Washington State: one week, three kids, and four National Parks


Hi!  We spent our 2019 spring break exploring and hiking an enormous amount across Washington state.  We would now like to move there immediately.  We explored North Cascades National Park, Mount Rainier National Park, Mount St. Helens Volcanic National Monument, and Olympic National Park.  We brought our teenaged daughter and son and preschooler, but only paid for the three kids’ tickets because O and I both had vouchers to use.

We flew into Seattle, picked up the rental car, and immediately drove the three hours to North Cascades National Park.  Right away, we bought the National Parks pass at $80/year for all the entrance fees (usually $30/per park).  We had limited time (four more GIANT parks to go), so we chose to stop at the visitor center, an overpass of the Skagit River, hike at Thunder Knob trail, take photos at Diablo Lake Overlook, and hike/photograph at Washington Pass Overlook.  Of the hundreds of pictures I took, a few are below in that order:

Next, I drove a beautiful route (about five hours) through gorgeous orchards and hilly landscapes around rivers (reminded me of Iceland) towards Mount Rainier National Park.  We made it to our next hotel, a Great Wolf Lodge, by 2 a.m., and spent the next morning letting the kids play in the water park.  We spent the afternoon at Mount Rainier.  We stopped at the Grove of Patriarchs, Reflection Lake, and hiked part of the summit of Mount Rainier.

The next day we spent time at Mount St Helen’s Volcanic Monument, aka The Johnston Ridge Observatory.  We brought sunscreen, sunglasses, and lots of water for the Boundary Trail that leads to the blown crater of Mt Helens.  We are avid hikers, but in the heat, we barely made it to Devil’s Point (2.2 miles one way).  Pictures below!

We drove up to the northeast side of Olympic National Park the next day.  The plan was to end in Hurricane Ridge that evening.  We made plans to see Hurricane Ridge, Lake Crescent, and Hoh Forest across three days.  It was too rainy that evening to spend in Hurricane Ridge (HR), so we packed HR and Lake Crescent together in one day.  We stayed mid trip at the Kalaloch Lodge.  My favorite part of the trip was Ruby Beach (hence a hundred pictures from Ruby Beach- see below).

It was pouring on the last day of the trip.  We left Kalaloch Lodge (no wi-fi and wood-burning stoves made for an awesome night for teens!) and attempted to see Hoh Rainforest for the morning.  It continued to pour, so the kids were miserable in their ponchos and we left early.  I didn’t take any pictures for fear of dropping my phone in the puddles, and instead I attached are a few pictures from when O and I visited on our anniversary trip in 2018 instead:

That afternoon we drove the couple of hours to Seattle to check-in to the hotel for our last night.  I made reservations the next morning at 10 am at Neko, a coffee and cat cafe.  The kids have always wanted a cat, but O is “allergic”.  It was a cute experience:

We barely had time to return the rental and catch our flight home.  The kids and I jumped on the airport shuttle from the rental car area while O stayed back and sorted through the rental papers.  We were terrified we would miss our flight.  We ended up making it alright.  But it does take a long time to get from the rental place to the Seattle airport.

We still need to go back to see parts of Olympic National Forest with my mom, plus all the millions (billions?) or acres of forest to explore.  We also need to go back to live there. It’ll happen eventually.

Happy travels!

Weekend in Arizona

0D948B75-FDC5-4F01-BB49-7B267696DBCAMy four-year old and I followed O to Phoenix, Arizona in late August for a short weekend trip.  My husband was there Monday through Friday for work, and we joined Thursday night.   Tickets were through AA at about $300/roundtrip.  After a morning swim in the 100 degree Friday weather (glorious) and visiting a train-themed playground in Scottsdale, we left Phoenix and headed to northern Arizona to see the Grand Canyon.  O extended the rental and booked a hotel in Tusayan.  The drive was neat.  The immeasurable amount of “cacti!!” near Phoenix suddenly change to lush pine forests in northern Arizona with the higher elevation.

Oh, before leaving Scottsdale, we stopped for lunch at a Mexican restaurant, then grabbed Alien Donuts and Coffee Cartel coffee for the drive north.  Big hit with the four-year old.

On Saturday morning, we spent some time in the Grand Canyon Village, which was 15 minutes from the hotel in Tusayan.  Pictures from the edge:

We then decided (spontaneously) to drive the four hours from Tusayan to make it to the Grand Canyon Skywalk on the western side of the park.  We stopped by the Visitor Center and retrieved maps.  We also asked about stopping by Supai to see the blue waterfalls (the havasupai falls), but sadly were told they required reservations and were booking a month in advance.  Highly recommend looking into these reservations.  We wish we did.

We drove the four hours through the desert after forgetting our car chargers and barely made it to the Skywalk on time.  It was extremely expensive at $80/adult and $65/kid to walk the bridge and sight see, but it was a great experience and beautiful views on this particular reservation.  No regrets!

We hiked a little, too, which was a little terrifying with a four-year old near a canyon.  We were not allowed to take any pictures on the Skywalk bridge.  But the hike ended up being nice.

It was late when we drove back to Tusayan, but we took the extra 20 minutes to drive along Route 66.  We so enjoyed the route- highly recommend.  We stopped the car and viewed the starlit sky.  Just incredible.

