My girlfriend and I just completed our road trip out west. We took our combined five children ages 6 to 9. We camped out in the National Parks and used hotels during the transits. We put about 9000 miles on my truck. I had bought a Yakima roof basket prior to going and we stored everything on the rooftop and the receiver basket that fits a standard trailer ball hitch. The weather was good this year for the most part. We got hailed on a few times in South Dakota and Montana. All in all it was a good trip and I am already starting to plan the next one. Here's a synopsis of how it went.
Day 1: Left Gulf Shores, Alabama and drove to see my parents at lake Martin in Alexander City, Al. Spent the night and played in the lake all afternoon.
Day 2: I-65N to I-24 to I-57 to I-64 Drove to Mt. Vernon, Illinois and got a room at the Renfro Valley Day's Inn. We stopped in Nashville, Tn and Paducah, Ky along the way.
Day 3: I-64 to I-70 to I-29 Woke up and drove to Collinsville, Il. We spent the morning at Cahokia Mounds Historic Site. This is the largest Mississippian era mounds complex in North America. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The site is maintained by the state and has a wonderful museum and grounds. From the top of monk's mound you can see St. Louis and there are great photo ops of the Arch and city skyline. From Cahokia Mounds we drove to St. Louis and took some more photos, had lunch in Columbia, Mo and then drove to Kansas City. We let the kids play around for a while in KC on both the Missouri and Kansas sides, then continued driving to Omaha, Nebraska. We spent the night at La Quinta Inn Omaha Southwest.
Day 4: I-29N to I-90W Had breakfast at Cracker Barrel and got on the road. Drove along the Nebraska/Iowa border. We stopped in Sioux City, Iowa and let the kids play along the river and run around for an hour then drove on to Sioux Falls, South Dakota. We had dinner and went to the Falls Park. The kids loved playing on the boulders and rocks and this is a beautiful park. Lots of good photo ops here too. From Sioux Falls we drove to Murdo, SD and got a room for the night at the Sioux Motel.
Day 5: I-90 to SD44 Drove thirty minutes from Murdo and got breakfast at a 50's Santa Fe traincar diner which is part of a replica 1880's tourist town. Food was good and the actors from the 1880's town were eating in the 50's diner so the kids got entertained as well as breakfast. Drove to the Badlands NP and purchased a National Park pass for $80. This was a worthwhile investment as we visited several national parks and it easily paid for itself several times over. It is good for one year of entry fees. We drove the Badlands Loop, purchased passports for the kids to get stamped at all the visitor centers, Hiked a few trails, stopped by Robert's prairie dog town, saw a rattlesnake, took tons of pictures and spent the whole day at the Badlands. We drove to Wall, SD for dinner at the famous Wall Drug. Had a bison burger, delicious and tried one of the donuts, not my taste. Drove on to Rapid City that night and turned south to go find a campsite near Custer, SD.
Day 6: We had found a campsite in Custer, SD at the Custer Crazy Horse Campground. Rates were good, they have a pool/laundry/playground/ RV& Tent sites and hot showers. This place was very convenient for everything in the Black Hills area. We are tent camping also. We visited Wind Cave National Park and did the "Natural Cave tour", saw more prairie dog towns and the park's resident herd of bison. We picnicked at the national park and drove the Needles Hwy and the Wildlife Loop that afternoon. Took more pictures everywhere, stopped by the Crazy Horse monument and went back to the camp.
Day 7: Fourth of July, We went to Mt. Rushmore and were feeling patriotic. There is a $14 fee to park but it is worth it. You get a pass for a year with this entrance fee. Got the kids' passports stamped and went to the various viewing areas. The hike down to the artist's studio is worth making. It was very informative and the kids got to hop boulders the whole way down. After Mt. Rushmore we drove around the Black Hills area and went hiking around Custer. We didn't do the fireworks show at Custer State Park because it had started hailing on us after Rushmore and we were tired anyway. The kids played in the park at the campground and we did laundry after a week.
