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Contemplating a Road Trip


mom31257
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Update: We are now considering touring the Great Lakes area as a possibility. 

Any advice would be welcome!

We are going to be "homeless" for several weeks and staying with family and friends. We close on our house next week and can't close on the one we are purchasing until early August. We are both teachers and off for the summer. 

We normally go to Ohio to see family, so we'd probably leave from there. We are thinking across the northern part of the US to see Mount Rushmore and go to Yellowstone and Grand Teton.  

Anything else we should see along the way? 

Is there anything we should know about traveling through that area in July or anytime? 

 

Edited by mom31257
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We did a circle trip starting and ending in Denver. Some things along the northern route that we did: Mt. Rushmore, Custer SD (so much to do in this area, including Custer State Park, Crazy Horse monument, Wind Cave), Cody WY (Buffalo Bill Center - so good!, Old Trail Town, Buffalo Bill Dam, Old West Miniature Village, Cody Rodeo), Yellowstone/Grand Tetons, Salt Lake City. If you go into Colorado, Garden of the Gods, Mesa Verde National Park, Rocky Mountain National Park). Never got to Badlands (storms the day we were going to go) but wish we had been able to visit. In July Yellowstone will be super crowded and traffic will move slowly through the park. We were there starting on opening day in May so didn't experience that, but I've heard stories. Maybe someone who's done it in the summer can speak to that. Have fun!

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Total aside, but you can fly to Alaska and rent an RV and boondock, spend as long as you want, fish for your dinner, etc. We did it for two weeks and it was amazing. You can even drive up the AlCan. Just thinking it might be less touristed. With cruising down and theme park attendance reduced, those families are going elsewhere. 

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1 hour ago, mom31257 said:

Any advice would be welcome!

We are going to be "homeless" for several weeks and staying with family and friends. We close on our house next week and can't close on the one we are purchasing until early August. We are both teachers and off for the summer. 

We normally go to Ohio to see family, so we'd probably leave from there. We are thinking across the northern part of the US to see Mount Rushmore and go to Yellowstone and Grand Teton.  

Anything else we should see along the way? 

Is there anything we should know about traveling through that area in July or anytime? 

 

Many Laura ingalls wilder sites are right along that way. 

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We just did South Dakota.  We loved it and kind of want to go back this  summer.  I had wanted to see the Badlands forever and loved them.  Way more than I thought.  The kids loved feeding the Prairie Dogs.

We stayed on a horse ranch and loved horse back riding everyday.

Mount Rushmore was not something anyone liked.  It was much better to just drive by and see it that way.  We loved seeing the profile lookout point.  We saw Crazy Horse that way too. 

Black Hills were Stunning.

We had the most fun going to Custer State Park.  If you are brave drive Needles Highway.  If you want to see animals do the Wildlife Loop.  We saw so much wildlife on that route.

It is going to be really Busy!  We went before summer season and it was packed everywhere we went and we avoided everything that was not outside with tons of space to move around.   It was so nice to stay where we did to get away from the crowds.  With the places you want to go it is going to be really hard to find anything not booked during the high traffic time of summer. 

Oh and I wouldn't want to get caught in SD during Sturgis which is 2 weeks in August.

We also stayed on a 3800 acre ranch in SD it was so beautiful.  That was another highlight of our trip. 

Edited by mommyoffive
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Thank you all so much! The thought of very big crowds does make it less appealing. Anywhere that won’t be as crowded? We might could drive other directions.

I should have added this will just be the two of us. Ds has a job for the summer here and will live with his best friend’s family so he can keep working. 

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If I wanted to avoid crowds I'd stay far away from any of the big national parks. My guess is they're going to be bonkers level crowded this year. I'd hunt out lesser known national parks and state parks, off beat attractions, take back roads, etc.

@BlsdMama-- We went to Door County in September a couple of years ago. It was beautiful, with lots of little shops and restaurants. We were there in what I think is a lull time--after the summer tourists and before they wrap up the year with fall festivals. We love just about everything around the Great Lakes.