On our way back to Phoenix airport on Sunday, we tried to stop in Sedona to eat lunch at a restaurant with views of the red rocks.  After sleeping in a bit, we ended up in Flagstaff at a diner called “The Place” off of Route 66, which was still pretty cool.

Lessons learned:

1) book closer to Grand Canyon National Park

2) book reservations at havasupai falls in advance

3) Take route 66 at all times anytime you can

4) Make time to stop by Sedona and eat lunch at one of the restaurants with stunning views of red rocks

Happy travels!


Family Reunion in The Ozarks

July 13 – 16, 2017



Our immediate family (Orlando, the four kids, and myself), my mom, and four of my siblings and their families, which added up to a grand total of 23.  It was 11 adults and 12 children ranging in age from 17 years old to nine months old…!

How did we pay for this trip:

Sharing the house rental, boat rental, and costs of food by cooking breakfasts and packing lunches significantly reduced the overall cost.  The biggest expense was the day pass to the White Water water park, which seemed to be the most reasonable water park near us at about $40 per person.  Our drive to Branson from northern Illinois was cut in half by a hotel stay mid-way in Collinsville, Illinois.

How did we get there:

2017 Toyota Sienna SE.  We bought the extended warranty for this beautiful creature because we would like it to be with us forever.  Our extraordinary developing teenage children have the space they need, the wide screen movie player is very visible for everyone in the middle and back row without craning necks, the van has this option of playing audio for the driver while the kids use the headphones for the movie, the third row seats recline for goodness’ sake— It is a van that suits every age and makes you feel like you could make a road trip of any distance possible.


Where did we stay:

Branson Cedar Resort.  My brother took charge of booking the house for this trip.  We split the cost of the log cabin among my siblings and I.   Since we were such a large group, we had to book nine months prior (November 2016).


Talking Rocks Cavern:

All of the cousins enjoyed this small cave.  It was a nice, cool activity in the summer heat.  I did stay behind due to the steep steps and my two-year old toddler.  We made the mistake before of taking our two-year old on a two-hour cave tour in Mammoth Kentucky Caves, and while a fun memory, not something we wanted to try again.

Renting a Boat on Table Rock Lake:

This was everyone’s favorite activity.  We rented two Pontoon boats that my two brothers drove.  We drove the boats to a cliff diving spot, to a beach, and with the tube my brother brought for the cousins to use, which they loved.  It was a great day for most everyone, minus my sister who was nauseated on the boat.

Skip the Water Park:

There’s a time and place for everything, and Branson was not the place for a water park.  We have Wisconsin Dells in our backyard, and knowing day passes to water parks there are as low as $20/day with food included, it was difficult to pay $45 for one person just to enter and THEN pay for locker costs and over-priced food.

Silver Dollar City:

Most of my immediate family are afraid of heights and roller coasters, minus my 14-year old, so there was no appeal for us to get tickets to Silver Dollar City.  Since we didn’t go through it, we have nothing to report on it.

Lessons learned:

We had a great time overall, but we are taking lessons learned and applying it to our second annual reunion this coming summer, 2018, in Wisconsin!  We booked through Air B&B instead and found an incredible-looking tree house cabin with more space that is settled next to a hiking trail and private beach.  We are really looking forward to this one!

P.S. Sunscreen, water shoes, and boat snacks (BOAT SNACK)





Three day weekend trip to Mackinac Island!

August 2017



The entire crew plus the in-laws.

How did we pay for this trip:

We decided to do a road trip from Chicago. We only paid for gas and food for the 500 mile road trip.

How did we get there:

We have a 2017 Toyota Sienna SE. If you are familiar with the SE model, the van comes with a wide-screen TV and a Blue ray player. If you have small children then you already know that TV + Blue ray = peaceful drive. If you are thinking about buying a Toyota Sienna, this is how we rate our van:

Comfort: 10/10 – Pretty spacious seats even for the back row. Everyone was comfortable and we had a full van (8 people).

Performance: 4/10 – It’s a van and that is all there is to it.

Gas mileage: 6/10 – Yes, we load this van with 8 people plus luggage. It all fits, but at a cost. We get about 22 MPG Highway.

Entertainment: 9/10 – Widescreen TV, Blue ray player, HDMI inputs, video inputs and nice sound system. Do I need to say more?

Where did we stay:

We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express St. Ignace-Lake Front. Price was a little bit higher than usual for a Holiday Inn, but all hotels are pretty expensive near this area. The hotel has a free shuttle to the Island so that was pretty convenient.


Rent a bike:

You can’t go to Mackinac Island and not bike the entire island. Do you go to Orlando and skip on all the theme parks? Maybe you do, but you just can’t come here and not rent a bike. Rent that bike, please.

The Grand hotel:

We have stayed at this hotel in the past thanks to my previous job. The hotel stay is expensive but well worth the price. It is old-fashioned, grandiose and unbeatable location.

Go into the stores:

Souvenirs are all over the place. It may seem overwhelming seeing all these people in the stores, but trust me, it’s part of the experience.

Headlands International Dark Sky Park:

It’s a short drive from St. Ignace, but it is well worth the drive. This park is basically best seen at night. Ok, so you really can’t see the park at night, but what you can see are the stars! We were lucky enough to go on a weekend with shooting stars on the sky. It was really beautiful and all the kids loved it. We did too. Take lawn chairs and blankets.

Lessons learned:

Our only regret is not staying one night on the island. We liked our hotel, but staying one night on the island is well worth the price.