2 Kids, 9 states and 3,500+ Miles
Every summer my husband and I love to plan a fun get away. Whether it is a weekend staycation or a week-long vacation, we felt it was an important part of summer and family bonding. With the kids being so young (toddlers), fun staycations like San Diego were perfect with The Zoo, Legoland and The Wild Animal Park keeping the littles entertained. However, this year we decided to go BIG and take an amazing road trip because we felt at 5 and 6 they may remember the amazing sights for years to come.
This year, we purchased an RV and set our sights on a 2 week long road trip covering 9 states and 3,755 miles.
To start the trip, we decided to stop in Las Vegas and visit family. My mom has been living in the outskirts of the city for about a year now, so we make it a point to visit every chance we get. Since they are now locals and they have been exploring, they make it a point to take us to new favorite eateries and family fun spots they have discovered.
The Container Park in Las Vegas is fun for all ages. Built out of old cargo containers, the park hosts trendy restaurants, bars and unique shops. For the kids, there is a climbing tree, building blocks, and more. During the summer find free activities such as concerts or entertainment in the park. At 9 PM it turns into an adult playground with a casual relaxing bar night life.
Back on the road we made a quick stop over The Hoover Dam. We jumped out of the RV to take pictures here little history, find out about the tours offered, as well as stop at the local gift shop. Then we were on our way to the Grand Canyon.
Since we already made the decision to visit at least three National parks on the trip, it was feasible to purchase the annual membership at $75. It is valid for one year from the date of purchase and entitles the owner entry into all National Parks. Typically entrance into each park is $25 so if you plan to visit more than one in a year it is cost-effective.
The Grand Canyon is simply beautiful. Since we were only staying one night, we immediately went to the visitor center to get all the information we needed about the Grand Canyon; where the best look out locations were, hiking, and more. One thing to note, we arrived just before 5 PM, which was the time the visitor center closed, but a lot of their information is also available online.
That night we had reserved a site at Mather Campground. It’s located in the Grand Canyon National Park and is minutes from the Visitor Center. We loved this location at it was a pull through site, meaning easy access for our RV and the best part was seeing a couple deer walk through the campground. As beginner campers, this was amazing.
Tips about Mather Campground: it is perfect for tent or dry (i.e no water, electricity or sewer hookup) RV camping. Because the Grand Canyon is a popular destination, it is advised to book a year in advance.
The next morning we were up and on our way to Bryce Canyon, a favorite stop of my family. When entering Bryce Canyon National Park, we spoke to the Rangers to find out where the best lookout was located. Bryce Point was among three of the favorite lookout spots, and it was breathtaking. Even walking down some of the trails we got better views of the caves and rock piles.
Just outside the park gates of Bryce Canyon is Ruby’s Inn RV Park and Campground. We pick this location, because they offered full hook up sites (i.e. water, electricity, and sewer). They also offer shuttle service to Bryce Canyon, teepee and tent sites for camping, laundry facilities, free Wi-Fi, restaurants and more.
The next stop was Salt Lake City, Utah. There we stayed at the KOA – Campgrounds Of America. KOA has many locations throughout the country, offering a variety of amenities like full hook ups, playgrounds, pools, laundry facilities, cable, sites for tent camping, cabins and more. They are also pet friendly facilities, offering dog runs/parks.
In Utah, we took a complimentary shuttle from the KOA to Temple Square, where we toured the Assembly Hall, the Tabernacle and the Conference Center. Did you know, the roof of the Conference Center is actually a 4 mile nature center? Local trees, plants and flowers have been planted on the roof, making it a beautiful park.
The next leg of our journey took us to Yellowstone National Park where we experienced hot springs, geysers and Old Faithful. In Yellowstone, we reserved a RV Site at Fishing Bridge RV Park. Fishing Bridge is located in the middle of Yellowstone and was the only RV campground with water and sewer hookups. A small, but beautiful campground nestled in the woods; the RVs are parked rather close together, so there wasn’t much room for the kids to play. However, it was rainy the day we camped there so we ended up staying indoors anyway.
The next morning we got up early and packed up to head off for a quick stop in Idaho and on to Washington to visit some friends. On our way out of Yellowstone, while the kids were asleep, my husband and I spotted a black bear alongside the road. We were so shocked and amazed, but kept driving right through, because you never know what they’ll do.
