DC vs. NYC – Which City is Best to Visit with Kids?

Have you been thinking about taking your kids to a city destination, but you aren’t sure which one is best? I am here to help! I’ve had the opportunity to take my boys to both Washington, DC and New York City twice now, and I have tons of tips and recommendations. Both cities are truly remarkable in their own way, so keep reading to learn more about which city is best for you to visit with kids!

I have always wanted to take my boys to New York City, but my husband wasn’t really sure it would be a great idea when they were younger. We decided to try Washington, DC with them first, just to see how they’d handle long days of walking and riding public transportation. We had traveled to DC together, just the two of us, so we had a good idea of the city layout and points of interest before venturing there with our boys.

I truly feel that Washington, DC is a great “starter city” to try out with your children, especially if they are younger. My boys were six and nine on our first family trip to DC.

Washington, DC

We have visited Washington, DC over our fall break in November and also over our spring break in March. We loved the fall colors, but there’s also something magical about the cherry blossoms in the spring! The weather was awesome during both of our visits. We did spend more time in DC over our fall break than we did in the spring. The city is less crowded over the week of Thanksgiving, as businesses usually close for the holiday and people leave to visit their families. The downside is that the White House is closed for tours this week because it’s being decorated for Christmas.

Washington, DC Highlights

  • Family-friendly
  • Educational
  • World class museums
  • Walkable
  • Historical monuments and statues
  • Theatre and shows
  • Amazing outdoor parks
  • Nearby day trips
  • More affordable

What We’ve Done in DC

You’ll never run out of things to do in Washington, DC! My boys were so excited to learn more about the Presidents and early American history since they were also studying these things in school. And I will admit, it is really cool seeing the things that I grew up learning about in person. I mean, I got to see the actual Declaration of Independence, the original US flag, the bed that Lincoln died in, plus so much more!

Visit the National Mall

Monument Tour at Night

White House Tour

Ford’s Theatre & Petersen House Tour

Day at Mount Vernon (George Washington’s House)

Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum

Smithsonian National Museum of American History

National Archives Museum

Arlington Cemetery

Went to the Top of the Washington Monument

Capital Building Tour

Cherry Blossoms

Click here for my complete guide to visiting Washington, DC!

Click here for tips on securing a White House tour!

New York City

We also visited New York City over our fall break this past November and in the summer, too. We absolutely loved our fall visit because we got to experience the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and we got to see all of the amazing holiday décor around the city! The only downside to visiting during this week is that it’s crowded! So many people are here to either watch the parade or be in the parade. The Rockefeller tree is also not complete, so that is one of thing that I will have to return to see in person! This city does the holidays BIG and that was our favorite part! We even witnessed Elton John perform outside of Macy’s, right in the middle of the street, for their holiday light display. This was an experience that I will never, ever forget!

New York City Highlights  

  • Family-friendly
  • Educational
  • World class museums
  • Walkable
  • Excellent nightlife
  • Fantastic shopping
  • Amazing playgrounds
  • Theatre and shows
  • Holiday décor/events

What We’ve Done in NYC

It is true, you will never be able to do all of the amazing things you have on your New York City bucket list in one visit! My boys thought it was so fun to see those famous landmarks and the NYC skyline that are often featured on television and in the movies! I was so excited to go inside of the Statue of the Liberty for the first time on our past visit. There are still several things on our list that we just didn’t have the time for. I hope we’re able to return soon to knock those things off the list!

Statue of Liberty

Statue of Liberty Museum

Times Square

Empire State Building

9/11 Museum & Memorial

Top of the Rock

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Floats Inflation

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (from hotel)

Central Park

American Museum of Natural History

Christmas Outside Radio City Music Hall

Naked Cowboy

Click here for my complete guide to visiting NYC with kids!

Click here for my complete guide on visiting NYC over Thanksgiving break!

Our Take Away

There are several factors involved when planning your trip besides just all of the touristy things that your family will want to explore. Along with activities and experiences, you need to consider costs for lodging, food, and transportation. Also, the ease of maneuvering around each city is also a factor. Below, I’ve broken down our biggest considerations that we discussed when deciding the best time to visit both Washington, DC and New York City!


In our experience, visiting DC has been a little more budget friendly than our trips to New York City. This goes for flights, hotels, dining, and activities!

Lodging – We stayed in a great place in Washington Circle in DC that had once been an apartment complex that was converted into hotel rooms. (I’m not linking this property because it’s undergoing renovations right now, but will update soon.) Here, we had a living room, bedroom, two bathrooms, and a kitchen for the same rate as a traditional hotel room. Lodging in NYC is often older, smaller, and pricier depending on what time of year you’re visiting and what area you’re staying in.

Transportation – I will say that both cities are both walkable and you do not need to rent a car to experience either destination. We found that we mostly walked everywhere in DC. Occasionally, we would use an uber, mostly at the end of a long day when our youngest would get tired. In New York, we also mostly walked, but did use the subway several times, too. It was a little quicker to venture around NYC using the subway system and much cheaper than taxis or ubers.

Activities – Both cities are jam packed with amazing activities that anyone can enjoy! We never ran out of ideas on things to do. In fact, we usually found ourselves running out of time to get everything accomplished that we wanted to see and do in both places. I love both DC and NYC, but in my experience, we found that most of the touristy things we decided to do in DC were free!

Free Activities

Speaking of those free activities, DC has tons of free things to do and see! The Smithsonian Museums are free and so are all of the historical memorials and monuments. We enjoyed walking around the National Mall and taking in the historical sites, both during the day and at nighttime. And of course, touring the White House is also free and a must do activity if you’re in the city!

Click here for a list of the best free things to do in DC!

You can also enjoy free activities in NYC. Times Square is one of my boys’ favorite places in the city and it’s free to walk around and take in the lights and different street performers. Central Park is another free location in NYC. And on Monday afternoons, you can visit the 9/11 Museum for free as well, if you request tickets the same day and early in the morning. The Staten Island Ferry is free and you can take in the Statue of Liberty from the boat ride. And there are also other free museum days here, too!

Click here for a list of the best free things to do in NYC!

Getting Around

Again, you can visit both cities without needing to rent a car. In fact, I have actually driven in both cities and I don’t recommend it! We did a lot of walking in both destinations, I am talking about eight to ten miles each day. So, I highly recommend making sure that your kids can handle that. We did find that walking around DC was less crowded and easier for us to maneuver. There just didn’t seem to be the same amount of people or vehicles to watch out for in DC as there is in New York.


Both DC and New York have so many amazing restaurants to choose from! We had no problem finding places to eat at either destination. We didn’t particularly enjoy everywhere we ate, you know kids can be kind of picky. I do think we saw more fast food places in New York than I remember seeing in DC, which came in handy for us with the boys. We also found ourselves grabbing donuts and random snacks in NYC, even pretty late at night!

More Tips

  • Travel during the slow season.
  • Find hotels that offer free breakfast.
  • Hotel rates are more expensive on Friday and Saturday nights.
  • Have a plan for both destinations – some places will need reservations ahead of time.
  • You can visit both cities over a weekend or for a whole entire week.
  • Read travel blogs (like roadtripqueens.blog) for inspiration.
  • Make sure to plan for the right weather, check the forecasts ahead of time & pack accordingly.
  • Allow some down time during a visit to the city. Kids (and adults) can experience some sensory overload in all the hustle and bustle.
  • Expect some crowds and wait times.
  • Keep a positive attitude & have fun!

