We are planning an epic road trip. We have a very ambitious 12 national parks to get through in just under two weeks. Our trip will take us through New Mexico, Utah and Arizona. And here’s the kicker: three kids (ages 4, 3, 1), two mildly sane parents (clearly this is up for debate,) and one minivan. We will be juggling two who still take solid afternoon naps, two in diapers, one who doesn’t sleep through the night not even a little, lots of walking, lots of driving and LOADS of memories.
Although, we will be flexible with life and our kids it is always good when planning an epic road trip to have a rough itinerary….especially where booking hotels is a concern. 😉 So, here is our game plan. (I linked you to the official NPS pages for each National Park listed.) We are largely sticking to what is offered via the Junior Ranger program when applicable for the park, because our kids love adventures and missions and completing tasks for prizes (in this case badges and patches).
Day 1. Arrive in Santa Fe, NM. Breakfast, church of San Gabriel and Bandeliere National Park. I love history and am excited to see a well preserved area where Ancient Puebloans lived. We will be doing the Junior Ranger program which can all be accomplished by walking the short 1.2 Main Loop Trail and visiting the creek. Then we will drive to Los Alamos.
Day 2. Continuing to explore more preserved Ancient Puebloan ruins we are visiting Aztec Ruins National Monument. The Junior Ranger program seems as if it will all be self-contained on the 1/2 mile walk through West Ruin and the reconstructed Great Kiva. We will do a quick photo op at Four Corners and then on to Natural Bridges National Park. This park also offers the Junior Ranger program but for our kids’ ages most of the activities are fun and not bound by which trail we are on, so we will probably just stick to driving the 8.6 mile trail. If we made great time to get here, it would be fun to get out and walk one of the shorter trails. By far, this is our most ambitious day! We are spending the night in Blanding, UT
Day 3. Canyonlands National Park. Needles portion. The Needles portion and the Islands portion are not connectable by car. There is only one Junior Ranger program for both portions, so here we are just going to take in the sites. Depending on time these are the two trails that seem fun and age appropriate for my crew:
|Pothole Point||0.6 mi/1 km||40 minutes||Pothole ecosystems and views of the Needles.|
|Cave Springs||0.6 mi/1 km||45 minutes||Historic cowboy camp &prehistoric petroglyphs. Two ladders must be climbed.|
We rented this home from VRBO so that we could spend a couple of nights in Moab, UT. (Stay tuned for my review of this home, after we stay in it. 😉 )
Day 4. Canyonlands National Park. Island in the Sky portion. Besides continuing our work for the Junior Ranger program, we are hoping to take in the drive to Grand View Point and the overlooks, as well as these two hikes:
|Mesa Arch||0.5 mi/0.8 km||30 minutes||Short walk to arch on cliff edge. Popular sunrise photograph.|
|Whale Rock||1 mi/1.6 km||1 hour,
|Short climb up Whale Rock leads to views of Upheaval Done and surrounding area|
Day 5. Arches National Park. In cased you missed our ongoing theme, we will be doing a Junior Ranger program here and not sure how time will play out, but would love to do all three of these trails depending on how my kids are doing.
|Windows||1 mile||45 minutes||Climb yields views of three massive arches, with slightly longer and uneven return option|
|Double Arch||0.5 mile||20 minutes||Flat, sandy trail leads to base of the tallest arch in the park|
|Delicate Arch Viewpoints||100 yards
|Wheelchair-accessible view of arch at a distance. Climb to second viewpoint is moderately strenuous and affords slightly better view of arch.|
Day 6. Adventures in Salt Lake City.
Day 7. After a break in the city, we return to our National Park trip with Bryce Canyon National Park and the Junior Ranger program there. I’d like to hike the Mossy Trail and see the waterfall and get the kids out of the car after driving in from SLC. And then I plan to drive all 18 miles on the path to see all viewpoints, including the short walk to Yovimpa Point.
Day 8. Zion National Park, the park I’m most excited to see, but we are limited by time and age of our hikers. We will probably start with the drive along the Zion-Mt.Carmel Highway so we can hike the Canyon Overlook Trail (park guide recommends an hour – plus time to drive there and back) and then maybe hike the Lower Emerald Pool Trail (park guide estimates about an hour). We will seek to complete another Junior Ranger patch. There is sooooo much I want to do here. We are going to eat lunch at the park to maximize our time here because I could spend a week here I am sure. We will have to return and explore more when the kids are older and can do more advanced hiking!
Day 9. Grand Canyon National Park. Here we will enter at Desert View Watchtower and take in the Ruins tour / Ranger program as one of the requirements for the Junior Ranger badge. We plan to drive all of the South Road and even enjoy the bus tour along Hermit Road. We will eat lunch here on site to spend as much time as possible in the park. This will be at least my fourth trip here and am excited to share this park with my kids!
