Itinerary: 16-Days Utah Mighty 5

Delicate Arch, Arches National Park

We’ve been home from our Utah Mighty 5 trip for a couple of weeks now… and I must say…. This trip changed our lives. We weren’t expecting it! What started out as one of our usual family vacations ended up being the new motto we live our lives by. 

I’ll explain a little before diving into this amazing itinerary! We’ve been traveling with our kids since they were infants. Every year has brought new challenges as they grow. From babies to toddlers to preschool ages… we were always working around naps and gauging their energy level before planning our day. They are now 7 & 8 and completely amazed us every single day of the trip. 

Our trip began the day after they got out of school for summer. They went straight from “school life” to “van life.” And they transitioned well!  We let them bring one stuffed animal. No toys. And we are always screen-free travelers. No iPads, phones, movies, etc. We want travel to be something new and different. We are already screen light at home and so they do just fine without it while traveling. Yes, even on long flights. After 2 solid weeks of minimal toys and an immense amount of nature we saw the most beautiful change in them! 

So, going forward, our motto? Focus on cutting out the “fluff” so we can spend more time traveling as a family. Minimal spending. More time outside. More time exploring. Getting lost. Wholesome meals. And dreaming of our next destination! The boys have decided they want to see all 63 National Parks before graduating high school. This trip got us to #23. Only 40 to go! 

So, let’s go! The Utah Mighty 5 in 16-days

We always travel out of Dallas and choose to fly Southwest for the ease of the airport and their prices. It’s usually how we pick our next destination – flight prices. In this case we flew into Salt Lake City (airport code: SLC). 

Day 1: Fly in SLC

We flew in early enough to make a few stops before heading to our first big park – Arches. Salt Lake City is a good 4.5 hour drive from Arches so we wanted to break it up a bit. 

We rented a Sprinter van from Moterra Campervans. This was our second time using this company and we can’t recommend them enough! The vans are well-equipped and the perfect way to travel for our family of 4. Note: these vans do not have showers or toilets. So, keep that in mind when going several days off-grid. 

Pro tip: pre-schedule a Walmart grocery pickup! After picking up our van, we drove straight to Walmart where they just loaded our groceries right into the van! I was able to meal plan from home before we left and have everything we needed in 10 minutes. I.e. no kids running through the store or trying to pick random meal items on the fly. 

From there we wanted to check out the Museum of Ancient Life at Thanksgiving Point. Highly recommend! It was a great way to let the kids get some energy out before making a longer trek toward the park. We stopped for lunch at Curry Pizza – also HIGHLY recommend. One of the best places we stopped for food on the whole trip! It’s an Indian food and pizza/wing place mash up. So weird, but amazingly delicious! 

After all of that we were headed toward Arches! Unfortunately, I missed the campsite lottery the first night of our trip (whoops) so we needed a quick spot that first night. In Utah you can boondock, or free camp, in many places. So, we chose a rest stop decently close to the park. We got in close to bedtime so we set up the camper in the parking lot and rested up before our first day at Arches. 

Day 2: Arches NP

The thing about the Utah National Parks is THEY ARE BUSY. They do take a bit of planning if you want to have a better experience. Being from Texas, we were able to use the time change to our advantage and get in before the entry station opened for the day. We drove in around 6:45am and headed straight for Delicate Arch – the most popular hike in the park. Y’all…. Had we been 10 seconds later we would’ve missed one of the last parking spots! We lucked out big time! 

We didn’t eat breakfast before heading here because the goal was to get in, get a parking spot, and then chill and eat. It worked perfectly. We used our spot to our advantage, cooked breakfast, got dressed, and we were ready for Delicate Arch! 

Pro tip: booking campsites in the National Parks requires you to be online 6-months in advance to the day you are wanting to travel. I will let you in on my biggest secret for actually securing a site, reluctantly, haha. Use the world clock on google. As soon as the milli-second hits that 8am click BOOK!  If you are any later than that – the sites are gone. Literally. It’s why I missed our first night. We’ve done this for several of the parks we’ve camped in but Utah is one of the busiest! 

We made reservations for Devils Garden Campground for 2 nights. 

Learn more about Arches National Park here

Day 3: Arches NP

We ended up doing several of the hikes in Arches. One of our favorites being the Devils Garden trail. Our favorite arch? Pine Tree! We hung out there for quite a while and our kids enjoyed the sand. We enjoyed the views. And the quiet. This one isn’t super popular so we had it all to ourselves for a long time!

Day 4: Last morning at Arches NP, laundry day, & Mill Creek Trail in Moab

Arches NP is located near the town of Moab, UT. There is quite a bit going on in this little town. Several restaurants. Places to do laundry & showers. Grocery stores. Several excursion outfitters. We ended up doing showers and laundry at Dowd Flats RV Park. He required cash for showers and he kept plenty of quarters for the laundry. 

Mill Creek Trail was very easy to find. This is a hike that is not in the National Park but just off the road per se. Again, parking was limited. We ended up waiting 15 or so minutes for a spot, we arrived around 10:30am. This hike takes you through the river (in our case it was almost waist deep for the adults) and through some canyons to a series of waterfalls. I highly, highly recommend this hike. Especially if you go during warmer months. After a few days at Arches our kids were very excited for some water play! 

From here we headed to Dead Horse Point State Park where we secured a campsite at Kayenta Campground for the night.

From the campground we did the Big Horn Overlook Trail. It was absolutely incredible. This hike features no railing and deep canyon drop-offs very close to the trail. Little kids need to be kept very close on this trail. In fact, I would put them in a carrier and not let them down. At sunset though… be prepared for the views to take your breath away! We absolutely LOVED Dead Horse Point State Park. 

Big Horn Overlook, Dead Horse Point State Park

Day 5: Morning at Dead Horse Point, Afternoon at Canyonlands National Park

This morning we did the last of Dead Horse Point that we wanted to do. Both of these parks feature massive canyons with steep drop offs. There were not a ton of hikes we wanted to do here, mostly overlooks. The hikes to get into the canyons were too strenuous even for our adventurous family! 

In Canyonlands we did Upheaval Dome and Mesa Arch. Upheaval Dome is another hike that I do not recommend going to the second outlook with very young kids. You could probably make it to the first outlook fine… the second one I just couldn’t look anymore. Haha! There comes a point where in my heart I know my kids are capable, because of course they are! But, it’s still hard to watch them do hard things and not think the worst. 

Learn more about Canyonlands National Park here

After all that, we were wanting a shower and to get some laundry done before heading to our next stops! We stayed at Sun Outdoors Moab Downtown. A resort style RV park featuring a store, showers, laundry, and a POOL! The kids were able to swim while I got some laundry done. 

Day 6: Morning river rafting with Moab Adventure Center, Afternoon at Goblin Valley State Park

Our kids have never white water rafted before this trip! At 7 & 8 they were right at the weight requirement needed to do it. So, we did! During our trip to Utah the rivers were running quite high. 2023 had record snow in many of the mountain areas that feed into the rivers here. This meant some of the rapids were washed out and some were the fullest they’d been. Our guide had never seen the river as high as it was when we were there. It was a thrilling trip and our kids absolutely loved it. I highly recommend Moab Adventure Center if you are looking to raft while in Moab! 

After rafting we started making our way toward Capitol Reef National Park with a stop at Goblin Valley State Park along the way. 

WE GOT LUCKY. We pulled into the park pretty late in the day, 5 or 6pm. The hope was we could possibly snag a campsite. At this point in the trip I left a few days open because I wasn’t sure how quickly we would finish Moab area before heading on. So, we had a free night to play with. Goblin Valley had just had someone cancel for the night. We got the LAST spot. 

This park did not disappoint at all! In fact, it is definitely in our top favorites of the whole trip. The campsites feature hoodoos and formations that our kids played in all night! 

River Rafting with Moab Adventure Center

Day 7: Goblin Valley State Park

We did ALL THE HIKES here! We found this park to be a complete blast. We left the campsite early and took the Entrada Canyon Trail down into the Valley. From here we did the Carmel Loop, Goblins Lair (HIGHLY RECOMMEND), and Three Sisters! We ended up covering 6 miles or so. 

From Goblin Valley we made our way to Capitol Reef National Park where we had campsite reservations at Fruita Campground. We got into the campsite and decided to check out the Fremont River Trail… neither one of us checked the map but 3 miles later we were back! Haha. It was absolutely beautiful. Again, keep young kids in a carrier or very close. Lots of loose rock and steep drop offs. 

