Badlands

As you are cruising down I-90 in South Dakota, you start to notice a slow change in the scenery in the distance. Then suddenly rising from the wind swept prairies and cow pastures, you are greeted by the stunning formations of Badlands National Park

The Badlands are just absolutely beautiful. I don’t know what I was expecting but I wasn’t expecting all of this:

The park is very large and the Ben Reifel Visitor Center is the main visitor center for the whole park. Depending on how you enter the park, the visitor center may not be close. The parking lot is also very small compared to the size of the park so just a heads up there. 

There are lots of great view points and kid friendly trails. We enjoyed the Window Trail, Door Trail and the Fossil Exhibit Trailhead.

The most popular hike in the park is the Notch Trailhead. This trail leads you to a log ladder that you can climb up to an awesome view. Unfortunately, it had rained the night before our visit and this trail was too muddy for our liking during our visit but you should try it for yours. 

We were able to see several kinds of animals throughout the park. The prairie dogs were plentiful and we even saw some roaming bison. The bison are mainly near the Pinnacles Entrance as there is more open prairie at this end of the park. 

Another great thing about Badlands is that there is another National Historic site close by. Located on Interstate 90 is the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site.

This is an absolutely fascinating stop where you can learn about the Cold War and the nuclear arsenal stored nearby. You stop by the visitor center to watch the movie, see the displays and gather the Jr Ranger book. Then you can stop at other locations along I90 and see the now decommissioned missile sites and bunkers. Don’t skip over this stop. 

Another great stop on I90 is Wall Drug Store. You can’t miss it because there are a million signs along the interstate pointing you that way. This is a large complex filled with a drug store, restaurant, shops, kids play area and even a splash pad. There are Tesla charging stations also available. It is an iconic stop and its just plain fun. 

Just as you are leaving Wall Drug, you will pass right by the National Grasslands Visitor Center. The Visitor Center is currently being renovated but you can still pick up a super fun Jr Ranger booklet and earn another badge. The booklet is focused on the black footed ferret and my kids really enjoyed this one. 

The Badlands were stunning and, despite the location appearing the be in the middle of nowhere, there is actually a lot to be done in this area of South Dakota.

Happy Travels!

Scotts Bluff

As you are meandering your way through the fields of Western Nebraska, you will suddenly be greeted by a gigantic series of bluffs that have risen out of the ground seemingly from nowhere. Welcome to Scotts Bluff National Monument!

The Bluffs are a stark contrast to the surrounding plains and due to this they were a landmark for the covered wagons making their way along the Oregon Trail (also California and Mormon Trails). 

We stopped in to the newly renovated visitor center. There were lots of kid-friendly, hands-on exhibits. We also took the short Oregon Trail Pathway that leaves from the visitor center. 

This brings you to the covered wagon replicas but also brought us to some living history demonstrations. These re-enactors taught us about how food and water was transported, common kids toys, and how to assess a buffalo chip to see if it is ready to be used for fuel. My kids were fascinated by the buffalo chip thing and this would come in handy when we visited Custer State Park. Ha! If you walk to the end of this trail you will also see the old wagon wheel ruts that mark the Oregon Trail. 

When returning to the visitor center, you can either take the Saddle Rock trail (1.6 miles) up to the top of the Bluff or you can drive to the top. We opted to drive.

There are 2 overlook trails at the top. Both are easy to manage and you can view down to the valley with the visitor center or look over the town of Scottsbluff. 

This was a quick stop and you can easily do some other activities in the area to complete your day. May I suggest:

Agate Fossil Beds National Monument

This is located northwest of Scottsbluff. It is a bit out of the way but still fun and they do offer an engaging junior ranger program. The visitor center is surprisingly big with large fossil displays. The Native American artifacts and story steal the show. 

There are two trails available in this monument and we opted for the Daemonlix Trail. There is a Paleocastor fossil displayed on this trail. This is the spiral corkscrew fossil that made this monument famous. The story is really interesting but I don’t want to ruin the surprise. 

