I love road trips, I think it is the best way to really see a place. I went on one back in 2014 and from the day I got back I could not wait to head out again. But, you know life happens and things don’t always work out how we plan, so it was a long awaited wait to finally be able to head west again! It has been about 8 months since the trip and I am still digesting it all, but can finally put my experience into words and share with the world!
Where do I even begin… I have always been spontaneous when it comes to adventure, I am more of a pick up and go kind of girl not a plan for months ahead. The biggest decision for this trip was to rent an RV or pack up the truck and tent camp our way across the country. For the sake of taking the three kids the RV seemed like a no brainer, as this was their first big road trip experience.
I think I booked the RV with Cruise America barely three weeks before we planned to leave. I will say this could be luck that they had availability with such short notice, but I will take the luck I can get. This was our first experience with a camper and I would highly recommend looking into it if you are someone who is looking for comfort while traveling long distances. We rented the mid size RV which came equipped with two beds (a queen size in the back and a double above the driving cabin), a collapsible table to make a twin size bed, bathroom with toilet and shower, sick, microwave, gas stove, fridge, and freezer. Plenty of storage inside as well as under the main cabin. Simple, basic RV set up, perfect for a family or small group of friends to travel in.
The same day we picked up the RV we planned to head out, we got a little bit of a later start than hoped for but did manage to leave. I will quickly talk about what I packed and then what I wish I had brought. I decided to only bring a few outfits for each of us and that I would do laundry along the way, this was definitely a smart decision. We definitely all brought too many pairs of shoes for no reason, we had our Oboz hiking boots, Birkenstocks, Teva sandals, and sneakers; we probably could have done fine with one choice of sandal and hiking boots. I then wanted pack up the fridge and cabinets with as much as possible avoiding the need to stop too soon. I brought a ton of fruits and veggies, the kids milk, lots of refillable water bottles, coffee, eggs, bread, and then snacks to keep everyone happy on the road. I do wish we decided to bring the Berkey with us because it would have made the water situation a lot easier. I then brought a frying pan, sauce pan, coffee filter, 2 mugs, our outdoor flatware, and utensils. For the bedding I thought just brining sleeping bags was going to be smart, however as the journey went on I wish I had brought flat sheet to put on the beds under the sleeping bags it was just a little toasty in the desert areas. Next I packed a towel for each of us along with toiletries. Next up is electronics; we decided to bring my camera, laptop, and iPad. We considered bring a tv with us but chose not to, didn’t want to take away from the experience. In the underneath storage I brought 2 hiking backpacks, a kid carrier, yeti cooler for extra water storage, and all of our hiking boots went here as well. For the most part that is everything we brought with us, I wanted to bring as minimal as possible because it was such a small space and there were five of us.
Okay, not comes the journey! As I had stated before we got a much later start than anticipated I think we ended up heading out around 7 o’clock at night and driving as far as a rest stop somewhere in New York. Both the beginning leg and end leg of the journey were not too exciting as we literally just drive hardcore to get to where we wanted to be. We drove straight to South Dakota to hit Badlands National Park, this consisted of driving endless hours, sleeping and eating at rest stops until we made it there. I got extremely car sick the first two days, I have no clue why I have never experienced it before, but grabbed some Dramamine and was good to go.
August 26, 2021: Badlands National Park, South Dakota
We had been driving for so long through cities and open fields that when we arrived at the gates of Badlands we were blown away with the landscape. The formations that are throughout the park are unlike anything I had ever seen before, making this part of the US extremely unique. Fun Fact about the formations: they have a life span of about one million years. This unique part of the country is also where a lot of dinosaur fossils have been found, and no we did not find any fossils on our journey. As we headed into the park we purchased a National Parks Annual Pass, got our map and headed out to find a good trail to hike. We drove through the park exploring a bit by RV before deciding on a location, which allowed us so encounter our first few animals! We managed to see some prairie dogs and pronghorns, which was, of course exciting.
