National Parks: Exploring America as a Family – Part I

Indiana Dunes Natl  Seashore - 1st stop on our trip

Indiana Dunes Natl Seashore – 1st stop on our trip

I’m sharing our family’s adventures as we travel across America to visit some of our Nation’s National Parks!   Some of these sites we have visited as children and now to experience them as a family is beyond exciting! I hope you enjoy as we journey in our car for 2 weeks without TV, limited WiFi and zero cell reception and I hope we all survive!

Day 1: 

Travel day was uneventful – which is EXACTLY how you want your car trips to be!  Spent the night in Toledo, Ohio.

Day 2:

On the shores of Lake Michigan

On the shores of Lake Michigan

Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore:  After examining our car Atlas, I found that we were passing, literally right off I-90, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.  It’s a life goal of mine to visit all our National Parks so we HAD to stop to take a quick look around and do the mandatory photo in front of the park sign and passport stamp!  We also managed to stick our tootsies into Lake Michigan and hike up a dune back to our car.  Next time I want to factor time in to take a cool refreshing swim.

Drove the remainder of the day and spent the night in Mitchell, South Dakota.

Day 3:

World's Famous Corn Palace

World’s Famous Corn Palace

Corn Palace – Mitchell, South Dakota:  The Corn Palace gets redecorated every year.  Unfortunately, their annual face-lift was in process right when we were visiting.  However, we did manage to see the sketches for the 2014 theme.

Hiking Notch Trail in the Badlands

Hiking Notch Trail in the Badlands

Badlands National Park – South Dakota:  All of a sudden you go from the prairies to eroded cliffs of the Badlands.  Winding roads take you around the Badlands with scenic overlooks and nature walks bringing you into the park.

A herd of mountain goats, Notch Trail

A herd of mountain goats, Notch Trail

Hiked Notch Trail:  The best way to see a national park is to get off the main road and hike into the park.  We took Notch Trail’s 1.5 mile moderate/strenuous hike into the Badlands.  I personally wouldn’t call it strenuous.  The most strenuous part was the ladder climb and that was it.  The trail end view was amazing and worth the hike, but the highlight was seeing a herd of mountain goat.

Historic photos, Wall Drug

Historic photos, Wall Drug

Wall Drug, Wall, South Dakota:  We had to stop.  Here at Wall Drug you can get anything – AND I MEAN ANYTHING – you need on your trip!  Kitchy and a self-proclaimed tourist trap, you need to experience Wall Drug.  My favorite part was looking at the historic photos and enjoying a cone of smores ice cream.

Blue Belle Cabins, Custer State Park

Blue Belle Cabins, Custer State Park

Custer State Park, Black Hills, South Dakota:  We spent 2 nights in Blue Bell Campground’s cabins.  $50 a night – a bargain really – will get you a cabin with electricity, AC and heat.  The cabins have a deck, grill, and bunk beds with mattresses.  You are barely able to call it camping, but so perfect for our trip!  The shower house was a few steps away and had 4 bathrooms equipped with a shower, toilet and sink.

Day 4:

Exploring Wind Cave National Monument

Exploring Wind Cave National Monument

Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota:  We took the 80 minute tour into the dry cave.  The highlight of the Wind Cave is the box work formations – the most in the world.  I especially love when they turn out the lights!!!

Needles Highway, Black Hills

Needles Highway, Black Hills

Drive on the Needles Highway, Custer State Park:  Note – there is a vehicle height limit and RV’s are prohibited due to the tunnels.  Worth the drive to see the Needles and surrounding views.

Custer State Park

Sylvan Lake, Custer State Park

Sylvan Lake, Custer State Park:  We had a picnic lunch at Sylvan Lake.  This is also where they filmed some scenes from National Treasure 2.  It’s very pretty and I was kicking myself for not having packed the kids swimsuits.  The park offers kayak, canoe and paddle boat rentals.

Sunday Gulch Trail

Sunday Gulch Trail

Sunday Gulch Trail, Custer State Park:  After lunch we took the 3 mile moderate/strenuous Sunday Gulch Trail.  We started the trail counter-clockwise.  The way down was FUN, FUN, FUN!!!  Railings helped to keep us upright as we hiked down the gulch to the forest.  We got an up close viewing of the destruction of the 2000 fires.  Making the turn and hiking back up to the lake was a moderate hike with a total elevation of 700 feet.

Mount Rushmore

Mount Rushmore

Mount Rushmore National Historic Site:  What can you really say about Mount Rushmore?  It looks EXACTLY like it does in the photos, however, man when did they build the 3-level garage and why am I paying $11 to park when I can see it RIGHT THERE?!!!!

Summer White House

Summer White House

State Game House, Custer State Park:  We took a 5-minute stop to check out Coolidge’s Summer White House.  It was a beautiful inn with a bar casual and fancy restaurants.  Perfect for those without children, so we quickly hightailed ours out of the Inn.

Wildlife Loop Road, Custer State Park

Wildlife Loop Road, Custer State Park

Wildlife Loop Road:  My daughter and I overruled my husband and son who didn’t want to finish the remaining loop of Wildlife Loop Road.  It was getting late and we were tired and hungry.  However, we hadn’t gotten our fill of buffalo.  We had seen deer, prairie dog, prawn-horn antelope and about 4 buffalo.  I knew the herd was out there somewhere and I was determined to look.  Good thing we forced them to go because we found the herd – at least a couple hundred.  You must do the loop.  Your children must see the buffalo, you’ll be glad you did.

More to share shortly!  I hope you enjoy our journey.  Have you ever visited these parks?  What were your favorite memories?

One Comment on “National Parks: Exploring America as a Family – Part I

  1. Never visited any of those parks, would love too. Spent a lot of time in Yellowstone and Grand Tetons growing up since they’re pretty close. Same with Zion and Canyonlands. Moab, UT is great for hiking.


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