Goblins Lair Trail, Goblin Valley State Park

Day 8: Capitol Reef National Park

We spent the full day exploring Capitol Reef. We did the Cohab Canyon Trail to Hickman Natural Bridge. And back. We left our van at the campsite and just hiked everything from our central location. A very long, hard hiking day. But clouds and a rain shower kept it interesting! We had the entire Cohab Canyon Trail to ourselves. Not a single other person. On our way back we tried the famous pies from Gifford Homestead. They were the perfect treat after a long day of hiking!

One of our favorite things to do at Capitol Reef were the Ranger talks they have at night. Our kids thoroughly enjoyed the topics and learning from an actual Park Ranger!

Learn more about Capitol Reef National Park here

Day 9: Capitol Reef and Torrey, Utah

We ventured out to Torrey on this day to check out the town. I was able to get some laundry done while we planned our next few days. We did laundry and picked up a few much needed items at the Chuck Wagon General Store right in Torrey. We tried burgers at Slackers Burger Joint – they were very good! We also had burgers at Capitol Burger in Torrey and they were AMAZING. 10/10 recommend!

We headed back to our campsite for the night. On the way, we let the kids play in Sulphur Creek. A great spot to let them free play and get wet! 

Day 10: Head toward Bryce Canyon with a stop at Lower Calf Creek Falls

This morning we knew we were doing a pretty decent hike so we left early-ish to get a head start. The drive from Capitol Reef to Bryce Canyon takes you through Escalante National Forest. My gosh, this place is incredible. I think I’ve said that about 100 times in this post but really… absolutely beautiful. 

Lower Calf Creek Falls is a 6 mile roundtrip hike. You pay a fee to park in the parking area at the trail head. It was starting to fill up when we got there! This hike was full of the most gorgeous wildflowers you’ve ever seen. You hike through a decent amount of sand with some elevation change throughout. Not super difficult, just long. Once you get close to the falls you start to see the beautiful river, lush, green vegetation, and trees. We almost skipped this hike. I am beyond thankful my husband said, “You planned it. We’re doing it!”

After Lower Calf Creek Falls we made our way to our way toward our campsite in Bryce with a stop at Ruby’s Inn Buffet. We didn’t realize our kids have never eaten at a buffet but it was an experience all in itself! They ate EVERYTHING! It was hilarious to witness. 

We camped at North Campground in Bryce Canyon National Park. 

Lower Calf Creek Falls, Escalante National Forest

Day 11: Bryce Canyon National Park

After a great dinner and good sleep we were ready to hit the ground running in Bryce Canyon National Park. This park operates on a shuttle system which we love. We were able to leave our camper parked and take the shuttle from the campsite. No need to worry about finding a parking spot! 

We absolutely loved the Queens Garden and Navajo Loop combo trail. Stunning. All of it. There were a lot more people in this park than we had seen at the other parks though. The trail was pretty packed the majority of the time we were on it. We also did several of the rim trails and stayed out all day hiking and exploring. 

We did showers and laundry at the General Store in Bryce Canyon late in the day. Our kids learned the ways of the pay showers where when the time is up you better be done! 

Learn more about Bryce Canyon National Park here

Day 12: Last of Bryce Canyon – Head toward Zion 

On this day of the trip we did the part of Bryce that requires driving. Past the shuttle system is a loop road with several overlooks and hikes. We stopped at every stop and did the Bristlecone Loop trail where we watched a peregrine falcon fly around for a solid 45 minutes. 

We couldn’t wait to get to Zion! We knew we wanted to get in later in the day to avoid traffic as much as possible. Zion is one of the busiest National Parks in the entire parks system. We reserved several days here to make sure we didn’t feel rushed and we could get it all in! 

We set up camp at Watchman Campground.

Learn more about Zion National Park here 

Day 13: Zion National Park

We wanted to take it easy on our first day in Zion. We wanted to get a feel for the park and see the operation before hitting it hard. With kids, this worked well for us. We hopped on the shuttle and did all of the “easy” stuff first. No rush. No time commitments. 

We entered the lottery for Angels Landing permits several weeks in advance of our trip with no luck. So, we had to start doing the day before entries. We didn’t get it on the first day so our easy day made sense. That afternoon we found out we made the lottery for the next day! It was a perfect day of rest before a very exciting day to come. 

Watchman campground is right on the Virgin River and within walking distance to the town of Springdale. The boys played in the river that afternoon and we had deer walk right up next to us to grab a quick drink. It was a complete blast! 

Day 14: Zion National Park

This was Angels Landing day! We got started very early this day. We had “before 9am permits” meaning we had to be at The Grotto before 9am. That, we were! The trail was very quiet that morning on our way up. My gosh though… those switchbacks the entire way up are not easy! We were on adrenaline with excitement for the chain section of Angels Landing. 

There was a ranger there checking permits before letting people onto the chains. And now I see why they have the lottery system. Too many people is a big problem. We saw a few people get started on the trail and turn around out of fear. We saw at least one panic attack. There was a point where I couldn’t look again. Our kids were having the time of their lives. This was a true challenge for them! Something that isn’t easy to do with 7 & 8 year olds. But, they made it! We made it. And we spent a great deal of time at the top. Chipmunks kept the boys entertained while we soaked in the sights. 

Several people have asked us about this hike with kids. They were the youngest kids we saw on this trail. After traveling extensively with them their entire lives, we felt comfortable bringing them on this trail. I think it is deeply personal if you are comfortable with it or not. It is absolutely dangerous. It requires paying attention…. a very personal choice to do this one. 

After making our way down (we were up in this area hiking for 6 hours) we wanted to treat ourselves to Zion Canyon Brew Pub. It was the perfect way to end our day! We walked right back to our campsite and enjoyed the river before bed. 

Zion also features the nightly Ranger talks at the campgrounds. We did a couple of these and thoroughly enjoyed them! 

The chains at Angels Landing, Zion National Park

Day 15: Zion National Park

This one was another easy day doing the last of the things we hadn’t done. We did the Emerald Pools to the Kayenta Trail. Kayenta was one of my favorites! 

After hiking we decided to go into Springdale and do some laundry at Zion Park Motel and showers at Zion Outfitters. I like to bring back clean clothes from our trips so I can just put everything back in its drawer! My husband says I’m crazy haha. We also ate at Porter’s while our clothes were washing. The food was very good. They have an ice cream shop inside there as well – also delicious. 

We spent our last night watching the boys play in the river. Building sand castles. Painting rocks. Watching deer come right up to the water. We were profoundly changed on this trip. The simple things, and how important they are, all became clear. Our kids were best friends. They didn’t need anything but a rock and stick to stay busy. It really was an amazing trip. 

Day 16: Fly out Salt Lake City

The drive from Zion to Salt Lake City is 4 hours. We grabbed a coffee and breakfast at Perks! And made our way to Salt Lake City! We ended up leaving Zion on a Saturday and this was the best idea I had. The line to get into the park that morning was easily 2-3 hours long. We couldn’t believe it! It reiterated why staying IN the park is the way to go. We never dealt with crowds or long lines the entire time we were there!

That’s it! 16 Days in the desert of Southern Utah. In a camper van. With our 2 kids, ages 7 & 8. 5 National Parks. 2 State Parks. 1 National Forest. 1 off the road hike. 

If you plan on booking a camper van and are new to the concept of a camper van I have a few tips for you.

-Pack light. 

One reason we do laundry is so we can pack extremely light. In 8 years of traveling with kids we have never checked a bag at the airport. If you can’t carry it on, it’s too much. We pack for 3-4 days and do laundry as needed. There is very limited space for storing luggage in a camper van. In fact, there is no space for large suitcases. We were able to pack all of our things out of the way to keep the van tidy and organized. 


I highly recommend packing each person a bathroom bag. I had one for the kids, one for me, and my husband had one. It made it really easy when it was time to get ready for the night to take our bag to the bathroom. It included toothbrushes, toothpaste, and shower toiletries. 

I also recommend organizing your medicines into a bag. I always keep the kids stuff stocked in case we’re in the middle of nowhere and someone spikes a fever or comes down with a tummy bug. Tylenol, Motrin, Pepto, bug itch relief, Benadryl, etc. 

