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During the summer of 2021, our family set out on a 5 week epic, adventure road trip across the United States. You can see our complete itinerary and experience below. If you aren’t ready to commit to this long, you can easily break this up into several smaller family vacation road trip itineraries (such as a 2 week road trip USA Rocky Mountains or Utah National Parks).
You could also extend this into a 2 month road trip across the USA by adding more time at each destination or going further south or west. If you wanted to make this into a 1 month road trip (USA) you could leave off the time in McCall, Idaho, or if you aren’t driving all the way from the East coast you would save a few days of driving.
We also have plenty of ideas on how to plan a successful road trip with kids, tweens and teens and lots of information on different destinations.
- How to Have the Best Road Trip with Teens and Kids (find planning information and kid’s road trip essentials)
- 20 Not Boring Things to do on a Car Trip with Teenagers (find fun things to do in the car with kids and teens)
Quick Look at our 5 Week Family Vacation Road Trip
Here’s a quick look at our itinerary. Note that we’re including 5 weeks of travel here since we needed to drive out and back. This is really a 1-month road trip itinerary.
Week l – Drive from our home in New Hampshire west over several long days. Stop to see friends in Wisconsin. Camp at the Badlands and hike. Drive from here to Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse – camp in Red Lodge Montana. Drive over Beartooth Pass into Yellowstone. Spend 2 days in Yellowstone.
Week 3 – leave McCall and do an overnight at Sawtooth and Alpine Lake in Idaho. Drive down for the night to Antelope Island. Rock climb in Cottonwood Canyon. Continue on to Capitol Reef NP for a night and on to Kodachrome State Park for several nights. Hike slot canyons and visit Bryce NP.
Week 4 – Spend 3 days in Zion NP exploring. Drive to Mesa Verde NP for a day. Drive up to Boulder to visit friends. Hike the Flatirons and explore the Rocky Mountains – overnight backpacking trip into the mountains.
Week 5 – camp at Rocky Mountain NP and do day hikes into the mountains for 3 days. Start driving east. We drove pretty much straight home with a stop at some family in New York
Highlights of this Itinerary
- Seeing 8 National Parks
- 2 Overnight Backpacking Trips
- Having our Bikes to Explore near the campgrounds
- Seeing friends along the way
- The variety of landscapes including canyons, mountains, geysirs and more
Complete Details For Your Own Family Vacation Road Trip
This itinerary includes camping and an emphasis on hiking and other outdoor activities. We also started our trip in NH and drove out west and back, but I’m only including the portion of the road trip that starts in the Badlands and ends in Rocky Mountain National Park. If you’re going to follow this itinerary, you will want to adjust your starting and ending locations – the days listed below allow for some extra time to get to the start of the trip and back home at the end.
Day 1 – Arrive at the Badlands in time for sunset and visit some of the overlooks on your way to your campground at Cedar Pass inside Badlands National Park.
Day 2 – Get an early start to see the Badlands in the morning light. Hike the challenging and fun Notch Trail and then explore the Castle Trail (we did this as a point to point as two-person didn’t want to hike so could pick us up). After your hikes drive through the Badlands Loop Road. Stop at the Fossil exhibit for a short walk and then stop along the way at any of the overlooks that strike your fancy. Leave the Badlands and stop off at Wall Drug then drive to your campground for the night near Mount Rushmore. Camp at Sheridan Lake or Roosevelt Inn Mount Rushmore.
Day 3 – Visit Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse. You need just about an hour at each location. I recommend watching the welcome video and snapping some photos at both these sites. You still have a 7 hour drive, so hit the road and head to Red Lodge. There are lots of places to stay – we camped at Parkside campground, but you can also check out the Red Lodge Inn.
Day 4 – Get an early start (we left by 5:30). Drive over Beartooth Pass. Pack some breakfast and eat on the way up or find a breakfast picnic area once your up there. This is an AMAZING drive so enjoy it! You will descend into Yellowstone National Park just in time to see Bison as you drive into the Lamar Valley. Stop at Mammoth Spring and Norris Geyser Basin on your way to stay at the Old Faithful Inn. You can see old faithful and stay here for the night.
Day 5 – Head out to the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and hike either the North Rim or the South Rim Trail, drive through the Hayden Valley and visit 1-2 geyser basins. Check out the Grand Prismatic Spring or West Thumb, then drive south to the Grand Tetons. There are many excellent places to stay near the Grand Tetons. We camped at Gros Ventre, but you can also check out Wyoming Inn at Jackson Hole.
Day 6 and 7 – Explore Grand Tetons National Park. Choose one of the longer hikes for one of the days. We loved hiking Cascade Canyon. We also recommend renting boats at Jenny Lake or biking along the trail to Jenny Lake. You can eat in Jackson or Moose.
