….. and don’t ya come back. Or come back. Whatever. We came back, but there we’re times I’d say we would’ve definitely considered not coming back.
So, back in the summer when we came back from our “out west road trip”, I had quite a few people ask for our itinerary or schedule of how I mapped it all out. I started writing it out then, but never finished everything. Honestly, the details of the trip were so fresh I started writing and would’ve continued to write for dayyyyys because it was amazing, until I realized no one cared to read that much. Then, after I did re-cap of the year on facebook I started getting some private messages again about the trip and schedule, etc. So, here’s my official breakdown of our trip and how it went for us.
Things we debated and decided not to do:
1. buy a camper and pull it the whole way
2. rent a camper and pull it the whole way
3. rent a camper once we got out there and return it on the way home.
Things we are really happy we didn’t do.
1. ALLLLLLL of the above.
When we started planning this trip, Wyoming, Montana, & Yellowstone were the where we wanted to go and the reason a road trip discussion began. We knew we wanted to drive and make the most of stops on the way, and we knew we could pull off about 2 weeks of traveling. I don’t do anything half heartedly though, so my sweet husband left me alone with planning for a few weeks and I came up with a big plan. The straight shot drive from Gallant, Alabama to Jackson Hole, Wyoming was going to be a long and seemingly boring one. There isn’t much on that route that we wanted to stop and see, so we we’re just going to be wasting lay-over nights in places we didn’t really care about seeing. It only took a little bit of research to realize that we could go all the way across the South, throw the Grand Canyon into the mix, and then head North and only add 3 hours to overall drive time. We love National Parks, and this trip was all about camping, being outdoors as much as possible, nature, wildlife and exploring for us, so adding another NP to list was a-okay! Since, we decided against all the avenues of having a camper with us, we did buy a camper shell for Clark’s truck. We tent camped and we put a piece of foam in the back of the truck and sometimes Clark and I slept in the bed of the truck and the boys slept in the tent. So, here’s the plan we went with and I’ll tell you more about each place as we go. We left with a plan to return in 14 days and I had a place booked for us to camp 6 out of those 14 days when we left. I was definitely nervous about that, but researching and planning I knew we would want some room for leeway once we got out there.
DAY 1- WE LEFT GALLANT AND DROVE TO AUBREY TEXAS- just north of Dallas, and stayed 2 nights with family there. This worked out perfect as first stop. The boys enjoyed getting to spend time with their cousins, we had plenty of good food, showers!, and good rest on an actual mattress! (We loved getting to see the fam, too)
Day 3- WE LEFT AUBREY, TEXAS AND DROVE TO ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO – This trip was a 9 hour haul, but this was the first day that we started seeing scenery that we hadn’t seen before (excluding Clark). He had driven all of that area plenty of times before, I had flown over all of the states but never driven around in them, and the boys had never been that far west! We saw lots of windmills. LOTS OF WINDMILLS. The boys really enjoyed seeing the landscape change, and I was amazed at how much nothing there was. Everyone told us to be prepared to just seeing nothing for miles. I severely underestimated that. They should have said for hundreds of miles. We did make one pit stop on this day to see Cadillac Ranch.
Day 4- WE LEFT ALBUQUERQUE AND DROVE TO THE GRAND CANYON. We stopped on the way to see the Petrified National Forest, and then made our way on to the Grand Canyon. We also got to explore some of the old Route 66 on the way!! The Grand Canyon began our camping adventure. I had reservations at the KOA there for two nights. We spent one whole day exploring the Grand Canyon, and decided when we got back to camp that we would only stay there one night and get up and go somewhere else the next day. My plan was to leave the Grand Canyon and travel to Utah and stop at Bryce Canyon or one of the other parks. After talking to so many people about how awesome Utah is, we decided we would make another trip sometime later just for Utah National Parks so that we had more than just a night there. Instead we made last minute decision to go a bit further west and see the Hoover Dam and stay a night in Las Vegas.
Day 5- WE LEFT GCNP AND DROVE TO VEGAS. We stopped to see the Hoover Dam, made it to Vegas for an awesome lunch at Pampas; we swam at the hotel, got good showers, washed some clothes, and rode around the strip to do all of the Vegas sight-seeing once it got dark.
