This summer, we have an epic road trip planned, with the sole purpose of visiting several national parks known for their natural beauty and wonder, so when I learned that this week was National Parks Week, I was super excited to use this oppurtunity to learn more about some of our destinations.
National Parks Week 2021 runs April 17-25. During this week, parks all around the country celebrate our national treasures by hosting a variety of special programs, events and even digital experiences.
“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something healing in the repeated refrains of nature — the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.”https://www.rachelcarson.org/
This quote by the renowned conservationist, Rachel Carson, who is credited with advancing the global environmental movement, is a feeling I can relate to whole-heartedly. I think Rachel and I could have been friends.
After the past year of pandemic stress, and in the months right before that, the declining health and loss of both of my parents, I often find myself emotionally, physically, and spirtually depleted. Fresh air, sunshine, and nature are some of the things that I find rejuvenating, so a trip that focuses on exploring some of the most beautiful natural wonders our country has to offer sounds remarkable right now.
Our National Parks Plan
I’m a hardcore planner by nature, so for this trip, we’ve got a preliminary plan worked out, but we’ve also tried to build in some extra wiggle room to take an unplanned detour in case we see something that sparks our interest, take extra time at a location should we find we aren’t ready to move on yet, and also have room for down-time and rest as needed.
We definitely want this to be a “stop-and-smell-the-roses” type of trip. I mean, I love a good, “go-go-go” adventure like our Disney 50th Birthday Celebration Trip, but that’s not what we need right now. For this trip, I crave early-morning nature hikes, followed by a picnic lunch with a scenic view, and then an afternoon nap. I want to sip my morning coffee (and my evening wine, too) with a relaxing nature view–knowing there is no “to-do” list creeping into my reality.
Of course, we have worked in a couple of wilder adventures too, just to keep it interesting. 😂 😜🚗 🏜
We plan to depart Iowa, heading NW through South Dakota.
Night 1: Badlands National Park, SD
Night 2: Keystone, SD (Mt. Rushmore, Black Hills National Park)
Night 3: Deadwood, SD
Night 4: Cody, WY
Nights 5-8: Yellowstone National Park, WY
Nights 9-10: Grand Tetons National Park, WY
Night 11: Salt Lake City, UT
Nights 12-13: Moab, UT (Arches and Canyonland National Parks)
Nights 14-15: Colorado
The Colorado part is still where we are a little bit loose. We’re trying to decide if we stay a few days in CO, or if by that time we may be ready to journey on home? Because it’s a road trip, and we’re not stuck with pre-determined flight times, we can flex a bit, which I like.
National Parks Week virtual events have been really interesting and useful in helping me solidify our plans You can even filter the results by state and park, so you can select from the parks you’re interested in.
Planning for a National Parks Road Trip
Shopping & Packing
We’ve had this trip in the planning stages for a few months now, and I’ve already done quite a bit of research. I’ve linked some of the things at the bottom of this post that we already own, have purchased, or plan to purchase to take with us on our national parks road trip.
Of course, the items you’ll need will vary depending on which parks you’re visting, what time of year you’re going, and your own travel style. We definitely aren’t the “backcountry-roughing-it” type of travlers, but we do intend to get off the beaten path a bit and venture into some of the areas not frequented by hoards of tourists. But, with that being said, we also like our creature comforts, so our list reflects that, too. ☕️ What, you don’t travel with your own coffee pot? 😂🤣
Itineraries, Maps, and Spreadsheets
A lot of my past travel experience comes from traveling as a single mom with two kids, or as a teacher taking 200ish middle schoolers on an annual spring break trip. The planning needed for that type of travel doesn’t easily dissipate. As a result, I still have a propensity to plan, plan, plan. “Failure to plan, is planning to fail”, right?
As of now, I have already created, and shared with my husband, a day-by-day color-coded itinerary, a spreadsheet to track our expenses, and a packing/shopping list that my husband and I can both open anytime we think of something we need to get prior to our trip, all in Google Docs. This way, the list is never “at home” when you need it! See, makes sense, right? Google Docs for the win.🙌🏻
Some things on our itinerary are “tight”, because they require reservations ahead of time, but we’ve also left room for adding things in as we go, or taking a break, like I mentioned before. For this purpose, I’ve created a doc that has links to places we might want to go, or restaurants where we might consider eating, or adventues we might want to experience.
And this is where I would love your help!
I’d Love Your Suggestions!
If you’ve previously been to any of the National Parks in South Dakota, Wyoming, Utah or Colorado (or sites nearby that are worth seeing), I would be so grateful for your advice. Some of the favorite things I’ve ever done were recommendations from someone who’d already experienced them and shared with me!
What “must do” adventures can you tell me about? Restaurants we should try? Sites we must not miss? Packing essentials? Words of wisdom for long road trips? Really, I’m open to them all! I’d love it if you’d share your knowledge with me in the comments or via an email!
Also, I know from my research that COVID restrictions and the need to still be cautious will play a part in our trip. I’ve already taken note of different restrictions state to state and park to park, but if you’ve traveled during the season of COVID and have safety advice or tips and tricks, I’d love to hear those as well. My husband and I are both vaccinated, but fully intend to still take all necessary precautions. 💕
Thanks in advance friends,
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8 thoughts on “It’s National Parks Week!”
Oh wow, Niky, this looks like the most wonderful adventure! I also like my trips to be less regimented so I can just stop and smell the roses and enjoy the moments and relax. I hope you have the most amazing time!
That sounds wonderful! In the fall of 2019 my family and I flew to Colorado and drove up into South Dakota stayed in the black hills region for a few days and then continued on into Iowa, after driving to the Badlands, for our plane ride back home. Custer State Park (right near Rushmore) is fantastic; we enjoyed both the needles highway drive and the animal loop trail where we saw lots of bison, prairie dogs, and other wild life. We hiked the Sylvan lake trail (with the Sunday Gulch trail extension) and it was such a beautiful hike. One thing we did find is that many times when we were driving there would only be one or two radio stations that would come in for hours at a time so I’d suggest books on CD/ something to listen to while driving.
Joanne, thanks so much for this info! I need to check out the Needles Highway more. I’ve heard about that from a couple of other people, too!
This trip sounds amazing! You will be able to see so many amazing sites! We spent 3 days in Yellowstone and it was spectacular. Enjoy every moment!
Sounds like a lot of driving. In CO Glenwood Springs…for relaxing . Have fun!!
Yes, road trips always involve a lot of driving and we’re okay with that. I’m looking forward to seeing all the changing scenery, so different from our Iowa landscape.
Sounds like a cool trip. Very nice.
It is interesting that I live near two of the extremes in the National Park Service.
The Golden Gate National Recreation Area is like number two in park visits. It is huge. It is many things like Alcatraz, Muir Woods and so many other things in two counties.
Then I live near the site that is always like number 380 in the number of visitors- The Port Chicago Naval Magazine Memorial. It on a base and you have to go through a lot of red tape to get there. (It is so worth it, for history purposes) I have been itching to go for years but it is still closed right now due to COVID-19.
Enjoy your time.
Those are both very cool places! Seems like in California, there are so many options of interesting things to see. Iowa is beautiful, but not so much a hot tourist locale. 🙂 AI’ve been to Disneyland, many of the OC beaches, LA, Hollywood, and San Diego and Coronado, but that’s all so far. Lots more to explore in California still! We had a Napa and Sonoma trip planned for last June (in addition to a Bon Jovi concert!), that obviously didn’t happen thanks (no thanks) to COVID. Hoping to still be able to do that someday.