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I was dead serious about the Iowa visit lol...  😉 We have heat, humidity, and corn as the highlights.  We also have my sparkling personality, lemonade on the patio, slightly weedy garden as scenery, bean fields around us this year - thus lightning bugs, the Amana colonies which is quaint, not overcrowded & good German food.... I'm racking my mind, but I think that's about it?  I go back to sparkling personality.  :P

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39 minutes ago, BlsdMama said:

OOh! You could make it a Hive Visit trip.  Just circle around to different boardies - who thinks your husband would think it the trip of a lifetime?

yes! Loop me in. Houston is known for how amazing it is in July/August.  😉  

Although we do have NASA, museums, etc. in addition to far better heat/humidity than Iowa can offer, I'm sure.  Although possibly the sparkling personalities are better in Iowa....that part makes me want to head that way! 

(side note: my best friend that moved away moved to Ohio! She was enticing me with things like Amish country, etc.)  (and DH's dream road trip is to do a food tour -- BBQ in both N & S Carolina, up the coast trying various things, culminating in NE Clam Chowder, Cheesesteaks in Philly, etc. -- so maybe something like that, but going in whatever direction you guys like?) 

(Or, we're doing Cloudcroft soon, but visiting the various Billy the Kid sites out that way; is there any kind of theme you can pick to build your trip that might take you to more off the beaten path stops?)

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3 hours ago, Pawz4me said:

If I wanted to avoid crowds I'd stay far away from any of the big national parks. My guess is they're going to be bonkers level crowded this year. I'd hunt out lesser known national parks and state parks, off beat attractions, take back roads, etc.

@BlsdMama-- We went to Door County in September a couple of years ago. It was beautiful, with lots of little shops and restaurants. We were there in what I think is a lull time--after the summer tourists and before they wrap up the year with fall festivals. We love just about everything around the Great Lakes.

Yes, everything I’ve read this summer is that the national parks are way way overcrowded and people are unhappy with their experience because of it. Lots of trash and human waste on the trails and lines to park a car are ridiculous.

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OP, you could try touring National Forests. Many of them are absolutely exquisite! They are not as popular as the National Parks, and sadly often overlooked. You are not likely to find crowds. This is probably true too of the National Grasslands. While Michigan's National Lake shores can be pretty busy, Huron/Manistee National Forest and Lake Michigan Recreation Area is not. Mohangahela and Pisgah National Forests are amazing.

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5 hours ago, mom31257 said:

Thank you all so much! The thought of very big crowds does make it less appealing. Anywhere that won’t be as crowded? We might could drive other directions.

I should have added this will just be the two of us. Ds has a job for the summer here and will live with his best friend’s family so he can keep working. 

Things were really crowded in SD just a few weeks ago and this is before high season and hitting the parks on the weekends.  Mount Rushmore, Badlands, Custer State Park were all really crowded.  Plus the downtown areas of the cities that the areas were in.   We didn't see as much crowds in the Black Hills. 

But even though the parking lots were filled in the Badlands we were able to get out and hike and spread out from people.  Go to the less crowded trail.  But all these places are going to be way more packed now until mid August.  

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39 minutes ago, Faith-manor said:

OP, you could try touring National Forests. Many of them are absolutely exquisite! They are not as popular as the National Parks, and sadly often overlooked. You are not likely to find crowds. This is probably true too of the National Grasslands. While Michigan's National Lake shores can be pretty busy, Huron/Manistee National Forest and Lake Michigan Recreation Area is not. Mohangahela and Pisgah National Forests are amazing.

I was going to suggest something along these lines.   Find the less traveled places.   We did enjoy the Cody dam in Cody, WY as it was unique, not busy, etc.   

You need to do what I call a brown sign adventure......get off the expressways and drive around and when a brown sign peaks your interest, go check it out.....fish hatcheries, local and county parks, state and national forests, historical monuments, etc   

 

Add in some boardie visits and you will have a great trip.   I am 10 minutes from Lake Michigan in a nice tourist town....put me on your list.

