Summer road trips are the source of lifelong memories. My first travel adventure at age 9 was a marathon cross-country trip from San Diego, California, to Newport, Rhode Island, in a Pontiac Station Wagon with Mom and Dad, four sisters and a spunky Dachshund aptly named Minnie. Back in the day, with no air conditioning, you had to drive across the desert at night carefully planning out where the gas stations were so you didn’t run out of gas. It was an epic adventure and it spawned my lifelong love of travel. I will never forget my first sight of the Grand Canyon or the vast expanses of Monument Valley. It is rare for a child to want to be an archaeologist, but after my first look at the ancient ruins of Mesa Verde National Park I was hooked.
Over the years I have taken that cross-country trip many times as well as planned numerous road trips with my family. Here are some tips to make your summer trip a smooth adventure:
The Vehicle. Make sure it is serviced and cleaned prior to your trip. Double check everything is running correctly especially the air conditioning and the radiator. These two things are not usually a worry in the Pacific Northwest, but as you get away from the coast in the summer you need to be prepared.
The Snack Box and Cooler. These are critical items for a road trip, especially with teenage boys. Many summer adventures involve outdoor locations that are far from services, and sometimes you can drive for hours without a place to stop. Popular National Park services are overwhelmed in the summer. Can you picture angling for a parking place and then once inside confronting a line full of cranky, hungry tourists? I always travel with a snack box filled with individually wrapped snacks. I also pack picnic lunch items such as sandwich fixings and a cooler filled with bottled water. I’ll add one soda per person but feel water is a better fit in the summer. Also pack napkins or paper towels, a plastic tablecloth (this can cover a picnic table or used to sit on the ground), wet wipes and some trash bags.
Vehicle Entertainment. You can go the easy route and turn on the DVD player, but the whole goal of a summer road trip is to get away, reconnect and make memories. Consider some classic car games, like find all the 50 states’ license plates or “honk your horn.” This silly game involves trying to get truck drivers to honk their horns. It is extremely inane, but even older children find it fun. I still have my trip journal from when I was a child. Make each child a kit with a notebook, colored pencils (crayons will melt in summer heat), safety scissors and a glue stick so they can make a journal of their trip.
Plan. Really take the time to map out your vacation. Plan your route. For a weeklong trip, spend no more than eight or nine hours driving to your destination. You don’t want to spend your whole trip in the car. Know where you are staying. I like to find a base and stay the whole trip while venturing out for day trips. Plan an itinerary and make necessary reservations. Our family still talks about not seeing Alcatraz because they were booked. Follow the plan but don’t be afraid to deviate for a spontaneous activity or stay longer if everyone is having fun. Just about every location has a website now with many offering suggested itineraries. They are a valuable resource for planning your trip.
If you are just now planning your summer trip and hope to make trip to Yellowstone or Yosemite National Park or other popular parks, you are out of luck. Lodging is filled a year out, and even if you can find a place to stay it is going to be what is left. Here are a couple suggestions for locations that are only hours away that are great for families traveling from North Idaho.
Located right off Interstate 90, Missoula makes a great substitute for Yellowstone National Park. The city is surrounded by Big Sky Montana vistas while having all the amenities a city offers. Instead of the tired lodging surrounding Yellowstone National Park, enjoy modern accommodations—many with great views! I love the Comfort Inn University with its mountain and river views. The area is packed with things to do just a short drive from town. We spent a week in Missoula and found something different to do every day of our trip. Visit the National Bison Range and get your fill of wildlife in their natural settings. We saw more animals on the driving loop around the range than we did at Yellowstone. For history lovers, check out the Fort Missoula Historical Museum and the Garnet Ghost Town. With teenage boys you have to step on the adventure aspect. White water rafting with Montana River Guides, Snow Bowl Ziplining and the Big Sky Breakout Escape Room fit the bill. Missoula offers a great downtown area with lots of shops and plenty of dining options.
For more information on Missoula, visit DestinationMissoula.org to plan the perfect summer vacation.
Port Townsend, Washington
Olympic National Park makes a great alternative to more crowded national parks due to its massive footprint. Highway 101 makes a loop about 350 miles around the park and has many fun quirky little towns to stay at. One of my favorites is Port Townsend with its beautiful Victorian architecture. Make your base at the Chevy Chase Beach Cabins. This historic resort has welcomed families since 1897, and the owners can trace many visitors back several generations. Located just out of town with majestic views of Discovery Bay, you won’t want to leave. Port Townsend offers all the amenities of a waterfront town. A foodie lover’s paradise, many restaurants are known for their farm-to-table bounty utilizing the local produce, meat and seafood. Enjoy the local beaches with kayaks or stand-up paddleboards. Check out Orcas in their natural habitat on a whale-watching tour. Make sure to take some time to visit Fort Worden. In addition to its historic nature as a fort, the property has been transformed into a cultural center of lifelong learning. Multiple museums are on the site, and movie buffs will recognize the location for many of the scenes in the movie “An Officer and a Gentleman.” Once you’ve had your fill of Port Townsend, head out for day trips in Olympic National Park. A bit more than an hour drive will have you at the top of Hurricane Ridge. Picture the beginning scenes of the movie “The Sound of Music” with Maria running across alpine meadows. The winding drive up is not for the faint of heart but is truly breathtaking.
For more information on Port Townsend and to find all it has in store for you during your stay, visit EnjoyPT.com.
It’s not too late to plan your own summer adventure, but don’t wait too long. Warm weather is just around the corner, and school will be out before you know it! So hit the road for your vacation and make some memories that will last a lifetime.