Chimney Rock

This famous rock (that is displayed on the Nebraska quarter) is due east of Scottsbluff. You can see the rock from the Overlook Trails at Scotts Bluff NM. This was also a landmark for travelers on the trails. There is a hands on museum located here but it is not included in the National Park Pass. 

Carhenge

This is advertised as “The Nebraska answer to Stonehenge”. It just cracks me up. We were thwarted in our visit due to a Thunderstorm and I was devastated. It looks amazing. This is also east of Scottsbluff in Alliance, NE so you could loop this together with Chimney Rock. 

Runzas

Runzas are these doughy balls full of ground beef (along with cabbage and onion I believe). They are a Nebraska tradition and I’m pretty sure you are required to eat at least one before leaving the state. The Runza chain restaurant that is located throughout the state will help you accomplish this goal.

Town of Scottsbluff

The town of Scottsbluff itself is fairly large. It has large chain restaurants, shopping and hotels. We stayed overnight here to break up the trip. There are other tourist attractions in the town including the Legacy of the Plains Museum. So don’t just skip over Scottsbluff. 

Our next destination….South Dakota!

Happy Travels!

Petroglyph National Monument

Petroglyph National Monument is kind of quirky. This National Monument is located in the middle of the suburbs of Albuquerque. The Visitor Center has no trails and does not connect to other parts of the park. Oh and there is no museum. Don’t worry. It’s still worth a stop.

You can swing by the Visitor Center to pick up a map or other information before starting your journey. However, everything is available online if needed. We stopped at the Visitor Center first so we could pick up the Jr Ranger Booklets before heading out to the trails. There are 3 canyons to choose from when deciding which route you would like to take. You do have to drive between each canyon area as they are also not connected. I told you it was quirky. We decided to complete the Boca Negra Canyon.

There are 3 trails at the Boca Negra Canyon: Mesa Point, Macaw and Cliff Base. The park service lists the Macaw and Cliff Base as moderate intensity and Mesa Point as strenuous. However the Macaw and Cliff Base were very short trails that can be completed quickly. None of these trails are stroller or wheelchair friendly but they are not difficult. Our kiddos were able to easily complete them.

Petroglyphs were easily viewable from the trails.

Boca Negra Canyon is the only fully developed area at the National Monument so there were bathrooms, water fountains, picnic tables and viewing binoculars. The other canyons do not have water available so make sure to bring your own.

This ended up being just a quick stop but the kiddos learned a lot. The National Monument is so easily located in town that you can visit this place in the morning and still have plenty of time for other activities in the day. Happy Hiking!

White Sands

White Sands is stunning.  The bright white gypsum sands are constantly changing. The winds shift the dunes in all directions and the sunlight makes the view morph throughout the day. We arrived in the rain the first day but were lucky to have time to return the next morning. The morning light made it feel like we had arrived at a completely new destination.

On the first day, we dodged rain drops to complete the Dune Life Nature Trail and the Interdune Boardwalk trail. The boardwalk trail is stroller and wheelchair friendly. Both of these trails are very short, kid friendly and have informative signs throughout.

The rain became more intense as the day moved on. So we completed the Dunes Drive and hiked up to see some views. However, we decided to wait for the next day for sledding. 

When we arrived the next day to sunshine, the view was completely different.

Sledding is the most popular event at White Sands and we had to try it out. 

The kids absolutely loved it. Even the adults gave it a try.

It was cooler in the morning and you could almost be tricked into believing we were sledding in the snow.

The kids could have stayed here all day.

After a fun morning in the sand, we headed out for Albuquerque.

For Your Trip

The White Sands visitor center is located about 20 minutes from Alamogordo. White Sands Missile Range also happens to be in this area. So the road out to the visitor center is sometimes closed due to missile testing. Check the parks website for closure updates while you are planning your visit.

You are going to want to sled in the park. Guaranteed. There are several options when it comes to sleds. You can bring your own from home, buy some at the visitor center or buy them in Alamogordo.  The sleds are just basic circular snow sleds. They are twice the price at the visitor center as they are in town. During our visit, Walmart was sold out but Big 5 Sporting Goods store had them available right by the front door. If you have time I would recommend buying them in town.

