Cross-Country Road Trip Planning Itinerary

Featured, Top, Travel

September 25, 2020

My boyfriend, Cody, and I went on a month-long cross-country road trip from Delaware to Utah and back again. Both of our jobs allowed us to work remotely so decided to take our work on the road. We worked during the day and then saw National Parks in the evenings and on weekends. We stayed in campgrounds about 80% of the time and essentially lived out of my 2019 Jeep Cherokee for a month. You can find a full packing list here.

Itinerary

Here is our exact itinerary and road map. It was one heck of a trip. We saw so much, and at the start of the trip, we had only been dating for about 3 months. This post will tell you where we went, where we stayed, and what we saw at every place we went!

You can click on each location to take you to the section of the blog that talks about that location:

Here we go!

Warren Dunes State Park, Michigan

Overview

Did you know there are dunes on the shores of Lake Michigan? There are several parks around the area where you can see dunes (Indiana Dunes National Park, Indiana Dunes State Park, etc.), but Warren Dunes State Park is my favorite because the dunes are the biggest here and the park feels more natural. You can swim in Lake Michigan and explore trails through the dunes. I highly recommend a visit!

Where we stayed

We camped in the park at the Hildebrandt Campground, which is a more primitive campground. There are no bathhouses, but you can just shower in the lake. 😉

What we did

We swam in the beach and hiked around the trails in the dunes. There are lots of unnamed paths through the dunes and forests. Pick one and keep following for as long as you want!

The sunsets are amazing over the lake! We were at the park in the middle of a giant storm called a Derecho. After the storm, the waves in the lake were really rough and the sunset was incredible!

Sunset in Warren Dunes State Park, Michigan

Des Moines, Iowa

Overview

We only stayed for one night in Des Moines as a stopping point between Michigan and South Dakota. Des Moines has some cool things though, and we explored for an evening.

Where we stayed

Des Moines West KOA

What we did

  • Ate dinner at Zombie Burger downtown
  • Visited Raygun, a really cool, snarky apparel store
  • Walked to the state capitol building

Badlands National Park, South Dakota

Overview

Badlands National Park feels like you’re in another world. The landscape is unreal, with stunning layered rock formations. We only spent one full day in the park, but we felt like it was enough.

Where we stayed

We camped at Belvidere East KOA. The campground is about 40 minutes east of Badlands National Park. There are closer campsites, but they were booked.

What we did

  • Stopped at the Visitors Center
  • Hiked the Notch Trail, which is super cool
  • Walked around the Door Trail
  • Drove the Scenic Drive
  • Stopped at the Yellow Mounds- so pretty!
  • Stopped briefly at Wall Drug
  • Watched a sunset from Pinnacles Overlook

Custer State Park, South Dakota

Overview

WOW Custer State Park is amazing! We didn’t know much about the area before visiting, but we were surprised by the diversity of the park. The park is famous as a destination to see wild herds of buffalo, but there are also lakes, trails, overlooks, and more. We wished we could have spent more than one night here!

Where we stayed

Horse Thief Campground

We hadn’t planned on staying the night, but we liked the park so much that we spontaneously decided to spend a night here. We literally walked into the first campground we saw outside the park and they had a free tent site. The campground turned out to be one of our favorites of the entire trip. The sites were spacious and remote. Plus, the stars were incredible.

What we did

  • Drove the Wildlife Loop and saw lots of buffalo!
  • Mount Coolidge Lookout Tower
  • Hiked the Sunday Gulch Trail-loved this trail!
  • Swam in Sylvan Lake

Theodore Roosevelt National Park, South Dakota

Overview

We loved Theodore Roosevelt National Park! I wanted to check North Dakota off of my list of states, but we were both surprised by how much we liked this park. To me, the park felt like Badlands National Park but with vegetation. The views were incredible and we saw SO MANY PRAIRIE DOGS. We were only here for one night, but I wish we could have stayed longer!

Where we stayed

Red Trail Campground

There aren’t many campgrounds in Medora, the town outside of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. This one was ok. The tent sites were small and packed together, but the campground had a clean bathhouse and ended up being fine.

What we did

  • The gift shop and visitor center at Theodore Roosevelt National Park are really nice and have great souvenirs!
  • Went to Wind Canyon Trail for sunset-amazing!
  • Hiked part of the Big Plateau Loop before having to turn around due to buffalo. Great trail with a river crossing and prairie dog town.
  • Watched prairie dogs

Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Overview

How do you even give an overview of Yellowstone National Park? The park is enormous and absolutely amazing. We decided to spend 7 nights here because there is just so much to see, and we wanted the opportunity to explore the park in more depth. Yellowstone was my favorite park experience of the trip because the park is so large and has so much diversity. Yellowstone National Park is famous for being atop a volcanic hotspot, which creates some crazy geothermal features like geysers, hot springs, mud pots, and more. However, the park also has wildlife, forests, canyons, mountain peaks, rivers, hikes, and so much more. We worked in the mornings and then hiked or explored the park every afternoon and evening. We literally hiked 30 miles in 6 days!