 

 

 

 

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Mackinaw Island in Michigan. Electric Forest Festival in Michigan. There are tours that go behind Niagara Falls.

We're planning a trip to Gatlinburg, Nashville and Memphis, hitting some touristy things, some Civil War things and seeing some parks.

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If you do not want crowds, stay away from Mackinac Island. In the summer it is just packed to the gills. Tacquamenon Falls further north is less popular. Oh, there will be people, but it is still usually not too bad, and easy to get to viewing areas.

Voyagers National Park, International Falls, MN is not nearly as popular, and doesn't draw the huge crowds that Yellowstone and Glacier does. It would be worth the very long drive.

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1 hour ago, Faith-manor said:

If you do not want crowds, stay away from Mackinac Island. In the summer it is just packed to the gills. Tacquamenon Falls further north is less popular. Oh, there will be people, but it is still usually not too bad, and easy to get to viewing areas.

Voyagers National Park, International Falls, MN is not nearly as popular, and doesn't draw the huge crowds that Yellowstone and Glacier does. It would be worth the very long drive.

They could also hit Duluth and the Twin Cities areas if they want a combo of nature/city. Although it will likely be warm and humid with lots of mosquitoes, MN does have lots of beautiful areas to explore that will likely not be as busy as major tourists attractions elsewhere. Too bad Canada isn’t open yet because that would be ideal for finding less crowded spots.

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I see others have mentioned it, but I have to add my two cents - years ago we did a big looping road trip from NW Illinois to Yellowstone and back, taking a more southern route to get there and more northern route home.  Major highlights beside Tetons and Yellowstone were Cody, WY and the wonderful museum there, and the Ingalls sites in DeSmet, Iowa.  I'd love to go back to Cody, and live on a ranch nearby.

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On 6/15/2021 at 9:31 PM, PeterPan said:

Total aside, but you can fly to Alaska and rent an RV and boondock, spend as long as you want, fish for your dinner, etc. We did it for two weeks and it was amazing. You can even drive up the AlCan. Just thinking it might be less touristed. With cruising down and theme park attendance reduced, those families are going elsewhere. 

Problem may be car rental. It’s crazy this year till August I heard. 

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9 hours ago, Frances said:

They could also hit Duluth and the Twin Cities areas if they want a combo of nature/city. Although it will likely be warm and humid with lots of mosquitoes, MN does have lots of beautiful areas to explore that will likely not be as busy as major tourists attractions elsewhere. Too bad Canada isn’t open yet because that would be ideal for finding less crowded spots.

So funny! This Canadian is reading this thread for ideas because we’re hoping we can come down in August, but you are ruining my ideas one by one with the crowds!

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Posted (edited)

Thank you all so much!! We do not want to go to the big parks with such crowds. I'm so glad we asked here first! I really appreciate the advice. 

We're bouncing around the ideas of visiting some national forests along with a tour of unusual spots around the Great Lakes. We have friends in Wheaton we would love to see, so we might start in Ohio, go up around the lakes and come back down there before returning to the family in Ohio. 

 

 

Edited by mom31257
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23 minutes ago, mom31257 said:

Thank you all so much!! We do not want to go to the big parks with such crowds. I'm so glad we asked here first! I really appreciate the advice. 

We're bouncing around the ideas of visiting some national forests along with a tour of unusual spots around the Great Lakes. We have friends in Wheaton we would love to see, so we might start in Ohio, go up around the lakes and come back down there before returning to the family in Ohio. 

 

 

If you go up and around the lakes, pm and I can give you some tips and ideas for West Michigan and northern lower Michigan along the Lakeshore area.

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28 minutes ago, mom31257 said:

Thank you all so much!! We do not want to go to the big parks with such crowds. I'm so glad we asked here first! I really appreciate the advice. 