We had a bag for electronic things (cords, chargers, etc). A bag for bandaids and first aid. And I always pack folded up bags to be used for dirty clothes and easily carrying extra things like snacks or water bottles. 

I love my Cotopaxi brand packing cubes found here

-Know your campsite. 

Does it have water? Electricity? Showers? Most of the Utah 5 do not have any hook ups or showers. Laundry is another essential. Make sure you know where you can stop and how you can tend to these things before getting to your site. 

Those are my top tips! Hope you enjoyed reading this far. THANK YOU for checking out our blog and following along! If you do this trip PLEASE share with me! 

The WHY behind Brave Family Adventures

Somewhere in Colorado

After presenting to 110 first graders today (something I do not take lightly) it’s had me thinking about a lot of things. Things that have always been important to me. 

I started this travel page as a memoir and way to share some of the places we’ve been. It’s a hobby page, mostly. The most important thing I want people to realize is travel doesn’t have to be exotic or extravagant to be meaningful. Travel, for us, can be going to the closest state park for the day. It’s getting out of our everyday element and into something new. A new hike (or a familiar one)… a new animal… a new season. One of our favorite things to do is travel to our favorite State Parks in different seasons to see how they change. 

When it seems like everyone is traveling to exotic places, the state park down the road seems ordinary. But, I can say we’ve done both and both are equally wonderful. When we are out exploring – time slows down. No matter if it’s the same State Park we’ve visited 50 times or an exotic beach in Costa Rica. 

Having two very active boys from early ages started all of this. One day I wanted to change things up. CJ was 6 months old or so (full on crawling), Ryan wasn’t born yet. We went to the Arboretum in Dallas. That day CJ never looked back to see if I was with him. He spent 4 solid hours completely immersed in the dirt, rocks, grass, sticks, squirrels, sky, wind…. literally, all of it. For a morning, I got to come up for air. I noticed when we got home it was much harder to “entertain” him. So, the next day we got out again… and the pattern repeated until both of our boys started school. They easily spent the majority of their lives from ages 0-5 outside. They were happier. They could go separate ways and find different interests. They never looked back for me. I always just watched in awe as they explored their world. And so, our love for the outdoors and nature was born. (And after a year or so, we started our garden… a whole ‘nother love of mine)

With this love of the outdoors (and a few terrible hotel stays) we learned very quickly that we only wanted to stay in places where our kids could go out the front or back door and find nature. In hotels they have to be quiet and there are rules. We found it exhausting to keep them in the box when we were trying to enjoy ourselves traveling…. So, (insert) RV camping. Literal, traveling with everything we need at all times but spending almost 0 time inside (only to sleep). It perfectly fit our travel style. This year we are venturing to tent camping on weekends since the boys are getting older. 

We have always been very strict on certain things (this is our style, not anybody else’s). But, screen-time and bed time are huge priorities for us. We are screen-free travelers. No iPads, tablets, phones, switches or DVD players for the kids. So, hotels are hard. We can do it for a night but any more than that is a no-go. And bed time. We weren’t ready to tent camp with them because bed times are important and impossible if the sun is still out (ahem, northern Washington state where the sun was out until well past 10:30 at night when we were there). We need them rested for some of our strenuous hikes. 13 miles of hiking in a day is impossible if your kids are exhausted and not “ready” for it. So, bedtimes are important for us. The first time our kids realized they had summited a mountain – they were beyond proud of themselves. We don’t see many kids on some of the harder hikes. But, the confidence boost is everything. (A whole ‘nother post for another time)

So, we are trying something new (for us) this year with a tent. Because we have realized that a night at a State Park, in a tent, IS, in fact, traveling. And it is absolutely wonderful to sit back, watch your kids play for hours (fully immersed) and have no where to be. That feeling can happen somewhere within an hour of your house or somewhere 15 hours away on an airplane. It can happen on a 2-hour road trip or a 36-hour road trip. It doesn’t have to be extravagant to be fun. It doesn’t have to be expensive or exotic to be meaningful. THAT is my point in all of this. 

I want more people to venture out into nature. To realize travel is within reach. That it doesn’t have to be busy or hard. Once I realized how much my kids LOVED being outside I went from there…. We found the state parks closest to us. We visited them regularly. We started venturing a little further. Now, we drive 2+ hours one way for a day-trip to a park. And we easily (and happily) spend 6-7 hours there. The boys usually fall asleep on the way home. Then, we found National Parks. And completely fell in love. 

Just start somewhere. Easy and small. Your nearest Nature Preserve. Texas has 89 State Parks. There’s one close to you! Your kids will thank you. Your mind and body will thank you. Being outside has brought profound joy to our family. My only hope is to help everyone realize it is within reach. 

Itinerary: 8-Days West Texas, NM & Arizona

Our kids got a Fall Break this year at school and we decided to take full advantage of it! It fell on the first week of October which happens to be one of the best times to travel just about anywhere in the world. We have been wanting to do portions of the desert with our kids, but summer months are just way too hot! So, to Southwest Airlines website I went to see what kind of flight deals I could find for West Texas, NM & Arizona.

We fly out of Dallas Love Field and I found some amazing flight prices to Midland and Lubbock Texas. These are good starting points to get to Carlsbad Caverns National Park and Guadalupe Mountains National Park in NM and far West Texas. We flew out of Phoenix – flight prices were too good to pass up.

On this trip we saw 4 National Parks: Carlsbad Caverns, Guadalupe Mountains, White Sands, and Saguaro. We stayed in Lincoln National Forest on our way to White Sands. See our itinerary below:

Day 1- Fly DAL to LBB, drive to Whites City Cavern INN ( closest hotel to Carlsbad Caverns)

Day 2 – Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Day 3 – Guadalupe Mountains National Park

Day 4 – Any last things in either Carlsbad or Guadalupe, drive toward White Sands

Day 5 – White Sands National Park

Day 6 – Drive to Saguaro National Park ( spend afternoon in park)

Day 7 – Saguaro National Park

Day 8 – Pima Air & Space Museum, fly out PHX to DAL

Carlsbad Caverns Welcome Sign

Carlsbad Caverns

Carlsbad Caverns is pretty much out in the middle of nowhere New Mexico. The nearest town is 30 miles away. We decided to stay at the closest motel to the park since we were also going to be traveling to Guadalupe Mountains National Park during this stay. Whites City Cavern Inn was just what we needed. We spent most of the day out at the park and only came back to the inn to sleep. We happened to come in on a Sunday, the only restaurant in town was closed, so we got groceries on the way in.

We spent the entire day exploring Carlsbad Caverns. We did the ranger led hike to Kings Palace and I cannot recommend this tour enough. It was the highlight of the day. Our guide brought lanterns for us to travel through the cave like they did decades ago. He also played music, turned off the lights, and took us through portions only reachable with a guide.

We absolutely loved Carlsbad Caverns!

Guadalupe Mountains

Guadalupe Mountains National Park is known for Guadalupe Peak – the highest mountain peak in Texas. At 8,751 feet this hike is not easy. Especially with kids. Our 6 & 7 year olds have hiked extensively in several National Parks. But, this hike would be their most difficult to date. At 8.4 miles and a 3,000ft elevation gain this hike took us over 7 hours to complete. We packed lots of water, snacks, and lunch. The views were absolutely incredible. Everyone in Texas should put this on their bucket list.

We were WHIPPED after this hike. Originally, we had planned to come back a second day to do Devils Hall, but my husband and I could barely walk that next day. Our knees took a beating on the way down from Guadalupe Peak. So, we skipped Devils Hall, did a short nature trail, and made our way toward White Sands National Park.

s NaGuadalupe Peak, Guadalupe Mountains National Park

On the drive to White Sands we passed through Lincoln National Forest. Here, we stayed at a precious cabin in the mountains. We absolutely loved it! Booked via AIRBNB here. We made a huge campfire, had s’mores, caught up on laundry, enjoyed the wildlife and just being in the mountains.

S’mores by the campfire in Lincoln National Forest

White Sands

White Sands ended up being our kids’ favorite park of the whole trip! Our AirBNB supplied sleds for the sand dunes and we spent the day watching the boys climb up and slide down the dunes. (Should also note: we stopped at the most adorable local owned coffee shop on the way in to the park – Mad Coffee)

We headed back to our cabin in the mountains for another night before heading to Tucson where Saguaro National Park is located.

