There are certain experiences in life that have a deeper impact than others, that maybe even change the course a bit. Maybe you don’t even realize it at the time, but when you look back, you realize the important spot it has in your life’s timeline. Our family’s first trip out west was one of those experiences. Not only was it when we fell in love with the west; we learned a lot about ourselves … as a family and as individuals.
I (Emily) am a Kentucky girl, and Josh is a Michigan boy; our childhood family travels stayed mostly in the region somewhat close to where we lived. And not to take anything away from those family trips; I have so many wonderful memories! But I had never been out west, had never seen snowcapped mountains before.
Now as the parents, our own family trips started out the same way, staying within the same region of our country, but then we were ready for some new adventures. Spring 2019 is when we went on the adventure that to this day we call our “special trip” ~ our first trip out west.
We always like to hit several spots within one trip (check out our post about Multi City Travel), and there are a ton of places on the western side of our country to explore. We chose our spots for this trip based on what would work well for us being a general aviation family (Josh is a pilot), but this adventure could definitely be a good road trip too! Our original plan was to fly to South Dakota (see the Badlands), then to Montana (Glacier National Park area) for the majority of the time, then back to South Dakota (see Mount Rushmore) on the way home.
In aviation we have to be flexible and willing to change plans according to what the weather is doing, which works out okay for us because we’re typically pretty spontaneous, fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants types. Well, for this trip the weather changed our plans so that we ended up going to North Dakota for our first stop, and I’m so glad we did! It was one of our favorite parts of the trip!
Theodore Roosevelt National Park was amazing! I feel like it doesn’t get much hype … maybe because there is not much else around it, but we absolutely loved it. My daughters and I were wondering if we’d get to see wild horses, eagerly hoping we would, and the first thing we see when we turn into the park … wild horses! In fact, there was a ton of wildlife we saw there (bison, prairie dogs, pronghorns, etc). We took some beautiful family hikes, and it wasn’t crowded at all, which was so nice. The kids also did the Junior Ranger program that National Parks offer and had so much fun. The little cowboy town of Medora is a fun visit, and we very much enjoyed the food at Theodore’s Dining Room in the Rough Riders Hotel.
Next was our flight from North Dakota to Montana. It was epic. First sighting of snowcapped mountains, and it was when we were flying right above them; and then into what is probably my favorite airport we’ve landed at in Kalispell, Montana.
Our time in Montana remains a top favorite of our family experiences! We stayed in Columbia Falls, near Whitefish. The entire area is gorgeous.
And Glacier National Park … there are not enough words to describe how spectacular it is. We went in late May/early June, so there were certain areas that hadn’t opened up yet, but there were basically no crowds, so it was awesome! Before setting out on our hikes we listened to a talk given by a park ranger about bears. This park ranger did such a great job, and being that I am terrified of grizzly bears, it helped to learn more about them together as a family.
The hike to Avalanche Lake was our favorite. So gorgeous. Our little guy was just 3 on this trip, so we used something called a piggyback rider. It worked well, but I’m not going to lie, it is still rough carrying around a toddler. I don’t have any other backpack type of carrier to compare it to, but this one worked out for us. Thankfully our guy is pretty tough and actually hiked most of the time on his own. We also took along these hydration backpacks, which I fully recommend. They were so great to have!
Favorite eats in Whitefish: Jalisco Cantina for dinner and Sweet Peaks for ice cream (years later we still talk about this ice cream!)
Finally the weather cooperated for us to fly into South Dakota. We drove through Custer State Park and visited Mount Rushmore, both great experiences that I would suggest for any family.
Every trip we take together as a family teaches us something and leaves us with lots of special memories. This particular trip though was the one that I feel taught us the most. We learned how much we love the mountains, which might not sound like that big of a deal, but truly … there is no where I’d rather be than in the mountains. We discovered how much we love to hike together as a family. We discovered how much we love nature. I didn’t fully realize that about myself until this trip (combined with doing homeschool nature study with my kids). To hear the kids’ comments about the beauty of God’s creation and how much they loved our hikes was so cool. They even said, and I quote, “This is way better than going to Disney!” Sorry Disney lovers … we’ve done it and it is fun and all, but again … this trip is when we realized we love exploring out in nature and the National Parks way more!
This trip was by far the least stressful, most enjoyable family time we’ve had together. This was when we fell in love with the mountains … this is when we fell in love with exploring … this is when we fell in love with the West …
I can’t wait to share where that love for the West led us recently … lots more on that to come!