Since our boys have been old enough to have a summer vacation, we’ve been taking road trips to different areas of the U.S. Even in this expansive country, we’ve found that two weeks is a pretty good amount of time to see some awesome things. Being located in the middle of the country with access to cheap fuel certainly helps too.
In 2011, we did a trip to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on our way to a family reunion in North Carolina. After which we looped back home via the eastern seaboard.
Our 2012 excursion included Niagara Falls, upstate New York, the Finger Lakes as well as Toronto and a provincial park in Ontario, Canada.
For this year’s trip, we headed west.
Quick Trip Facts
- 3,350 total miles traveled.
- 16 days, 15 nights.
- 5.5 States traversed (portion of WI, IA, MN, SD, WY, MT)
- We encountered many wild animals including bison (buffalo), moose, elk, big horn sheep, pronghorn, antelope, prairie dogs, deer, horses, turkeys, hawks, and eagles.
- 0 bear sightings which was a bit of a disappointment.
Bucket List Busting
Two items on my Bucket List are to visit all U.S States and National Parks. During this trip, I was able to knock off 3 never previously visited states (South Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana) and a bunch of national sites.
- Badlands National Park
- Black Hills National Forest
- Mount Rushmore National Memorial
- Grand Teton National Park
- Yellowstone National Park
- Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument
- Devils Tower National Monument
Highlights & Thoughts
- Our first stop was at a guest ranch just south of the Badlands. The boys had a blast checking out the grounds, holding baby chickens, petting the burros that wandered around, and ensuring the pet goat wouldn’t chew on their pants.
- While many of the parks were all very busy, they do an admirable job of accommodating the sheer numbers of people. Yellowstone in particular.
- The Junior Ranger programs at all National parks were all really well done and kept my kids engaged. To complete the program, the kids (typically aged 5-12) need to complete an activity workbook specific to the park by answering questions and completing games. They also have to attend at least one Ranger Presentation often held at various times of the day at the Visitor Centers. The Rangers then review their work, ask them a few questions, and make the kids do an oath before they receive their Junior Ranger badge and/or patch.
- All Park Rangers that we encountered were awesome to deal with – welcoming, helpful, knowledgeable, and patient. It seems this is a job that pays pretty low but comes with a high job satisfaction – I may need to consider this in “retirement”.
- Visiting Yellowstone is like visiting Rome. No matter how long you stay, you can never hit all the highlights in your first visit.
- There is nothing like being able to see the stars of the Milky Way so brightly that it casts a reflection in nearby waters.
- I would do this trip again in a heartbeat. Great for all ages.
While this trip certainly wasn’t done on-the-cheap, I thought we did a good job of splurging on those experiences that were important to us without getting too crazy. Things like unique lodging, horseback riding, fishing outing, and a few nice meals.
All told, the tally ended up at $180 per day for all expenses.
- Lodging – $1267. Includes 2 nights at a B&B guest ranch, 4 nights camping, 6 nights in cabins within Yellowstone, and 3 nights in standard hotels.
- Food – $676. We typically ate one meal “out” at a restaurant or cafeteria (usually dinner) and bought groceries for breakfast and lunch.
- Gasoline – $505. Fuel cost to travel the 3,350 miles round-trip.
- Activities: $384. Includes entrance fees and the costs for fun activities (horseback riding and guided fishing boat excursion being the lion’s share of this)
Grand Total: $2,832