2013 Epic Summer Road Trip

American Bison

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.

(and Custer State Park and Spearfish Canyon which are really cool in their own right)

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

Photo Gallery

12 thoughts on “2013 Epic Summer Road Trip”

  1. I see you haven’t yet experienced the national park right in your own backyard: Isle Royale. My wife and I spent a week hiking there a few years back. It was a great trip. I would love to visit again someday.

    1. When I was going through the entire list of National Parks, I was surprised to find one near the Great Lakes. I haven’t been and didn’t know it was considered a National Park. I’ve been to the Apostle Islands but not yet up to Isle Royale. It’s great to hear you thought it was worthwhile. I know Mrs. Buck wants to do the Superior loop, so we’ll have to hit it as part of that trip.

    1. Agreed. It’s hard to tell if our kids appreciate the trips as much as we do – I suspect in due time they will. The nice part about where you live is these types of parks are essentially in your extended backyard. It’s gotta be a real luxury to have such an abundance of riches within one day’s drive of your house.

      1. “It’s gotta be a real luxury to have such an abundance of riches within one day’s drive of your house.”

        You are correct, but I do miss the landscape of Wisconsin too. The area west of you (green rolling hills and red barns) is one of my favorite parts of the country. I also like the lake regions up north. Next summer, I think we’re going to get a cabin somewhere up there. If you have any suggestions, I’d love to hear them!

        No matter where you are, I think there are great things. Well, unless you live in the middle of a desert like Nevada. That sucks.

        Regarding road-trips, I remember complaining in the back seat of my parent’s car and fighting with my sister. However, I realize now how fun they were.

        1. Yes, the Driftless area is my favorite in the whole state. In terms of getting a cabin, I’d consider either that SW driftless/river area (near the Kickapoo, Wisconsin, and Mississippi rivers) or anywhere up in the northwoods area (Rhinelander, Eagle River) where there are lakes galore.

  2. Wow, seems like you had one awesomely exhilirating road-trip!
    It may have been pricey but I have a feeling the cost fades when you consider the experiences and the wonderful family time. Thats just priceless 🙂

  3. Awesome. We did two trips like that when I was a kid and the memories have lasted 45 years. Wish it had been more than 2 but my brothers and I were dunderheads and that might have deterred my parents. One trip was around the great lakes and another out west to Yellowstone and for that trip 2 weeks was not enough.
    We took some nice vacations with our kids and I hope they were memorable. Now that they are just getting started on their own, we make a point to plan family vacations so we can get together and memories are more valuable than money.
    I’m slightly offended that you have neglected Missouri. The Ozarks have a lot of camping opportunities and st. Louis is a great place to visit.

    1. Those do sound like great trips. If you asked your kids about your family vacations and depending on their age at the time, while they may not remember specific details, I can almost guarantee they would remember back fondly on those times. If they are anything like me growing up, I don’t necessarily remember all of the sites, but I do remember the feeling I had while being together with my family and spending those times together.

      Missouri is one of my 6 remaining U.S. states to visit (although I’ve been to the KC airport which I understand is in MO, but I’m not counting that). I’ve heard nothing but great things about The Ozarks and St. Louis (and its BBQ). Those are the first two places I’ll visit when planning my visit to MO. Thanks for the reminder and for stopping by.

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