Day 8-13 – Drive to Craters of the Moon and spend a few hours exploring this unique place. We took a break during the next few days to stay with family. You can either skip ahead to the next section from here or choose a place to explore and set up camp for a few days or rent a house. We stayed in McCall, Idaho, and loved the variety of things to do including white water rafting, hiking, climbing, and biking.
Day 14 – Backpack to Sawtooth and Alpine Lake in Idaho. This is an amazing backpack to Sawtooth, but we recommend staying a little closer at Alpine Lake and hiking up to Sawtooth from there. Stay the night by the water and watch the sunrise the next morning.
Day 15 – Backpack to the car and head south to Antelope Island for the night. We stopped for lunch in Ketchum and then headed right to the campground. Get there in time to see the sunset.
Day 16 – Before you leave the campground, go for a drive, hike or bike around Antelope Island and look for the wildlife that lives here including bison. You are heading south from here to Capitol Reef National Park. You can head straight there or we stopped outside Salt Lake City to go rock climbing. If you get to Capitol Reef in time take a short sunset hike – we explored Grand Wash. Camp right in the National Park at Fruita campground.
Day 17 – Enjoy Capitol Reef in the morning and then drive to Kodachrome State Park. Stop on the way at Peek a Book and Spooky Gulch. You can also take a hike at Kodachrome on one of the many trails. We camped here for 2 nights.
Day 18 – Get an early start and head to Bryce Canyon National Park. Hike down into the Amphitheatre – try the Navajo Trail. Spend the whole day here or head back to quieter Kodachrome for the afternoon and evening. Try hiking or biking at Kodachrome.
Day 19 – Hike Willis Creek Slot Canyon and then drive 1.5 hour to Zion National Park. We stayed in two different places during our 3 nights in Zion. We stayed at Springdale Suites by Marriot and loved the pool. We also camped for a night at Zion Ponderosa Ranch Resort and had a blast playing mini-golf and swimming in the pool.
Day 20 and 21 – Explore Zion National Park. We did the Zion Narrows, Emerald Pools, and did some bike riding. Zion is crowded with a shuttle service so getting an early start here is important.
Day 22 – Get ready for a driving day to Mesa Verde. There are several options of places to stop at along the way including Lake Powell, 4 corners and more. The drive is about 6 hours. We stayed at the Morefield campground.
Day 23 – drive and explore Mesa Verde. If you can book a tour and check out one of the houses. Leave here and drive up to Boulder. We spent the next 2 nights with friends.
Day 24 – Get out and explore the Front Range. We hiked the Flatirons.
Day 25 – head up into the mountains and hike and camp for the night. We stayed at Golden Gate State Park
Day 26 – Backpack into Jasper Lake for the night and camp in the woods at the lake. Get there early as the parking lot does fill up and enjoy a night out under the stars.
Day 27 – Backpack out and then head to Rocky Mountain National Park. We spent 3 nights at the Hermit Park Campground and loved it.
Day 28 and 29 – Explore Rocky Mountain National Park. Make sure you get in some good hikes while you’re here. We loved hiking to Nymph and Emerald Lake and also the longer hike to Sky Pond via Glacier Gorge. Even at the end of August it was cold here, so pack well!
Day 30 – that’s a wrap – we headed east from here but you can head on to your own home or your next destination.
What we Loved About This Family Vacation Road Trip
This road trip was amazing and while our kids are well travelled in general they still hadn’t seen much of the country. This trip pushed them out of their comfort zones and gave them a new perspective. Here are some of the things we loved about our trip:
- Since we drove, we saw parts of the country that weren’t on our list but gave us a fresh perspective on the United States
- The National Parks are amazing and we can’t wait to visit more!
- We loved the time together as a family
- We were able to keep the trip relatively inexpensive by camping, cooking and doing free activities
- We enjoyed breaking up the travel with some stops to see friends
- Our kids were highly motivated to adventure since that was the only option!
- We tried to drive during the middle of the day when it was hot and explore early and late when possible
- It was a very active trip with not much downtime which worked well for us, but might not for everyone
Some of the Challenges of This Road Trip with Kids
- Since we were in a mini-van with lots of adventure gear, it was tight and difficult to get to everything we needed
- We loved having the bikes with us, but the rack on the back meant we couldn’t open the back of the car which was challenging (we also got 8 flat tires on our bikes during one bike ride)
- Balancing time together as a family and time to ourselves
We loved this road trip and are inspired to plan another big US road trip. The United States has so many extraordinary places to see and we can’t wait for our next adventure!