14 Must See Spots on Your Road Trip to Yellowstone!

Last year we took an epic road trip from Texas to Montana, and then back home! Below, I’m including 14 must see spots on your road trip to Yellowstone! This road trip adventure will take you through Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado.

Our entire road trip route!


Erwin Widmer / Shutterstock

Cadillac Ranch

We are notorious for driving through Texas as quick as we can and not making too many stops in our home state. But, if you’re looking for a quick, fun, colorful stop, then check our Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, TX. Don’t forget to bring along a can of spray paint!

Address: 13651 I-40 Frontage Road, Amarillo, TX

New Mexico

Amarillo, TX to Farmington, NM

If you’re coming in from Texas, New Mexico is a great place to stop for the night! We stayed in Farmington, NM and that was about a twelve hour drive for us from home. We typically don’t like to drive that far in one day, but we wanted to knock out a big chunk early on to have more days for exploring. And Texas is a huge state to drive through!

Aztec Ruins National Monument

The boys at Aztec Ruins

The Aztec Ruins are a fun and educational stop in Farmington, NM. We spent about an hour here, exploring the different areas of the ruins. The boys loved all of the prairie dogs!

Address: 725 Ruins Rd, Aztec, NM 87410


Family photo with Shiprock Peak behind us!

Shiprock is an iconic sight, rising 1,583 feet tall, about 30 minutes from Farmington! Be aware, it’s considered a sacred place to the Navajo tribe and is not open to the public. We just made a quick stop for a photo on the side of the road!

Directions from Farmington: Take US 64 west to Shiprock and make a left at the intersection with US 491. Continue 7.1 miles on US 64 and 491, and turn right (west) onto the paved Indian Service Route 13. Continue 7.6 miles on IR 13 and turn right (north) onto IR 5010, which is a dirt road. Follow IR 5010 north to Shiprock, which is about 3.5 miles away.


Farmington, NM to Monument Valley

Monument Valley

Forest Gump Point

I have always wanted to see Monument Valley, so we made sure to add this route to our road trip itinerary! I am hoping to explore more of this area on a future trip out west. We just drove through, and stopped for a quick photo at Forest Gump Point. I typed that in on my GPS and it led us there! The landscape here was impressive and I am so happy we added this quick detour to our route!

Monument Valley is located on US Highway 163.


Monument Valley to Moab, UT

Utah is one of the coolest states we’ve ever visited! On this trip, we drove through Moab on our journey to Yellowstone. Of course, we had to stop for some hiking! There are so many amazing spots in Moab to explore. If you’re short on time, I recommend hiking up to Wilson Arch. If you have more time on your road trip, you can stay in Moab for a few days to explore the two National Parks here!

Wilson Arch

The boys under Wilson Arch

Wilson Arch is a quick, five minute hike from the side of highway 191, about 20 minutes south of Moab. It’s mostly uphill, but we were able to hike up and back down without any issues. You can find the pull out to park right alongside the highway, and even though it’s not very crowded, you’ll see other cars along the road. We like this hike because you don’t have to pay to explore here!

Arches National Park

Delicate Arch trail

Arches National Park is the site of over 2,000 natural sandstone arches. It’s one of those places that you just have to see to believe! My boys loved exploring this park and keep asking to go back. There are so many areas to explore, if you’re short on time you can even just drive through and stop at different overlooks to take in the different arches. If you have time for a hike, I recommend the three mile hike to the iconic Delicate Arch! Keep in mind, you do need a timed-entry permit to enter Arches National Park from April 1st-October 31st.

Directions to Arches: From Moab, drive north on US 191 for five miles. You will see the sign for the entrance!

Dead Horse Point State Park

The vista at Dead Horse Point

I think I prefer Dead Horse Point State Park over the Grand Canyon, it’s that scenic! You don’t need a ton of time here, we just parked and walked along the overlook trail. The views are absolutely breathtaking!

Directions to Dead Horse Point: Drive nine miles northwest of Moab on US 191 and then 23 miles southwest on Utah 313 to the end of the highway. You will see signs for Dead Horse Point along the drive!

Canyonlands National Park

Mesa Arch trail

Another amazing National Park in Moab is Canyonlands! The area called Island in the Sky is right next to Dead Horse Point State Park, so you can knock these two places out at one time! The overlooks are truly amazing. If you don’t have much time, I recommend checking out Mesa Arch!

Directions to Canyonlands: From US 191 north of Moab, UT 313 leads to Island in the Sky district. You will keep driving past Arches NP and will see signs for Canyonlands National Park.


Moab, UT to Twin Falls, ID

Idaho has to be the most underrated state we’ve ever visited! We were blown away with the views, the waterfalls, the hiking trails, the mountains, and more! On our road trip, we decided to stay in Twin Falls for a few nights to explore the area and spend some time outside of the car. This ended up being a great choice and one of my favorite destinations of the entire trip!

Perrine Coulee Falls

Can you see the people on the trail behind the waterfall?

Did you know that you can hike behind one of the tallest waterfalls in Twin Falls? I had no clue until I began researching stops along our route. The 200 foot waterfall is quite impressive by itself, but having the opportunity to walk behind it was really special!

Directions to Perrine Coulee Falls: This waterfall is just outside of Centennial Waterfront Park. You’ll see cars parked along the street next to the falls. You won’t miss this one, it’s close to the road that leads through the park!

Shoshone Falls Park

Shoshone Falls Park

Shoshone Falls is also known as The Niagara of the West! If you’re in Twin Falls, you have to visit this park! There are several different paved trails with different views of the falls. And, you don’t need a lot of time here to experience the magic!

Shoshone Falls Park Address: 4155 Shoshone Falls Grade, Twin Falls, ID 83301. There is a $5 entrance fee per vehicle.

Upper Mesa Falls

Upper Mesa Falls

If you’re driving from Twin Falls, you should make the stop to hike around Upper Mesa Falls near the Idaho, Montana border! I really had no clue that Idaho was full of so many amazing waterfalls. This is a very short hike to a 114 feet high, 200 feet wide roaring curtain of water!

Directions to Mesa Falls: You’ll find Upper Mesa Falls in Ashton, Idaho off of Hwy 20 via Scenic Byway 47. I used the Alltrails app for directions and we had no issues finding it. There were also signs along the drive.


Twin Falls, ID to West Yellowstone, MT

Up to this point, our trip was fantastic, but then we arrived in West Yellowstone, MT and found out that Yellowstone National Park was closed. Yes, we are some of the unfortunate people that made the trip only to learn that other areas of the park had encountered historic flooding. So, we never actually got to enter Yellowstone. We were so sad, but found other things to do in the area.

Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center in West Yellowstone

The boys with our favorite bear!

We had been so excited to see wild animals in Yellowstone, so it made sense to visit the Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center. Plus, it was directly across the street from our lodging. It is a fantastic facility! We loved seeing the bears and were so excited when the wolves woke up and began moving around. We spent several hours here viewing the animals, hearing their stories, and exploring the museum inside.

Address: 201 S Canyon St, West Yellowstone, MT 59758. It costs $16.50 for adults, $11.50 for kids.


West Yellowstone, MT to Jackson, WY

Our trip was completely redeemed once we made it to Jackson, WY! The Grand Tetons are absolutely gorgeous. And, the best part is that we got to encounter a real bear in the wild!

Grand Teton National Park

Jenny Lake

One can easily spend weeks here and not see everything that this National Park has to offer. We had the chance to spend a couple of nights here, and we were able to spend two full days hiking in the park. If I had one place to recommend, I’d suggest the Jenny Lake area! If you want to see wildlife, hike on the Phelps Lake Overlook trail, that’s where we saw the bear!

Visitor Center Address: 100 Discovery Way, Moose, WY 83012


Jackson, WY to Colorado Springs, CO

By the time we made it to Colorado Springs for the night, before journeying back home, we were exhausted! This is such a neat destination, you can easily spend a week vacationing here alone. So, even though there are tons of activities and attractions to explore here, we opted for a quick visit to Garden of the Gods.

