During our last year of college Shane and I discussed and planned out a road trip across the United States. We made a list of all the places we wanted to visit and mapped out different routes. We were going to rent an RV or a camper and just hit the open road. Then, we realized we were going to be poor college graduates with no jobs…
Plan B – Once we realized we wouldn’t be able to afford a road trip across the United States (even on a budget) we started looking into and contacting teen tour companies. In the end, Shane decided to stay home and work during the summer and I took the job on one of the teen tours. I got paid to travel across the country! I couldn’t believe it… what was the catch?
We were outnumbered by a bunch of hormonal teenagers. There it was. Instead of focusing on the campers, we’re going to explore the US because that part of the trip was amazing! It was my first time traveling across the country (I’d only ever been up and down the east coast) and I was thrilled to see the landmarks.
Forty-seven campers and staff (and a driver) set out on a bus from New Jersey at the end of June and headed north. This was our trip (the numbers stand for how many nights we stayed and the colors represent camping in tents (pink) and hotels (blue):
I also want to preface this post by saying I am only outdoorsy when it comes to having my toes in the sand and swimming in the ocean. I do not like camping and I am terrified of bugs. I do, however, love adventure. A lot of places on this trip included amusement parks and thrill seeking activities which are right up my alley.
Our first destination was the Finger Lakes in upstate New York. Friends, I am NOT a camper. I don’t like nature and bugs and sleeping on a cot… but I survived! We spent the day on a nature walk through Watkins Glen. It was an easy path to follow, mostly in the shade, and had beautiful waterfalls and greenery along the way. If you’re like me (not really a nature person, but appreciative of beauty in nature) this is the place to go.
We spent two days camping and spending time in Niagara Falls. Taking a walk under the Falls is a must. You can wear the ponchos that are handed out but you’ll get wet anyway. It is truly an incredible sight (I feel like I’m going to write that a lot in this post). To be that close to a HUGE waterfall is amazing. Another must is to take a trip on the Maid of the Mist, a boat tour that takes you right up to the Falls. Again, be prepared to get wet!
At night we crossed the border into Canada to celebrate Canada Day. Basically it was a lot of rowdy people celebrating on the streets and having fun.
Next stop – Cleveland to check out the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. We also went to Cedar Point, a huge amusement park where the other staff members dragged me onto the Dragster. It’s basically a roller coaster that goes straight up into the air, over a curve, and straight back down again. It’s terrifying. Look it up.
Ann Arbor, Michigan
For July 4th we stayed in the dorms at the University of Michigan and set off our own fireworks in the parking lot. Probably not the safest or smartest idea but, hey, YOLO. Let’s pretend I didn’t just say that.
Chicago was one of my favorite stops on the trip. Deep dish pizza, Navy Pier, and Millennium Park are just a few of the reasons why. We also saw the Blue Man Group which was a really fun show. I sat in the first row and got splattered with their paint, but also ended up with a painting in the end. I’d call that a win.
Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin
Apparently Wisconsin is known for its bajillion water parks (fun fact I learned on this trip) so of course we spent a day at Noah’s Ark water park where we also saw the Tommy Bartlett Variety Show which is a bunch of water skiing tricks. We also spent a day at The University of Wisconsin. I like that we stayed at or visited other colleges. Some of my friends went to these colleges so it was cool to see where they spent the last four years.
Another stay at a college, the University of Minnesota. You can say I got into the Gopher spirit…
We also shopped at the Mall of America which is every girl’s dream, but like I said in the beginning of this post, I was a poor college graduate.
Another fun fact I learned on this trip is that Minnesota has over 10,000 lakes. Who knew!? Obviously that was grounds for us to spend the day at Canoe Lake Calhoun. I love swimming in a lake or the ocean so this was a great refresher for me, especially being in the middle of the country.
Mitchell, South Dakota
Land of the corn… literally. There is actually a Corn Palace here. Mitchell was mostly a stopover town for us before we headed off to our next destination.
Rapid City, South Dakota
South Dakota was another of my favorite places to stay. We trekked through the Badlands which, for someone who is not a nature person or a hiker, was pretty awesome. I also saw Crazy Horse and Mt. Rushmore. Mt. Rushmore was incredible – I can’t believe these four faces were carved out of rock – however, am I terrible to say I expected it to be even bigger than it was?
Alright ladies and gents, now you get to see the cowgirl in me. In Cody we went to a rodeo, I slept in a tee pee, and I wore a cowboy hat. Who am I??
We also went white water rafting which is one of my absolute all-time favorite activities. I love the thrill of the rapids and getting wet and the adventure…
I’m actually speechless when it comes to writing about Yellowstone. The views are spectacular. Here we saw hot springs and, of course, Old Faithful Geyser. Then, it was on to…
We hiked… and hiked… and hiked… until we reached snow! Yes, in the middle of the summer. That was pretty awesome. Again, the views are just gorgeous. We also walked around Jackson Hole, Wyoming and had some fun in the shops around town.
Park City, Utah
You probably see a lot of commercials for Park City on TV (at least I do). If I hadn’t been I’d say no big deal, but it was actually pretty fun! There are a lot of cute shops to walk around town and we went to the Park City Mountain Resort where they had zip-lining and alpine slides.
That was only the first 20 days of our trip. There is so much more to show and tell so stay tuned for Part II.
A Trip Across the United States – Part I – you are here!
A Trip Across the United States – Part II – click here.