Plan Your Campervan Trip
If you live in a colder part of the country, hop in your van and head southwest this spring for destinations that are sure to warm your spirit. From red rocks to white sands, from mountain peaks to underground caverns, we’ve got every type of outdoor adventurer covered in this guide to the five iconic national parks of Arizona and New Mexico. In addition to warmer climates and plenty of vitamin D, these locations boast unique geological and botanical attractions that cannot be seen anywhere else in the world.
Every park on this list is currently open, but some features such as visitor centers, guided tours, or museums may be closed due to Covid-19. Check for any restrictions and closures on the National Park Service website then hit the road to chase the sunshine and wide-open skies of the American Southwest.
A Campervan Trip To: ARIZONA
Grand Canyon National Park
As one of the seven natural wonders of the world, the Grand Canyon is a major bucket list item. People come from around the world to visit the vast canyon, which is a mile deep, 277 miles long, and 18 miles wide at its widest point. In fact, the destination is so popular that Arizona is nicknamed “the Grand Canyon State.”
You can enjoy spectacular views over the red and gold striated cliffs from one of several locations on the rim of the canyon. The colors are particularly breathtaking at sunrise (for an experience of solitude and serenity) and at sunset (a popular time for capturing photos). Aside from the scenic viewpoints, several hikes descend from the rim of the canyon down to the Colorado River. For a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience, book a helicopter tour and survey the Grand Canyon from the sky. However you choose to experience this magnificent landscape, we guarantee you won’t forget it.
Petrified Forest National Park
Reach out and touch a piece of ancient history at Petrified Forest National Park in northeastern Arizona. The park boasts enormous petrified trees and other plant and animal fossils from the Triassic Period roughly 200 million years ago.
Meander on the 1.5 mile Giant Logs Trail to see some of the largest and best-preserved petrified tree trunks, including a roughly 35-foot-long piece dubbed “Old Faithful.” The short Crystal Forest Trail is also a fan favorite for the sheer amount of petrified wood on display. Avid explorers will love the backcountry hiking and options to wander freely anywhere besides the areas with developed trails.
Petrified Forest National Park is a veritable playground for those passionate about the natural sciences. Besides its fascinating geology, the park features ample opportunities to see wildlife like pronghorn, coyotes, and over 250 bird species. Walk the Painted Desert Rim Trail for views of blush-toned hills and a variety of flora and fauna.
Saguaro National Park
Saguaro National Park is home to the rare saguaro cactus, which is only found in the Sonoran Desert. The stately cacti grow as tall as 50 feet with outstretched arms that seem to reach out and welcome you. Visit from late April to early June to see waxy white saguaro blossoms adorning the cacti like crowns. These large fragrant blooms are the official state flower of Arizona.
You can traverse the park’s surreal terrain on a variety of hiking trails. From the gentle one-mile walk of Freeman Homestead Trail to the strenuous 20-mile hike of Tanque Verde Ridge Trail, there’s something for everyone. Other attractions include prehistoric Native American petroglyphs and seasonal waterfalls and wildflowers.
A Campervan Trip To: NEW MEXICO
Carlsbad Caverns National Park
Plan a visit to Carlsbad Caverns to discover an otherworldly landscape deep underground. There are 119 limestone caves in the national park, but Carlsbad Caverns has been developed specifically for touring. Visitors travel over 750 feet underground by foot or elevator to marvel at delicate and ornate cave formations in the softly-lit limestone caverns.
At 8.2 acres, the Big Room in Carlsbad Caverns is North America’s largest accessible cave chamber. Tours are self-guided and take about an hour. To adapt to the Covid-19 pandemic, entrance to the caves is limited and tickets are available on a first-come, first-served basis, so plan to get there early in the day.
After you’ve had your fill of the caverns, spend the rest of the day hiking above ground and enjoying views of the Guadalupe Mountains. With over 350 days of sunshine a year, the Carlsbad area is the perfect place to escape the snow!
White Sands National Park
The largest gypsum dunefield in the world can be found just over three hours away from Carlsbad Caverns at White Sands National Park. If the term “gypsum dunefield” doesn’t ring any bells, picture undulating waves of white sand as far as the eye can see. This special landscape is like a cross between hills covered in untouched snow and a Caribbean beach.
Take your van into the heart of the dunes on Dunes Drive for an Instagram-worthy photo of your rig amidst the glistening sand, then venture out on walks and hikes that will bring you closer to the elements. Check out the Alkali Flat Trail for expansive views of some of the tallest dunes. The park also offers the wheelchair-accessible Interdune Boardwalk.
For a thrill, visitors love to sled down the hills of sand as if they were snow. You can purchase waxed plastic snow-saucers at the gift shop and sell them back when you’re done.
Each park mentioned above requires you to pay an entry fee. If you plan on visiting multiple national parks this year, you’re better off buying an annual America The Beautiful National Park Pass. The $80 pass covers up to four adults in one vehicle and provides access to over 2,000 Federal Recreation Sites, including the five national parks in this guide. A park pass is a smart investment for van lifers who spend much of their time exploring the diverse wilderness across the country.
The Southwestern destinations on this list are practically made to be experienced by way of campervan trip. Are you ready to join the van life revolution and follow the sun? Discover our wide selection of adventure vans here.