Day 6- WE DROVE FROM LAS VEGAS TO JACKSON HOLE. This was the worst day of the trip. We were very ambitious in deciding to do this drive in one day. Overall, we’re glad we did, because we didn’t have to spend the night anywhere we didn’t want to. The drive was rough though. A ton of miles of nothing. We wound up in area with no place to get food for a while, everyone was hangry, and we didn’t see ANYTHING the whole trip except Salt Lake City. We only stopped for gas a couple of times and no other stops, just to trying to make to most of time. Jackson Hole was one of the reasons the trip was born, so we were super excited to get there. We battled a bit of altitude sickness. ( I think ) Jackson Hole isn’t at a real high altitude, but I think it was mainly from the fairly quick change in elevation in a short period of time. We had gone from 800ft – 6800ft – 2000ft – 6500ft in about a day and a half. We camped at a KOA in JH, had a good dinner downtown, and explored all the places we wanted to see there. We even got to grocery shop, and prepare for the next few days off the grid!
Day 7- WE HEADED INTO THE GRAND TETON NATIONAL PARK FROM JH- Easiest drive! Less than 30 minutes and we were in the park. This was absolutely our favorite park, favorite place. Of all the places we went, GTNP was a MUST GO BACK! The landscape, scenery, wildlife, all of it was amazing. We hiked and explored and camped at Colter Bay. National Park campgrounds don’t offer showers in bath houses, or electric hook up. So, all of our camping was in whatever temps it was outside. This was the first night that the temps were COLD. There was snow on the ground and dropped into the low 30’s at night. So, we sat by the fire LATE into the night got as warm as possible, used all of our gear to keep us warm, and were awake and beside the fire again at daybreak. I’ll add here that for trips to these NP’s bear spray is a must! We didn’t have any scary encounters, but saw plenty. The general store at Colter Bay was cool. We ran into a girl from Alabama who worked at the store. We also got showers on this stay! Yay! It cost us about $40 for everyone to get a shower though. We stayed here for a couple of days.
Day 9- WE DROVE INTO THE SOUTH ENTRANCE OF YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK FROM THE TETONS. The Tetons border Yellowstone at the South entrance of YNP so this change in location was considered a “no drive” day. We basically just enjoyed the parks as we swapped locations. We made a big leap in elevation on the first day in Yellowstone and saw a ton of snow. There were plenty of snow drifts that were taller then the boys! We visited Old Faithful on the way in and had reservations at Madison Campground. We drove around, and hiked around Yellowstone for a couple of days. The weather was perfect. Between YNP and GTNP we saw black bear, grizzly bear, elk, antelope, and what seemed like thousands of bison.
Day 11- WEST YELLOWSTONE. We left the National Park out of the West Entrance and stayed in the city of West Yellowstone for one night. This was not part of our plan, but we needed a break from camping and some good food and showers! ha. We left a piece of heart there. It was such a cute little town. My best description is it was like the cowboy/western version of Gatlinburg. We walked around town and did all of the things we needed to, spent the night in a cute little hotel, and headed back into the park for more day in Yellowstone.
Day 12- This was the only day we had a hiccup in our plans. We spent a few hours in YNP and then were ready to head out. We had no plans for when we left YNP or exactly how we wanted to get home, other than the boys did want to go through South Dakota and see Mount Rushmore. So, we were close to the West Entrance and I decided to make reservations to stay a night in Big Sky, Montana. We took our time getting there and arrived after 5 pm. It wasn’t ski season so apparently the town of Big Sky SHUTS DOWN in the off season. The condo I had rented had a person available to check us in until 5 pm only and there was no way to check in after that. (Insert eye roll-no one told me this while booking earlier in the day). Oh well, we took a quick tour of the town and got back on the road with new plans. We drove to Bozeman, Montana and did some sight seeing and then on to Billings, Montana to stay the night. At this point in the trip, we had realized there was a significant storm brewing and we were just about a day ahead of it. Although, Clark would have loved to see a tornado out there where you could see for miles, the boys and I were totally against it, and we were trying to move fairly quickly back toward home.
