In the summer of 2022, my friend Amy and I were on our trip to Delaware and decided to cut the road and stop for one day in Philly on the way. Neither of us had ever been to Philadelphia, but we had seen Rocky and National Treasure and thought, why not!
where to park
Since we were on a road trip, we had a car with us. And since we were on a tight budget, our Airbnb was definitely not in the city center, so there was no way to park there and visit the city on foot, and taking the bus from our airbnb would have taken way too much time out of our already short visit in Philadelphia. So we found out that you can park at the Independence Visitor Center and get a PHLASH Pass for 14$ per person and the parking is free. The PLASH Pass allows you to ride the hop-on hop-off bus along all of the main attractions and allowed us to see everything we wanted to see in a day.
Independence Hall is a must-see when visiting Philadelphia! It is a huge part of American history and the visit is pretty short and interesting and free. Most of the year, you need a reservation to visit Independence Hall that can be made on the web site. Unfortunately, since our trip was pretty last minute, we didn't have a reservation, but visits were open on a first come first serve basis from 3 pm to 4 pm, so we were lucky and were able to go inside and do the tour. We were there during 4th of July weekend so it was fun to see the decorations and feel like we were a part of the celebration. Being Canadian, celebrating the 4th of July is just as exotic to me as celebrating the Holi festival in India!
Try to pack small when visiting Independence Hall as you need to go through a metal detector on the way in and have your bags checked.
the liberty bell
If you have seen and loved National Treasure you are probably just as excited as I was to visit the Liberty Bell. Otherwise, you are probably wondering what is so special about an old and broken bell. Either way, the visit is free of charge and the small museum where the bell is kept also has interesting facts about civil rights in the United States and was an interesting visit. You also need to go through a metal detector and have your bags checked before going in, but you don't need a reservation or anything.
the rocky steps
If you didn't take a picture of you running up the Rocky Steps, did you even go to Philadelphia? Enough said.
Reading terminal market
I don't know what is so fascinating with markets around the world, but I feel like they are always a condensed lesson about the culture of a place. What people eat, how they interact with each other, what transactions are like, what smells, colors, tastes represent the city you are visiting? It's always an interesting visit and the Reading Terminal Market was no exception. We bought lunch in the crowded and crooked alleys of the market and were happy to exit soon after as it was a bit overwhelming after two years of social distancing.
We were so lucky that during our visit there was a beautiful lantern festival. Of course, it was pure coincidence and we hadn't planned our trip around this event, but I was truly grateful that we had taken the time to research what was happening in the city during our stay so we didn't miss such a beautiful event. Most cities have events like this one going on every weekend or even every day during the summer so it is absolutely worth the two-minute research to look up if there is a special event during your trip.
where to eat
We found that the restaurants in the Old City had a lot of variety and we had a fun time walking around, comparing menus and were pleasantly surprised by the prices in this touristic area where the prices would usually be completely over the top. We ended up having lunch at Reading Terminal Market and just grabbing a snack and drink in a restaurant on Chestnut Street. For dinner, we couldn't leave Philadelphia without trying a famous Philly cheese steak!
I quite liked Philadelphia to be honest. It was a good mix of modern and historic attractions, easy to navigate and I found the city to be truly beautiful. It also wasn't extremely busy or expensive to visit which was great after spending a day in New York City.
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Angel's Landing is one of the most popular hikes in the United States and is located in Zion National Park. You might have already seen photos and videos of people holding on the chains to hike the narrow trail to its summit. When my friend and I visited Zion on our road trip through the American Southwest, we were a little intimidated by this trail that. is rated very difficult. We are both healthy and pretty active, but we are not the type of people who train everyday at the gym or who run marathons. This trip was also pretty last minute, so we didn't have time to train for it. Let's just say we decided we were going to try it, but made the deal that at any point if one of us decided we were done, we were going to turn around and go back down and there would be no shame in it.
We planned our hike to give ourselves the best chance and started early in the morning so we would be in the shade for as long as possible and the heat would be less of a challenge. When we visited in September 2019, it was about 33 degrees Celsius in the afternoon.
This hike can be split in three sections. The first part is made of switch backs all the way up the vertical face of the mountain to the area where two mountains split that you can see on the picture above. Then you arrive to the section called Walter's wiggles, another section of switchbacks that are tighter and steeper that you can see on the picture below. And finally, the summit, where you have to hold on to chains and walk by the cliff on both sides.
Personally, I think the first part of switchbacks was the worst. It seemed infinite and we were in the sun for the most part so it was very hot. Usually when you hike a mountain, you will be going up and then the trail will go down a little bit and then up again and keep switching all the way up the mountain. Angel's Landing isn't like that. It's just up all the way to the summit and although the switchbacks aren't very steep, they give you no respite. You can stop at any point for a break and there is plenty of space for people to pass you if needed in that part, but it is rough on cardio and on your legs.
Once you are done with all the switchbacks and reach the summit section, it is more technical, but it gets easier in my opinion. Your mind is fully on planning where your next step should be instead of how out of breath you are. It also gets so beautiful that you are just blown away by it and grateful that you get the chance to see this view.
In this part, there is no rush. You take your time and if people want to pass you or if you want to pass other people, it can wait for a larger part of the trail where it is safe. Honestly, most people were very nice while we were there. Super respectful of others' limits and helping each other. Of course there were also people without water and hiking in flip flops, but what can you do...
When you reach the summit, you get a 360 degree-view on the whole valley and it blows your mind. It's been years and this is still my favorite hike ever, not only because I am proud that I reached the summit, but because the view was incredible. You feel like a bird flying through the valley and the feeling is indescribable.
We took our time on the summit, had a quick lunch and then slowly made our way back down. The switchbacks are still killer on the way down, but at least you are not as out of breath.
All in all, it took us approximately 3 hours for the hiking part and we took a small break before the summit and stopped for a long while on the summit. I would say from the time we stepped off the bus to the time we stepped back on, about 4 hours.
I seriously recommend doing this hike if you are able. It was easier than I thought it would be, but still a big challenge for me. I think if you are used to hiking mountains you can do it, but the heat and the switchbacks will be rough. The chains part was also more technical than I was used to, but it's not slippery so it wasn't that hard.
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During our trip to the American Southwest, my friend and I had made an itinerary, but we hadn't made reservations for our campgrounds as we wanted the liberty to stop for the night if we were tired or to drive as long as we wanted if we were feeling up to it.
One afternoon, we left Arches National park and made our way to Page, Arizona, knowing full well that we wouldn't make it there before the night fell. The villages and small towns in that part of Utah are really tiny and pretty scattered so when the sun started setting, and we saw a sign for a campground in Bluff, Utah, we decided to stop for the night.
In the last few kilometers, we could see the sun setting on our right, the colourful sky turning pinker all around us, and to our left, the full moon. It was so beautiful! I kept trying to take pictures and videos, but none of it made it justice.
When we arrived at the campground, the sunset was almost all the way down behind the mountains and there was only one other family there.
We checked in and barely had time to build a fire before it was completely dark out. We had dinner by the fire and suddenly we heard "Tabarnak". That word doesn't lie, there were other people from Quebec! What were the odds that the only other family in the campground, all the way in tiny Bluff, Utah, would also be French Canadian?!
It was such a simple, quiet camping night, but I don't think I will ever forget the beauty of that sunset, the randomness of making it to Bluff at the only campground for miles around, and the chance of meeting other Quebecois in this far away town.
For more information on our road trip through the American Southwest, click here.
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.
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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 ;)
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25/7/2022 0 Comments
SWIMMING IN THE VIRGIN RIVER
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 ithere.) 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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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