The visitor center gift shop used to buy back the sleds and give some money back. However, when we were there they had stopped the buy back program and would give you a sticker or some other small item for bringing back the sled. Since the program changed, some people were bringing back sleds and trading them with other people in the parking lot. Also when we arrived early the next morning before the visitor center opened, there was a sled someone just left outside the gift shop. So if you get lucky, that might be an option. 

A lot of people were asking about the Trinity Site (where the first atomic bomb was tested) at the visitor center. White Sands Missile Range manages this site and not the National Park. The Trinity site is only open to visitors twice a year on the first Saturday in April and in October. You must contact the Missile Range Public Affairs department or the Alamogordo Chamber of Commerce to arrange a visit.

Don’t forget to stop by the World’s Largest Pistachio on your way out of town! Happy Travels!

Carlsbad Caverns

Carlsbad Caverns is one of the most unique National Parks in America. Yes there is Yosemite, Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, etc and they are all amazing (and you should go visit them). Carlsbad stands out from the rest in that this national park is mostly underground.  It is reported that Will Rogers called Carlsbad Caverns “The Grand Canyon with a roof over it” and I think that is the perfect analogy.

Like most National Parks these days, we had to book our entrance tickets in advance. You can still use your annual pass to get in but you must book an entrance time. We opted for early in the morning as once you are in side there is no time limit on leaving so the middle of the day the cave can get quite crowded. You will check in at the front desk to confirm your entrance ticket (and show your annual pass or pay the entrance fee) and then you are directed back toward the elevator that will take you down into the Big Room. What is unique about the elevator is that it will show you how many feet you are descending. 

You will descend 750ft in total through solid limestone. Another option to enter the cave is via the natural entrance trail. This is a 1.25 mile trail that starts with descending switchbacks all the way down to the first discovered entrance. It is fairly steep so you will have to decide what is best for your visit. Either way you end up in the Big Room and it is stunning.

The most common trail inside the Cavern is the Big Room Trail which is 1.25 miles long. About half way through this trail there is a bailout point which allows you to cut through and make the route shorter. Warning: There are only bathrooms near the elevators. Once you’ve started the trail there is no turning back. We may have had to hustle through the last 1/4 mile as a kiddo really needed to go despite us using the restroom before we started. 

The trail was fairly easy but there are wet spots everywhere. The beginning portion of the trail is wheelchair accessible but you will have to take the shortcut portion to return and can’t do the full loop. Closed toe shoes are recommended. Low lighting is used throughout the cavern which might be a concern for some. 

Besides the rush to the bathroom at the end, the kids really enjoyed being inside the cave. They became absolutely fascinated with bats. 

The visitor center above the Caverns was very well done. There was fun interactive displays and a special area for junior rangers to finish up their booklets.

Overall we had a great and smooth experience at Carlsbad Caverns. But our adventure didn’t end there. We took a short detour over to Guadalupe Mountains National Park.

Guadalupe Mountains National Park

While doing research on our trip to Carlsbad, I stumbled upon Guadalupe Mountains National Park. It is located in Texas so I hadn’t been considering it for our New Mexico road trip. However, it is just across the state line and is actually only 45 minutes from Carlsbad Caverns. We decided we had to go check it out. 

We arrived at the Pine Springs Visitor Center in the middle of a snow storm. In my mind, we were going even farther south and into Texas and therefore it would be hot. Snow was not exactly on my radar. However, mother nature had other plans.

Needless to say, all of our hiking plans were thrown aside. We were able to go into the visitor center but the main part was closed and only a small shop area was open. 

For those of you that arrive when the weather is nice, there is a short Pinery Trail that is paved and is supposed to be an easy hike with kids. The most popular trail in the park is the Devil’s Hall which is 3.8 mile round trip. This trail also starts at the Pine Springs Visitor Center. Another place we were planning to stop was the Frijole Ranch Museum. We were planning to hike the Manzanita Spring trail as well which starts from the Museum. It is only a 1/2 mile trail that is easy for children. A slightly longer and more difficult hike is the Smith Spring Trail loop that also leaves from the ranch area. It is 2.3 miles but there is supposed to be a tiny waterfall and shaded area at the end. But again…..snow.