I truly feel that you cannot go wrong with either destination. Both cities are extremely family-friendly and you’re guaranteed to make memories that will last a lifetime! I asked my boys which city that liked the best, and they both said New York City! I am not sure if this because we visited just a few months ago and it has been a few years since we’ve traveled to DC. They both agreed that they love both cities, they just really had a great time in NYC!

If I were traveling with my kids to a new city, I would probably choose Washington, DC first and wait until my kids were a little older for New York City. If this is a once in a lifetime trip for your family, then I would probably choose to visit New York City, there’s just no other place like it!

I hope you find these tips and personal experiences helpful. Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions!

Washington, DC or New York City?

How to Take Advantage of School Breaks Part 2: Tips for Squeezing in Travel When the Kids Are Not in School

Tips for Traveling Over a Week Long School Break

Week long school breaks are my absolute favorite! I love the time we have off together and the memories we are able to make. For us, we have a fall break, winter break, and spring break.  These have been fantastic times to travel for our family! Even though we don’t have as many week long breaks during the school year as we do long weekend breaks, I still try to plan some kind of getaway for each of them. Some things to keep in mind for week long travel is the weather, especially if you’re traveling in the winter (snow/ice) or spring (rain/thunderstorms). Week long breaks can also draw more crowds, so keep that in mind when choosing your destination!

More Things to Consider for Travel Over School Breaks:

  • Fall break tends to be a more budget friendly time to travel
  • Winter/Spring break travel tend to be more expensive
  • Pay attention to the weather during all seasons of travel & pack accordingly
  • Expect airports, roads, destinations to be more crowded during holiday travel
  • Week long travel equals more time exploring your destination
  • You can visit farther away destinations over week long breaks
  • Week long travel allows a day or two of down time before returning to school/work

Fall Break Destination Recommendations:

The week during Thanksgiving break is an excellent time to take a quick trip with the family! We like to head out over the weekend and return on Thanksgiving Day so that we don’t miss any time, or delicious food, with our families. Traveling during this week seems to be very budget friendly and the locations are not as crowded, either!

For us, returning home on Thanksgiving Day has worked out very well! We try to avoid those busy airports and road conditions the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. We like to book morning flights on Thanksgiving Day. We make it home in the early afternoon, just in time for dinner! Below are some of our favorite fall break travel destinations.

Our first family trip to DC!

Washington DC – Visiting DC over Thanksgiving break was a dream come true for my family! The weather was amazing and the crowds were small. I hear that a lot of people that work in DC leave the city for the holiday, so it’s an ideal time to visit. This is one of my most favorite family trips to date! We packed in so much during the week and saw so many historical sites. The only downside to traveling to DC during this week is that the White House is closed to tours because they are decorating for Christmas.

We couldn’t wait to show the boys all the monuments!

Click here for my complete guide to visiting Washington DC over Thanksgiving Break!

It really is grand!

Grand Canyon, AZ – Another fantastic destination for fall break is Grand Canyon National Park! It’s a lot less crowded this time of year since it’s considered the off season. We didn’t have to fight many crowds at the viewpoints and the lodging was a lot less costly in November. We really enjoyed the weather and cooler temps while hiking, too!

We were all so excited to finally see the Grand Canyon in person!

Click here for my complete guide to visiting Grand Canyon National Park!

We even got to go inside the statue!

New York, NY – Visiting the Big Apple over fall break is the most ideal time to go! Not only did we get to explore the entire city and all the famous landmarks, we also got to check out the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloons being inflated, we got to watch the parade from our hotel room, and the entire city was also decorated for Christmas! I feel like we got the best of both worlds in regards to Thanksgiving and Christmas. This trip was truly magical and we made some memories that we will never forget!

I can’t believe we got to see the parade floats this close!

Click here for my complete guide to visiting New York City!

Winter Break Destination Recommendations:

Traveling over the two week winter break can be a fun change of scenery and sometimes our trips are even a part of our Christmas gifts to our family! We love to hit the slopes and snowboard, but we’ve also traveled to other parts of the US over the holiday break and had tons of fun! Below is one of our favorite winter break destinations.

It never looks like this at Christmastime in Texas!

Winter Park, CO – Since we live in Texas, I love to hit the road and head north to the mountains to get that feel of having a white Christmas! We also love to snowboard together and my boys are having a blast learning each year we visit! Winter Park has some excellent ski and snowboarding conditions, plus there’s plenty of activities like tubing, snowshoeing, snow mobile rentals, and even dogsledding! If you’re looking for a fun winter getaway, this is the place to go!

We spent New Year’s Day snowboarding together!

Click here for my complete guide to visiting Winter Park!

Spring Break Destination Recommendations:

Spring break is one of our favorite times of the year to travel! Usually for us, spring fever has set in and it’s so fun to get away with the family to regroup and recharge! We’ve traveled to several destinations over this school break, but below are my three favorites!

Utah rocks!

Moab, UT – Moab has been on my bucket list forever and I am so, so happy that we decided to visit over our spring break a few years ago. The weather was a little chilly, but it was perfect since we did a lot of hiking! We didn’t have to worry about timed-entry permits for Arches National Park and there weren’t too many crowds at all. This was our first trip Utah and it definitely won’t be our last!

This is another top favorite family trip!

Click here for my complete guide to visiting Moab, UT!

Baker Beach in San Francisco

California to Oregon – We spent an unforgettable week traveling from San Francisco to Cannon Beach over spring break last year. It was everything we hoped it would be and more. On our road trip, we explored San Francisco, Redwoods National Park, and Cannon Beach, Oregon. We got really lucky and had gorgeous weather the entire week. I highly recommend road tripping along the Pacific Coast Highway and I think spring break is an excellent time to go! Nothing was crowded at all and I cannot even describe the landscapes in each of these places!

The views along the Pacific Coast Highway!

Click here for my complete Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip guide!

This week at the beach was a dream!

Orange Beach, AL – Our most recent family trip was to Orange Beach, just last month! Again, we got extremely lucky with unseasonably warm weather so early in the season. This trip was so relaxing, we didn’t do much besides play at the beach and eat delicious food at night! If you’re looking for something a little more relaxing, check this beach destination out!

These boys had the best time!

Plan Like a Pro!

Whether you’re traveling over a weekend or for an entire week, you should plan your trip like a pro! Here are some ways to do that!

  • Read travel blogs (like roadtripqueens.blog) for inspiration.
  • Check out Pinterest for more information specific to your destination.
  • Google search free activities or “best attractions” at your destination.
  • If you’re visiting a city, look into the CityPASS for additional savings.
  • Have a plan in mind, choose at least one thing to do or see each day.
  • Make sure you pack for the right weather, check the forecasts ahead of time.
  • Allow some down time, either before, during, or after your trip.
  • Expect some travel delays and keep a positive attitude.
  • Take tons of photos!

I hope you have found these tips helpful and that you’re able to squeeze in some amazing adventures over the next school break! Be sure to check out Part 1 – Traveling Over Long Weekend School Breaks!

Hiking for Beginners: Tips for Finding Trails, What to Pack, and More!

Have you found yourself wanting to explore more of the great outdoors, but you aren’t sure where to start? I was in the exact same place as you just a few years ago! Now, I’m so much more confident when it comes to planning epic hiking trips and we’ve clocked over 85 miles of hiking over the past year alone! Keep reading to discover how I find the best trails and learn more about the hiking essentials we never leave behind!

