Late last September through the beginning of October, my husband and I took our boys on what we call in our family our “Epic Trip Out West.”
11 days from home
2,100 miles driving
3,863 miles across country (both ways included)
We saw 7 National Parks (Yellowstone, Grand Tetons, Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Zion, Grand Canyon) and 3 National Monuments (John D. Rockefeller Parkway, Fossil Butte, Navajo Bridge).
I get asked a lot of questions about this, a lot from families who want to do this as well, so I thought I would share our experiences. You can pick and choose what works for you and what you would do differently. I thought I would spend one blog post dedicated to each park/day (we’ll see how it shakes out when I start to put in the elbow grease, shall we?) but thought I would kick it all off with our Frequently Asked Questions – the ones we get asked a lot by people who heard what we did.
Here are answers about our family’s driving trip from Yellowstone to the Grand Canyon:
Q: What was your itinerary, where did you stay?
Here is our breakdown:
DAY ONE: getting there (North Carolina to Chicago to Bozeman)
Drive Bozeman to Yellowstone
Lodging: Canyon Lodge
DAY TWO: exploring Yellowstone
Lodging: Canyon Lodge
DAY THREE: the Grand Tetons
Drive Yelllowstone to Jackson Hole
Grand Tetons National Park
Taggart Lake Trail
Lodging: friends in Jackson Hole
DAY FOUR: Jackson Hole to Park City
Drive Jackson Hole to Park City
Fossil Butte National Monument
Lodging: Shadow Ridge Condominiums and Resort Hotel
DAY FIVE: Park City to Moab
Drive Park City to Moab
Arches National Park
Lodging: Moab Under Canvas
DAY SIX: Moab and Arches NPS again
Museum of Moab, Rock Shop, Arches National Park
Lodging: Moab Under Canvas
DAY SEVEN: Moab to Hatch via Canyonlands and Capitol Reef Parks
Moab to Hatch
Canyonlands National Park, Whale Rock Hike
Capitol Reef National Park
Lodging: The Ranch House Air B&B
DAY EIGHT: Zion National Park
Zion National Park, The Watchman Hike
Lodging: The Ranch House Air BnB
DAY NINE: Zion Take Two; Drive to Grand Canyon; stop at Navajo Bridge
Hatch to South Rim, Grand Canyon
Shelf Canyon hike in Zion
Navajo Bridge National Monument
Lodging: Yavapi Lodge
DAY TEN: Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon National Park
Bike the greenway
South Rim Trail
Lodging: Yavapai Lodge
DAY ELEVEN: Getting home
Drive to Phoenix, fly to North Carolina
Q: Why didn’t you rent an RV?
Of course, our first iteration of this plan we were going to rent an RV and take our house with us, turtle-style. We thought it would be easier and save time. BUT, it turns out after much research, RV rentals are circular. Meaning you have to drop it off where you picked it up. It is very rare that a company will allow you to drive point-to-point as we wanted to, and when we found one that did, it was over twice as much. We didn’t want to spend days driving back up the country or across country (efficiency) and it ended up being that hotel rooms and minivans were cheaper.
In retrospect, it was a blessing in disguise that we didn’t have the RV as originally planned. Many roads in the National Parks wouldn’t allow RVs on them because of their age, size, weight restrictions, height restrictions, etc. Having the minivan gave us the ultimate flexibility to see what we wanted to see. Happy mistake on our part!
Q: What did you bring that you didn’t think you would use but were glad you did?
- Water bottles
- Maps ON PAPER
– very many places were remote, of course, which meant no cell service. We also picked up some National Geographic Parks Guides that proved to be a huge help.
- Kids cameras
– I purchased these cameras for the kids on Amazon (affiliate link) and had a great time seeing the trip through their eyes
– we still visit parks and get cancellations and stamps because this is such a fun idea! We did not do the Junior Ranger program just to keep it simple.
- Space Saver bags
– we went through many different climates, in a way, so our packing was intense. We were also active and outdoors without much access to washing machines. These bags helped us get more in our bags!
Q: What other tips do you have?
File these in the miscellaneous category:
- Buy as many groceries and food as you can in advance, before entering parks
– these places are remote for the most part! Some places like Yellowstone and Grand Canyon can, need to, and do charge more for food on site (food that isn’t great). We kept stocked on groceries as much as we could (everywhere we went had a minifridge).
- Pack picnics
– once you get into some of these parks, you don’t want to leave right away but they don’t have concessions. Get used to bringing lunch and snacks.
- I would have brought more cold weather clothes!
- Fill up your gas whenever you can
- Drink (and make your kids drink) lots of water
- Get the National Parks Pass
- Buy aluminum foil
– we bought some at a Target outside of the airport when we landed and it turned out to be surprisingly useful.
Q: What park disappointed you?
I wouldn’t say any of them were disappointing perse, but Zion was by far the hardest to navigate and cope with the crowds. More on that later.
Q: Which park was your favorite?
Canyonlands. I wish we had more time there, but we honestly didn’t know much about it since it isn’t one of the most famous parks. (More on that later, too.)
Q: Why did you do it?
I know: 2 little boys under 8, lots of long hours, vacation time, and time off of work. Plus, while not as expensive as a European vacation, it still wasn’t cheap. And it wasn’t relaxing, all the packing and repacking and planning and hiking and driving…So I guess I can say we did it BECAUSE WE ARE CRAZY.
In truth, we have always wanted to do this trip, my husband and I. And just because we have kids doesn’t mean we stop living and seeing and traveling. Our little family unit decided long ago (pre-kids) that we would take time once a year to do vacations just us, no relatives, friends, etc., and create our own memories, even if crammed with cranky car time, fighting over wearing a jacket, and another long discussion about where dinner would come from that night.
But just the four of us together allows us to be, well, together. We get to be wholly and totally ourselves wholly and totally with each other. And I love my boys. All 3 of them.
This trip seemed a great way to fulfill a dream of our own, show our boys some of this great America, and do it in a way that is family friendly (especially when the family is two energetic wild boys). The trip would have been different if we didn’t have the kids (harder trails, kayaking trips, etc.) but the stories we tell and the things we hold dear from these days mean everything.
Q: What would you do differently?
On a practical level: allow more time at Canyonlands and work in a better option to see Bryce Canyon. We had to miss that one due to time constraints (more on that later).
On an emotional level: nothing. At all.
So stay tuned here. I am off traveling the wide world again right now, but I plan to get back on here and share more experiences soon,
In the meantime, if you need a travel fix, visit my Travel Page of places I’ve shared.
If you have any other questions, drop them below and I will do my best to answer them in a timely manner.
See you soon!