Yellowstone: In 2 Hours.

Have you even been so close to somewhere amazing but didn’t have the time to stop and enjoy it? This happened to us last summer which east bound on I-90. We needed to make it to Rapid City, SD by dinner time the next night in order to meet up with family for a surprise birthday party for our son. Our schedule was tight but not so tight that we couldn’t have a little fun. We had a handful of hours to spare and happen to be miles from the north entrance to Yellowstone. So, what did we do? We drove through, of course. Was it worth it? Yes!

We arrived at the entrance around dinner, ordered a pizza, walked around the village, and took the obligatory pictures by the Roosevelt Arch. We happened to head out on our drive through the park shortly before dusk. This was the beginning of our 2 hour Yellowstone tour. Here are a few reasons that these few hours were well spent!

Mammoth Hot Springs

As far as site seeing goes, this one is not overrated. After dinner and early in the season we were able to see everything we wanted to see without crowds or hassles. The kids were amazed, we were reminded about its simple beauty, and everyone was happy.

Gardiner, MT

Gardiner is the type of cowboy town that kids love. Elk are everywhere. The Roosevelt Arch is welcoming. The take out pizza is great. Cold drinks are easy to find. I hope to spend a day or two there next time we travel through.

Wildlife Viewing

Our 2 hour driving tour went from Gardiner to Mammoth Hot Springs and on to Norris. From there, we headed east to Fishing Bridge and on to Cody, WY. Since we are not avid photographers and aren’t prone to taking wildlife tours, it was not immediately obvious to us that pretty much any drive through Yellowstone at dusk would offer a whole new perspective on wildlife viewing. The elk herds and black bears being pursued by tourists at the park entrance were no match for what we were about to see. (Please do not chase the wildlife by the way. We have seen this so many times and it is not appropriate! or safe.)

The street was lined with cars and spectators waiting for once in a lifetime experiences. We found ourselves being escorted by a herd of buffalo. Things changed from fun and interesting to amazing and unbelievable when the herd crossed the road and dropped down into a valley to swim across a fast moving river. The young buffalo were especially nerve racking to watch as I am not convinced that buffalo are not really built for swimming.

A few miles later we found the usual cars and spectators but the atmosphere had changed. Rather than sitting and looking, everyone was standing and pointing. Our van slowed to a crawl and we learned that a pack of wolves was up ahead. This was my first official wolf sighting and it was awesome! From our van, we saw a wolf running on the hill. With the help of a friendly bystander’s super powerful binoculars, I got a solid look at its face and body. I am sure it was looking at me!

Yellowstone

We made it to Cody, WY in the dark but still in good time to sleep and get ready for another day on the road. Our spontaneous 2 hour tour of Yellowstone left us inspired and wanting more! Not only did the kids stamp their National Park Passport books but they also checked out a famous hot springs, saw young buffalo swim, watched tourists chase black bears around a ranger station, ate pizza next to a field of elk, and saw their first wolf. That’s not bad for a few hour side trip!

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Teddy Roosevelt National Park: Painted Canyon Trail
Grant Kohrs Ranch: Don’t Miss This Stop!

Teddy Roosevelt National Park: Painted Canyon Trail

Are you looking for a place to stretch your legs while traveling I-94? If so, the Painted Canyon Trail at Teddy Roosevelt National Park is a perfect choice. Here are 8 reasons that the Painted Canyon trail makes a perfect stop on your next road trip.

1. Easy off – easy on highway access.

Finding the trail head is as easy as stopping at a rest area. You can see the visitor’s center from the highway and the trail head basically in the parking lot.

2. You may see a Buffalo.

Signs of Buffalo are everywhere from the parking lot and the picnic area to the trail and surrounding grasslands.

3. There is potable water adjacent to the trail head.

A drinking fountain and faucet are located near the trail head. We filled our water bottles, rinsed our dishes, and washed our legs with soap after finding poison ivy on the trail. By the way, there is poison ivy near the trail entrance. The trail is wide enough to avoid walking through it but it was too late by the time we realized it was there.

4.The Painted Canyon Trail forms a loop.

My favorite trails tend to be circles. I enjoy completing the loop rather than walking in and back or deciding where to turn around. This trail loops back behind a rock wall that hides that parking lot and highway. We felt as if we really went for hike into the wilderness!

5. The trail is well marked, easy to follow, and interesting enough to be fun!

6. The distance is just right for a hiking during a road trip.

We often find our road trips sidelined by long hikes that are beautiful but take all day. It is not uncommon for us to find that we have driven only 100 miles by the time dinner rolls around. It takes a while to drive across the country when you are doing it a 100 miles at a time! The Painted Canyon Trail is 0.9 miles and takes 30-45 minutes. Even our 5 year old easily made it in less than an hour.

