We rented a Pacific Overlander 4×4 camping vehicle and did a five-day road trip through California, Utah & Arizona. Here’s our experience off-road camping (more like glamping!) along the way.
Last month Pat and I set out on a road trip adventure that was unlike anything I’ve ever done. We rented a 4×4 truck outfitted with a tent on top that allowed us to take advantage of all the public land here on the west coast. It was a taste of the #VanLife movement and oh was it sweet.
Let’s face it, car camping can be a bit of a bummer sometimes. You’re packed in an 8′ x 8′ patch of land with campers on all sides of you. Screaming kids, barking dogs, loud music, bright lights are typically the norm, not the exception. It’s hard to feel like you are really connecting with nature. Here in California at least, it’s also really hard to even get a reservation for a campsite! Every campsite sells out as soon as they go online at the beginning of the season. There’s no room for last-minute.
This is why our 4×4 overlander vehicle from Pacific Overlander was one of the best travel discoveries we’ve ever stumbled upon. It completely changed our notion of “car camping”. There is a wealth of national forest land all over California, Utah and Arizona. We spent give days off-road camping with some of the most gorgeous scenery you can imagine.
We stayed a few minutes outside of Yosemite National Park, Zion National Park and even Arizona’s famous Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend. Despite their proximity to these popular tourist destinations, our campsites were spacious, isolated and totally off the grid. It was truly the best of all worlds.
We first connected with Mason of Pacific Overlander at an outdoor trade show we attended last month. He had driven one of his 4×4 camping vehicles to the show. As soon as we saw it, we knew we had to rent one for an adventure.
Mason has several SUVs and trucks outfitted with pop up tents on top of them. All you need to do to camp is unhook the hard roof of the tent and it magically pops up. That’s it – no poles, tent stakes, finding a level spot, nothing. Breaking camp is just as easy. You pull a cord to collapse the tent, hook the latch and you’re on your way. It takes all of 30 seconds.
Mason thought of everything when he was outfitting his 4×4 vehicles. It’s truly an ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ approach. Our Toyota Tacoma was outfitted with a table and chairs, a two burner camp stove, pots and pans, cookware, a solar shower and depending on the model you rent, you either get a massive Yeti cooler or an actual fridge and freezer. Our cooler kept ice from melting for several days, even in the desert heat.
With all that gear included in the rental we ate like kings. Pat did all the meal planning for the trip. He spoiled me with everything from homemade yogurt bowls with fresh fruit to egg scramble for breakfast.
Dinner ranged from pasta with some of our homemade canned tomato sauce, to burritos and even salad.
…oh and wine. What’s a glamping roadtrip without wine enjoyed as the sun sets?
It was practically better than we eat at home, with the added bonus of stunning views and total isolation.
Our Toyota Tacoma had no trouble with any terrain we encountered. Steep inclines, sandy roads and large rocky puddles were all conquered with ease. We never would have been able to find the campsites we did with our own car.
Our Utah to Arizona Road Trip Itinerary
In case you’re curious, here’s a rundown of the five days and four nights that we spent on the road.
Day 1: Off Road Camping Outside Yosemite National Park
We left first thing in the morning from San Francisco for Yosemite National Park. Luckily it was late enough in the season that there wasn’t much traffic through the park. We stopped for a quick peek at Half Dome and a short hike before packing up to find a place to stay. We drove through the park and easily found an amazing spot on Highway 120 in the Inyo National Forest.The view from our tent was epic – pine trees, a lake and snow-capped peaks. Not a bad way to wake up.After our morning coffee, we packed up the truck and set our sights on Utah.
Day 2: 4×4 Camping Outside Zion National Park, Utah
One of the best things about road tripping is watching the landscape change right before your eyes. The pine trees thinned and the ground leveled off. Snowy peaks were replaced with majestic buttes and the soil turned from brown to red.
As we neared Zion National Park, we looked for a place to pull over for the night. We followed a dirt road that was just outside the park where we could see another RV parked. We drove further in along the road until no other cars were visible and made our camp for the night. With our Overlander this took about 30 seconds. The rest of the night was spent relaxing and enjoying a home cooked dinner.
Our proximity to Zion National Park meant we had the entire day to hike and explore. More on that in an upcoming post. We drove a few hours in the evening to get closer to our next destinations – Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend.
Day 3: Camping Near Antelope Canyon & the Arizona/Utah Border
Again we easily found a spot by following a dirt road off the main highway this time, on the same road as the Big Water Visitor Center. A word to the wise though, to get very far on this road you’ll need some serious four wheel drive. There are lots of large rocks and deep sandy spots that make it easy to get stuck.
The stars at this spot made it extra special. There was absolutely no light pollution. It felt like we were in a planetarium, with stars surrounding us all the way to the horizon. The Milky Way was like a jet of light tearing through the sky. It was surreal.
Day 4: Free Camping Mojave Desert National Preserve
The last night of our trip was spent camping in the Mojave Desert National Preserve, surrounded by Joshua trees. There are designated campgrounds in the preserve, but roadside camping is also allowed. Just turn down one of the dozens of dirt/sand roads in the preserve and you’ll find ample camping options. We drove down Deer Spring Road in Nipton and turned off on one of the unmarked sandy dirt roads.
Not another person in sight. The stars at night were incredible again. We did some more long exposure photography to capture how brilliant the Milky Way was. This time we experimented with Pat “painting” me with a flashlight briefly during the exposure to better illuminate me. The Joshua trees are quite the sight in the foreground. I’m lucky to be married to someone who enjoys nerding out about photography as much as I do!
This was also the part of the trip where we contemplated calling in sick, extending our rental and heading back out on the open road. It was hard to turn the Tacoma back towards San Francisco and towards the end of this amazing adventure. It was truly an unbelievable five days. We can’t wait to rent a Pacific Overlander 4×4 again for our next adventure.
Rent your own 4×4 Overlander vehicle so you can have adventure stoke face just like Pat:
Pacific Overlander 4×4 Rental
San Francisco, California