Traveling with a Toddler: The Trip Planner

It may feel like a completely unrelated post to our normal “how to” photography, however, I can’t entirely compartmentalize my life. It’s no surprise to most of you that we (my family) and I took a rather epic road trip recently. If you follow us on social media you were recently bombarded, for the last two weeks, with iPhone photos of our adventures. Our travels inspired some interest and requests for our play by play and tips on how to “travel with a toddler”. I am going to compartmentalize the posts from travel plans to traveling with toddler tips. Keep your eyes peeled for the second post within the next week or so!

Day1: St. Louis, MO to Adair, Iowa (6.5 hours of driving) We left home around 8am (St. Louis, MO) and drove to Kansas City for a lunch time snack with my husband’s parents. We finished the day’s drive in Adair, Iowa and stayed with family for the evening to help curb costs. She wined, dined, and housed us for the evening! 🙂

Day2: Adair, Iowa to Badlands South Dakota (7 hours of driving)
On our way through we made a stop at the Corn Palace! It was silly, but a much needed leg stretch after two long days of driving with a two year old in the backseat. We arrived in the Badlands before dark and set up our tent at the Cedar Pass Campground. We were camping in the middle of the Badlands! For $22 a night, it was a steal of a location! Be sure to book in advance online, it was sold out the night we were there!

Day3: Badlands South Dakota to Black Hills South Dakota (more specifically Hill City)
We woke up with the sun, as most people do when camping, and hiked the Badlands. This was a stellar spot for the tiny tot to wiggle out some much pent up energy from the days prior and roll around in some dirt. We drove the scenic route through the Badlands (We have the America the Beautiful Pass, it’s $80 for all the National Parks you can visit in a year. We saved a TON of money by purchasing that pass in advance).
After running around the Badlands most of the morning/afternoon we headed out towards the Black Hills (insert Doris Day song here). We made the obligatory stop at Wall Drug for some ice cream and snacks! We arrived in the Black Hills before sundown to set up our tent and cook some dinner over the fire. We camped at Crooked Creek Campground (roughly $30 a night). It was a beautiful campground and we managed to nestle our tent right in the crooked nook of the crooked creek. A truly stunning way to fall asleep after the s’more coma was listening to the sound of the creek pattering (and the toddler kicking me in the face, but that is for another post).

Day4: Black Hills all day!
On day 4 we piddled around the Black Hills all day! After all that driving we needed a little break. We went to Mount Rushmore (about 10-15 miles from our camp ground), walked around town in Hill City,SD, a quaint and completely sweet town, and took the 1880 train from Hill City to Keystone! The train ride took about 2 hours total round trip, but it was the fun adventure the two year old had been waiting for! She completed the train ride with an old fashioned lollipop that she suckered (pun intended) daddy into getting her for the ride back. We also made a stop at a lovely winery in town called Prarie Berry Winery and picked up a bottle of the Red Ass Rhubarb wine. It was shockingly delicious! With hints of raspberry and the earthiness of rhubarb, it is now a house favorite. Don’t make our mistake, get two bottles, you will be glad you did! (Also, on a side note, the wine tasting was free!)

Day5: Black Hills, Custer State Park, Devils Tower, and Gillette, WY
Day 5 was a very busy day! We left our stunning campsite early in the am and drove to Custer State Park for a stunning drive through the park. Typically, there are herds of buffalo, however, on our trip they must have been hiding out from the heat. Northern Custer State Park resides the Needles and beautiful Stockade Lake. Next time around we plan on swinging a little further south and visiting the Wind Cave and allotting more time to take a boat out on Stockade Lake! After leaving Custer we jet north to Devils Tower. The always dramatic skyline of Devil’s Tower was accented by beautiful storm clouds. We finished today’s long drive with a hotel stay at a Quality Inn in Gillette. While the hotel was nice and the lobby staff was courteous and kind, the management of this hotel left MUCH to be desired, so I would recommend not giving them your money.

Day 6- Gillette, WY to Tetons/Yellowstone
We drove about 6 hours from Gillette to the Fireside Campground just quick hop north of the Grand Tetons National park entrance and South of the South Yellowstone Entrance. It was a convenient location to access each park. However, the campsite itself was tight and none of the amenities (besides the bathroom) were functioning. I’d suggest campers get some bear spray and camp for free in the National Forest! More space, more privacy, and a far better price! We stopped at the lovely Togwotee Hotel on our way in to visit our friend who manages the gas station and gift shop there. They Lodge has a wonderful restaurant, so if you’re looking for a reasonably priced and delicious fresh meal, I’d give it a try!

Day 7- Yellowstone
Today was a marathon sprint through Yellowstone! We managed to hop through the lower loop in one day, but it was a rather trying task. I’d suggest splitting the Yellowstone portion of your trip to to consume at least 4 days to throughly enjoy yourself and hike all the paths you want! However, we did see the Grand Prismatic, Old Faithful, and the Upper and Lower Waterfall hikes. Plan on driving slowly through Yellowstone and waiting in traffic to see any of the larger attractions (or just drive past them).

