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Epic National Park Road Trip Recap

Tetons

Whew! It only took six months, but I have finished the recap of our epic 3-week trip out west! This trip taught us a lot, especially about what we need to work on the road. Of course, we saw some amazing sites and the ones that I can’t wait to return to may surprise you!

For most of this trip, the weather was much hotter than I had expected. I feel like I wrote the phrase, “we were planning on hiking at X, but it was too hot” at least five times throughout the recap of this trip. The middle week at Yellowstone and Glacier was really the only one where it wasn’t oppressively hot. I would love more time to explore Badlands and Theodore Roosevelt without dying of heatstroke.

One thing that really surprised me through my recapping this trip is that three days in Yellowstone really seemed to be enough to see the highlights. Yes, with more time we could’ve gotten off the beaten path and explored some of the backcountry, but I feel like I saw what I wanted to see. I would love to return to Yellowstone someday, but it’s not going to be high up on my list.

On the other hand, with three days at Glacier, we barely scratched the surface. Yes, we managed to visit each of the areas in the park, but we were only able to do a few short hikes. I would love to go back later in the season and spend more time in the Many Glacier area and maybe even hike to Grinnel Glacier. I will definitely do my planning in advance to get a room at the Many Glacier Hotel!

Mountain in the Clouds

But the area that I really want to return to is South Dakota’s Black Hills. The other day, I was trying to figure out if we could manage a camping trip to Custer State Park next summer (no, I don’t think we can). Even though we had a full week there, it didn’t feel like enough! Of all the stunning National Parks we visited on this trip, it’s funny to me that this is the place that stands out the most in my memory.

I know I have mentioned this a few times already, but if you are looking to stay inside a National Park, lodging can be found less than a year out as long as you are flexible. I still hear people saying “I didn’t plan this trip a year in advance so I know I’m not going to be able to get a room in the park” and that is just not true. Keep checking for cancellations and subscribe to the park’s email list. We got our room at Rising Sun Motor Inn two months out and Old Faithful Inn two weeks out. Don’t give up!

Needles Highway

This was the first trip we took where Chris was working remotely and we learned a lot from that too. If you are working remotely from a hotel with at least one other person, spring for a suite with a door that closes. It was really nice when we were at the Roosevelt Inn and Suites in North Dakota and I was able to go in the bedroom and close the door when he was in meetings. Country Inn and Suites is a chain hotel that has this feature as well. The full kitchen at Roosevelt was nice to prepare lunches while he was working too. An AirBNB would also be good for this purpose.

Alright, I think that’s all I have to say about this trip! Check back next week when I share about some of our other explorations this summer!

Thanks for stopping by! To read more about this trip, check out the Epic National Park Road Trip. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

Heading Home

Indiana Dunes National Park

After three weeks on the road, exploring the western United States, it was finally time to head home. We left Watford City, North Dakota, and started on I-94 towards Detroit. The first night we stopped at a hotel in Moorehead, Minnesota, which is basically a suburb of Fargo, just on the other side of the border. I don’t know how you determine which states you have visited, but in my mind, I need to spend a night to make it count, which is why I chose Moorehead as a stopping point.

Inside the Mall of AmericaIn the morning, we continued heading east to one of the places I desperately wanted to visit as a child, The Mall of America. The Mall of America is the largest mall in the United States at 5.6 million square feet. The mall is home to 550 stores including 2 mini-golf courses, SeaLife Aquarium, and a 7-acre amusement park. It really was a sight to behold. It was a great stopping point for us to get out and stretch our legs during a long driving day and a place to find unique lunch options. If you are in visiting twin cities, The Mall of America is a good place to explore on a rainy day, but be aware that a lot of the attractions do require reservations in advance. I’m not as into malls as I was in my teenage years, so this isn’t really a place I wanted to spend that much time.

Wisconsin DellsAfter stretching our legs at the Mall, we continued on to the Wisconsin Dells where we were meeting some friends. Since we were just driving through, we didn’t have a ton of time to explore the Dells, we mainly just stuck to walking down the main drag. We did stop in a cheese shop and got some cheese curds because I think it’s a requirement in Wisconsin. I do wish we had time to explore the water and actually see the Wisconsin Dells. After meeting our friends, we continued on to Madison for the night.

