In September 2015, we went on an amazing vacation to Oahu, had many incredible outdoor adventures, and got engaged! The day we got back my husband, Evan, was informed that he would be laid off mid-December. Evan already had plans in place to go back to grad school to get his MBA in the Fall, so early in November, while trying to figure out our next steps, we made the big decision to take some time off to travel before school started. Our apartment lease was up at the end of February and instead of continuing to pay for a lease month to month, we decided to put all of our things in storage and begin a 4 month road trip across the US in March. The original plan was to visit the lower 48 states with a primary focus on outdoor/nature adventures. We also wanted to visit as many National Parks as possible from March to July. As a grand finale, the road trip portion would end early July and we would then fly to Hawaii to be married!
We reached out to friends and family for suggestions of places to go along our trip and I also read a few articles for research. The article that originally piqued my interest was about the most optimal route to visit all 47 National Parks.
I then compiled a list of all of our potential destinations within each state which included national parks, state parks, and any other local gem I could find. We had a few dates and deadlines we had to meet throughout the trip and that helped me determine the best route for us. Other than knowing the destinations, I didn’t have much of a plan. I was counting on figuring the details out while we drove.
It was early March when we finally hit the road. We started in Texas and drove north to Illinois, hitting a few central states on the way. After visiting with family in Illinois we headed west to Wyoming to visit friends; we passed through Iowa and Nebraska along the way. Our Wyoming friends took us to our first national park of the trip, Rocky Mountain National Park, and it was gorgeous. We then visited Great Sand Dunes NP and this was the first time we heard about the NPS Centennial! The moment we found out we had to update our itinerary. Our new goal was to now see all 47 national parks in the lower 48 in addition to a fun outdoor activity in each state without a park. We thought this would be a great way to honor the National Park Service and its mission that we respect so much!
I had to reconfigure the route a little, but it didn’t take long for us to formulate a solid plan and get back on the road. The beginning was going to be a little hectic with some doubling back, but we weren’t going to let anything discourage us from meeting our goal. Things were so busy at this point in the trip I would usually only have time to check out a park’s website one or two days in advance to determine which attraction we wanted to visit most.
The next leg of our trip brought us from Great Sand Dunes in Southern Colorado to Theodore Roosevelt in North Dakota. On the way we saw two national parks, Badlands and Wind Cave, and two National Monuments, Mount Rushmore and Devil’s Tower. After our long drive north, we turned right around and headed south to visit Grand Teton and Yellowstone. Unfortunately, since I did most planning a day or two before, we didn’t know Yellowstone would still be closed for winter at that time. We had visited Yellowstone 2 years ago, so settling for a scenic drive through the western edge of the park in Montana wasn’t a huge let down. From Wyoming we headed north to Glacier NP. It still wasn’t fully open, but everything about the park left our mouths agape in amazement. Glacier ended up being one of our top 5 parks and we are already making plans to return to drive the Going to the Sun Road. Upon leaving Glacier we were finally able to hop onto the optimal National Park route. Barring a few additional stops in Idaho and California, this was what a I printed and used for the west coast route we followed from Wyoming to Texas.
The multitude of parks we visited on the west coast, in the basin and range, among the red sandstones of Utah, and throughout the deserts of the southwest was a series of priceless adventures that we will never forget. Of these parks there were 3 that stood out most to us, all for different reasons, and we added them to our top 5 Park list. In no particular order, they were Yosemite, Joshua Tree, and Great Basin. When we finished exploring Big Bend in late May we had to take a break to secure housing for our upcoming move to Austin and take care of a few other tasks before heading to the east coast. So far we had visited 21 states and 35 national parks.
Mid-June we set out to finish the other 28 states and 12 national parks, but since the break took longer than expected we had to rush this leg in order to make our flight to Hawaii in July. During the break I completely changed our east coast itinerary because I wanted to add NPS units instead of previously chosen non-NPS stops. We still thoroughly enjoyed all the sights and parks on this part of the trip, but we were sad we weren’t able to spend more time at each. The last national park we added to our top 5 was Shenandoah in Virginia. This is a picture of our maps and notes for the stops during our entire trip.
Here is a list of some facts about the trip:
-We drove about 26,000 miles in 120 days.
-We took over 6,500 pictures and over 300 videos
-My daily research consisted of using NPS websites, weather.com, and numerous camping websites to figure out itineraries and sleeping arrangements. Most days we didn’t know where we would sleep until a few hours before arriving.
-We tent camped the majority of the nights on the trip, followed second by staying with friends or family, third was sleeping in the car and motel stays coming in last at less than 10 nights.
-We had a yeti cooler that we used as our refrigerator and our trip food consisted mostly of snacks during car rides, sandwiches and various types of soups.
-We saw over 50 species of mammals and many other reptiles, insects, and birds.
-Our top 5 hikes, no particular order, during the trip were:
1) South Kaibab/Bright Angel hike in Grand Canyon
2) Mount Washington in New Hampshire
3) Angel’s Landing in Zion NP
4) Vernal and Nevade Falls hike in Yosemite
5) Mendenhall Glacier in Alaska
-We are having our flag framed to display in our house
All the national parks are wonderful and special in their own way, so there was no way we could pick a favorite overall. Each one has a unique feature that we enjoyed and will keep in our hearts forever. Our #findyourpark story is different because we didn’t explore one park, we explored over 60 NPS units and enjoyed all of them. We choose our favorite #findyourpark park as the entire United States! It is an amazing country, with so many beautiful places and things to see. We are blessed to call it our home. Here we are in our #findyourpark shirts for our final flag picture at the University of Austin’s Turtle Pond.