White Sands National Park


The drive from our AirBNB to Tucson was a solid 5 hours. We left fairly early in the day and made our way West. We got to Tucson around 4 and wanted to see the East side of the park. Saguaro National Park has 2 sides: East and West. They are about an hour apart from each other. We wanted to do the Wasson Peak trail on the West side for our full day in the park the next day.

The East side blew us away. We were greeted with a double rainbow for the entire loop drive on that side. We got out and did the short nature trail, Javelina rocks, and all of the lookouts. We could not believe the rainbow stayed the entire time. The cacti also blew us away. Do not underestimate this park! It was stunning from every angle.

On the West side we started the Wasson Peak trail fairly early in the day. This was another 8 mile hike with a decent elevation gain. Thankfully, we had recovered from Guadalupe Peak a couple of days earlier. This hike was difficult. The views were just about the only thing that got us off this trail. We were there early October and heat was still a major factor. The last mile was easily the hardest! We would absolutely do it again. This one took just over 6 hours to complete.

Double Rainbow in Saguaro National Park

On our way to Phoenix from Tucson we stopped at the Pima Air & Space Museum. Highly, highly recommend! They had a STEM room where our kids played and they have one of the largest collections of airplanes the world!

I say it for every trip, but it really is true… this was one of our most memorable trips. The weather was wonderful. The time together I will cherish forever. Making it to Guadalupe Peak and Wasson Peak with our kids is something I will never forget. Those many hours together doing something hard with our 6 & 7 year olds is just incredible.

If you love hiking and have National Parks on your list – this trip is a must! The one-way drive from Lubbock to Phoenix was perfect. Our kids decided on this trip that they want to see all 63 National Parks before graduating high school. So… here we go! They’ve checked 18 off the list, only 45 to go.

We love feedback! Please send us your questions, comments, details, your story… all of it! We’d love to hear from you.

Itinerary: 14 Days in Costa Rica

We just got back from 2 weeks in Costa Rica! It was relaxing, thrilling, invigorating, stunning and FULL of adventure! I’ve had lots of inquiries based on some of my instagram posts on where we stayed and how we planned… so, here it is! Our 14-day itinerary and tips for Costa Rica with kids. 

We travel extensively with our 6 & 7 year old boys. Our travel style is slightly unique as we tend to stay off-grid, off the beaten path, inexpensive, non-touristy… you get the idea. So, if you are looking for all-inclusive resorts- please stop reading here! 

The details:

-14 Days

-First trip to Costa Rica

-We speak very little Spanish

-Kids, Ages 6 & 7

-Fly in Liberia, Fly out San Jose

-4×4 Car Rental booked via Vamos Rental

-6 AirBNB stays (originally planned for 5, but I’ll get to why we added the 6th below)

-2 Guided Tours 

-20 Hours of Driving

-Carry-ons Only *no checked luggage

-60+ Animal Species encountered

A few extra tidbits:

We mostly fly with Southwest Airlines. We find that smaller airports fit our family travel style with small kids. We live near Dallas, TX and feel choosing an airline makes a huge difference in your travel experience with kids. A smaller airport is easier to navigate and the accommodations Southwest offers for families can’t be beat. 

Traveling cheap is exciting for us. After all was said and done, for the 4 of us, this trip was around 8k. That includes all of our food, groceries, anything we spent money on while we were there. AirBNBS, rental car, tours…. All of it. We find that staying in expensive places creates certain expectations and allows more room for disappointment. Traveling cheap – if we hate the place, we can find a new one because we aren’t out a ton! It turned out we loved all of our spots.

We also pack LIGHT. Like, super light. We did 2 weeks with carry-on luggage only. This helps with switching places often as there isn’t a bunch of stuff to unpack/repack as you move around. We had more than we needed on this trip. We did laundry where we could (although getting things to dry was interesting…haha!). If you can, I recommend packing as light as you can. 

So, how did it go?!…. find out below!

Fly in Liberia

We flew DAL to HOU and then to LIR. Liberia airport was small and very easy to navigate. Our rental car company had a driver waiting for us to take us to pick up our car. Super easy. Took about 30 minutes to iron out rental car stuff, our kids played with their cat on site, and we were off! 

Days 1-3  Playa Hermosa

We absolutely LOVED our AirBNB in Playa. Oh my gosh, the groundskeepers were absolutely wonderful. Jose and Ana. They did not speak any English, and we don’t speak very good Spanish. Communicating with them was the sweetest! Their spot is right on the beach. There is a gate/fence around the property so we always felt super safe. 

Our kids are early risers, like, they were up at 5am every single day we were in Costa Rica. Again, this fits our travel style completely because we can get to hot spots before anyone else! We were on the beach exploring with coffee in hand at 5:30am with NOBODY else out there. We spent 2 full days enjoying this spot. I highly recommend Soda Hermosa (Soda = small restaurant/cafe in Costa Rica) for a quick bite, cup of coffee, or smoothie. They had toys for the kids, too!

Playa Hermosa AirBNB

Soda Hermosa

Having a blast at Playa Hermosa

Days 3-6 La Fortuna 

We left Playa early in the morning for our first guided tour – the La Leona waterfall hike. If there is anything you do in Guanacaste… do this. I highly, highly recommend this hike. We booked it through AirBNB experiences. Our 6 & 7 year olds did it no problem. 

La Leona AirBNB Experience Link

In La Fortuna we did the Mirador El Silencia trail around the base of Arenal (cheaper than the national park and absolutely stunning). We did not get a guide for this hike as we wanted to see what our kids could spot on their own. We saw an eyelash viper, poison dart frog, and tons of cool bugs & spiders. The views of Arenal on this hike were stunning. It also had a lava flow scramble.

Mirador El Silencia

In La Fortuna, we also did the free hot springs river. There were quite a few people in the river, but with it being free it was awesome. 

Free Hot Springs River

La Fortuna was beautiful, but not our most favorite spot. This area is full of all-inclusive hotels, lavish hot spring resorts, and tourist traps galore. We chose this area to experience the volcano, and super glad we did but, the most exciting part of our trip was just around the corner! 

La Fortuna AirBNB Link

Hiking the base of Arenal Volcano

Days 6-8 Quepos

This was our first really long drive. We broke it up and stopped at the Tarcoles bridge to see the crocodiles on the way to Quepos. Tarcoles happened to be one of our favorite stops. Many reviews say the road is dangerous and the area isn’t safe… we never felt this way, even with kids. We saw several huge crocodiles… our kids were in heaven! There is an ice cream shop there called POPS – it was delicious! Stop here for crocodiles and ice cream. 

Tarcoles Bridge

POPS Ice Cream

To get to our house in Quepos we met one of the keepers at the local grocery store (where we loaded up on water/food for a few days). He led us to the house via dirt/rocky road in the pouring rain – ON HIS MOTO. Honestly, we were completely impressed with his driving skills to even notice the drive. It was pouring. We drove up rocky/unpaved hills, through rivers, past waterfalls, alongside the river… it was our first thrilling drive of the trip! Seeing him drive through rivers on his moto though… we just couldn’t believe it! Incredible to say the least. The drive was totally worth it. 

We stayed in a secluded river yurt with access to hot springs, a waterfall, and the river. No electricity, cell service, or wifi, it had a gas refrigerator. It was in the middle of the rainforest. We couldn’t believe our eyes when we got there. We planned to night hike at this spot for poison dart frogs. A main theme of our trip was animals. We moved around Costa Rica so much to see ALL of the animals. We saw dozens of poison dart frogs here. Several species. 

The next morning we spent 4 hours in the hot springs. We had the whole place to ourselves. In the middle of the rainforest. We just still couldn’t believe how secluded we were. We spent a lot of time watching a huge basilisk on the river. One of our kids bucket list animals. And this guy was HUGE. He ruled the roost! We hiked to the waterfall, our kids swam in a pool they have on site, we walked along the river while our kids chased lizards… magical is really the only way to describe it. 

One tip at this spot – we had the keepers make us breakfast and dinner. It gave us the full day to explore without cooking and cleaning up. It. Was. AMAZING. Our kids voted this their favorite spot and their favorite food of the whole trip. 

We also brought headlamps and blacklight flashlights to do our own night walks. We saw spiders, scorpions, bats and TONS of frogs. We night walked both nights here. It was preparation for our next off-grid spot… we were headed to the OSA Peninsula.

