All Around The Campfire

The Western National Parks

Last summer we decided to head out for a few weeks for a national parks trip. We went to Capitol Reef, Arches, Canyonlands, Mesa Verde, Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Rocky Mountain, Grand Tetons, and Yellowstone. We also spent time in Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area, Dinosaur National Monument, and Craters of the Moon National Monument.

Our route full of giant letters

Our trip started on a miserably hot day. We were dropping our daughter off in Salt Lake City to visit a friend, but we couldn’t leave until she got off work. We finally left the house mid afternoon when it was over 100 degrees. We spent that first night in the parking lot of the Mountain Home, Idaho Walmart. It stayed hot all night long, and we left early the next morning after running into Walmart and grabbing sandwiches at Subway.

We headed south toward Salt Lake City. In all our years of travel, I don’t recall ever spending time there except in the airport, so I was excited to see someplace new. I booked a site at the Salt Lake City KOA, which turned out great! It was still terribly spot, but our site was nicely shaded, and the electric hookup kept our AC running. The next morning we drove the couple of miles to Temple Square and met our daughter and her friend to do a little exploring before we had to check out of the campground.

It was time to head south toward our first destination – Capitol Reef National Park. Unfortunately Capitol Reef was just a drive-thru for us this trip. We stayed outside the park and left early the next morning to explore before driving to Moab.

Moab had been on my list for years, although I hadn’t planned to be there when it was 110 degrees! We spent the early part of each day exploring Arches, and the afternoons were for hanging out in the campground, walking around town, and catching up on housekeeping.

When we left Moab we headed straight to Dead Horse State Park. We used that as our launching point to go to Canyonlands. The heat was still stifling, but evening thunderstorms helped cool us down each day. We went into Canyonlands in the morning, explored near the campground in the afternoons, and then hunkered down each night to wait out the storms.

The next stop was Mesa Verde National Park. The campground was surprisingly empty for July and we had our pick of sites. The first day we just explored by car stopping at each point of interest and overlook. The next day we had tickets for two of the cliff dwelling tours. Now I need to go back and do the other tours.

We had a gap to fill before our reservations in Rocky Mountain National Park, so we spent a couple of nights in Montrose. That gave us a chance to spend a day in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. I hadn’t heard of it until just a few weeks before the trip. It’s gorgeous! We also spend a two nights in Palisade where all we did was relax and go to a couple of farm stands.

When we got to Rocky Mountain National Park, the weather was suddenly much cooler. And by much cooler I mean it was at least 50 degrees cooler during the daytime. We went from using the AC constantly to running the furnace to take off the chill. That is another park I need to see again. It rained a lot while we were there, so we didn’t hike much.

From there we went to Vernal, Utah so that we could see Dinosaur National Monument before spending a couple of nights in Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area. When we left Flaming Gorge we were trying to get all the way to Jackson, Wyoming, but it was way to windy. We ended up stopping in Pinedale.

The next morning we were at Gros Ventre campground in Grand Tetons hoping we would get a campsite, and we lucked out. We’ve stayed there before, but our 21 year old son that was traveling with us hadn’t been there since he was 12, so we took him into GTNP for a few hours and then backtracked to Jackson for an afternoon. Our GTNP and Yellowstone time was intentionally short as we’d spent a week there in 2016. After Gros Ventre, we stayed two nights in Yellowstone,

It was time to head home. We stayed in Idaho Falls for a night, drove through Craters of the Moon National Monument, and spent one more thrilling night at the Mountain Home Walmart.

Exactly one month after we drove away from our house, we pulled into our driveway. It was a good trip.

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