As thoughts of spring break creep into the minds of many midwesterners who are feeling done with winter, conversations of travel plans are beginning to happen around the dinner table. Will we be vaccinated? Will it be safe to travel? Is it better to drive this time than to fly? Can I survive a road trip with my family? So many questions with no clear answers. For those who are hopeful and anxious to get something on the calendar for summer, consider a road trip!
In the middle of July 2019, we took a road trip out West that will forever be one of my favorites! Planning for trips in general is one of my favorite things to do. I didn’t travel much as a kid, so being able to do it with my family is not something I take for granted. I always spend months researching EVERYTHING and pride myself on planning memorable trips that include activities that will get each member of my family excited! This time I used the Roadtrippers app and it was a huge help plotting out our stops and places to stay and eat along the way. Our plan was to drive from Kansas > Colorado Springs, CO > Southwestern CO > Moab, UT > Glenwood Springs, CO > Denver, CO >Kansas. We would be gone for 7 nights. I have had so many people ask me for details on this trip that I decided to blog about it. Here are all of the details and A LOT of pictures. I always take a ton, as photos are my favorite souvenir. You’ve been warned!!
We broke up the long drive across Kansas to Colorado by stopping at a brewery a friend recommended in Hays, KS (Gella’s Diner & Lb. Brewing Co.) for lunch. We then stayed two nights in Colorado Springs. The night we got there, we grabbed a quick dinner and got some rest. We started day 1 of vacation early the next morning at America’s only mountainside zoo, the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo! A zoo isn’t a place I usually add to our travel itinerary, but I’d heard great things from a friend. I’m so glad we went- it didn’t disappoint! We loved feeding the giraffes, watching the monkeys in Primate World, trying fried Snickers, and watching the snow leopard show us some of his tricks while his keeper fed him. Plus, Reese got to see her favorite: a bearded dragon! She had no idea she’d be the proud owner of one in a few months!
The afternoon of day 1 was spent at Garden of the Gods. It was breathtaking! The kids enjoyed hiking and exploring so much that we were there for over three hours. We hiked the paved Central Garden trail and the Siamese Twins trail so that we could find Pike’s Peak through the natural window of the twins. Reese & Rowan’s favorite part was hiking the rocky terrain on part of the Palmer trail and discovering different “rock playgrounds.”
Dinner was at a brewery in Ivywild School. The building was a school in the early 1900s and is now made up of restaurants, gathering space, and a marketplace of different vendors. Super cute!
Day 2 started with the most terrifying 19 mile drive to what felt like the top of the world – the summit of Pike’s Peak! The train track to the summit was being rebuilt and we didn’t trust someone else to do the drive for us, so after checking our breaks, off we went. The 19 miles took us about an hour. At 14,115 feet, it was 42 degrees when we reached the top! We enjoyed the famous donuts and being among the clouds before heading back down, making only one stop so that Reese could clear out her tummy. It didn’t handle the drive very well. I’m so glad we had the experience, but I’m ok to not white-knuckle this drive ever again! SO. MANY. SWITCHBACKS. And so few guardrails!
The second part of Day 2 was spent at the Royal Gorge Bridge & Park. This was an hour and a half drive once you left the Pikes Peak Gateway. The Royal Gorge suspension bridge is 955 feet above the Arkansas River, making it the highest suspension bridge in the US. We walked back and forth across (being sure to find our state’s flag), played on the playground, and watched the thrill seekers zip line and ride the skycoaster. The pictures truly don’t do the views of the gorge justice!
On Day 3 we rafted the Arkansas river down the lower portion of Bighorn Sheep Canyon on a half day trip. This portion has bigger rapids and had just reopened the day before, so our guide Asa with Echo Canyon River Expeditions was “pretty pumped to be back on some sick rapids!” High water is considered anything above 2000 cfs and today it was 2900! Lots of class 3 rapids made for an awesome bucket list adventure with the kids! Josh and I had been before, but the kids hadn’t. Rowan was terrified, but it ended up being one of his favorite parts of the trip! Great life lesson about facing your fears right there. So thankful for unattractive wetsuits & water shoes – the water was 52 degrees!