We're bouncing around the ideas of visiting some national forests along with a tour of unusual spots around the Great Lakes. We have friends in Wheaton we would love to see, so we might start in Ohio, go up around the lakes and come back down there before returning to the family in Ohio. 

 

 

Let me know if you need to have more ideas for the east side of the lower peninsula or the U.P. Ottakee has you covered for the other side.

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I see you are changing your mind, but just another thing that I have read about National Parks this year that some on are taking reservations for coming in that you have to get a few weeks or month before hand.   I don't know that all of them are doing that (Badlands wasn't when we were there) or if they all will in high travel season. 

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2 hours ago, mommyoffive said:

Just watched it. I think the biggest issue is that certain parks are wildly popular, and that is where the majority head. Here is a partial list of gorgeous, but not widely known or popular national parks/forests.

Voyageurs National Park, International Falls, MN. Not popular because you cannot drive to it. You have to ferry to it by boat access which is not a public system like other ferry services. There is a list of approved boating vendors on the recreation.gov site, and you can order your tickets in advance. It is pricey. A 2 HR tour for three people can run $300-500. Arnolds Campground does run a shuttle service (water taxi type situation) to the park.

Isle Royal National Park. Accessible by ferry only from the Keeweenaw Peninsula. Backpack and hike. No vehicles on the island. Very wild, very gorgeous. There is one lodge on the island for overnight guests, and I think there might be backpack camping. But definitely check that out before committing. What is allowed to do on the island changes from time to time as they track the reintroduction of wolves to the island. Their numbers might be high enough now that they aren't allowing those wild, overnight, unregistered stays. Boat tours are fantastic. You can pick up the ferry in Houghton or Copper Harbor, MI. They only had 7000 visitors last year. It is one of the most desolate parks in the US, and the experience is great!

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Seashore/Lake shore. This is pretty popular on the weekends, but not so bad during the week and away from holidays.

Indiana Dunes - A brand new park in Indiana on the southern shore of Lake Michigan. Lovely park. It doesn't have the tourist draw of other parks because the area around it is not ritzy like Grand Tetons and Yellowstone, doesn't have the popular stuff like amusement/water parks nearby which Great Smoky Mountains is known for.

Monongahela and Pisgah National Forests

Matches Trace - Mississippi. This is a driving route through Miss into Tennessee. Native American Mounds and historical turn outs along the way. It is usually pretty easy to spread out, and you do not need a park pass to drive it. The ticks are insane, I am talking Aliens Movie horror flick insane so you need to wear long sleeves, long pants and DEET when you get out of the car to do any viewing/photography. We did it two years ago, and our sons loved the drive and turnouts.

Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado

Dry Fortunes, Florida

Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Huron/Manistee National Forest at Lake Michigan Recreation Area, Michigan

Congaree National Forest, South Carolina

Cascades National Park, Washington (North of Seattle on the Canadian border)

Great Basin National Park, Nevada - and be careful here. This place is amazing and probably the best night sky viewing of any of the National Parks. But, it sits at 8000-13,000 ft elevation, and I have known folks who are not used to that who drive from here across Missouri, Oklahoma/panhandlers Texas into Arizona and then straight to the park. While some are not affected, having gained enough elevation gradually for their bodies, others were not so lucky, started hiking, got into trouble, migraines, nausea, the whole altitude sickness thing, and ended up needing assistance. So if coming from low elevation and driving the lower route (which does not gain along the way as much as the northern route which helps your body adjust) spend some time a at 5000 ft, then gradually increase. It means your trip has to be longer but that beats the alternative. My dh does not do well with fast rise. In our young years we drove from Indiana to Colorado Springs in a day and half, sleeping in a rest area somewhere when exhausted, and then from there up to Estes Park on the outskirts of Rocky Mountain National Park. Guess who spent three days with migraines and puking? Oh the fun. 😜

And then there are the six national parks of Alaska. They are worth seeing, but man, you have to plan ahead and be able to manage the trek.

Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, Decatur Alabama. Awesome, and while there, bop over to US Space and Rocket Center.

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