7. The views from the trail really are better than those from the highway or the parking lot.

The hike is worth it when the views are better than from the van! Here is a view from the trail.

8. Take this trail to escape the wind at Teddy Roosevelt National Park!

The wind was blowing pretty strongly when we started the hike. Within a few minutes, we were removing our sweatshirts and complaining about the heat. As soon as we got back to the trail head, the wind was howling again. If you are feeling worn down by wind, take this trail and enjoy still canyon air!

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Grant Kohrs Ranch: Don’t Miss This Stop!
Pictured Rocks National Lake Shore: In An Afternoon

Pictured Rocks National Lake Shore: In An Afternoon

Do you have 1 day to spend at Pictured Rocks but are unsure of how to spend the time? If so, here is our recommendation!

We drove west from Munising, swam in Lake Superior, waded in streams, and hiked to the Au Sable Light Station.

Here are a few things to know about going to the light station.

1. The last 1.5 miles to the Au Sable Light Station is on foot.

You can either walk the trail or walk the beach. We walked the trail there, had a picnic there, and walked the beach back!

2. You can see Lake Superior both from the top of the light house and from the beach. It is amazing either way!

3. There is a ship wreck on the beach between the light house and the trail head.

The shipwreck is different than most I have seen. It is just a skeleton of a boat and is fully accessible from the beach. You may be aware that lake levels change over time. This picture was 2019 so the water was relatively high compared with past years but a bit lower than 2020.

4. Remember to bring your National Park Passport and Junior Ranger books.

We carried drinks, sandwiches, snacks, sunscreen, hats, and plenty of other things. We didn’t bring our passport books and had to settle for a stamp on a blank piece of paper. Its not the same!

5. You may end up swimming in Lake Superior.

It may sound cold and daunting but, on a hot day, it is clean, clear, and refreshing! It was unbelievable hot the day we were there. I wasn’t prepared to swim in the lake and ended up taking a nice long swim in my tee shirt and skirt. It wasn’t my proudest moment but I was perfectly content, comfortably cool, and it was worth it! Next time I will be better prepared!

6.Wear water shoes and carry bug repellent.

The beach is rocky in places and all of the tales that you may have heard about biting flies in the U.P. of Michigan are true!

7. Consider stopping once or twice on your drive to the trail head.

You may want to plan enough time to go wading in a stream.

8. The ranger talk at the light station offers a quick glimpse of the history.

Learn about the Au Sable light station, Lake Superior, and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. The tours are thirty minutes long and require a $3 donation per person.

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Grant Kohrs Ranch: Don’t Miss This Stop!

It can be hard to find quick and fun places to stop when traveling on an interstate. One day when the kids were restless, hungry, and road-weary, we happened to find Grant Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site. It was the best part of our day and a great memory from our trip.

Here are some reasons to stop at Grant-Kohrs Ranch.

1. It is close to I-90.

The ranch is easily accessible from the interstate and is 3.5 hours from Glacier National Park to the west and Yellowstone National Park to the east.

There is a large parking lot, restrooms, and water. We enjoyed a picnic lunch next to our van after our ranch tour. We felt rested and ready to hit the road again by the time we were done. It was great!

2. The kids can try using a lasso while the parents try cowboy coffee.

Wood crates, designed for lasso practice, are spread out in an open space between barns.

A cowboy makes coffee at a chuck wagon. Sip your drink while hearing stories of real life on the trail! Check out the chuck wagon to find out what people were eating and drinking. Imagine cooking with the tools they had and eating out on the prairie.

3. Get your National Park stamps and Junior Ranger badges at Grant Kohrs Ranch.

4. Take a self-guided tour of historic buildings.

Tour a barn that has been in use since 1870 and a stable that was built in 1883. Grant Kohl’s is a working ranch so you never know what you will see!

Signs offer info about each item on the ranch. Tools, old wagons, horse shoes, saws, clothes, chairs, beds.

5. Take a guided tour of the ranch house.

Check out the Ranger tours to get a more in depth look inside some of the historic houses.

6. See a blacksmith at work.

Watch a blacksmith using old style techniques. We spent most of our time here and it was fun to watch real hooks and tools being made.

See real tools being made over a coal fire! It was tons of fun and we learned a lot!

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Dinosaur National Monument: 5 Things to Know
Glacier National Park: An Afternoon At Two Medicine

Dinosaur National Monument: 5 Things to Know

I have been to every National Park in southern Utah. Most, more than once. I had never been to Dinosaur National Monument. It felt out of the way from I-80 and I prefer I-70 through Utah.

