Tip & Tee: Driving to Mount Rushmore

Mount Rushmore National Memorial is arguably one of the most recognizable icons in the National Park System. The massive scale and realism of this sculpture completed in 1941 is mind boggling! It is no surprise that over 3 million people visit this symbol of America each year.

Mount Rushmore Doane Mountain Tunnel

Trip Tip:  Mount Rushmore

For an extra special treat, approach Mount Rushmore from Custer State Park by driving north on Iron Mountain Road (16A). This Scenic Byway is also an engineering feat with its remarkable bridges, tunnels, and switchbacks.  A highlight of this journey is the Doane Robinson Tunnel which perfectly frames Mount Rushmore!

Mount Rushmore Trip TeeWhen it comes to shopping on a trip, I am a total tourist! My favorite souvenirs are travel tee shirts! Over the years, I’ve amassed quite a collection. In Tip & Tee, I share some of my treasures and a Trip Tip for that destination!

The BEST National Park Visitor Center

I absolutely love our national parks, and for me, spending time in the park’s visitor center is a MUST! While there are some great national park visitor centers throughout the park system, there is one that really stands out: the Hot Springs National Park Visitor Center!

Hot Springs National Park is located in Hot Springs, Arkansas.  It is about an hour’s drive from the capital city of Little Rock.

What makes the Hot Springs National Park Visitor Center so special? It’s cool (or shall I say hot) backstory!Hot Springs National Park Bathhouse Row

In the 1800’s, the natural hot springs located in this area became a tourist mecca.  During that time, people believed that these springs had healing properties. People from around the nation would travel to this area to spend time soaking in the springs, drinking the water, and receiving other treatments to cure their ailments. The town of Hot Springs developed around this natural resource to provide the many visitors with much needed services.

Hot Springs National Park Spring Water
The spring water from Hot Springs National Park is still flowing.  Visitors are welcome to fill containers of water to drink or take home.

Hot Springs was the first public land to be set aside for protection based on it’s natural resources.  In 1832, Hot Springs National Reservation was established.  It became known as the “American Spa.” This area was designated as a National Park in 1921.   This designation led to the development of the Bathhouse Row that we see today. By the 1960’s, the heyday the hot springs had come to an end and many of the bathhouses on Bathhouse Row began to close including the Fordyce Bathhouse.Hot Springs Reservation

The elegant Fordyce Bathhouse operated from 1915 to 1962.  It remained closed until it opened as the Hot Springs National Park Visitor Center in 1989.  It has been lovingly restored to its original glory.  Hot Springs National Park Fordyce Bath HouseHot Springs National Park

Today, the Fordyce Bathhouse offers visitors a glimpse into what it was like to come to a glamorous bathhouse and to be pampered with a true spa experience during the first half of the 1900’s.

Some of these spa experiences aren’t too far removed from what you may enjoy in today’s spa visit.  Visitors in the early 1900’s could enjoy a hot bath, pedicure, hair and beauty treatments, steam treatments, and a custom developed workout regimen.  Some treatments, on the other hand, are in much less demand today.  Certainly many of us would say “no thank you” to an electric shock massage.Hot Springs National Park Fordyce Bathhouse

This National Park Visitor Center is a real gem. The Fordyce Bathhouse has 4 floors of bathhouse history to explore. It is fascinating to see and to imagine what it might have been like to visit this elegant spa in the early 1900’s.Hot Springs National Park Fordyce BathhouseHot Springs National Park-12Hot Springs National Park-14Hot Springs National Park-23

The Fordyce Bathhouse is just one of several beautiful structures on Bathhouse Row. Many of the bathhouses have been restored as the area has undergone a period of revitalization.  Buckstaff Bath is still in operation today offering spa services with the famous thermal waters of this National Park.  Superior Bathhouse has recently reopened as a brewery and distillery as well as a full service restaurant which utilizes the thermal waters to produce its craft beverages.Hot Springs National Park Bathhouse Row

A visit to Fordyce Bathhouse great way to spend a leisurely afternoon. Take a stroll along Bathhouse Row or simply spend some time in a rocking chair on a bathhouse front porch.  Then, take a bath just like visitors to Hot Springs have been doing for over 100 years!Hot Springs National Park Bathhouse Row

Turret Arch: Short Hike, Big Payoff

One thing I love about Arches National Park is there are several short yet spectacular hikes. The hike to Turret Arch is one of them. This hike doesn’t require much of your vacation time but still has that WOW factor you’ll remember long after the trip!Turret Arch Trail Arches National ParkTurret Arch Arches National Park- 5 trips

You may actually be more familiar with Turret Arch’s neighbors – the North and South Windows, aka the Spectacles. And while the Windows might be the more well known kids on the block, don’t discount Turret Arch.

Windows Trail sign showing the trail to Turret Arch.
Windows Trail sign showing the trail to Turret Arch.