The next morning we decided to hit the road early and we were actually able to avoid traffic in Chicago, which is unheard of. Our first stop of the day was at the final National Park of the trip, Indiana Dunes. Being the Fourth of July, the beach was already packed when we arrived so we really just did a drive-through and saw the Century of Progress homes on Lake Front Drive (top). The park is much smaller than the other ones we visited and (I’m sure I’ll get some flack for this) is primarily a beach on Lake Michigan. It was great to get a peek at my Great Lakes again after being away for weeks! Before being designated a National Park by Congress, Indiana Dunes was protected as a National Lakeshore (the same as Sleeping Bear Dunes and Pictured Rocks) and I really feel like that is a better description of what this is. It does not feel the same as a Yellowstone or even a smaller park like Theodore Roosevelt. In my opinion, this was a political move to bring tourist dollars to the state. If you are looking for a beautiful Lake Michigan beach outside of Chicago, definitely check out Indiana Dunes. If you are wanting a traditional National Park experience, go out west.

Alright, that is the end of coverage for this epic three-week trip! Next week, I will do my final recap and then I can move on to telling you about the other fun things we got to do this summer!

Thanks for stopping by! To read more about this trip, check out the Epic National Park Road Trip. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

Wordless Wednesday: Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Badlands of Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Exploring Theodore Roosevelt National Park

CCC Pavilion in Theodore Roosevelt National ParkLocating in northwestern North Dakota, Theodore Roosevelt National Park is one of the least visited National Parks in the United States. It averages about 600,000 visitors a year which might sound like a lot, but if you compare it to the 4 million that visit Yellowstone or Yosemite each year, 600,000 is not much at all. Coming from Glacier (which averages about 3 million visitors), the difference is very noticeable.

We started our exploration of Theodore Roosevelt in the North Unit which was closer to where we were staying. Of the two main units, the South Unit gets most of the traffic so when we arrived in the evening, we only saw a handful of other cars in the whole north unit. The north unit has a 14-mile one-way scenic drive that showcases the unique geological features of the park. There was plenty of parking at each of the overlooks and fresh air to breathe.

The South Unit of the park is larger than the north and is much busier. The South Unit has a 36 mile scenic loop drive that allows you to see the highlights of the park. Four miles of the road is closed indefinitely due to a landslide, although the area is open to hikers and bicyclists. Right where you have to turn around for the road closure there was one of the biggest prairie dog towns we saw on the trip.

Bison of Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Wildlife is the highlight of a trip to Theodore Roosevelt. Muledeer, antelope, bighorn sheep, wild horses, bison, and prairie dogs can easily be seen in the park. When we were in the Black Hills we were SO excited to see a bison. By the end of our week in North Dakota, we were begging them to get out of the road so we could go home!

We had planned to do some hiking during our time at Theodore Roosevelt but with heat spell that was going on this summer, we determined it wouldn’t be safe. One day we stayed at the park until the sun went down and the temperature didn’t get below 90. Theodore Roosevelt National Park is on our list to return to outside of the summer or when Chris isn’t working so we would be able to hit the trails before the heat of the day.

If you are looking to visit a national park and get away from the crowds, definitely head to Theodore Roosevelt National Park, especially the North Unit. If I were to do this trip again, I would shorten the amount of time we had here, though. Unless you are doing a lot of hiking, you can see this whole park in two to three days.

Thanks for stopping by! Be sure to check back next week when I detail our experience at the Elkhorn Ranch Unit. To read more about this trip, check out the Epic National Park Road Trip. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

Wordless Wednesday: North Dakota’s Badlands

Theodore Roosevelt National Park View

Glacier National Park: Going-to-the-Sun Road

Going-to-the-Sun Road

After exploring all we could on the east side of Glacier National Park, we woke up the third day and discovered that the Going-to-the-Sun road had opened for the season. I have no idea how we got so lucky that it opened up on the day we had to go from Rising Sun Motor Inn to our Airbnb in Whitefish. So, we checked out of the hotel and hit the road much earlier than we expected that day!

Going-to-the-Sun Road is 50 miles long and runs from St. Mary to Apgar Village, crossing the Continental Divide. It is a beautiful drive, unlike anything I had ever seen before. Completed in 1933, the road is a Historic Civil Engineering Landmark complete with stunning vistas, tunnels through mountains, hairpin turns, and bridges over cascading waterfalls.

Snow on Logan Pass

Going-to-the-Sun Road is an engineering marvel and you really have to see it to understand it. Before we drove it, I could not figure out how it could be the end of June and the road was not open yet. Then, we drive the portion of the road that was closed only a few hours earlier, get to Logan Pass and some of the hiking trails were still covered in snow (above). On parts of the road, snow was pushed up to create a wall right next to the road. I’m from Michigan, I’m used to snow and cold winters. This was a new experience for me.

