Saturday, March 10, 2018

National Parks and Planning

You guys are the greatest. You gave me SUCH GREAT book recommendations for Landon, so many of which I'd never heard of and nearly all of which I think he'll LOVE (and if not him, Claire, James, and/or all the other people I'm passing these recommendations to). Of course I made a spreadsheet. That I turned into a Word chart, with notes and a column to make check marks after he reads them. It's a thing of beauty. We head to the library and then Half-Price Books this afternoon!

Also this afternoon, all the laundry and all the packing! We've got eight days and nine new states ahead of us: Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana! The kids are super pumped to extend their state maps. We travel with them a lot and drive often, but usually in the same direction and crossing through the same states (and spending most of the drive trying to get across Texas) so heading east is very exciting. They have US map coloring sheets to fill in along the way. Obviously I will be doing the same from the front.


For Christmas this past year, I got James a beautiful and gigantic 24 x 36 National Park pin map for our playroom (soon to be study/homework room). I had it mounted on foam board and framed and I absolutely love it, possibly even more than he does, and we're so excited to add four more pins when we get back. (Because you do have to wait until you get back to put in the pin; there are rules).


Our new pins will be:
Hot Springs National Park (AR)
Mammoth Cave National Park (KY)
Great Smoky Mountains National Park (TN)
Congaree National Park (SC)



We'll also spend 2 days in Atlanta with my aunt and uncle so we're excited about family time, a house with a kitchen, and access to a laundry room at the end.

So while I have our route (2,400 miles!) and our hotels/cabins books (and our tours at Mammoth Cave! Historic Tour and Domes & Dripstones Tour here we come!), if any of you have been to any of the above national parks and have some recommendations (or recommendon'ts) I'd love to read them! Usually I just google some ideas along the way, talk to park rangers (always), and do what sounds good once we get there, but I love taking tidbits in with me as well.


Today is packing, a few last minute errands, and stopping to buy and borrow all the books. I've already downloaded some new surprise movies on their kindles (Disney recently released some old stuff: The Sword and the Stone! Robin Hood! Aristocats! Lady and the Tramp! The kids have never seen any of these and now we have them all!), purchased all the snacks at Costco, and loaded up the camelbak backpack with first aid, sunscreen, bug spray, and my big camera.

I love these trips. Piling kids in a car and driving to amazing places is at least 55% of why we have children. Another 25% is board games. The remaining 30% is some combination of having an excuse to make anything a tradition/celebration, getting to be Santa, receiving homemade cards, possessing the power to fix boo boos with kisses, and having funny stories to giggle over with James after they're in bed.

I'm as excited as they are to get exploring! (Did you know that at 400 miles long (400 miles!!), Mammoth Cave is the longest cave in the WORLD? And the second longest is just half its size? We have to see all these things.) And we will! Just as soon as I pack a few suitcases and sneak a bag or two of sour patch kids in my purse without the kids knowing those are an option...

(Also, if you have other favorite parks, I'm totally already planning Spring Break 2019 which will either involve a second loop through Utah to redo Arches so we can add the ranger-led Fiery Furnace hike now that Cora will be five and add on Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, Zion, and The Grand Canyon OR a flight to Portland or Seattle to do a National Park loop up there. There are many, I have seen none of them, and they all look beautiful. Just wondering if we should wait on that one until Cora is a little older... though if we think she can do Utah, I'm not sure why I feel like we should wait for PNW. I welcome all thoughts and excuses to google more things while riding in the car next to a James who is QUITE happy to just zone out and commune with the American Highway System.)

40 comments:

  1. We live in Greenville, SC. You’ll probably pass through it on your way from the Smokies to Congaree. Congaree is small. It’s very pretty, but I’ve never been blown away. Smoky Mountains are gorgeous. We like the Cades Cove area, Clingmans Dome... if you have time go to the Sierra Nevada Brewery outside of Asheville. It’s family friendly, and delicious.

    If you want food recommendations for Greenville, let me know! jblanton864@gmail.com

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    1. Thanks!! That's actually very helpful. Congaree is just loosely scheduled as a 1-2 hour stop on our way between Gatlinburg and Atlanta. It seemed worth the stop (and the pin in the map!), but that it would be okay as a midday stopover. And, if we're super tired of driving by then and want to go straight to Atlanta and eliminate 3 extra hours of drive time, we'll have that option, though I do hope we decide to go for it :). I like checking things off.

      And thanks for the offer on Greenville- that looks like it would be a perfect place to stop for lunch! (And not where our original map would have taken us, since it was just plotting the most efficient route.) What's your fave casual, delicious lunch place :).

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    2. Go downtown for lunch in Greenville. We like Grill Marks & Smoke on the Water for lunch. Bertolos, Lazy Goat, Takosushi, OJ’s Diner are also favorites. Walk across the Falls Park Bridge, go to Spill the Beans for ice cream, wander up & down Main Street. There’s a great independent bookstore next to the Poinsett Hotel, then go stop into Mast General. Greenville is a gorgeous small city that offers so much and is extremely walkable.