The trail to Turret Arch is a short spur off the Windows Loop Trail.  The whole loop trail is only a little over a mile with minimal elevation gain, so it is quite family friendly.  While Turret Arch is purported to be smaller than the Windows, it didn’t seem that way to me. Perhaps its the arch’s vertical shape that makes it seem so massive.Turret Arch Trail Arches National ParkTurret Arch Arches National Park-18 Trips

The path to Turret Arch includes an easy set of stairs.  Once you reach the top, you can walk through the arch and view it from the other side.  This is a great place to just sit and enjoy the scenic view of rock formations and the La Sal Mountains.Turret Arch Trail Arches National ParkTurret Arch Arches National Park-11 trip

Turret Arch is a castle-like rock formation which actually contains two significant openings. While walking through the large arch, you’ll notice a second smaller opening. The smaller more circular arch is adjacent to the large vertical one.Turret Arch Trail Arches National ParkTurret Arch Arches National Park-9 trip

While Turret Arch might not be the most famous arch in Arches National Park, it is one of the one of the most dramatic.  Standing under this massive rock formation you can appreciate its scale while taking in outstanding views of this unique National Park.

5 Jaw Dropping Not-So-Obvious National Parks for Your Bucket List

The Big Three – Yellowstone, Yosemite, and the Grand Canyon.  These iconic National Parks are known for their jaw dropping appeal. But, there are other National Parks that are just as spectacular!

These 5 National Parks may be less famous but still deserve a place on your travel bucket list:

  1. Redwood National Park: Walking among these giants in Northern California is something you have to experience in person.  There is no way that words or photographs can illustrate the shear mass of these unforgettable behemoths!  Here you can enjoy watching the fog rolling off the ocean and consider the role it plays in this amazing old growth forest. Plan to spend several days in the Redwoods as the groves are spread out over a large area.  You’ll certainly want to savor this experience!Redwood Trees in Redwood National Park
  2. Great Sand Dunes National Park:  The massive sand dunes alongside the Rocky Mountains are nothing less than extraordinary!  Don’t miss the park visitor center where you can learn about how and why all that sand came to reside in the mountains of Colorado.  To top it all off, this unique ecosystem is home to a variety of wildlife.Great Sand Dunes by Rocky Mountains
  3. Canyonlands National Park:  The Grand Canyon isn’t the only National Park where the Colorado River is a leading character. Canyonlands National Park is a vast area of the Colorado Plateau where the Colorado and Green Rivers converge. The endless number of canyons, buttes, and mesas offer unlimited adventures. Aren’t up for hiking down to the bottom of a canyon (and back up)?  No problem! You can access many areas of Canyonlands National Park by vehicle, so you can explore at your own comfort level.  And the views in the Islands in the Sky district of Canyonlands are no less jaw-dropping than its more famous cousin.Canyonlands National Park Islands in the Sky
  4. Crater Lake National Park:  This unique National Park boasts one of the purest bodies of water in the world.   This royal blue gem is the deepest lake in the United States and has no other bodies of water flowing into it.  It is fed only by rain and snow, so it is very clean. The rim of this extinct volcano caldera offers views of the lake from several perspectives.  If you are visiting during the summer months, be sure to take the volcano boat tour for great views as well as a sip of this better-than-bottled water.Crater Lake National Park
  5. Zion National Park:  Utah’s first National Park is one of my all time favorites!  The Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is stunning, and there a variety of hiking trails to help you enjoy this dramatic landscape.  Right outside Canyon Scenic Drive is the town of Springdale, Utah.  This quaint town is a great home base for your stay in Zion Canyon.  It boasts several unique and charming local restaurants, shops, and galleries offering a pleasant way to unwind after a day exploring this National Park.Zion National Park

A vacation that includes a visit to one of our National Parks is a great way to unplug and enjoy family time.  Whichever park you choose, a unique and memorable experience awaits.  America’s National Park system is truly America’s Best Idea!

You CAN Tour Antelope Canyon!

Antelope Canyon is located near Page, Arizona and Lake Powell in the north central portion of the state.  This iconic canyon is a photographers dream with ribbons of sandstone curving in many directions and light streaming in magically from above.  I’d seen many eye-catching photos of this amazing canyon and knew I’d LOVE to see it in person.   Initially, I assumed that this hidden wonder was only accessible to those adventurers who are willing to don special climbing gear.

When planning our spring vacation to the Page, Arizona, I was thrilled to discover that I could actually tour the world’s most famous slot canyon without wearing a helmet or dangling from a rope!  Talk about excitement!

Taking pictures in Antelope Canyon.
I’m on cloud 9 here in Antelope Canyon!

Approximately 5 miles from Page, AZ, Antelope Canyon is located on Navajo Tribal Lands.  Therefore, you are not allowed to go through the canyon on your own.  You must be accompanied by a licensed Navajo guide.

