It’s about a 2-hour drive from Moab to Capitol Reef National Park. Make sure you fill up with gas and grab snacks before hitting the road because there are not many places to stop along the way. My first stop was at the visitor center to ask where they allow dispersed camping and their dog rules. I was happy to find out that dogs are allowed in the orchards, picnic areas, and along the paved walking trail. Camping is allowed anywhere past mile marker 73. I found an area with a few other RVs and campers and picked my spot. A few miles further west is a town called Torrey that has free wifi at the visitor center, a few restaurants, gas station, laundromat, showers, and small grocery store.
It was late afternoon, so I decided to relax at the campsite. The gusty winds in the area made cooking a bit of a challenge. I managed to fix something quick and repack the van for the next day. It was much colder here than in Moab, and Kuma and I both developed a bit of a cold from the drastic temperature changes and crazy dust storms. We stayed cuddled under the blankets until almost 9 am, and it was so cold I didn’t want to wake up. But the minute I removed those insulation panels the sun blasted in and warmed us right up, it was colder inside the van than outside. I’m amazed at how well they work. (I’ll write more about them in my Van Build blog coming soon)
Capitol Reef National Park is a wrinkle in the Earth formed by geologic forces. The nearly 100-mile Waterpocket Fold (a barrier of rock that obstructed early travelers like a barrier “Reef”) inspired the park’s name. Pioneer history can be seen as names inscribed on the Capitol Gorge Trail dating back to the late 1800s. Driving along the Scenic Drive, you get a close-up view of the rock formations and rainbow of colors. If you’re lucky enough to be there during harvest months, June to October, you can sample any of the fruit for free while strolling the orchards. Must see: Capitol Gorge Trail, Capitol Dome, the Castle, the Goosenecks.
Still feeling a bit sick and in no rush, I camped another night at Capitol Reef before driving to Bryce Canyon National Park the next morning. Utah’s Scenic Byway 12 has several viewpoints and hikes to explore along the way from Torrey to Hatch. If you have the time, stop and check out some of the trails. I arrived at Bryce Canyon visitor center late afternoon. They have free wifi inside the visitor center which was great because there’s no signal for miles out there. The general store inside the national park has coin-op showers, $3 for 8 minutes, available for use during store hours 8am-6pm. They allow dogs on a portion of the rim trail from Sunrise Point to Sunset Point. Dogs are also allowed anywhere along the paved shared path route. After a quick look around, I headed to the dispersed camping site which is located down a road just before the park entrance. It was much quieter and less crowded here than the previous camping locations. I parked the van in a nice spot overlooking a field where we saw deer walking around in the distance. This location is mostly forest and a higher elevation, so there was still some snow on the ground in certain areas of the park. I heard their sunrise views are much better than sunset so I planned to be at Sunrise Point bright and early.
This was the coldest night yet and the next morning was the first time I wore my winter jacket. It was a bit overcast at sunrise but still a beautiful sight. After a quick coffee break, I drove along the Scenic route stopping at all the viewpoints. (Part of this road is closed in winter due to snow and icy conditions) We were back at the campsite by noon, and the sun was finally shining. It was perfect weather to set up camp, cook, and relax for a bit. After a nap, I took Kuma on the dog-friendly Sunrise-Sunset trail hike and we strolled along part of the shared use path. It wasn’t busy summer season yet but there were definitely more tourists here than at the previous parks I visited.
Bryce Canyon is actually several amphitheaters filled with spires, windows, and hoodoos which are pillars formed by erosion. It is known for having some of the best star gazing, and they offer a summer/fall night sky program followed by stargazing with telescopes. A free shuttle connects Bryce Canyon City to Bryce Point and all of the viewpoints along the way. This shuttle helps reduce traffic and congestion at the popular viewpoints. There is also a 6.2-mile shared-use path connecting Bryce Canyon City, north of the park, all the way to Inspiration Point. This paved trail offers bicycles, wheelchairs, pedestrians, and dog walkers the chance to experience the beauty of the park. Bryce Canyon National Park also has a lodge located within the park and several hotels just north of Bryce Canyon City for those not too keen on camping. Must see: Sunrise Point, Sunset Point, Inspiration Point, Bryce Point and the Scenic Route.
We spent another night camping at Bryce before heading off to Zion National Park. After leaving Bryce Canyon City, Scenic Byway 12 takes you to Red Canyon where you actually drive through tunnels formed by natural erosion. Make sure to have your camera ready and pull over for these shots. It’s about an hour and 1/2 drive to Zion National Park along another stunning scenic road. Entering the park from the East along Hwy 9 is majestically beautiful. You literally drive straight through mountains to arrive in the heart of Zion National Park.