Arches National Park


Visited:  June 2016

Duration: 2 days

Accommodations:  Moab Under Canvas

Arches National Park.  Park #1 of National Park Trip Season 1.  This is where it all starts.  This was my first visit to a National Park, the rest is history.  We picked a perfect park to begin at.  Arches is a drive-able park with a few trails to hit off of the main road. This is a great warm up for my kids to start their hiking careers. This year we had my mom with us who had purchased a Senior National Park pass for $10.  Good for life and lets us all in to the parks.

First stop Visitor Center.  My mom found the National Park Passport books and talked us all in to getting them. They looked fun so I bought into it.  I didn’t know how much fun they would be until later on in the trip. Good call on these Mom!! I am officially addicted to my Passport as I am typing this 2 years later.


Passport sticker and cancellations

We watched a short film on the geology of Arches National Park, grabbed a park map and headed out. As stated above Arches is a drive-able park.  One main road goes through the park, with a couple of roads to turn off and see arches.  Most Arches are within walking distance from the road.  Our first day we did the pull offs and a few of the Arches right off of the road. The second day we did some short hikes to several of the arches.

First day main road pull offs:


Park Avenue Viewpoint


Three gossips pullover


Sheep Rock and Tower of Babel


Balanced Rock from the parking lot


Balanced Rock


Overlook on the Balanced Rock Trail


Rock piles found along trail. They mean stay on the trail.


Skyline Arch from the road


Skyline Arch trail. Really easy and fun trail

We turned around on the main road and headed back south.  We took the turn off for Wolf Ranch and headed to Lower Delicate Arch Viewpoint.  We walked the path to the viewpoint and then headed back to the vehicle. We were tired and really hungry.  There is no lodging or food in this park so we headed south to Moab, a few miles to get some dinner before heading back to our tent.

Day 2

The morning began with a relaxed breakfast on the porch of our tent at Moab under canvas. We enjoyed beautiful view of the Moab desert and mountains while eating our apple jacks and fruit loops 🙂


We headed to the park pretty early and the parking lots were filling up quickly.  We started our morning off by heading out to the arches we didn’t get to yesterday.  Double O arch and the windows arches.


Double Arch from the parking lot


Double Arch on the hike


Kids LOVED climbing on the rocks.


Parade of elephants


Landscape Arch


Double O Arch

We were done with Arches by lunchtime.  It was getting hot and we were getting hungry.  We headed back to Moab and went to Quesadilla Mobilla (recommended by TripAdvisor).  This lunch was spectacular!!!  Well worth the wait it took.  While we waited we put our stickers in our Passports and organized them, the time flew by.  We decided to head over to Canyonlands National Park to end out our day.

Arches was fantastic! We did miss a few things from not being National Park connoisseurs (yet).  3 things we will do on our return trip to Arches that we missed this time.

  1. The Fiery Furnace Hike (need to plan this ahead of time).
  2. Delicate Arch hike (not just the viewpoint)
  3. Junior Rangers (we did grab the books we just didn’t do them)

Have you been to Arches? What were your favorite spots?  Anything I need to add to my return visit?

Guadaloupe Mountains National Park


Just a few miles south of Carlsbad Caverns is another great National Park, Guadaloupe Mountains.  We planned for a whole day here but the weather was windy and cold, so we got it done in an afternoon.


We started at the Visitor Center, very small and packed when we got there. We grabbed our Junior Ranger packet and headed into the museum area.  We watched the film and then wandered the visitor center.  This Junior Ranger was pretty challenging, lucky for us a couple of college girls finished theirs up and gave my kids a pamphlet from the McKittrick Canyon Geology Center, luckily this answered the questions we couldn’t find anywhere. Thanks girls!!!!

We learned a ton here. This National Park celebrates the Guadalupe people, the desert environment, its beautiful canyons and the highlands. We took a short stroll around the Pine Springs Visitor Center, it was very windy and cold so we wrapped it up quickly and headed out.


We stopped off at the Frijole Ranch to do some hiking.  We parked in the lot and headed out. Dad stayed in the car to study so it was just the kids and I.  It started to warm up a little and once we got moving we were able to shed our coats.  Trails are a little rocky and uneven.  The park map states this trail, the Smith Spring trail is a moderate (I agree) 2.3 mile roundtrip trail. It was a great easy trail to get out and get our blood pumping.  Kids and I enjoyed this hike, must needed fresh air break!  I wish we could have done some more hiking here. We might need to revisit in a warmer month.