I enjoy southern Utah so much that once I hit Utah, going south feels like the only options. Everything is different this year, however. We are taking our annual road trip, despite the current pandemic, because we have the opportunity to see our families. Since everything is different and I love Steamboat Springs, we opted for highway 40 from Salt Lake City.

Dinosaur National Monument’s west entrance is at very close proximity to this route. When we got there, I could not have been more surprised and amazed! The scenery is beautiful. It reminds me a bit of Moab but far less populated. We accessed the visitor’s center, hikes, and a campground on the Green River all within 10 miles of the highway and in a 15 minute drive. Here are 8 things to know that I didn’t know until this week.

1. Dinosaur National Monument is not as far out the way as it may seem.

It is on the way if you happen to be on highway 40 between Heber City, Utah and Steamboat Springs, Colorado. The west entrance visitor’s center is less than 10 miles from the highway, hikes, and the campground are a few miles beyond.

There are other entrances but we did not explore those on this trip and cannot speak to those. In looking at the map, they clearly seem further from the highway and more difficult to access than the Jensen, Utah entrance. The Quarry Visitor’s Center was well attended but we chose to bypass it in light of the current pandemic.

2. It offers plenty of river sports.

The Green River and its largest tributary, the Yampa River, run through the park before heading south to meet the Colorado in south of Moab.

Whether you prefer to hire a commercial guide or apply for a private permit, the rafting is guaranteed to be an adventure!

If rafting isn’t in your plans, bring your fishing pole, swimsuit, and picnic supplies and settle into a spot on the river bank.

3. The hiking is diverse and accessible.

I have been to tons of National Parks and Monuments and done many, many hikes. Less than two miles from the visitor’s center and on the way to our campground, we stumbled upon one of the most diverse hikes that I have seen.

The Sound of Silence trail is a 3.2 mile loop, rated moderate to difficult. It starts in a dry river bed, winds up and over various rock layers and through narrow washes. We walked in and out the first mile at sunset just after we arrived at the park and then returned the next morning for the full loop. I was not disappointed! Bring a hat (there isn’t any shade), sunscreen, water, and decent shoes. You will get dusty and hot. The trail is well marked and would be nearly impossible to follow with out the markings.

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4. The views are different than you may expect.

Red, green, white, and shades of brown are all mixed together. Red rock stands against white, with valleys and high hills.

5. The campgrounds are easy to find, clean, and enjoyable.

From the Jensen, Utah entrance, there are 2 campgrounds within 10 miles. We chose Green River and it was perfect for what we needed. It was easy to get to and did not require tons of extra driving. It is on the edge of the river and offers a variety of campsites. We followed a trail to a sandy river bank, climbed a steep hill side, made friends with a resident chipmunk, and spotted tons of lizards. There is potable water, toilets and picnic tables. Not every site had shade. Some sites were smaller than others and none were fully exposed to the river but for our purposes and camping in our Sprinter, it was a good fit. The location sealed the deal for sure!

Dinosaur National Monument has much more to offer than just fossils and is easier to access than you may think. Get out there and enjoy!

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A Glimpse of Southern Utah
Florissant Fossil Beds: 5 Reasons To Check It Out!

Glacier National Park: An Afternoon At Two Medicine

I could write ten blog posts about my adventures at Glacier National Park. My first time in the park was over twenty years ago. Those few days of hiking and exploring were the spark for much of the traveling that has come since. Just when I thought I could not be more impressed by Glacier, I stumbled into Two Medicine.

Two Medicine is found on the east side of the park and on the shore of Two Medicine Lake. We arrived via Highway 2 from West Glacier on our way out of park. Once there, we found a campground, camp store, ice cream, hikes, picnic areas, boat rentals, and views for miles!

The view from camp store is awesome! The boat dock is to the left and hiking to the right. We recommend checking it out while eating ice cream and skipping stones!
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5 Ways to Enjoy Two Medicine, Glacier National Park.

1. Browse the Two Medicine Store.

Are you hungry? Do you need hiking or camping supplies? Are you just looking for a nice cup of coffee? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, drop into the store. In addition to having everything you need and then some, enjoy its history and scenery.

2. Have a picnic.

Get your lunch to go and head out to the lake. Skip stones and listen to the waves as you eat.

We love having a picnic on the shore of a mountain lake, obviously!

3. Take a boat ride.

We didn’t have a chance to enjoy this first hand but we heard good reviews by people at the park. The tours were full so we will make a note to reserve a seat next time.

