Midwest road trip: itinerary + packing list

midwest-road-trip.jpg

Even though we had been planning on going on our summer road trip to South Dakota since the winter, the plan wasn't actually set in stone until our time off was approved just a couple of weeks before we were set to leave. That left very little time to figure out when we should leave and return, where we should stop along the way, and what we could squeeze into each day. I knew I wanted to take Korri through all the sites possible between here and South Dakota, and that left no time to sit and truly enjoy any one place for too long. Even though his knee injury has been a battle, the fact that he had limited mobility made it easier to plan a drive-heavy trip with minimal walking. And we got to see a LOT during our trip!

If you are in the midst of planning a road trip (or enjoying reading about how others do road trips), this post features quick looks at our day-to-day itineraries followed by my packing list (clothing and other necessities for road trips). I don't think I'll ever stop tweaking my approach when it comes to planning big trips like this, so it's nice to be able to lay out everything we did and figure out what we could do better next time. I will say that we modified our trip home last minute and it worked out better than I expected! I also wanted to note what I brought with me and what else I would bring (or leave home) on future trips. I will definitely be referring to this post in the future.

Jackson Lake, Wyoming — via Cotton Cashmere Cat Hair
 

FRIDAY / DAY 1

We planned to work half days and then head out, taking the highway and passing through Craters of the Moon on our way to Driggs, ID. Korri ended up working longer than me, and it took longer for us to get packed and the car loaded than I thought it would, so we scratched Craters of the Moon and took the interstate to Driggs, arriving to our hotel after dark.

Firehole Lake Drive, Yellowstone — via Cotton Cashmere Cat Hair
Surprise Pool, Yellowstone — via Cotton Cashmere Cat Hair
Artists Point, Yellowstone — via Cotton Cashmere Cat Hair
 

SATURDAY / DAY 2

The alarm went off at 6:30 am for our first full day of driving. We drove into Wyoming and started by grabbing sandwiches at Dornan's to keep in the cooler for later. We took the slower scenic route through Grand Teton. We came into Yellowstone through the south entrance, did the lower loop, and left out the east entrance to Cody, WY. We had to skip most of the geyser basins due to traffic, and had to wait a while in other areas (Old Faithful, Artists Point) but we didn't get stuck in any wildlife jams. You can read more about our full day in this post!

Bighorn Mountains along Highway 14 — via Cotton Cashmere Cat Hair

SUNDAY / DAY 3

It was another early start for another full day of driving—not as heavy on the sightseeing. We decided to take highway 14 through the Bighorn Mountains, which was absolutely amazing and I would highly recommend that highway if you're not in an RV or towing a trailer (the grade and switchbacks are a little crazy at times). We stopped at Shell Falls on the way up. The road was torn up near the junction with 14a—not ideal, but we survived, haha (it will be complete by the end of October). After lunch in Sheridan, the next stop was Devils Tower. We ended up having time after DT to drive through Spearfish Canyon in the Black Hills, where we found recent tornado damage, and then took the scenic route (read: a dirt road...) down to Needles Highway. It was less busy near sunset. We stayed the night in Custer, SD.

Devils Tower, Wyoming — via Cotton Cashmere Cat Hair
Tornado damage in Spearfish Canyon — via Cotton Cashmere Cat Hair
Mount Rushmore National Memorial — via Cotton Cashmere Cat Hair

MONDAY / DAY 4

We left our hotel in Custer a bit later than I would have preferred (about 9 am) because we were going to be driving into the central time zone later in the day and losing an hour. The day started with a drive through Custer State Park to see the buffalo...only we hardly saw any wildlife! We spotted one buffalo, a couple of burros under a tree, and a turtle in the middle of the road (I didn't even though there were turtles in South Dakota to be honest). It was the strangest thing! We took Iron Mountain Road up to Mt. Rushmore and waited in line for what felt like forever to get into Mt. Rushmore. I'd definitely avoid going the week of July 4th if you can, haha. Next stop was the cute little town of Wall to visit Wall Drug (you'll see the signs all along the interstate) before heading south through the Badlands. It was about mid to late afternoon when we finished driving through the Badlands and got back on the interstate, heading east.

Badlands in South Dakota — via Cotton Cashmere Cat Hair
 

TUESDAY - THURSDAY / DAYS 5-7

We slept in and stayed put most of the time! All of our time was spent with family. We did visit the Corn Palace in Mitchell one day. It's kind of like Wall Drug: a South Dakota staple that you can't miss. ;) The walls of the building are decked out in murals of corn! The theme was "South Dakota Weather"—perfect for us weather nerds! We didn't get any good storms during our trip, but it was rather hot and humid (and buggy...so many mosquitoes!). We watched my cousin play baseball, shot off fireworks, and ate tons of yummy food.