After deciding on a trail that seemed sufficient for all the kiddos we parked, ate a quick lunch, packed up the backpacks and headed out. The weather was perfect – sunny, clear skies and of course, hot. We hiked the Saddle Pass Trail which is only about a mile long, there were a decent amount of cars in the parking area but we surprisingly didn’t run into too many people. Before hiking up to the overlook we explored around the bottom, sort of did our own thing. It is definitely a steep climb, with a lot of loose sand-like material; so this is something to keep in mind should you choose to hike here. After completing this hike we packed up, drank lots of water to cool off and headed to explore other parts of the park. We were definitely lucky enough to stumble upon a ton of bison, which I always look forward to seeing out west because they are such beautiful creatures. We ended up driving Badlands Loop Road to take in the sites, making a few stops here and there to explore. I highly recommend making a trip out to Badlands National Park!
After leaving the park we were off to our next destination; Devil’s Tower in Wyoming. Badlands to Devils Tower is only about a 3 hour drive making it doable if both places are on your list! We booked a KOA at Devils Tower and camped at the bottom of the monument, which was super cool. As we arrived at the campground it poured buckets, so we weren’t able to do too much this evening. As the rain stopped and the sun came back out we did decide to throw in some laundry at the campgrounds washer and dryers, empty the tanks and hook up to everything. We then went on a walk to explore the campsite which was actually really neat, then hit the playground for the kids. By the time we got back to our campsite, we decided to head into town to grab some food. The absolute BEST part of traveling in the RV was if we wanted to “go out” to eat we were able to order food for pick up and just sit at the table in the RV to eat. Taking small kids into restaurants just isn’t for me, especially with all the different COVID restrictions in place everywhere we went.
August 27, 2021: Devils Tower National Monument, Wyoming
All the different Native American legends of the Devils Tower is super fascinating, I highly suggest looking them up and reading them (you can find the on the National Park Service website; www.nps.gov). There is definitely a magical, spiritual feeling while in this specific area; I don’t really know how to explain it or put it into words. We walked the Tower Trail which goes around the entire base of the monument, it offered beautiful views of the surrounding areas and we were able to spot a ton of rock climbers making their ways up to the top. The trail is 1.3 miles and is paved making it super accessible. I think it took us about an hour to complete, but this is an extremely popular trail and finding parking is often difficult. After getting back to the RV we had a quick bite to eat and set out for Yellowstone National Park.
The drive through Wyoming was so beautiful, especially driving through Bighorn National Forest … WOW is it beautiful. You drive up over the mountains and down through insane canyons, I wish we stopped to explore here. We drove through during sunset so the colors were magical. We drove a good amount before pulling into a Walmart to sleep for the night, which was good because I was able to run in and grab some groceries to get us through the next few days.
August 28, 2021: Yellowstone National Park
We did Yellowstone because when we had visited it back in 2014, it was probably 7 am and so cold that morning that we didn’t really see or do much. This time we decided to spend the day exploring one of the country’s most visited parks. We entered the park via the north gate and sort of just drove into the park before pulling over to decide on where and what we wanted to see. Our first stop was West Thumb Geyser Basin, which has a bunch of thermal pools that you walk around via a boardwalk. So, before arriving in Yellowstone I had been reading about the wildfires in California and how the smoke was traveling all the way up into Wyoming and there was a good chance we should expect haziness from all the smoke. Well, it was crystal clear when we were in the park, I don’t think we could have asked for better weather. The park was super busy every trailhead we drove by, parking lot, everywhere we went was packed, luckily when we arrived to the basin we were able to snag a spot from someone leaving. This walk lets you see multiple thermal pools all front he safety of the boardwalk there are signs everyone telling you to stay on the boardwalks because of how fragile the ground is. The water is a beautiful blue-green color and views of Yellowstone Lake which is gorgeous as well. The one thing that was “annoying” was the amount of people, but to be excepted when visiting a more popular park.