We did manage to earn our Junior Rangers and not only did we get the badge we also got this sweet patch to go with it.  I LOVE when we earn patches.


Guadalupe Mountains was a beautiful park, we really enjoyed our time here.  I think you could do this park in 1/2 day to up to 2 days depending on how much hiking you are interested in.  Gorgeous area, have you been here??  What was your favorite hike?

We are heading to El Paso in the morning!  Up next Chamizal National Memorial. Check back on the blog for more.

Carlsbad Caverns


Next stop on Spring Break 2018 (National Park Trip Season 3.1) was Carlsbad Caverns.  We have visited a couple of caves on our other National Park trips but nothing of this magnitude. This place was gigantic.  The trick at this park is to get here early!!  We walked in the door to the visitor center at 9 am and there was already (what I thought at the time) was a long line of about 20 people.  We have a park pass so we chose to do the Big Room Tour.  This is a self guided tour that is an easy to moderate 1.25 mile loop.  Approximate time is 1.5 hours.

We got our tour tickets in hand,  we grabbed some Junior Ranger books and headed over to the gift shop.  Got all of our souvenirs we wanted (this was perfect because later in the day this place was so packed you couldn’t walk through it) and walked over to stand in line to take the elevator down to the cave.  Here is where the wait was, the elevator can only hold so many people and because some people had tour times for guided tours they would let people in front of all of us line standers.  Kids worked on their Junior Ranger books and we probably stood there for all of 20 minutes or so.

A quick 5 minute rules about the cave from a ranger and we were on the elevator heading down into the cave!!!!

Once down in the cave it is easy to navigate around.  Well lit trails and signs give you directions for your self guided tour.  The Big Room is 8.2 acres, the trail is relatively level with signs to stop at for different features along the way.  The Big Room has many large and famous features like Bottomless Pit, Giant Dome, Rock of Ages, and the Painted Grotto.  I think our favorites were Lions Tail, Mirror Lake and the “caveman” at Caveman Junction.

Had I thought about it before descending down 750 feet, I would have changed the settings on my camera and figured out how to take good pictures in a cave. Instead I stumbled around just switching modes until I found one that would take a picture.  I need to learn what settings to use and figure my camera out for next time. If anyone has any pointers I would love to hear them.  So heads up set your camera up before going into the dungeon.


The Big Room tour


Mirror Lake


The boys enjoying the cave


Cave monster top left


Family caving


Making our way out


The Cave Monster


Another pointer I will add is there is a stamp at the little food court in the cave, that you can put into your passport book. It says “Mailed from 750 feet below the surface”.  Pretty fun if you are into the whole passport thing (which I don’t understand why anyone wouldn’t be??).


Kids and adults in this group really enjoyed our trip to this park.  We saw pretty awesome cave formations here like stalactites, stalagmites, soda straws, draperies, flowstone, columns, cave pearls, cave pools, popcorn, helictites, aragonite crystals and rimstone dams. We would have loved to spend all day here and do some more exploring.  It was so cold and windy out here the day we visited that we decided against it.  We can always come back 😉 Last stop Junior Rangers Badges.

So we give this park a thumbs up!  We loved it! Don’t worry if you are claustrophobic it is so big in the cave that I don’t think you would have any problems at all.  Get here early, get to the gift shop early and have your camera ready.  We also ate lunch here in the cafe. Good sandwiches, not much for a picnic when its 35 degrees out.  Off to Guadalupe, let’s hope the weather gets a little nicer??

Have you been to Carlsbad Caverns?  What was your favorite part?

Grand Teton National Park

I took advice from  a coworker on Grand Teton National Park, they said “you can just drive through the Tetons, they really aren’t any big deal”.  This was quite possibly the worst advice ever!!! This place was majestic, but I am a mountain addict.  I live in the plains and farmland of Iowa so mountains get my travel adreneline up and pumping.  I could travel through mountains for the rest of my life and they would still amaze me. We did plan a day for this park, but I could have stayed and enjoyed it for at least 4 or 5 days.

We had stayed at Headwater’s Lodge and Cabins at Flagg Ranch the night before, we had just done our Yellowstone stint and it is a great in between location for both parks.  We are doing the day at the Tetons and heading back to the lodge for another night.

