As we began to prepare for our second cross-country road trip in 9 months, I had to prepare mentally more than anything else. Although I was really excited to embark on another adventure across the great United States of America, the thought of the end of our last road trip crossed my mind a few times. If you remember, our road trip in 2015 ended with a mad dash from South Dakota to Washington, D.C. We front-loaded the trip with so many awesome adventures and short days of driving that the back end was the mad dash of all dashes. We were exhausted. The kids were exhausted. And, the days of driving were too long. So, we ended the trip a little overwhelmed.
So, when we looked at where we wanted to go for this road trip, I initially thought I wanted to plan a tour of the Northeast. I have never visited much of New England and was disappointed that we didn’t see much of it while we were living in DC. I wanted to see New York, Boston, Plymouth Rock, Cape Cod, Vermont, Maine, Niagara Falls, etc. But, that was all short driving and lots of sightseeing. We also had to end up in Las Vegas somehow. I quickly found our trip falling into the same pattern of 2015 – lots of awesome adventures on the front end and then a mad dash from Chicago to Las Vegas. Yikes.
We began to rework the itinerary, and suddenly I fell in love with a whole new set of stops! And, even better, reasonable drives were included! This itinerary made much more sense for this trip, so we will plan a New England trip for another year. Here is the ultimate, and sensible, 14 stops on the family road trip of 2016.
Starting Point: Washington, D.C.
While technically not a stop on our road trip, this is where all the fun began! We lived here for 8 months and packed in as much as possible during that time. It’s an absolutely fantastic family-friendly city and if you’re lucky enough to live in the area, there’s never a shortage of things to do. If you haven’t been, start planning a trip now.
Stop #1: Charlottesville, VA
Charlottesville is famous for the beautiful campus of the University of Virginia. But, it’s location right along the foothills of the Blue Ridge Parkway and not too far from Shenandoah National Park, this area is absolutely picturesque Virginia countryside. We toured Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s Home, and hiked part of the White Oak Canyon trail and to the beautiful overlook up Stony Man trail in Shenandoah National Park.
Stop #2: Peaks of Otter, Blue Ridge Parkway & Natural Bridge, VA
The Blue Ridge Parkway is a stunning drive through the Appalachian Mountains, and the Peaks of Otter Lodge is a beautiful stop along the way. While staying here, we hiked to the top of Sharp Top, around Abbott Lake, and enjoyed several meals with incredible views in the dining room. We also used the Peaks of Otter Lodge as our home base for seeing the Virginia Safari Park, the Natural Bridge of Virginia, and Natural Bridge Caverns.
Stop #3: Asheville, NC
Further down the Blue Ridge Parkway, but just as stunning, Asheville is a cute and funky mountain town. There’s nothing funky about the fancy Biltmore Estate, but touring the home and the grounds are a must do in the area. We also visited the shops and parks of downtown Asheville.
Stop #4: Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Gatlinburg, TN
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited National Park in the United States. We stayed in Gatlinburg and planned our visit to the park at the Sugarlands Visitor Center right outside the city. We hiked Laurel Falls, to the top of Clingman’s Dome – the highest point in the Smoky Mountains, and Grotto Falls along the Roaring Fork Nature Trail. As we drove the Cade’s Cove Loop, we stopped at the historical park there to learn about the early settlers of the area.
Stop #5: Nashville, TN
Music City offered us a little music and a little history. We toured the Grand Ole Opry House and the Gaylord Opryland Resort Gardens. We also toured the Hermitage – President Andrew Jackson’s Home and Gardens. After we enjoyed a delicious ice cream treat at Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream shop, we walked around “The District” in downtown Nashville by the Ryman Auditorium and along the Cumberland River.
