Most people have a family road trip memory that they look back on with nostalgia. Life today is quite a bit different than it was back then, but if you head in search of old-school family road trip vibes, you won't have to look too hard to find a few gems. And since National Parks are the number one family road trip destination, here's a totally retro road trip through the prairies of Nebraska to the Badlands of the Dakotas that is sure to make memories that everyone will keep for years to come... just maybe leave the iPad at home!
A recreation of the famed Stonehenge across the pond, Carhenge is a must-see. Located among the prairies of Nebraska, the strange and mesmerizing site is composed of 38 automobiles, arranged in the same shape and size as the original monument. Carhenge is open during all hours of the day, 365 days a year, but the preferred visiting time is during daylight hours. The monument also features a few other cars at the top of the hill and visitors are allowed to leave their own mark on them, so make sure to bring a can of spray paint!
Ringing in as the second-longest cave in the world, Jewel Cave National Monument is a beautiful site for any weary traveler. With over 160 miles of passages, the cave has tons to explore. The passages are covered in beautiful calcite crystals, and are home to rare formations, such as conulites and hydromagnesite balloons... take a guided tour through the cave, and you'll get to see these oddities and learn how they're made! The cave is an extremely popular destination, so make sure to get there early to secure a spot on your preferred tour at your preferred time.
With over 71,000 acres of abundant wildlife, Custer State Park will be a great break for the kids to run around and let off some steam. The park is home to a heard of over 1,000 bison that roam freely, as well as mountain goats, antelope, sheep and burros (which you can feed!) September is the best month to visit if you'd like to check out the annual Buffalo Roundup, where cowboys and cowgirls will roundup and drive the entire herd. If you're down to do some extra driving, check out the park's scenic routes- Wildlife Loop Road and Needles Highway are great roads for some amazing photos. The park is also home to some stellar camping, with sites in the forest, on the banks of the river, and by a mountain lake. If you're traveling in an RV, you'll basically be living in the lap of luxury in the heart of one of America's prettiest spots! Thor Industries makes an RV for every style of camper, and for every camping situation, including this retro-inspired family road trip.
No family trip through the Badlands would be complete without a stop at Mount Rushmore. Featuring the likenesses of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln, the monument is a testament to America's forefathers (and to America's love for kinda random monuments)... but really, it truly is a beautiful site to behold. Entry fee is $11 per vehicle, and allows you park entry for the entire year. The town surrounding the site is a great place to grab a bite to eat and pick up a few kitschy, Presidential-themed souvenirs.
Cosmos Mystery Area is a great place to take a break from the road. Located in the Black Hills, the area seems to defy the laws of both physics and logic! Visitors can take part in fun, hands-on experiments, and take a 30-minute tour of the property, where everything you thought you knew about gravity will be tested as balls roll uphill and you walk through wonky, crooked rooms. Cosmos also has a gift shop, ice cream, geode-cracking and more. The attraction has been around since its "discovery" in 1952, so it might even bring back childhood road trip memories for you!
Home to one of the world's best fossil beds, Badlands National Park will be a natural playground for you and your family. The park has almost 250,000 acres of grasslands, wilderness, and vast geological formations. This is one of the only national parks where you can roam completely free from trails, so make sure to take your kids right up to the formations to search for fossils! In fact, in 2010, a seven-year-old girl found a very rare saber tooth cat fossil; she alerted park rangers to her discovery, and they found even more fossils in the area. The park is also home to a variety of hiking trails, so you'll sleep well after a day of exploration and adventure.
Famed for offering free cups of ice water to travelers in the 1930's, Wall Drug Store is a road trip staple. The attraction boasts an art gallery, chapel, a variety of souvenir shops, an arcade, and even an old-fashioned soda fountain. Even today, you will still find free ice water and coffee for a nickel. The shop brings in over 2 million tourists a year, and it's become an icon for Badlands travel.
Harry Alonzo Longabaugh, better known as the Sundance Kid, got his start at this famed spot. The Sundance Kid was an American outlaw and part of Butch Cassidy's Wild Bunch, and a variety of relics from his time period can be found here. From touring the Sundance Territorial jail to taking a photo with his statue, you and your family will feel like you're back in the Wild West.
Considered sacred by the surrounding Native American tribes, Devils Tower National Park is a natural wonder, and it is a great place to finish off your trip across the Badlands. The monument consists of an 867-foot natural igneous rock protrusion and was the first-ever national monument, created by Theodore Roosevelt in 1906. The best times to visit the columns are at sunrise and sunset, where you'll have ample opportunities for beautiful photos. The kids will love the Tower Trail, where you might even spot a porcupine or two!
You and your family will have the trip of a lifetime in the Badlands, as you wind your way through the Blacks Hills, discovering the hidden gems and classic stops. With both new and old attractions, you will be bringing back memories of road trips past, while creating new ones with your family. Get ready for a trip that truly rocks!