A Frugal Traveler

National Park Road Trip 2020 (Destinations)

Notes and photos from our Fall 2020 road trip

Our Google Maps Timeline

Overview of all the National Park Sites we visited this trip:

  1. Minidoka NHS
  2. Craters of the Moon NM & Preserve
  3. Grand Teton NP
  4. John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway
  5. Yellowstone NP
  6. Little Bighorn Battlefield NM *
  7. Devils Tower NM
  8. Mount Rushmore National Memorial
  9. Wind Cave NP
  10. Minuteman Missile NHS
  11. Badlands NP
  12. Agate Fossill Beds NM
  13. Scotts Bluff NM
  14. Fort Laramie NHS FM: Very fun Junior Ranger booklet that takes you on a scavenger hunt around the entire fort.
  15. Rocky Mountain NP FM: Conveniently close to Estes Park with lots of amenities.
  16. Florissant Fossil Beds NM
  17. Great Sand Dunes NP & Preserve NM: Super windy, will prepare next time with protective goggles or sunglasses to help protect our eyes. Hiking back up after sliding down takes a lot of energy.
  18. Pecos NHP FM: A short trail takes you through the exisiting structures of Pecos. Very informative exhibit on the importance of Pecos back in the day, and how the Spanish settled in this area.
  19. Manhattan Project NHP *
  20. Bandelier NM
  21. Valles Caldera N PRES *
  22. Chaco Culture NHP *
  23. Aztec Ruins NM FM: A World Heritage Site. The Great Kiva with sunlight streaming in through a small window made for a great photo. Fascinating to explore the ruins, ducking in through doorways and wandering through history.
  24. Mesa Verde NP
  25. Yucca House *
  26. Colorado NM
  27. Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP FM: Dramatic views of the canyon, rivals the more popular Grand Canyon.
  28. Arches NP
  29. Canyonlands NP
  30. Natural Bridges NM FM: Initially was skeptical since this place was 2 hours away from where we were staying but was pleasantly surprised
  31. Capitol  NP FM: Interesting Petroglyghs and Mormon history (with a large orchard and pie shop)
  32. Glen Canyon NRA *
  33. Bryce Canyon NP
  34. Cedar Breaks NM
  35. Pipe Spring NM
  36. Lake Mead NRA
  37. Tule Springs Fossil Beds NM
  38. Death Valley NP

We set for Reno, NV at night after Frugal Mother’s (FM) workday was over (~9PM). We drove to Reno so that we would have less driving to do the next morning when we needed to get closer to our first stop (Minidoka NHS). We stayed at the Legacy Vacation “Resort” in Reno, which was definitely not what most people would associate with a “resort” but was a comfortable stay for the night. As would be our pattern FM went for at least two queens and a pull out couch. Our ideal room setup would be two or more King beds, so that nobody needs to suffer on a foldout couch bed, but multiple King beds are usually less common and quite a bit more expensive.

Day 1, Oct. 12, 2020

Shoshone Falls: Passing through Idaho otw to Yellowstone, Shoshone Falls was a beautiful stop.  The size of the falls vary on the season, and when the dam is in use.  It is a popular spot to watch base jumping since no permit is needed.  We saw a few jumpers while we were there.  Very nice visitor center where the bridge is, a short drive from the actual falls.  

Day 2, Oct. 13, 2020

Minidoka, NHS

Entrance To Minidoka (Watchtower)
Map of the area

A bit hard to find as the signage is not very clear but definitely worth a return visit when the visitor center opens again.

Craters of the Moon NM & Preserve

FM: “Unearthly black rocks and landscape, would be interested in returning to camp here. Super windy.”

Day 3, Oct. 14, 2020

Grand Teton National Park & John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway

FM: “Nice flat bike lanes, would return to bicycle through the park.”

Day 4, Oct. 15, 2020

Yellowstone, America’s first national park and the star jewel of this trip. This is a very popular national park, and it was great to see it off season when there was less crowds. Seating at Old Faithful was readily available and the gysers, while busy, were not too crazily overcrowded. Parking was never an issue in any of the parking lots. I can only imagine how busy it might be during peak season. Unfortunately, this also meant that many restaurants outside the park were already closed for the season. FM had a craving for Chinese food and only one place was open, even though there are usuall 4 or five in West Yellowstone.

FM: “Interesting hot springs and geysers with brilliant colors.”

Day 5, Oct. 16, 2020

Day 6, Oct. 17, 2020

FM: “A sacred place for many Native Americans who all have a different legend of how this giant landscape was created. Breathtakingly beautiful in the snow!”

We arrived at wind cave just before they closed, but the ranger was really nice and talked to us for a while before they closed up. FM: “Great place for wildlife viewing.”

  1. FM: Sadly poor visibility during the storm and the visitor center is hidden in a basement area. Once we found it though, very interesting exhibits about our founding fathers.

