We left off our van adventures visiting the magical Zion National Park. It’s truly incredible how each week just seems to be better than the last. Over the course of a week we managed to take our van to Vegas, one state park, two national monuments, and two national parks.
Going from the wilderness to the middle of a bustling city was quite a stark contrast. We slept in parking lots while bright lights shown overhead. We have learned over time how to navigate the van both in crowded areas and wide open spaces.
Chronicling our van journey has been a cathartic exercise that I have truly enjoyed. Read below to hear about a spectacular and somewhat chaotic week of van life.
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Table of Contents
Journey from Bryce Canyon to Capitol Reef
After leaving Zion National Park, Dylan and I went a little out of the way to go to Las Vegas. We had been in wilderness areas for a while, so it was interesting to get back into a very crowded city. We were able to get some important errands done like laundry, Planet Fitness, and grocery shopping, which was much needed.
Although Dylan and I are not big Vegas fans, we did have some exploring the area. We got to see the Bellagio Casino and the fountain show, which was a lot of fun. Also, we picked out Dylan’s tux for our wedding and then we went to a concert. Parcels is an Australian band that rarely tours in the US. Dylan had been dying to see them, so we went out of our way to go to their show at the Brooklyn Bowl in Vegas. It was an amazing show and we were able to sleep in the van at a parking lot right off the strip!
Valley of Fire State Park
We were only in Vegas for a couple days, but we were ready to take the van back to the wilderness. We drove to one of my favorite state parks in the entire country: Valley of Fire State Park. As you make your way into the park, you’ll feel as if you were transported to a completely different planet. The rock formations are truly out of this world.
Unfortunately, we only had a couple hours to explore the park, because it closes at sunset. We knew we wanted to see as much as we could in a couple hours. We were able to hike to the famous Fire Wave, through the lovely Pink Canyon, and amongst the slots of White Domes. Overall, we felt as if we maximized our time in the park and I remembered why I had fallen in love with this place the last time I visited.
Bryce Canyon National Park
We spent a couple days working in Utah towns on our way to Bryce Canyon (NP #22). On Friday, we went directly to Bryce after work to see the sunset. Bryce Canyon is one of my favorite parks in the US and I was so excited to share it with Dylan. As soon as we made it to sunset point, I could see that he was also amazed at the spectacular landscape. The orange hoodoos are captivating as they sit in contrast against the blues, pinks, and purples of the night sky. We stayed for a while just watching the colors change as the sun set below the rocks.
We spent the night at the subway down the street, before heading back into the park to walk amongst the hoodoos. We hiked from sunset point to the Queen’s Garden and Navajo Loop trail. There is something magical about walking alongside these crazy rock formations. It’s something that everyone should do before they leave the park. We were delighted by the hike and the park itself. We quickly drove to the other viewpoints before departing for yet another park.
Driving Scenic Byway 12
After a few hours in the stunning Bryce landscape, we decided to hit the road once again. We drove from Bryce Canyon to Capitol Reef on the magnificent Scenic Byway 12. I had driven this route once before and it had blown me away, so I knew we had to do it again.
If there’s one drive that you should add to your bucket list, it’s this one. The drive starts right before Bryce, travels through Grand Staircase Escalante, over the mountains in Boulder, and finally ends at Capitol Reef National Park.
We began our journey with a quick stop at George’s Outdoor Mexican Cafe for a divine burrito and thirst quenching strawberry lemonade. I also enjoyed waiting for the food atop of Vinny on the roof deck in the bright sunshine. Once we had sustenance, we continued to drive, stopping along the way at the stunning scenic overlooks in Grand Escalante National Monument. It’s so beautiful that it makes you feel grateful to be on earth.
Halfway through the drive, we stopped in the Calf Creek Recreation Area for a hike. We wanted to see Lower Calf Creek Falls. This hike is relatively easy, but Dylan and I both lamented the fact that we had to walk through sand to get there. The waterfall itself was lovely and on a hot day it would be a wonderful swimming hole. However, we went at the end of winter, so we did not take a dip. Instead we moved on and hit the road stopping for more scenic looks along the way.
Capitol Reef National Park
At the very end of Scenic Byway 12, you’ll be met by a stunning red rock wall in front of you. This is the beginning of Capitol Reef National Park (NP #23). Dylan and I pulled into the area and found a wonderful free camping spot for the night. We had views of the red cliffs in the distance and it was incredibly peaceful.
Overnight the clocks sprung forward, so we slept in a bit to recover the hour of lost sleep. Once we woke up we went directly into the park to explore. First, we drove the scenic road and were awed by the red rocks all around.
Then, we went on the famous Cassidy Arch trail. This trail leads you to one of the only places where you can walk on top of an arch. It was a lovely hike and we even made friends along the way. Our legs were tired from all the hiking we had done previously, so we took it easy and went to rest in the van.
We stayed an extra night in the park for one reason and one reason only: to celebrate Pi day! Gifford Homestead is a historic store in the park that sells fresh pies and other goods. It closes for the winter, but opens up for the year on Pi day! We bought three pies: strawberry rhubarb, peach, and apple. Each one of them was delicious with wonderful flaky crusts and sweet fillings. I highly recommend a stop at the homestead!
After a delicious morning, we worked for the day and went back to do one last hike in the park. We hiked the Cohab Canyon trail. This trail started steep, but then it leveled off for an easy stroll through the canyon. We were rewarded with sweeping views over the canyon to end our wonderful trip in Capitol Reef.
We have many exciting adventures to come and only six more months before we get married. Stay tuned for where we go next
Where We Stayed
- Parking off the Las Vegas Strip (36.11736, -115.16600 )
- Walmart in Vegas (6.27660, -115.20525)
- Cracker Barrel in St. George (37.07904, -113.58402)
- Cedar City Walmart (37.65416,-113.08742)
Did you enjoy Van Chronicles #8: Exploring Vegas and Driving from Bryce Canyon to Capitol Reef? Don’t forget to pin it to save for later!