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    3. Also, I’m laughing at the description of spending half the time trying to get out of Texas. I grew up in Grapevine, and when we would travel, I swear it took one day to just leave Texas. Now that I live on the East Coast, we go in and out of states like it’s nothing, and it always amazes me.

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    4. I know, right?! James grew up in DC/Maryland so we both find the other's childhood view of "driving across the state" to be very different. And the kids were SO surprised this morning to hear we'd left Texas after a measly 3+ hours. Usually it's like hour 8 when we go to Colorado!

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  2. What are your plans for Alabama? Send an email-- merelymere@gmail.com.

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    1. Just driving through on the way home, sadly! We'll leave Atlanta on Sunday morning and knock the 12-hour drive out in one day to be at school Monday morning. I think our route takes us through Birmingham and Tuscaloosa, but I think we'll just be waving at them from the car.

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  3. Is your agenda pretty set? You won’t be that far from Chattanooga...best family friendly city around. It’s gorgeous and lots of things to do with kids! And Greenville is beautiful with great restaurants, too! (From my experience it’s hard to go wrong in downtown Greenville.)

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    1. Ohhhh and since it looks like you’ll be passing through, want any recommendations for Nashville and Memphis? The Memphis zoo is one of the best in the country (sometimes ranked #1). Great BBQ and Huey’s (a burger joint) is always on my to-visit list. Nashville is just beautiful. Centennial Park is gorgeous and would be 5 minutes off the interstate.

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    2. The places we're staying are set, but we can adjust our route between stopping points all we want (just added Greenville for lunch on the day we go from Great Smokey's to Congaree to Atlanta, our route wasn't taking us by there so I'm so glad you and Jessica mentioned it!). I don't think we'll be able to add a swing down to Chattanooga, but I'm making note of it for another trip! Anything in a driveable distance stays on its own list for future adventures :).

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  4. This sounds amazing! I am totally bookmarking this for a couple years from now when my kids are roadtrippable!

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  5. If you go through Columbia, South Caroline a on your way to Congaree, my sister owns a bakery there! https://www.silverspoonbakeshop.com/

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  6. Greenville is a great small city. On their Main Street, the is a great independent bookstore
    with books for kids and adults (http://www.mjudsonbooks.com/), a large park where the kids could run around and blow off steam, and a nice Saturday morning farm market. Lots of restaurants, too. I was only there for a wedding, so I don't have specific restaurant idea-but there are a bunch adjacent to the park.

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  7. Come visit the PNW!!! In high school, I escaped Texas every July to visit Oregon and Washington and then moved to the West Coast permenantly after graduating because it is just that great.

    Depending on when your Spring Break lands, you could add a Tulip Festival to your list. The Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival in Woodburn, Oregon and the Skagit Tulip Festival in Mount Vernon, Washington are the big ones.

    The Oregon Coast is spectacular. Haystack Rock, Fort Stevens, Cape Disappointment, Finders Keepers in Lincoln City, Clam Chowder at Mo’s, Newport’s Historic Bayfront, Oregon Coast Aquarium, Columbia River Maritime Museum, Astoria Column, all the lighthouse, and so much more.

    Central Oregon is also amazing. Bend, Sunriver, Sisters, Smith Rock State Park, Mt Bachelor, and more.

    Crater Lake is spectacular. We have Mount Saint Helens and the Coumbia River Gorge on our to-do list this summer. Someday we will make it up to Olympic National Park. Depending on the route you take, you could the Redwoods in Northern California to your list.

    I don’t see any reason to wait. The area is very family friendly especially if your kids are already experienced travelers and hikers.

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    1. This comment has been filed in my gmail "Travel" folder - I can't WAIT to plan a PNW trip. I feel like we're going to need more than our usual 6-10 days...

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  8. We live in the PNW. : ) Let us know if you need any recommendations, the San Juan islands are amazing and right in our back yard!

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    1. I didn't realize that Misha! I will definitely be reaching out to you when we plan that trip for more info!

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  9. The Oregon coast is definitely family friendly. We stayed in Rockaway Beach a few years ago and had a blast. The water is cold year round, but it is still fun to walk along the beach and explore.

    If your don't want to go to the PNW, I think a New Mexico/Arizona trip would be fun. You could do boots if California, Nevada, Yeah, or Colorado if you wanted. But you could hit Carlsbad Caverns, White Sands, and the Grand Canyon in a week probably.

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    1. We've done parts of New Mexico and Arizona (Carlsbad particularly, which we loved), but we have MUCH more to cover. Neither James nor I have ever seen the Grand Canyon, which seems impossible given how much we love to drive, hike, and look at beautiful canyon-y things, so that may have to be our next trip just to correct that wrong.

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  10. Thanks to the Army we lived in WA for five years and own a home there (my husband wants to retire there; I’m an east coaster and think it’s too wet). It is beautiful when the sun is out and I dream of a second home on the Oregon coast. I see no reason to wait, other than maybe recommending you make it a summer trip. If you want to ski and do the winter stuff you can during spring break, but the hiking and weather will be great in the summer. No humidity, cool nights, and no rain!

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  11. In my 20s I went to all the national parks and Smokey mountains was the first place I camped alone in a tent. It’s so beautiful. Congaree is worth just an hour or less compared to that.

