn’t traveling all about trying new things and pushing ourselves? The three national parks that we visited are Death Valley, Sequoia and Yosemite, three of the most beautiful and visited national parks in the United States. Although all three are located in the State of California, the total distance between them is of 780 km (490 miles), which makes for a lot of driving — through incredible landscapes of course, but not in the best conditions. The altitude varies a lot — we went from 86 m (282 ft) below sea-level to 1530 m (5000 ft) above sea-level in one day — and the roads are rough. And after all the driving, we didn’t have a lot of time left for visiting, but we made the best of it.
If you are going to be visiting many national parks, check out the “America the Beautiful” pass. For 80 USD per vehicule, you get free entrance to all the national parks for a full year. Since the entrance fee for seven days per park can vary from 25 to 30 USD, it can save you a lot of money. This year, I travelled to Death Valley, Sequoia, Yosemite, Glacier, Yellowstone, Grand Teton and Badlands and saved approximately 100 USD just on entrance fees.
On our first day visiting national parks, we left San Diego in the early morning for Death Valley. After two tanks of gas, we finally made it by mid-afternoon. We were very lucky since the weather, windy, dry and cloudy, allowed us to explore the park even in the afternoon without burning and turning into dust. We got to see Badwater Basin, Golden Canyon and Zabriskie Point, almost run over a coyote and enjoy a picnic while the sun set over the mountains. It was so different from everything else I had ever seen and if I had had the opportunity, I would have stayed for a full week to enjoy the otherworldly atmosphere, go horseback riding in the sand dunes and try not to freak out at the thought of snakes.
The next day, we left our campsite in short shorts and tank tops to go walk in the Mesquite sand dunes before leaving the desert. We drove through canyons and up and down mountains and by 4 pm, we were at Sequoia National Park. Good thing we had no intention of staying long because we also had to drive to Fresno for the night. After entering the park, we went to the information center for a map and to change into jeans. Still in flip-flops, we drove through thick fog up the mountain and when we made it to the summit it had snowed, pretty heavily. We took some pictures with General Sherman and some of the other giant sequoias and walked in a few trails before driving back down through even thicker fog (if that’s possible) and then to Fresno. In this weather, a few hours was enough for me, but I would love to go back on a clear day to see the sequoias in all their glory.
On our last full day in California and third day of national parks, we left Fresno early and drove two hours to Yosemite. Yosemite, out of all three, is the one I was most excited to see and the one that disappointed me the most. Not because it wasn’t as grand or impressive or beautiful as I thought it would be, but because we didn’t really get to see it. You could say I am mostly disappointed because it rained all day, hiding the mountains and waterfalls, but also because I hadn’t planned enough time to properly enjoy it. We still had the chance to do a few hikes and see a silhouette of the mountains through the clouds and fog and we still left that night satisfied that we had tried, proud of what we had accomplished and filled with memories of wonderful scenery.
Now that I look back on this adventure several months later, I can see that it was a little bit crazy and we could have planned the whole thing a lot better. But, if I had to give advise to my old self while she was preparing the trip, I don’t think I would tell her to change anything because I learned a lot during that trip. It will certainly help me make wiser, more informed decisions while planning future vacations.
Other Articles That Might Interest you
As you have probably figured out already, I like to do a lot of research before a trip. About everything. It helps me feel safe during my trip and it builds up my enthusiasm and excitement before the big day. And even though I had already been to California twice, I still did a lot of research about activities, restaurants, where to stay, driving laws and rules, etc. But even after two trips and a ton of research, I still found a bunch of things that surprised me, and that is amazing!
there are Orchards everywhere
I don’t know why this surprised me. Our grocery stores are filled with fruits and veggies from California, but I never expected to see strawberry fields, olive trees and citrus trees everywhere. I guess I thought they would grow underground or something, I don’t know what I expected, but driving through California, fruit trees are what you see most. For hours at a time, we could see hills and hills of trees filled with hundreds of oranges or valleys full of vineyards. It was beautiful! I even picked oranges and grapefruits straight from the tree. The best part was stopping at little markets along the highway and buying fresh fruit for a couple bucks. I have never tasted better oranges in my life!