We were told Coeur d’Alene, Idaho was a beautiful stop if we had the chance. This picturesque little lake town reminded me of Laguna Beach. Quaint little shops with bougainvillea lined streets, a harbor, beach and park all within a mile. Our favorite little stop was a shaved ice shack right up on the beach, where we sat, had our treats as we people watched at the beach/park.
Then it was on to Deer Park, Washington where we stayed with friends in the log cabin they had built. This was the kids first opportunity to fish, both of them catching 2 fish.
It was awesome to hang out and chat with our friends, while the kids ran after the chickens, played with the dogs, saw a snake down by the lake and rode the ATV up and down the driveway. It was an amazing opportunity to see what it would be like to live on a lake, away from the city.
Making our way back toward the coast, we stopped in Eugene, Oregon and stayed in a beautiful Armitage Park. We loved the scenery in this park as it was ALL GREEN, probably because it was raining when we arrived. We pulled in and the office of the park was already closed, but they had our site waiting for us with full hook ups. Unfortunately we didn’t get much of a chance to explore because by the time we had dinner it was already dark – and still raining. Therefore we watched movies and hung out in the RV till we fell asleep.
Back on the road we headed south to Mount Shasta. Around the base of the mountain we stayed at another KOA – Mount Shasta KOA. We walked through the small little city of Mount Shasta and made a stop for the kids to feed the fish at the largest fish hatchery in the world. I think the kids enjoyed feeding the fish and playing basketball at the KOA most, while I enjoyed the beautiful forest we were camping in.
The next morning we were on our way to San Francisco. Did you know that in San Francisco, there is NO RV Parking? Well, the small, crowded streets make it almost impossible. However, we did have reservations at Candlestick RV Park, the closest RV Park near San Francisco. Basically a parking lot for RVs, this location did have a small convenience store, laundry facility, and bathrooms with showers. This RV Park is not designed for family fun, but a place to park your RV while you’re off at a football game or touring San Francisco. They do have shuttle service into China Town and since most of city is accessible by foot, cable car or cab, we took a yellow cab over to Alcatraz Cruises early in the morning. My husband and I loved the tour of Alcatraz, but I think the kids truly enjoyed playing in the bubbles and at the kite store at Pier 39. They also had the opportunity to try some fresh clam chowder at Fisherman’s Wharf – a must to do when you’re in San Francisco. Tip for Alcatraz: Book EARLY, tours sell out months in advance!
Slowly making our way home, we stayed at San Simeon State Park, which is walking distance from the Pacific Ocean. At this RV Park, we “dry camped” (no running water or sewer lines). The kids had fun flying kites and jumping in the waves, watching the sun set. The next morning we drove about 5 miles to tour the spectacular Hearst Castle. There we took the Grand Rooms Tour and walked the grounds imagining what it would have been like to be a guest back in its heyday.
And our final stop, Solvang, reminded me of when I was a kid. I recalled walking through the little souvenir shops looking at the clogs and windmills. Picking up some of the Danish pastries was quite a treat. And we discovered one of our favorite campgrounds, Flying Flags RV Resort & Campground. This fun RV Park had 2 playgrounds a beautiful pool, game room, laundry facility, outdoor fire pit with comfy patio loungers and heat lamps and more. My husband felt we didn’t get enough time at this family fun campground, so we’re heading back in a month or two – that’s how much we loved it, and the fact it is only 3 hours away.
Helpful Tips For Planning A Family Camping Vacation
- Start planning a year in advance. Some campgrounds open their summer registration during a particular month of the year and book up quickly.
- Do your homework on the city you’re staying, are there any special events or things going on where there will be a larger number of visitors?
- Make a plan for how many hours you are willing to drive during the legs of the trip. We covered a large portion of the West Coast, and plan to drive five hour stretches at a time.
- Check campground reviews on yelp or other camping websites or check with your friends, they always have great recommendations.
- The automobile club has great camping resources, maps and recommendations on places to stay and things to do.
- Pre-plan your meals. You can grocery shop along the way, but if you have a menu plan, you will save money and time.
All photos by Jennifer Willey