After having a picnic lunch in the car and realizing the snow was not letting up, we decided to head back to Carlsbad. We didn’t even get to see El Capitan (the most popular mountain in the park) due to the clouds 😦 We did get a small glimpse of the coral reef mountains on the way back into town. Maybe next time Guadalupe!

For Your Trip

  • Don’t forget to book those entrance tickets for the Cavern. The tickets come out 4 weeks in advance.
  • There are guided tours into other areas of the Caverns but those also need to be booked in advance.
  • The bats are not at Carlsbad year round. They are only there from late May to early October. When they are at the cave there are nightly bat programs and an amphitheater that you can watch them leave the cave.  Pretty amazing stuff!
  • There are not a lot of food options for either Carlsbad Caverns or Guadalupe Mountains. I highly recommend you bring all food and water with you….and maybe a roll of toilet paper.
  • The masking requirements are changing frequently so check on the website before heading over to the Caverns.

Happy Trails!

Roswell

The drive from Santa Fe to Carlsbad, New Mexico is long. Empty fields for 4 1/2 hours. The one thing to look forward to is the pitstop at Roswell.

I’m sure you all know the story.  A mysterious object crashed into a field outside of Roswell in the summer of 1947. Was it a UFO? A weather balloon? Spycraft? The truth seems to be a bit muddled but the city of Roswell is sticking with UFO and they have bought into the story 100%.  

Every part of town is Alien themed. That includes the McDonald’s shaped like a spaceship and the local minor league baseball team (Roswell Invaders) sporting an Alien Head in the middle of their team logo. Most of the main attractions are on Main Street, including the spaceship McDonald’s. 

We were a little short on time during our stop so we had to pick between the International UFO Museum or the Roswell UFO Spacewalk. There was an alien autopsy scene at the International UFO museum that I thought might be a little intense for the kids so we opted for the Spacewalk.

The Roswell UFO Spacewalk is this super adorable little place put together by a charming couple. They obviously worked very hard on this blacklight walk through. Entrance fee was very reasonable and you can walk through as many times as you would like. If you have little kids, this is the stop for you. I loved this place, I loved the owners, and I loved that they seemed to do it all just for fun. 

This was a great stop to stretch our legs, do some tacky tourists shopping, and then get back on the road to Carlsbad. 

For Your Trip

You have to get a picture by the Roswell sign. There are signs at 4 different entrances into town and all of them are a little different. Google which one you want to stop at but you need to get that picture. Another random picture you may want to get is a piece of art called Cowboy Ruckus by John Cerney. This is located north of Roswell (about 70 miles or so). 

The cowboys are 18ft tall

Roswell is a good sized town. You could probably spend a whole day there as there are several parks in the area including Bottomless Lake State park and museums including Roswell Museum and a Contemporary Art Museum. The International UFO Museum looks like a great stop if you have older kids. New attractions also seem to be popping up everyday so make sure to stop at the Roswell Visitors Center for the latest info. All the major grocery store chains are in town so stock up before you head out into those open fields again. And don’t forget to watch the skies on the way out of town 😉

Bandelier National Monument

Bandelier National Monument is one of my favorite places. We have been here many times and keep coming back. It is just an engaging park that really draws the kids in and focus their attention on history, hiking, and having some fun. 

Our latest trip to Bandelier was in March 2022. We lucked out with some beautiful, cool weather along with sunshine. Even though March is technically the off season, we still made sure to get to the parking lot at the Visitor Center early to snag a spot. We aren’t the only ones that love this place. The most popular trail is the Pueblo (or Main) Loop Trail that starts directly behind the visitors center. 

This trail is 1.4 miles and is fairly smooth until you get to some sites in which you will want to climb up. There are some very uneven steps, tight spaces and ladders. The ladders are the best part. 