After completing the circle we headed to Old Faithful, because apparently you can’t visit Yellowstone without visiting her. Once we parked we made lunch, ate, and rested a bit before heading over to Old Faithful. Here was even more crowded and packed, everyone was sitting waiting to see her erupt, which apparently years ago it would erupt every 17 minutes, now it is a bit more sporadic. Now, if I am being honest about Old Faithful, I think it is a bit overrated I think the geysers in Iceland are one million times better; but if you have never seen a geyser this could be mind blowing to you. After we saw it erupt we ventured off onto the trails to explore a bit, again there are signs everyone warning you to stay on trail as the ground is extremely fragile. After exploring for a bit and letting the kids run around, we decided to head down to our next destination, the Grand Tetons, and camp there for the night. From Yellowstone to the Grand Tetons is a super short drive which was awesome, we made it there in no time and found a spot for the night. Where we pulled in had a little grocery store, restaurant, laundry, and showers; which was awesome. We ended up running into the store to stock up on snacks and grab something for dinner, then went and parked for the night.
August 29, 2021: Grand Teton National Park
The Grand Tetons look fake. When I say fake, I mean they look like a giant backdrop in a movie or something, its insane. They are one of the most beautiful mountain ranges I have seen to date. I had talked to another family while in Yellowstone, who said they had just come from the Grand Tetons and it was so smokey they couldn’t see anything; we ended up with crystal clear skies. We checked out Mormon Row so I could snap some pictures and it did not disappoint. We unfortunately did not explore too much here, as my other half wanted to head down into Utah. So, after getting a bunch of pictures we hit the road and made our way down to Utah. We ended up driving straight down into Utah and booking a campsite and just hug out at the RV park for the rest of the day/evening. We stayed at Mountain Valley RV Resort and it was such a nice RV park, they had a park, pool, jacuzzi, big fire pit (but there was a fire ban in place); it was super clean I would recommend if you are traveling in an RV, van, or bus.
August 30, 2021: Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah
The next morning we packed up, filled up, and stopped by the park for the kids to play. Then we found a food store, which is now my all time favorite (too bad it doesn’t exist here!): Natural Grocers. 10/10 for this place all the produce is 100% organic, it was like a Whole Foods but cheaper and I was so excited to finally find a ‘healthy’ grocery store. So naturally this grocery trip was a big one and I packed up on everything to last us the next few days, tons of fruit because we were heading to the desert and there’s nothing better than fresh fruit in the hot desert! After we loaded up on fresh groceries we hit the road and headed to the salt flats. Now if you’ve never been to salt flat before, it is super unique. A little backstory on the Bonneville Salt Flats: thousands of years ago it was covered by a prehistoric lake (the Great Salt Lake is the most famous left after it began drying up), as it dried up it left all the salt most of which is about 5 inches thick and covers roughly 300,00 acres. You can drive right onto the flats and explore them for as long as you wish, free of charge! We spent a couple hours out on them, because its a giant, open area which is perfect for kids to run around on. It was super hot out and the sun just beats down on you plus this is where we ran into some of that smokey haze from a ll the wild fires.I think this is definitely worth the trip even though it is a bit out of the way from anything else. After we finished up here we headed down to my favorite place, the desert! We headed straight for Moab, Utah and planned to hike Arches National Park the following day!
August 31, 2021: Arches National Park
Woohoo! We finally reached the red rocks which is my favorite! Something about the desert is so grounding to me and when I visit I can’t wait to go back. As soon as you get to the red rock areas of the country, you will be in awe of how beautiful it is – the red rocks towering all around you. As we entered the park we pulled into the visiting center, they have spigots to fill up you water bottles and then we ate some early lunch before heading out to find a trail. When you get into the park, you drive up this giant winding road and on the other side there are endless magnificent towers. We began driving through a bit before looking up a trail to hike, just to take in all of the beauty around us. We decided to hike Double Arch Trailhead and next to there was a few other trails we could explore. Once we parked we ended up doing the Windows Trial to Primitive Loop Trail. Things to keep in mind if you are visiting southern Utah in the summer, always pack extra water, a lot of extra water; it is extremely hot and dry out there. The Windows Trail is pretty busy with people but once we went off to the Primitive Trail there was practically nobody. The arches are breathtaking and photos do no justice for their glory.
