Baby Steps: How planning an 8-week RV trip took 18 months

Planning our 8-week summer RV escapade has been a labor of love. There were times that I wanted to walk away, times that I couldn’t see straight, and other times that I felt seriously giddy envisioning daydreams coming to life as the pieces of our plan came together. One of our dear friends gifted us a copy of RV Vacations For Dummies, and trust me, we needed the help.

Around 2 years ago, I started polling our family. Pie in the sky, where would we go if we could go anywhere? With National Parks largely dictating our journey, our family began to put together a punch list of the places we were each hoping to visit. Brady had been dying to visit Yellowstone; Hayden, Arches; Grace, Yellowstone and the Utah Parks; and Justin, the Grand Canyon, which I was surprised to learn he had never visited at age 40. Quinn, typical fourth child, just said he would go “where anyone else wanted to go.” I had always dreamed of visiting Glacier, Banff, and Lake Louise, and longed to venture into Canada to make this happen. Given the distance between the parks on the combined wish list, it was clear that hitting them all in one trip would make it a LONG one, but I had these reference points as my initial route markers.

To build our route, I used a website called Roadtrippers. Both a website and an app, it allowed me to plot our destinations, many of which were added as I thought through the Western States Parks that I hoped to show my family. Once I plotted our trip on Roadtrippers, it optimized my route and plotted streamlined directions from one destination to the next. I was able to add in stops to visit some family and friends along the way, which I am assuming will be critical lifelines for us as we attempt this long journey. Roadtrippers even suggested points of interest in each of our destinations, many of which we’ll take advantage of. When all was said and done, my map showed that we would have over 35 stops on our journey.

We had a roadmap.

I also knew that we couldn’t just “wing it” on this journey. With four kids in tow, visiting our nation’s more popular National Parks in the peak season of Summer, I knew that we had to make detailed plans and reservations ahead of time. How long were we going to stay in each of these 35 destinations? How long would it really take to travel from one destination to the next, in an RV? How was I going to build in buffer time, in case we had any issues or unforeseen problems? How was I going to run away every week or so when the kids were on each others’ nerves and I just needed a mental break? LOL. All these questions were equally important to consider, and thus the challenge of piecing together the trip - day by day - began.

I spent the next year making detailed plans and reservations for our trips. And let me tell you, there were so many problems that I encountered. First of all, it turns out that the National Park RV campgrounds do not have uniform advanced reservation timelines for booking. Some allow you to book a year in advance to the date; others six months to the date; and others still have no published timeframe whatsoever. Just perfect. I began frantically researching every stop along the way, coloring my calendar with appointment reminders for each of these reservations so that I had a playbook “on the fly” for making sure I did not miss any reservation windows. I spent hours online and on the phone many of these days, sometimes with multiple computers and phones at once, as many of the reservation lines were flooded the minute they opened the phones. I even made my kids late for school one day online attempting to make a reservation. The tardy was well worth it, as I wasn’t about to miss an opportunity to stay at the best campground in Yellowstone.

Another snafu that I encountered was that the Canada Parks also had specific dates, broken out by Province, for when you were able to book lodging for each of their parks. Again, just perfect. An entirely different set of rules to contend with. More and more appointment reminders colored my calendar.

One by one, over the last year and a half, I made plans for our journey, one reservation at a time. Some were easy to book; others were extremely time-consuming and stressful. But slowly and sometimes painstakingly, the trip began to come together.

While making reservations for our lodging in each destination along our journey, I was simultaneously assessing the things we planned to do in each location. This largely determined just how long we would stay in each place, and was critical to the timing of the itinerary. Hiking and exploring were a given in most of our stops, and obviously in the National Parks, but I wanted to make sure that we had plenty of other options of things to do to keep the kids engaged. After all, my kids are relatively good hikers, but at least one if not a few are likely to complain at length if we do it too many days in a row. I added in some fun along our route to “pepper” our days - rodeos, river rafting, cave exploring, fossil digging, pig races, boat rides, and gondolas - to hopefully keep our days interesting. We’re planning on spending plenty of time taking in the natural beauty surrounding us, but I am sure that inevitably (and especially for the kiddos), a vista is a vista is a vista is a vista. I have no doubt the kids will make sure I am reminded of that.

The spreadsheet that I developed for this trip is insane. It is entirely too lengthy and detailed and overwhelming to show here, but it is the place where I have been keeping the “ins and outs” of our itinerary, day by day. It has columns for where we will be each day, where we are staying, and ideas of what we will do, down to the nitty gritty in some instances. It has notes of information that I have taken from blogs, from magazine articles, from several travel books, and from friends and family who have traveled to some of these locations before. It has become my bible for our journey, and I hope that it provides the kind of “playbook” we’ll need to keep our trip as low-stress and fun as possible. As my dear friend put it, “putting in the work up front will keep the trip as relaxing as it can be given you’ll be on the road with your four children for eight weeks.” Deep breath.

With our trip now a mere two and a half weeks away, I am so glad that I started planning when I did. Coordinating this trip has been a labor of love, but my time is limited with the school year winding down and a plethora of family commitments and a packed schedule of activities headed our way. I cannot believe that the baby steps of the past 18 months have lead to a crazy, awesome, and hopefully-not-too-ambitious roadmap that we will use to somewhat-fluidly maneuver through our summer.

Pray for us.


  1. If you stop in Jackson, the rafting and float trips are awesome. In Yellowstone, go swimming! Firehole Falls can be a little tricky to get to with an RV - it's a narrow one-way road - but just south of where the Firehole Falls turn-off exists, there is an unofficial spot to swim at that's very kid friendly and beautiful (and really easy to pull off the road and park). Safe Travels!


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