The 2020 trip I was most excited about was Kyrgyzstan. My brother moved to Bishkek a year ago and promised two weeks of exploring Central Asia’s untouched wilderness. But COVID had other plans. With Turkish Airlines officially cancelling my trip, my husband B and I went back to the drawing board in search of a new adventure.

Planning a trip during COVID presented a new set of challenges; how do you scratch the travel bug itch while ensuring the safety of yourself and others? Add to that, we would be traveling with Lambeau, our Mini Aussie.

I did the research so you don’t have to:

  1. You want to control your environment so driving tends to be safer than flying
  2. Camping vastly reduces interactions with others
  3. Bring a cooler and portable non-perishables – this limits stops for food
  4. Disinfectant wipes and sanitizer are your best friends
  5. Mask Up!

International travel was off the table and sometimes the best adventures begin in your backyard. We decided to drive across the country and explore what the United States National Park System has to offer.

Numerous routes take you coast to coast across the vast American heartland. We settled on a Northern route with three National Parks in mind: Grand Teton, Yellowstone and Badlands. Our road trip spanned 3,311 miles over 58 hours and brought us out of San Francisco, through Nevada, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania, before arriving in New York three weeks later.

Grand Teton National Park

Just driving through Wyoming is breathtaking, and then you turn a corner and are presented with the towering peaks of the Teton Range. While the parks rolling meadows, lofty conifers and alpine lakes provide hours of hiking, climbing, fishing or canoeing pleasure, don’t sleep on the park’s wildlife. Summer is a fantastic time to catch bison, bighorn sheep, pronghorn or if you are lucky, a bear that we caught a peek of at dusk one evening. 

We camped at Lizard Creek, just 11 miles South of our next stop: Yellowstone. Make sure to get there early because it is a first come, first served campsite.

Pro-tip: If you only have a few hours Jenny Lake Scenic Drive, Teton Park Road and Signal Mountain Summit Road are a must. Make sure to take John D Rockerfeller Jr Memorial Parkway into Yellowstone.

Yellowstone National Park

Fair warning, Yellowstone is America’s second most visited National Park and while the pandemic caused a reduction in visitors, we found popular destinations were too crowded for our liking. I have to admit, we skipped one of the park’s most famous sites – Grand Prismatic because of crowds. That being said there is no shortage of bubbling geothermal features elsewhere at the park.

Pro-tip: Get there early, and I mean really early, our 9am arrival time was too late to beat the crowds at Old Faithful. Check out one of the many day hikes like Fairy Falls Trail to catch a more intimate view of geysers, calderas and one of Yellowstone’s most spectacular falls while staying away from foot traffic.

Badlands National Park

Otherworldly is one way to describe the endless color palate of the buttes, pinnacles, spires and rolling prairies that make up Badlands. With hot summers, cold winters and limited water sources, the Lakota people, original inhabitants of this harsh terrain called it maco sico  or “bad lands”. But we have modern day comforts, so don’t let that stop you from visiting this awe-inspiring park, home to one of the richest fossil beds on earth. From bison, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, birds of prey and the adorable prairie dogs “barking” at each other, I have never seem more wildlife up close and personal than at this park.

Pro-tip: No trip to Badlands is complete without checking out Pinnacles Overlook and driving along Sage Creek Rim Road, there are a number of pull-offs including my personal favourite Roberts Prairie Dog Town.

BIO: The writer of this guest blog is my friend from high school Natalya Ratan. A strong headed leader with an outgoing personality, Natalya is a global citizen. She spent the first 13 years of her life in Dubai and Doha – Qatar, before leaving for boarding school in India. After spending time living in Spain, Oman, Kuwait and Los Angeles, San Francisco is where she finally decided to lay down roots and the City by the Bay has been her home for the last 8 years.With 45 countries under her belt Natalya loves exploring new cultures and finds we all have more in common than we realise. She completed her Bachelors at Pitzer College before moving on to her Masters at the University of San Francisco. Always on the lookout for something fun to do, she works in Software Sales in the Live Events Industry.When she’s not screaming her lungs out for the Golden State Warriors and former “Oakland” Raiders, you can find Natalya training her mini Aussie new tricks, cooking, where she draws inspiration from her travels or hiking with her husband.

Travel Tips:

  1. Learn phrases in the local language, a little effort goes a long way
  2. Be flexible, get out of your comfort zone and always leave room for spontaneity
  3. Ask the locals where to eat and drink
  4. Splurge, you are on vacation, treat yourself!
  5. Take the less travelled path, yes the Golden Gate Bridge is iconic, but you’ll be glad you took the time to hike Yosemite

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