California is Huge
Being Canadian, I know America can look small on the map since it’s all one continent with only a few countries, but is absolutely gigantic in real life. I used to laugh at tourists who would come to Canada for a week and expect to see all of it. Anyway, I guess I became one of those tourists because I never expected California to be this big. We spent hours driving from place to place and sometimes even between two locations in the same city. If you are planning a trip to California and only have a handful of days or even a week, you should selected two or three cities and concentrate on those as you will lose so much time on transportation, you will barely get to see anything.
San Francisco was the most expensive city
I always expect LA to be more expensive as it is the biggest city, but San Francisco is actually a lot more expensive. We had to pay 40$ of overnight parking in San Francisco while we were able to find free parking everywhere in LA except Universal Studios which was 25$ for the whole day and at the beach which was 6$ for a whole day. I also found that food was less expensive in LA. Of course, we never went to 5 stars restaurants.
There are broken tires everywhere on the highways
Is that an American thing or just the West Coast? Because, everywhere we went, there were broken tires on the sides of the road. I have never seen that anywhere in Canada and I found that quite stressful. Do you all just throw out you tires on the highway or are these all from people who got a flat while driving? Isn’t it bad for the environment? If anyone has an answer about this, please explain it to me, as I do not get it!
The weather can change drastically
First surprising thing about the weather, it was beautiful, sunny and warm the whole time we were in San Francisco. No fog, no rain, no wind, just wonderful sunshine! Second surprising thing, everywhere else was foggy for at least part of the day. We would wake up in the morning to the sunshine and suddenly a few hours later it would be completely grey everywhere we looked and it would get super cold. Sometimes it went away after a couple hours or it would stick for the rest of the day or it would turn into rain. Also, the weather changed depending on if we were by the ocean or in the valley on the other side of the mountains. We would be driving and just see the fog coming. Apparently this is very common for California, I had just never experienced it or heard about it before.
you are always going up or down
It doesn’t matter where you are, or where you are going in California, it is never flat. You are either going up or down, and probably turning all around. There are mountains and valleys and cliffs and more mountains. And even on the highway or the freeway you will be going up and down as well.
There is a lot of traffic
The traffic in California is all day, everyday. In the middle of the night or at 2 pm or 5 in the morning, it makes no difference. I suggest you bring good music and maybe a book or newspaper as no matter where you are going you will be stuck in it. If you are from Florida, I would say you can compare it to I-4 right after the Magic Kingdom fireworks.
All of it is beautiful
Who cares about the traffic really because everywhere you look in California is beautiful. Every turn you take, you just want to stop and take a picture. You would expect parts of it to be ugly, just like every place as an eyesore, but if there is one in California it is well hidden.
I am sure I would still be surprised by a bunch of things if I were to go back, as I still have lots of things to discover in that part of the world. But three trips will have to do for now as I have my eyes set on different destinations!
Other articles that might interest you
I had an amazing time driving all-around California. Just so you know, I think California is being unfair. It has everything! The beautiful white sand beaches, the mountains with enough snow for winter sports, the incredible landscapes, the desert full of adventures and things to discover, the delicious wine, the theme parks, the huge trees... Who thinks California should leave some for the other states, raise your hand! For all of you hoping to visit the Golden State, here is the itinerary of my latest trip to California. The trip was way too short and I wish I could have stayed longer and really explored all of the cities and parks that we visited, but it was also wonderful and I had the best time.
We were traveling for 17 days and drove all the way from Vancouver Island to San Diego and back. It was an awfully long drive, but we made the best of it and played some of the games I had prepared (we almost completed our licence plate map!) and it was worth it with all of the destinations we got to visit. I included the distance between each destination as a general idea, but the truth is, it is much longer than this once you add the exact address where you are going, and gas stops, and bathroom breaks (Still totally worth it, just giving you a heads up!)