Morning started early with some bowls of cereal on the deck of our lodge and straight into the car, I love that early morning mist and smell of the outdoors. I do try to enjoy it every summer morning, when life doesn’t get in the way.  First stop was the Teton sign heading into the park from the north side.  Once again we lucked out with another great traveler being there at the same time and willing to take our photo.


It then felt like we drove for miles with beautiful overlooks of Jackson Lake.  There wasn’t an entry station for the Tetons coming from Yellowstone so we swung into Colter Bay Visitor center to pick up a map of the park.  Great little visitor center, we got our magnets, stickers, Junior Ranger packet and cancellations at this stop.

Continuing on down the main park road this takes you to a fork in the road. We turned right to Jackson Lake Junction (this is just going to be a big loop). We stopped at Jackson Lake Dam because, well damn you can get some pretty dam good pictures here. 🙂 It is gorgeous in the early morning light. I don’t think you could take a bad picture here, even it you were trying.


We spent a lot of time here enjoying this panoramic view of the lake. So calm and still in the morning, it was lovely.  Next stop was the Chapel of the Sacred Heart.  This was a pretty cool place, not much info on this, we walked around and inside. There was an absolutely beautiful stained glass window in here that my kids enjoyed looking at.


We turned on the next road on the left and drove up Signal Mountain Road, elevation 7727 ft.  What an amazing view of the Tetons from up here.  Very peaceful and enjoyable, the beauty of getting up early is that there was nobody for miles and we had the view all to ourselves the whole time we were up here.  Bonus after being around thousands of people at Yellowstone. There is a trail you can follow down the hill to get great pictures of this viewpoint.


Back down the mountain and out onto the main road again.  Next stop was Mount Moran Turnout, the park is starting to fill up.  This right here is why I lust after mountains, look at all of the colors starting from the bottom all of the way up to the sky.  Nature surely is amazing.


Off we go heading to Jenny Lake.  We turn on the one way road at the North Jenny Lake Junction and soon find out we are not alone at this park.  This is where everyone has been this morning as we enjoyed the peacefulness.  Parking lot at String Lake was completely full by 10 am when we arrived.  From what we could see this was a hot spot at the park.  We were not able to stop but the scenery driving by was breath taking, not to worry the next stop we were able to do was just as awesome. We continued on and pulled over at Jenny Lake overlook, there was actually parking available!  This spot, was spot on. Amazing views of the lake under the beautiful mountains.  I could live here, or just visit more often. Check it out.


After enjoying this view for awhile we hopped back in the car and headed to Jenny Lake Visitor Center.  Car and people explosion.  There were cars parked for miles and no parking spots anywhere to be found.  Unfortunately we hit the park when Jenny Lake was under construction.  Our only choice was for me to drop the kids off and send them into the visitor center with all of our passports to get the cancellation.  This was a huge bummer because I was looking forward to a Jenny Lake boat ride and hiking to Inspiration Point. Next time I guess, the good news is The Tetons are on the way out west from Iowa to other parks, so it is possible to come back and enjoy this place again. Kids got the cancellations and we headed out to our next stop, Craig Thomas Discovery and Moose Visitor Center.  Plenty of parking and no crowds here, it was nice.

We walked around the discovery center and enjoyed the displays. This place has a great gift shop as well, we got more cancellations and enjoyed the low crowded area.


Next up was lunch at Moose Junction. Crowded but not so bad that you couldn’t find a spot to park.  We ended up choosing Pizza Pasta company, low budget and great food.  You line up and order your food, go sit and they bring it to you.  We found a great seat outside on the patio overlooking the tetons. Great service, our food was delish and the beer hit the spot.


Even the Yellowstone beaver is enjoying our lunch stop.


We are back in the car and heading north on 89.  This will be the circle that takes us back to Colter Village, where we started.  This highway has a few turnouts to stop at and get some great panoramic views.  It was very hazy there due to wildfires in and around Montana but still fantastic.  We hit Blacktail Ponds overlook and Snake River overlook.


Cunningham Cabin stop was nice to get out and stretch our legs. Great little walk down the the cabin and very peaceful.  Enjoying the silence of nature the whole way down and back. Cunningham cabin is one of the best surviving examples of a homestead cabin. The site of an 1892 shootout. A band of self-deputized locals sought to root out rumored horse thieves.