Day 8: Breakfast at the Cowboy in Custer. Packed up and headed North. We stopped in Sturgis, Lead and then Deadwood. In Deadwood we toured the Mt. Moriah Cemetery where Wild Bill and Calamity Jane are buried. We made the hike to the top of the cemetery to see Seth Bullock's grave as well. We spent about an hour and a half here. From here we took SD85 to Medora, North Dakota. We stopped along the way in Crow Buttes, ND and Buffalo, SD. We got a room at the Trapper's Inn in Belfield, ND just twenty minutes east of Medora. By this point in the trip it is staying daylight until nearly ten or eleven at night so we began getting up later and staying up later. We visited the Painted Canyon section of Theodore Roosevelt National Park this night about 930PM. It was still broad daylight and there were several families there too.
Day 9: I-94Drove through Dickinson,ND in the morning and then on to Medora and the South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. This park is beautiful and turned out to be one of our highlights because of the stunning scenery of the ND Badlands along the loop drive through the park. We did the ranger led tour of Teddy Roosevelt's Maltese ranch house, hiked three mile long trails and the kids completed their junior ranger badges. North Dakota wasn't originally part of our plan but we were very glad we made the drive and look forward to returning to the North Unit someday. From TRNP we drove on to Glendive, Montana and had dinner. We spent the night at the Econolodge in Billings, MT.
Day 10: I-94 to I-90 to MT287 to I-15 N From Billings we went to Bozeman and had lunch at Bar 3 BBQ. Great BBQ. We took it to The Museum Of The Rockies and picnicked outside. This museum is world class and contains the greatest collection of Triceratops fossils in the world. This was definitely a highlight of the trip. The museum has an enormous collection of dinosaur fossils ranging from Saltopus to T-Rex. The "Gecko" exhibit was also wonderful and we enjoyed the planetarium too. There is a nice gift shop and other exhibits ranging from Indians and pioneers to oil exploration and Yellowstone. We can't say enough good things about this museum. The price for all of us to get in was around $75. Planetarium is included with admission. Drove on to Great Falls, MT and got in around one in the morning. Stopped by Wolf Creek, MT and Madison Buffalo Jump State Park along the way. The Buffalo jump is seven miles from the interstate and has a $5 admission. Stayed at The Super 8 in Great Falls.
Day 11: MT89 to St. Mary, Montana. Stopped in Bynum, Mt and visited the Two Medicine Dinosaur Center. You can watch fossil excavation here and they have some exhibits and interesting fossils. It is part of Montana's Dinosaur Trail. Had lunch in Choteau, Mt and made our way to Glacier-Waterton National Park. We got the last campsite in the entire national park at Rising Sun Campground. We set up camp, hiked to St. Mary Falls and did another short hike that night.
Day 12: Glacier NP is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has the most dramatic scenery IMO. We made the drive to Logan Pass on the Going To The Sun Road. Nearly the entire drive is under construction and it is dusty and wait times are long at the one lane sections. West of Logan Pass is wide open with no construction. We hiked all day and visited various spots around the park. Saw the Bighorn Sheep near the Peace Park at Logan Pass and heard there was a grizzly with her cub just behind our campsite. We hiked the trail down to St. Mary lake and let the kids play in the creeks.
Day 13: Hiked all day and saw the beauty of this national park.
Day 14: MT83S to BLM dirt road to I-90 Got the passports stamped at the visitor center and fueled up just outside the park. They are price gouging here and gas was $4.09 a gallon. It had previously been $3.79 around the rest of Montana. Back in the NP we packed up and got showers at the Rising Sun General store, $2.80 for 7 minutes of hot shower. We resupplied food at the grocery store just outside the park too. We drove the entire length of Going To The Sun Road and stopped off at various spots for hiking, snowball fights and photos. The west side of the park is more forested and there are more creeks and streams and opportunities for rafting and kayaking. Although we enjoyed Rising Sun campground we both agreed we wish we had stayed on the west side of the park. We stopped at A & W in west Glacier and had dinner and rootbeer floats then drove on to Butte, Mt. Along the drive we stopped in the Garnet Range and visited the ghost town of Garnet State Park. We hiked the mile trail to the ghost town and got lost leaving the BLM property to get down to I-90. It was creepy and we passed some really odd people standing in the road trash drunk in the middle of the woods. Not to mention we weren't sure we were going in the right direction at this point. We moved the bear spray to the center console and eventually got to I-90 around midnight. W saw a massive herd of elk near Deer Lodge and made Butte by 2 AM. Stayed at the Rodeway Inn & Suites Capri downtown.