Garden of the Gods

Garden of the Gods

Garden of the Gods has been a favorite of mine since I was a kid! I knew I wanted to bring my boys here. They’ve actually visited this place on several different occasions, it makes for a great stop! My boys love the easy walk around the different rock formations. And the climbing is their favorite part! Plus, it’s always a good idea to get the kids tired before beginning a long trip back home! Don’t miss out on the museum inside the Visitor Center.

Address: 1805 N. 30th Street Colorado Springs, CO 80904

We spent two weeks adventuring through the desert and over mountains on this road trip! Even though we didn’t get to see the main attraction on this trip, we still had a wonderful time and made tons of memories! This road trip did involve a lot of planning, especially for the weather! It was warm in some places, but snowed in others, all within just a few days.

Road Trip Tips

  • Have a plan! Make sure to know your route and where you plan to stop and stay each night!
  • Get your vehicle checked before your road trip!
  • Make sure you have a first aid kit in your vehicle.
  • Bring plenty of snacks and drinks for the drive!
  • Create a playlist. If you have kids, have them help you!
  • Stop often for breaks.
  • Don’t try to drive too long each day unless you know you and your kiddos can handle it.
  • Prepare for the weather at each destination on your adventure!
  • Be patient, expect traffic and weather delays from time to time.
  • Don’t try to pack in too much each day!
  • Have fun!

I’m sure we missed a ton of awesome places on this road trip! We do have plans to one day return to Yellowstone, taking a different route. Be sure to check out more of my blog posts for complete travel guides and itineraries! Good luck on your next road trip, I know it’s going to be amazing!

The BEST Hiking Trails in Rocky Mountain National Park for Kids

Rocky Mountain National Park is one of my favorite Parks in the whole country! There’s just something about Colorado that fills my soul with peace. So, taking my boys to Rocky Mountain National Park was very high on my adventure list.

Before we visited RMNP, my boys had only done a few hikes here and there. This Park actually created a new love of hiking for our entire family. I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but I wanted to see picturesque scenery and I wanted some beautiful family photos of our adventures! We got all of that and more, so keep reading below to learn about the best hiking trails in Rocky Mountain National Park for kids!

Click here for my best tips for hiking for kids!

The Best Hiking Trails in RMNP

Most of our favorite trails are in the Bear Lake Corridor, I’ll touch on this more below.

If I only had one day in the Park, the next three hikes would be on my list!

Nymph Lake

Nymph Lake – To access this hike, the trailhead starts at Bear Lake. This trail is only about a one mile out & back hike and is generally considered a fairly easy route. The Lilly pads were our favorite feature at this lake! If you keep going along this trail around the lake, you will end up at Dream Lake, which is my next favorite stop in RMNP!

Dream Lake

Dream Lake – Dream Lake truly is a dream! It’s close to a mile past Nymph Lake, so a total of 1.9 miles out & back from the trailhead at Bear Lake. There are a lot of flat rocks around the lake, so we found a spot and had some snacks and a quick rest before venturing on to Emerald Lake, which is breathtaking!

The trail to Emerald Lake

Emerald Lake – This trail is the absolute best! It’s about three miles out & back from the trailhead at Bear Lake. If you plan to make this hike, you will see Nymph Lake and Dream Lake along the way! We actually combined all three of these trails into one day of hiking and it only took us about 3.5 hours to complete! I would rate this entire three mile trail as moderate, but it was definitely easy enough for my boys to hike without complaining! The views along the entire way are absolutely amazing!

Emerald Lake

Alberta Falls

Alberta Falls – Alberta Falls is a beautiful hike to a beautiful waterfall! You definitely don’t want to miss this one. The trail to the falls is 1.6 miles out & back and only takes about an hour or so. It’s a little harder on the way back in than on the way out. My boys not only loved the waterfall, but they loved all the chipmunks in the area around the falls. This one also starts in the Bear Lake Corridor. We hiked the first three trails (Nymph, Dream, and Emerald Lakes) on our first day in the Park and then hiked Alberta Falls on the second day. I’m not sure my boys could’ve combined all four trails into one day but it is an option if you have limited time here!

This is a great place to stop, rest, take in the falls, & have a picnic!

Lake Haiyaha – This is probably the most gorgeous lake I’ve ever seen in person, but the trail to get to it is super tough. It’s about two miles of walking up a mountain and then scrambling over large boulders to reach the water. The total trail is about 4 miles out & back and is considered a challenging hike. Currently, the water is this amazing shade of blue caused by a recent rock slide last summer! If your kids can handle getting to the top and like climbing on rocks, then you should go for it! The hike back down is very easy since it’s all downhill!

Lake Haiyaha

Easier Trails in RNMP

Sprague Lake around 4:45 pm in July

Sprague Lake Loop – If you want the chance to see a moose, then be sure to add a visit to Sprague Lake to your day! This is the easiest trail, it’s more of a loop around the lake. It’s on flat ground and is less than a mile. There’s even benches and different areas to sit down and take in the landscape! We arrived right around 4:30 and saw a moose and her baby within fifteen minutes! It was the highlight of the trip for sure! We hiked to Alberta Falls first and then ended our day at Sprague Lake. This area is also a great place to watch the sunrise or sunset!

Bear Lake

Bear Lake – This is the first lake you will encounter on the trails at Bear Lake. It’s also an easy loop around the lake and is less than a mile around. We only spent about fifteen minutes here before hiking on to Emerald Lake. If you want to see beautiful scenery without much hiking, then this is the place to be!

Colorado River Trail

Colorado River Trail – This is one of the only trails that we hiked that wasn’t in the Bear Lake Corridor. We definitely prefer the Bear Lake area, but if you’re unable to get a permit to enter (more info. below), then I suggest driving along Trail Ridge Road and then hiking this trail! The entire loop is about 4.2 miles, but we only hiked about half of that before turning around. The part we did was very easy and flat. The boys liked walking across the river on downed trees and we saw a lot of cool animal tracks in the mud here!

General Information About RMNP

Timed-Entry Permit Details

Rocky Mountain National Park now requires a timed-entry permit to enter the Park from May 26, 2023 through October 22, 2023. Always check out the NPS websites, which include valuable information, closures, webcams, etc. There are two separate areas of the Park, Bear Lake Corridor and “the rest of the Park”. Kind of confusing right, especially for first-timers! So, hopefully I can break this down for you in an easier way. Timed-entry permits are available on the first of the month for the following month, so I got our permits on June 1st for our July trip. They are $2 for each day that you want to enter, plus you have to pay the park entrance fee once at the gate & I believe this is $35 for the week. The Park only releases a certain amount of permits each day and hold a couple hundred that go live at 5:00 pm for the following day. So, for example, if I wanted tickets for July 15th I could go online (on the Park’s website) on July 14th at 5:00 pm and TRY to get tickets for the following day. But these tickets go fast, so you need to be online and logged in to your account for a quick purchase. Click here for the website to get your timed-entry permit! Bear Lake Corridor is the area of the Park that we enjoyed the most. I highly suggest getting your timed-entry reservations for this area as soon as they are released!

There are a couple of different entrances to get into the Park, we always used the Beaver Meadows entrance coming in from Estes Park, it is very close to the Bear Lake Corridor Entrance. You will need timed-entry permits for all entrances. When you enter here, you can drive along Trail Ridge Road from one end of the park to another, roughly 45 miles I believe. The views are stunning and there are several different areas to pull over and park to check out views or hike trails. You can get a Park map at the entrance and everything is nicely marked off with signs. I highly recommend driving this road at least once on your visit! We found so many neat places to stop for photos and some really great trails with short hikes! Make sure you have a full tank of gas if you plan to drive this road!

If you have any questions about visiting RMNP, please don’t hesitate to reach out! I am happy to help you plan an epic adventure, just leave a comment and I will get back to you!

Happy Trails, my friends!

Everything You Need to Know About National Parks, Passes, and Programs!

Traveling to National Parks has become very special to us, even though we only visited our first National Park just a few years ago. To be honest, I was a little intimidated when I started my research and didn’t really know how my boys would enjoy it. After our first visit to one though, we were hooked! Now, it seems like ninety percent of our travels are centered around a National Park or a National Historic Site. In this post, I am including general National Park information, Jr. Ranger Program information, National Park pass information, Parks that require reservations, and our favorite National Park trips! I hope you find all of this information helpful in your travel planning!