Where we stayed

We were really nervous about finding a place to stay in Yellowstone. Campgrounds and other accommodations book up fast and far in advance, and we were trying to find a place about 2 weeks out. We found a tent campsite at Sawtelle Mountain Resort, which is in West Yellowstone about 30 minutes from the West Yellowstone entrance gate. Yellowstone National Park is so big that despite staying 30 minutes from a gate, we would usually have a 1-2 hour drive from our campsite to where we wanted to go in the park that day. We really couldn’t have stayed much closer without staying at one of the campground or lodges inside the park.

The campground itself was ok. The bathhouses need work and the wifi was awful, but we made it work.

What we did

The “must-see” things

  • Old Faithful
  • Grand Prismatic Spring-we went at sunset, and it was beautiful! Plus there were way less people than during the day
  • Mammoth Hot Springs-one of my favorite geothermal features in the park
  • Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone-Upper Falls
  • Drove through Lamar Valley

Hikes

We loved every single one of these hikes!

  • Bunsen Peak
  • Beaver Ponds Loop
  • Avalanche Peak
  • Slough Creek
  • Seven Mile Hole

Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

Overview

Even though Grand Teton National Park is right next to Yellowstone, the two parks are completely different! Grant Teton is an epic landscape with tall jagged peaks that seem to come out of nowhere. We loved this park, and there are so many trails to explore.

Where we stayed

We camped at Teton Valley Resort, which was about an hour from the park entrance. It would have been a little nicer to stay closer to the park, but this campground was great! The showers were top-notch and the wifi worked.

What we did

  • Stopped in the Jenny Lake Visitor Center-this is a really nice visitor center
  • Taggart Lake Trail
  • Cascade Canyon Trail
  • Explored Jackson Hole
  • Watched a sunset and sunrise at Teton Point Turnout

Moab, Utah: Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park

Overview

Moab was my favorite place of the road trip. The town is located in the desert of Utah within an hour of both Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park. In addition to the national parks, Moab is close to a ton of public BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land with red rock, desert, and access to the Colorado River. The town itself is beautiful and artistic without being overly touristy, and there is so much outdoor recreation in this area. I loved this town and the surrounding landscape.

Where we stayed

We splurged and stayed in an Airbnb while we were in Moab. It was really hot during the day, so it was so nice to have a tiny house to come back to at the end of the day! We stayed in a tiny house at Edge of the Desert, and it was awesome. Here’s a link! If you’ve never stayed in an Airbnb before, you can get $20 off your first stay by using this link. 

What we did

Moab

  • Hiked and swam on the Mill Creek Trail to Millcreek Waterfall. Start at the Mill Creek North Fork Trailhead. The trail is beautiful and you can swim in the creek!
  • Walked around downtown Moab. There are lots of cool shops.
  • Ate at Arches Thai. Twice.
  • Went to Castle Valley for sunset
  • Attempted to hike up to the top of Castleton Tower. We ended up turning around because it was a little dangerous and we didn’t have a satellite phone. It’s a very cool hike though, and I want to try it again!

Canyoneering

  • We went canyoneering with Moab Canyon Tours! This was one of our favorite activities of the entire trip. You get to rappel and explore a slot canyon and it surreal. We chose Irish Canyons, and it was amazing.

Arches National Park

  • Hiked to Delicate Arch for sunset
  • Saw the Windows, Double Arch, and Turret Arch
  • Park Avenue Trail
  • Hiked the Primitive Trail in Devil’s Garden to Private Arch and Double O Arch. This hike is SUPER cool and I highly recommend it!

Canyonlands National Park

  • There are 3 areas of Canyonlands National Park that are not connected to each other-Island in the Sky, The Needles, and The Maze. We went to the Island in the Sky and the Needles areas
  • Island in the Sky: We drove to all the overlooks and hiked the Upheaval Dome trail. We watched the sunset at one of the overlooks, which was amazing! We also hiked to Mesa Arch.
  • The Needles: Driving out to The Needles is beautiful in itself. We mostly drove around the park and stoped at an overlook for sunset and watched a storm roll in. It was awesome.

Boulder, Colorado

Overview

Boulder is a really neat, very outdoorsy city about an hour from Rocky Mountain National Park. We stopped here for 3 nights to explore the city and visit the park.

Where we stayed

We camped at the Boulder Adventure Lodge! There are rooms, hostel-style rooms, and tent sites. This place is so cool. They had a bar in the lobby, live music on a patio, a hot tub, a slack-line park and wifi.

What we did

  • Explored the city. Definitely check out Pearl Street Mall, a pedestrian area of the city with lots of shops and restaurants.
  • Hiked in Chautauqua Park
  • Did the Loch Lake Trail via Glacier Gorge in Rocky Mountain National Park

Monument Rocks, Kansas

Overview

We drove through Kansas on our way back East partially because we had to, and partially because I had to cross Kansas off my list of states. We stopped at Monument Rocks National Natural Landmark, which is a series of large chalk formations in the middle of nowhere. It was very cool.

That concludes our complete road trip itinerary. We had an absolute blast traveling around the country!

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I'm Abby, an arthritic introvert living in Delaware and traveling the world with a chronic illness, a camera, and a love for ice cream. I'm passionate about outdoor adventures, and overcoming obstacles to make those adventures accessible.

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