Took a left at Moran Junction, came back into the park at Moran Junction.  We took some time to just sit and relax at this part of the park.  We pulled over and parked at (I think) Oxbow Bend turnout.  We hiked down the river, I sat and enjoyed the view while the kids were busy skipping rocks and hanging out with other kids their age.  We got some great photos up above the river.  It was getting hot, and kids wanted to get in the water.


We headed up the road from Oxbow and turned left onto a gravel road. Followed it to a gravel parking lot and parked in the shade.  The kids changed into swim trunks in the car and I got a book and enjoyed a nice break in the shade while the kids burnt off some energy.  No one around for miles 🙂


After our energy burning session we drove back to Colter Bay Village, it was time to check in for our dinner ride. At this point my mom has decided she doesn’t want to ride a horse tonight. LOL.  She is having flashbacks of Bryce Canyon trail riding.  When I went to ask about getting money back the lady was very nice and put my mom on the wagon dinner ride. Which like the name implies you ride a wagon out to where the meal is served.  The rest of us are riding a horse.  When we got there my mom was really unsure about this.  The horses headed out first and then the wagon left to meet us there.  The kids and I had a good time on horses on the way and learned quite a bit of information on the Tetons, snow, bears and other wildlife.  Out trail boss was very easy to listen to and had a great personality! He even stopped to take pictures for us 🙂


We arrived at our dinner spot, tied up the horses and were really surprised to see a very happy grandmother.  She was elated!  She had so much fun on the wagon ride she couldn’t stop talking about it.  I would recommend this for anyone who would like to experience this dinner ride but is unwilling to ride a horse.  The spread was amazing: steak, beans, potatoes, corn, cornbread and a really nice salad bar. Dessert was apple crisp.  All of this under the Tetons. You won’t go hungry on this trip, for food or scenery.



We sat around the campfire for awhile listening to others stories and travels.  We had a great group of people with us from all over the U.S. traveling to different parks.  We hopped back on the horses and set off back to the ranch. This way we experienced trail riding. Most of the way there was road riding.  It was beautiful.  We even stopped for a beautiful sunset photo.  What a great way to end the ride.


Back at the ranch the kids got to unsaddle their horses (they were already pros at this) it was fun to watch the others do it.  Fed some treats and we were off to a campfire Ranger talk.

An evening ranger led talk at Colter Bay ampitheater(9 p.m.) rounds off our evening at the Tetons.  It was a presentation on bear safety and the various birds found at the Tetons.  This was a really interesting talk and our park ranger was passionate about birds and their safety.  Who knew I would be interested in bird safety?  Kids got their Junior Ranger program signed and finished.  We will stop back by here in the morning to receive the badges.  For now we are beat and need to hit the hay!  Back to Flagg Ranch.

Tomorrow we make our way towards Glacier National Park with a few stops along the way. Check back to see more of our adventures.


Yellowstone National Park 3


Here we are at Day 2 in Yellowstone, we had a great night sleep at our wonderful cabin Sacajawea at Shoshone Lodge and campground, I just wish we would have planned a day to stay here relax and enjoy all the offerings they had, perhaps on another trip.

6 a.m. Rise and Shine.  We were packed up and ready to go at 7 am.  We entered through the east entrance again and took our time enjoying the beautiful drive into the park.

Fishing Bridge

Stopped to fuel up and grab some munchies here. Made a quick stop to the Fishing Bridge Visitor Center to get our Passport Cancellations. This visitor center/gift shop is pretty small, we looked at a few of the exhibits and then proceeded with the itinerary.

West Thumb

Off to find Potts Hot Springs Basin-FAIL we never found it despite driving around the area several times.

We pulled into West Thumb and stopped at the Information Station Bookstore for yet another Yellowstone Passport Cancellation. Did a quick Lake Overlook and ran back to the car, much more exciting things ahead.

Next stop the Continental Divide



There was a huge line of people getting their picture taken at the sign headed west so we just pulled into the eastward sign.   There are plenty of CD signs in the park you won’t miss them.

Kepler Cascades

This place was a beautiful stop on the 17-mile drive from West Thumb heading into the Old Faithful area.  Low crowds and lots of photos.


Now we are off to Old Faithful area.  It has its own exit, I felt like I was on an interstate, in a National Park??? So weird.

Old Faithful

We parked at the Old Faithful Inn, Grandma hopped on the Old Faithful Inn tour while we went up to the Observation Deck to view the eruption.  Here we waited about 10 minutes before Old Faithful did its job.  That was pretty good timing!