World's Only Corn Palace, Mitchell, South Dakota — via Cotton Cashmere Cat Hair
Wall Drug billboard, South Dakota — via Cotton Cashmere Cat Hair
Bighorn Mountains from Highway 16 — via Cotton Cashmere Cat Hair

FRIDAY / DAY 8

I wanted to leave by 9 am at the latest, but we didn't head out until about 10 am...and then we stopped at the grocery store, so we weren't on the road until about 11 am. At least we were going to gain an hour driving back into mountain time! We had a very long day in the car. We stopped once for lunch in Rapid City (ate really good Mongolian BBQ, surprisingly). We took highway 16 back through the Bighorn Mountains, drove through another beautiful canyon, and then hit 100°F on the west side. Whew! We stayed the night in Greybull, WY, since it was cheaper to stay there than Cody (and not as far of a drive). Our little motel was so cute and actually pretty nice; we would definitely stay there again! And even though it was hot, at least we were back in a dry heat. ;)

View along Beartooth Highway — via Cotton Cashmere Cat Hair

SATURDAY / DAY 9

The focus of this day was really the drive to Yellowstone. We started a bit later in Greybull than we should have (got out about 9:30 am). We drove Chief Joseph Scenic Highway to the junction with Beartooth Highway, and then we took Beartooth Highway all the way into Montana before turning around and heading back to Cooke City—Silver Gate. We made it to the northeast entrance of Yellowstone at 3:45 pm. I was getting nervous since we had about a four hour drive in Yellowstone ahead of us. We did get stopped on the road many more times due to wildlife (once for bears, though, at least). We drove out the south entrance at about 7:15 pm; 3.5 hours in the park wasn't bad considering all the stops! We caught the sunset at Grand Teton, and it was a perfect evening with no clouds obscuring the mountains. You can read more about our day in this post!

Snow along Beartooth Highway in July — via Cotton Cashmere Cat Hair
Grand Tetons at sunset — via Cotton Cashmere Cat Hair
Mesa Falls, eastern Idaho — via Cotton Cashmere Cat Hair

SUNDAY / DAY 10

Our last day started leisurely—we ate breakfast in the hotel and didn't leave Driggs until about 10:30 am. It was supposed to be a short day; Driggs is about a five hour drive from Boise, but we added some stops on the way, starting with Mesa Falls and the old Teton Dam Site in eastern Idaho. I also saw so many potato cellars! You may think of potato farms when you think of Idaho, which is true, but only in eastern Idaho, haha. We took the highway back to Boise, making a stop in Arco for food (which took forever, unfortunately) and then at Craters of the Moon (I got my stamp!). We didn't get home until after 9 pm. Then, of course, we had to get some groceries and unload the car. I was very excited to see my kitties after 10 days, though! :) And I dreaded the fact that I had to go to work the next morning...

Eastern Idaho potato cellar — via Cotton Cashmere Cat Hair
Craters of the Moon, Idaho — via Cotton Cashmere Cat Hair

PACKING LIST

Packing ended up being slightly difficult for me because we experienced a range of temperatures during our trip that required a variety of different articles of clothing, but I didn't want to pack too much and then not wear everything. I also didn't want to pack too many bags because I was the one that had to carry them all. ;) I actually feel like I was pretty successful this time, especially when I compare it to the last time I went to South Dakota! Why did I think wearing a chambray shirt in July would be a good idea? Haha!

I packed all of my clothes in my roller bag with room to spare, and I packed all of my shoes and our toiletries in my Everlane weekender bag. I filled two canvas bags with our toiletries to keep them separate from the shoes and for easy carrying to the bathroom. Korri packed his own roller bag with clothes, and we each had backpacks with our laptops and other small items like chargers.

Here's what I brought with me:

  • One tank top
  • Five t-shirts (three linen)
  • One sweater
  • One sweatshirt
  • Two pairs of jeans
  • Two pairs of shorts
  • Two pairs of sandals
  • Two pairs of sneakers (one not pictured; I also brought my old Toms for driving)
  • One crossbody bag + wristlet
  • Two baseball caps (one not pictured)
  • One necklace + two pairs of earrings
  • One lightweight coat
  • One pair of leggings
  • Workout clothes
  • Pajamas
  • Undergarments (including socks)
10-day summer road trip packing list — Cotton Cashmere Cat Hair
10-day road trip outfits — Cotton Cashmere Cat Hair

