Wild wild (mid)west 2.0: The Planning


It’s time for another epic road trip out west! In 2018 we took advantage of the Every Kid in a Park program to do a 3 week long road trip to visit National Parks in the Southwest USA. In 2021 when our other son was in 4th grade we decided to do a 2nd road trip to visit a bunch of national parks, this time through the Great Lakes and northern mid-west region.

For this trip, we decided to use our own car, a 201x Toyota Highlander to drive around the Great Lakes, out to Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Park, and back through North Dakota and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. We had dozens of free hotel nights due to credit card perks, so the goal is to stay for free at every hotel throughout the trip and camp some nights too.

The plan

This itinerary is actually a week longer than our last trip, for a total of 4 weeks! We plan on using the same camping gear we used last time, since it worked pretty well for us and fit in an SUV similar in size to the Highlander. I will make another post later with our gear and how we pack the car. Our itinerary is below.

Day 1-3: Syracuse – Cleveland. We plan on driving to Cleveland and staying at the Metropolitan hotel for 3 nights (Marriott certificates). We will explore the city and spend a day and a half at Cuyahoga National Park.

Day 4: Cleveland – Sand Dunes National Park. We will drive to this newer national park and spend the day.

Days 5-7: Chicago: We will stay for two days and three nights in the Windy City and do some sightseeing. Hotel will be free with Marriott certidicates.

Day 7: Madison, Wisconsin. I’ve always wanted to visit Madison because I’ve heard such good things about it. We will stay one night in a hotel using a Marriott certificate.

Day 8: Madison – Minneapolis-St. Paul: we will drive up along the northern Mississippi River, stopping at sites along the way, and end up in Minneapolis.

Days 9-10: Minneapolis-St. Paul. We will spend a few days exploring the twin cities. The hotel will be free using Hilton free night certificates.

Days 11-12: Badlands National Park. We will drive out to South Dakota and stay at our first campground at Badlands National Park.

Days 13-14: Black Hills, South Dakota. We will continue camping and exploring this area including Mt. Rushmore, Missile silo national monument, and Wind Cave National Park

Day 15: Devil’s Tower National Monument. As a huge Close Encounters fan, I can’t wait to visit this alien landing platform 😁. We’ll stay the night in Riverton, WY (hotel free with points).

Days 16-18: Grand Teton National Park. We’ll drive out to Jackson, WY where we will stay at Springhill Suites for free with points.

Days 19-21: Yellowstone National Park. We’ll camp for 3 nights at this iconic national park.

Day 22: Bozeman, MT: we’ll visit a friend who lives here and stay one night in a hotel with a Marriott certificate.

Day 23-24: Theodore Roosevelt National Park. We’ll drive to North Dakota and spend a day and a half at this park. We will spend one night in a hotel using Chase Ultimate Rewards points and one night camping.

Day 25: Fargo. We’ll drive out to Fargo and spend the night, staying in a hotel using a free IHG night certificate.

Day 26-27: Voyageurs National Park. We’ll drive up to this National Park in Northern Minnesota and stay two nights at a hotel booked using Chase Ultimate Rewards Points.

Day 28: Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. We’ll start to explore the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and camp one night.

Days 29-30: Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. We will continue to explore the UP and camp another two nights.

Day 31: Mackinac Island and Ann Arbor. We’ll stop at Mackinac Island on our way home and stay overnight at a Holiday Inn using an IHG free night certificate.

Day 32: Drive home!