Midwest road trip: itinerary + packing list

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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