Day 15: I-90 Woke up late and did laundry. Drove to Bozeman and spent the night at the Best Western Plus Gran Tree Inn. Let the kids play in the pool that night and the next morning. This was purely a rest stop and and a splurge for us. This hotel was nice and wasn't cheap. We had a few needed cocktails and a wonderful breakfast here.
Day 16: I-90 to MT89 Drove to Gardiner, Mt and entered Yellowstone NP through the north entrance. We got a campsite at Mammoth Campground just shy of Mammoth Hot Springs. We hiked down to the Gardiner River and cooked dinner.
Day 17: We moved our campsite to Tower Campground on the northeast side of Loop Rd. This campground is mostly tents and small pop-ups. It is not suitable for larger RVs. The location is fantastic with a general store, gift shop, deli at the bottom of the mountain and is just twenty miles from the Canyon intersection. We saw all manner of wildlife today including elk, pronghorn, grizzly, bison and owls. We hiked several trails and took lots of photos along the routes.
Day 18: Went to Norris, Middle and Lower geyser basins. Saw Old Faithful, Steamboat, and Grand Prismatic( another highlight). Hiked some trails and saw some black bear cubs sleeping in a tree. A bison had died just off the road near the intersection of Canyon. There had been a grizzly and some wolves feeding on the carcass so we joined the two hundred strong in lawn chairs waiting to see something. We never did! As we were leaving a black wolf sprinted across the field about three hundred yards away from us and across the road behind the bison and we watched it til it disappeared. I guess it pays to be looking the other way sometimes.
Day 19: We drove through the Lamar Valley and saw Soda Butte, herds of animals, deer, bison, elk and another wolf. We left the park through the Northeast gate and had lunch at Miners Saloon in Cooke City, MT. We drove the Beartooth Hwy back into Wyoming with stops at the 45th parallel and a two mile up a creek to to really wild waterfall we spotted along the road. We saw a moose along the way. Went back to the NP and drove over Mt. Washington on another scenic drive.
Day 20: Packed up and drove the Canyon Road to see the Yellowstone River and the Grand Canyon Of Yellowstone. We did laundry at Canyon Visitor center, got passports stamped again and drove around Yellowstone Lake. We stopped off at various springs and thermal features and hiked the trail to Black Devils Cauldron and Sulfur Springs. We left Yellowstone through the south gate and entered Grand Teton National Park a few minutes later. It rained and hailed on us for a bit. We took the eastern most road , WY89, through the park trying to get pictures in where we could. We drove on to Jackson Hole and spent the night at the Antler Inn downtown.
Day 21: WY22 to ID31 to ID 26 Back to Grand Teton National Park. We got the kids passports stamped and and hiked the trail down to Jenny lake. We drove the western road this time through the park along the Snake River. The weather was better and we got some really good photos this time. We left the park that afternoon and drove through Teton Village, WY and Moose, WY. We saw another moose on the side of the road here. We crossed Jackson Hole Pass and entered Idaho. We spent the night in Idaho Falls at The Pinecrest Inn.
Day 22: ID20 to ID20/26 to I-15 to UT6/191 Visited Falls park in the morning and then drove on to Arco, Idaho and Craters Of The Moon National Monument. We had lunch at Pickle's Place in Arco. We spent the day at COTM, hiked up an old volcano and drove on to Utah. We spent the night in Wellington, Utah at National 9 Inn.
Day 23: UT6/191 to I-70 to UT191 Drove to Moab and set up tents at Moab RV Resort. We did laundry and visited Arches National Park. We made the three mile hike to Delicate Arch.
Day 24: Back to Arches NP. We hiked to Double Arch and Windows and spent some time at Balance Rock. We had dinner at Zaks in Moab. Walked around downtown for a while. Played in the pool at the campsite.
Day 25: UT313 to Canyonlands National Park. Broke camp and drove around Canyonlands for a few hours and hiked a few small trails. The heat was getting to everyone around Moab and we had two sick kids that were throwing up. We left Canyonlands and drove to Cortez, Colorado on UT191 to UT/CO 491. We stayed at Econolodge Cortez that night.