We explored and hiked here for a few hours before heading back and moving on to our next stop, Delicate Arch. When we got to the Delicate Arch darling lot is was packed, of course, so we headed to the other parking lot up the road; unfortunately this one does not take you to the arch rather it takes you to a viewing point. Everyone was tired and wanted to stay behind so I hiked up to the viewing point on my own to get a glimpse of the most known arch in the park. We then made our way back to the main road and headed out of the park and into town, where we drove by all kinds of cool little spots, we booked the Moab KOA and headed there to check in. We were going to empty our tanks, fill our tanks, and do laundry. After showering and getting changed we ordered some food from town, picked it up and headed back to the campground to hang low for the evening.
September 1, 2021: Capital Reef National Park and Bryce Canyon
The following morning we work up to lots and lots of rain. Our plan was to head to Zion National Park, but I read that the Narrows and most of the park were closed for a search and rescue, forcing our plans to change. We decided to head to Capital Reef instead and hoped for the rain to stop and the sun to come out. The rain did not stop making our hiking adventures a bit difficult, so we drove though the park, stopped to look around and did not hike any of the trails I had hoped to do. Instead, we headed straight for Bryce Canyon. As we were driving into the sun finally made its way out, however it was already 6 o’clock and the day had pretty much escaped us. But, we headed into the park and explored with the daylight we had left.
September 2,2021: Grand Canyon
After deciding to head out of Utah and into Arizona, we realized we had spent too much time exploring Utah when we really wish we had came to Arizona earlier – Arizona is my favorite! We. Had spent a lot of time here in 2014 on our first road trip and I fell in love with the state. We decided to head tot he North Rim of the Grand Canyon, and of course it was packed. As we approached lookouts it was so hazy you could hardly see. We decided to go make a plan for our next 2 days because then we would need to journey home. The decision was made that we would drive to California and see Disneyland, an opportunity we thought we wouldn’t want to miss while being out here. So we put to in the GPS and realized we should be driving a majority of the day to get into California, 7 hours to be exact. We drove and drove and drove, I looked up campgrounds around that area and they were all completely booked so Walmart it was going to be. I bought the Disneyland tickets while driving through Vegas and that was that. A long afternoon/night of driving.
September 3, 2021: Disneyland
Disenyland, the happiest place on Earth. I was a tad nervous going in with three kids, two of which were two and under, they had been really good up until this point but Disney is a whole other world. I don’t think I could have been more impressed by the two of them, the 2 year old held my hand and walked the park the entire day, while the 1 year old chilled in the carriage or wanted to be held. Disneyland is great for smaller kids, we got to take them on a good amount of rides, see a bunch of characters, and all that other Disney stuff. We stayed literally all day in the main park, it was the opening week of their Halloween festivities so we got to see the night show. After that we headed back to the parking lot packed in and headed for another Walmart parking lot. This was our final stop on our long, adventurous journey.
From California we had to pretty much drive nonstop to make it home in time to drop off the RV back. We drove all day and mostly all night to get back to the east coast. We had hoped we would be crossing Arizona and passing Petrified Forest early enough in the day we could stop and explore for a small amount of time, but of course luck was not on our side and we were driving by it at 11 o’clock at night. The next 3 days were seriously all driving, until we reached home base on September 7th.
This trip was definitely unforgettable and such an amazing experience. I got to see and explore so many new National Parks, while traveling in an RV which I have always wanted to do. However, looking back now there are some things I would change and do differently. I would have liked to of spent more time in Arizona, revisiting some of my favorite places, I also would have loved to see Colorado again, and even spend a little time in New Mexico. But, the path we took was Northern section and then down so we basically had spare time while in the southwest. In 2014, we went sort of diagonal across the country hitting Colorado, Utah, Arizona, Nevada, and then going up into Wyoming over to South Dakota; for my personally I enjoyed that way more. So if I was going to recommend road tripping from Massachusetts to the southwest; I would say go south first and then work your way up.