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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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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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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A Glimpse of Southern Utah
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A Glimpse of Southern Utah

It is spring in Utah when the rivers are running high, the sun is shining, and the roads are full of Colorado license plates. There is no better way to celebrate the end of ski resort employment than to leave the high country in favor of the red rocks of Utah.

I started this tradition prior to meeting CD and we continued it together every May until we moved from Colorado. Utah has so much to offer that I don’t even know where to begin. While the order is irrelevant, I will start southwest, go roughly northeast but stay south of I-70 and then end southeast near the four corners.

Zion National Park

Zion National Park is my favorite, hands down. We have been there over and over. We have hiked end to end, climbed its peaks, and waded through its slot canyons. Its red rock is made more brilliant by the Virgin river and green trees. The proximity to the town of Springdale with its cold drinks and hot breakfast doesn’t hurt either.

The Desert Pearl, in Springdale. If you are looking for a break from camping, this place is unlikely to disappoint.

Angel’s Landing is its most well known hike. It starts with switchbacks called Walter’s Wiggles. It is well known that I love switch backs for the exercise alone. There is no better way to start the day.

It isn’t until after the switchbacks that this hike really separates itself from the rest. Angel’s landing is no joke in terms of exposure and drop offs.

The trail narrows to one way. There is a chain link railing. You are exposed to the depths of the valley floor, more so in some places than in others.

My first time up Angel’s Landing was with my brother. Making it to the top was a rush. Making it back down alive was even better. The next time was with CD. The rush was not as great but the feeling of relief after was even greater. The third time was with CD again. The steps felt more narrow and the valley floor seemed a bit further than before. With that, I decided that three times up Angel’s Landing is likely enough for me.

We looked for other routes with bigger and better views. Observation Point hit the mark. It is a more physically challenging and longer hike. It climbs 2100 feet and rises 700 feet above Angel’s Landing.

Zion, Utah
Angel’s Landing

Zion, Backcountry

Back country sites are accessible from the main entrance. Below is the view from our camp site along the West Rim Trail. It is worth noting that we started the hike with a crowd headed to Angel’s Landing. As soon as we turned away from that route, we were on our own. It was super windy and we were surrounded by dead trees. We woke up in the morning to distance runners coming down the rim trail.

Zion, Kolob Canyon

Kolob Canyon is Zion’s less known North entrance. It offers day hikes and backpacking trips with few other people around. Our back country site was in an old river bottom. Much of the hiking was in loose sand. Snakes loved it.

If you have seen the wide open spaces of Zion and are ready for a change, the Narrows may be your next stop. Do your research. Be informed. Watch the weather. These slot canyons are beautiful and it is good to pay attention if you plan to do much exploring. CD met a friend there for his fortieth birthday and they didn’t end up finishing their chosen route because of flash floods.

The Narrows: Zion
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Bryce Canyon National Park

From Zion, you can get to Bryce Canyon in a short day. It is higher and cooler. This is great in the hot months and not as great in the early spring. It is smaller and more compact. The Hoo-doos are unique and impressive. I tend to pass through Bryce westbound to Zion or eastbound to Capital Reef but CD is a fan of the views at sunrise. He also has told me good things about a coin operated shower at the general store.

Apparently, he has a great memory of enjoying a post-hike beer from the general store while sitting on the lodge porch at sunset after a hot shower.

Bryce Canyon

Capital Reef National Park

I rarely hear people talk about Capital Reef but we have found it to offer great hiking, impressive rock formations, and amazing views. I don’t recommend hiking there if you are hoping to meet people and chit chat over hand fulls of trail mix. The trails are largely empty.

Capital Reef

San Rafeal Swell, Utah

At this point it is worth mentioning the San Rafeal Swell. It offers slot canyons with campsites tucked away on BLM land. My advice: Go there, if you have time. Bring your own shade. Do what I did and go with someone that has been there before – hopefully someone proficient at navigating slot canyons. Goblin Valley State Park is near by and may be a better choice if it is your first time in the area.

The price was right but shade was sparse.
This was our route to enter the slot canyon.

Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands is easier to access from Moab than from the Southwest. The views are endless. The hiking is interesting and fun. Regions of the park have names like Needles, Island to Sky, and The Maze. Mountain biking the White Rim Road loop is popular and it is on my to-do list for sure. We have not camped in the back country but we have camped just outside the park and there are beautiful starry skies.

Canyonlands

Arches National Park

Arches is a straight shot from I-70 and is complimented by it’s close relationship with Moab. The Colorado River provides contrast to the red rock backdrop. The La Salle mountains rise up with snowy peaks and provide further contrast and depth to the scenery.

Moab is like the old west meeting a trendy art gallery. The restaurants and shops are full of personality and there are tour companies to suite everyone’s needs. You can sign up for 4 x 4 tours, mountain biking, hiking, river rafting, paddle boarding, horse back riding, and pretty much anything else you can imagine.

While I cannot speak to the tour companies, I can attest to the hiking and camping. Hikes range from easy to more difficult. Arches is typically one of the more crowded Utah parks but for good reasons. Campsites are dotted along the river banks and range from rustic and isolated to developed and popular. I recommend them all!

Double Arch

Castleton, Utah

Just a bit East and on BLM land, you will find Castleton.

Castleton Tower from above the parking lot

Pretty much everyone was there to climb. CD climbed with friends while I hiked and then read a book at the campsite. It was great. Everyone was happy.

Hiking up to start the climb. It looked taller in person.
This is where I turned around and CD went up
Our tent – in the shade!

If you don’t climb, it is still beautiful to see but you will likely enjoy camping somewhere else more than camping here. This was packed with climbers and surrounded by wide open desert.

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Mesa Verde National Park, Utah

Dropping down to the four corners, you can hop into Mesa Verde. While the cliff dwellings are interesting and worth seeing, you may find a bit of crowd. My favorite feature is its proximity to Durango. Check out the Silverton Narrow Gauge railway and head North to Ouray or East towards Pagosa Springs on your way out of town.

These petroglyphs are at Mesa Verde, Utah. You can see similar markings along I-70 just West of 191.

I could keep going on and on about Utah but will stop myself here for now. Utah is dense with natural wonders. I recommend going there and seeing it first hand.

Red rock dust from ten years ago still stains my hiking boots. Seeing it makes me smile.

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