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    1. Excellent, an hour is precisely what we have time for! (It's just an out of the way stop on the drive between Great Smoky and Atlanta, and a short stop will give us more Smoky time that morning before we leave.) Thanks!

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  12. I love that map - do you have a link for where you bought it?

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    1. Absolutely! I spent HOURS searching for a map that was artistic enough for me to want to put it on our wall, but realistic enough that it still looked like a map! The shop owner was great to work with and even custom created the family legend in the bottom corner with all our names. I just love it. https://www.etsy.com/transaction/1371310125

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  13. Chattanooga has amazing climbing and outdoor crap, and I don’t even like outdoor crap (but live here so know about it, lol). I have climbed Mount Leconte, and love sunshine, just not anything that is big adjacent for too long. Great climbing but my wrists are bad so that’s my excuse there. Also it’s between gatlinburg and Atlanta, though I don’t want to shortchange South Carolina folks. There are some mountains there though that make going through SC to get to Atlanta not the most logical in my mind unless you are on way east side of Smokes. Smokies, you could spend 2 weeks there and not see it all. Also look at Ocoee/Hiwasee/Nantahala if you like various degrees of tubing/rafting. Some pretty cool stuff in North Georgia too. I don’t know where to tell you to begin in Smokies, other than away from pigeon forge, which is awesome in its own but very different way, as all of the smokies are awesome

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  14. (Also I feel like I would be rude not to say I love reading your blog and hope you have an awesome time! You all should look at climbing up Leconte and staying at the lodge up there in the future, I endured it and it was awesome but your family would love it and it would be even awesomer! Also there are many National Parks here but the civil war kind and that’s not really up my alley, understood if reading all about that isn’t what you are looking for either!)

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    1. Thanks so much!! And I will! It's already clear to me we'll need another trip to the Smokies where that's all we do, exploring in/around them and stopping at towns along the way. This will be our Great Smoky amuse bouche.

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  15. I agree PNW would be amazing although summer would be best time for a trip.

    Have you guys ever considered a Badlands/Glacier/Yellowstone swing? We went to all those parks when I was a kid and they are just awesome. Glacier is my favorite. Again summer is probably better for those though. Is it hard for you guys to get away in summer because of the swim school schedule?

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    1. Absolutely! It's on the list too. I want to make sure Cora is old enough to handle some of the hiking I think we'll want to do, so I'm thinking maybe when she's 6? But yes FOR SURE we'll be headed to all three of those places one day!

      (And yes, it's almost impossible to get away in the summer because of the swim school- it's just James's busiest time by far and the kids do swim team too until mid-to-late July, but we always slip away for a week in August and if we needed to extend that we could. I mean, there has to be some benefit to owning the company, right?)

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  16. Would you be interested in two urban, historical parks along your route? Little Rock Central HS https://www.nps.gov/chsc/index.htm and Martin Luther King Jr NP https://www.nps.gov/malu/index.htm in Atlanta are both incredible. And, coincidentally, my boys (10 & 14) just read a book about one of the girls who desegregated LRCHS, and another book about finding King's assassin, and loved them. I can dig out the titles if you're interested.

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    1. Thank you so much for adding those - I'm trying to see if we can work them in, but either way, I'd love to hear about the books! My aunt and uncle live in Atlanta, so even if we didn't make it this time, I'm sure we'll be back!

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    2. March Forward Girl: From Young Warrior to Little Rock Nine by Melba Patillo Beals
      Chasing King's Killer: The Hunt for Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Assassin by James Swanson

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  17. I know this sounds weird, but the water at Hot Springs is the best water ever. Definitely get some from the spigot they have in town.

    (We went to Devils Den a few years ago on your recommendation and loved it!)

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    1. We did (because I remembered your comment!) and it was delicious! (And yay! So glad you loved it! We need to go again now that we have a Cora.)

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  18. Seriously, don't miss Cades Cove! Sounds like a great trip.

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    1. Just added it to my Great Smoky note page! It looks amazing!

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  19. That is a beautiful pin map!! What a treasure!

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  20. We’re starting our “all the National Parks with all the kids” mission this summer! Starting with our closest parks — Teddy Roosevelt and Badlands. I’ll let you know how they are with kids!

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  21. Last year my husband and I drove from Seattle, down through Oregon, and northern California. The loop around Olympic National Park is spectacular (and Cape Flattery was just about the prettiest place in the US). It would probably be a good one with kids too...so much moss and so many short trails. We absolutely adored it. The Washington coast is also so spectacular and along the trail with the Olympic National Park loop. Would highly recommend. I wish we could have hit the North Cascades and also Mt. Ranier National Park.

    Oregon was also wonderful, but Washington was the real star for us! We drove down to Crater Lake and it was so cool to see, but we did not find all that much to do there (it could have been the time of year since it was shoulder season and most of the roads still closed from snow).

    I will never get over Yosemite no matter how many times I go there. It was the cherry on top of an amazing national park road trip through the PNW (although it is not at all the PNW). I also wish we could have hit Redwood National Park while we were in the neighborhood -- we were short on time and had to pick and choose!

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