You can go around the step/climbing portion if needed. You can view the cliff houses from the lower portion and then both sections will meet up at the lower cliff dwellings and long houses. I highly recommend going up to the cliff houses and climbing the houses if possible. The views are worth it.

The long houses are interesting as well with some paint still visible.

You can retrace your steps at the end of the trail or loop through via the Nature trail to return back to the Visitor Center. The Nature trail offers more shade and has a little creek running by it. So that is always our choice for the return. 

If you visit in the Spring, I would recommend the Falls Trail to see the winter runoff. The falls can dry up in the summer. This trail is more difficult and honestly I wouldn’t recommend it with small children. Also check for ice or snow on the trail due to recent weather. This trail starts near the visitor center so you can decide if the conditions are right for you after you arrive. 

For Your Trip

Its important to note that Bandelier is an extremely popular spot. In the off season, you can drive down the canyon to the visitor center and park but get there early. In the summer, you must take a shuttle if arriving between 9am and 3pm. The shuttle starts at the White Rock Visitor Center. This is located 20 min away from the Bandelier visitor center and you will most likely pass it first if you are coming in from Santa Fe. So check your watch when you are in White Rock to save yourself a long trip into the canyon and back. 

Bandelier is 1 hr from Santa Fe. There are limited services during parts of this drive with basically nothing between White Rock and the entrance to the Monument. I recommend checking your fuel gauge and bringing some snacks/packed lunch. There is a cafe at the Bandelier Visitor Center, which had lovely coffee. However, this place can get crowded. There is also a lovely patio just outside this cafe with picnic tables that you can sit and have your lunch or finish up your junior ranger booklets.

If you can’t make it to Bandelier this year or just want a sneak peek before you go, their website also offers a virtual tour. You can also check there for closures due to weather or fires (which unfortunately happened recently).

Bandelier National Monument is an absolute must. Add it to your bucket list and I’m sure you will be coming back again after that first visit. 

Treetop Walk

Over the Fall Break in October, we decided to take a trip down to the Black Forest Region of Germany. It was a major area we hadn’t visited yet and it was an area that promised lots of outdoor activities and hikes. One of our favorite stops during our little road trip was Baumwipfelpfade in Bad Wildbad.

The Treetop Walk is a great family activity. It is a 3/4 mile walk to an observation tower on a smooth wooden platform (yes it is stroller friendly). 

To keep everyone entertained, they have sprinkled different activities along the way. Some are educational stops and some are fun balance activities. 

Some activities are harder than others 🙂

After a fun walk along the elevated platform you will gradually reach the tower. The tower, which appears to be a wooden tornado supported by steel, stands over 130 ft and provides stunning views of the Black Forest from the top. You may even catch a peek of the Stuttgart TV tower or the Swiss Alps. 

On the way down, you have the option of walking to the bottom or taking the slide.

O loves a good slide but wasn’t yet ready for this one 😛 

The exit at the bottom of the tower leads you directly to the entrance to the Sommerberg Adventure Forest. The Adventure Forest is a lovely outdoor playground for children with climbing towers, swings, big bouncy jump pillows and much more. However, this is an additional cost. So be aware as your kids will beg you to go here after the walk. Of course we ended up going here.

Once you are done, there is a nice walk along the forest floor that will return you to the entrance.

This photo from the walk back reminds me of the John Muir quote: “Between every two pines is a doorway to a new world.

Information for your trip:

Getting There:

This treetop walk is 2.5 hr from Wiesbaden. There is a paid parking lot at the base of the entrance path. However, this fills up quickly particularly during the summer months. The other option is parking down in the town and taking the funicular train up to the entrance. The website (baumwipfelpfade.de/schwarzwald/) has excellent information on all transportation and driving options. 

Other activities near by:

In addition to the Treetop walk and the Adventure Forest that is mentioned above, there are other fun activities in the area. The Wildline Suspension bridge is very close to the entrance of the Treetop walk and you can see this pedestrian bridge from the top of the observation tower. Mountain biking is also hugely popular in this area and you will walk by the downhill mountain bike course as you return to the entrance. In the winter, this transforms to a ski slope. There are also many thermal baths in the region. No matter your interest, you will sure to have a good time in the Bad Wildbad area. 

