Cross Country U.S. Road Trip – Part 2 (Tips, Tricks, and Packing Lists)

In my “Part 1” post, I gave a review of each of the parks I visited on my cross country U.S. road trip this summer. As promised, in this Part 2 post, I will give you all of the COVID precautions I took, all of the hiking and road trip tips and tricks that I have (and learned while on this trip), and a list of EVERYTHING I packed with me – categorized, of course. If you are in it for my full itinerary and a full review of each of the hikes I did and meals I ate, check out Part 3!

Apologies in advance – this post has a lot of words and not a ton of photos! Part 1 and Part 3 are LOADED with pictures, so be sure to check those out as well!

Hiking and Road Tripping Tips

When planning a trip that revolves around driving and hiking, you have to have a good resource to rely on to locate trails, be prepared with food/snacks, and know a little bit about the parks before you arrive. It might require a bit of extra planning up front, but here are the things that helped me a TON when planning and executing my own trip:

  • Download the All Trails app. You can see my itinerary in Part 3 of this series, but everyone hikes and travels different, and enjoys different natural wonders, so I invite you to look at available trails and choose whichever ones suit you best! All Trails was my lifeline on this trip because it is really easy to use and search within, it provides a very reliable map and exact coordinates for trailheads, and the reviews are really accurate and include pictures. I am the kind of person who wants to know EXACTLY what I am getting myself into before I do anything, and all Trails made that 100% possible. I had very few surprises (aside from the beauty of nature itself, of course) while I was on each of the trails.
  • I had gotten the annual pass for National Parks – it’s $80 and was totally worth it for me since I was going to so many. If you are going to only one or a small handful of parks, you can alternatively look into the entrance fee for each park and see what makes the most sense. *Note that the National Park pass does NOT work at State Parks as well, so if you visit any of those you will have to pay a separate entrance fee.
  • Look at the park website before you visit each. Some parks require a timed reservation to enter (I will let you know in the itinerary when this applied for me, but the rules are always subject to change so check ahead of time). Additionally, trail availability is often changing due to natural and biological events, so it is a good idea to make sure the trails you want to do are currently available.
  • I would suggest putting together a shell of an itinerary regarding which trails you want to do before booking hotels. Then, plan your hotels near the trailheads (or near the entrance of the park closest to the trailhead) that you want to hike. Some of the parks are so large that you can drive 1-2 hours once you are inside to get to your trailhead. This will save you a lot of travel time, which actually really adds up in the grand scheme of your trip. It also helps when you are trying to get a good spot in a limited parking lot in the morning.
  • The trip turned into more of an educational excursion than I originally thought it would be. If you are the kind of person who is into wildlife and geological phenomena, you can check out the history of the parks beforehand in order to be able to fully appreciate it while you are there. If you are like me and like to learn in real time, you can hold off. The brochures they hand you upon entrance to the parks makes for great reading to pass the time while driving through.
  • Something that helped a lot on travel days with timing of sunset hikes was planning to arrive at the park first, and checking into the hotel afterwards once it was too dark to be in the park. Call your hotels ahead of time to become familiar with their check in policy.