Comox – Roseburg (1000 km)
The first day was spent in the car, from before the sunrise to way after the sunset. We left Comox, on Vancouver Island, at 6 AM for Nanaimo, took the ferry at 8:30 AM for Vancouver and drove all the way to Roseburg, Oregon, only stopping for food or gaz. We would have made it by 7 PM, but the traffic in Seattle was terrible and we only arrived some time after 11 PM.
Tip: If I were to do it again, I wouldn’t make reservations for that night. The last few hours were horrible. We were both exhausted and cranky after being stuck in traffic for five hours and I wish we could have stopped earlier. At the same time, I wouldn’t have wanted to drive more the next day so the reservation did push me to finish what we had planned.
Roseburg – Fort Bragg – Napa (800 km)
The second day is when the fun finally started. We left Roseburg early and headed to Fort Bragg. We crossed the state line and spent some time on the glass beach in Fort Bragg before driving to St Helena in the Napa Valley. It was, again, a lot of driving and not much else, but at least we were in California and the view was beautiful.
Tip: Be aware that it is illegal to fill up on gas yourself in Oregon and the gas stations close pretty early. If you plan on leaving early in the morning or drive late at night, plan a trip to the gas station before 7 PM to be sure you won’t run out while they are closed. We spent 45 minutes looking for a gas station that was open 24 hours.
Napa Valley – San Francisco (100 km)
We had almost the whole day to explore Napa Valley. We toured some vineyards, tasted some wine and drove around the valley. I was very impressed as I did not imagine it would be as big or that the mountains would be as beautiful. In the afternoon, we drove to the Golden Gate and took advantage of the perfect weather to explore the parks on either side of the bridge. Going to the Golden Gate right away was so efficient because we were going on it anyway and we didn't have to come back the next day. Plus, as we had no plans for the night since we didn't know exactly how long the drive would take with the traffic on the bridge, we got to stay as long as we wanted, explore the parks and take so many pictures.
No driving for us on the fourth day! We spent the whole day visiting San Francisco. We went to Union Square, Chinatown, Lombard St, Pier 39 and Twin Peaks. It was a long day with all the walking and going up and down… and up… and down. My favorite part was the view from Twin Peaks. With the perfect weather, we were able to see the whole city and the bay. It was beautiful!
Tip: If possible, leave the car at your hotel or park outside of the city. The streets of San Francisco are not fun to walk, but worse to drive in. Plus, finding affordable parking in the city is impossible. Walking and taking public transportation is the way to go in my opinion and will save you time and money. Plus, you might stumble upon some beautiful architecture, exotic plants or a nice Café while walking to popular attractions!
San Francisco – Carmel – San Luis Obispo – Santa Barbara (600 km)
The goal was to drive down highway 1 from San Francisco to Santa Barbara and visit Carmel, Big Sur and a bunch of cities on the way. Unfortunately, with the rain they had recently, most of the bridges in this area are unstable or simply closed for repairs. While we were still able to visit Carmel and San Luis Obispo, we had to do a huge detour, lost a lot of time and couldn’t visit Big Sur, which was very disappointing as it was one of the main things we were looking forward to on our trip. But, these things happen and we still had fun and saw some pretty incredible landscapes on our way to Santa Barbara.
Santa Barbara – Thousand Oaks (100 km)
The sixth day was spent visiting Santa Barbara. This was one of my favorite days as we didn’t have a lot of driving to do, the city is beautiful and although we had things we wished to see, we didn’t have a tight schedule to follow and were able to just walk around and take our time. The Old Mission, the Downtown Area and the Wharf were some of my favorites, but I totally fell in love with the Santa Ynez mountains in the backdrop. Three words: Beau-ti-ful! We then drove to Thousand Oaks, which is close to Malibu, but a lot less expensive and spent the night there.
