Northwest Trip- Indiana Dunes, Mount Rushmore, Grand Tetons, Yellowstone & Glacier

The trip I get asked about the most often is our cross country trip out West. Honestly its a lot to review, as it was a 3.5 week trip but it was also the experience of a lifetime and I would love to help anyone else planning something similar. Please reach out to me if you have any additional questions about this trip and I would be happy to help!

The Overview:

When we first started planning a trip like this in our pop up camper it was daunting. We had never been on a multi day driving trip before. I wasn’t sure how it was going to go. And let me tell you, we learned a lot!

We did stay one night in a hotel and that was the first night. We started our drive after the workday to get a jump start, drove to Holiday Inn express Somerset, PA and spent the night. This was about a 200 mile drive for us. The nice thing about the pop up is there is usually room to park it anywhere, so sometimes we opt for hotels for quick overnight stays.

The next day we drove 481 miles/ about 7 hours to Indiana Dunes State Park. We gained one hour of time due to the time change. We stayed in Indiana Dunes State Park Campground for 2 nights.

Campsite at Indiana Dunes State Park
3 Dune Challenge Near Lake Michigan

To read more about our trip to Indiana Dunes, visit https://campingwiththekennedys.com/2020/10/20/indiana-dunes-state-park-and-campground/

After Indiana Dunes we drove 635 miles/ about 9 hours to Sioux Falls KOA. It was just fine for our needs, but it is located close to the highway and I would not stay there for anything other then a quick overnight stay.

Overnight stay Sioux Falls KOA

The next day we were heading to Fort Welikit Campground near Mount Rushmore and the Black Hills of South Dakota. It was originally a 384 mile, 5.5 hour drive but we added an extra hour by driving through the Badlands. I would highly recommend this stop, its not far off the highway and driving the 30 miles through the Badlands was one of the highlights of the trip. We also stopped at the Super Walmart in Rapid City for groceries. This is important to plan, as you get out West there are less options for major grocery stores. We liked the Super Walmarts because there was plenty of gluten free options for me, and we could also stock up on any other essentials. There was an additional hour time change going to South Dakota. We stayed at Fort Welikit Family Campground for 4 nights.

Badlands National Park
Campsite Fort Welikit
Mount Rushmore

To read more on our trip to Badlands National Park, go here https://campingwiththekennedys.com/2020/10/20/badlands-national-park/

To read more on our trip to Mount Rushmore/Black Hills go here https://campingwiththekennedys.com/2020/10/20/mount-rushmore-and-the-black-hills/

Next we drove to Colter Bay RV park in the Grand Tetons. This was a 472 mile, 7.5 hour drive. We stopped at the Super Walmart in Casper, Wyoming. We stayed there for 3 nights.

Kayaking the Tetons

To read more about our trip to Grand Tetons National Park go here https://campingwiththekennedys.com/2020/10/20/grand-tetons-national-park/

After leaving the Grand Tetons, we headed to Canyon Campground in Yellowstone National Park. This was a quick 76 mile/2 hour drive. We stayed there 5 nights.

Campsite at Canyon Campground- great location in the park, no hookups
Grand Prismatic Springs Yellowstone

To read more about our trip to Yellowstone, go here https://campingwiththekennedys.com/2020/10/20/yellowstone-national-park/

Our last main stop after leaving Yellowstone was Glacier National Park. We stopped in Helena, MT at the Super Walmart on the way. We stayed at St Marys Glacier KOA on the East side of the park for 6 nights.

Campsite at St Marys Glacier KOA- holy views!
Grinell Glacier!

To read more about our trip to Glacier, go here https://campingwiththekennedys.com/2020/10/20/glacier-national-park/

We were originally going to stay at hotels on the way back, but ended up switching to campgrounds because we learned how to set up so fast. Tips for booking quick overnight stays: If possible definitely book a pull thru!

Our first stop was Bismark KOA Journey, this was about $50/night and we had a pull thru. This was almost 11 hours/705 miles. The owners were amazing, we had stopped at McDonalds for dinner and they forgot our fries, the owner heard us talk about it and went to get them for us himself! You will lose an hour!

Bismark KOA site

Our next stop was Chicago Northwest KOA Holiday. This was 11.5 hours/782 miles This was about $50/night, we had a pull thru site with a swing. We only stayed the night but the campground looked really nice! On the way we stopped at Theodore Roosevelt National Park. This is basically a quick exit off the highway, with a beautiful view and a bonus stamp for the kids!

Theodore Roosevelt National Park- quick stop off highway!
Chicago Northwest KOA- site with swing

Then it was homeward bound! This was 11.5 hours/784 miles. You will lose an hour!

Tips and Tricks:

-Make sure you print printable maps with directions, DO NOT rely on your phone service

-My biggest tip when going West is DO NOT adjust your body to the time change. We had a total of 2 hours worth of time change on the way out but decided to stay on East Coast time. This was a lifesaver because the parking lots at most of the hot spots fill up early so you will need to get up early. We were getting up between 6-7, but going to bed between 7-8. GET UP EARLY. I really can’t stress this enough. Unless you want to search for a parking spot all day you need to start early! Take a nap later

-Switch up the driving- those long days worth of driving are too much for one person in my opinion. Rob usually started the day driving, I would do the middle part, and he would finish the day.

-The pop up got great gas mileage, so we were able to go 3.5 hours without stopping. The times I listed above DO NOT include stops. When we did stop for gas, everyone also got out to use the restroom. We packed up lunchboxes with snacks, lunch, and drinks the day before so we did not need to stop for food until dinner time.

-Speaking of gas, don’t let your car go low on gas unless you know a gas station is nearby! We went over a hundred miles at times with no gas station in sight. Make sure you also budget for A LOT of gas. Our trip mileage was 5750 miles!

-For one night stays we would pack an overnight bag the day before so we didnt have to move our actual suitcases. We would usually leave pajamas right on our sleeping bags on our beds. We would take out as little as possible, set out breakfast, clothes for the next day, and pack lunches so we could roll out and go.

-Don’t overpack. We packed too much, and it was hard to go through everything in our suitcases. If I had to do it again I would only pack comfortable clothes, and a weeks worth at most. All the places we stayed had laundry facilities and it was easy to get a few loads through while making dinner or relaxing in the afternoon. We ended up doing laundry every 3-4 days. Bring quarters!

-We picked up postcard stamps before we left, this made it super easy to do postcards! We gathered addresses before we left and took them with us. This was one of the highlights of our kids trip!

-If you have kids I would highly recommend a passport to the National parks book. https://www.amazon.com/Passport-National-Parks%C2%AE-Junior-Ranger/dp/1590911989/ref=sr_1_13?dchild=1&keywords=junior+ranger+book&qid=1603138783&sr=8-13 They also sell them at a lot of the gift shops at the park. The kids loved collecting stamps and stickers from the different National Parks.

-Make sure you pack for all weather! In Yellowstone in particular it could be 80 during the day, and 30 at night. We often started the day in hats and gloves and switched to shorts. A good rainjacket is helpful, as well as sturdy hiking shoes.

-If you are going to more then one National Park, the America the Beautiful Pass is a great value. Make sure you add up the costs of the park to see if it is beneficial to you. There is also a great program for 4th graders called Every Kid Outdoors where the 4th grader and anyone else in the car can get in for free! https://www.nationalparks.org/our-work/campaigns-initiatives/every-kid-outdoors to register

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