In 2015, #VanLife took over social media and inspired thousands of people to hit the road and make a living from their refurbished vehicles. But what about #BusLife? When he needed a change, Caleb Brackney — a sustainability advocate, road trip pro, and now small business owner — took to the streets in a decorated school bus.
Since starting his bus conversation in 2020, Caleb has driven his home on wheels across the United States, exploring the most touristy and remote outdoor destinations. Having visited many national parks, natural wonders and mountain towns, he has the specialist knowledge necessary for a legendary road trip across the country. Below, he shares his all-time favorite outdoor destinations across the United States.
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Growing up in a family of nine who enjoyed road trips and camping led me to a lifestyle that would become part of my identity: being a nomad. Did I expect this as a college girl when I was crammed into the back of an RV in National Parks from California to Maine – no, but I knew I cherished freedom from the open road. Living permanently on wheels never crossed my mind as a way of life until I started graduate school at the University of Tennessee. I quickly realized that working part-time to pay rent would be a challenge while pursuing two master’s degrees, so I looked for solutions that would give me more financial freedom.
In the midst of a pandemic and inflation in the housing market in 2020, I started scouring social media for inspiration for unique and affordable housing options. One afternoon I landed on a listing for an old school bus on Facebook Marketplace. This yellow bus would eventually become my little house on wheels and the best purchase I would ever make. Two years and thousands of miles later, living on wheels has given me the freedom not to be confined to a permanent place or tied to a life where I have to work a traditional job to pay my rent.
I will be eternally grateful for this experience.
Big Bend National Park
I first went to Big Bend National Park on a school field trip in 2018. Little did I know this sprawling park in southwest Texas would become one of my favorite destinations. From mountains to remote desert, there are more than 150 miles of trails to explore, and the Rio Grande meanders through the edge of the park to provide dynamic canyons and places to snorkel and cool off. My favorite canyon is Santa Elena, where you can hike along the river and see the wildlife and the many plant species that make the national park unique.
Black Hills, South Dakota
The Black Hills have been the backdrop for cowboy tales, movies and Wild West imaginations for over a hundred years, but the millions of acres that make up the region are teeming with more wildlife and vegetation. than you could explore on a single trip. From roaming bison on the plains to riding trails winding through the hills, the Black Hills are perfect for any adventure. Black Elk Peak is my favorite hike in the area, which is also the highest peak between the Rockies and the Atlantic Ocean. A visit to the local chuckwagon dinner shows and Mount Rushmore is a must for every visit.
Devil’s Tower, Wyoming
Devils Tower is perhaps the most iconic national monument (with the first established) in our country. The steep walls stretch for hundreds of feet across the plains of Wyoming and the cliffs contain history and many stories of Native Americans who originally found the place. Hiking trails surround the tower and allow visitors to climb along the rocks that have broken away from the cliffs. You can also attempt to climb to the top as there are over 200 routes to the top of the monument!
Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs
Garden of the Gods is a gorgeous destination a few hours south of Denver in Colorado Springs. This small park is home to hiking trails that take visitors around rocky outcrops and is a great destination for novice climbers to learn the hobby. Although the loop around the park can get congested, many trails are more remote and offer beautiful views of Colorado Springs. Pikes Peak is near here and should also be a stop as it is the highest point in the Rockies.
Glacier National Park
Glacier is by far my favorite travel destination in the United States. From hiking to day hikes, this huge park has enough wildlife and mountains to provide entertainment for dozens of trips. My favorite part of the park is Many Glacier, where a huge log cabin-style lodge sits next to a lake with hiking trails surrounding it. Each time I have visited I have seen no less than half a dozen grizzly bears which add an extra level of excitement to each trip. Moose also roam freely in this park and provide unforgettable moments when you see them up close.
Rocky Mountain National Park
Located a few hours north of Denver, Rocky Mountain National Park is a must-see destination. From entering through Estes Park into a wilderness in its own right, the Rockies were practically created for adventures. From Lily Lake to the tree line on Longs Peak, wildlife and vegetation are abundant in this part of the country. More than 100 peaks litter this park and several entrances allow visitors to discover it from different angles. My favorite hikes have been from Wild Basin in the desert.
sequoia national park
Since when isn’t it cool to experience the world like a squirrel? ! In Sequoia National Park, located in Southern California, tree trunks taller than the width of school buses make up this oasis. Since there is only a small area of elevation/precipitation where redwoods can live, this park is a natural wonder as it provides the only canvas where groves of these old trees can live. When you enter the park you will have to drive nearly 45 minutes uphill to reach the groves, so the weather can swing over 40 degrees in that hour due to the elevation change!
While most of my favorite destinations are national parks, Tucson holds a special place in my heart because of its uniqueness. Adjacent to vast tracts of BLM land, canyons, national forests, and Saguaro National Park, this town is an ideal base for desert adventures. My favorite day trips out of Tucson include viewing prairie dog villages, walking the streets of historic Tombstone, Arizona, and exploring the beautiful town of Bisbee. Although a big city, I think Tucson is a hidden gem and a great base for making memories in the desert.