The Beach (60 km)
Day seven was our beach day! We drove to Santa Monica and parked there, then rented bikes for a ride to Venice. Both beaches are beautiful and Venice is definitely something to see at least once in your life, but I have to say I have a soft spot for Santa Monica. Every time I visit, I find myself imagining what life must be like for those who live there. I wish I could go for a run on the beach every morning (yeah right, like I could wake up to go for a run even once a week…) and see the sunset on the beach every night! The bikes were great as they allowed us to travel faster, but still stop to take pictures and browse through the tourist shops. Plus, my bike was sea blue and had a basket! So convenient! (I honestly loved that bike and would have kept it if I could. It's pretty and perfect for the beach)
Universal Studios Hollywood (35 km)
I’m not a fan of Harry Potter. What are you talking about?! It’s just a great series that I read a couple times and know everything about, no big deal! Seriously though, it felt like I was in Hogsmeade for real. There is snow and the buildings look exactly like they do in the movie and I had dinner at the Three Broomsticks and had actual butterbeer at the Hogshead. There was magic all around and it felt like I had died and gone to heaven! I had been to Universal Studios twice before and the Simpsons and Jurassic Park rides are a lot of fun and the Backstage Tour is great, but Harry Potter blew me away! … And I used to work in Disney World, I’m not easily impressed with theme parks. Definitely worth it if you are in California!
Hollywood – Disneyland (60 km)
We woke up on day 9 in the middle of Hollywood boulevard and with tickets for Beauty and the Beast at the El Capitan. Best day ever! The movie was amazing, the theatre seemed even more beautiful than the last time I was there (maybe it has something to do with the curtain made of Swarovski Crystals) and we had the whole day to see Hollywood. We went to the Chinese Theatre, the Dolbi Theatre where they shoot the Oscars, the Hollywood Walk of Fame and ended our time in Hollywood at the Griffith Observatory for some hiking and a nice view of the city and the Hollywood sign. In the middle of the afternoon, we left for Disneyland and spent the evening in the park riding Space Mountain and watching the fireworks, which have the same beginning as Wishes in Disney World and I might have cried a little bit… maybe… it’s a possibility…
Disney’s California Adventure
Day 10 was spent entirely in the California Adventure park. We woke up at 6 AM, after four hours of sleep to make it to park opening and stayed for World of Color (who would miss it?!). The Frozen Live show was wonderful, Cars is always super fun, but I have to say one of my favorites was drawing characters at Animation Academy. I guess I missed it since they closed it in Florida (please let it reopen once Star Wars land opens!!). And also Soarin’, and California Screaming, and Turtle Talk (how is it so much better in Disneyland?), and all the Disney food were magical!
Disneyland – San Diego (160 km)
Day 11 was spent doing everything we didn’t have time to do on our first visit to Disneyland two days before. The park was sooo crowded, like 4th of July crowded, but we still got to see the princesses and get our Beauty and the Beast book signed, do the Indiana Jones ride, Peter Pan, the Haunted Mansion and a bunch of other classics. We ate Grey Stuff, and churros, and pop corn (why is the Disney parks pop corn better than movie theatre pop corn? I mean, how is it possible?!), and spent about twice as much in food as all the other days of our trip combined, but it was worth it and delicious. Plus, eating (and reading Beauty and the Beast) makes waiting in line go by faster. After the parade, we drove to San Diego to be ready to explore in the morning.
We had another beautiful day in San Diego. We started our day in Balboa Park and rented bikes again as we had loved it in Santa Monica. Balboa Park is not the best place to travel with bikes… I recommend taking the free shuttle to the center and walking around so you don’t have to bother looking for a place to put the bike. Plus, the bikes are not allowed in certain areas and there are no bike trails. The architecture in the park though is incredible and I love seeing cacti as I never see any in Canada so I really feel like I’m on vacation every time I see one. We also went to Coronado to see the Hotel Del Coronado. It is a hotel from the Victorian era that inspired Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort. It is now an historical building and has been visited by a number of celebrities and politicians through the years. The beach at the hotel is open to everyone and truly beautiful.
