I just returned from a fantastic trip out west to Yellowstone National Park, and we did it family road trip style! Now, I know many of you are starting to tremble, rock back and forth and shiver thinking of a long road trip in the car with your family, but I am here to tell you…Do not be afraid! It is doable, and actually really, really fun!
We are big on road trips in this family. 1/3 of my kids have never even been on a plane since
I am terrified of flying we love road trips so much! In all seriousness though, my fear of flying aside (backstory-I actually used to have no fear of flying…then, had children and became fearful of anything and voila! Fear of flying ensued. No clue why that happens, but it does. I will fly, I just prefer not to!) we really do have so much fun trekking across the country and enjoying adventures together as a family!
This trip in particular has been one that we have been planning for over a year. It took many google searches, books, magazines and copying friends’ itineraries to make this trip come to life, but we are so glad we did. It was an adventure we will never forget, and we were able to see things that we may never see again. We were worried that the kids would not appreciate it for what it was, but they loved every minute of it. My youngest even declared it “way more fun than disney world! ” My husband and I were shocked, but we did high five each other secretly for our vacation success.
So, while I know most of you are here for my recipes, I thought I would share some other things here and there. I love to cook and bake, but believe it or not, I do have other interests! I have shared some favorite books lately, and thought I would share some travel blogs as well. Although we wish we could travel a lot more, we do what we can, and we try to make every moment special. Many people asked for my itinerary after photo blogging it on Facebook, and I thought I would share the details here so everyone can utilize our itinerary how they wish!
I am going to break up the information into several posts, as to not make it too overwhelming, but in the last of the posts, I will share a printable version of our itinerary so you can print it and keep it for later use. I will also include a post on some of our must have’s with Amazon links, a post on how to keep your kids busy on long road trips, and finally, a food packing post. It was a challenge to eat most of our meals out of a cooler or a backpack, but we did it. I will share some of my tips, tricks and easy recipes. I hope this post resonates with you, and that many of you are able to use this information to create an amazing trip of your own with your family!
DAY ONE: CHICAGO AREA-BADLANDS, SOUTH DAKOTA
We began the day at 4am. We woke up the kids and told them to come downstairs and get in the car. No changing, no lights, no eating…just go to the bathroom and get in the car. That is the best way to get them to fall back asleep for awhile, which all of them did. It is exciting, but we had a long day ahead, and knew that they needed some sleep. We planned to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner all in the car to maximize driving time and only stop for gas, bathroom and to get out and get some energy out!
Depending on where you are reading this from, you might be traveling a completely different route. While my tips and vacation activity ideas might be helpful to you, realize that my travel times/route might not be what works best for you you. We began our trip from northern Illinois and we began the trip by taking a route that led us up north through LaCrosse, Wisconsin, which was about four hours away. That is where we did our first bathroom stop and had the kids change into their clothes. It was a about 8am by then, so they were all awake and ready to be excited for the impending vacation. This is also where we realize that we forgot a pair of my son’s shoes at home. Oh well, we are not turning back now. We popped back in the car and headed to Sioux Falls, South Dakota. That was four hours from LaCrosse, so we spent time eating our breakfast (more on that later) and doing some of the activities we prepared (more on that later). We had a stop planned and were very glad we did it! We pulled into Falls Park and we were itching to get out of the car! It was absolutely beautiful there! So much to look at, and a lot for the kids to climb on. The views are so pretty, and the mist coming off of the water falls is so nice on a hot day. One of the downsides? Well it smelled terrible! I thought it was the smell of the river, but someone told me that the Hormel factory was down the road and housed a large pig farm. Whatever it was, it was strong, but as soon as you can get past that (it may take awhile, just warning you!) the place is a beautiful stop, great place to be active and did I mention completely FREE?
131 E. Falls Park Drive
Sioux Falls, South Dakota 57103
After getting some exercise at Falls Park, we popped back into the car and headed on our way to the infamous Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota which was only about an hour away. (Note: This was the ONE instance on the entire trip that my husband let me drive. He kept saying that he wanted me to relax and enjoy the trip, but I think the true translation is he doesn’t like how I drive! ). The Corn Palace was everything I thought it would be…completely nothing. Ha! It is really one of those things that you MUST stop at, but once you do, you are like, why did we stop here again? We all got a kick out of it. Not to mention…it is free as well, which is always a good thing! We wanted to stop at the nearby Indian Village as well, but we were getting worried about timing so decided to forgo it. I regret not visiting, so if you take this trip and stop, please mention it in the comments!
604 North Main Street
Mitchell, South Dakota 57301
After visiting the Corn Palace we were well on our way to our first stop, the Badlands! This leg of the drive was about three hours, and we settled in for the last bit of driving of the day. We were going to clock about thirteen hours for our first day of driving.
When we began getting close to the Badlands, we could not believe it. All of the fields that we had aimlessly watched on our drive had now turned into crazy rock formations that were so cool to look at. We arrived at the entrance to Badlands National Park and couldn’t wait to pull in. It was just gorgeous! This is a National Park, so there is a cost to enter. It costs $20 per vehicle, and that fee covers you for seven days. Since we were traveling to a few different National Parks on our vacation, we decided to pre-order a National Parks Yearly pass to save money, and make it easy on ourselves. The pass cost $80 and covers your entrance fee for all U.S. National Parks for one year. If you are a Senior Citizen, that fee is only $20 for an annual pass. It is a great deal, and we loved having the pass to go in and out of the National Parks. You do need to show a photo I.D. every time, so annual passes cannot be shared.
