Planning a Road Trip

One of my favorite things is to plan trips. I love dreaming about places to go and making lists. Each summer we take a big road trip, sometimes it involves camping, sometimes not. This year it does. We will be taking 3 weeks to travel and camp. My oldest child will be in Austin, TX for the month of July, and we are going to roadtrip from Seattle to Austin to pick her up, then come home again.

When planning a road trip the first thing I do is decide where to go. This year we have a particular place to go already built in, so this was easy for us. A couple years ago we just decided to go to the Grand Canyon because we never had before, and then visit all the other National Parks in the areas along the way. Cost can make a big difference in where you go. Disneyland is going to be a bigger budget trip than camping in Yosemite. Both are awesome, but very different.

Once you have a destination(s) in mind, you have to choose a route. Depending on how far away your destination is, you may need to decide how long to take to get there. Sometimes we roadtrip for just a couple hours and stay in that area for a whole week (like a trip to Ocean Shores). For this years trip to Texas the most direct route is well over 2,000 miles. I know I will not be attempting to do this in 2 days.

This is where I usually start a trip on Roadtrippers. I put in my starting point and destination, then start exploring things to do/see along the way. I like camping, and there are lots of national parks between Seattle and Austin, so I put them into my route. It makes the trip take longer, but then we get to spend time outdoors in some of the most beautiful places in the country.

While figuring out the route, you have to decide how much travel to do each day, and where to stay each night. Last year we went with hotels the whole trip. It made packing easier. It made the kids a little happier. It made things more expensive. This year my kids are a little older. We haven’t camped in a while, so they are more enthusiastic. And we are saving a ton on money. A $15 campsite is much cheaper than a $75+ hotel room (especially when you have a family of 6 and need 2 rooms).

Knowing these things can help you make a definite budget and determine packing and meals. I have a packing list that combines camping and long road trips. When camping close to home the list is pretty much the same, but maybe fewer car entertainment items. When camping we do most meals in-camp, so having a food planner is important. I use these every time we take a trip and find them invaluable, so I’m sharing them with you (yay free printables!)

                                                         Camp Roadtrip Packing List

                                                         Camp Meal Planner

Roadtrip – Mount Rushmore

Mount Rushmore and the whole Keystone, SD area were our last big stop before getting home from our road trip. There are lots of interesting things to see and do near Mount Rushmore. We started off by turning of the main freeway and onto SD-79, which was scenic and less traveled. There were still plenty of cars around, but it felt less crowded. After traveling down that for a little while we turned to Wind Cave National Park. You can’t reserve a tour online before you go, so we had to just go and hope there was something available. There was, but by the time we got there the kids were not into going on it. So instead we checked out the visitor center, got our stamp, looked at all the displays, and kept on driving. Just north of the national park is Custer State Park. This park has some cool views, wildlife, and a fun windy road to go on, with some small tunnels my husband liked.

We drove through part of the park and got sticker to place in our windshield, the remnants of which stayed there for months because of the glue 😦  We happened to be there at the same time as the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, so we shared the roadway with TONS of motorcycles. We took the Needle Highway, a national scenic byway, and it was so pretty. There are turnouts for viewpoints all along the way, as well as tight little tunnels that only 1 car at a time can go through (no RVs allowed for some).

After threading the Needle Eye, we headed to the Crazy Horse Monument. It was so cool to see such a large ‘statue’ being built. We watched a movie about it, looked through the displays, watched some Native American dancers, and had a lovely time there. I liked this monument better than Mt Rushmore.

Speaking of which, after Crazy Horse, we headed back through Custer State Park to take a different long windy road out toward Mount Rushmore, because why use the big highways when there are fun smaller roads to drive on.

At Mount Rushmore we saw the video, took photos, used the bathrooms, checked out the museum displays, and then were pretty much done in half and hour. Not really worth the cost of parking in my opinion, even if the faces are impressive. But it was nice to see, and I do love a museum. I read there are more museums in the US than McDonald’s’ and Starbucks’ combined, I hope it’s true.


We spent the night in a crowded hotel in Keystone, almost didn’t find parking because of all the motorcycles (seriously, so many!), but it worked just fine in the end. The main part of the city is small enough to walk around to find places to eat and buy souvenirs, so once we found a parking spot at the hotel we didn’t have to give it up to go get food. We didn’t have cell reception the whole time we were in the area, so that was a drawback, my parents got a little worried in the morning, but we were fine. And after that we made our way home, with a quick pit stop at Devils Tower and an overnight in Montana, then we were home before we knew it.

Can you spot the climbers scaling the tower?

Roadtrip – Nauvoo

When in Illinois, we stopped for a quick view of the Gateway Arch, but didn’t stop in, just wanted to see it. Then we headed north to Carthage and on to Nauvoo.

In Carthage we visited the Carthage Jail and visitor center. We took the tour and saw where Joseph Smith, the first President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and his brother Hyrum were murdered.

When the tour was over we headed on to Nauvoo. We parked along Main Street and took a walk around the historic sites. We toured the gunsmith and printing shop. We even went down Parley Street all the way to the Mississippi. Then we went to the Joseph Smith Historic Site Visitors Center and back around to see the Nauvoo Temple. It was an interesting day full of historic sites.

After we wrapped up our visit to Nauvoo we headed west across Iowa. The next day we stopped at a couple more LDS historic sites, the Kanesville Tabernacle and across the state lines to Omaha and the Winter Quarters Mormon Trail Center. Both had nice presentations and things you could touch (and play with), as well as historical information.

I got to play this century old piano!

Roadtrip – Mammoth Cave

Our next stop was Mammoth Cave National Park. We got up early from our hotel to get there in time for our scheduled tour. We took the Domes and Dripstones tour. I think it was the perfect one for us. It wasn’t too long (less than a mile) or strenuous, even my 6 year old enjoyed it. I highly recommend it.

It was a warm, humid day outside, but in the cave it’s much colder, but not uncomfortably so. My camera did fog up once we came back though.

That’s not a cool camera effect, that’s a foggy lens