This must have been around 11 am.  We went downstairs and waited in line for about 2 minutes for the Old Faithful Inn Dining Room, what a beautiful place! We really enjoyed eating here, the atmosphere was amazing and the food was fantastic! We learned a mistake from yesterday and timed our meal so we didn’t waste a minute.

From here we strolled over to the Old Faithful Visitor Center, went through the center, did a Junior Ranger program, strolled through the NP Haynes Photoshop, back to the visitor center and we received our Junior Ranger Patches. Not without first reuniting a poor lost kid with his mother, apparently, she beelined it for the geyser eruption and didn’t pay attention that she lost her 4-year-old, after about 20 minutes she came back for him.


We were on our way to get Huckleberry ice cream back at the Old Faithful Inn when Old Faithful erupted again for us.  We snapped this quick picture and headed for ice cream to beat the crowd!


The Huckleberry Ice cream was everything that we dreamed of.  Absolutely worth it and delicious.  We sat outside and enjoyed the scenery and ice cream, the day was perfect for it. I really wanted to rent bikes and ride through upper basin but couldn’t talk my cohorts into it, add it to the list of things to do “next time”, that list is really adding up.

Black Sand Basin

Back to the car and off we go only about 1 mile northwest of Old Faithful. This place was fun; springs, geysers and our first elk sighting! The binoculars we brought finally came in handy, thanks, dad.  The kids were mesmerized by the elk and I was mesmerized by the pools.  So beautiful, the springs and geysers were fun to just watch along with the elk.


I could have easily stayed here all day!!

Fountain Flat Drive

Grand Prismatic Spring, this is it. This is what we have been waiting to see.  The most famous spot at Yellowstone was it worth it???  Yes, it was.  The only thing I wish we would have done is to walk up to the overlook, but the parking lot was full.  The parking here at this time of day was horrendous, so be prepared! Make sure not to miss this spot it is really amazing.




Firehole Lake Drive

This was just ok, not too impressive.  Low crowds and pullovers for pictures.  A nice break from not getting in and out of the car, a small road off of the main road.  The kids loved this part because I let them take pictures of this set of geysers while standing in the car and taking the pictures out of the moonroof. A little trick we learned here at Yellowstone National Park.



We drove up to Madison to add a cancellation to our passport. To our surprise, it was not crowded and really peaceful.  Not a soul around at the Visitor Center, so we wandered around and enjoyed the silence. A great break from all the crowds and traffic.  So serene and empty. This is how I imagined Yellowstone would be.


Firehole Canyon Drive

This road, off of the main drag was beautiful, one of the best parts of the park. We were expecting to go swimming at the Firehole swimming area, but as per usual with Yellowstone, it was packed and there was absolutely nowhere to park.  With a little better planning now that we have experience with the park, we will come here earlier and make sure we swim and relax.  It looked amazing, I was a little upset we missed out on this experience.  We just keep adding to our list of things to do next time!

With the west side of Yellowstone under our belts, we headed to Flagg Ranch, our destination for the next 2 nights.  The drive through south Yellowstone was absolutely gorgeous, is there any spot here in the park that isn’t??  We did manage to find a prettier setting for another Continental Divide sign.  The picture below was taken on our way back through, this spot had a lovely little pond covered with lily pads and some information about the Continental Divide.  I recommend this stop over the above one.


We checked into Flagg Ranch and enjoyed a wonderful dinner at the Ranch as well. Next up is Grand Teton National Park!  Overall we enjoyed Yellowstone immensely.  It was so pretty with so many things to do, it would be impossible not to want to come back!  We really enjoyed the wildlife, the geysers, the springs, the visitor centers, and everything minus the crowds and a few grumpy tourists.  I am already planning our next trip here (in my mind). So with 4 full pages of cancellations, over 300 photos and a lifetime of memories, I will say Yellowstone was a success with our family.  Lots of hours spent researching and planning was not wasted.  I hope with this blog it will help someone out there to plan their trip or just enjoy watching us.  Please let me know if you have any questions at all.  Don’t miss out on my other two blogs on Yellowstone either.  What is your favorite part of this park??  There are so many great ones.

Cancellation Success, we are missing a few. Museum of the National Park Ranger and Snake River Ranger Station.  But, alas we will be back 🙂


Thanks for visiting.  Don’t miss out on all the other National Park posts I have!! Feel free to send me suggestions on parks I need to visit!!