When we arrived, we got out at the first overlook we saw and couldn’t believe our view. It was gorgeous! We checked into our cabin that night in the only lodging in Badlands National Park, Cedar Pass Lodge. We HIGHLY recommend this place. The cabin was clean and spacious and the entire area was quiet and peaceful. We had a front door to our cabin, and our back door opened up to a huge yard for the kids to play in, as well as a gorgeous view of the badlands. The staff were pleasant and helpful, the gift shop was filled with interesting things, and the restaurant onsite was perfect. The sunset we saw that evening was hands down one of the best things I have ever seen. Simply beautiful and a must do if you are in the badlands. We will never forget this place. That evening we went to a ranger talk right on the grounds in the amphitheater, and then were supposed to take part in a night sky program. Unfortunately the clouds had other plans for us, so the program was cancelled. We were sort of disappointed, but after getting up at 4am and driving all day, we were happy to get back to our comfortable cabin and get to sleep.
TIPS: Make a point to go outside during sunset. It will be one of the things you will remember the most on your trip. If you are eating in the restaurant on site, try the Indian Taco. There is a vegetarian version as well. It is a taco served on the most delicious fry bread, and it is their specialty. You will not be disappointed! If you are not eating at the restaurant, make sure you have plenty of food packed BEFORE you enter the Badlands. Besides that one restaurant near the Cedar Pass Lodge, there is a gift shop with snacks. Other than that, there is no other food options. Come prepared!
20640 SD Hwy 377
Interior, SD 57750
Interior, South Dakota 57750
DAY 2: BADLANDS and WALL, SOUTH DAKOTA
Today we spent the day in the beautiful Badlands! It is so pretty here! You almost feel like you are in the desert while you are here. Since we traveled in July, it was very hot, but we were ready with our packs, our sunscreen and our water and we were just fine. Since we have at this time, three kids of varying ages, we had to make sure our hike choices reflected that. We wanted a hike that was challenging, but not too challenging. We decided on Notch Trail, and it was perfect for us! It was about a two mile hike and some of the terrain was a little rough, but we loved it. We especially loved that at one part you climb up this rope ladder to get to higher ground. It was fun for the kids and a fun physical challenge for myself and my husband. The hiking trail was hot, but the kids were loving it. At times, we saw other people getting tired and turning back, but I will tell you…if you attempt this hike, do not turn back until you get to the end. It is SO WORTH IT to get to the end! That is all I will say because honestly I didn’t know about the beauty of what I was about to see and it was amazing. There are a lot of shorter, easier trails too, and some much more difficult ones as well. A good map of the badlands will help you make the best choices and at each trail there is an information board that gives you lots of detail about what you will encounter on your hike.
TIPS: Wear some good hiking shoes. The terrain in the badlands is eroding rocks and clay soil and is very slippery. Regular gym shoes will not cut it and sandals (even sport sandals) are a definite no. Also, bring a lot of water. It gets hot out there in the summer time and you need water to keep going.
After our awesome hike, we went back to the cabin to have lunch and then set out to do some touristy stuff. We started out at Prairie Homestead about a half a mile from the Badlands. This was an area where you could see one of the oldest sod homes still standing. It is a very inexpensive admission to look around, and something fun for the kids. What they will most likely love the most is the Prairie dogs out in the back that pop out of their holes and bark (squeak) at you. My kids thought it was hilarious and were entertained by it for awhile! They also had some animals in the back and a lot of really neat buildings to tour. In the main house, they have old newspapers hung on the wall too which intrigued me, as I spent a long time reading them. If your child is into Little House on the Prairie, they will be entertained by the dress up area as well. The gift shop is fun to look around in too.
21070 Sd Highway 240,
Philip, SD 57567
After Prairie Homestead, we headed out to Wall Drug in Wall, South Dakota, about thirty minutes away. This is a stereotypical touristy spot, but cannot be missed! The town is adorable and looks like you stepped back in time to the Old West. Wall Drug is HUGE! It was nothing like I expected, but we spent a lot of time roaming around and looking in all of the shops, playing games, taking funny pictures and enjoying some delicious ice cream. There are also delicious homemade donuts to enjoy as well. Oh! I can’t forget what they use as their biggest selling point…FREE ice water! We enjoyed a few cups of that as well. I highly recommend making a stop here. The kids will absolutely love it! Don’t miss the back yard area of the store either! There are a few outdoor attractions and a whole other building with fun stores and game rooms. Don’t forget to watch the dinosaur during its feeding time!
TIPS: If you want to send out a postcard, this is the town to do it in. You can purchase tons of cute postcards from one of the many shops, and in town there is one of the friendliest post offices we have ever stepped into. If you don’t have a post card, you might just want to stop in to say hi! They are the nicest!
510 Main Street
Wall, SD 57790-0401
We had dinner that night at the one restaurant in the Badlands (see TIP above) and headed to bed after an exhausting day. We were excited to get up and head out to Mount Rushmore and Cody, Wyoming the next day! Check out Part Two of my trip itinerary soon!
Can’t wait to share more of my trip with you all!