Ever since our children were born, we have driven them everywhere. Over the years we’ve driven on family adventures all over New England, the South, and the Midwest.  However, with the purchase of our Honda Odyssey minivan in 2013, we took it to another level.  Within a few weeks of the purchase, we drove from Washington, DC to the Florida Keys and everywhere in between (e.g. Walt Disney World, Everglades, St. Augustine, etc) for a 2 week Florida Spring Break adventure. Last year (2014), we loaded up the minivan to head north and explore Atlantic Canada on a 3 week, 4300 mile trip.  With these successful family adventures under our belt, we knew we were ready to take on the biggest family adventure of them all, a cross country drive around the U.S.!

When we first started planning our epic family adventure last winter (2014), it wasn’t going to be a cross country drive.  Our original plan was to drive to Utah and see the #Mighty5 National Parks.  However everything changed when we learned that one of our siblings was retiring from the military in Seattle, WA.  We started planning a trip from Washington, DC to Seattle, WA and back.  Do we drive straight to Seattle? Do we still go see the #Mighty5? Do we go north through Canada? What about driving down to San Francisco?  And if you’re going to drive down to San Francisco, what about driving down to Los Angeles?  After extensive research, including learning that the time of year we were going to visit the #Mighty5 was going to be a mix of torrid temperatures and monsoons, we abandoned our initial plans for Utah and planned a trip “around the U.S” with three main stages.


Artists at Play Playground, Seattle Center, Seattle, WA

The first stage of our epic family adventure was Washington, DC to Anaheim, CA.  Why was this the first stage?  Well, with the start of the monsoon season in Arizona and our trip scheduled to begin on June 25th, we were hoping to visit the Southwest and the Grand Canyon before the rains began.  The complete itinerary for the first stage was: Washington, DC – Columbus, OH – Indianapolis, IN – Quincy, IL (2 nights) – Overland Park, KS – Dodge City, KS – Clayton, NM – Santa Fe, NM (2 nights) – Sedona, AZ (3 nights) – Grand Canyon, AZ – Anaheim, CA (3 nights) and unless otherwise indicated, we stayed at each location for just 1 night.  The first stage was designed to start with destinations we knew the kids would like.  The Center for Science and Industry in Columbus, OH and the Indianapolis Children’s Museum are some of our favorite childrens’ and science museums.  We previously visited both museums on a big Midwest adventure and knew the kids would love it.  From Indianapolis, we traveled to Quincy, IL to visit extended family. After Quincy, IL, we followed the historic Santa Fe Trail and slowly worked our way along the trail to Santa Fe, NM (click here to read our Sante Fe story).  In Santa Fe, NM we began our tour of the Southwest with additional stops in Sedona, AZ and at the Grand Canyon National Park.  We ended the first stage with an extended stay in Anaheim, CA, another strategic destination (e.g. Disneyland) selected for the children.


Grand Canyon National Park, AZ

The second stage focused on the exploring the urban and natural wonders of the Pacific Coast as we drove from Anaheim, CA to Seattle, WA. The specific itinerary for the second stage was:  Anaheim, CA  – Yosemite, CA (3 nights) – San Francisco, CA – Ukiah, CA – Oregon Caves, OR (2 nights) – Cannon Beach, OR (3 nights) – Seattle, WA (2 nights).  One of the goals of our cross country adventure was to see several National Parks, Monuments, and Historic Sites including “big name” parks like Grand Canyon, Yosemite, and Yellowstone and lesser known parks such as Craters of the Moon (click here to read our Craters of the Moon story) and Pecos National Historical Park.  On this second stage, we were able to explore the wild wonder of places like Yosemite, Avenue of the Giants, Redwoods, Oregon Caves, Columbia River Gorge, and the Oregon Coast while experiencing the urban beauty of cities like San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle. As we knew the sights and scenery of the Pacific Coast would be nothing like our children had ever seen, we didn’t build in any specific strategic destinations just for them.


Avenue of the Giants, Humboldt State Park, CA

For the final stage of our epic family adventure, we drove home from Seattle, WA to Washington, DC.  The complete itinerary was Seattle, WA – Richland, WA – Boise, ID (2 nights) – Idaho Falls, ID – Bozeman, MT (2 nights) – Gardiner, MT (3 nights) – Jackson, WY – Vernal, UT – Steamboat Springs, CO – Denver, CO – Lincoln, NE (2 nights) – Davenport, IA – Maumee, OH – Washington, DC.  The focus of this part of the trip was to explore eastern Washington, Idaho, and Montana before visiting the incomparable wonder that is Yellowstone National Park.  We anticipated Yellowstone would be the highlight of the trip and intentionally designed our trip so that it would be one of our last stops and our longest one.  From Yellowstone, we gradually worked our way home with a few strategic stops in places like Dinosaur National Monument, Denver, CO, and Lincoln, NE for the kids. After Lincoln, NE, the focus was getting home as quickly as possible, while still trying to build in at least one fun thing to do each day.


Lamar Valley, Yellowstone National Park, WY

Finally after 9998.2 mi, 46 days, 28 cities, 27 Junior Ranger badges from National Park Service sites, 25 states, and 7 Science Centers, we returned home from our epic family adventure with van, family, and sanity intact. In future posts, we will focus on specific destinations and things to do from this trip as well as all of our adventures. Stay tuned!