National Parks – General Information

So, what exactly is a National Park? Simply put, a National Park is an area that has been set aside by the government for the preservation of the natural environment. Most National Parks have been deemed such for public recreation and enjoyment or because of its historical interest. I haven’t even come close to visiting every single National Park, but I can say that the ones we’ve explored have all been pretty extraordinary!

Yellowstone National Park became the first National Park in the United States in 1872. Today, there are 63 National Parks in 30 states. Yep that’s right, there are 20 states that don’t have a National Park, at least not yet. But there are so many sites across the US that are managed by the National Park Service, including National Monuments, Historic Sites, Memorials, and more.

Some National Parks do not require a fee to enter, but others charge up to $35 per vehicle. Usually, this fee allows you to enter the Park for up to seven consecutive days. National Monuments and Historic Sites typically cost less and may charge $10 per person or $20 per vehicle.

Entrance Fee-Free Days for 2023

  • Monday, January 16: Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
  • Saturday, April 22: First day of National Park Week.
  • Friday, August 4: Anniversary of the Great American Outdoors Act.
  • Saturday, September 23: National Public Lands Day.
  • Saturday, November 11: Veterans Day.

There are also 16 National Parks that do not charge an entrance fee! I will definitely be adding some of these to our list soon. These are the National Parks that do not charge an entrance fee!

We have had the best time exploring National Parks and Historic Sites across the US! Like I mentioned before, I didn’t really know where to start when planning our first visit. But, I can tell you that the National Park website, National Park social media groups, National Park Visitor Centers, and Park Rangers offer a wealth of information and guidance! So, please don’t be intimidated to plan a visit. I am also happy to help, don’t hesitate to reach out directly to me if you have any questions or need recommendations.

Have You Heard About the Jr. Ranger Program?

These boys are Jr. Rangers!

This is one thing that I wish I would’ve known about before our first National Park visit. You probably don’t know this about me, but I have a big goal of one day becoming a Park Ranger! It will probably be after I retire, and it may even be more of a volunteer role, but it is a huge dream of mine. When I visit National Parks, you can often find me chatting it up with a Park Ranger, they fascinate me. So, when I learned that kids can participate in the Jr. Ranger Program, I hoped my boys would want to do this. To my delight, they did and they both received their first Jr. Ranger badge last summer in Grand Teton National Park!

Here they are being sworn in as Jr Rangers!

The Jr. Ranger Program allows kids to complete activities and tasks in a workbook, specific to the Park, during their visit. My boys are now 8 and 12, and so far they’ve been given the same book but might have a different number of tasks to complete based on their ages. At the Grand Tetons, different age ranges were labeled by a different animal and based on their age, the animal indicated the page in the booklet they needed to complete. At Carlsbad Caverns National Park, my 8 year old had to complete seven pages of his choice to receive his badge. The activities may include a Park scavenger hunt, writing a sentence about taking care of Parks, word searches or crossword puzzles, listening to a Ranger Led Discussion, etc. Once the required activities are complete, they turn in the workbook, review it with a Park Ranger, and then they are sworn in as Jr. Park Rangers! Not going to lie, I cried the first time my boys were sworn in! And lucky for me, they really enjoy doing this and love collecting new badges. So, the next time you visit a National Park, be sure to stop by the Visitor’s Center and request more information on the Jr. Ranger Program!

Reviewing his work at Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Have You Heard About the Every Kid Outdoors National Park Pass?

The teacher in me is so excited to share about this amazing opportunity for elementary students in fourth grade! Did you know that with an Every Kid Outdoors Pass, fourth grade students can get into any National Park in the United State for FREE? And really, every person in the whole entire passenger vehicle gets in free, too!

He was so proud of his 4th grade pass!

My fourth grader was so eager to get his pass! We completed the information online and printed the confirmation page. Once we visited our first National Park with the printout, my fourth grader was given his very own National Park Pass! These passes are good from September 1st – August 31st! So, be sure to share this information with anyone that has an elementary student! Using my son’s pass we were able to visit Arches National Park, Cayonlands National Park, and Rocky Mountain National Park for free!

Favorite National Park Trips

I won’t share too much information about every single National Park on my list, I don’t want to make this post too long. But I do want to share a couple photos and our Park highlights to spark your interest! I will include links to read my full blog post about each trip, which also includes information about where we stayed, where we ate, and what all we did!

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

  • Address: 1000 US Hwy 36 Estes Park, CO 80517                
  • Website: https://www.nps.gov/romo/index.htm
  • Phone: 970-586-1206
  • Entrance Fee: $35 per vehicle (pass good for 7 days)
  • Annual Visitors: 4.5 million
  • Best Time to Visit: November – April
Dream Lake in RMNP
Just some of the views along the hike to Emerald Lake in RMNP!

Our Rocky Mountain National Park favorites

  • Emerald Lake Hike (3.6 miles)
  • Alberta Falls Hike (1.6 miles)
  • Sprague Lake (0.5 mile loop)
  • Trail Ridge Road

Click here to read more about our family trip to RMNP.

Click here to read about my girls trip to RMNP!

Redwoods National & State Park, California

  • Address: 1111 Second St., Crescent City, CA 95531
  • Website: https://www.nps.gov/redw/index.htm
  • Phone: 707-464-6101
  • Entrance Fee: Free Entrance
  • Annual Visitors: 700,000
  • Best Time to Visit: May – September
Stout Memorial Grove Trail in the Redwoods
My boys especially loved this Park!

Our Redwood Favorites

  • Humboldt State Park – Avenue of the Giants
  • Humboldt State Park – Tall Tree Grove
  • Jedidiah Smith State Park – Stout Memorial Grove
  • Nearby Crescent City Beach

Click here to read more about our trip to the Redwoods and beyond!

Arches National Park, Utah

  • Address: Hwy 191 (5 miles north of Moab)
  • Website: https://www.nps.gov/arch/index.htm
  • Phone: 435 719-2299
  • Entrance Fee: $30 per vehicle (pass good for 7 days)
  • Annual Visitors: 1.5 million
  • Best Time to Visit: April – May, September – October
Double Arch in Arches National Park
An example of the views on the trails and drive through the Park!

Arches National Park Favorites

  • Delicate Arch Hike (3 miles)
  • The Arches Scenic Drive (22 miles)
  • Double Arch (0.3 miles)
  • Windows Loop Trail (1 mile)

Click here to read more about our trip to Arches National Park!

Canyonlands National Park, Utah

It felt like we had this Park to ourselves!
The views are amazing!

Our Canyonlands National Park Favorites

  • Island in the Sky District
  • Mesa Arch Hike (0.5 miles)
  • Needles District
  • Newspaper Rock State Historic Monument
  • The nearby Dead Horse Point State Park

Click here to read more about our trip to Canyonlands National Park!

Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico

  • Address: 727 Carlsbad Caverns Highway Carlsbad, NM 88220
  • Website: https://www.nps.gov/cave/index.htm
  • Phone: 575 785-2232
  • Entrance Fee: Ages 16+ is $15.00
  • Annual Visitors: 300,000
  • Best Time to Visit: May – July and August – October
The Big Room in Carlsbad Caverns National Park
The self guided tour through the caverns is out of this world!

Our Carlsbad Caverns National Park Favorites

  • Self-Guided Tour of the Big Room (2.5 Miles)
  • Natural Entrance into caverns, take the elevator back up
  • 7 mile drive to the caverns from the entrance area

Click here to read more about our trip to Carlsbad Caverns National Park!

Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

  • Address: 103 Headquarters Loop Moose, WY 83012
  • Website: https://www.nps.gov/grte/index.htm
  • Phone: 307-739-3399
  • Entrance Fee: $35.00 per vehicle (pass good for 7 days)
  • Annual Visitors: 3.8 million
  • Best Time to Visit: June – July  
Every single place in this Park is stunning!
We had our first bear encounter on the trail in GTNP!

Our Grand Teton National Park Favorites

  • Jenny Lake area
  • Hidden Falls Tail (4.9 miles)
  • Phelps Lake Overlook Trail – bears in the area (2.0 miles)
  • Moose Ponds Trail (3.2 miles)

Click here to read more about our trip to Grand Teton National Park!