Quepos AirBNB 

Obsessed with the pool at our house in Quepos

Days 8-10 Golfo Dulce, Rincon

On the way to Rincon from Quepos we stopped at Biesanz Beach. Again, early risers… we made it there by 8am! We paid a lady $2k colones to watch our car while we were there. We skipped Manuel Antonio and honestly, was probably the best decision. This beach was an absolute gem! We saw 2 sloths, tons of huge crabs, and capuchin monkeys while we were there. Our kids played with fish in the low tide while we watched a sloth climb around a tree above them. It really was incredible! Being there so early it was pretty empty. Chairs had not been set up yet. By 10:30 it was filling up fast so we decided it was time to move to our next spot.

Biesanz Beach Link

Our AirBNB in Rincon was only accessible by boat and on 65 acres of secluded jungle. I think its important to know what you’re getting into booking this spot… full, total seclusion. No restaurants. No real walls on the house. No refrigerator – cooler only. Limited electricity. It did have wifi for emergencies. We chose it for animal sightings and it did not disappoint. In any way. In fact, we created some of the most wonderful family memories we will ever have right here. 

We had a banana bait hanging form the house where coatis would come up daily to eat. We saw agoutis running by, howlers woke us up, currasou strutting through, hummingbirds flying through the house, bats living IN the house, and more. Kayaks were provided where we taught our kids how to kayak right there in the Golfo Dulce. We saw dolphins, turtles, jumping sting rays, and more. It was a dream. We kayaked at night to experience the bioluminescence and it was a highlight of our trip. We got out on the water as the sun was going down waiting for the show to start… it got darker and darker. We put our paddles in and fireworks! It was something we will never forget.

It did rain while we were there. In fact, some of the craziest, most intense rain we’ve ever experienced. So, things never dried. In fact, everything we had was wet by the end of this stay haha! During the rains we taught our kids how to play chess. They learned how to play dominos. And to kayak. All at this one house. 

We also kayaked across the Golfo Dulce to the mangroves. The calm water, lack of people anywhere, and full nature immersion was just what we needed! 

We had planned a trip out of Puerto Jimenez from this spot to tour Corcovado National Park, but it was changed to leave out of Drake Bay which is quite a bit further drive. So, we decided to leave this house a little early and add a stop in Drake Bay to make our tour day easier. We really wanted another night of bioluminescence, but Drake Bay was another phenomenal spot on our trip. 

Corcovado National Park was the reason we chose to travel to Costa Rica. Our kids are completely animal obsessed, so we wanted to take them to one of the most biologically diverse places on earth. This tour was the Mecca tour of the trip – so to speak. So, to Drake Bay we went! (On the boat, out of the AirBNB in the pouring rain, our stuff was already wet… it just got soaked! Haha!)

Rincon AirBNB

Right before their first kayak in the Golfo Dulce

Days 10-12 Drake Bay

First, the drive. We thought the Quepos drive was an adventure… we were in for a real treat! Again, at night in the pouring rain we did this drive! Oh the luck! Everyone says to not drive at night, but sometimes things just don’t work out the way you want them to (especially when you have to boat out of your last spot and the tide is low). Really though…. I would 100% do it all over again in a heartbeat! The drive was more than worth it. The views from this AirBNB…. it just took our breath away. AGAIN. 

Our Corcovado tour began at Drake Bay at 6am. We boated from the bay down the coast to Sirena Ranger Station – accessible only via boat. The ocean was rough that day according to the guides… ha! I think my husband and I looked at each other for a minute thinking how crazy we were for bringing our kids there. We didn’t see any other kids their ages. They absolutely loved the boat ride by the way. And the park was another dream! We saw several animals we hadn’t checked on our bucket list including spider monkeys, squirrel monkeys, a tapir, peccaries, boat billed heron, 2 more sloths, a racer (snake) and more. We booked this tour through Osa Wild, our guide was Jorge. He was outstanding. Our kids were engaged the entire hike – it was 4 or 5 hours long. We then boated back to Drake Bay, our kids were stoked for another insane boat ride, and enjoyed a delicious lunch covered by our tour. 

Osa Wild Tour Link

We spent the afternoon at the AirBNB soaking in the views and talking about everything we saw at Corcovado. The next morning we went down to the beach accessible by a path on the property and had the entire spot to ourselves. We watched flocks of scarlet macaws, caracaras, and our kids searched for hermit crabs for multiple hours. The house had a washer, the sun was out so our clothes all dried, the owner was incredible. We absolutely loved this spot. It was meant to be part of our story! 

We left that afternoon for the mountains. 

Drake Bay AirBNB Link

Our private beach in Drake Bay

Days 12-14 San Gerardo De Dota

This was a long drive but we needed to make our way back to San Jose, so it was going to be long no matter what. It was a very easy mountain drive. We were glad to see paved roads! 

This town took our breath away. Every turn was absolutely stunning. The weather was like crisp, fall weather. (Pack accordingly if you do the cloud forest!) We came for the resplendent quetzal. We did not see the famous quetzal but we saw a close second, the orange bellied trogon. The excitement of thinking it was the one though… worth it!

We saw coyotes on our drive in. We hiked a waterfall on the property of our AirBNB (one of the dreamiest hikes we’ve ever been on), walked the streets admiring the plants, ate at a couple of the restaurants. Time slowed down. The cool air with the smell of the fire… one of my absolute most favorite things. Our kids drank hot cocoa and wore pants and jackets. A huge change from the rest of the trip! 

San Gerardo De Dota AirBNB link

Waterfall Hike in San Gerardo De Dota

On our way to the airport – flight left at 8:55. We had a 2.5 hour drive down the mountain. Had to return the rental car, get gas, pick up breakfast for the kids… and, we added a flat tire to that mix! I was expecting the airport to be busy and crazy, but I guess at that time it is not. We walked right up to customs, went right through security, and made it to the gate with 15 minutes to spare. (I wasn’t going to be mad if we had to stay another night though… haha!)

Fly out San Jose

That’s it! Our 2 incredible weeks in the beautiful country of Costa Rica! Our kids loved every second of it… even driving through rivers hanging out their window shouting GO GO GO GO!! The animals, THE PEOPLE, the food… we came back refreshed and renewed. 

Helpful tips:

-Nothing dries! Quick dry clothes are a must. We traveled around with a pile of wet stuff because we just could not get it to dry anywhere. We finally found some sun in Drake Bay and dried out!

-Save money by cooking your own meals. We cooked a lot and ate out rarely. It also helped with time and getting out to see things as we felt eating at restaurants took up a lot of time. Not a bad thing – it was nice to be served a wonderful meal every so often! If you do a restaurant, the tiny sodas are WONDERFUL. I’m not sure we had a bad meal anywhere. Our kids loved the food too!

-If you can, go off the beaten path. Get out of your comfort zone. Stay somewhere crazy. It might just change your life!

-If you have time to experience a cloud forest, do it! It was one of our favorite adventures as the temperature changed on the drive up. It went from 31c to 9c on one drive! Not to mention how incredibly beautiful it is. 

-We drank the water and ate all the foods with no issues. I think its a personal thing. We were skeptical! 

We realize our trip was fast paced. For us, it was the perfect mix of relax and adventure. We easily saw 60+ animal species. We checked off almost all of our bucket list animals (with the exception of an ocelet or jaguar… but not a lot of people see those anyway!) We saw all 4 monkey species, tapir, and most of the large mammals. We wouldn’t change any of the stops we made.

If you’ve read this far, thanks for reading! I have some packing tips posted below!

Must Haves for Off-Grid (in my opinion):

-Dry Bag

-Bug Repellent Wipes (the national park was not a fan of spray style bug repellent)

-At least 2 pairs of shoes

-Warm socks if you go to the cloud forest


-Blacklight Flashlights – we saw some really cool scorpions!

-A backup battery for your phone

-Quick-Dry towel

-Quick Dry clothing

-Benadryl itch cream

-Imodium, Pepto, Tylenol, Advil, Ibuprofen (have a small arsenal of things for the off-grid places – this made a world of difference if someone wasn’t feeling 100%!) 

-Collapsible bucket for laundry, quick cleaning (found on amazon)

-Reusable bags to be used to sort things while traveling

-Extra batteries

-Offline maps

-Life Jackets for kids


-Deck of cards for rainy days

-Beach blanket – one of my favorite staples. It can double as a blanket if you’re cold, be a towel if you need to dry, a blanket to sit on… I bring mine everywhere!

