There’s never been a better time to rent an RV with your family and head out into the wilderness.
The problem is, road-tripping is an entirely different story when you have young kids.
Fear not, we’re going to tackle the biggest challenges of planning a one-week, 1200-mile trip in the next five minutes: where to go, where to stay, what to pack, what to see and what to avoid. Let’s go!
Trip itinerary Overview:
- Salt Lake City
- Arches National Park
- Canyonlands National Park
- Monument Valley
- Antelope Canyon (Page, Arizona)
- Zion National Park
- Bryce Canyon National Park
Pro tip: CruiseAmerica will send you a confirmation email and at the bottom, it will mention that you need to call the day before your reservation to reserve a time to pick up your RV. Don’t ignore that. We spent 7 hours at Cruise America with five amped kids waiting to be checked-in because we didn’t have a reservation slot. Even with that, we thought our rental was great and would highly recommend this option if you’re nervous about renting someone else’s RV.
What to pack for your RV:
You can rent sheets, sleeping bags and towels from Cruise America but we opted to bring our own to save $$. In my opinion, it’s better to spend $50 checking a bag versus spending over $200 to using someone else’s stuff.
- 1 Queen size fitted sheet
- 2 Queen flat sheets
- Sleeping bag- we have a double sleeping bag that zips apart into 3 separate blankets.
- 4 camping pillows
- 2 large microfiber bath towels
- 2 microfiber kitchen dishtowels
- 2 Turkish beach towels.
We rented Cruise America’s kitchen set but also brought along:
- Travel mugs
- 4 Nalgene bottles
- A head lamp
- Moka pot
- 2 tupperwares that fit into each other for leftovers
- Several stasher bags for snacks
- A meal plan, recipes and spices pre-measured and bagged.
What to wear:
This will vary based on what weather you have. We did our trip at the beginning of September and there is a HUGE temperature swing from Heber to Antelope Canyon so I focused on light layers.
Each person had:
- 3 outfits: 2 quick-dry hiking outfits (think pants, shorts, short-sleeve shirt and long-sleeve shirt)
- 1 casual outfit
- 1 merino wool light-weight sweater
- 1 vest or fleece zip-up
- Pajamas (2 pairs for each kid)
- Bathing suit
- Water shoes, hiking shoes and flip flops.
Just for the kids:
I have a go-to travel set that I usually use when we travel by plane. It includes things like: crayons, post-its, pipe-cleaners, little people, animals or cars, big dice, 25 rubber animals (5 of each color to make games with), a zip-lock bag of duplo and soft books from the library. For this trip I included some magnatiles, binoculars, workbooks and pencils. All of these items fit into the girls backpacks and they carry them themselves through the airport.
What’s in Mom’s bag? A ridiculous amount of food. Ipads. Headphones and splitter for the girls. If I’m lucky, I might get to bring a book for the plane ride.
That’s it! We packed five people into one large rolling duffle bag (we’re obsessed with this bag), a backpack duffle and all our camping equipment into a large, old rolling suitcase. If my husband wasn’t 6’ 8” with size fourteen feet, we probably could have even packed in two bags total.
Before we get into the details of the trip, a word about carseats and RVs. I searched high and low for information about how many carseats you could put into our Cruise America RV. Even a call to the company left me with questions. The bottom line is this: you can’t be sure that there will be more than two seatbelts in your RV for your kids. It seems like Cruise America adds two additional, rear-facing seatbelts to the dining table area.
Given our kids ages, we had two forward-facing kids and an infant in an infant car seat (obviously rear-facing). The infant carseat was incredibly hard to attach safely due to the cushion on the seat and the length of the seatbelt. We had to knot the seatbelt many times to get it to be tight enough. If I could go back, I would recommend bringing your infant carseat base and leave yourself plenty of time to figure out the safest configuration for your kids. Final note: once you strap all those carseats in, you are NEVER going to remove them again and your dining room table disappears forever. Plan to eat outside OR keep a box from your grocery visit.
After waiting at Cruise America all day long to get our RVs (please see our massive mistake above), we headed out to Mountain Valley RV Resort in Heber to grab groceries and regroup before the journey.
Pro tip: do Walmart grocery pick up and make sure to stock up on alcohol at a state liquor store if that is important for your trip before leaving the Salt Lake area.
On the way from Heber to Moab, we stopped at Moab Giants for a quick romp with the dinosaurs, which the kids loved. We then checked in to the Canyonlands Resort. This place was cute, if a bit crowded. It was well-located, had very clean bathrooms and a nice pool which was the perfect break after hiking.