San Diego – Death Valley (600 km)
Day 13 is when we started the drive back north while still making stops and detours to incredible destinations. We basically visited three national parks in three days. First stop: Death Valley. It was my first time driving through the desert and walking in the desert and it was an unbelievable experience that I will never forget. We also got to sleep in the desert, which was pretty cool.
Death Valley – Sequoia NP – Fresno (650 km)
The next day, we left the desert in our tank tops and shorts and drove all the way to Sequoia National parks where we arrived in our tank tops and shorts. And there was snow. Lots of it. And fog. Lots of it. So much so that half way up the mountain we could barely see the road in front of us and thank god for those white and yellow lane lines! After a short visit of the park, we drove to Fresno where we spent the night.
Fresno – Yosemite – Sacramento (450 km)
On this last day of exploring California we drove to Yosemite and it was pouring rain when we got there. It rained the whole day and so much that we only guessed where the mountains were. It was still impressive and we had a few good laughs about it. I will be back in California one day to see more of Yosemite that’s for sure! We later drove to Sacramento to get ready to leave California the next morning.
Sacramento – Portland (1000 km)
And here it had come, our last day in California! We left at 6 AM in the hopes of making it to Portland early so we could rest for the next day on the road. We also remembered to get gas before arriving in Portland so we would be able to hop on the highway and leave as soon as we were ready the next day.
Portland – Comox (750 km)
6 AM on the last day before work and we were on the road back home. Our goal was to leave Portland and hopefully speed through Seattle before the traffic hit. We got lucky and saw no hint of traffic the whole way to Vancouver. We even made it to Horseshoe Bay 3 hours in advance so we got to take an earlier ferry.
And that concludes, our two-week road trip to California and how I drove over 5000 km in 17 days. We had a blast! I will be posting articles about some cities and parks that we explored containing more details and pictures, but you can check out my Instagram @myjourneytoadventure for more photos of my trip and the ones to come. Also, I am thinking about starting to vlog. What do you think?
Other articles that might interest you
Ever since I found out I would be moving to British Columbia and buying a car, I decided I would be spending my two-week Spring Break driving down the coast of sunny California. That was back in June, so I can’t believe how close we are to departure date!
I have been to California twice before: once in high school for a weeklong field trip and once, four years ago, with a friend. On the first trip, I didn’t get to choose where we were going, and on the second one, we didn’t have a car, which limited our travels. It has been a dream of mine for as long as I can remember to visit Death Valley and drive down Highway 1. Having been to most touristy California destinations, I am packing this trip with places that I loved and bucketlist items.
One of my friends is coming along and she has never been to California or to any Disney park (:O). I can’t wait to show her how beautiful California is and why Disney is so special to me. For now, we are slowly planning our trip. From the itinerary to the accommodation and, my favorite, the activities we will enjoy, without forgetting the packing and travel insurance, the whole process is exciting!
1. The itinerary
This part has been on my mind for the best part of the last 6 months. While it was easy to decide which cities and national parks I wanted to visit, our time is limited and it was hard to choose where we wouldn’t get to go. The both of us researched and compared the cities and parks we were interested in and calculated the distance and time it would take to go from one to the other. While we want to do and see as much as possible, we also want to enjoy it and not fall asleep at the wheel or on a hike. We have finally decided on hitting Napa Valley, San Francisco, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, Disneyland, San Diego, Death Valley and Yosemite. Unfortunately, we won’t have time to visit Lake Tahoe, Palm Springs, the Mojave Preserve or the northern parts of California, which are all places I would love to visit. It will be a jam-packed trip and we won’t get to spend as much time as I would like in each place, but I am very excited about each of the things on our itinerary. I think the most important thing to do while planning your itinerary is to prioritize the places where you want to go and make sure you have enough time at each place. Also consider carefully the distances and how long you can drive without it being dangerous. Other than that, have fun with your itinerary and consider the off the beaten track destination.