Badlands National Park, South Dakota

  • Address: 25216 Ben Reifel Road, Interior, SD 57750
  • Website: https://www.nps.gov/badl/index.htm
  • Phone: 605-433-5361
  • Entrance Fee: $30 per vehicle (pass good for 7 days)
  • Annual Visitors: 1 million
  • Best Time to Visit: April – June, September – November
Just look at this view from my passenger window!
Notch Trail in Badlands National Park!

Our Badlands National Park Favorites:

  • Badlands Loop Road (Highway 240) – 40 mile scenic drive
  • Window Trail Hike (quarter mile)
  • Notch Trail (1.3 miles)

Click here to read more about our trip to the Badlands and beyond!

Which Pass is Right For You?

I love this image directly from the National Park Service website. Hopefully this graphic will help you in deciding if a National Park pass is right for you!

I purchased the America the Beautiful Pass last January and we were able to use it to visit Grand Teton National Park, Rocky Mountain National Park, and Carlsbad Caverns National Park.

Helpful Websites

Timed-Entry Reservations for 2023

Some National Parks have implemented timed-entry reservations, especially during the busy summer months. These timed-entry reservations cannot be purchased onsite and must be purchased online before your visit. The reservations cost $2.00 per vehicle and then you must also pay the National Park fee when you arrive.

These are some of the National Parks that require timed-entry reservations:

Always check with the NPS website to see more information about the specific Park you plan to visit and if there are any reservations required or Alerts!

I hope you found this information helpful! If you’ve never visited a National Park, let this be your sign to plan that trip. And always remember, these Parks are for the benefit and enjoyment of the people! Happy Travels, my friends!

5 Budget Friendly Destinations

Plus Tips for Saving Money While Traveling

It’s no secret that I love to travel as much as I possibly can. Traveling can be a pricey hobby, but not if you plan your trips around budget friendly destinations! I’ve compiled a list of some of our favorite budget friendly vacations and have included some tips on saving money while traveling that I hope you find helpful!

Top 5 Budget Friendly Destinations

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

The Grand Canyon – it truly is grand!

We visited The Grand Canyon for the first time a few years ago and I was utterly shocked at how little this trip cost us! Some might think that visiting one of the true wonders of the world would be expensive, but it was quite the opposite for us. National Parks are excellent destinations for budget-minded travelers since most Parks only charge a $35 entrance fee that’s good for seven days!  

South Rim Entrance

So, are you wondering how we saved money on this trip? To start, we traveled over Thanksgiving break in November. The months between November and February are considered the low season, and flights and lodging prices are typically much cheaper this time of year. We also stayed outside of the Park in the fantastic little town of Tusayan, which is also a much cheaper option. To our delight, the entire town was already decorated for Christmas which we absolutely loved!

Tusayan decorated for Christmas!

We stayed at the hotel at the Red Feather Lodge and really enjoyed this place. Since we were visiting in the low season, we paid under $100 per night for our room. Summer rates are a little higher, around $235 per night. From the hotel, it was less than a mile to the Grand Canyon’s South Rim entrance. The rooms at the hotel have refrigerators and microwaves, so we took advantage of this. We shopped at the grocery store in town and bought things for breakfast, lunch, and snacks. We are notorious for packing a picnic lunch to take with us on our hiking adventures and only spending money on dinners at night.

Views for days!

We spent two days at the Grand Canyon, which consisted of hiking, checking out the different look-outs and observation points, and exploring the Yavapai Geology Museum. Once we paid our entrance fee, we didn’t spend any money on any of the activities in the Park!

The hike back up from Ooh-Aah Point

Entrance Fee-Free Days at the Grand Canyon for 2023

  • Monday, January 16: Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
  • Saturday, April 22: First day of National Park Week.
  • Friday, August 4: Anniversary of the Great American Outdoors Act.
  • Saturday, September 23: National Public Lands Day.
  • Saturday, November 11: Veterans Day.

We did choose to fly on this trip instead of road tripping. We actually had Spirit Airline credits that we HAD to use before the end of the year. While this is not my favorite airline, we actually had no issues flying out or returning home. We found that flights to Las Vegas were cheaper than flights into any of the airports in Arizona. So, this too helped us save money and we added a new state to our growing list!

Overall, we had a fantastic trip that didn’t break the bank! Click here to read more about our trip to the Grand Canyon!

We loved our visit!

Robbers Cave State Park, Oklahoma

Inside the cave at Robbers Cave

Robbers Cave State Park in Wilburton, OK is one of our favorite summer destinations! This little gem isn’t necessarily a place we go to beat the heat, but we always have a great time here. This state park is only about 2.5 hours from us in Texas, so it doesn’t even take a full tank of gas to get there! This is a fun destination that never costs our family too much!

It’s almost like Oklahoma has its own slot canyons!

This state park offers several activities from hiking, swimming, camping, horseback riding, ATVing, canoeing, fishing, rock climbing, and more! We like to load up our bikes, pack a cooler of food for the weekend, and hit the road! Once here, we always take the hike to the infamous cave that outlaws like Jesse James hid out in, hence the name Robbers Cave! Since we mostly explore and bring our bikes, we actually aren’t spending any money on these activities.

The hike to the caves is so fun, especially for kids!

You really can’t visit Oklahoma in the summer without spending time at the lake! Right across the street from the entrance to Robbers Cave State Park is the lake which has an area designated for swimming, canoe/kayak rentals, a playground, and small museum. There’s also a swimming pool that costs $5 per person for the day. We have never purchased tickets to swim at the pool, but we have paid about $20 to rent kayaks and then we swim at the lake. The kids loved this adventure!

Kayaking fun!
These boys love the lake!

We always stay at one of the 26 cabins in the park, but these are really just a step above camping. The cabins are small, but they include a living room, bathroom, 1-2 bedrooms, and a full kitchen. Very little time is spent inside the cabin, we mainly use it for cooking and sleeping. Other than that, you’ll find us outdoors exploring, grilling, or hanging out around the fire pit! Cabin reservations cost about $88 per night, which is what we spend the most on this entire weekend.

This was the cabin we stayed in!
We loved having a kitchen and an ac!

This is a great destination for just a weekend or a couple of nights. Our boys love exploring and climbing all the rocks behind the cabins! The caves in the area are pretty cool, too. Click here to read more about our last visit to Robbers Cave!

Even the parents had fun on this adventure!

Colorado Springs, Colorado

I will never get tired of this view!

Colorado Springs is one of those places that we find ourselves visiting again and again. There are so many things to do in this area and we will never tire of the mountains. I will admit that even though we’ve been to Colorado Springs a countless number of times, I have never actually based an entire trip around this destination. In writing this post, I have realized that I need to change that!

Garden of the Gods Park

So, we typically stop and stay in Colorado Springs on our drive to other places. It’s always a great location because it’s easy for us to get to or home from in one day of driving. We like to stay at the My Place Hotel due to the hospitality we received there a few years ago when our Yukon broke down right near this place. They were truly life savers in this unfortunate turn of events and have our loyalty! Plus it has a full kitchen, so that makes it nice to cook breakfast in the morning.

If you have kids, they will never get tired of exploring this place!

We love the many attractions that Colorado Springs has to offer, as well. Two of our favorites besides driving up Pikes Peak is Garden of the Gods Park and the Manitou Cliff Dwellings. I could spend the entire day at Garden of the Gods and we’ve visited in several different seasons. The Manitou Cliff Dwellings only require a couple of hours! Garden of the Gods is FREE, so you definitely need to take advantage of this and add this park and visitor center to your itinerary! It costs $12 for adults and $7.50 for kids to enter the Manitou Cliff Dwellings. This allows you to explore both the dwellings and the museum.

Manitou Cliff Dwellings
The dwellings are the best part of this place!

Colorado Springs is a nice getaway and has lodging and attractions for just about any budget! It’s an ideal location to visit for the day, but I can see how we could spend an entire week here, too!

Even we enjoyed seeing and learning the history here!

Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico

The Big Room in Carlsbad Caverns National Park

We recently visited Carlsbad Caverns National Park this past winter and my mind is still blown away at the sheer size and beauty of the caverns. This was just flat out an epic adventure for our family! It’s also now one of my favorite destinations because of how little we had to spend for this adventure and how short the drive was from home.

