We had such an amazing time on our family trip! From Georgia to Montana and back with more than a few stops along the way. Now that I’m home I’m already itching to plan the next drive! Maybe next time I can talk Chris into braving hours and hours alone in the car with me and the kids!
Part One of this two part series covers our drive out to Yellowstone. We started on a Friday after lunch and arrived in Yellowstone a week and a day later.
Where Did We Go
Our entire trip had us in 16 states.
Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas, Missouri, Kansas, Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Illinois, and Kentucky.
When my sister threw out the idea of driving it was mostly to go see Mount Rushmore “along the way”. It grew from there to include North Dakota, because why not drive 5 more hours north if we are probably not going to be back up there again, right? Who wouldn’t do that?? We really made the best of hitting different locations as we meandered north.
Below are some of the highlights from our drive out.
I’m starting here since our first “real” stop was in Hot Springs. We stopped for Hot Springs National Park which is the oldest park managed by the National Park Service.
We decided to visit Hot Springs in lieu of heading north via St. Louis because the Arch was/is still closed for visitors and we knew we would need a place to stretch our legs.
We walked around the town and dipped our hands in a few of the spring areas along the paths. I would love to go back to this area in the future and spend more time here!
We spent 4 nights in South Dakota, 1 in Sioux Falls just passing through and 3 in Custer where we based the majority of our South Dakota adventures from. If you’ve never been to Custer add it to your list and go. It was the best area, there were so many cool places to see but it was quiet. That area might have been the best portion of the trip.
Badlands National Park
On our way to Custer we rode through Badlands National Park. We did a little “hiking” aka walking around in flip flops with a baby on my back. We mostly drove through pulling off here and there for a photo. That’s kind of how we travel, we call it “drive by tourism”.
Seriously, skip it.
My sister says I was so very not impressed because the kids were being special and we waited for this light show we read about only to have the park ranger come out and tell the crowd 5 minutes before it was supposed to start that it has been under construction for YEARS!!
Yes, I knew it was going to be small. Yes, it was cheap to visit. $10 for parking, free to see. Yes, I still bought a t-shirt and got my pressed penny. But…no, I wouldn’t go back. I would however tell anyone who is in in the area and interested in seeing it to drive 16A north from Custer State Park and get that free view. It’s better than the view from the park!
Wind Cave National Park
Wind Cave National Park was where we spotted our first buffalo. We were SO excited we almost couldn’t contain ourselves. For my sister and I that’s saying a lot, we do a good job of containing ourselves LOL. We also spotted a coyote eating a prairie dog and lots of prong horn antelope.
Custer State Park
Custer State Park was hands down the best part of the trip. We almost didn’t go, it was $20 to drive through, for a state park. But…we were “bored” and looking to kill some time so we decided to check it out. I passed the brochure the gate lady handed us to my sister and the first photo was a field full of buffalo. We laughed about how unrealistic that was and started the drive. Less than 5 miles into the loop we went around a curve and there were at least 500 buffalo in a field. They were EVERYWHERE!!
Watch a movie of the buffalo in front of my car by clicking “Buffalo Road Block” below. One day I’ll figure the video part of blogging out. 🤷🏽♀️🤦🏽♀️
After experiencing the buffalo road block we kind of thought, “this must really happen all the time to everyone who drives through” so guess what we did…went back the next day! The next day we saw about 3 buffalo, there was no mass herd of bison milling about in the field like the brochure said. That made it even cooler that we were able to experience it the day before.
Bear Country USA
This drive through animal experience was a fun pop in for a morning drive. Basically, you take a short drive through a free range zoo then go into the proper zoo area to see cubs and other animals. Christopher’s gift shop goal here was a rainbow bear shirt, which he found. 🤦🏽♀️😂
Here are a few more shots from the Custer Area.
Upon leaving Custer we “popped in to” Wyoming on the way to North Dakota. I’m aware that there’s an elbow to … saying about how direct that route is but it was for Devils Tower so it was worth it.
In the name of drive by tourism we honestly thought Devils Tower would be a 10 minute stop for a photo and a back in the car moment. We didn’t think it would be as cool as it was and we certainly didn’t expect to stay over 2 hours there. We did the loop trail, which was a little over a mile, uphill both ways LOL. Christopher had a blast checking out the boulders around the bottom and we saw several people climbing the tower. I would say this is a must do if you are out this way.
We added North Dakota to our itinerary during the planning process but only after discussing how we would likely never be in the area again so we needed to find something to do to say we’ve been to North Dakota. A quick google search for National Parks in North Dakota landed us at Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park
With a south loop and a north loop we didn’t have enough time to see the entire park but we did see enough to know we would like to go back sometime. With buffalo, feral horses, and so much more we could have spent another day driving around this area checking more of the park out. I also took the best sunset photo of the trip here!
We wrapped up our drive by skirting into Yellowstone via the north entrance before the family flew in so you will get a little preview this week! The north end of the park is home to Mammoth Hot Springs and offers great access to Lamar Valley, which is one of the premier wildlife viewing areas in Yellowstone.
The first week of our trip was amazing! Both of the kids did well in the car, which is a win in itself and we were able to see so many of the places we wanted to visit without issues. If you would like to see more photos from the trip hit the button below!
To continue on to part two of our trip CLICK HERE! If you think you might miss it, sign up to receive blogs directly to your inbox!