How The Outbound Collective Defined My Road Trip

No, I'm not being paid to write this.

By: Jonathon Reed + Save to a List

This fall, my twin sister and I drove from rural Ontario to spend a month and a half exploring the wilderness of the American Southwest, from the San Juan Mountains across the Colorado Plateau to the Sierra Nevada and the Pacific Coast. When I look back on it, famous landmarks loom large in my memory—Angels Landing, Half Dome, North Rim. But closer to my heart are the little side-trips, the little-known destinations that turned into unforgettable stories. And those all came from one place: The Outbound. 

This isn't a thank-you post, although it could be. I'm writing this as a how-to. This is how I used the incredible content and community of The Outbound to shape our trip, and why you should too.

Sunset above Yosemite Valley, which we backtracked a couple kilometres to see because of Joel Bear's adventure on The Outbound. (Taft Point, Yosemite National Park)

We began planning in February with a map of the United States national parks wide open. We knew we wanted to go west, and we knew we wanted to hit some of the major players in the National Parks Service—Zion, Yosemite, Grand Canyon. That was it. As we traced a line through the national parks of Utah a route began to take shape, and before long we had the outline of a trip that would take us from Colorado to California.

That was, in many ways, the easy part. Planning the trip included many logistical challenges, things as simple as converting miles to kilometres (America!) and as complex as researching transportation options in Yosemite in the off-season. For me, however, the most daunting task was deciding what we would do in the first place.

So we're in Utah, I imagined. Now what?

For months, my research was based on details-focused information on NPS websites and long-expired posts in old backpacking forums. I scoured the internet for guides on routes in Rocky Mountain National Park and Canyonlands National Park, trying to cross-reference advice to figure out what had changed over the years. I looked through old compact-digital photo posts, trying to picture myself backpacking through landscapes that I had never seen before. It was exciting, of course, but draining as well. I wanted something easy to look through, wanted opinions I knew I could trust.

I know, this is starting to sound really cliché. 

If it helps, I don't remember how I came across The Outbound, nor was it love at first sight. But gradually I spent more and more time clicking through the adventures embedded in the map of the American Southwest. As our list for the trip lengthened, it became more of a question of what couldn't we do, instead of what could we do.

Here's an example of how it worked. We knew from our own brainstorming that we wanted to explore Arches National Park and then drive west to spend a few days in Bryce Canyon National Park. So I searched The Outbound for adventures near Moab, Utah, and then literally just dragged the map following Highway 24 and Highway 12 to Bryce, clicking through adventures along the way. Same thing for exploring what to do in Zion and Yosemite, same thing for driving Highway 1 through Big Sur.

It might sound like a lot of work, but it sure beat scrolling through long-abandoned internet forums. And it's how I found Coyote Gulch, so no matter what, it was worth it.

This is why The Outbound stands out. Because it's not for-profit travel companies trying to sell predetermined packages, or non-evocative tourism agencies trying to avoid liability—it's real people sharing real experiences. When I read through adventures on The Outbound, it was like getting tips from a local, or travel stories from a friend. I put a lot of faith in the adventures and articles I came across on The Outbound.

I started looking forward to being able to share my own stories and advice in return. After we realized that our tent was a lot stronger on a 90º angle against the relentless wind of Great Sand Dunes National Park, for example, I decided to share some tips on backpacking above the treeline, written from my sleeping bag in the very same tent.

As far as I could (and can) tell, the advice that I let shape our road trip came from experiences a lot like that, which is probably where my trust came from. And that trust was worth it. Looking back, many of those lesser-known spots are what stand out among the iconic destinations of the road trip. Of course we saw Half Dome and the Grand Canyon, everyone knows to visit them. But we also hiked out towards Druid Arch in Canyonlands (actually didn't make it to that one, but we got close!) and drove the San Juan Skyway in Colorado. We saw Taft Point at sunset and took on the wind of Great Sand Dunes. We lingered at Double Arch.

And hell. We hiked Coyote Gulch. That alone would have been enough.

Taking in the landscape of Great Sand Dunes, which we only knew about because of Michael O'Keeffe's adventure on The Outbound. (High Dune, Great Sand Dunes National Park)

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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