The Chihuahuan Desert is fantastic!

We spent two nights in Carlsbad, NM and only needed one day at the caverns. I had been given some Christmas money and gift cards and decided to put it all together for a quick weekend trip. Since Carlsbad is only a seven hour drive, I knew this would be the perfect getaway over the long MLK weekend. The caverns are truly stunning and since we visited in the off season, it felt like we had them all to ourselves! All of us were mesmerized and the boys said it was one of their favorite weekend trips to date. We didn’t have to pay to enter Carlsbad Caverns National Park because my America the Beautiful pass is still valid for one more month.

Stalagmites and Stalactites galore!

We stayed at the Holiday Inn in Carlsbad, the rates were under $100 per night. And we definitely took advantage of the free breakfast each morning. We actually had lunch at the nearby Subway and got extra sandwiches to eat the next day on the drive home. We did splurge a little on dinner one night and had steak and seafood at YellowBrix in town. Totally worth it, the food was amazing!

We added a fun stop on the drive to New Mexico at Monahans Sandhills State Park in west Texas. This stop was super fun for the boys and only cost us $8 for the day! All in all, it was a wonderful weekend and I cannot recommend this National Park enough. Click here for information about our recent trip!

Monahans Sandhills State Park in TX

Orange Beach, Alabama

The beach is my happy place!

Orange Beach in the off season is truly a dream come true! This is one of those destinations that I’ve debated even sharing and letting the secret out. If you can visit in the spring, I think you will love it during this season just as much as we do!

No crowds in April!

This destination is awesome for families, friends, couples, etc.! We thoroughly enjoyed our stay at the Hampton Inn right on the beach. Overall, we saved about $400 visiting in the spring verses paying the summer rates the hotel charges. We loved those beach views and that free breakfast each morning! Usually when we travel to the beach, we spend most of our time at the beach /pool all day every day – which is always FREE. In the spring, the temperatures are not too hot and muggy to enjoy being outdoors and the water is just warm enough to keep the kiddos entertained!

I love a free breakfast that’s actually edible!

The difference in this location during the spring verses the summer is not only the price, but also the amount of tourists. Before my last visit in April, I had only traveled to Orange Beach in the summers. Don’t get me wrong, I still love it then, too! But it is really crowded, both on the beach and at restaurants and other attractions. In the spring, there’s no issues finding a great place to set up for the day at the beach. And there’s basically no wait at any of the restaurants.

Again, no crowds!
Only epic waves!

Orange Beach is a gorgeous beach destination, no matter what time of the year you choose to visit. Click here to check out more about our spring getaway to Orange Beach.

Yep, we all got sunburned!

More Tips for Traveling on a Budget

Driving vs. Flying – For us, driving is always the cheaper option when we travel. We don’t use credit cards, so this might not be the case for you if you like to use those points to book flights. But, we prefer to drive when we can. It’s much more budget friendly than paying for a flight, paying for seats & luggage, and then having to rent a car. Driving also allows us to bring more things with us, like food and snacks which also helps us save money!

I can even travel with just a shoe bag when we drive ha!

Food Options – When I look at our travel budget, it seems like the majority of our funds go to feeding our family of four. I have found that if we book a hotel that includes free breakfast, this saves us about $30+ per day. This is a savings of at least $150 if we stay for a week! I also prefer to book rooms that have a refrigerator and microwave. This allows us to grab items to make sandwiches for lunches, especially if our trip involves hiking or other outdoor adventures.

Picnic lunches are amazing when the landscape looks like this!

Off Season Travel – Traveling in the off season is my favorite time to travel! The prices are always cheaper and the crowds can be nonexistent. If you can handle cooler weather, since the off season is usually in the winter, then I highly recommend giving this a try! You might just find that the off season is your favorite time to travel, too.

If you prepare for the weather, off season travel can be a blast!

Staycation/CityPASSes – My boys and I just recently did a staycation in Dallas, TX and had the most fantastic time! We basically had a 45 minute drive to our hotel and saved a total of $115 by using the Dallas CityPASS to visit four popular attractions in the area. I cannot recommend traveling to your nearest city and spending a couple days exploring all that it has to offer. Several locations have a CityPASS or something very similar. We look forward to visiting different cities in Texas in the future!

We enjoyed our Dallas staycation this past summer!

Weekend/Day Trips – Not every trip has to be something grand! Weekend trips and day trips are a fun way to get out there and make memories with your family. You can still have a wonderful trip, even if you only have a couple days available in your budget. Day trips are also a great way to explore a local area or attraction without breaking the bank. For us, we have driven 2-3 hours to a location and just spent the day there and then drove back home. When you don’t have to pay for lodging, this can save you hundreds of dollars!

This was a fun day trip to Glen Rose, which is about 2 hours away!

National & State Park Trips – National Parks are great places to visit because the most you will pay is typically $35 for your entrance fee and this is usually good for seven days. There are also several different passes available that might offer you even more savings. We have visited several Parks for free using the Every Kid Outdoors Pass when our oldest was in fourth grade. We also saved about $75 this past year using my America the Beautiful Pass. This pass costs $80, but once you visit two Parks, it’s paid for itself! State Parks cost even less to enter. We just recently visited a State Park in TX and it only cost my whole family a total of $8 for the day.

The Every Kid Outdoors Pass got us into so many Parks for FREE!

National Park Entrance Fee-Free Days for 2023

  • Monday, January 16: Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
  • Saturday, April 22: First day of National Park Week.
  • Friday, August 4: Anniversary of the Great American Outdoors Act.
  • Saturday, September 23: National Public Lands Day.
  • Saturday, November 11: Veterans Day.  

Travel Buddy – Finding a travel buddy is another fun way to save money! I love traveling with my best friend and her two boys. It’s so nice to split the cost of gas, lodging, parking, and more. If you have a friend that also loves to travel, you should plan a trip together! Girls/guys trips are also a way to travel together and split costs.

My best friend is my favorite travel buddy!

Rewards Programs – If you travel a lot, you should look into different rewards programs. Most of the time when I book a hotel, I use Expedia. Since I have attained Gold Status, I get really nice hotel discounts. These discounts have saved us a lot of money over the years. For instance, I once paid $20 per night for a room at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. I really like booking our hotel stays through Expedia because there’s an option to reserve now/pay later and you can usually cancel most hotel bookings 24 hours before your check in date. This has been extremely helpful in the past few years with the changing health protocols and travel restrictions.

It’s only January and I already have over $100 in credits to use!

I hope you have found these destinations and travel tips helpful! It truly is my passion to share all things travel with you. I haven’t done it all, but we sure have had a lot of fun over the years! Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you need any help planning your next adventure! I’d also love for you to share any of your favorite budget friendly destinations. Leave a comment if you have a place that we need to add to our list!

Discover the Hidden Wonders of Carlsbad Caverns National Park

We decided to take our first road trip of 2023 over MLK weekend, since the boys and I all had Monday off. Carlsbad, NM is roughly a seven hour drive from where we live and home to a National Park that none of us had ever visited. This sounded like the perfect way to get out and explore while we had the time off. So, we hit the road and headed west. I am so excited to share about our weekend road trip and our time spent in New Mexico! We had an amazing adventure and this destination makes for the perfect getaway when you have a long weekend and an extra day off work and school!

This post contains affiliate links. I may earn a small commission if you purchase any items using the links provided at no extra charge to you.

Our driving route to Carlsbad, NM

Weekend Itinerary:

  • Saturday: Drive to Carlsbad, NM
    • Stop at Monahans Sandhills State Park in Monahans, TX
    • Dinner at El Jimador Restaurant in Carlsbad, NM
  • Sunday: Carlsbad Caverns National Park
    • Dinner at YellowBrix in Carlsbad, NM
  • Monday: Drive home

If you glanced at our weekend itinerary above, you probably noticed that we only spent a day at Carlsbad Caverns. I believe a day is all that you need to experience the caves. We opted for a self-guided tour of the Big Room and it was quite the adventure! There are also several other guided caving options that you can purchase tickets for. But, what I loved the most about this National Park is that you can truly experience these amazing cave formations in just a day. Please continue reading for a more detailed itinerary for each day of our trip and general information about Carlsbad Caverns.

