10 weeks 10 parks 10 museums
This year we took all five kids on a 10 week trip of 10 western National Parks and 10 museums. I’ll write more in-depth about different parts of planning, funding and pulling off a trip like this. But I wanted to give you a high-level overview.
Some might consider this a “once in a lifetime trip” but I don’t think it should be. I think these kinds of experiences should be sprinkled all throughout our life. In each season, we should find the “once in a lifetime” adventure that we add to our highlight reel for the decade.
There are some common misconceptions that hold people back
- You can only do these crazy things when you are in college or after 65. The entire middle of your life has to be a working grind.
- You need a full year off.
- It will cost $50,000+
- Traveling with kids is horrible.
Here is what we did with a National Park Pass ($80) and the ASTC science museum pass ($80-$120). Plus what I think of all those misconceptions!
Western National Park Itinerary
Canyonlands: National Park #1 on the trip. 1 day visit.
Arches National Park: National Park #2 on the trip. Visited two days.
Bonus: Capitol Reef. We drove through Capitol Reef on the way to Bryce. It was worth the extra drive and a great spot to stop. National Park #3. Spent about 3 hours.
Bryce Canyon: National Park #4. We spent two days hiking here. If we didn’t have little kids, we would have spent even more time doing more challenging hikes.
Zion National Park: National Park #5. We spent three days touring around here. We were here in May and it was already getting warm and crowded. But it was amazingly beautiful.
Horseshoe Bend: The parking lot was maxed out, but it would have been a great way to spend an hour or two. I also wish we would have planned for a few hours around Lake Powell.
Grand Cayon: This was National Park #6 for us. We spent a full day and hiked along the top. With our kids being young, we passed on hiking down.
Antelope Canyon: I really wish we could have made it work to see this. It was bizarrly windy the whole time we were in AZ. And apparently a miserable sandstorm in the canyon that week.
Joshua Tree: National Park #7. This was an unexpected favorite. We spent two days camping in the park. It was amazing.
Sequoia/King Canyon: National Park #7 (skipped Kings Canyon which would have been #8). We spent 3 days here. While other places were rather hot in May, Sequoia was chilly and damp. Somehow it added to the magic that are the sequoias.
Yosemite: National Park #8. How crazy is this world? Like these are real places we can just fly or drive to? And these pictures barely do the parks justice. We spent 3 days here and loved every second.
Redwoods: National Park #9 for us. There was something about dense, still, forrest pressed up against a wild coastline. We spent 3 days in the Redwoods and camped among a herd of elk. It was surreal.
Crater Lake: National Park #10. We spent a few days camping in the area and one day at Crater Lake.
Bonus: Fort Washington. We hadn’t planned to stop here. But ended up spending an afternoon with a blogger friend at this National Park.
Museums Included with our ASTC pass
In Salt Lake area:
- Clark Planetarium
- The Leonardo
- Natural History Museum of Utah
- Thanksgiving Point
- Lowell Observatory (skipped)
- Discovery Cube
- Bay Area Discovery Museum
- California Science Center (skipped)
- Fleet Science Center
- Natural History Museum of Los Angeles (skipped)
- San Diego Natural History Museum
- Eugene Science Center (formerly Science Factory)
- University of Oregon Museum of Natural and Cultural History (skipped)
- Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (skipped)
- Mobius Science Center
Just for kicks and giggles, we also did 3 full days of Disneyland. We went down to San Diego for 4 days of San Diego Zoo. We also drove up the Oregon coast and stayed in Newport where we watched sea lions and did a museum trio (underwater gardens, wax museum and Ripley’s Believe it or not).
We drove right by a number to museums but opted to skip them either because of timing or just too much other fun stuff to do!
Travel Misconceptions Busted!
You can only do these crazy things when you are in college or after 65. The entire middle of your life has to be a working grind.
It’s not really common yet, but a LOT of people are taking mini-retirements. I have a unique position because I run a class on mini-retirements, so I get to watch ordinary people pull this off all the time. Some negotiate a month off, others a full year. Some walk away from jobs, others try to walk away but get extra accommodations as soon as they put in their notice. People go back to the same job, find new jobs or do a career transition. I swear, this is a thing. A real thing.
You need a full year off.
This was a 10-week trip. If we had taken 3 months off, it would have given us a week to prep/pack and a week to unpack. (For 7 people, both do take a full week!) But this kind of trip feels like half a lifetime. We saw so many amazing sites and had really incredible experiences.
It will cost $50,000+
I’m still sorting through all the expenses, but it looks like we came in under $5,000. And that includes $1000 for Disney (the mouse is expensive!) We rented our house out while we were gone which covered $2650. If we didn’t do Disney, we would be out about $2,000. It was an incredible trip and not even close to $50,000!
Traveling with kids is horrible.
I told a lot of people in real life what we were doing and 9 out of 10 times the response was, “That’s not a vacation!” or “Oh, that sounds horrible!” or a slightly nicer, “Good for you! Your braver than I would be!”
Oddly enough, this was the number one concern people had. Not the time off, not the cost, not the craziness of doing this mid-life. Nope, they all thought traveling with kids is horrible.
Traveling with kids is….different. I’ve solo traveled. I’ve traveled with friends. I’ve traveled with one or two kids. Traveling with 5 little kids is just different. Setting that expectation is the key to having fun. Don’t try to drag a 2-year-old to 7 attractions.
It’s slower. We do fewer things per day. But it’s also incredibly fun. 5 years olds simply know how to have more fun than adults. Everything I thought was lame they were over the moon about. And visa versa! Bathrooms, shuttle buses, mud puddles, sand, and everything in between. It was just SO MUCH FUN for them.
We did exactly one thing a day. Despite what might appear to be a packed itinerary, it never felt rushed because that way we were doing exploring one part of a National Park. It’s hard to feel rushed on a slow, winding hike. (And trust me, hiking with 5 little kids is SLOOWWWW!)
We skipped some museums. We opted out of dangerous hikes. We made a few mental notes of things we would come to see again when the kids are older. The trip looked different than if it were an adult only trip. But that season of our life is coming again. This season with little kids is short.
A lot of things in life have an expiration date. The opportunity just won’t last forever. This trip couldn’t wait on the shelf for us another 20 years. I highly doubt my kids would do this trip with us in their 20’s. Besides we have other adventures to pack into that decade when we get there!
We have made a lot of unconventional and some would say hard choices to get to this point. But it’s because we always had our eye on the prize. I started dreaming and scheming on this trip 10 years ago. Having that clear goal, the “hard choices” we made along the way, like paying cash for our house, seemed like the perfect option.
For Conversation: Any park your love? Which one do you most want to see, or see again?