Our family recently returned from a 5-week 7500-mile van camping odyssey. We traveled from the Bay Area to the Great Smoky Mountains in North Carolina and Tennesse and back to California via Minnesota. Traveling is just an excuse for spending time together.
7500 Mile #Van Camping Road Trip Map
We hiked to beautiful water falls, soaked in hot springs, grilled burgers, watched movies like the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings in our van, and ate all kinds of amazing cooked on our Partner stainless steel propane stove.
Sonora pass over the Sierra Nevada mountains had plenty of melting snow on the side of the road. It snowed a little on us as we soaked in Buckeye Hotsprings in the Eastern Sierra's. We woke to a light frost in the morning.
Cold Morning at Travertine Hot Springs
I soaked in both Travertine and Buckeye Hot Springs. It's hard for me to pass any free hot springs.
I spend months planning the route and ensuring that we don't visit the same areas unless my boys were too young to really remember visiting an area. Bordem tends to kill family vacations. I plan every mile hoping that each stop has a purpose. Often times, random stops in small towns are more exciting than planned visits. A random stop in Salmon, Idaho to repair a flat tire revealed an amazing artisan sour-dough bread at the Odd Fellows Bakery.
Odd Fellows Bakery, Salmon, Idaho
Treeline Coffee Roasters, Bozeman Montana
My wife wanted fresh coffee. I searched Google Maps for fresh roasted coffee and was lead to both Treeline Coffee Roasters and Wild Crumb Bakery.
Wild Crumb Bakery, Bozeman, Montana
We were so excited to find a bakery next door to Treeline Coffee Roasters.
Cardens Bluff Campground, Tennessee
Every year I include 1 special place of interest to keep everyone excited. This year we visited The Ark Encounter in Kentucky. It's a real life-size replication of Noah's Ark made almost entirely of wood. Quite amazing! It took 6 hours to walk through every floor and exhibit.
The Ark Encounter
Family Photo At Valley Of Fire State Park, Nevada
We rarely drive freeways unless the geography is totally boring and we have to make fast time. We call this "Airplane mode". Everyone is usually sleeping as I am legally driving at 70 mph. My goal is to get to the next cool place to visit and let the family rest.
Josiah & Zachary at Valley Of Fire State Park, Nevada
When I ask my 2 boys what was the favorite part of the trip I usually heard "Playing with kids". I never heard "The Grand Canyon was amazing" or "The Great Smoky Mountains Rocks!" Most of the time they remember meeting and interacting with people on the trip or doing something fun like eating out as a family.
Horseshoe Bend, Arizona
Family Picnic Dinner in Oklahoma
I enjoyed the family bonding time of spending nearly 24 hours a day together. Not that we always got along. I complained about my wife filling up our 15 passenger van with creature comforts. Mommy complained that the boys' dishwashing was substandard. The kids complained that Mommy made them do too much homework. My wife complained that I was too hard on her for packing so much stuff.
We have lots of storage room in the van which presents many problems because most of us pack too much stuff. We packed scooters, extra jackets, inflatable boats, floatation tubes, hundreds of pounds of food, soap making molds, and so much extra junk that was never used.
Grilling Burgers in a Tenessee at Paint Creek Campground
It's harder to get along with everyone living in a van the size of a storage shed.
My Wife Chill'n In The Hammock at Cosby Campground, Great Smoky Mountain National Park
Eggs For Sale
We were running low and eggs and found some farm fresh eggs. The guy selling the eggs was doing something in the woods and heard us stop at his place. He had half dozen eggs. He lived in a 1 room house and was the care taker for a large property. Not sure where the place is as we followed our GPS. This place was way off the beaten path. Beautiful scenery on 1 lane country roads.
Man and The Van
Ladder To Cargo Box
Alternator Installation, Paris, Arkansas
We visited my 84-year old parents in Minnesota who recently moved into assisted living. The boys doted on the grandparents. My parents are like needy children and need constant care. Tasks like putting on socks or cooking a meal consume a large part of their day.
We enjoyed almost a week sight seeing and staying with my parents in Minnesota.
Sunset on Lake Minnetonka
Panoramic View of the Root River Valley in Minnesota
Root River Valley
We left teary-eyed knowing that seeing them again is not guaranteed. People average less than 3 years in nursing homes or assisted living. Life and death are natural and it's still hard to deal with.
Soaking At Kirkham Hot Springs, Idaho
Sawtooth Moutains, Idaho
It was a great family vacation and we are already talking about the next 7500 mile adventure for 2019.