Day 1: Saturday

Sliding down the first hill!

If you are familiar with road tripping with kids, then you know that it’s always best to find a fun stop along the route. We decided to stop at Monahans Sandhills State Park and check it out. It did not disappoint!

It was hilarious to watch!

My boys absolutely loved this stop! They were sandy from head to toe, but grinning ear to ear! This State Park is truly a hidden gem. I have lived in Texas my whole life and had never heard of this place until about 2 days before we left on this trip. Not only were the sand dunes really photogenic, the facilities were top notch. There were nice restrooms and showers right on site, and you bet we had our boys rinse off before getting back on the road!

We brought along these little sleds and let the boys slide down sand hill after sand hill. This was an amazing stop after about 5.5 hours of driving! We all stretched our legs and enjoyed playing in Texas’ biggest sandbox! If you are ever in the area, be sure to check this place out. You do need to make reservations here, the price for day use is $4 per adult and kids under 13 are free. Bring towels for the showers if you just plan to visit for the day!

From here, it was about a 2 hour drive to Carlsbad, NM. We arrived in town around 5:00 pm and immediately checked into the hotel. We stayed at the Holiday Inn in Carlsbad. It wasn’t the best Holiday Inn we’ve stayed in, but it was clean and the free breakfast was actually pretty decent. After checking in, we ate dinner at El Jimador Restaurant. We got there before 6:00 pm and didn’t have to wait for a table. But within thirty minutes or so, there was a super long wait for tables. It was good Mexican food. We all had enchiladas and enjoyed our plates! Then, we called it an early night and just went back to the hotel. There’s an indoor pool and fitness center there, but we had an early bedtime to get ready for Carlsbad Caverns the next day!

Day 2: Sunday

Oh, what a wonderful day Sunday was! We finally got to visit Carlsbad Caverns National Park! From the hotel we were staying at, it took about 30 minutes to drive to the entrance at Carlsbad Caverns. Once you reach the sign, it’s about another 7 mile scenic drive through the Chihuahuan Desert to the Visitor Center. On our drive in, we saw a herd of bighorn sheep! We were already so enthralled and we hadn’t even seen the main attraction yet!

Do you see the herd?

Everyone that visits needs to reserve tickets online and then pay the National Park fee at the Visitor Center upon arriving. We had reserved the 10:30-11:30 am self-guided tickets which allowed us entrance any time between 10:30-11:30, but there was no time limit on how long we stayed! We arrived at the entrance right at 10:30, but it was 10:50 by the time we made it to the Visitor Center. There was a short line we had to wait in to show our reservation and pay the fee. Luckily our America the Beautiful Pass is still valid, so we didn’t have to pay this time. While I waited in line for this, Jereme took our youngest to get the Jr. Ranger booklet to work on so that he could get his Jr. Ranger badge, which is now one of our favorite National Park activities and our boys love adding new badges to their collection.

He was so excited to participate in the Jr. Ranger Program!

The facilities were really nice and the Park Rangers were very helpful. Once we had the okay to enter, we headed through the museum in the Visitor Center to the natural entrance to the cave. There are two ways to go down into the cave, you can ride an elevator or walk about 1.25 miles through the natural entrance.  We opted to walk in and I am so glad we did! Just seeing the cave for the first time is truly amazing! The walk is mostly all downhill, so it wasn’t too bad at all. We were just entranced the whole way down, it’s so cool! We kept saying it felt like we were on a different planet. And this was just the entrance area, we hadn’t even made it to the main attraction, The Big Room!

First sight of the cave – isn’t is awesome!
This is the beginning of the 1.25 mile walk down!

I honestly have no words that can adequately describe the Big Room area of the caverns. Maybe otherworldly, it was just unlike anything we have ever experienced before. I have never been inside of a cave so vast. We love exploring caves, but this adventure was different. We didn’t have a tour guide leading the way and we were able to spend as much time as we wanted inside. We ended up being there for over 3 hours and walked a total of 2.9 miles!

Hard to put into words how cool these caverns are!

To the left of the Big Room is an area with snacks and restrooms. We did grab a bite to eat while there and the boys rested their legs for a bit. Then we continued on to the Big Room and when we finished, we opted to ride the elevator back up. Since we were visiting in the off-season, there wasn’t a wait at all for the elevators. But I have heard that in the summer the wait can exceed an hour. We ventured around the museum and then Jake was sworn in as a Jr. Ranger and received the Centennial Badge because Carlsbad Caverns turns 100 years old this year!

He did it! We love the Centennial Badge!

We really were pretty tired after our visit! We had planned to stop on the drive back out and hike some of the trails along the drive through the Chihuahuan Desert. But we were way too tired for this! I would’ve loved another day to explore this area, it was gorgeous and the weather was beautiful on the weekend of our visit. We will likely return to this Park, we all want to see the bat flight but the bats are only at the caves from April through November. Maybe we’ll take a guided tour on our next visit!

When we returned to the hotel, we all rested for a bit and then went to dinner at YellowBrix in Carlsbad. It’s an amazing steak and seafood restaurant! Everything we had was delicious and the restaurant and patio area was adorable! We started with shrimp, crab, and artichoke dip. I got the filet medallions and Jereme got the green chili cheeseburger. It was all so yummy!

Shrimp, crab, and artichoke dip
Filet medallions
Green chili cheeseburger

Day 3: Monday

Monday just consisted of us driving home. We drove straight back to Texas without many stops because we had to get back in time to watch the Dallas Cowboys play! It was a quick trip, but so much fun! Again, if you have a long weekend and want to have an adventure, Carlsbad Caverns National Park is the perfect destination!

Information About Carlsbad Caverns

Our only family photo in the cave – pictures just don’t take very well down there in the dark!

Carlsbad Caverns are located in Southern New Mexico. The caverns are humid, damp, and stay 56 degrees year round. I recommend wearing a sweatshirt and pants, it’s a little chilly. The hike down into the cave through the natural entrance is about 1.25 miles and it takes about an hour just to hike down. The caverns are about 750 feet below ground, which is equivalent to walking down about 70 stories. I recommend bringing a flashlight or using these cool headlamps that we brought along! Don’t miss visiting the Big Room, it truly is the most epic part of the caverns in our opinion! This area of the cave is 8.2 acres and is the largest accessible cave chamber in North America!

  • Website: Carlsbad Caverns National Park
  • Address: 727 Carlsbad Caverns Highway
    Carlsbad, NM 88220
  • Phone: 575 785-2232
  • Hours: 8:00a-5:00p, 7 days a week
  • Cave Entrance: Last cave entrance is at 2:30p
  • Elevator: INTO Cave 8:30a -2:30p, OUT of Cave 4:45p
  • Entrance Fees: Ages 16+ is $15 per person, Under 15 is FREE
  • Bat Flight: April – November

I hope this information is helpful! Please reach out or leave a comment if you have any questions about our visit, I’d love to connect with you. Check back in to see what we’re up to next! Happy Travels!

I love the adventures this guy lets me plan!

Colorado Girls Trip

I just got back from an epic girls trip and I am so excited to share all the details with you! Take notes, you’re going to want to visit this mountain town stat!

I have known my best friend, Amy, for decades. Three decades to be exact. We both hit the big 4-0, her in August and me in September. Those months are pretty busy for us being educators. So, we pushed back our celebrations until October, grabbed another girlfriend, and took advantage of a long weekend and hit the mountains.


So excited to stay at the Stanley Hotel!

We decided that we would venture to Colorado and picked Estes Park for our lodging. We both love hiking, so it made sense to be close to Rocky Mountain National Park. I have always dreamed of staying in the historic Stanley Hotel, so that’s what we did! I loved that we were staying in this haunted hotel… in October. I love all of the creepy things, so you know we booked the Haunted Shining Tour. This hotel has it all including amazing views, tours, restaurants/bars, and a spa. If you wanted to be spoiled with good food, drinks, and pampering then look no further!

Inside the hotel

The Shining memorabilia

Scene from The Shining

Rocky Mountain National Park:

This National Park is one of my favorites and each season here is incredible. Fall is probably my favorite, though. The weather was absolutely perfect for us and we enjoyed over 10 miles of breathtaking hikes! The elk are rutting during the fall and I heard my very first elk bugle! I loved seeing all of the animals out enjoying the weather, too.  

