The Planning, The Prep, and The Route
Initially, our trip would be taking us through 11 states, but we thought that, maybe, just maybe, that would be a bit too ambitious for a 12 day trip, so we cut out Seattle, WA and California, and we will make that another trip in itself! So, here was our planned route:
- Depart Orlando, FL to fly to Denver, CO
- Denver, CO to Keystone, SD (Mount Rushmore, Custer State Park)
- Keystone, SD to Billings, MT
- Billings, MT to Yellowstone National Park, WY
- Yellowstone National Park to Jackson Hole, WY (and Grand Teton National Park)
- Jackson Hole, WY to Salt Lake City, UT
- Salt Lake City, UT to Zion Nation Park, UT
- Zion National Park, UT to Las Vegas, NV
- Las Vegas, NV to The Grand Canyon, AZ
- The Grand Canyon, AZ to Four Corners Monument, NM
- Four Corners Mounument, NM to Moab National Park, UT
- Moab National Park, UT to Basalt, CO
- Basalt, CO to Aspen, CO
- Aspen, CO to Great Sand Dunes, CO
- Great Sand Dunes to Denver, CO
- Denver, CO to Orlando, FL
Aren’t we ambitious? (in case you are wondering, state #9 is Idaho, which we drove through)
Our trip planning was often discussed over Sunday breakfasts at Cracker Barrel with a notebook and pen in hand. We started planning in October and our trip began in the middle of April, which gave us plenty of time to plan and save. When deciding the timeline of our trip, we identified two key factors to consider: weather and work. We didn’t want to be camping (right, did I mention the camping part?) in the freezing snow or in the heat of summer, so we decided the Spring would be the best time. This also gave us (ok, me) time to save up vacation hours so we could take two full weeks off from work to enjoy ourselves.
My best planning resource (besides Google Maps) was Pinterest. I found tons of blogs, tips, suggested stops, restaurants, etc. for each city we would be in. We planned many stops at national parks and I listed various hikes we could take, with various lengths and difficulty levels so we would have options depending on how we felt each day. I made a list of Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives so when we weren’t eating food from our cooler on-the-go, we could have an interesting (and hopefully delicious) stopping point. We had a relatively loose itinerary for the trip as we felt not having to be anywhere at any given time (aside from the airport flying to and from Denver) would give us a lot of freedom and make things less stressful. We did make a reservation at a hotel in Las Vegas, so we knew we needed to be there on a specific date, but other than that, we were free to roam!
Our housing plan, as I mentioned above, was decided to be a combination of hotels, friends/family, and camping. OK, not real camping…van camping. We’ll call it “vamping”. As in, blowing up an air mattress in the back of a van and sleeping in national parks at the campgrounds. Sounds fine, right? Right. We made plans to stay in 2 hotels, one in Las Vegas, and one in Billings, MT on the way from South Dakota to Yellowstone. Matthew has friends and family in both Colorado and Utah, so we had accommodations there. The rental car was booked in advance, and our flights ($217/nonstop Orlando to Denver round trip) were booked about 6 weeks in advance. We also purchased a national parks pass ($80 + shipping) in order to save on each individual park entrance fee throughout our trip. Fortunately, through our airline, we were able to check 4 bags (total) at no cost, so we each brought one bag of clothes (yes ladies, one duffle bag for 12 days) and the other two bags were used for bedding and supplies (think first aid kit, sunscreen, bug spray, you know, camping/hiking essentials). We knew once we landed in Denver we would head to the local Wal-Mart and pick up whatever else we needed (cooler, food, etc) and be on our way!