Emerald Lake Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park, about 3 miles out & back.

Hiking Trails

Are you capable of making the climb on this trail?

Tips for Finding the Right Hiking Trails

Finding the best hiking trails for you and your family involves some planning ahead. You definitely need to assess your abilities and should never choose a trail that is too challenging or too long. I highly recommend starting out with shorter hikes first, especially if there will be any elevation changes.

Most trails are very well marked!

When we first started hiking, I wasn’t really sure where to go. I looked on Pinterest, read other blogs, and followed hikers on Instagram for inspiration. This led us to hiking in different National and State Parks across the country! If you aren’t sure where to start, then look into hiking at the closest National or State Park near you. These Parks are pretty remarkable, which is why the land has been protected for all of us to enjoy. Most of these Parks have trails for just about any skill level and the trailheads are well marked. Plus, you can chat with the Park Rangers stationed at most of the popular trailheads for more tips and guidance!

The AllTrails app logo

I exclusively use the app AllTrails to help find the best hiking trails for my family once we’ve chosen our destination. Jereme and I are able to hike more strenuous and longer trails, but our kids are not quite there yet. When all of us are hiking, we choose trails that range from one to three miles and are rated as easy or moderate. I really like using this app because it includes detailed information about the trail, photos from other hikers, driving directions to the trailhead, and even a map so you won’t get lost while you’re hiking!

This is an example of the information about a trail in the AllTrails app!


When you decide on your destination, I recommend checking out their website for any permits you might need to park or enter the trailhead. Several places, including some National Parks, require timed-entry permits during the peak summer months. Others require you to pre-purchase a parking pass. So, always visit the website to learn more about where you’re going and to ensure that you are prepared for your visit!

What to Pack

Glad we had our raincoats on this trail!

Adult Hiking Gear

The following affiliate links are products that we actually have and love! I may earn a small commission, at no extra charge to you, if you purchase any of these items using the links provided. Thank you!

I have had my Hiking Back Pack for years & still love it!

Having the right gear is also essential when you’re hiking. We don’t have much, but what we do have really makes a huge difference in how enjoyable our hiking trips are.

  • Hiking Boots – I cannot stress the importance of hiking boots enough! Make sure that you purchase a pair that are waterproof and sturdy around your ankles. Another important tip is to break these hiking boots in before you hit the trails to prevent blisters!
  • Hiking Poles – Jereme really enjoys hiking with poles. I feel like they get in my way, but that might be because I’m always trying to take photos while we’re hiking.
  • Large Hiking Back Pack – Jereme carries a larger hiking back pack that holds more items, like raincoats, a towel, and my camera stand.
  • Cooler Back Pack I carry a smaller hiking backpack that holds plenty of food, snacks and water along with the first aid kit.
  • Layers – You can hike in just about clothing, but we try to stick with layers. Often, we will start hiking early in the morning and it can be quiet chilly, so we bring along sweatshirts, gloves, and hats.

Kids Hiking Gear

The boys with their Hiking Boots and Hiking Poles

I have found that making sure that my boys have the right gear is also extremely important in ensuring that the day goes smoothly. All bets are off if they get cold, wet, and miserable! Below are the things that I make sure my kiddos have before we leave for a hike!

  • Kids Hiking Boots – My boys love to explore and climb and these hiking boots have done the job! They’re also waterproof, which has been amazing since they love splashing in water.
  • Dry Fit Clothes – I like to have the boys in dry fit clothing, just in case it rains or they decide to get into water along the trails.
  • Gloves – I always pack thin gloves when we go hiking. We got really cold one summer hiking in the mountains in Colorado. Sometimes at the top of a mountain, or when a pop-up rain shower happens, it gets cold quick!
  • Raincoats – We always bring our raincoats, too. We don’t let a little rain stop our fun!
  • Kids Hiking Poles – The boys really like hiking with these hiking poles and have said that they are actually helpful when they are tired and have to walk up and downhill.
  • Cooling Bandanas – This was also a great purchase a few years ago! The boys love bringing these along on summer hikes. We usually put them in the freezer the night before we hike and they stay pretty cold!
These Cooling Bandanas were a great purchase!

In My Backpack

This is why you need Bear Spray!

I really try not to weigh our hiking back packs down with too much, but there are several things that everyone should bring along with them when hiking. This is what we pack in our back packs before we hit the trails!

  • First Aid Kit – This is another must have! It never fails, my oldest always end up with a cut, scrape, or splinter on our hikes. This travel first aid kit goes along with us on hikes, road trips, and even to the beach!
  • Bug Spray – If you’re going to hike in the forest, or really anywhere outdoors, then don’t forget to pack the bug spray! You’ll thank me later!
  • Bear Spray – We had our first bear encounter last summer in Grand Teton National Park! It was amazing to see a bear in nature, but a little scary at the same time. We felt a lot more secure having bear spray with us! Remember to open the bear spray and clip it somewhere with easy access instead of packing in your back pack!
  • Sunscreen – It’s so important to pack the sunscreen, no matter the season or temps!
  • Binoculars – We love taking along our binoculars! Sometimes the boys get a little bored during certain parts of a hike, so having these on hand is useful for many different reasons!
  • Cell Phone – I take along my cell phone for photos, but also in case of emergencies and to have a map/GPS. I suggest bringing it along at all times in case you need to call emergency services for assistance on the trails.
  • Camera Stand – Obviously not everyone will want to bring a camera stand along, but I don’t go many places without mine since I use it for our family photos! The one I have even fits in my smaller hiking back pack and isn’t too heavy to hike with!
  • Biodegradable Wet Wipes – I won’t mention any names, but my little one always has to use the bathroom when we’re hiking! These wipes really come in handy when nature calls!
  • Extra Cell Phone Battery Pack – Don’t forget an extra battery pack! My phone dies quick as it is, but especially when I’m taking photos and videos and using the GPS.
  • Head Lamps – I am so happy that we purchased these headlamps a few years ago! So far, we’ve used them for sunset/sunrise hikes, crabbing at the beach, and also at Carlsbad Caverns!

In the Car

My boys will find any water to play in, which is why I recommend bringing towels & dry clothes!
  • National Park Pass – While not every hike will be in a National Park, you might be surprised at how many places will accept a NP Pass for parking! I keep mine in the car at all times!
  • Towels – I highly recommend taking some towels with you just in case you’re caught in rain, take a dip in a water source, or get muddy on the trails!
  • Change of clothes – A change of clothes, including dry socks, is also highly recommended. Most trailheads have restrooms, but we’ve also been known to change in the car!
  • Dry shoes – We like to take off our hiking boots when the hike is over. Sometimes they’re wet, dirty, and sweaty. The boys like to throw on their crocks when we get in the car.
  • Phone Chargers – Make sure you have your car charger, especially if you don’t have an extra battery pack.
  • Battery Charger/Jumper Cables – We travel with a battery charger/jumper cables just in case of car trouble! I highly recommend, especially since most trails are off the beaten path.

Leave No Trace Principles

So thankful I found this new love for hiking!

When hiking or recreating outdoors, always be sure to follow the seven Leave No Trace Principles.

  • Plan Ahead & Prepare
  • Travel & Camp on Durable Surfaces
  • Dispose of Waste Properly
  • Leave What You Find
  • Minimize Campfire Impacts
  • Respect Wildlife
  • Be Considerate of Other Visitors

For more information, visit the National Park Service website!

