A road in a desert scrub-brush prairie comes to a "T" with a large yellow sign with two arrows pointing left and right.

Vanlife: 7 National Monuments to See on Your Travels

Vanlifers Unite!

While life on the road can be attractive for a multitude of reasons, experiencing life in the great outdoors is paramount to us here at Planetary Design.  Our team has vanned it all over the country and, in our travels, we have come across some seriously magnificent sights we would like to share with you. There are currently 129 US designated national monuments and we haven’t quite been to all of them… yet.

PD’s most dedicated vanlifers put their heads together and assembled this short list of totally awesome places to see on your next journey — we hope you enjoy reading it as much as we enjoy remembering it!


Canyon de Chelly, Arizona


The Canyon de Chelly National Monument is located just north east of Flagstaff, Arizona, within the Navajo Indian Reservation.  At just more than 80,000 acres, the sweeping views of the canyon stretch all the way to the horizon. With Spider Rock rising 750 feet out of the canyon, as well as archaeological ruins of the Ancestral Pueblo, Anasazi and Navajo tribes, this place is a must-see for vanlifers.


Devils Tower, Wyoming

The sun's glow fades away at sunset on Devils tower, a large, orange and brown, and square stone formation with vertical striations in the sides of the formations rock walls.

Photo courtesy of National Park Foundation

You may recognize this near thousand-foot tall rock formation from Steven Spielberg’s 1977 cult-classic Close Encounters of the Third Kind — this national monument now, however, is becoming more and more well-known as a world-class playground for climbers and mountaineers.  Located in the badlands of Wyoming near the Belle Fourche River, Devils Tower delights vanlifers, climbers, hikers and sightseers alike.


These folks sure climbed it!


Natural Bridges, Utah

The three natural bridges found within Natural Bridges National Monument in Utah are a spectacular example of what nature can create when left to its own devices.  These bridges have been created by nothing more than water moving across rock.

Due to the sparse human population around the monument, Natural Bridges is subject to so little pollution that stargazers can see upwards of 15,000 stars in a single night!  When compared to 500 visible stars in urban areas, Natural Bridges may be one of the best places to stargaze in the western United States.


Muir Woods, California

Now that we have made it out of the desert, what better place to begin than Muir Woods?  As a haven for coastal redwoods and one of the few remaining forests of its kind, these walking paths are decorated with lush ferns that help connect many to their roots in the natural world.  Oh, and the smell? Just smells so… fresh. There is something truly humbling about walking amongst thousand-year-old trees standing 250 feet above you.


Jewel Cave, South Dakota

A metal staircase descends into Jewel cave with reddish-orange and brown walls and some sunlight illuminating the cavern.

Photo courtesy of National Park Service

If you’ve ever driven your van through South Dakota, you know that the vast majority of the state consists of vast swaths of farmland spotted by sprawling midwestern towns.  Nestled away from the public eye in the southwest corner of the state, make sure to stop at the third longest cave in the world.  With 198 miles of mapped caverns and new passages being surveyed every day, some consider Jewel Cave the last unexplored place in the US.  

Known as a “breathing cave”, air cycles through Jewel cave with changing atmospheric pressures.  The presence of oxygen allows for exploration deep into the Earth’s crust, which is pretty neat!


John Day Fossil Beds, Oregon

A gravel pathway comes to a bridge with magnificent rock formations and blue sky in the background and sage brush desert scrub plants in the foreground.

Photo courtesy of FineTooth

Tourists and vanlifers from all over the globe come to Oregon to see the ancient plants and animals, preserved near perfectly in the layers of eroding volcanic deposits in the John Day River Basin.  Plants and animals from as far back as 50 million years ago are preserved in the very hillsides and rock formations along the paved trails you can walk on. Don’t forget your sketchbooks and magnifying glasses!

Sound interesting?  It’s beautiful, too.  Check out this amazing footage of the Painted Hills in the John Day National Monument.



Katahdin Woods and Waters, Maine


Our final vanlife bucket list monument belongs to the great northern state of Maine.  With a bit of a different flavor than its predecessors, the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument consists of just about 88,000 acres of coniferous forest, rivers and creeks.  The forest here is full of life, as the calls of a diverse array of birds greets you as the sunrises and bid you a good night with the setting sun. With countless hiking trails and camping spots available for recreation, get out of the van and meet your first moose!


Safe travels, fellow vanlifers

We hope this list has inspired you, as these memories inspire us to keep our old rigs running.  Have anything to add or experiences to share? Drop us a line here.