Above are eight outfits I put together over the 10-day trip. They're not very exciting, but they got the job done. On the first day, I changed tops after work and didn't make a completely new outfit in Stylebook. I also wore one of the outfits two days in a row. I wore either my second pair of sneakers or my old Toms with the outfits that don't have any shoes. The start of the trip was much cooler than the end; I wore jeans or leggings on days 1-3 and was glad to have my light packable puffer coat in the higher elevations. I switched to shorts partway through day 4 (Monday) and wore them through day 8 (Friday). (I put on jeans in the evenings to keep the bugs at bay.) I did wear jeans the Saturday we went back through Yellowstone (day 9) because it was cool along Beartooth Highway, but Sunday (day 10) was another hot day and shorts were necessary!

In the end, I think packing two pairs of shorts and two pairs of jeans worked really well. I brought along leggings, too, but I didn't really need them (however, they are more comfortable than jeans to sit in for long periods of time). I wore my navy sandals more than the flip flops because they are more secure for driving. I'm also glad I brought a sweater and sweatshirt, though I wore the sweatshirt just about every day so I almost wish I had brought a second sweatshirt instead of a sweater. The sweater I brought doesn't layer over tees as well as the sweatshirt does, so that's why I only wore it with the tank. It was definitely smart to bring all the linen tees for the purpose of breathability in the heat and humidity. I only wore jewelry once during the trip (my tiny studs), and I could have left the other items behind.

We also packed plenty of miscellaneous road trip necessities! I highly recommend bringing along all of these items, especially if you're planning a national parks tour like we did.

  • Cooler for food, drinks, and Korri's ice pack
  • Umbrella
  • Tire pressure gauge
  • Sun shade
  • National parks annual pass (we saved $120 on entry fees)
  • National parks passport book (I'm a nerd!)
  • Camera + extra battery + charger + extra lenses
  • Car phone charger
  • Snacks (lots of chips, haha)
  • Compostable plates + napkins + silverware
  • Roll of paper towels
  • Paper copy of each day's driving directions
  • CDs in case of no phone service or radio signals
  • Bug spray + sunscreen + hand sanitizer

Small town South Dakota

High rise shorts summer outfit — Cotton Cashmere Cat Hair
Small town South Dakota architecture — Cotton Cashmere Cat Hair
What to wear in heat and humidity — Cotton Cashmere Cat Hair
Everlane linen scoopneck tee — Cotton Cashmere Cat Hair
Downtown small town South Dakota — Cotton Cashmere Cat Hair
Summer outfit with navy Salt Water sandals — Cotton Cashmere Cat Hair
Green linen tee outfit with high rise shorts — Cotton Cashmere Cat Hair
Quaint small town South Dakota — Cotton Cashmere Cat Hair
Summer style with green linen tee — Cotton Cashmere Cat Hair
Streets of small town South Dakota — Cotton Cashmere Cat Hair

Even though I grew up in more of a city environment and definitely prefer to live in cities, I find small towns so charming! In small towns, there's one grocery store, one gas station, maybe a small library. There's only one stoplight...or maybe it's small enough that there's only stop and yield signs. It takes approximately five minutes (or less) to drive the entire town's perimeter. Everyone knows everyone. Families pass down their homes from generation to generation. All the kids attend the same school. It's a life and a lifestyle that's very different from my own and from what I'm familiar with, and I think that's why I find small towns so intriguing. Are you more a fan of small towns or big(ger) cities?

I've visited my step-mom's side of the family in a small town in eastern South Dakota many times over the years. My dad and step mom were married at my grandparents' house 21 years ago! The past couple of visits have been during the summer—when it's the hottest and muggiest, naturally! (Here's a post from my visit in 2015!) Usually the heat and humidity means a couple of good thunderstorms, but of course, we didn't get anything during our few-day stay. (There was one rogue lighting bolt from a storm passing to the south that hit close to town and resulted in a huge thunder clap, but that was it.)

I came better prepared this trip than I did in 2015: I brought THREE linen t-shirts as opposed to just one. Haha. I brought all of my linen tees by Everlane (my favorite!) and a couple of pairs of shorts. I also had a sweatshirt for cooler evenings and a couple of pairs of jeans, since those South Dakota mosquitoes are absolutely relentless. I packed super light but it ended up working out perfectly since I wore everything I brought. I appreciated having three linen tees—one for each full day in South Dakota—because, like I said above, it was hot and humid...and sweaty!