Layers are also a good idea!

We have seen some of the most stunning landscapes and wildlife on our hiking adventures! The memories we’ve made along the trails are some that I will cherish forever. If you’ve been hesitant to plan a hiking trip, I hope this information helps! While hiking is not for everyone, hitting the trails and getting in some exercise and fresh air is never a bad idea. If you have any questions for me, please don’t hesitate to a leave a comment. Travel safe, my friends!

Favorite Family Beach Destinations & Why We Love Them

There’s nothing like a trip to the beach, especially for a busy family! While we love adventuring, hiking, and exploring, it’s sometimes really nice to plan a low-key vacation to a beautiful destination. And then, when you get to that beautiful destination, it’s perfectly alright to do absolutely nothing except enjoy where you are and who you’re with! I think that’s why we love going to the beach. It never involves too much planning and we usually return feeling relaxed and rejuvenated. I’m including some of our favorite beach destinations, both in the US and south of the border. This doesn’t cover every beach we’ve visited, but it’s a nice start if you’re getting ready to plan a trip to the beach!

United States

The US has some fantastic beach destinations, some more unique than others! I am fascinated with the different landscapes from coast to coast. Below are just a few of our favorite beaches in the United States and why we love them!

Orange Beach, Alabama

Beautiful beach sunset

This is our most recent beach vacation, and even though we’ve been traveling to Orange Beach for over twelve years now, we still enjoy each and every visit! This is one of those places that has beautiful white sands, emerald waters, delicious food, and isn’t very crowded if you plan your trip out right! The past two visits to Orange Beach have been in March and April and the crowds were basically non-existent. It looks a little different during those peak summer months, though. We love Orange Beach because we keep it super low-key and chill. You can find us hanging out at the beach, boogie boarding on the waves, warming up in the hot tub, and trying new seafood restaurants each evening. The boys love that we start each day with no major plans!

My favorite boys at one of our favorite places!
Those waves though!
Our most recent family photo, Orange Beach 2023.
These boys stayed in the ocean for basically three days straight!

Things to do in Orange Beach:

Cannon Beach, Oregon

Jereme walking along the tide pools at Haystack Rock

I have wanted to visit Cannon Beach for forever and I finally got the chance last March over our spring break. We visited as part of a Pacific Coast Highway road trip and we all agreed that we wished we would’ve had more time here at this beach. We adored the little beach cottage we stayed in and the town is super quaint and welcoming! The tide pools made my whole life and the boys still talk about having bonfires on the beach in the evenings. We have big plans to return to Cannon Beach and stay at the exact same cottage one day!

The first ever tide pools and starfish I’ve seen in nature!
We were all amazed at the marine life!
It was a little chilly at this beach, but we still loved it!
Bonfires on the beach at night!

Things to do in Cannon Beach:

Folly Beach, South Carolina

Under the pier right next to the hotel

Folly Beach was our first ever trip to South Carolina and it was a great one! We loved the hotel we stayed at and I highly recommend it for families! Folly Beach is also known for amazing finds, like shark teeth and shells. So if you have kiddos that love sharks or shells, check this destination out! I also loved the proximity to Charleston and some of the plantations and historical sites in the area. Overall, this is a really fun family destination. South Carolina is such a beautiful state!

Sandcastles are always fun
These boys love swimming!
Our first full day in South Carolina!

Things to do in Folly Beach:

St. Pete’s Beach, Florida

That water & rainbow!

This destination has it all! You can visit just to relax at the beach all day, but there’s also a vast amount of water sports, shopping, & dining! We visited a few summers ago and the boys still ask to go back. We had a blast parasailing, sliding on some of the inflatable slides outside of the hotel, relaxing, and eating amazing seafood! The water is also stunning and so blue! It was a little crowded, but we were there during the peak summer months, so that’s to be expected when you’re visiting just about any beach in Florida! The hotel really made the stay worthwhile and we didn’t even leave this resort much because it truly had everything! We also really enjoyed the beach’s proximity to Tampa.

Parasailing right outside the resort
The boys loved these slides!
We made s’mores on the beach every night!
And spent the days in the water!

Things to do at St. Pete’s Beach:

Galveston, Texas

There’s nothing better than a Texas sunset!

If you live in Texas, then visiting Galveston is a must since it’s in our state! Even though Galveston is not known for white sand beaches and clear, blue waters, it’s still my kiddos’ favorite beach destination! We always have such an awesome time when we visit. I think my boys love it so much because it doesn’t require a lot of driving to get there and it holds such special memories for us. We’ve visited for just a weekend and even stayed once for ten days!

Annual Galveston family photo
We always stay at Sea Scape Condos!
Mini Golf at Magic Carpet Golf

Things to do in Galveston:


There’s something really special about those all-inclusive beach resorts in the Caribbean and our family has had many wonderful experiences visiting Mexico! So far, we’ve had the chance to take our boys to Cozumel, Cabo, and Cancun. Each destination offers many excursions and activities that are fun for all ages! The resorts in Mexico make it so easy for travelers and usually have people assisting you upon arrival to find the perfect excursions for you family!

Cozumel, Mexico

Love the water and those palm trees

We really love this little island. Jereme and I have traveled to Cozumel at least five times on our own and with our kids. The people are amazing and we have made many special memories exploring the island. I cannot get over the water! It’s so clear and you can literally see fish swimming everywhere, right from the shore!

Iberostar Cozumel Resort
Shopping in town
Chicken nuggets on the beach

Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

Grand Fiesta Americana

Cabo is one of my personal favorite destinations in Mexico! I love the how the desert meets the ocean here. And watching whales right from our hotel balcony was a truly amazing experience. It’s not always the best place to swim in the ocean and finding a hotel where this is available involves some planning. But it’s such a beautiful destination and there’s something here for everyone to enjoy!

Look at these fish right off the shore of the resort
My boys loved swimming with them!

Cancun, Mexico

Family photo in Cancun!

Cancun is a wonderful place to visit, especially since the international airport is located here! We’ve actually only stayed in Cancun once as a family, but it has been one of our favorite vacations to date! On our first night here, we were able to help a local group release baby sea turtles back into the ocean and this experience is one that I will never forget!

Swimming in Cenote
Day at the resort
Swimming with dolphins
Mayan Ruins

We use the fabulous travel agent, Alexa Spahr to book our trips to Mexico and beyond. She comes highly recommended and has helped us book several trips. She really works within your budget and travel dates and it’s always been such a smooth and easy process with her help. You can contact Alexa via email at alexa@travelwithalexa.com and be sure to check out her website www.travelwithalexa.com. If you reach out to Alexa, please let her know I sent you her way!

As you can see, beach destinations can be a low-key and relaxing trip, but there are also a ton of activities to explore! We like a nice balance, so we’ll usually spend a day at the resort and then a day packed full of excursions and continue that pattern! If you’re interested in planning a trip to the beach and are in need of any ideas or recommendations, please reach out! I’m happy to answer any questions you may have, so leave me a comment. I’d also love to hear about your favorite family beach destinations!

Best Destinations for Every Month of the Year

If your New Year’s Resolution is to be more adventurous, but you’re not sure where to start, then you’ve come to the right place! In our family, we truly believe in experiences over things and travel ranks very high on my list of priorities. If I could, I would travel somewhere every month. Now that the boys are older and involved in little league sports, it’s harder and harder for us to get away as much as we used to. Nonetheless, I’ve compiled a list with our tried and true travel recommendations for every month of the year that I hope inspires you to get out there and explore a little more of this amazing country!