A few more pictures:

La Leona Waterfall Hike
Biesanz Beach
Learning dominos and chess deep in the jungle
Us at Corcovado National Park
The view from our house in Drake Bay

Itinerary: The Oregon Coast

Haystack Rock, Cannon Beach, Oregon

Summer is quickly approaching and our upcoming trip has me reminiscing one of our all-time favorites… The Oregon Coast. Oregon completely changed the way we travel.

Our kids were very young the year we traveled to Oregon. They had just turned 1 and 2. Pre-kids my husband and I were avid beach bums. We traveled the Caribbean extensively. We couldn’t wait to take our kids to the Caribbean beaches we loved so much. When planning this trip we were just coming back from a Florida Keys trip with our oldest (who was 6 months at the time we were in the Keys) and as much as we love the tropical south beaches… it was HOT. And while we had a great time and he loved the sand – we decided we wanted coastal for this trip, but mild coastal. Insert: The Oregon Coast.

Traveling out of a simple airport is always important for us with young kids. Living in Dallas/Fort Worth there are (basically) 2 options. DFW international or Dallas Love Field. Love Field is a much smaller, easier to navigate airport than DFW. We travel out of there as often as we can. Flights from Dallas to Portland, Oregon are CHEAP. (Not to be confused with Portland, Maine)

So, our Oregon trip was born! We flew into Portland, rented a car, and drove straight west to the coast. We stayed in an adorable AirBNB in Rockaway Beach, OR (Find a similar one here). Our house wasn’t directly on the coast, but we were able to take a short walk across the street to the beach. It was incredible. Our first time to cross the street and walk through the vegetation to the beach… we were in love! Twin Rocks were right there in front of us! And beautiful mountains to our right and the most wonderful, crisp, cool coastal air… we spent hours there letting the boys play.

The great thing about the Oregon coast is there is so much to do! You can hop in the car and drive north for more jaw-dropping scenes and coastline, drive south for rugged cliffs and tide pools, or inland to the Columbia River.

We did just that! When the kids got tired and needed a rest we got in the car and picked a direction. Our trip went something like this:

Day 1: Stayed near AirBNB, played at beach
Day 2: Drove North to Haystack Rock, Hug Point State Park & Oswald West State Park
Day 3: Drove inland to Portland, Columbia River Gorge, Multnomah Falls & Panorama Point
Day 4: Drove South to Cape Lookout SP, Devil’s Punchbowl, Otter Rock, & Yachats State Recreation Area
Day 5: Drove inland to Silver Falls State Park
Day 6: Back to favorite spot on the coast

Must sees (click links to learn more):
-Twin Rocks – Rockaway Beach, OR
Haystack Rock – Cannon Beach
Hug Point State Park
Oswald West State Park
Cape Lookout State Park
Tillamook Factory
Devil’s Punchbowl State Natural Area
Beverly Beach State Park: Otter Rock
Silver Falls State Park
Panorama Point
Columbia River Gorge
Multnomah Falls
Yachats State Recreation Area

Near Rockaway Beach is also the Tillamook Factory where you can get delicious ice cream and dairy products. Our kids loved their tour and the ice cream, of course!

We can’t say enough amazing things about Oregon. It rivaled the Caribbean in more ways than I can count. The views. The vegetation. The mountains. The tide pools and beautiful coast. The rivers and waterfalls. Our kids absolutely loved every second, and we did too. They napped in the car while we drove and took in the scenery. We ended up driving all the way to Washington on one of the days and we would’ve gone farther but we needed to wake the boys up.

So, our upcoming summer trip includes the Washington coast! And much more of the PNW. We forever fell in love with the mountains on this particular trip.

A few necessities for this one with kids:
-Ergo Baby Carriers
-Change of clothes – it’s cooler and wet so kids tend to go through more clothes than a tropical beach (your kids WILL want to get wet)
-Know and be aware of the tide schedules and changing tides
-Also know and be aware of sneaker waves: very common in this part of the country (Learn more here)

Hug Point State Park, Oregon
Oswald West State Park, Oregon
Twin Rocks, Rockaway Beach, Oregon
Silver Falls State Park, Oregon
Random Spot Near Devil’s Punchbowl, Oregon

Itinerary: Texas Road Trip (From DFW)

In May of 2020 my husband and I celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary. Several months prior we had planned one of the most exciting Caribbean vacations for our family. It was going to be 3 solid weeks traveling St. Vincent, Barbados and St. Lucia. But, that trip never happened. Thanks, Covid! Since all international travel was halted for months we had to come up with a quick back-up plan. We had always wanted to see the different terrains Texas had to offer so… our incredible Texas Road Trip was born! I planned this 15-day trip about a month before we went. By far, the shortest planning time for any of our vacations. A few things really helped with planning on such short notice – everyone had stopped traveling due to Covid so, places to stay were abundant AND the new reservation system for tickets for Texas State Parks ensured we would get into the park we were wanting to visit on a given day. 

We saw 13 Texas State Parks, 1 National Recreation Area – Amistad, and 1 National Park – Big Bend. Despite our Caribbean trip being a bust – this is, by far, one of our most favorite trips. Texas has some of the most incredible landscapes you could imagine. Our boys slid down waterfalls, swam in crystal clear rivers, and hiked through deep canyons. We also slept in a tree house for the first time! I’ve put together our itinerary with our AirBNB stops along the way. We have many more Texas State Parks on our bucket list. So, if you piece this trip together with a few other stops – I’d love to hear about it! *Also, please see my list of things to consider at the bottom of this itinerary*

Day 1, Lometa, TX: 

We live in Rockwall, Texas so that is our starting point for this trip. We drove to Lometa, TX and stayed at a quaint little AirBNB cabin. It is located on a large property with the Colorado river running right on the property. We built a campfire each night we were there and made hot dogs and s’mores. We saw tons of wildlife. Find it here.

AirBNB Lometa, TX

Day 2, Colorado Bend State Park: 

The main attraction near this AirBNB is Colorado Bend State Park. A Texas State Park known for one of its waterfalls. We love waterfalls so it made sense this would be our first stop! This park is a definite must for anyone who lives in Texas. We did the hike to the main waterfall (Gorman Falls) – it is a *mostly* direct sunlight (AKA HOT) long hike. Take plenty of water, sunscreen, and a hat! The end of the hike finds you traversing down huge boulders to the site of the waterfall. It is incredible. 

After the long hike back we were hot and in need of a swim! We did the Spicewood Springs Trail – a trail full of small waterfalls and springs. Our kids absolutely loved this spot. We will absolutely do this park again just for this spot! They slid down waterfalls and swam and swam for hours. Learn more about Colorado Bend State Park here.

Sliding down a waterfall on Spicewood Springs Trail – Colorado Bend State Park

Day 3, Inks Lake State Park:

We woke up on Day 3 at our AirBNB in Lometa and drove to Inks Lake State Park (about a 1 hour drive). We spent the day at Inks Lake and were- again- blown away by the landscape. We had loved Colorado Bend so much the day before and couldn’t believe how much we loved Inks Lake! We spent a lot of time at Devils Waterhole. We were there pretty early in the day and it was May so, not quite warm enough to swim. We sat on the bank and watched the incredible wildlife, listened to music, and ate some snacks. We saw plenty of snakes, turtles, fish, and birds. We probably sat for almost 2 hours before moving on to hike. We ventured up to the Valley Spring Creek Waterfall and explored that area for a while. Lots of cacti and rocky landscape. We saw bearded dragons and lizards galore. Our kids were in heaven! A storm happened to be rolling in so we loaded up and drove over to Buchanan Lake to check it out and hang out on the shore there. Overall, a great park worth checking out. Learn more about Inks Lakes State Park here.

That afternoon we drove to our next AirBNB – the treehouse! There are several tree houses on the property surrounding a communal area with a fire pit, stream, and game area. We saw so much wildlife here. The fireflies were heaven! Our kids absolutely loved sleeping in the trees. Our AIrBNB can be found here.

Day 4, McKinney Falls State Park: 

We woke up in the treehouse for Day 4 to dozens of deer right down below. And birds right in the trees in front of us! Our adventure for the day was Mckinney Falls State Park. Our kids were so excited to swim at this park. Unfortunately, the storm came through the night before and the river was raging. Definitely not safe to swim! So, we explored around. We saw Old Baldy – the 500 year old Cypress tree. We saw the Upper and Lower falls. Even though we did not get to swim, I still highly recommend this park. If you happen to go on a good swimming day – it looks absolutely amazing. We could’ve spent all day there! Learn more about McKinney Falls State Park here.