Day 13- WE LEFT BILLINGS … and drove All.The.Way. across South Dakota. We did stop and spend some time at Mount Rushmore- which was really cool, but then quickly hit the road again. We made it to Des Moines, Iowa for the night. Y’all that drive was loooong and boring. 14 Hours!! Once again, we were trying to get ahead of the storm!
Day 14- HOME! We drove from Des Moines, Iowa to Gallant, Al. We stopped in St. Louis, and we stopped at the hunting land in southern Illinois, and made a pit stop to see Superman in Metropolis. We talked the whole way home about the trip, our favorite things, and made plans for more road trips, camping trips, and definitely getting back to the Grand Tetons. The best thing of all was that the boys LOVED it, and we got to spend a whole bunch o’ time together! 13 hours later, we made it home! Those last two days were A LOT of driving. We would have definitely added another sleep night if we weren’t rushing to beat bad weather.
Places that almost made the list, or were close on the route I planned that we debated or researched and decided not to go. All of these are places that I would like to go, would’ve enjoyed adding to the list, but for time’s sake or because of travel distance- we didn’t include.
- Denver, CO
- Cody, WY
- Asoen, CO
- Roswell, NM
- Carlsbad Caverns NP
- The plan for coming home was to catch an MLB game in Kansas City or St. Louis but the weather messed that up for us.
If you have any plans to visit multiple National Parks in one year, the National Park Pass is a must. It’s good for entrance into all the parks and is good for you and everyone in your vehicle!
Our travel dates were the last week of May and the first week of June. The weather was perfect everywhere- a little cold in the high altitudes but we did want to see snow and we got to!! We were in the National Parks about a week early in the season for summer water sports, and too late in the season for snow sports. We didn’t mind that because the crowds were much smaller than peak season. We definitely didn’t mind being early for summer water sports because that’s something we can do here at home. I would like to go back and be able to do some of the snow sports, like a tour through the parks on snow mobiles although, when those things are available many of the roads are shut down for winter. So, all in all it was the perfect time for a first trip.
I was super worried about not getting campsites we wanted because everywhere online talked about how far in advance you needed to book, but because we didn’t have a specific set schedule I was afraid to book too much, because of the chance of something going wrong and us not making it to the locations I had booked each day. In our experience, if you can arrive to the campground you want before lunch each day and secure your spot, they’re were plenty of availabilities. We never got turned away from a full campground. They were full by early afternoon, though.
The speed limit for most of trip past Texas and definitely all the way through South Dakota was posted at 85 or 90 mph. We didn’t see any police officers once we left Texas until we got back into Nebraska. (Except for in Las Vegas) Municipalities out west apparently do not believe in guard rails. <–One reason I am sooooo glad we did not pull a camper. The boys traveled exceptionally well. They NEVER asked us to stop for a bathroom break. Thank goodness, because bathrooms were few and far between! I typically had to stop before anyone and would try to make everyone take advantage, but sometimes the boys wouldn’t even do that. They never once complained about drive times. I was and still am so impressed with how well they traveled. When we got into the national parks, we let them ride in the back (camper shell), and that possibly could have been the highlight of the trip. During our time at the Grand Canyon, Grand Tetons, and Yellowstone we had no cell service, no wifi, no heat, no showers and honest to goodness it was absolutely our favorite. The boys ran and roamed, hiked and explored, we sat by fires, looked at the stars from a place we had never been and LOVED every minute of it.
recap…or if you skipped down just to see this version, here’s the route we went:
Gallant, AL -> Aubrey, TX
Aubrey-> Albuquerque, NM (Petrified National Forest)
Albuquerque-> Williams, AZ (Grand Canyon)
Williams-> Las Vegas, NV (+Hoover Dam)
Vegas-> Jackson Hole, WY (+ Snake River)
JH-> Grand Teton National Park
GTNP-> Yellowstone National Park
YNP-> West Yellowstone
WY-> Big Sky, Bozeman, and Billings, Montana
Billings->Des Moines, Iowa (Mount Rushmore)
Des Moines-> HOME!