Yellowstone National Park 2

Welcome back, everyone.  This blog post will be our afternoon at Yellowstone following blog post, Yellowstone National Park Part 1.  We pick up after a wonderful lunch at Roosevelt Lodge.

We are heading to what will be, my favorite part of the park 🙂  The Mammoth/Norris Country.  First stop, Albright Visitor Center.  This place is its own community!!  It has its own Post Office and looks like a bustling town, it’s absolutely gorgeous I bet even more so in winter.  We managed to find a parking spot near the post office and walked over to the Visitor Center.  This place was great!  We spent about an hour to hour and a half in here getting our cancellations, browsing the gift shop, looking at the exhibits.  I went into the basement to check out more things but my kids were enamored by the buffalo exhibit.  They watched the film of people getting trampled and flung into trees at least a dozen times. Apparently, it never gets old, according to them. Not sure the video was made for entertainment. After we sized ourselves up to the Buffalo we went and rode the bear at the Post Office.  Lol, this kid cracks me up! Our energy is still going strong at this point.



We wandered our way over to Mammoth Hot Springs. We did the Upper and Lower Terrace Loop.  Lots of people but we found everyone to be extremely friendly and patient.  We took lots of pictures here, it was truly like another planet. We loved it so much that I am convinced if we come back we will stay in this part of the park. It was Fascinating!!  We also enjoyed a drive through the backside for more springs and geysers.


Off to the Museum of the National Park Ranger, by the time we arrived, it was closed.  We were only off by about 5 minutes so I am putting a timestamp here around 5 pm.  We are 10 hours into our day already. Next stop Porcelain Basin/Emerald Spring in Norris.

Norris is the area of Yellowstone that was a former US Army outpost. It gets its name from the park’s 2nd superintendent Philetus W Norris. We stopped off at the Norris Information Station/Bookstore for a cancellation and possibly a map of the basin, no luck on the map, we are going to wing it. Managed to get our cancellation.😀

A mile of boardwalks loop through the Porcelain Basin.  It’s past 5 pm and the crowds are dying down, we are almost the only ones out here walking the boardwalk. Porcelain Basin is the park’s hottest basin that is exposed.  We walked to the Museum and through it coming down onto the right side of the basins, here we found the following:

Porcelain Terrace Overlook


Black Growler Steam Vent


Crackling Lake


Whales Mouth

Whirligig Geyser and more:


Now back through the museum and over to the Back Basin area:

Steamboat Geyser


Emerald Spring


Back in the car now and heading South. Next up is Artist Paint Pots. We parked the car and went on a nice .7 mile walk with great views, hot springs, and mudpots.  To our surprise, we met some nice folks from Kirkman, Iowa, where one of my best friends grew up. It’s a small world out there, I love it!! Time to head back to our cabin, it has been a long but beautiful day.

Artists Paint Pots

IMG_1916IMG_1914IMG_1915 On the drive home we pulled in to see the Mud Volcano but no one was interested in getting out except for me!  I would say the day was a success!

Mud Volcano


That is a wrap for this post.  Check back for Yellowstone National Park Part 3!! It gets even better, I promise. 🙂

Bonus:  We caught a Buffalo swimming across the lake on the way back to our cabin that evening!! Highlight of the day 😍😍


Until next time!!

Yellowstone National Park 1

We have made it to Yellowstone National Park, what a trek across Wyoming, I can’t tell you how beautiful this state is, you must see for yourself.

We are staying at Shoshone Lodge and Guest Ranch, this is located about 3-4 miles east of The East Entrance of Yellowstone.  What a great place!!  I honestly think this is a place you just come to and stay put, maybe venture to Yellowstone a few days  during a week long trip but this place has tons of things to do or you could just stay and relax, depending on how you like to travel.  Us?? We put in 2, 14 hour days to get everything we wanted done at Yellowstone, and only used our cabin to sleep and shower.  The first evening we arrived we hung out by the campfire, played some baseball with other guests and chatted with some folks hanging out by the fire, relaxing! This is the way to do it.

The next morning we were up and going by 7 am.  I heard that the park gets busy fast and parking lots are usually full by 10 am.  Our first stop was 4 minutes away at the entrance sign. Luckily another family was right there with us and took our photo. It turned out fantastic! Everybody is awake and ready to go!