  • Google Maps will become your best friend. Make sure your phone software is fully updated and test this out before you leave, but my Google Maps works even if I have no cell service, or am on airplane mode – even the little blue dot telling me where I am. This was incredibly helpful on hikes if I was ever confused about where the path was. Check your hikes ahead of time to see if they are programmed into Google – a lot of times they are, as skinny dotted lines! Also, directions will continue to work even if you lose cell service, but it will not be able to re-route you if you go off the original route. Map your long driving stretches ahead of time, including potential rest stops (you will come across large stretches of land with no gas stations, so while you have service, know where your next rest stop will be).
  • Be prepared to have no cellphone service for a lot of the more remote sections of your drive – you will have blips of service when passing through populated towns and cities, but a lot of the midwestern driving was through farms, mountains, and forests, and sell signal was unreliable. Again, program Google Maps ahead of time to ensure you have direction even if you lose service.
  • Keep an eye on time zones. You will be passing through multiple, and in order to time your driving and your subset hikes, you have to know what time it is! Traveling west grants you additional hours of daylight because you literally travel backwards in time, but then coming back east is rough because you lose an hour with each time zone change. Also, Arizona is technically in the Mountain Time Zone, but does not participate in daylight savings… so half the year it follows the other Mountain time states, but half the year it has the same time as Pacific. This made timing in Arizona a bit of a wild card because I didn’t know this going into it.
  • Keep a close eye on your gas gauge. There will likely be stretches of a few solid hours during your trip where there are no gas services, and since cell service is spotty you really don’t want to get caught running out of gas.
  • Get an oil change right before you leave, and try to use synthetic oil if possible. Depending on the length of your trip, you will likely need another while you are on the road. This isn’t too much of a pain, most places are quick!
  • Don’t forget to fill up your windshield wiper fluid right before you leave! bugs exploding on your windshield is real, and if you don’t have enough wiper fluid you might have trouble with visibility. Lots of gas stations off major highways have the windshield washer and squeegee, which helps a lot.
  • Be comfortable eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch every day for the duration of your trip. If you can think of a more creative way to eat on the road, please let me know!
  • Don’t underestimate the power of good hiking gear! If you don’t already have good hiking stuff (my full list of hiking-related stuff is below), you will want to make a few purchases.
  • Become familiar with what cairns are, and how they are helpful on a hike. Basically, a cairn is a pile of stacked and balanced rocks, and they are put together by the park in order to guide you in the correct direction of your trail. You are not supposed to tamper with the already existing cairns in the park or create your own. Most hikes do not require you to follow cairns (because they have signs, or the paths are in a cleared section of the forest), but some of the hikes I did required the use of cairns instead of signs or arrows. The hike should warn you up front if this will be the case (always study and take a photo of any information or maps provided at the trailhead so you can reference it during your hike), and you can also check the All Trails reviews ahead of time to see if they mention following cairns as guidelines.
  • Know the things you can prep the night before a hike, and the things you need to make the morning of. I would fill up water bottles and mix up my electrolytes the night before and stick it in the fridge. I would also put Cliff bars, jerky, and pour some cereal in a Ziplock and put it in my hiking backpack the night before. Lastly, I set up the PB&J station the night before – basically line up the PB, the bread, the knife, and the dish (jelly stayed in the fridge). The morning of, I would make my sandwich, grab my water from the fridge, finish packing up my bag, and hit the road.