Hiking Info:

These trails are stunning in the fall!

On our first day of hiking we headed to Bear Lake and started there. We decided to hike to Emerald Lake, which is about 3 miles out & back. What I love most about this trail besides the views are the lakes you see along this hike. You can start with Bear Lake, which is a short walk from the parking lot. Then you venture on to Nymph Lake, then Dream Lake, then end at Emerald Lake. The trail can be tough at times, but there are several places to stop and rest and take in the views.

  • Bear Lake:
  • Easy 0.7 mile loop
  • Best time to visit is March-November
Bear Lake Loop

  • Nymph Lake:
  • Easy 1.2 mile out & back trail
  • Best time to visit is March-November
Nymph Lake

  • Dream Lake:
  • Easy/Moderate 2.0 mile out & back trail
  • Best time to visit is April-November
Dream Lake

  • Emerald Lake:
  • Easy/moderate 3.2 mile out & back trail
  • Best time to visit is June-October
Emerald Lake

Our second day of hiking started with a sunrise hike around Sprague Lake. I was a little disappointed that we didn’t see a moose time, but the sunrise was gorgeous. Then we decided to head back to Bear Lake and hike to Alberta Falls and then Lake Haiyaha. This was a little tougher day of hiking, we were already sore from the day before. And the hike to Lake Haiyaha was one of the toughest I have ever done. But I am beyond thankful that we persevered and made it to the lake because it is one of the most beautiful places I ever seen!

  • Sprague Lake:
  • Easy 0.8 mile loop
  • Popular year-round
Sunrise at Sprague Lake

  • Alberta Falls:
  • Easy 1.6 mile out & back trail
  • Best time to visit is May-October
Alberta Falls

  • Lake Haiyaha:
  • Moderate/hard 4.0 mile out & back trail
  • Best time to visit is June-October
Lake Haiyaha

Estes Park:

Estes Park is a fun little mountain town with lots of great shopping and restaurants along the main street. I can’t believe that we didn’t do more shopping, but we really focused our time in the National Park and then at our hotel. To be honest, the town was pretty crowded and there were long wait times for dining. I recommend eating off the main street. We loved having brunch at MollyB’s before starting our first day of hiking and ending the night with Mexican food and margaritas at Case Grande!

Hiking Gear:

If you follow along on our travels, then you know that we spend a lot our time outdoors and hiking! I am an educator, so I don’t have a ton of money to spend on hiking gear. I am always shopping on a budget and I have been so pleased with the gear I have. I love the hiking pants I wear, they don’t slide down or sag and are quiet comfy. I have had my high-top hiking boots for several years and they have held up so well! My backpack is the perfect size for me, my husband usually carries one that is larger and holds more. I do have hiking poles, but honestly I didn’t use them. My boys and husband love using theirs, but I feel like they just get in the way for me. But that might be because I am the one taking all of the photos and videos! Below are my top hiking recommendations! (The links included are affiliate links and I may receive a small commission at no extra charge to you.)

As always, thanks so much for following along! For more videos of our travels, check out my posts on Instagram (linked on the main page). I have some videos of my favorite hikes there!

Top 6 National Parks in the US

Traveling to National Parks has become a new family favorite of ours, man we had no clue just what we were missing out on! Once we visited our first Park, we immediately began making plans to visit another one. I recently shared a submission that Reaction.gov posted on their Share Your Story page about the park that changed it all for us. Click here to read that story.

There are sixty three National Parks in the United States. National Parks have been designated as such for their natural beauty, unique geological features, and diverse ecosystems. Twenty-eight of our states have a National Park (some have more than one).

While we haven’t even come close to visiting all 63 parks, we do have our favorites so far! We picked these National Parks as our top six for many reasons, but mostly based on how much fun our boys had at each one! At the end I will include information on the America the Beautiful Pass and the Every Kid Outdoors Pass – you will want to learn about this pass if you have a fourth grader, trust me!

Hiking Gear Favorites

Before I dive into our favorite parks, I want to share our favorite hiking gear finds! It’s so important to pack the correct gear, because weather conditions can change at a moment’s notice. We are a pretty frugal family, so none of our gear will break the bank.

Read on for our top 6 National Parks in the US!

6. Grand Canyon National Park

Short walk from Mather Point

Coming in at number six is Grand Canyon National Park in beautiful northwestern Arizona. This park is home to the infamous and immense Grand Canyon. This canyon is layered with bands of red rock that reveal millions of years of geological history. This is one place that you truly need to see in person to understand the beauty and “grandness” of the canyon. We visited the park in November and had the most pleasant weather for hiking and stops at the viewpoints.

Our Grand Canyon National Park Highlights:

  • Hiking to Ooh Aah Point from the South Kaibab Trail – 1.8 miles out and back
  • Mather Point (viewpoint)
  • Yavapai Geology Museum

We spent two days at the Grand Canyon and think that this is the perfect amount of time to enjoy most of the sights, especially if you’re there with kids. While we would have loved to have been able to hike rim to rim, that just wasn’t feasible at this time with our kids in tow. And while we thoroughly enjoyed our visit, there are some pros and cons that I will include below.

Outside of the Yavapai Geology Museum


  • The sheer beauty of the canyon is something that I strongly feel everyone should see in their lifetime.
  • Shuttle bus services – The shuttle system is very organized and runs smoothly between the different popular viewpoints and parking lots.
  • Viewpoints – The locations are stunning and you do not have to walk far to see some of the best sights in the park.
  • Parking lots – This park had a lot more parking lots and spaces available than some of the other National Parks we have visited.
  • Food Options – This is one of the few National Parks that we have visited that offer different dining options! It was nice to explore for a few hours, stop in at a restaurant for lunch and beverages, and then explore a little more!
  • No reservations needed!


  • Heights – If you have a fear of heights, this may be too much for you! Also, if you have children with you, you MUST watch them like hawks at all times. Those edges are no joke and sadly this park averages about 12 deaths per year.
  • Heat – In the summer the heat in this desert climate can be excruciating. In June, July, and August, the temperatures can be above 100 degrees Fahrenheit and even hotter below the rim on the hiking trails.
  • Crowds – Since this is a natural wonder of the world, people from all places come to visit. The hiking trails were less crowded, but the viewpoints were packed.
  • Hiking – The roads, viewpoints, and hiking trailheads all start at the top of the canyon. To get the best views, it is recommended to hike down into the canyon. If you hike down, you must come back up. We are a family that is in pretty good shape and it was a really tough hike back up!
  • After a day or so, the views start to look the same so it might become redundant for some.

Click here to read more about our adventures in the Grand Canyon, which includes more information on lodging, dining, and our 2-day itinerary.  

  • Address: 20 South Entrance Road
  •                Grand Canyon, AZ 86023
  • Website: https://www.nps.gov/grca/index.htm
  • Phone: 928-638-7888
  • Entrance Fee: $35 per vehicle (pass good for 7 days)
  • Annual Visitors: 5 million
  • Best Time to Visit: March – May, September – November

5. Badlands National Park

Badlands Loop Road

The next National Park that made the list is Badlands National Park in South Dakota. My boys LOVED all of the unique formations (made from gravel, sand, and mud) and hills to climb. This park is hugely underrated and so very unique. There are a lot of short hiking options and this is a great park for a day trip!

Our Badlands National Park Highlights:

  • Badlands Loop Road (Highway 240) – 40 mile scenic drive
  • Window Trail Hike – quarter mile roundtrip
  • Notch Trail – 1.3 miles roundtrip

We only spent one day here and took advantage of this National Park while we were staying in Rapid City, SD. This is the perfect day trip if you are in the area to see Mount Rushmore! As with all places, there are some pros and cons, but this park has a lot more pros than cons.

Notch Trail Hike


  • Crowds – This park was not crowded at all when we visited in the summer.
  • Unique formations and landscapes that the kids loved to explore!
  • Hikes – Range of skill levels, several are easy/moderate
  • View – You can see a lot from your car
  • Great day trip if you are already in South Dakota to see the popular tourist attraction, Mount Rushmore
  • No reservations needed


  • Heat – It was extremely hot when we visited in the summer
  • We did not see food/dining options in the park

Click here to read more about our adventures in the South Dakota, which includes more information on lodging, dining, and our full itinerary.  