There are two sections of Antelope Canyon that you can tour:  Upper Antelope Canyon and Lower Antelope Canyon. Which did I choose?  Why, both of course!  Several Navajo tour companies offer the experience, so I used travel review sites to select companies for each tour. Most tour companies offer a general tour and a photography tour.  We selected the general tour – no tripods were allowed on this tour.  (The rules on the photography tour stated that family cannot participate along with the photographer.)

Upper Antelope Slot Canyon

Both Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon are completely amazing and share many similarities.  However, there are distinct differences which might influence your choice if you only have time to see one.  In my next post, I’ll share our experiences touring both sections of the canyon.

7 Secrets to Stretch Your Vacation Budget Without Sacrificing Fun!

For most of us, considering the budget is just part of going on vacation.  And while it would be nice to travel and not think about the costs, that isn’t the reality for most of us.  I hold out hope that maybe someday…

As we all wait patiently for our ship to come in, consider these 7 secrets to stretch the travel budget without sacrificing any of the fun:

  1. Pack a Picnic:  Packing a picnic is my favorite way to stretch the budget.  Why? Because it is fun!  We started doing this several years ago when traveling with a toddler.  We found it was easier and much more enjoyable to have breakfast or lunch outside somewhere rather than in a crowded restaurant.  Saving money was an unplanned bonus! We’ve continued to pack picnics because it gives us more time in our destination – which is frequently a National or State Park.  But, this tip works in a city as well.  It was a blast eating breakfast in front of the Bean in Chicago!

    A Picnic by the Bean in Chicago
    A picnic by the Bean in Chicago made for a perfect breakfast experience!
  2. Embrace the Roadtrip:  It is a no-brainer that driving is often significantly cheaper than flying.  Our trips are usually to destinations where we’d have to rent a car anyway.  So, when we drive instead of fly, we avoid the cost of airfare AND rental car! This savings means we can either travel more or stay gone longer! WIN!  And, the drive itself can be fun!  Just view the roadtrip as part of your vacation!The road trip
  3. Be Flexible: While I love the idea of traveling during the shoulder season or during the school year, that just doesn’t work for our family at this time.  Even with the traditional school schedule, you can visit places during their less busy time – during that destination’s off season.  That means doing things like going to a ski resort in the summer!

    Ski Lift in Big Sky Montana
    Riding the ski lift in Big Sky, Montana was only 1 of the many fun summer activities!
  4. Consider Similar Destinations:  The popular spots are typically popular for a reason. But sometimes, a nearby but lesser known destination can offer a very similar experience without all the people or the cost! We used this strategy on our recent visit to Maine. Rather than spending a week in Bar Harbor (Acadia National Park), we spent a couple of days in Acadia and the rest of the time in another beautiful coastal town, Boothbay Harbor.  Guess what?  You can go whale watching, eat lobster, and sea kayak in both places, but the cost of lodging was less in Boothbay!  As a bonus, there was less traffic!

    Lighthouse in Boothbay Harbor, Maine
    Boothbay Harbor, Maine had all the elements of a coastal town in Maine without the traffic associated with a National Park in Bar Harbor.
  5. Select Budget Friendly Activities: National and State Parks offer many budget friendly vacation activities.  Enjoying outdoor activities like hiking or fishing costs very little or no money.  Some of the most fun we’ve had on vacation was doing things that didn’t cost a dime.  Even when we aren’t near a park, there are things to do that don’t cost much.  For example, hunting for sea glass in Maine was a blast. And, the free tour of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing in Ft. Worth was fantastic! Chances are that you’ll be able to find plenty of fun low or no cost activities wherever you go.

    Rocky Shoreline at Monterey Bay in California
    The shoreline in Monterey, California is a great place to kick back and enjoy the outdoors… for FREE!
  6. Watch Prices: Do you have a list of places you’d like to visit? We do, and I periodically glance at prices for those destinations.  That way, when a good deal comes along, I know it.  We have used this strategy in selecting our vacation destination for years.  And, it works!

    Lake Powell
    We found a great deal for a hotel in Page, AZ (Lake Powell).  It was high on the list, so we decided to go!
  7. Plan Ahead:  Planning your activities and meals before you leave not only helps you budget, but also keeps you from wasting time with the what-do-we-do-next conversation.  With a little prep work, you can not only avoid wasting time, you have a better chance of keeping your group happy with your meal choices.  To top it all off, when you plan your activities ahead of time, you can use your budget more strategically.

    Hamburger at Crave in Colorado Springs
    During pre-trip Internet research, I discovered Crave, a Colorado based restaurant in Colorado Springs.  I knew this hamburger restaurant would be a big hit with my family.  It was TASTY! (and now I’m just hungry)

Travel can be expensive.  But, I never have regretted spending money on these vacation experiences.  Using these strategies, it is  possible to plan an awesome trip without breaking the bank!