COVID Precautions

If you plan to take a trip during the pandemic, I am sure you will look to take additional precautions, as I did as well. Remember that I am just a regular person who has NO information aside from what is publicly available, and all of you are perfectly capable of being either more/less cautious than me, depending on your personal preferences and life situation. The following is certainly not a fully exhaustive list, but just the things that I did when planning and executing my trip:

  • Packed aerosol Lysol (any household cleaner with disinfectant would work, but the aerosol spray can made this process so much easier) and sprayed down every hotel room I checked into – including ALL surfaces and the floor. I made sure to not forget light/lamp switches, doorknobs, toilet and flusher, shower and faucet knobs, coffee machine, air conditioner/thermostat, and refrigerator, both inside and out. Again, this is not an exhaustive list – I really just sprayed everything.
  • Packed my own pillow and pillowcases. I didn’t have room in the car for my sheets and blanket, otherwise I probably would have packed that as well. I also avoided using the top layer of blankets provided by hotels (though this isn’t COVID specific for me – I feel like hotels don’t always wash the top decorative layer blanket, so I never use it. A good rule of thumb is to only use things that are white in a hotel, as these are the things they can wash with bleach. Decorative or colorful linens will not be as sanitary).
  • Packed aerosol/spray travel sized alcohol. This was really helpful when outdoor dining, because I would spray down the table/chairs and any communal condiments like ketchup/syrup, etc.
  • I had a strict “no indoor dining” policy, and did takeout probably 2/3 of the time, and sat on a patio the remaining 1/3 of the time. The good news is that 99.9% of restaurants are doing takeout, so many times I selected the restaurant I wanted to go to (without worrying about whether they had outdoor seating), and if there was no option to sit outside I just did the takeout option. I would eat either in the car or at a park bench nearby (using that alcohol spray out here too). This also might have been more so due to the nature of the trip itself, but I only purchased 1 meal per day from an eatery. All of my other meals were snacks that I had brought with me from home (I will get into all of this later), and most of the day I didn’t have access to a restaurant anyway because I was either hiking or driving.
  • Used my mask 100% of the time in public places. It might be a good idea to research ahead of time which states currently maintain a mask policy, especially for the drive, so that you can plan pit stops accordingly, avoiding states that don’t enforce masks. I also brought a box of disposable masks for hiking and switched those out every day, and brought a few real ones for when I wanted to look a bit nicer.
  • Packed a TON of road snacks. This limits the number of times you are eating food prepared by others, and the number of times you are in gas station stores or touching vending machines. As I said before, I bought 1 meal per day, and it was usually dinner. This does not include the occasional coffee.
  • I did a significant bit of research on my hotels before booking. I read recent reviews on multiple different platforms (Google, Hotels.com, Tripadvisor) to make sure I was choosing lodging that was COVID-conscious. I stayed away from anything that had a less than stellar rating, and if any recent reviews mentioned that the hotel was dirty or that the staff didn’t wear masks. I also avoided Airbnb for this trip, and stuck to only hotels and inns.
  • I called some of my hotels ahead of time to get a feel for their capacity policy, and whether they were booking rooms at a lower than 100% capacity to minimize crowding. I also asked them if they could give me a room that hadn’t been inhabited for a few days. Some hotels will be able to make this accommodation for you, and some hotels will not. Regardless, it’s worth the ask.
  • I requested no services once I checked into each hotel and placed the “do not disturb” sign on the door for the entirety of my stay. I didn’t want anyone in my room that wasn’t me, and you can always request additional soaps/shampoos/towels at the front desk.
  • This will be a no-brainer, but I avoided all public places as much as possible. While in the hotel, no pool, gym, or communal recreation areas. In the parks, I frequented mostly restrooms obviously, but I stayed away from visitor centers as much as possible (most of the parks hand you maps on your way in), and cafeterias. In one park (Zion) there was also a public shuttle to get you down into the canyon where there are a number of trailheads – I also avoided this and only did trails I could get to with my car.
  • I planned to be off the typical tourist schedule. For example, I got into the parks either really early in the morning, or just before sundown to avoid the busiest times of the day.
  • I brought way more hand sanitizer than I thought I needed, and it wound up being the exactly perfect amount. I had brought a number of travel sized bottles and kept them in all of my bags and pockets, and then I brought a larger bottle that I kept in my luggage to refill the little ones. I used public hand sanitizer stations if for some reason I didn’t immediately have access to my travel sized one, but I always used my own hand sanitizer afterwards because you never know if the public one is a lower % or watered down.

Packing Lists

Hiking

  1. Backpack (mine is discontinued, but it’s similar to these!)
  2. Boots
  3. Trekking poles (here are mine)
  4. Pocket knife
  5. Hydro bladder (2-3L) (here is mine. The 2L is what fits in my backpack, but Camelbak also has a 3L!)
  6. Additional water bottle (16-32 oz)
  7. Flashlight & headlamp
  8. Batteries (whatever necessary for the flashlights or other electronic devices you pack)
  9. First aid kit
  10. Extra band-aids and Neosporin
  11. Benadryl (you never know when you will get a bug bite that doesn’t agree with you or rub up against a plant that makes you itchy. I wound up not using this, but I felt good having it in my hiking pack)
  12. Ziplock bags (really handy for peanut butter sandwiches, and also as garbage bags for on the trails)
  13. Waterproof case & lanyard for your phone
  14. Sunscreen. I have really sensitive skin and HATE sunscreen, but the zinc based sunscreens worked like a charm! Here’s the spray bottle and cream tube that I used on the trip.