  • Address: 25216 Ben Reifel Road
  •                 Interior, SD 57750
  • Website: https://www.nps.gov/badl/index.htm
  • Phone: 605-433-5361
  • Entrance Fee: $30 per vehicle (pass good for 7 days)
  • Annual Visitors: 1 million
  • Best Time to Visit: April – June, September – November

4. Arches National Park

Delicate Arch

These next two National Parks on my list all basically tied because of their close proximity to each other! Arches NP lies just North of Moab in Utah. It is known for having more than 2,000 natural sandstone arches, the most famous being Delicate Arch, along with pinnacles and balanced rocks. The geological formations are so magnificent to see in person. This is a hiker and climber’s paradise!

Our Arches National Park Favorites

  • Delicate Arch Hike (3 miles roundtrip)
  • The Arches Scenic Drive (22 miles)
  • Double Arch (0.3 miles)
  • Windows Loop Trail (1 mile)

We only spent one full day in Arches National Park, but I would’ve loved to have had more time here. We were in Moab for the week, but had other adventures on the schedule! This is one of my most favorite destinations in the US. Another National Park (Canyonlands) is also in the area, as well as, an amazing state park. We truly loved the town of Moab and had a blast exploring the 2 National Parks in the area and taking a UTV tour in the canyons! If you are looking for awesome views, breathtaking hikes, adventure and more, then Moab, and the Arches National Park area, are a must!

Double Arch area


  • Scenic Drive – you can see a lot from your car if you’re not a hiker!
  • Views – the whole area is stunning
  • Hikes – wide range of hikes for all skill levels and abilities
  • Kids loved it here – there were so many cool places for them to explore and climb
  • Town – really cool town with lots of dining options!
  • Adventure – there are UTV,  Jeep, and rafting tours in the area


  • Transportation – NO shuttle service inside the park (must use your own vehicle)
  • Reservation System/Timed Entry Tickets implemented for April 3-October 3, 2022
  • Temperatures – can be extremely hot in the summer months

Click here to read more about our adventures in the Arches National Park, which includes more information on lodging, dining, and our full itinerary.  

  • Address: Hwy 191 (5 miles north of Moab)
  • Website: https://www.nps.gov/arch/index.htm
  • Phone: 435 719-2299
  • Entrance Fee: $30 per vehicle (pass good for 7 days)
  • Annual Visitors: 1.5 million
  • Best Time to Visit: April – May, September – October

3. Canyonlands National Park

Mesa Arch

Canyonlands National Park is in southeastern Utah, near the town of Moab. This park offers a few different areas with varying features, such as, countless canyons, mesas, ancient rock paintings, colorful landscapes, and towering rock pinnacles. It’s actually the largest National Park in Utah, but is often overshadowed by the more popular parks in the area.

Our Canyonlands National Park Favorites

  • Island in the Sky District
  • Mesa Arch Hike (0.5 miles)
  • Needles District
  • Newspaper Rock State Historic Monument
  • The nearby Dead Horse Point State Park

We visited this Park when we were in Moab, Utah for spring break this past March. We only had a day here and made the mistake of driving between two districts of the Park, The Island in the Sky District and the Needles District. We had no idea that these two areas were several hours apart before we started the drive. It made for a long day, but we still had fun nonetheless! I would suggest to do your research to decide which district you want to visit if you only have a day. If you have multiple days, then plan on seeing one area per day to cut down on your driving time!

Canyonlands Area (near Dead Horse Point)


  • Crowds – there were ZERO crowds when we visited in the spring!
  • No reservation or timed entry tickets required at this time
  • Stunning views and hiking trails


  • There are three districts in Canyonlands NP and they are pretty far apart from each other. (2-3 hour drive)
  • No dining options in the park
  • Cliff edges can be very intimidating – make sure to keep an extra eye on your kiddos!
  • Very spotty cell service

Click here to read more about our adventures in the Canyonlands National Park, which includes more information on lodging, dining, and our full itinerary.  

2. Redwood National & State Parks

Stout Memorial Grove area

Redwood National Park is in northern California and is home to the world’s tallest trees on Earth! Here you’ll also find prairies, woodlands, rivers, wildlife, and miles and miles of rugged coastline. The National Park Service and California State Parks manage and preserve the lands for us to enjoy.

Our Redwood Favorites

  • Humboldt State Park – Avenue of the Giants
  • Humboldt State Park – Tall Tree Grove
  • Jedidiah Smith State Park – Stout Memorial Grove
  • Nearby Crescent City Beach

We just recently visited this National Park over our spring break, and man were we amazed! I have never seen trees so large in my life! My pictures absolutely do not show the perspective of the size, but believe me, they were massive! My boys had the best time hiking, climbing, and exploring.

Stout Memorial Grove


  • Crowds – we saw a total of maybe five other people in the Parks over two days. I am not sure if this is because we visited in the spring, but it felt like we were the only people there.
  • The sheer beauty of the forests and the size of the trees are something I think anyone can appreciate!
  • This park was free to get into!
  • Proximity to the beach!


  • Distance from a major city – these parks are not very close to a large city with an airport. Be prepared for several hours of scenic driving from the nearest airports.
  • Carsick – I got extremely carsick on the drive. There are so many winding roads over mountains. Be sure to bring Dramamine if you suffer from motion sickness.
  • Very spotty cell service
  • Address: 1111 Second St.
  •                 Crescent City, CA 95531
  • Website: https://www.nps.gov/redw/index.htm
  • Phone: 707-464-6101
  • Entrance Fee: Free Entrance
  • Annual Visitors: 700,000
  • Best Time to Visit: May – September

Check back soon to read more about our visit to Redwood National Park!

1. Rocky Mountain National Park

Emerald Lake

Coming in at number 1 is Rocky Mountain National Park! RMNP is in northern Colorado and here you will find stunning mountain peaks, forests, the alpine tundra, aspen trees, rivers, waterfalls, lakes, and an assortment of wildlife for your viewing pleasure! There’s also 355 miles of hiking trails for all skill levels.

Our Rocky Mountain National Park favorites

  • Emerald Lake Hike – 3.6 miles roundtrip
  • Alberta Falls Hike – 1.6 miles roundtrip
  • Sprague Lake – 0.5 mile loop
  • Trail Ridge Road

We visited RMNP over the summer last year and had the most amazing trip! This park has inspired us to specifically plan destinations and road trips to other National Parks across the country. I feel like there is something for everyone here, whether you’re an avid hiker ready to conquer a mountain or just want to drive through the Park and witness the views and wildlife from the comfort of your car. If you get the chance visit, take it! I promise you won’t be disappointed!

Along the hike to Emerald Lake


  • Wildlife – Abundance of wildlife that you can view, even from your car!
  • Convenient location – We enjoyed the town of Estes Park
  • Sheer beauty of the mountains and entire landscape


  • Timed entry tickets required for summer visits (between May-October)
  • Crowds – it can be extremely crowded in the summer
  • Bathrooms – some of the worst Park bathrooms we have ever seen… or smelled!
  • Address: 1000 US Hwy 36
  •                 Estes Park, CO 80517                
  • Website: https://www.nps.gov/romo/index.htm
  • Phone: 970-586-1206
  • Entrance Fee: $35 per vehicle (pass good for 7 days)
  • Annual Visitors: 4.5 million
  • Best Time to Visit: November – April

Click here to read more about our visit to Rocky Mountain National Park!

Every Kid Outdoors Pass:

Did you know that all 4th grade students are eligible to get an Every Kid Outdoors pass that allows free entry to America’s National Parks? Not only does your 4th grader get in free, but so does your entire vehicle! Be sure to click here if you have a 4th grader to get more information and to register for your student’s free pass! We took advantage of this pass last year and were able to visit 3 National Parks for free!

America the Beautiful Pass:

Now that our child is older, he’s not eligible for the Every Kid Outdoors pass, so we decided to go ahead and purchase the American the Beautiful pass for $80. We have plans to visit several Parks this year, so it will actually save us some money and time in line! Click here to learn more about this pass!

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