We got our map and park newsletter and were off on our 1st adventure.  When you enter the park from this end, it is quite a drive to any of the frequent tourist stops so be prepared to be in the car for a good 30-60 minutes, depending on how well you manage curves and if you get stuck behind RVs.  It is a beautiful drive so just sit back and enjoy. We drove the East Entrance Road all the way to the T intersection and took a right to follow the Grand Loop Road, this follows the Yellowstone River and there are plenty of wildlife to keep you occupied on the long trip.  Our favorite were the buffalo, it was amazing how big these guys were and you were practically on top of them.  We got some great pictures just sitting in the car!! On the way back that night we even got to watch one swim through the water and get out to cross the road!  This was by far one of the coolest things we saw!


South Rim Drive

Just up the Grand Loop Road was the South Rim Drive.  We turned here to get some pictures of the Artists Points.  This place was starting to get really packed by 10 am and was almost nearly impossible to get a picture.  Be patient, those pictures here are worth it 🙂 See!!


Next up was Uncle Tom’s Trail, it was closed for construction 😦  Looks like we will have to come back 🙂  LOL!!!

We headed up a little further to the North Rim Drive.  Here we checked a few things off of our Itinerary!  Lots of great viewpoints along the way and interesting educational signs to go with.

Brink of Lower Falls

We hiked down this trail to see the waterfall from the top.  Pretty, but packed, we expected this.  Yellowstone is not for people who don’t like crowds, esp. in July/August.  Just be prepared and plan well.

Lookout Point

Park your car and walk a few steps to this.  Puts in to perspective how gorgeous and huge this park is.


Grand Viewpoint

Ever wondered why it’s called Yellowstone.  One glimpse of the Grand Viewpoint and I am betting you figure it out!  The kids loved it here! We got to see a golden eagle flying over this, pretty sweet and a memory we won’t soon forget.

Canyon Visitor Center

This place was fantastic.  We watched the short film, wandered around the exhibits, got our Junior Ranger booklet (here it costs $3 but instead of a pin you get a patch).  Visited the gift shop, purchased a few items, including Yellowstone Passport Stickers and got our Canyon Village Cancellation. There are lots of things to do in this village. Shopping, education, and food.  Great place to stop!! We didn’t take too many pictures here because we were busy enjoying 🙂


Tower Falls

We did the short hike to the top to get an overview of the Tower Falls.  Beautiful as far as the eye can see.  Our pictures don’t do this justice.  We did not do the lower trail to see the falls, this group was getting hangry!

Next up was our lunch stop!

Roosevelt Lodge Dining Room

We got hungry at a bad time, lunch time.  We had about a 45 minute wait until a table was ready.  We wandered over to the gift shop and looked around, then we found a seat on the porch and worked on our Junior Ranger books.  The time went by fast and we were seated.  The food was really good and the wait staff fabulous,.  This place was gorgeous to look at!  In no time at all we were full and on to our fun-filled afternoon!!


We took a quick stop off at the Tower Junction Ranger Station for yet another cancellation for our passport!  This one had a Tower Falls stamp as well! Kinda hard to see but I love when there are extra stamps. ❤


I’m going to end here for the day now and do a separate post on the afternoon, otherwise this post will get very long.  We put in 2 very long days here and there is so much information I don’t want to bog you down with.  Let me know if you have been to Yellowstone and have must do’s that I may have missed! We tried to get everything in on this trip.  Check back for Part 2, and Part 3.  This park is huge it will take awhile to get through everything.  Enjoy!

Wind Cave National Park


The next stop on National Park Trip Season 2 is Wind Cave.  Wind Cave is one of the oldest national parks in the U.S. it was the 8th National Park and the 1st National Park to protect a cave.  With 143 miles of caves explored and found here, you can’t go wrong.  We spent about 5 hours at Wind Cave.  When we arrived we signed up for The Natural Entrance Cave Tour.  Gunnar’s 4th grade pass got all of us in for free (except Grandma but she had her senior pass with her).  Good thing we brought him 😉  We only had to wait about 20 minutes until our tour started.  Gave us plenty of time to take our packs back to the car because they aren’t allowed in the cave, and visit the bookstore.  Bookstore/gift shop is small but excellent, we bought our Passport stickers and got our cancellations.