OUTFIT DETAILS

Everlane tee / exact
ModCloth shorts / old; similar
Salt Water sandals / exact
Madewell earrings / old; similar from Etsy
Moorea Seal sunglasses / old; similar by Le Specs
Dior Addict Lip Glow in pink / exact

One day in Grand Teton and Yellowstone

I recently returned from a 10-day road trip through Idaho, Wyoming, and South Dakota. When my family decided to head to eastern South Dakota to visit family this summer, I decided to make a trip out of it and see as much scenery as possible along the way. It was Korri's first time to that part of the country, so I was very excited to show him places of which I have fond memories and discover new favorite locations together.

We hit up almost all the sights between Boise and eastern South Dakota: Grand Teton National Park, Yellowstone NP, the Bighorn Mountains, Devils Tower NM, the Black Hills (Spearfish Canyon, Needles Highway, Custer State Park, Iron Mountain Road, Mt. Rushmore), and the Badlands (with a stop at Wall Drug, naturally). We didn't do as much sightseeing on the way home, but we did follow almost the exact route back; we added Chief Joseph Scenic Byway and Beartooth Highway on our way into Yellowstone.

I won't be doing individual posts about each day or location of our trip, but I did want to share how we pulled off a day trip through Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. Contrary to popular belief, it is possible to do a day trip through those parks and see quite a bit! This ended up being a perfect way to see the parks because Korri was still using his crutches and couldn't do any hikes or long walks, and I don't really feel like we missed out on too much considering the situation (we are already planning on coming back when he's healed and can hike!). We ended up doing two days trips: one on our way east and one on our way west. Clouds hid the Tetons the first time we went through, so we changed our plans coming home and drove through the park again on our way back. It ended up being worth it!

Warning: This post contains way more text than I had originally intended, but I tried to sprinkle in lots of photos in case you came just for those! ;)


FROM WEST TO EAST

START: Driggs, ID / END: Cody, WY

We drove through the parks on a Saturday. Not the best plan, but it's how it ended up working, so we had to roll with it. Knowing that Yellowstone could take almost the whole day to drive through, we woke up at 6:30 am to make sure we weren't arriving in Cody at dark. (For the record, I don't even wake up that early for work, LOL.) We fueled up the car and were on our way out of Idaho by about 7:30 am.

We drove through Jackson, WY, and made a stop at Dornan's for sandwiches to keep in the cooler and eat for lunch later in the day. We also stopped at the Grand Teton visitor's center on our way in for a stamp in my passport book.

The entire loop past the entrance of the park was about 43 miles. We drove it quicker than I thought we would because it was cloudy and we couldn't see the mountains. Bummer! We stopped only a couple of times to take photos. We got back on the highway and made a final stop at the Jackson Lake Overlook before continuing to Yellowstone.

We made it to the south entrance of Yellowstone at 10 am, then sat in line for another 15 minutes. I'm not sure what took so long, but here's a tip if you make a visit: you can find all the info you need at any of the visitor's centers, so don't hold up the line talking to the ranger at the entrance. ;) I bought a national parks annual pass prior to our trip since it cost only $80 and we were planning to visit so many parks. It made entry even easier!

Since we arrived from the south, our first stop was at West Thumb Geyser Basin, where we actually got out of the car and walked around. It was already pretty busy when we got there at 10:45-11 am. We continued on the loop and made a stop at Old Faithful. It was extremely busy around noon, as you would expect, but luckily we didn't have to wait too long for the geyser (it erupted at 12:30 pm). I made the mistake of trying to leave right after the eruption and we sat in traffic for what felt like forever.

Abyss Pool, West Thumb Geyser Basin — via Cotton Cashmere Cat Hair
Surprise Pool, Firehole Lake Drive — via Cotton Cashmere Cat Hair

After Old Faithful, I wanted to stop at the Black Sand Basin, Biscuit Basin, and Grand Prismatic, but all of the parking lots were full so we just did drive-bys. In my opinion, one of the highlights of the trip was taking the lesser-known one-way drives that are closed to trailers and RVs. We did the Firehole Lake Drive and saw many geysers right from the road, and we also did the Firehole Canyon Drive. Korri loved seeing that canyon, and he never had to leave the car to enjoy it.

We skipped the Norris Geyser Basin (too much walking and likely too crowded) and headed straight for Canyon Village and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. At this point, we were making really good time because we saw no wildlife, so there were no wildlife jams on the road. Haha! We checked out the North Rim drive, stopping at the overlooks easily accessible from the road (lower falls), and then headed back to the village to eat our sandwiches and stamp my passport book. By this point it was around 3:30 pm (we had been snacking most of the day).