We started Day 4 by driving to Mesa Verde National Park. The Ancestral Pueblo people made the cliff dwellings their home for over 700 years from 600-1300 AD. The cliffs go straight down and are topped by a mesa. We decided on a park ranger tour of the Balcony House because the kids saw that it was described as the most adventurous. It included a tall, 32ft ladder up a cliff (with no nets to catch you) and to exit you crawled through a tiny, 12ft long tunnel. Josh wouldn’t have done this tour if he’d known about the tiny tunnel. Ha! It was so thrilling and we learned a lot!
We spent the rest of Day 4 heading west to Moab, UT! As we entered Utah, the landscape changed so drastically. All of the redrock formations were gorgeous and unlike anything I’d ever seen. We glamped with an awesome company called Under Canvas. They provide a luxury camping experience at many of the most popular national parks in the US. The Moab location (with a view of Arches National Park) is one of their first sites. July in Utah is HOT, but they thought of everything: fans and ceiling misters in our tent and snowcones, water and cooling towels in the lobby. The kids slept on cots on either side of the bed. We enjoyed the yard games and the s’mores bonfire with a musician. Such a cool experience! THIS is my kind of camping!!
On Day 5, we had planned to get up early and visit Canyonlands National Park before Arches National Park. But everyone was tired and it was hot, so we decided to sleep in, enjoy some more yard games, and just visit one of the parks before the heat really set in. We chose the better known of the two, Arches. Under Canvas gave us some maps and we decided on the hike to Delicate Arch. It’s 3 miles round trip and considered “strenuous and difficult,” but it’s the arch on all Utah license plates so we knew it had to be worth checking out! You aren’t able to see Delicate Arch until you round a final corner on a narrow, steep ledge. It was massive and gorgeous, but I wouldn’t recommend looking down behind you when posing for pictures! There’s a drop off all of the way back down to the valley (you can kind of see it in the pic of us on the rock)! It took us just over 2 hours and was pretty challenging, but definitely worth it!
After hiking, we reunited with our air-conditioned car and made our way back to CO (Glenwood Springs). I was sad to leave Utah- it will definitely be on our itinerary again someday because I’d love to see Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park. The drive from Moab to Glenwood Springs was just under 3 hours. We checked into a cute hotel downtown (Hotel Denver). Lunch included the best tacos I’ve ever tasted (short-rib barbacoa) and craft beer at a funky, tiny restaurant called Slope & Hatch. We then spent a few hours swimming in the Glenwood Hot Springs Pool. It’s the largest hot springs pool in the world!
On Day 6, we headed to Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park. It’s “America’s only mountain top theme park” because it sits at an altitude of 7100 feet on a mountain above Glenwood. You take a gondola up the mountain to get there. It was a smaller park, which was perfect for our day. Sister whooped everyone at laser tag, then we took a cave tour. We conquered some fears and rode some terrifying rides that went over the edge of the canyon. Reese’s favorite was the Alpine Coaster and Rowan’s was a tie between the Alpine Coaster and the Canyon Flyer. So much fun!!
On the afternoon of Day 6, we drove to Denver and stayed at the hotel that will officially ruin all other hotels for me- The Maven! The interior was beautifully and uniquely designed- I could’ve walked around taking notes for hours. Drink tokens for the Airstream meant margaritas for the adults and sodas for the kids before heading to an early anniversary dinner at Steubens. The hotel was a block from Coors Field and I so wish we would’ve had time for a game, the aquarium, and the art museum. We will definitely be back!
The kids enjoyed a few more games while waiting for the car. Then we were off on our long, boring drive back to Kansas. Why does time always seem to crawl on your way home from a road trip in comparison to your drive to your destination?
This trip ended up being just over 2,000 miles. Although it can often be nice to get somewhere quickly and have more time to do all the things, consider a road trip if you’re traveling somewhere that offers a lot of fun sights between your home and destination. They give you the unique ability to see so many things you’d miss on a plane and I love the flexibility. And don’t be afraid of road trips with younger kids! Reese went on her first as a 2 1/2 year old from Kansas to Florida and was a total champ. We let go of rigid schedules and expectations and were able to have an amazing time! Pack the cooler with lots of snacks and drinks, load the tablets with movies and the backs of the front seats with books and headphones and set off to chase an adventure with your people!