I kept thinking if they started plowing in April or May, how could they still be working on it on June 25? Well, up to 80 feet of snow can be lying on the road near Logan Pass in an area known as the Big Drift. The plows can usually reach this area around mid-May but can often take a month or more to plow it due to avalanche risk. We were talking with a ranger on June 24, hoping that the road would open and she told us that at that point, the plowing was done, they were just making sure the road was safe from avalanche risk before opening to the public.

Logan Pass

Late June is spring at Logan Pass!

Now, my description may make this road seem scary, and at times it was a little hair-raising, but the views are absolutely worth it! Due to the nature of the road, vehicles must be less than 21 feet long, ten feet long, and eight feet long to drive between the Avalanche Campground and Rising Sun. If your vehicle is too large or you’re just nervous driving, Glacier Park Lodges offer guided tours on a fleet of historic, red, jammer busses! I was so disappointed that I wasn’t able to score a reservation for one of the tours because the buses are iconic!

In 2021, driving Going-to-the-Sun Road required reservations. Reservations at lodging along the road, the aforementioned bus tours, and boat tours also counted as reservations. If you didn’t have one of those existing reservations, you needed to reserve an entry ticket on Recreation.gov to be able to drive the road during the day. You were also able to enter the road before 8 AM and after 5 PM. A lot of people had difficulty getting reservations. We were able to get them the first day they were available without any problems.

The reduced capacity of the road made for a much nicer driving experience than I had hear about in the past. There was no bumper-to-bumper traffic. A few times, we were able to pull over and take pictures of the road without another car in it! I may be in the minority here, but I really hope they bring back reservations for 2022. They can increase the capacity some, but don’t let it get flooded with cars again. This was a much better way to see this iconic park!

Thanks for stopping by! Be sure to stop back next week as I recount our experience launching a kayak in Lake McDonald! To read more about this trip, check out the Epic National Park Road Trip. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Etsy and Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

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Going to the Sun Pin Going to the Sun Pinterest Graphic

Glacier National Park: Two Medicine

Sinopah Mountain in the Fog

In the summer of 2021 Glacier National Park, instituted a reservation requirement to drive the ever-popular Going-t0-the-Sun Road during the day. These reservations were very difficult to get and many people chose to postpone their trips to Glacier. Those that did not were able to get to the road early in the morning or in the evenings. Another option was to explore the other areas of the park that are not on Going-to-the-Sun Road. Two Medicine is one of these areas.

Historically, the Two Medicine Valley has been one of the least visited parts of the park. Parking was much easier to come by than Many Glacier and the road was not under construction. The drive to the Two Medicine Valley was probably the most breathtaking in the park outside of Going-to-the-Sun Road, although it still had some nail-biting turns! And the view, once you get there (top), is pretty great too!

Kayaks on Two Medicine Lake

Boats on Two Medicine Lake

By the time we got to the Two Medicine Valley for our boat tour, the rain we had been anticipating all day finally came. We contemplated canceling our boat ride, but the tour boats are enclosed and there’s not really another dry option in the park. This boat ride can be used to cut the hike to Upper Two Medicine Lake in half, but with hail coming down, we opted to just relax and stay dry on the boat.

I highly recommend taking one of the boat tours in Glacier National Park. They fill up early, a few weeks in advance, Two Medicine was the only one available for my time in Glacier. Assuming the Going-to-the-Sun Road reservations continue into the future, boat tour reservations on St. Mary Lake and Lake McDonald get you access to the road for the day of your reservation. Check Out GlacierParkBoats.com for pricing and to purchase tickets.

Aside from the boat tours, there are miles of hiking trails to explore in the Two Medicine area of the park. After our boat tour, we enjoyed walking around the Two Medicine Store, which was built in 1914 and is a National Historic Landmark. The 100 site Two Medicine campground is in this section of the park and offers first-come-first-served campsites (10 sites are able to accommodate RVs up to 35 feet) with no electricity but flush toilets.

Thanks for stopping by! To read more about this trip, check out the Epic National Park Road Trip. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Etsy and Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

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Two Medicine Pin

Wordless Wednesday: Swiftcurrent Creek

Many Glacier Area

Wordless Wednesday: Firehole Falls

Wordless Wednesday: Yellowstone Bears

Mother Bear and Two Cubs

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