After visiting the South West in the USA I am a 100% sure that the best way to discover this spectacular region is to go with a campervan rental.
But when it comes to planning your camping trip to the USA things can become a little tedious. I found all the information online incredibly overwhelming and half the time the internet was only referring me to actual camper rental websites.
There are several ways to interpret a camping trip in the USA. There are those that travel around by car and just want to pitch their tent. Others turn to a camper, which has most necessities and drives like a minivan. Or you can go for the all out luxury camping experience by renting an RV, also called a motorhome, which is pretty much a house on wheels and needs to be charged every couple of days.
Planning a camping trip, researching campgrounds, and finding campsites that will be your second home during your vacation is pretty exciting. But it can also be challenging, and after seeing the map of campgrounds in Utah and Arizona, even overwhelming.
Finding the right places to stay in the South West is a crucial part of organizing your trip. And you’ll need to collect a lot of information to be able to do so.
In this guide I will give you all of the information that I gathered when planning our own trip. From our favorite free campsites in the USA to all of the little details that you’ll need to know about.
Wether you’re a seasoned camper or it’s your first time ever that you dive into the concept of camping this guide will have you covered!
The Ultimate Guide To Renting A Camper In The South West USA
Visiting and camping at National Parks in the South West USA
If it’s your first time visiting the USA you’ll probably want to visit a couple of its National Parks. The best thing you can do is purchase the America The Beautiful Pass. This US Park Pass gives you entrance to all of the National Parks for the duration of 12 months. 1 US Park Pass is valid for up to 4 adults in 1 vehicle.
The annual pass only costs $80, which is a steal compared to all of the separate National Park entry fees. During our 8 day road trip we visited 6 different National Parks which otherwise would have costed us $210 (6x $35).
You can either purchase your America The Beautiful Pass online and have it mailed to you or you can simply buy it at the entrance of the first National Park that you’ll visit during your trip. If you decide to order it online make sure to calculate in enough time for delivery.
💡 TIP – The national park pass does not include state parks or Navajo tribal parks.
If you want to camp at a National Park in the USA you may only do so at designated camping spots. I love using the Camp & RV app to find all of the possible camp sites in the neighborhood. There won’t be any free camping or overnight parking within a National Park. So make sure to calculate this into your travel budget when planning a trip to the USA.
You can find all of the camp sites in National Parks in the USA through the nps.gov website as well. But it’s very important to know that almost all of them operate on a reservation basis and not on a firt come, first serve base.
This was very different from our experience in Canada and let’s say we weren’t prepared at all when we arrived to the USA for this to be the case. This resulted in almost all of the camp sites with good facilities such as showers, regular toilets and electricity being fully booked.
Bookings for camp sites in the USA usually open up like 6 months in advance just so you know.
Why rent a campervan?
I hear you, you might be wondering. Why should I rent a campervan? Why not just rent a regular car and book accommodations along the way? Well doing a campervan trip is just a completely different experience.
If you’ve followed any of my previous travels you know that this wasn’t our first road trip with a camper. So far we have traveled through Iceland, Norway and the Canadian Rockies with a camper and all. of these trips have been absolutely spectacular.
Since a campervan not only serves as your transportation but also as your lodging you can save a lot of money on your trip and earn a ton of extra flexibility and adventure.
A camper comes with its very own kitchen and cooler so you can pretty much have breakfast on the go and cook a nice meal whenever you want. This way you can also save a lot of money on eating out at restaurants.
And you pretty much get the camping experience without having to pitch up your own tent or sleep outside.
Where to rent a camper for a South West USA road trip
We chose Las Vegas as our point of departure and return due to its convenient location to all of the places we wanted to visit on our road trip in the South West USA.
For our campervan rental in Las Vegas we chose the company Travellers Autobarn. Their pick up and drop off location is only 15 minutes driving from Las Vegas International Airport. So while leaving the busy city life behind you can even catch a glimpse of the infamous Las Vegas strip.
Other advantages to choosing Travellers Autobarn is that you get unlimited mileage with your booking and that you can rent a camper from age 21.
We chose for their popular Kuga Campervan model. It has a practical living and sleeping interior where you can convert the seating area into a double bed. There’s plenty of storage space and extra internal height so you can safely stand up inside of the van.
Each van comes with its very own refrigerator, gas cooking stove and even has a microwave. But we ended up never using the microwave since then the camper had to be plugged into an electricity outlet.
The camper is equipped with solar panels which charge the inside lights, the refrigerator and 1 USB outlet. If you wish to charge more devices at ones you’ll also have to be plugged into an electricity outlet.
Finding free campsites in the South West USA
If you want to make your campervan rental in the USA as cheap as possible then I highly recommend to go boondocking.
What’s that you ask?
Well boondocking is the main term used for free camping in the USA. When you boondock, there are no connections to water, electricity, and sewer like you’d find in a developed campground. There aren’t any bathrooms, water spigots, or picnic tables. It’s just you, your camper, and a piece of land to call your own for a night or two.
Can you just go camping anywhere you want?
Boondocking is dispersed camping on public land. Dispersed camping is camping outside of a designated campground, on lands that are managed for this purpose. You’ll find a durable surface to park your rig or pitch your tent, but little else.
The National Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and Department of Fish and Wildlife are great examples of public land management agencies that allow dispersed camping on some of the lands that they manage.
You can find all of these places also within the Camp & RV app.
So no, you can’t just go camping anywhere you want! And whenever you choose to go dispersed camping make sure to follow the Leave No Trace principles. Good campsites are found, not made!
Leave no Trace Principles when camping
1. Know before you go
A little extra planning can expand your knowledge, reduce your impact and improve your adventure. Prepare to travel in Utah and Arizona by researching your destinations, packing for a range of conditions and making backup plans just in case.
2. Stick to trails and overnight right
Following signage, sticking to the path and using a little know-how will keep trails and campsites safe and open.
3. Trash your trash
One person’s trash can greatly impact a natural treasure. No matter where you go, have a garbage and bathroom plan ready (for you and your group) and know how to correctly dispose of all waste, which may mean packing everything out.
4. Protect Indigenous Cultural Heritage
Indigenous and other historical and cultural sites are everywhere in Utah and Arizona and they are important to modern descendant communities and researchers. Protect these sites by observing and admiring structures, objects, rock imagery and historical inscriptions at a respectful distance.
5. Minimize campfire impacts
There’s nothing quite like cozying up to a campfire, but not all places and conditions are safe to have one. In areas where fires can be built, keep them small and in existing fire rings and be prepared to extinguish them completely.
6. Keep Wildlife Wild
Being outdoors means sharing it with wildlife, which may include bears. Respect their home by only observing from a distance. Save human food for humans, ensure pets are within your control and know local fishing, hunting and boating guidelines.
7. Share their Parks, Trails and Roads
When traveling in Utah and Arizona, you may find yourself part of a crowd. While there are many ways to enjoy the outdoors, help each other out by being patient, minimizing noise and reducing speed, whether in town or on the trail.
Charlotte Lint is the founder of Charlies Wanderings.
Charlotte has traveled all over the world and is based in Belgium where she also owns her very own dental practice.
She is an expert on writing efficient travel guides and finding unique places to stay.
Every month she helps over 134.000 people discover the most beautiful places in the world through her detailed travel guides.