The Natural Entrance tour was perfect for us.  It lasted about 1.5 hours and our Ranger was very patient and funny.  She let Gunnar lead us down into the cave and took turns assigning kids as mini-ranger guides.  We picked up an extra kid along the way, apparently he grew tired of his own family and attached himself to us.  Him and Grandma hit it off!!


We saw lots of cave formations: Boxwork, dripstone and popcorn were the most abundant on this tour.  Wind cave has more boxwork than all other caves combined, it holds the record with having 95% of all known boxwork in the world found here.  In South Dakota, can you believe that??  Who knew South Dakota held a record. LOL.

We enjoyed our tour, went to the picnic area and enjoyed a picnic lunch.  I suggest bringing food, Wind Cave is in the middle of nowhere, no food close by that we saw.  We worked on our Junior Rangers while we ate and then headed back to the Visitor Center for our badges.


This Ranger was rough!  He wasn’t going to give out these badges to just anyone. He grilled these kids like it was the MCATs.  He even asked Gunnar if he opened the book when Gunnar couldn’t tell him how limestone was made.  😂😂😂 After much lecturing he finally let them pass and we were off to Jewel Cave.🤓🤓

We really tried not to have a good time here but in the end, we caved.


I hope you enjoyed Wind Cave National Park with us.  Check back for our next stop!


Badlands National Park


This was the first National Park on our National Park Trip Season 2.  No disappointment here at all.  From the time you pull up to the entrance sign until the time you leave, there is 360 degrees of beauty all around. Pinnacles, spires, canyons, prairies and grasslands. This place has it all.  The layers of depositing sediments have created a natural beauty that you need to see for yourself, just amazing.  It is so peaceful and serene, this is why we loved this park.


Prairie and Grasslands butted up against a beautiful back drop of geological formations.

Another reason to love Badlands, Wildlife galore!  We saw bighorn sheep, a porcupine, prairie dogs and much much more.  We kept our eyes out for the black footed ferret but unfortunately didn’t get to see any.  What really impressed us was the Fossil Museum and Paleontology lab at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center.  You could sit and watch the paleontologist work on fossils.  The fossils they have on display blew us away as well!


Here is a bighorn sheep on the side of the road, photo courtesy of my 10 year old!

We always try to attend a ranger program at every National Park we visit.  This time we went with the Night Sky Viewing Program at the Amphitheatre behind the visitor center.  We actually lucked out and got a Geology talk all about how the Badlands formed (I won’t ruin it here, you will need to go and find out for yourself), and the sea that covered the area millions of years ago which explains all of the cool fossils they have found there.  When that program was done it was dark enough to get out the telescopes, I have never seen a telescope like these before!  Absolutely amazing!  The kids and I were able to see the moon, Jupiter, Saturn and The International Space Station as it went by.  Totally impressed with this program, and the kids talked about Jupiter and Saturn all the way back to the hotel. I suggest hitting this program if it works into your schedule. Awesome!


Another reason to love the Badlands is that there are very few hiking trails to overwhelm you and you do have time for all of them.  We went on a few, most are on boardwalks to where you can then get off on foot paths and explore the formations on your own.  Here are a few pics of The Door Trail to give you an idea and feel for the trail system. Perfect for day explorers to the park.


Kids earned their Junior Rangers while we were here and we got our cancellations in our Passport books.  The Rangers at the Visitor Center were all really helpful and full of information.  Great little gift shop here, where we picked up a few items and then we were off to the next stop. We did swing by the South Unit visitor center.  Spent about 30 minutes there.  A few neat exhibits but if you are short on time I would skip.


Passport Book – Badlands Cancellations

I allocated about 1 1/2 days here and intermixed with Minuteman Missile (see blog for that here).  That gave us plenty of time to hike, drive through, attend a ranger program, get our Jr. Rangers and visit both of the visitor centers.   After much thought and research we decided not to stay in the lodging inside of the park.  We chose Frontier Cabins, located just North of the North Entrance to the park in Wall, South Dakota.  We were able to get our own cabin and the kids slept in their own tee pee.  Also able to enjoy a hot tub, free breakfast and it was minutes from Wall Drug.  I would recommend this hotel, very quiet and peaceful hard to believe it is right off the Interstate.  It worked perfect for us to commute between Wall, The Badlands, Minuteman Missile and the Delta 01 Launch site.

That’s all for now. I hope you enjoyed my post on Badlands National Park. Let me know if you have any questions!  National Park Trip Season 2 is off to a great start.


The South Entrance Sign