Delicate Arch was our first big hike. We’ve made a decision with our family that we don’t want to just stick to the kid-friendly, easy hikes. We want our kids to hike hard things. We pack loads of snacks, come up with imaginative stories and take as much time as we need so that we can hike the harder trails. I recommend building up to higher levels and always researching hikes that have interesting features to entice your kids other than “just nature.” I highly recommend checking out Utah’s visitor information site to help plan your perfect trip as well as downloading the AllTrails app.
We headed into Arches early to get a parking spot at the trailhead and barely got spaces for both our RVs. The hike is around 3-miles round trip but doesn’t have any shade. At the pace we were going I was glad we brought a ton of water and lunch.
After our hike, we took advantage of nap time and drove into the Island in the Sky section of Canyonlands down to the grand view point. This was stunning but we were all a bit tired from the day and anxious to get to our first boondocking site to get dinner going for the kiddos.
Pro tip: Get to your campsite between 3 – 4 pm as often as possible. Getting the RV set up for sleep, dinner cooked and managing tired kids is challenging when it’s light out, trip-ruining when it’s dark.
Our first camping spot was Sandflats Recreation Area. It isn’t technically boondocking but it doesn’t have any hook ups and felt incredibly remote. The kids set to playing outside in the red “moon dust” while we worked on dinner. This site was WINDY and much chillier than we anticipated but the sunset and sunrise made it all
The next morning we were back on the road for a VERY long day. When you look on the map, it looks like the Needles section of Canyonlands is just a short jaunt off of the road and it is (out west) but plan on a full hour drive in from the main highway. We chose to do the Cave Spring hike and it was fantastic for the young kids. There were rock overhangs and waterfalls and small ladders- a brilliant spot to explore.
As afternoon approached, we kept our foot to the floor driving south through Monument Valley toward Page, Arizona. Friends had recommended WahWeap KOA but unfortunately we couldn’t get reservations and stayed at Page Lake Powell Campground. Book earlier than we did and stay at WahWeap, is all I’ll say.
We woke up early to get to our tour at Antelope Canyon on time. They only allow one child per adult so we had to sneak our infant in. (Eek.) This was a phenomenal, though touristy, experience. The tour takes no more than two hours and you’re back on your way for a short ride to Zion.
I’m biased, but you have to enter the park through the East entrance. You won’t be disappointed. Make sure you book your spot at Zion South Campground the moment the sites open up to avoid having to go in an out of the park. This is important: read up on their website as to the day and time you can book a site far in advance of your trip.
After our full days of travel the day before, we took it easy in Zion. There is a tram that runs through the canyon that takes you to a number of hiking access points that the kids loved. Mostly though, our kids wanted to hang at the campground, play with each other and get their wiggles out. Given the views, we didn’t argue. We also threw a second birthday party for our youngest cousin Leo! Yes, we had a birthday party in birthday suits in Zion.
We were able to move our RVs from the campground over to the amphitheater parking lot for day parking. I’d recommend doing this as early as possible as parking in the park is a problem. After enjoying more of Zion, we headed another short distance to Zion Ponderosa Ranch Resort. This resort was awesome and had a fantastic pool, hot tub, glamping sites and restaurant- great for a longer, more comfortable stay.
The next day, we took a short drive up to Bryce Canyon and pulled into our final campsite at Ruby’s Inn. After unloading the gang, we jumped on the tram over to the vista point and onward to our trailhead. We were rested and ready to see the Hoodoos!
Our middle child, Isla, wasn’t into this hike so Paul strapped her onto his back using a second ergo that we had brought. We didn’t bring a hiking backpack for this trip solely because we wanted the girls to hike on their own as much as possible and it worked beautifully up until this point.
We took off on the Navajo/Queens Garden Loop and chose (wisely) to go right, down the switchbacks instead of up them. This hike was about 2.5 miles and ended with a very strenuous hike back up to the trailhead but the two, four-year olds made it on their own!
Pedal to the metal back to Salt Lake City for your early flight home.
Pro tip: This itinerary was strenuous with young kids and if you have more time I’d recommend cutting back your driving time to four hours maximum per day with young kids and/or staying an extra night in each location. If you only have one week, do it.
All of these places are must-sees and you’ll have a blast with your family!
Warning: This trip might spur a move to Utah. It did for us.
So there you have it! Everything you need to have the best, kid-friendly RV road trip in Utah. What are your best RV tips and tricks with young kids? What is on your Utah bucketlist?