Since the rivers all around that area were raging from the rain the night before – we needed a safer swimming option. We headed to a place called Krause Springs. A deep water swimming hole and spring. It. Was. Amazing. I highly recommend stopping here on your trip to this area. Learn more about Krause Springs here.

At some point in this area we made a pit stop at Route 12 Filling Station. A kid-friendly restaurant and bar with a splash pad and playground! Our kids played and played while we had a beer. Heaven. Route 12 information can be found here.

Day 5, Pedernales Falls State Park: 

We woke up on Day 5 ready to tackle Pedernales Falls State Park. The water had receded some after the rain and it was a much better day for swimming and exploring. It is one of the top State Parks in Texas and I know why. You just have to see it to believe it. The scenery. The rocks. The way the river has carved out the landscape. We just absolutely loved this spot. We spent a great deal of time at the Pedernales Falls overlook. You can hike down to the water and see deep and shallow pools, waterfalls, and rugged terrain. This area is NOT for swimming. 

At this park there is a specific swimming spot on the trails map. We went there to spend the rest of the afternoon. The river was still moving pretty good so we kept to the shore most of the day. Our kids loved the crayfish in the shallows and lizards on the shore. They spent all afternoon trying to catch anything they could! Learn more about Pedernales Falls State Park here.

That night, we were in a new AirBNB. I wasn’t sure how the treehouse was going to go with kids so I only planned for us to spend 2 nights there. At this new spot – we made a campfire, had s’mores, and counted more deer than we had ever seen in a single location in our lives. Including fawns. My husband and I decided it was one of our top 3 stays on this trip. Find it here.

AirBNB Dripping Springs, TX

Day 6, Canyon Lake and Guadalupe River State Park: 

We woke up on Day 6 with two spots in mind for the day. Guadalupe River is a fairly small State Park and we knew we could cover it in a few hours. We added a stop at Canyon Lake for the morning to hang out on the shore and dip our toes in. Really, just an easy, relaxing morning. The water at Canyon Lake is crystal clear. We could see fish right from the shore. Turns out it’s a popular spot as the morning rolls on! We got there early and had a prime pick of spots, but by the time we left around noon it was packed! Canyon Lake is large. We pitched our stuff near Canyon Overlook Park. Its a steep hike down rocky terrain to get to the shore so pack accordingly! 

That afternoon we hit Guadalupe River State Park. Our kids got in a little rest on the drive there and were ready to go when we got there! Keep in mind rivers are FLOWING bodies of water. You will need a way to keep hold of your kids so they don’t get away from you. We saw one little boy float off pretty far from his mom and have a complete panic attack. Don’t let that happen to you. That said, yes yes yes go to Guadalupe River! Again, it is absolutely beautiful! The water is shallow so keeping up with kids is not super difficult – BUT if you have one that is not a strong swimmer – be mindful. Our kids absolutely loved walking up river and floating down over and over and over. We got a great workout in! It was an absolute blast. Learn more about Guadalupe River State Park here. **Please see my list of things to consider at the bottom of this itinerary*

Day 7, Krause Springs and Blanco State Park: 

We met up with family on this day! We headed back to Krause Springs and Route 12 Filling Station (yes, both for a second time) and had the best day! We also had tickets for Blanco State Park and wanted to check it out – its a small one. So we drove over to explore for a couple of hours. The river here is a perfect swimming spot with a dammed shallow area – great for kids! It was a perfect couple of hours letting our kids jump in and swim around. Learn more about Blanco State Park here.

Route 12 Filling Station – Dripping Springs, TX

Day 8, Palmetto State Park, Garner State Park and heading West to Del Rio, Texas!:

We woke up on Day 8 with a long day ahead. Tickets for Palmetto State Park and a straight drive West to Del Rio, Texas. We were leaving Central Texas behind and heading all the way to Mexico (pretty much!). 

We had Palmetto State Park on the list because it is one of the most unique Texas State Parks. It is full of dwarf palmettos! Like, full. It’s like being transported to a tropical forest. We loved it. Learn more about Palmetto State Park here.

We left Palmetto State Park to head West. Our final destination for the day was Lake Amistad in Del Rio, Texas. On the way we stopped at Garner State Park in Concan, Texas. 

Garner State Park deserves an entire blog post to itself. It quickly became one of our top 2 favorite Texas State Parks. (#1 comes later). We got to the park in the afternoon. Our tickets were timed for 2-5pm which meant we had to choose one hike. Our kids absolutely love caves so it was an easy choice – we did the Crystal Cave hike! This hike is considered “challenging” according to Texas State Parks but our kids made it up the climb, into the cave, and back down all on their own. The views from the cave were incredible. The entire state park is incredible. We went back to this park a few months later to fully explore and spend the day there. Learn more about Garner State park here.

From Garner we headed West! It was just over 2 hours of driving to our next stay with VRBO. It was located in a remote area directly on Lake Amistad. We arrived after dark. Bad choice as Google maps was trying to take us down a road that did not exist! We slowed down coming up to the “turn” and both looked and said, “there’s no road there.” And wouldn’t you guess, spotty cell service too! This is one of those times a paper map comes in handy. (We didn’t have one of those either.) So, we kept going to see if there were any other roads going in that general direction. Thankfully, it didn’t take us too long to find it. 

After the Google maps mishap we pull up to the VRBO property. A large animal (or several small ones) must’ve gotten to it before we did because the trash was dumped out and scattered everywhere on the front yard. Not the best first impression of an AirBNB. We were a little terrified of how the rest of this stay would go! We picked this spot for the view of the lake. And let me tell you – it took our breath away. You couldn’t take your eyes off of the lake. It was one of the worst first impressions of an AirBNB we experienced, but will probably go down as one of our most favorite stays. Find it here.

Crystal Cave – Garner State Park

Day 9, Devils River State Park:

We woke up on Lake Amistad and enjoyed the morning relaxing before driving to Devils River State Park. We picked this park because it is the most pristine, untouched river in the entire state of Texas. It is tied for first place for our favorite Texas State Park. 

Getting to Devils River is an adventure all in itself. I think that’s why we enjoyed this park so much. It is about an hour and half drive from the VRBO in Del Rio. The entire last hour of the drive is 22 miles on a rocky, unpaved road. We’ve done this kind of drive many times before, but let me tell you if you’ve never done it – you have to go 5-10mph on rocks. Big rocks, small rocks, flat rocks, sharp rocks, swerving to avoid rocks, sliding down rocky terrain… it’s an adventure. But we knew it would be worth it. Once you get to the end of the 22 miles – you have to drive another mile to get to the parking area for the 1+ mile hike to the river. It is remote. It is pristine. The park ranger told us that day we were the only people in the park. We had the whole place to ourselves! 

Of course we spent the entire day at the river. Pictures and written descriptions just don’t do it justice. The hike from the parking area is in full sun (AKA HOT). There is nothing when you get there. Just the you and the river. And some wildlife. We set our stuff up on the bank of the river near some tall grass. We were all hanging out when we heard a loud tromping noise through the grass. Honestly, I thought it was a large animal of some kind coming our way. We inched towards it to see what it was – and the sweetest little armadillo face popped out of the grass! It was the cutest thing. One of our favorite memories there. We admired him for a while until he retreated back into the grass. 

Devils River goes down as our top Brave Family Adventure of this trip. Learn more about this park here.

We went back to our VRBO that night and grilled on the back patio with the most incredible view of the lake. 

Devils River State Park

Day 10, Lake Amistad:

We had an easy day for day 10. After the adventure the day before at Devils River we decided it would be a good day with no driving and lots of exploring the lake from the house. Lake Amistad is like no other lake you’ve seen before. And the view from this VRBO was something we will never ever forget. Learn more about Amistad National Recreation Area here.