2. The Accommodation
Hotels and hostels are so expensive in California. Especially with the exchange rate so low for us Canadians. In an attempt to save some money, we decided on camping on the nights where it is possible (camping locations in the middle of LA are not exactly easy to find), staying at hostels where it is worth it (sometimes it is cheaper to stay at motels than rent two beds in a hostel), stay at a nice motel once in a while to enjoy some luxury (a pool and comfy beds with more than one pillow is considered luxury :P) and stay at Airbnbs for the rest of the trip. We have made reservations for all of our destinations except for certain nights when we will be camping at State Parks where it is first come first serve. By carefully checking different websites and considering all the possibilities we managed to find places close to what we want to see and attractions we want to visit for less than 500 CA$ per person for 17 days, not bad! When choosing accommodation, it really comes down to whether you have more time or money. Selecting cheap, but still nice, accommodation and browsing different websites to check for better prices takes time, but you can save a lot of money by doing it.
3. The Insurance
Okay so my situation is a bit complicated… I am currently in my own country, but in a different province so, for the insurance companies, already on a trip. Since my “trip” has already started, most companies won’t insure me for my trip to the United States. I had to call a bunch of different companies to find one that will insure me for the whole year inside of Canada and then for my trip to California. So that was for the travel insurance. It cost me 60 CA$ in total, not so bad. (Send me a message if you want their phone number, I can give it to you no problem) Now for my car insurance… I already have insurance for my car, which is crazy expensive in BC and does cover me in the States, but I am only covered for 1 million dollars. That is enough in Canada since no one will sue you for more, but they tend to sue for a lot more than that in the United States after an accident. Because of that, I need to pay for a higher insurance. Settling everything was complicated and took a lot of time, but I am now set for a stress free trip! The main think to remember is that you need to be safe during your trip, so no matter how complicated the procedure, having an insurance can save you from being deep in debt.
4. The Car
The trip we have planned is over 5000 km. As most of you probably know, an oil change is recommended after every 6 months or 6000 km. That means I need an appointment for an oil change right before we leave and probably right after we come back as well. At the same time, a check up to make sure everything is in order is a good idea as I don’t want to stay stranded in the middle of the desert because the engine stopped. Since someone backed into my car while I was in Quebec over Christmas, I am paranoid something like that will happen right before we leave and prevent us from going. I have been parking at the complete back of the parking lots every time I go shopping and try not to park in the streets as much as possible. I am telling you, everyone must think I am insane when they see me!
5. The Luggage
Honestly, I have started packing and making lists because of how excited I am for this trip. My friend and I have decided to pack our clothes in multiple smaller bags instead of one bigger suitcase to make it easier to fit everything in my tiny car. Plus, this will allow us to only bring a small tote into our hotel rooms or tent since we are moving almost everyday, so carrying the suitcases in and out everyday would be a hassle. We are bringing a small three-people tent and our sleeping bags, as well as a cooler, so we can go grocery shopping and make our own food instead of going to the restaurant everyday. California is tricky for the clothes because they have all seasons in one state. We will be going to the beach, cities with warm weather, cities with cold weather, the desert, mountains where there is snow: that means a lot of layers and a lot of different pairs of shoes! Good thing we are not going by plane! I will be making a more detailed article of exactly what I am bringing to California as well as a packing list.
6. The Activities
Planning the activities was my all time favorite thing to do for this trip. There are some I have already done like walk on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and go to Venice Beach, but there are also a lot that I have never done like visit a vineyard in Napa and hiking in Big Sur. We did a lot of research on Pinterest and the Visit California website, we watched movies and checked the movie releases and special events happening during our trip. We have a lot of great things planned. I am sure I will have more insight on which activities are worth the visit and which you could pass, so a complete article with lots of pictures will be posted right after our trip. Stay tuned for so many articles coming at the end of March that I can’t wait to write!
Have I told you yet that I am very excited for this trip? Well I am telling you again!! After California Dreamin’ for the last 8 months, California here we coooome!! My playlist of all the California songs is ready to go, my heart shaped sunglasses are cleaned, my bikinis are packed (as well as my winter boots for Yosemite) and, in just two weeks, I will be driving down the California Coast singing along to Party in the USA!
More articles that might interest you