4. Enjoy a hike.

Hikes are easy to come and offer great rewards. Waterfalls as accessible in as little as .3 miles. Full or half day hikes and multi-day backpacking trip options are available as well.

This hiking trail was just right for us!

5. Stop by the ranger’s station. Get your National Park Passport stamp!

The ranger’s station was great and everyone was kind, of course! The kids were amazed by the size of this print. I was, as well.

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You can check out some of our other posts, as well!

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Florissant Fossil Beds: 5 Reasons To Check It Out!

We had been on the road for more than two months. We were eager to get home and anxious to be on the road when we found ourselves in Colorado with our “check engine” light on. Thankfully, family loaned us a car so we could set off on some day trips! Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument is less an hour drive from Colorado Springs. It was one place that we had yet to explore.

Here are 6 reasons that we are glad we did!

1. Hands-on Activities

The variety and depth of hands-on experiences were more than expected. We joined the kids for one lap around the visitor’s center and nearby yurt before they settled into their activities of choice. From digging for fossils, to sorting rocks, we spent much more time here than planned.

We loved looking at fossils and rocks also.
Fossil sites are fun for digging also!

2. Hiking

I was glad to find more than 10 miles of trails to hike! In addition to meadows, you can find pine forests and boulder fields. The views are much different than those just a short drive east.

Not just fun hiking, the views are great too!

3. Self Guided Walking Tours

The walking tours are easy to follow and full of fun facts also.

Check out the tour, its worth it!

4. A Petrified Redwood Forest at the Fossil Beds

I expected to see fossils but I didn’t expect an ancient lake and forest!

This may be the best old forest of all time. We all agreed, by the way.
This “big stump” didn’t fit in the scene where it was stood but we thought it was cool.
Also, an old forest was there. The kids liked it too, however!

5. Get your stamps here: National Park Passport stamps and Junior Ranger Badges

Why not?!

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Craters Of The Moon National Monument: In One Day
Oregon’s Coast, Manzanita: A Hidden Gem.

Craters Of The Moon National Monument: In One Day

It was dark, the kids were asleep, and we were driving through the same part of Idaho that we had many times before. We hadn’t decided where to camp or how long to drive so we exited the highway, towards Craters of the Moon National Monument.

Our Sprinter van was the reason we made this choice; we didn’t have cell service, there weren’t any hotels, and I had not idea if there was anywhere to sleep once we got there. It turns out that the closest hotels are more than 30 miles from the park and the campground was full.

We parked our van near the visitor’s center and settled in for the night.

The next day we work up and it looked like we were on the Moon. The kids were amazed and excited all at once!

It looks like I imagine the moon!

5 Helpful Tips For 1 Day At Craters of Moon National Monument.

  1. Plan where to stay. The campground is small and may be full. Other lodging options are approximately 30 miles away.
Craters of the Moon

2. Check out the visitor’s center! Not only can you get your National Parks Passport stamp and your Junior Ranger badge but it has displays, movies, and activities for everyone!

3. Bring a headlamp! The lava tubes are a must-see. The caves trail offers easy access. You must get a Caves Permit prior to entering the caves. The permit is free.

caves: lava tubes
caves.

4. Prepare for the elements. Bring a jacket if it is windy and a hat if it is sunny. The trails are exposed and you will be out in the weather.

sun. wind. moon rock. the kids loved it!
walk on the moon on a clear day

5. Bring food and drinks. It takes a bit to get back to town to the East and even longer to the West. There aren’t restaurants or gas stations right there so pack a lunch, grab a picnic table, and enjoy!

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a nice walk on the moon on a clear day. the kids ran part of the way.

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Sleeping Bear Dunes, Michigan: Summer Top 5.

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore sits on the western side of northern lower Michigan. With dunes rising 400 feet above its 65 miles of shoreline, this park does not disappoint! Check out forests, wetlands, streams, inland lakes, historic homesteads, campgrounds, hiking trails, a 1920’s village, and the more recently added Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail bike path.

It is hard to decide where to begin but here are 5 ideas to get you started!

5. Empire Bluff Trail

This trail is short and sweet. This 1.5 mile round trip hike will satisfy hikers and photographers alike.

Start at the Visitor’s Center in Empire and get directions to the trail head which is just a few miles down the road. The trail is unassuming at first but don’t let that fool you. The views from the top some of the most remarkable in the park.

4. Glen Haven

Whether you are looking for a Junior Ranger cancellation or are excited to check out a working blacksmith’s shop, Glen Haven is worth the stop!

There is a general store, boat house, clean restrooms, and beach access with picnic tables.