Amistad National Recreation Area

Day 11, Seminole Canyon State Park and on the move toward Big Bend National Park:

We decided to break up the 4.5 hour drive from Lake Amistad (Del Rio, TX) to Terlingua (Big Bend area) with a stop at Seminole Canyon State Park. This park is known for ancient pictographs. Something we had never seen as a family before. Pre-covid this park offered boat tours to get an up close look at the pictographs, however, when we were there we had to view them from the overlook on Canyon Rim Trail. 6 miles of hiking in the desert. Our 4 and 5 year olds did amazing. We did have to do some carrying (thank you, ergos – see my packing tips here). It took us several hours to do this hike. I feel like I’ve said it 100 times in this post but we absolutely loved it. The feeling of accomplishment when you hike 6 miles in direct desert heat and sun with your kids is incredible. We were all so proud of ourselves after this one! The pictographs were pretty cool too. Oh, and we saw Mexico on the other side of the Rio Grande! Our first time seeing Mexico on this trip. From Seminole Canyon we headed toward Big Bend National Park. Learn more about Seminole Canyon State Park here.

Our next AirBNB in the Big Bend area of Terlingua, Texas was actually our least favorite spot. I did not plan this one well. It was right off the highway so the boys had nowhere to go play when we weren’t out exploring. I do recommend this place for anyone without kids as the location to get to Big Bend is unbeatable (and why I picked it). Find it here.

Seminole Canyon State Park

Day 12, Big Bend National Park:

If you are a Texan – this park is an absolute MUST. I plan to do an entire post on Big Bend in the near future. I will link it here. In the meantime learn more about Big Bend National Park here.

Santa Elena Canyon, Big Bend National Park

Day 13, Big Bend National Park Day 2 and Big Bend Ranch State Park: 

Big Bend Ranch State Park is not to be missed if you’re in the area of the National Park. The Closed Canyon Trail and the scenery makes this park our tie for first place with Devils River. Learn more about Big Bend Ranch State Park here.

Closed Canyon Trail, Big Bend Ranch State Park

Day 14, Davis Mountains State Park:

Day 14 started our trek back North to make the full round back to our home in Rockwall. We stopped at Davis Mountains State Park which is about 2 hours from Terlingua and a great way to break up the drive going North. We enjoyed hiking at this park very much. Learn more about Davis Mountains State Park here.

From here, we continued driving North until we got to a hotel near Monahans Sandhills State Park. We found one with an indoor swimming pool so we could swim before bed. We spent the night at the hotel and woke up for Day 15 at Monahans Sandhills State Park. 

Day 15, Monahans Sandhills State Park

We stayed the night near this park so we could wake up early and spend the whole morning exploring before the LONG drive back home. If it fits your trip and you can make it to this park – do it. You climb up onto the sandhill and look out to rolling sandhills as far as the eye can see. Our kids absolutely fell in love. I highly, highly recommend this park. A definite for families with kids! Learn more here.

From here we drove 6 hours straight back to our house! The kids were WORN out and slept quite a bit. We had a complete blast exploring our great state of Texas. It wasn’t the Caribbean trip we had planned – but I guarantee we saw much more diversity in landscape than anything we would’ve seen in the Caribbean.

Writing this out has been a lot of fun. I hope I made it easy enough to jump around to things that interest you. Have you visited any of these parks? What are you most looking forward to checking out? Leave me a comment! 


-Texas State Parks require a day-pass reservation for visiting the park. These must be reserved in advance! I was able to book passes as I planned and mapped out our trip, about a month in advance. Keep that in mind when planning! Passes do sell out and you will not be allowed to enter without a pre-purchased day pass. 

-Rivers are flowing bodies of water. Everyone – even the strongest swimmers – need a life jacket. Our kids LOVE these lifejackets and will never be caught in a flowing body of water without them found here.

-It is extremely important to cover snake etiquette with young kids before setting out on any hike. Learn more about snakes here.

-Necessities when hiking 6 miles in the desert: WATER, hat, sunscreen, first aid kit, salty snacks, lip balm. 

-Kids must haves for this trip: TEVAS hurricane sandals found here , swimsuits, goggles 

-It is also important to note: at all times on this trip we had a stocked cooler full of cold water and food. Always buy more jugs/gallons of water than you think you’ll need. Many of the parks (especially the remote ones) do not have water refill stations. Texas late Spring and Summers are HOT. 

-When planning look at the park trail maps linked on the websites to the parks. You will see a .pdf link that reads “Park trail Maps”. These help you plan your day and know what to expect on your hike.

-For food and places to stop to eat – we mostly ate packed lunches from the cooler. We maybe stopped 3-4 times for cooked meals (or ordered pizza). Most of our days were spent in the parks and most of the parks have no food places on site. It’s pack in, pack out! Please prepare for that and have everything you need when going into a park. The last thing you want is to get out of a long hike with a bunch of hungry kids and nothing to feed them! 🙂

Vacation Packing for the Brave

Heading to Salt Lake City, Utah!

Packing for vacation, for us, is the most crucial part to making or breaking a trip (and why I chose this topic for my first post!). You don’t want to have too much stuff to lug around from place to place, but you also want to have everything you might need. Here, I’ll share some of our tried and true packing tips to make sure you have the essentials and nothing more!

Packing light for a family vacation is very important to us. We want to pack only exactly what we need for the weather conditions and time we’ll be there. That said, the essentials (read: what’s important) for us, may be different for your family. 

Some of our Non-Negotiables (with links!) : 

Portable Radio – BOSE Mini (we pack two: a nice one and a small waterproof one for water trips – we have music playing a lot) Find the Bose here and the Waterproof Speaker here

Organic Fire Starters (don’t want to be roasting food over fuel-powered fires) Find them here  

Camera (Nikon D5300) Find Nikon here

Kids Books (we are tech/screen-free travelers and love UsBorne!) Find the BEST Kids Books here (I could write a whole post on all of our favorites!)

Reusable Water Bottles (all 4 of us have our own that go everywhere with us!) Find my Favorite 4Ocean Reusable Bottle here

First Aid Kit (because, kids and brave) Find it here

Collapsible Bucket (we use this for many many things!) Find it here

Roasting Sticks Find them here

Paper/Foldable Maps of locations we’re visiting (lots of maps depending on where you’re going!)

2 Shoe Options for each person – for the kids TEVA or KEEN sandals are non-negotiable

Britax Travel Car Seat Cart Find them here

Ergo Carriers (our boys have grown up with these! Being worn on our chests as infants and still on our backs at 4 & 5) Find them here

Kids Headlamps (for nighttime exploring) Find them here

These items come with us on every single trip! Other items we pack include clothes and toiletries.

All that said, we pack so that we don’t have to check any luggage at the airport. Yep! Each of us gets one small suitcase that can be carried on to the flight. This ensures we pack light. We pack all of our camping essentials and our clothes and things in a way where we have everything with us at all times. Really, I can’t tell you how many times it’s saved us from lost luggage due to flight changes or airport issues. Our trip is unaffected completely by luggage issues!

The secret? Packing only enough clothes for 2-3 days and doing laundry! This is where our collapsible bucket comes in. On camping trips, I use the bucket to wash anything heavily soiled. Little soap, little water, little elbow grease, hang to dry, done! If we aren’t camping, I make sure to fit a stop in with a washer/dryer at least every couple of days. More on trip planning in a future post!

Packing light also requires knowing exactly what the weather will be where you are going. Layers are an absolute must for mountain trips. For the kids, I usually pack knowing they’ll wear their pajamas under pants and shirts. Double-layers. Plus, a jacket or sweater if needed for nights. We are not snow people so packing for snow trips is not my forte. But, we do travel to higher altitudes where daytime weather is warm and nights get cool. 

Packing for beach trips is a breeze. No layers there! Just swimsuits and sunscreen.

Tips for parents of babies and toddlers: don’t pack a weeks worth of diapers in your luggage. Pick diapers up when you do your grocery or store run after you arrive at your destination. 

Also, you may be surprised at what little you need for a baby or toddler when out exploring! We found when our kids were babies they were so busy exploring their new environment we rarely saw them! Our boys are older now, ages 4 & 6. But, they’ve been hiking with us since they were infants. We’ve had many a time where we just had to make best with what we had at the top of the mountain. And we always had enough! 

Try to forget the bottle warmer, too many extra pacis, extra burp cloths, extra bottles… chances are highly likely you won’t miss them. 

Traveling, for us, is a way to get out of our comfort zone. It’s a time to leave the comforts of home and try new things. Our kids are more likely to try new foods. Be on an entirely new sleep schedule. And realize how little they need to stay busy. Our most recent trips have been toy and screen free. Which means LOTS of time talking, exploring, and just enjoying the beautiful scenery and each other’s company. I’ll have another post on traveling with kids covering those topics soon! Thanks for reading!