Stop #6: Hot Springs, AR
While Hot Springs National Park is the smallest National Park in the United States, there was still plenty to explore! We went to the top of the Mountain Tower where we could see the entire National Park, town of Hot Springs, and surrounding area! We walked along Bathhouse row and visited the Fordyce Bathhouse that is now the National Park Visitor Center. My husband visited the Buckstaff Bathhouse where you can experience the “traditional bath” at the only continuous running bathhouse left. We also visited Anthony’s Chapel in the Garvan Woodland Gardens – a unique chapel with incredible architecture.
Stop #7: Oklahoma City, OK
The Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum is a memorial on the site of the 1995 Oklahoma City Bombing. The museum and the surrounding memorial were both informative and moving. We were all very impressed with the entire experience. The surrounding downtown Oklahoma City area is also interesting to explore. We only had a short time in Oklahoma City, but enjoyed a fantastic sunset across the Midwest plains.
Stop #8: Albuquerque, NM via Cadillac Ranch near Amarillo, TX
On our drive to Albuquerque, we stopped at a unique roadside attraction just outside Amarillo, Texas – Cadillac Ranch. Cadillac Ranch is a series of old Cadillacs sticking out of the ground in the middle of a cornfield off of I-40. It was created in the 1970’s as an expression of art, and we left our mark behind in the form of spray paint on the Cadillac furthest to the east. Because we knew we would be back to Albuquerque, we did not spend much time exploring here, but plan to next month on another road trip.
Stop #9: Mesa Verde National Park, CO
We spent 2 days exploring Mesa Verde National Park. The first day we explored the Chapin Mesa – visiting the museum and exploring the pit house, pueblo and cliff dwelling remains of the Mesa Top Loop. We enjoyed lunch with a view of Spruce Tree House dwelling. We also took tours of Balcony House and Cliff Palace – two of the most impressive cliff dwellings in the park. Our tours included climbing a 32-foot wooden ladder on the side of the cliff face and crawling through a 2-foot-wide tunnel to get to the other side.
On our second day, we visited the visitor center at the base of the mesa and then explored the Weatherhill mesa. We took a ranger guided tour to Long House cliff dwelling and then did a self-guided tour of Step House cliff dwelling. On our way down the mesa, we visited Park Point- the highest point in the park with views of 4 states on a clear day!
Stop #10: Monument Valley, UT via Four Corners
During our spectacular drive to Monument Valley, we stopped at Four Corners where our family stood in 4 different states at one time – Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona! At Monument Valley we drove the 17-mile dirt road through the Monument Valley Tribal Park and visited the Visitor’s Center. We also hiked to a natural arch near our campground and enjoyed the beautiful night sky!
Stop #11: Page, AZ
Outside Page we hiked to the Horseshoe Bend Overlook – an area in Glen Canyon where the Colorado River makes a 270 degree turn. We also toured the Glen Canyon Dam where we enjoyed views of Lake Powell and then we toured Lower Antelope Slot Canyon.
Stop #12: Zion National Park, UT
Zion National Park is one of our favorite national parks! We have visited many times, but this time we hiked the Lower and Upper Emerald Pool Trails and the Riverside Trail to the start of the Narrows. We also enjoyed a delicious dinner on the balcony of the Zion Lodge and a gorgeous evening on the lawn in front of the Lodge where deer families came to eat their evening meal on the grass.
Ending Point: Las Vegas, NV
End of the road (for now)! We love Las Vegas and how family friendly the city is!
Another incredible road trip for our little family of four! We saw so many amazing things and I think we had just the right mix of museums to nature and the great outdoors. The lessons we learned on our trip in 2015 led to the success of this second trip. The days of driving were much more evenly spaced, thus were never overwhelming. The longest driving day was from Oklahoma City to Albuquerque (8 hours). The rest of the driving days were only between 2-5 hours. This allowed us to also do some sightseeing on driving days to break up the day.
The other big change for this road trip was that we stayed at all locations for at least 2 nights. This allowed us to explore each area at a much more leisurely pace and not have to break down and pack up the camper each morning. Overall, this road trip was magnificent! I recommend each location that we visited and hope to visit each again!