4. Sleeping Bear Point Lifesaving Station

On your way out of Glen Haven, follow the road until it ends at Sleeping Bear Point. The building from 1901 is now a Maritime Museum.

Learn about the lives of the people that lived at the station and the tools they used for rescues. Look out for an opportunity to participate in the daily lifesaving demonstration and you may even see them fire the Lyle Gun!

You can also access the Sleeping Bear Point Loop Trail from here. This 2.8 mile trail may not be the most picturesque in the park but it is certainly one of the most diverse. Hike up and down rolling dunes as you experience some of the different terrain and ecosystems that Michigan has to offer. Bring water and keep in mind that 2.8 miles over sand dunes takes longer and is more difficult than the same distance on pavement.

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2. Dune Climb

Whether you want to play in the sand, have a picnic, or climb for a view of Glen Lake, the Dune Climb has it all. Some amenities include clean restrooms, potable water, a gift shop with a park passport cancellation, and an ice cream vending machine.

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For those of you that are looking for a challenge, the Dune Climb trail ends at Lake Michigan. Be aware that this hike is rated strenuous and in my experience, it is easy to underestimate its difficulty. There are wooden posts marking the trail so keep an eye on those. bring water, hat, and sunscreen. Prepare to be exposed on wide open sand dunes for 3-4 hours.

While there are much easier ways to get to Lake Michigan, you will likely feel the greatest sense of accomplishment if you arrive there by foot via these dunes. Honestly, I only do it for the exercise so if that is not a huge motivator for you, I recommend skipping this hike, accessing Lake Michigan at Glen Haven, and climbing the dune just high enough for a bird’s eye view of Glen Lake.

1. Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail

This is one of my favorite things that has happened anywhere in the past several years! The Heritage Trail is a mixed use, non motorized trail planned to extend 27 miles from Empire to North of Glen Arbor. There are currently 22 miles completed.

Avoid traffic and parking hassles by utilizing the trail. In 2019, my husband, myself, and three kids under 10 logged 29.1 miles on the trail in 2 days. Bikes were our only means of transportation once we set up camp at DH Day campground.

Here are the top reasons we love the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail.

  • It is more safe for families than riding on the road
  • It is the fastest route from DH Day campground to Glen Haven or the Dune Climb on a busy day.
  • Bike parking in Glen Arbor is less stressful and more available than car parking.
  • Your car can be kept safe from sandy kids.
  • Riding the trail is good exercise and better for the environment than driving a car.
Sleeping Bear Dunes, Michigan

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Waterton Lakes National Park in 1 Day.

Waterton Lakes National Park is off the beaten path. It is out of the way and rustic in the most convenient and comfortable ways. The town has something for everyone!

We spent 1 night and 1 day in the park, shortly after a large fire ravaged the forest and town. Even if unable to enjoy the trails, there is plenty of reason to go and enjoy! Below is a list of what we did and we would gladly do it all again!

10 Things to do in Waterton Lakes National Park.

1. Set up camp at the Townsite Campground

Waterton Lakes Townsite

Townsite Campground is a mountain paradise for weary parents and kids alike. Green grass and huge campsites are only the beginning. Hot showers, dish washing stations, common kitchen shelters, flush toilets, and lake views are among the amenities. A short stroll takes you to restaurants, boat docks, and shops.

2. Get your National Park Passport Cancellation.

A temporary visitor’s center was set up in the post office when we were there. Hiking and mountain biking trails were closed. The locals and park employees love of and concern for the park and town is obvious. We respected the trail closures and didn’t feel like we missed a beat!

3. Walk to town and window shop.

4. Get take out at Wieners of Waterton.

Trust me, you won’t be disappointed! This isn’t your average hot dog restaurant.

5. Picnic by the lake.

Waterton Lakes National Park

6. Check out the bike path.

It winds around the campground, by the lake, through a meadow, and along a river. My 5 year old and 3 year old bike better than they walk so we love a good bike path! Thank you Prevelo kids bikes!

https://ramblingfootsteps.com/2019/11/26/mountain-biking-4-in-a-sprinter-144-brief-kids-bike-review/

Waterton Lakes National Park

7. Ride your bike to Cameron Falls and take the short hike to the top.

8. Check out the view from the Prince of Whales Hotel.

The bike ride is steep on the way up and quick on the way down. The views are amazing!

9. Watch wildlife.

The park rangers seemed to know every bear and they pointed us towards a mother and two young cubs to watch from a distance. The bears didn’t mind, which was good since we were on our bikes.

The signs warn of aggressive deer. Luckily, we didn’t have a problem.

10. Plan your next trip to Waterton Lakes National Park.

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