We did it. We not only survived, but enjoyed, what I would consider to be, our first family road trip! We have made many weekend trips, and even a couple slightly longer trips to visit family, but I classify this as our first real road trip, because it was longer than a week and involved stops at several locations along the way. Chloe drew this lovely “Map of Destinations.” It’s not quite to scale, or geographically accurate, but you get the idea 🙂
Our first overnight stop was in Kearney, NE. We were very excited to meet up with some friends that are like family and were so thankful to be able to stay with their grandma. Monday morning brought beautifully clear skies, which was a relief, because we were looking forward to viewing a total solar eclipse. The eclipse did not disappoint. Children and adults alike were enamored!
On Tuesday, we made it to Estes Park, CO and were welcomed into the home of some long time friends. I met this wonderful family my senior year in high school, when they had a toddler and a baby. Years later, they have a senior in high school (oy! That did not help me feel youthful 😉 ), a third child, and I’ve gotten married and had a couple kids of my own. While our families have grown and changed, the hospitality they showed me and my family was the same as when they first welcomed me into their home years ago.
When we first started driving through the foothills, we suggested that the kids might want to stop playing on the iPads and look out their windows. They complied and spent the rest of the drive ooh-ing and aah-ing over the mountains. Devon stated, “Colorado is sooo cool! I wish we could live here!” We spent Wednesday and Thursday exploring the mountains, which only solidified the idea that Colorado is cool and my kiddos wouldn’t mind living there!
Wednesday, our friends took us on a hike to Gem Lake on Lumpy Ridge, part of Rocky Mountain National Park. The total distance was about 4 miles, but with the elevation change and higher altitude it was not easy for any of our family members. Thankfully, there were plenty of snacks, fun older kids and encouraging, experienced hikers with us, so we all made it!
On Wednesday afternoon, we took the Estes Park Aerial Tramway to the top of Prospect Mountain. Our kids were ready to explore more mountains, but couldn’t handle any more hiking. We were ready to enjoy some more beautiful views, but couldn’t handle any more whining 😉 This was the perfect solution!
Thursday morning, we headed into Rocky Mountain National Park. Again, we were thankful for our local friends who acted as our guides. They drove us up Old Fall River Road, the original automobile route through the park. It is a narrow one-way road up the mountain with lots of narrow switchbacks. It was a perfect slow journey, with beautiful views the entire way up – made more perfect, because neither Aaron nor I had to do the driving! We stopped off and explored Chasm Falls and found a small trail with some very friendly marmots.
At the top, we stopped off at the Alpine Visitor Center where we got some souvenirs and Junior Ranger workbooks for the kids. We took Trail Ridge Road down the mountain, which was paved and a little less precarious, but not any less exciting. We spotted Big Horn Sheep (!!) and stopped off to see Forest Canyon.
On our way out of the park, we stopped and got the kids’ Junior Ranger badges and got to see a really neat topographical map of the park, showing where we were, where we’d been and all of the places we’d have to come back and explore another day.
On Friday, we headed out of the mountains and visited the Denver Aquarium. There were sea creatures from all over the world – real and imaginary. Chloe’s favorite were the “adorable otters and bright colored tropical fish.” Devon really liked the sharks and sting rays and we all thought the mermaids were pretty impressive.
After the aquarium, we headed to a hotel in Loveland. With bunk beds in our room and a water slide in the pool, this was pretty much the best kid hotel – and perfect for the end of our trip! To add a little bit of normal to our lives, we found a local pizza joint and had Pizza (But No Movie) Night 🙂
Saturday was our last day in Colorado, so even though we weren’t really in the mountains anymore, we wanted to make sure we still got out to do some hiking and exploration. We headed over to Devil’s Backbone and took a 3-ish mile hike. It was much easier than our previous hiking, but it was a great fit for us on our own – and we didn’t have to bribe the kids with nearly as many snacks 🙂 Although the one time we found shade between a couple boulders, they did decide it was the perfect time for a snack break!
We decided to make the drive home in one day. Our maps program told us it was 9 hours and 46 minutes of driving time. With stops for lunch, dinner and gas, we had the lofty goal of making it home in 11 hours. Turns out, our kids are rock stars and we made it in just 10.5 hours!
Not only did our family make a lot of great memories on this trip, but it was a great introduction to longer-term traveling. The flexibility of being able to travel at our convenience is one of the many things I love about homeschooling and am hoping to take advantage of more in the future. On the way home, I may have even started planning another trip!