Where we stayed:

We stayed at the KleinEnzhof Family Resort in Bad Wildbad.  www.kleinenzhof.de/en/  This was a really nice family owned camping area. Very kid friendly with fun playgrounds, petting zoo, and indoor and outdoor pools. There was also a very large indoor recreation facility that had a small children’s play area, fitness room, games and a large soccer/basketball court.. It had a restaurant and a small store that also provided fresh baked goods in the morning. There were all different forms of accommodations including sleeping in a wine barrel. We rented the mobile home and enjoyed having our own kitchen. We felt it was very reasonably priced and would recommend.

Blühendes Barock in Ludwigsburg

The Pumpkin Festival is one of those events that is always suggested to us every Fall yet somehow we have never made it down there to see the event. That changed this year when we swung by the Blühendes Barock in Ludwigsburg on our trip down to the Black Forest. 

The Pumpkin Festival is held in the gardens surrounding the Ludwigsburg Residence. Usually there are multiple events throughout the August-November opening dates, but due to COVID almost all of these events were cancelled. We were able to see the largest pumpkin contest but missed out on the pumpkin canoe regatta.

The pumpkin festival is held mostly in the northern part of the gardens. The theme this year was music.

There were booths selling everything pumpkin from sausages to soup to soap. Even pumpkin prosecco was available. While the world’s biggest pumpkin exhibition was interesting, the true hidden gem is the dream like Fairytale Garden that is tucked in the back.

There are over 40 different fairytales that are told throughout this area. All are told in German but since they were all traditional stories it was easy for the kids to identify and understand each story. We were able to take a boat ride down the fairy stream, ask Rapunzel to lower her hair, and we found the witch in the house of sweets. Don’t worry Hansel and Gretel were safe. 

There were so many fun adventures around every corner. There was even a goose that laid golden eggs! (With tiny trinkets inside of course) 

Honestly I feel that the Fairytale garden alone is worth the trip or at least a stop over on your way to Stuttgart or other adventures. So mark this one down as another hidden gem to add to your next trip. Blühendes Barock: come for the pumpkins, stay for the stories. 

Idstein

Sometimes you don’t need to take a long road trip or a flight to visit someplace unique and full of history in Europe. Sometimes you just need to pop over to the town at the next autobahn exit. That is exactly what we did as we spent an afternoon in the neighboring town of Idstein.

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One of our friends lives in Idstein and helped give us the grand tour. We walked through town to admire the church and the half timbered houses. 

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My favorite has to be Schiefes Haus or Crooked House.

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The highlight of our tour though was the Hexenturm or Witches’ Tower.

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Before making the climb up the tower, we had to stop at the information office in town to get the key. Even this building was gorgeous. 

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After getting the aptly named skeleton key, we headed through the gatehouse to the tower.

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Once we reached the tower, we had to unlock the door, head inside and then lock ourselves inside. Not even kidding. You have to lock yourself inside the witches tower. Those are the rules. After taking it all in for a minute, we started the climb up.

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There are a variety of stair types that become steeper as you get to the top with the final ascent being basically a ladder. The climb isn’t strenuous but you do have to be careful.

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You can see all of Idstein from the top.

Watchman’s view.

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Idstein is a great day trip particularly from Wiesbaden or Frankfurt. It is history and beauty all wrapped up in a nice little compact package.

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For your trip

When you get the key to the tower from the information office, you have to give them something in exchange like your car keys or cellphone. They are limiting the visits to the tower due to COVID so it would be best if you go during the week.

If you don’t have a lovely friend to give you the tour around town, don’t worry! The city of Idstein has 2 self guided walking tours listed on their website. The map for the half timbered houses can be found here: House Map

The map for the historical buildings can be found here: Historical Building Map

After our walkabout, we had a delicious lunch on the patio of Idsteiner Brauhaus. It was a nice way to finish an outing. The brewery also offers growlers of their beer to go. You can find their information here: Brauhaus

Off to our next adventure!

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