Day 10. Phoenix sites. Saguaro National Park. We will just be doing the main one east of Tuscon and it does seem that there is a Junior Ranger program here, too. I imagine here we won’t do much hiking, but at least do the main drive to see the cacti and such.
Day 11. White Sands National Monument is I think going to be one of my kids’ favorite places and memories. Seems like the pre-school Junior Ranger program is pretty basic here thank goodness, because I want to spend the brunt of our time SLEDDING. 🙂 I know we will do the 16-mile round-trip drive (about 45 minutes), but because we will be here in the dead of summer, I can’t imagine we will do hiking. The sledding will be plenty enough for us in the sun and heat!
Day 12. We will start the day off at Guadalupe Mountains National Park, and the Junior Ranger program looks easy enough to accomplish. There is ton to do here, not even sure what will all be open due to the fires and damage, but seems like the basic Piney Natural Trail is open and about our speed. We are going to finish out the day be seeing the bats at Carlsbad.
Day 13. Carlsbad Cavern National Park. Our last national park! I’m sure I’ll be both sad that our trip is ending and so ready to be off the road and home in my bed. But for this day I want to soak in this amazing place, on what will be I believe my third visit here. This will be our final Junior Ranger program for this trip, and we will for take in the Big Room Tour. Depending on attitudes and such we may choose to do the shortcut and shave a little time and distance off our trip. I’d love to do the natural opening, but if it doesn’t pan out, I’ve done that before. 😉
And since I’m traveling with littles, part of planning an epic road trip also includes a strategic packing list. This is clearly not the backpacking trip I’ve taken in my youth, but clearly one taken with littles in mind, so the packing list obviously reflects that. Haha.
- Diapers & pullups
- Clothes. Here is my life hack for traveling with kids…plastic bags for every outfit (underwear, shirt, shorts) because A) it keeps the outfit together and makes life easy in the mornings and B) allows me to repack it in a sealed off bag in case of diaper blow out, messy dinners, etc…I’m sure you get the idea! 🙂
- Swim suits (times two per kid)
- Keens (our shoes of choice for the littles)
- Bug spray – I love my Citronella DIY recipe for keeping mosquitoes away.
- Washable Bib for Squish
- Washable place mat for Squish
- Pack n play and sheet, blankets
- This awesome bumper/bed railing called Stay Put Big Girl and Boy Bed: It goes under the bed sheets and keeps my Itty Bitty, who is 3, in her bed without getting stuck in those awful medal railings that you would slip under the bed from my childhood. Not only does it work, but it is crazy soft and she like to snuggle up by it or use it as a pillow.
- Tooth brush, toothpaste
- Sun hats, sunglasses
- Kid tablet
- Snack packs
- Drink boxes
- A new book (sticker books, coloring books, etc) for each leg of the trip. I grabbed a few of the Color Wonder by Crayola like this title for Itty Bitty:
because then I don’t have to worry about markers in my van. I also grabbed some sticker books from this site because my son adores the themes, high quality stickers and the learning that accompanies them:
- I also downloaded and laminated several FREE printables for both of my bigger kids to play together: The first pack I found on totschooling.net:
- I also found these adorable printables on iheartorganizing.com:
- Baby toys. I made a DIY I-Spy which Squish loves. A few great board books, some musical phones.
My pack list:
- Camera and charger
- Phone and charger
- Tablet and charger
- Laptop and charger
- Jackery – if you don’t have one of these, you need this! It allows you to charge your smart phone on the go! Small, portable and fully recharges your phone without being plugged into an outlet!!
- Clothes and undergarments
- Keens – I bought these Newport H2 for me!
- Chacos – I have this now discontinued Unaweep: because they are so much sturdier than just your basic Chaco. The Vibram rubber and treading are fabulous for hiking!
- My list of essential oils I’m packing: Lavender, Tranquil, Thieves, Digize, Owie, Tummygize, Harmony, Joy, Frankincense, Helichrsyim, Purification, Rc, Grounding, Copaiba, Lemongrass, Deep Relief. Surely by now you know I love and use essential oils. If you are needing some basic info that can be found on the Essential Oil tab and also I wrote a short basic “Intro to Essential Oils class” that provides basic safety info, how to use them, ways to use the most common oils and some other helpful tips.
- Car diffuser and larger diffuser for hotel room at night
- Zyngs, Nitros and Ningxia Red
- Swim suit
- Hand purifier
- Thieves spray – for the beds!
- Baseball hat, Do-rag
- Ponytail holders and clips
I want to know who else is planning an epic road trip or has been on one recently. What am I forgetting on my list?! I know our itinerary is really ambitious, but any helpful feedback (besides moving the parks/dates around since hotels are already set!)?