January: Winter Park, Colorado

We took family photos on our last trip to Winter Park!

What better way to ring in the New Year than a trip to the snowy mountains? This is usually our go to winter adventure destination and I am here to tell you that there is something in Winter Park for everyone! Maybe you’re an adventure seeker and snowboarding or skiing is the thing for you.

My youngest and me snowboarding together!

Maybe you want a more restful start to the New Year and would love to cozy up in a cabin and watch the snow fall out the window while sipping hot chocolate! Either way, Winter Park is one of my most favorite winter destinations in Colorado! If you get the chance to go, make sure to check out the tubing hill and you have to eat at Hernando’s Pizza Pub!

We love all the ski lodges in Winter Park!

Click here for more details and our full Winter Park itinerary!

February: San Antonio, Texas

Winter at The Alamo!

Texas is a great state to visit in the winter months if you’re looking for something a little milder than cold, snowy mountains! The best times to visit San Antonio fall between November and April due to milder temps and less crowds. We enjoyed strolling along the River Walk, without needing bulky jackets, and touring The Alamo without the summer crowds!

The River Walk

The average daytime temperature in February is around 65 degrees and only 5 days of rain are expected this month. Even though it’s typically mild during the day, be sure to pack for chilly nighttime temperatures. You’ll never regret visiting this destination. The food is outstanding, the history and missions are incredible, and everyone is friendly down in Texas! Be sure to reserve your tickets in advance to visit The Alamo and add Natural Bridge Caverns to your itinerary!

Another view of the River Walk

Click here for more information on visiting San Antonio!

March: Moab, Utah

Dead Horse Point State Park in Moab, UT

Our first trip to Utah was in early March a few years ago. To date, this trip has been one of my all-time favorites and I really credit the two National Parks here for inspiring us to visit more throughout the years. We initially traveled to Moab to visit Arches National Park and ended up riding UTVs on some intense trails, seeing petroglyphs, canyons, wildlife, and even some snow!

An amazing excursion, we all highly recommend!

This is a fantastic spring break destination, the crowds are much smaller than those in the summer. It will still be chilly here in early March, but it is warming up. You can expect temps to range from 30-60 degrees, so bring layers. Like I mentioned before, it snowed on us one day during our visit so be prepared for unpredictable weather! Check out Wilson Arch on your way in to Moab! It’s a short walk to a stunning arch outside of the National Parks, right off the highway!

Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park!

Click here for our full Moab itinerary!

April: Orange Beach, Alabama

Orange Beach sunset

I have found that I prefer to visit the beach in the spring when it’s not so hot, humid, and crowded! Orange Beach was the perfect spring destination for us! It was still warm enough to play in the ocean and the restaurant waits were non-existent. We didn’t have many plans for this trip, besides relaxing on the beach and eating as much seafood as possible!

These boys were all smiles our whole visit!

The average April temps here fall between 60-70 degrees. But don’t let that fool you, we all got super sunburned! Be sure to grab dinner or lunch at The Hangout, kids will love the hourly foam party! If you’re looking for a relaxing getaway surrounded by emerald water and white sand beaches, then you’ve got to visit Orange Beach, AL!

Sunny and hot in April!

Click here for more information about visiting Orange Beach, AL!

May: Sedona, Arizona

Munds Wagon Trail to Bell Rock

Sedona has been on my bucket list forever and my boys finally decided to take me over Mother’s Day weekend last May. It was such a special trip! My main goal in visiting was to hike around those stunning red rock formations and my dream came true. Sedona is such a mystical place, it was truly an epic adventure.

Cathedral Rock trail

May is a very popular time to visit because the temps are ideal for getting outdoors. The average high this month is around 82 degrees and the lows are around 50 degrees. This makes for the best hiking conditions as it’s not too hot in this desert climate. The trails are also popping with wildflowers galore, adding to the picturesque scenery! I cannot recommend this destination enough!

We made it to Bell Rock!

Click here for more details and our Sedona, AZ itinerary!

June: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

We walked along the bridge from New Jersey to Philadelphia!

Our very first visit to Philadelphia was in June a couple of summers ago. The weather was absolutely perfect the entire time we were there, which was great since we walked everywhere! I always love walkable cities, especially since I live in a more rural area in Texas. And while we were savoring our week in Philly with 80 degree days, the temps were in the upper 90s at home!

The boys loved playing in this fountain right in the middle of Philly!

We thoroughly enjoyed our visit and all of the early-American history this city proudly showcases. Even the boys really enjoyed all the history and seeing the places they’ve learned about in person! There is so much to do in Philadelphia, we weren’t able to do it all in one visit. I’d love to take another trip here and would likely visit again in early summer! Take the double decker bus tour when you first arrive to map out all of the places to explore on foot later!

Independence Hall behind the boys!

Click here for our full Philadelphia itinerary!

July: Rapid City, South Dakota

Mount Rushmore

Another wonderful summer vacation was spent in Rapid City, South Dakota. Who knew this entire area was so rugged and beautiful! We hiked, we caved, we explored, all the while enjoying the most pleasant summer weather! And I still remember how amazing this little town smelled, too!

Custer State Park

While we didn’t visit Mount Rushmore on July 4th, I think it would be a really cool experience to be there for the firework celebration! There truly is a lot to do in the area, the landscape is stunning, and it remains one of my favorite road trips to date! If you are in decent shape, hike the Sunday Gulch Trail in Custer State Park. It’s a challenge, but the trail is awesome!

Sunday Gulch Trail in Custer State Park

Click here for our full itinerary on visiting South Dakota!

August: South Lake Tahoe, California

Secret Cove Beach

If you’re looking for a dreamy destination, you should head to South Lake Tahoe! Most kids are headed back to school this month, so I am recommending this destination as an adult getaway! Jereme and I celebrated our anniversary here right before I went back to school last August. It was pretty hot, but the good thing is, there’s plenty of water to cool off in!

Emerald Lake

We spent our time here around the picturesque beaches and on the water as much as we could. It was a quick trip for us, but we really, really enjoyed this getaway. I have never seen lake water so clear in all my life! We felt like we were in Mexico looking at the Caribbean. There’s nothing better than some nice quality time with the one you love in a gorgeous location! If you’re craving something peaceful and serene, then head to Lake Tahoe! Rent kayaks at Emerald Lake State Park and take a leisurely trip out to the island to hike around ruins on top!

Trail to Secret Cove Beach

Click here for more details and information about our trip to South Lake Tahoe!

September: St. Louis, Missouri

Gateway Arch National Park

September to October is considered the best time to visit St. Louis, MO and I couldn’t agree more! Our trip to Missouri was taken in very early Oct. several years ago. We were originally scheduled to visit in mid-September, but unfortunately we all got Covid and felt awful and had to push our trip back about a month. The average daily temps are typically in the lower 80s and can be quiet chilly at night! I recommend packing layers!

We stayed at the Hyatt to the left in this photo.

St. Louis is a very dog friendly location, so we brought our pup with us! She enjoyed the outdoor sites, just like we all did. I had no idea how much Lewis & Clark history there is in St. Louis! We did a ghost tour, visited Gateway Arch National Park, and you have got to check out the City Museum. It is the coolest museum we’ve ever visited!

View from the hotel room!

Click here to see more about our trip to St. Louis, MO!