Food

  1. Cliff bars (at least 1 per day of hiking) (any energy/protein bar would work here. I opted for Cliff because they are higher in carbs for sustained energy)
  2. Jerky packets (at least 1 per day of hiking)
  3. Apples (at least 1 per day of hiking)
  4. Peanut butter (2 people killed a jar in about 2 weeks. I packed 2 jars for the whole trip)
  5. Nutella
  6. Jelly
  7. Bread (I brought 4 loaves, and we had tapped into the fourth during the last few days of the trip)
  8. Utensils (I brought a fork, knife, and spoon for each person on the trip. I really only used the knives when making sandwiches)
  9. Plates (these are necessary.)
  10. Paper towels (I wound up only using 1 roll)
  11. Electrolytes (Bought this powder off Amazon so I didn’t have to carry around a case of Gatorade. Definitely recommend a powder! Not married to this brand or flavor though)
  12. Nuts (I wound up not actually eating any of these)
  13. Twizzlers (don’t question this one. They’re necessary.)

Clothes

  1. Hiking outfits (1 per day in the parks)
  2. Pajamas (I planned to rotate these out every few days)
  3. Long sleeve shirts (I didn’t use these, but your decision to bring them should depend on the time of year you go)
  4. Sweatshirts (I packed 1 that remained clean for lounging in the hotel or at dinner and on travel days in the car, and a few in varying thicknesses that I used on my hikes.)
  5. Tall socks
  6. Bathing suit
  7. Poncho
  8. Jacket (I packed my ski jacket just incase but didn’t actually use it. A thin puffer would likely be more appropriate, but it depends on the time of year that you go.)
  9. Beanie and gloves (I didn’t really use these either, but it will depend on the time of year that you go)
  10. Sneakers (for anything we did non-hiking)
  11. Ankle socks
  12. Lounge outfits (for the car rides and hotels)
  13. Real outfit (i.e. jeans) for going out to dinner (I honestly didn’t really use this either, because most of the time we grabbed a quick meal on the way out of the parks so I was still in my hiking clothes).
  14. Long pants/sweats (I didn’t use these, but always pack long pants on a trip just because you never know how cold it will get at night or in the mornings.)
  15. Delicates (duh, right? But if they’re not on my list, I always forget to pack them)

COVID Specific

  1. Masks and filters to put inside (I packed a box of disposables to use on the hikes, and then a few real cloth ones to use on travel days and at dinner)
  2. Hand sanitizer (I packed a number of small travel bottles that I put in every bag, pocket, and cup holder of the car. I also brought a larger bottle to use to refill when the smaller ones ran out.)
  3. Aerosol Lysol
  4. Aerosol/spray travel alcohol spray
  5. Pillows and pillowcases

Miscellaneous

  1. Toiletries (razor, deodorant, toothbrush, toothpaste, headband/hair clips/ponytail holders, hair gel, moisturizer, chapstick, face wash)
  2. Tylenol
  3. Zinc
  4. Daily multivitamin
  5. Toilet paper (to take on hikes just incase. I wound up not needing this at all – the hikes are pretty well-equipped with bathrooms at nearly every trailhead.)
  6. Electronics (computer, computer charger, phone charger, fitbit/activity tracker and charger, camera and charger, speaker and charger)
  7. Sunglasses
  8. Giant Ziplock bags (or garbage bags) – I use this for dirty laundry

Hopefully my tips and tricks and packing lists will help you in planning your trip! To see my reviews for all of the parks, check out Part 1 of this post! For my detailed itinerary, and reviews of each hike I did and meal I ate, check out Part 3!

Happy planning, all!

4 thoughts on “Cross Country U.S. Road Trip – Part 2 (Tips, Tricks, and Packing Lists)

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