Day 26: CO160 to CO84 to CO/NM 64/84 Spent the morning at Mesa Verde National Park. Kids are still sick. The park is beautiful and hot. Kids don't want to even get out of the car. We got them to hike down to Spruce Tree House pueblo and they enjoyed the A/C in the museum there. Mesa Verde is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We left, driving east. Got dinner in Pagosa Springs and drove on to Taos, New Mexico. Stayed at the Witten Inn.
Day 27: NM570 to NM285 to I-40 Visited Taos Pueblo in the morning. Another UNESCO World Heritage Site and then drove the Rio Grande Gorge on towards Texas. This pueblo is protected, unique and very commercialized now. Some shopkeepers told us there are very few true Pueblos living in the village anymore and much has changed in the last years. It was still interesting and I'm glad we went. Saw some more Bighorn Sheep in the gorge. We drove to Shamrock, Texas and it was 2AM before we could find a hotel. We settled on the Motel 6. It is what you would expect from a Motel 6.
Day 28: I-40 to ARK71 to ARK270 We left Shamrock and drove on to Oklahoma City, OK. We had lunch and visited the bombing memorial. They have a museum next door to the memorial but it was expensive and we chose not to. We drove on to Hot Springs, Arkansas and spent the night at The Quality Inn and Suites Hot Springs.
Day 29: ARK270 to ARK65 to MS278 to MS49 to I-10E We visited Hot Springs National Park in the morning. We walked Bath House Row and toured Fordyce Bath House which is also the visitor center for the NP. We left Hot Springs around 1PM and drove back home through Jackson, Miss. We got back to Gulf Shores at 3AM exhausted.
Some things we learned:
All in all it was a great trip. We would have liked more time and less driving but it is a road trip and we got to see a lot of our backyard. I would not choose to do Moab again in the dead heat of summer. We are glad that we drove the northern portion of this route first. Temperatures were great until Utah. It hails a lot more out west than it does in the south and we weren't used to that. They are price gouging fuel outside the national parks so if you can fill up somewhere further away then do it. Get to campgrounds in the NP's early. They fill up quickly. We tried to arrive at the bigger parks on a Sunday or Monday. It didn't make a difference, they were just as busy. Gas prices averaged $3.59 to $3.79 in most states. It $3.09 in Oklahoma though. We got much better at organizing and packing as the trip went on. We found that we didn't need or use half of what we brought. We kept a three day supply of clean clothes ready at all times and had a separate bag with just swim trunks also ready. Ham and turkey are lifesavers on the road. Keep it in the cooler in the car. Carry at least two coolers. We strapped the Yeti Cooler on the back and kept another for inside the car. Buy locks for your cooler ahead of time if you plan on keeping it outside. The Yetis are certified bearproof but you must have the right length locks to fit in them. Coleman fuel is available everywhere. No need to carry a large stash. Most National parks prohibit gathering firewood and force you to buy their pre-chopped wood. The rangers will go through your campsites and check for food and trash. The NP's have plenty of bearproof storage bins and trash dumpsters. Bring cash for campsites and showers. Have a plan for charging your camera and or carry a spare battery. At one point I was using an inverter through the cigarette lighter to charge mine. Carry spare washer fluid if you are driving at night. We went through three jugs which is more than I have been through in three years at home. Get AAA!!! Get NP passports for your children. Ours looked forward to getting new stamps and they have stamps at more than just the NP's. They argued over the Kindles and Ipads nonstop. We made a rule that they could not play them inside the NP's or SP's that we visited. Only on the transits. They will never go to the bathroom when you want them to and they will ask how long is it going to take everyday, several times a day. Don't forget medicines. It was a major pain trying to get a prescription written and filled the day before. Bring spare batteries. Speed limits are greater out west. It was more gratifying but we saw lots of people pulled over. Get a good radar detector. Cell phones were spotty in the parks and most had no service at all unless you were near the visitor centers. We had no plans set in stone and no reservations anywhere. It made it more challenging finding a decent room at a decent price sometimes but we didn't feel rushed anywhere.