October: Saugatuck, Michigan

There is something truly special about those Michigan beaches!

Cool, crisp weather and ideal leaf peeping is what you’ll find if you travel to Saugatuck, Michigan in the fall! I had the opportunity to visit Michigan for the first time ever and I am ready to go back. I had no idea how stunning and picturesque these quaint waterfront towns could be.

I still cannot get over the colors!

The weather in Saugatuck is in the 60s, the perfect temps for cute sweaters and booties! If you can, take a road trip along the Michigan coast and check out towns like St. Joseph and New Buffalo! We actually stayed in New Buffalo and I highly recommend lodging at The Marina Grand Resort!  Saugatuck is the most adorable waterfront town and the Wicks Park Bar & Grille serves delicious food and provides cozy flannel blankets for outdoor dining!

Wicks Bar & Grille

Click here for more information about my visit to Michigan!

November: Washington D.C.

The boys playing football in front of the Washington Monument.

I have had several trips added to my favorites list, but this one is hands down my most favorite family trip of all time! I wanted to visit DC with my boys and decided to look into this location for a possible trip during our Thanksgiving break. It was highly recommended as a great time to go, because everyone leaves the city that’s there for business. The weather was stunning, we dressed in layers and only needed our jackets early in the morning.

The view from the top of the Washington Monument.

We enjoyed the cooler weather as we ventured along the streets and sidewalks taking in all of the historical sights! It was so neat to watch the boys’ excitement as they got to see things from their textbooks in real life! The only downside is that the White House is closed for tours because it’s undergoing Christmas decorating this week. We ventured to George Washington’s home at Mount Vernon, we explored all of the monuments and memorials at both day and nighttime, we ice skated outdoors, we ate delicious food, and made memories to last a lifetime!

Lincoln Memorial

Click here to learn more about why DC is my favorite trip & to grab our full itinerary!

December: New York, New York

Christmas decorating in New York is next level!

I had to include the Big Apple, even though I technically visited the city the last week of November and not actually in December. But there is something truly magical about NYC at Christmastime. It’s cold, it’s crowded, it feels grimy, it smells bad BUT it is still so beautiful! I absolutely love New York, no matter what time of the year. I’ve been six times, still have tons of things on my list I haven’t seen or done, and I cannot wait to plan another visit! I just adore how festive NYC feels around the holidays. If you get the chance to travel in December, I cannot recommend a trip to New York enough!

Radio City Music Hall

It was pretty chilly the week were here and we needed coats and hats and gloves. But with the right attire, we had a wonderful time! I recommend doing all of the normal touristy things, while enjoying the holiday decorations. Watch the Saks Fifth Avenue storefront at night, the lightshow is amazing! Venture down by Radio City Music Hall for a show and to see the décor in the area. It will not disappoint. Christmastime in New York should be on everyone’s bucket list!

We loved visiting at Christmastime!

Click here to see how we spent our week in NYC!

I hope you found these travel recommendations helpful! Be sure to check back soon to see what we’re up to this year. Happy Travels!

Top 10 Hikes Across the US

It’s no secret that a lot of our road trip adventures have led to some pretty epic hiking destinations! I am sharing my top 10 favorite trails that we have hiked so far. These trails are all suitable for my boys that are under the age of 12!

10. South Kaibab Trail to Ooh-Aah Point at Grand Canyon National Park, AZ

We visited the Grand Canyon in November over Thanksgiving Break. I really wanted to hike down into the canyon, so we decided we would take the rim walk from Mather Point to the Kaibab Trail and hike down to Ooh-Aah Point. If I am being honest, I would have really liked to hiked rim to rim. But that just wasn’t an option with our boys. I also looked into mule rides to the bottom, but you have to be 9 and older and Jake was only 7 at the time. So, we did the hike and trail that we thought the boys would be able to handle the best. We ended up hiking 8 total miles because we went past Ooh-Aah Point. The views were truly stunning the father down into the canyon we hiked. The switchbacks on the start of the trail were really cool, until the hike back up! Just remember that however far you hike down, you must hike back up. And while we didn’t go that many miles down, it was very hard for me to get back up and I am in pretty decent shape. I am thankful that the weather was cooler, I cannot imagine doing that hike in the summer temps. The photos will never do it justice!

Click here for our Grand Canyon Trip Itinerary!

9. Hidden Falls Trail in Grand Teton National Park, WY

We were able to spend a couple days hiking in the Grand Tetons this past June on our Yellowstone Road Trip. I really enjoyed every hike, but this one was so peaceful and beautiful! This hike starts at the Jenny Lake area, so we decided to head that way and grab lunch at the store right at the trailhead. From here, we followed the trail around Jenny Lake. If you don’t want to hike, you can purchase tickets for a boat ride across the lake that drops you off about a mile from Hidden Falls. We decided to take the hike since we had been riding in the car so much on this trip! The views are fantastic around the lake and we even saw a deer along the trail. Before getting all the way to Hidden Falls you will eventually see a bridge with a raging river running under it. This is a great place to stop for photos! We stopped in this area and had a picnic snack on the rocks and just watched the river roar by underneath us. From this spot, it’s about a mile or less to the Hidden Falls. This waterfall is majestic and another great location for photos!

  • Hidden Falls Trail Information:
  • Distance: 4.9 mile out & back
  • Time: 2.5 hours
  • Location: Grand Teton NP, Jenny Lake area, Jackson, WY
  • Rating: Easy/Moderate
  • Grand Teton National Park website

Click here for our Grand Teton National Park Itinerary!

8. Lake Haiyaha Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park, CO

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 have ever seen! I visited Rocky Mountain National Park this past October for a long weekend of hiking. RMNP is one of my favorite places on earth, but this was the first time I have ever hiked to Lake Haiyaha. The majority of the hike is up a steep incline and there were several times I wanted to give up and turn around. When you finally even out on the incline, you are then faced with several yards of boulders that you must scramble over to get to the lake. Once you do, the sight is amazing! Especially right now since a rockslide over the summer turned the lake a unique shade of blue! This is one hike that you don’t want to miss! And this is one of two listed hikes that I didn’t take my boys on, but I know that they would have loved the rock scramble. Please keep in mind that you do need timed-entry reservations for Rocky Mountain National Park from early spring through the fall.

  • Lake Haiyaha Trail Information:
  • Distance: 4.0 miles out & back
  • Time: 2 hours+
  • Location: Rocky Mountain National Park, Bear Lake area, Estes Park, CO
  • Rating: Hard
  • Rocky Mountain National Park website

Click here for my Fall in Rocky Mountain National Park Itinerary!

7. Munds Wagon Trail to Merry Go Round Rock in Sedona, AZ

We traveled to Sedona over Mother’s Day weekend in May last year. Our first hike of the trip was on Munds Wagon Trail, which is about 8 miles out and back. AllTrails had the hike at 6.4 miles, but I clocked us at 8.1 miles with all of the extra exploring and climbing we did along the trail. I would rate this trail as moderate, especially if you’re hiking with kids. We needed to stop for food quite a bit. Luckily the majority of the hike is uphill on the way to Merry Go Round Rock, which makes the hike to the car mostly downhill. The views are stunning and the trail was very well marked. We really enjoyed all of the hikes we did in Sedona, but this one had those infamous Sedona red rock views the entire way and that’s why I picked this one as my favorite!