Day 8- Grand Tetons
We picked up our friend from the Togwotee Lodge and she gave us an insider’s tour of the Grand Tetons complete with lounging by some beautiful creeks nestled in the mountains, hiking around Jenny Lake, and some of the most scenic drives of the trip. The Tetons is a very accessible and leisurely park in comparison to Yellowstone, and can easily be explored in two days if you want to see it all, three if you want to take your time.

Day 9- Fireside Resort to Glacier National Park
We drove about 9 hours + today to get to Glacier National Park. On the drive we saw Swan Lake and Earthquake lake (both are worth spending more than a passing glance that we were able to give). It was a stunning drive getting into Big Sky Country, and we ended the day at the West Glacier Motel where we will spend the next few days as we romp around Glacier National Park. West Glacier is about 1/2 mile from the entrance to the park, and an absolutely quaint and beautiful little tourist town. There is only one restaurant, so if you want something besides what they offer, bring in your snacks or go into the park for a meal at one of the Chalets.

Day 10- Glacier National Park (Lake McDonald)
We camped out at McDonald Lake most of the day today. After a few days of pushing the drive we slept in a bit and had breakfast at the West Glacier Restaurant before going into the park and renting a canoe to take out on the McDonald Lake. After our canoe ride (which was absolutely stunning!) we picked up some cheese and crackers and wine for a light snack by the McDonald Chalet and let our tiny one play in the smooth rocks along the shore of the lake most of the remainder of the day. It was slow pace, but still beautiful afternoon.

Day 11- Glacier National Park (Going to the Sun Rd. to to Many Glacier Chalet) Our second day in Glacier we took a drive on the beautiful Going to the Sun Rd. This road is not for the weak at heart (or people with a mild fear of heights). However, if you can get past the fact that one sneeze can send you cascading to a certain, painful death, it’s one of the most beautiful drives I have ever seen (and this is coming from someone who has been to 49 of the 50 states and walked the streets of Paris, Bangkok, Sydney, and Limerick… it’s gorgeous). After the gut wrenching drive through the mountains, we took a boat on St. Mary Lake out to a lovely waterfall! At our stop, we took a 2.5 mile hike (toddler in tow) to a second waterfall through the weaving paths that were accented with burnt out pine trees and wildflowers. We ended our adventures with a fancy dinner at Many Glacier Chalet. A heads up, the only way back through Glacier National park is over the Going to the Sun Rd. So plan accordingly, unless you are brazen enough to drive that road after dark. 😉 (we did, by accident, but managed to catch the sunset at the top of the mountain… happy accident for sure)

Day 12- Glacier National Park
Today we took the Going to the Sun road again to Logan Pass. At Logan Pass we saw several mountain goats up close! Even in June, there was a significant amount of snow cover! So much snow, in fact, we couldn’t finish the Logan Pass hike to the hidden lake. If you plan on hiking Logan Pass, plan ahead and wear the right shoes! My slick bottom Nike’s failed me, many times, and I saw a short fast death sliding off the mountain side in my future, so I called it quits and fell all the way back down to the visitor center and flat ground. We took our time driving the Going to the Sun today so we could photograph each and every moment (and put the polaroid cube on the roof and capture a video of the drive). We finished off the evening with a trip to Whitefish, MT just a hop skip and jump away from West Glacier. The whole town shuts down at 7pm, so arrive early. We got there right around 7pm and caught the last 5 minutes of a fabulous farmers market!

Day 13- Glacier National Park
We explored a little closer to home today (on the West side of Glacier) to give everyone a car break before the long haul home. We took the Trail of Cedars hike which will spit you out onto the Avalanche Lake hike. Trail of Cedars is a very accessible and beautiful trail, Avalanche Lake proved tricky with a sleeping toddler. 2.3 miles with a 500ft incline increase holding a 30lb sleeping toddler offers up unique challenges. However, it was worth every second. Avalanche Lake is a glacier fed lake surrounded by mountains and with 5 different streams in view coming down the mountain sides emptying into a crystal clear, and barely tolerably cold lake. My feet went numb rather quickly while wading through the turquoise water. It was a stunning and perfect highlight to the last day in Glacier National Park.

Day 14- Glacier National Park – A town east of the Badlands
Specific instructions, I know, but really I lost tract. We drove over 14 hours on this day to put some serious distance behind us. The entire day was spent on the road and we stayed in a roach motel along the highway this evening. lol. A relatively clean roach motel, but still roachy. It was complete with a notice to not clean and gut animals in the bathtub. *jaw drop*

Day 15- Random South Dakota town- Kansas City
We left around 4am from our 70s inspired roach paradise hotel and arrive in Kansas City around 1pm. We spent the afternoon and evening with my husband’s parents, which was a lovely respite from the long drive.

Day 16- Kansas City-St. Louis
We left early in the am from Kansas City and went straight home. We got home, unpacked the jeep and I reloaded the jeep with my face painting supplies and went straight to Fair St. Louis to facepaint.

It was a truly stunning trip, that I could have expanded out two more weeks had time and finances allowed. I’m happy to share more of our experiences with any interested parties! Just shoot me a message here, email, twitter, or Facebook!004 005 008 011

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