Day 7, Oct. 18, 2020

Day 8, Oct. 19, 2020

Scotts Bluff NM. FM: “Interesting part of American history, a fun short drive through the mountain reminding us of the Radiator Springs Car Ride at Disney California Adventure Park.”

  1. Agate Fossill Beds NM
  2. Scotts Bluff NM
  3. Fort Laramie NHS

Day 9, Oct. 20, 2020

Rocky Mountain NP

A Frugal Mother: “Rocky Mountain NP is conveniently close to Estes Park with lots of amenities.”

Day 10, Oct. 21, 2020

Florissant Fossil Beds NM

Day 11, Oct. 22, 2020

Great Sand Dunes NP & Preserve NM: Super windy, will prepare next time with protective goggles or sunglasses to help protect our eyes. Hiking back up after sliding down takes a lot of energy.

Day 12, Oct. 23, 2020

Bandelier National Monument

Though the cliff dwellings are not as large as Mesa Verde, the cool part is they easily accessible to the public without taking a tour.  Te kids enjoyed scrambling up the ladder and exploring the cave like rooms and peeking their heads out the windows.  An enjoyable loop w/ several cliff dwellings available for viewing.

Day 13, Oct. 24, 2020

This night we splurged and stayed at a Holiday Inn Express with a “Fort Holiday” that had two bunk beds and a video game system in a walled off section of the room! We blew past our usual $80 hotel stay to pay $120, but as always there was also a pool and a hot breakfast.

Day 14, Oct. 25, 2020

Woke up in Colorado National Monument (camped here overnight). Luckily there were plenty of spaces available, although the most coveted spaces are the sites that have an overlook of the city. Those sites are also closer to the cliff though, so we were not disappointed to miss out on that.

FM: “Worthy of National Park status in my opinion. Dramatic scenery and yet so close to Grand Junction. Enjoyed the very educational Alcove Nature Trail (grab a laminated map from the visitor center for more info on each numbered sign.) It’s only approximately a 1 mile round trip but make sure you go all the way to the end where this is a surprise slot canyon.”

On the way back from Black Canyon of the Gunnison we got hit with a large snowstorm and had to lose out on the cost of the hotel we had reserved for the night. Luckily we were passing by Colorodo Springs and there was availability for the night (initially at least).

Day 15, Oct. 26, 2020

Natural Bridges National Monument

“Natural Bridges:  Quite out of the way from any other areas of interest or towns but worth the spot.  Much less crowded than Arches and has 4 very impressive wide spanning arches.  If you don’t want to do the hike out to the arches, you can drive the small one-way loop and view for the arches from the parking lot.  The hikes consist of some wooden ladders and climbing over rocks, prob not that well suited for toddlers.  The nice thing about being remote is no crowds!” -FM  

Natural Bridges is a bit out of the way and not really near other attractions so it is not a popular area. Luckily this meant there were hardly any visitors, and we only saw a handful of the same people while were doing the trails here. At first FM was doubtful that going out of the way to this monument would be worth it, but it ended up having some of our favorite hikes and views of the trip.

Day 16, Oct. 27, 2020

Day 17, Oct. 28, 2020

Exploring Canyonlands National Park

FM: “Very large park, we stayed in Monticello so ended up closer to the Needles entrance. Don’t miss Newspaper rock for some interesting petroglyphs. The Cave Spring hike was short and fun for the kids since they saw how the cowboys lived, petrglyphs and an actual weeping spring inside the cave.”

Day 18, Oct. 29, 2020

Capitol Reef was one of the more underwhelming park visits of the trip. Largely because everyone working there seemed to be so miserable and unfriendly.
One of the more interesting finds on our food adventures was this Curry Pizza stop in a rural town just outside of Bryce Canyon.

Day 19, Oct. 30, 2020

Some deer in the parking lot of our campsite at Bryce Canyon.
There was a nice sunset at the overlook at Bryce.
Bryce Canyon sunset view was surprisingly empty.

Day 20, Oct. 31, 2020

FM: “Fascinating history of the how and why the Mormons built a fort at this location but sad to learn about the conflict with the Native Americans and how their land was taken from them. A very educational area complete with animals. The springs still run from inside the building to outside.”

Pipe Spring National Monument setup a nice outdoor viewing area.
Pipe spring has an interesting history with its class between native peoples, early mormon settlers and the U.S. government.
A lot of the parks have filtered water stations where we would top off our van drinking water supply. It was interesting to see the different counts. The more busy National Parks had a large number of bottles saved compared to this relatively new station at Pipe Spring Monument.

Day 21, Nov. 1, 2020

Lake Mead NRA

FM: “Very large varied areas of recreation from the lake, to hiking the canyons.”

Udon noodles is a fun quick camping traditions of ours. When possible, we like to add tofu and veggies/green onion.

Day 22, Nov. 2, 2020

Death Valley National Park

FM: “Varied landscape from colorful mountains to endless sand dunes. Interesting to learn about the unique animals and how they have adapted to life in the desert.”

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