  • Munds Wagon Trail Information:
  • Distance: 6.4 miles out & back
  • Time: 3 hours+
  • Location: Coconino National Forest, Sedona, AZ
  • Rating: Moderate

Click here to for our Sedona Itinerary!

6. Delicate Arch Trail in Arches National Park, UT

We visited Moab over our Spring Break in March. On our first day in Moab we decided to spend the day hiking at Arches National Park. I had to see Delicate Arch, so that was our first hike for the day. I kept a close watch on the live webcam at the ticket area, and never saw long lines to get into the park. We arrived around 10 am. I am sure it’s much busier during the summer. This was our first visit to Utah, so I didn’t really know what to expect at the Park. But it ended up being super easy! Take the map that is offered to you at the ticket area. The park has signs along the way and we were able to find the Delicate Arch hike fairly easy and we enjoyed the sights along the drive. What I love about this Park is that even people that can’t hike can enjoy almost everything! There are places to pull over and view the famous landmarks or you can park and hike to them. We knew that the hike to Delicate Arch would be the longest and hardest of the trip so we started there first. I am not going to lie, it was pretty hard in one part that is a very steep incline. The rest is fairly easy and the walk back down was no trouble at all. The kids did great and we saw people of all ages and ability levels able to do this one. And I promise that the view at the end is amazing! I also loved that everyone waited turns to take photos under the arch and we all offered to take photos of each other. Please keep in mind that you need timed-entry reservations for Arches National Park starting in early spring through the fall.

  • Delicate Arch Trail Information:
  • Distance: 3.2 miles out & back
  • Time: 1.5 hrs
  • Location: Arches NP in Moab, UT
  • Rating: Moderate
  • Arches National Park website

Click here for our entire Moab, UT Itinerary!

5. Stout Memorial Grove Trail in Redwood National & State Parks, CA

There are several different parks that make up the Redwood National and State Parks, so I had a hard time deciding which area to visit. We settled on Jedediah Smith Redwood State Park and the Stout Memorial Grove Trail to hike. I am so happy with this decision, we had the most amazing day in the Redwoods and ended our hike with a beach walk that was absolutely stunning! We encountered maybe 4 people on this day, at both the Redwoods and the beach! So, I highly recommend a visit if you want to experience a National Park with no crowds. The road to this trail does turn into a packed dirt road, but our 2 wheel drive rental car had no issues making the trip! Our boys loved climbing all the fallen trees, especially after being in the car for so long the day before. The pictures don’t really do it any justice, I have NEVER seen trees so big and tall in my life.

  • Stout Memorial Grove Trail Information:
  • Distance: 0.7 mile loop
  • Time: 30 min+
  • Location: Jedediah Smith Redwood State Park in Crescent City, CA
  • Rating: Easy
  • Redwood National & State Parks website

Click here for our entire Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip Itinerary!

4. Sunday Gulch Trail in Custer State Park, SD

My favorite day in South Dakota was hiking in Custer State Park! I can’t even begin to describe the trail we hiked. I came across images of the Sunday Gulch Trail and knew we had to do it. I am not going to lie, there were tears shed around the 2.5 mile mark from my oldest kiddo. (We didn’t know he was actually getting sick with a fever/cold at the time). This hike is 3.9 miles long, it’s labeled as a HARD trail with a lot of uphill and downhill hiking, trekking through water, over rapids and streams using rocks or tree logs to get across. It was so much fun, but so much work. I can’t even describe how beautiful the sights were and my pictures just don’t do it justice. We could’ve explored this park for 3-4 days! I didn’t get many shots of us on the crazier parts of the trail because I had to help pass our little one off to Jereme and didn’t want to drop my phone in the water. But trust me, it was so cool! We packed a picnic lunch and found a nice, shady area to eat and then took off. It cost us $20 to get into the park, but that includes a 5 day pass to return. There are bathrooms, a store/souvenir shop, canoe rentals, and probably more than I even saw. After the hike, the kiddos and Jereme jumped into the lake for a freezing cold swim!

Sunday Gulch Trail Information:

Click here for our Texas to South Dakota Road Trip Itinerary!

3. Secret Cove Beach Trail in South Lake Tahoe, CA

Secret Cove Beach was one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever visited. The hike is not very long, roughly a mile from the parking lot. There are not a lot of signs marking the trail, but we still had no trouble finding the secret cove. It is a clothing optional beach, I would never go nude, but didn’t mind if others did. However, we didn’t see anyone else without swimsuits on. We were there pretty early and it felt like we had the entire cove to ourselves. We explored the trails above the cove and just took in the sights, then hiked down to the beach and relaxed on the shore and took a few swims.

  • Secret Cove Beach Trail Information:
  • Distance: 0.9  mile loop
  • Time: 30 minutes+
  • Location: Carson City, NV
  • Rating: Easy

Click here for our South Lake Tahoe Itinerary!

2. Emerald Lake Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park, CO

We visited Rocky Mountain National Park in July a couple of summers ago. On our first day here, we were so excited and decide to head to the Park right before 4:00 pm, and didn’t wait in line for more than 5 minutes to enter. We drove right to the Bear Lake parking lot, used the restrooms at the trailhead, and began the hike to Emerald Lake. It was AMAZING!!!! The signs along the trail were easy to follow and take you around two other lakes, Nymph Lake and Dream Lake, before getting to Emerald Lake. Our boys, ages 10 and 7 at the time, did great on this one. I absolutely love this hike and this National Park! Please keep in mind that you need timed-entry reservations to Rocky Mountain National Park from early spring through the fall.

  • Emerald Lake Trail Information:
  • Distance: 3.2 mile out & back
  • Time: 2 hrs
  • Location: Rocky Mountain National Park, Bear Lake area, Estes Park, CO
  • Rating: Easy/Moderate
  • Rocky Mountain National Park website

Click here for our entire Rocky Mountain National Park & Beyond Itinerary!

1. Lower Caves Trail in Maquoketa Caves State Park, IA

If you are craving a unique travel adventure, then look no further! What makes this State Park so incredible is that it has 6 miles of hiking trails and 13 caves to explore, completely on your own. My family loves visiting caves, but usually that comes with a guided tour and a time limit on your caving experience. Not this place! You park your car and your adventure begins! There are no guides, no time limits, just a nicely marked trail system to venture at your own pace. My boys loved this adventure just as much as I did! We started with the lower caves, so that involved walking down wooden stairs to get inside the caves. There were different places for the boys to climb and explore, and if you have kids, you know that they love to climb and explore! I could not get over all of the geological features and was just in awe the whole time! We will definitely venture back to Iowa just to hike these caves again!

  • Maquoketa Caves Trail Information:
  • Distance: 1.7 mile loop
  • Time: 1 hour+
  • Location: Maquoketa Caves State Park in Maquoketa, IA
  • Rating: Easy
  • Maquoketa Caves State Park website

Click here for more information and photos of Maquoketa Caves State Park!

Helpful Hiking Tips: Bring plenty of food and water for the day, wear sunscreen and reapply often, use bug repellent, bring a first aid kit, take a swimsuit or change of clothes/shoes, expect to get wet, and have a blast!

Budget Friendly Hiking Gear Recommendations

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.

I would love to hear what your favorite trails are! If you have a favorite trail or a recommendation, leave me a comment. And as always, thanks for following along on our adventures!