After relaxing for a while and giving Korri's knee a break, we ventured out to the South Rim drive and Artist's Point. It was a fairly long walk from the road (and very crowded) but definitely worth the view! We finished up by driving down to Fishing Bridge, but the road down there is currently all torn up and it was quite a mess, so we didn't end up stopping. Our last stop in the park was at the Lake Butte Overlook, where we could see the Tetons out in the distance, unobscured by clouds. Of course. ;)

We drove out the east entrance (after getting stopped by a couple of buffalo on the road!) and through one of the most beautiful canyons! I had no idea that area was so pretty. It was an easy hour drive from the entrance to Cody, and we were oohing and aahing at all the geology. We made it into town earlier than I had expected (about 7:30 pm), which was nice so we could chill out and rest/ice Korri's knee in preparation for the next day's adventures.

Lower Falls, Yellowstone River — via Cotton Cashmere Cat Hair
Shore of Yellowstone Lake — via Cotton Cashmere Cat Hair
Drive to Cody, Wyoming from Yellowstone — via Cotton Cashmere Cat Hair

ROUTE FROM WEST TO EAST

 via Google Maps

via Google Maps


FROM EAST TO WEST

START: Greybull, WY / END: Driggs, ID

Dead Indian Pass, Chief Joseph Scenic Byway — via Cotton Cashmere Cat Hair
Chief Joseph Scenic Byway — via Cotton Cashmere Cat Hair

Our trip from east to west looked a little bit different because we focused mostly on the drive to Yellowstone and didn't do any sightseeing in Yellowstone itself. We spent a long time in the car on the way back through the parks!

We opted to stay in Greybull instead of Cody the night before because it was more doable in a day from eastern South Dakota and plus it was a lot less expensive to stay there versus in Cody. Our motel was super cute and we would definitely stay there again! We got a late start to the day and didn't leave Greybull until about 9:30 am. We stopped at the grocery store in Cody to get some snacks and weren't back on the road until about 11 am. 

Korri wanted to drive through Chief Joseph Scenic Byway, then backtrack on Beartooth Highway a ways before continuing to Yellowstone. Our first plan was the stay the night before in Red Lodge and then drive all the way to Boise via Beartooth Highway and Yellowstone (skipping the Tetons), but that would have made for a very long day. I'm glad we changed our plans!

Because we got a late start, we didn't get to the junction with Beartooth Highway until about 1 pm, and we spent a lot of time driving through and stopping to take photos along Beartooth. It was a gorgeous drive! We made a pit stop in Silver Gate, MT, for ice cream at Stop The Car Trading Post before going through the northeast entrance of Yellowstone at about 3:45 pm. I was getting a little worried about time at this point since we had less than six hours of daylight and a full drive through Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons ahead of us!

Beartooth Highway, Wyoming — via Cotton Cashmere Cat Hair
Beartooth Highway meadow — via Cotton Cashmere Cat Hair
View along Beartooth Highway — via Cotton Cashmere Cat Hair
Buffalo in Hayden Valley, Yellowstone — via Cotton Cashmere Cat Hair

We immediately saw a ton of buffalo in Lamar Valley and had to slow down for people taking photos. That's what I was worried about! There was also a crowd claiming to be looking at a brown bear, but we didn't see the bear so we can't confirm. We got stopped for quite a while due to grizzly bears, and we did see one cub, so that was cool! We headed south back through Canyon Village, making a stop for—you guessed it—a stamp in my passport book and some food. Hayden Valley had a number of buffalo and many more stops on the road due to people ogling. At this point we were getting annoyed, haha. All the stopping was what I had remembered about Yellowstone in years past.

We finally got out of the park at about 7:15 pm. 3.5 hours wasn't too bad considering all the stops we were forced to make along the way, but we only had about two more hours of daylight and wanted to get over Teton Pass before dark.

We stopped again at Jackson Lake Overlook, this time with no clouds obscuring the Tetons. It was such a beautiful evening! We took our time driving through Grand Teton National Park again and made tons of stops for photos while marveling at the beauty of those mountains. We can't wait to go back and experience them at all hours of the day!

It was darkening quickly as we drove out of the park, but luckily we made it over the pass with no problems and into Driggs by the time night fell. I checked us into our hotel at about 9:45 pm, and then we headed back to the grocery store to grab food since all the restaurants were closing. It was our last night before heading home, but the adventure wasn't quite over yet. :)

Jackson Lake, Grand Teton National Park — via Cotton Cashmere Cat Hair
Grand Teton National Park — via Cotton Cashmere Cat Hair
Teton Mountains at sunset — via Cotton Cashmere Cat Hair

ROUTE FROM EAST TO WEST

 via Google Maps

via Google Maps