7 Things to do Outside Yellowstone National Park

Hey there! I am finally catching up on the blog and didn’t really know how I wanted to organize & share all of our Yellowstone information. If you follow along on our travels on Facebook or Instagram, then you may know that we arrived at West Yellowstone, MT 3 hours after the National Park Service closed Yellowstone for the first time in 34 years. We were so confused because the weather in the area was absolutely beautiful and there was no indication that Yellowstone had received flooding rains. But then we saw the footage and realized the severity of the situation way north of us. We were sad to say the least, I had spent over a year planning this trip. So, we got to work making new plans while praying that the Park would open while we were still there (which it did not). We definitely made the best of the situation and had tons of fun doing and seeing things that we would not have if Yellowstone had been open. At the end of the day, Jereme and I both agreed that our boys probably had more fun on these excursions than they would have driving around in Yellowstone for 5 days. So, if you find yourself in the area and want a variety of things to do, read on for a list of family friendly ideas and our top 7 things to do outside of Yellowstone National Park!

West Yellowstone, MT

Lodging – First things first, we absolutely LOVED The Kelly Inn in West Yellowstone. The staff was so amazing and accommodating with the situation of Yellowstone being closed. They offered us some ideas on things to do in the area, which we appreciated so much! And the location was ideal, we were actually able to walk to dinner and shopping right from the hotel. It was nice to be out of the car and walking after our 20+ hour drive from Texas. Our room was so large and roomy, the free breakfast buffet was one of the best that we’ve had at a hotel, and we enjoyed the pool and hot tub during our down time. I highly recommend this lodging, which also happens to be right outside of the West entrance into Yellowstone National Park!

We got lucky, our room had a bear peeking in the window!

Dining – Our favorite restaurant in West Yellowstone was the Buffalo Bar. Our boys asked to go there every single night! We all tried buffalo for the first time and really, really loved it. The boys had buffalo nachos, I had the country fried buffalo steak and some buffalo balls (lol), and Jereme had the buffalo burger. We ended up eating there two times on the trip because we all loved the food so much! We also enjoyed Three Bears Restaurant and The Slippery Otter Pub.

Country Fried Buffalo Steak from the Buffalo Bar

Downtown – West Yellowstone is a quintessential tourist town lined with souvenir shops, restaurants, candy stores, etc. We were able to walk to all the shops from our lodging, which was really nice. The kids enjoyed getting out and exploring all of the little stores that lined the downtown area and main street. We found some great souvenirs and enjoyed chatting with the employees in the shops. Everyone was truly shocked about the Park being closed and it was always the topic of conversation!

Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center – This was such a fun activity for our first full day in West Yellowstone! My youngest son’s favorite animal is a wolf and we wanted to see wolves in Yellowstone, which we knew wasn’t a guarantee in the wild. So, we really enjoyed our experience here. What I loved most about this place is that it is a non-profit organization and the animals in the center were actually rescued and have a wonderful place to live out the rest of their days. Most of the bears were orphaned as cubs and never taught how to be wild by their mothers and were getting too close to humans/trash. It was nice to hear their stories and see them doing so well. We also enjoyed the small museum inside – it was snowing on our visit… in mid-June! So, if you don’t get your bear or wolf sighting in Yellowstone, be sure to check out this place! Our tickets were good for two days, too.

  • Website: https://grizzlyctr.givecloud.co/
  • Address: 201 S. Canyon St. West Yellowstone, MT 59758
  • Phone: (406) 646-7001
  • Hours: 9:00 am – 6:00 pm Daily
  • Rates: Adults (13+) $15, Children (5-12) $10, Seniors (62+) $14, Free under 4
Sam was our favorite bear!

Island Park, ID

UTV Riding – Island Park, ID is only about 25 minutes from West Yellowstone. When we were searching for things to do, this area kept popping up and there are several different things to do here. We chose to rent a UTV for the day with High Mountain Adventures from 8:30 am to 4:45 pm. These UTVs are street legal, so we were able to go pretty much anywhere, including the convenience store for snacks and a restaurant. Did I mention that there are also over 500 miles of trails to explore? The UTV we rented came with a GPS and the employees gave us a map and highlighted their favorite trails for us to explore! We ended up going to Big Springs and to the top of Sawtell Peak, more information about these two places below.

Big Springs – One of the first places we decided to explore on the UTV was Big Springs. It’s a natural spring that provides water to the Snake River. The whole area is beautiful and the water is crystal clear. Bring some quarters and you can buy fish food right off the bridge to feed the trout – and there are a ton! It was so fascinating to watch. No fishing is allowed here, but you can hike and walk around the springs/river. And there are several UTV trails to explore as well.

The water is so clear & there are so many trout!

Sawtell Peak – We also wanted to drive up to the top of Sawtell Peak. We may have changed our mind if we knew how cold it was going to be, remember it had snowed the day before! It was a pretty mild day in Island Park and at Big Springs, but man it was freezing when we rode up the mountain. We did bring jackets and had blankets and gloves, but despite the view, it was pretty miserable at the top. We didn’t spend a lot of time here because we were too cold, but it was a very pretty ride. I think it would be more enjoyable later in the summer!

Upper Mesa Falls – Our final adventure in Idaho was to Upper Mesa Falls. We didn’t ride the UTV here, it was too far away for that. So we headed to the falls after we returned the UTV for the day and we had about a 30 minute drive from High Mountain Adventures to Ashton, ID. This waterfall is very impressive, 114 feet tall and 200 feet wide, and I am so glad that we decided to visit! I used the AllTrails app for directions, but there are also several signs on the drive for you to follow, too. The trail is pretty short and most of it is on a boardwalk that leads you to different viewpoints. There is a $5 cash only parking fee. There’s also a small store and visitor center on site.

We could not believe the size of this waterfall!

Virginia City, MT

Ghost Town – Virginia City was such a neat place to visit and only 1.5 hours from West Yellowstone. It originally became a town from pioneers and adventurers settling there during the Gold Rush period, which also brought vigilantes and bandits to the area. It is now a very well-preserved National Historic Site that is so fun to explore. And it’s completely FREE to walk around and enter the buildings on the boardwalk. There are also several different activities that you can do as well, including a train ride to Nevada City, stagecoach rides, historic fire truck tours, and museums! Click here to learn more about visiting Virginia City!

Lewis & Clark Caverns State Park, MT

Caverns – Lewis & Clark Caverns State Park is Montana’s first state park! These caverns are a little less than 2 hours away from West Yellowstone and the scenic drive through Montana was so enjoyable! You can only visit the caves with a guided tour and they offer two options, The Paradise Tour (1.5 hours) or The Classic Tour (2 hours). Tours cost $15 per adult, $10 per child (5-14) or $5 per child under four. We did the Paradise Tour, it was recommended for kids but I wish we would’ve done the Classic Tour since it’s about 30 minutes longer inside the cave. We learned a lot about caves and had a great time, then we ate a delicious late lunch at the café on site. They served burgers, sandwiches, nuggets and it was perfect after our guided tour! Click here to learn more about visiting Lewis & Clark Caverns State Park.

As you can see, we made the best of our unfortunate circumstances at Yellowstone. I wish we could’ve visited the Park, but we still had a great time and will eventually get to YNP. Please don’t hesitate to reach out with any questions that you have! And be sure to follow me on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/road_trip_queen/ – I have more videos and helpful information there.

Our faces sum up how we all felt being so close to Yellowstone, yet unable to go in the Park!

Next up, our trip to Grand Teton National Park! Be sure to check back for details and more information about our time in Wyoming.