Well that’s it, the photos have been sorted through, the stories archived, and the trip reports finally published! We hope you all enjoyed following our stories and adventures. It was a truly a trip of a lifetime, and we are so glad we had the opportunity to take some time off and make it happen.
Over the course of our 70 day trip, we drove 10,502 miles through 18 states, which averages to about 150 miles per day. But there were a lot of days that we didn’t drive at all (or only from our campground to a trailhead), and there were only 6 days that we spent all day driving (without any fun stops). We took 12,638 photos and Nathan basically looked at every single one. He narrowed it down to about 1,080 that were edited and posted to the website.
We visited 15 National Parks (10 of which we had never been to before): Pinnacles, Yosemite, Lassen Volcanic, Redwoods, Crater Lake, Mt. Rainier, Olympic, North Cascades, Glacier, Grand Teton, Yellowstone, Great Basin, Zion, Grand Canyon, and Hot Springs. We hiked 239 miles on 44 days of the trip. We did 6 backpacks, all of which were spectacular and top highlights of our trip. We camped almost half the time (which saved us a lot of money), spending 33 nights in a tent, 24 nights in a hotel, and 13 nights staying with family.
We saw some of the best views and natural wonders in the western US including waterfalls, caves, geysers and mudpots, mountains, valleys, canyons, beaches, forests, glaciers, alpine lakes, granite cliffs, red sandstone walls, volcanoes, and more.
We saw all kinds of wildlife including mountain goats, bighorn sheep, moose, black bears, grizzly bears, bison, pronghorn, elk, deer, marmots, pika, foxes, coyotes, quail, turkey, grouse, rattlesnakes, banana slugs, sea stars, sea anemones, tarantulas, and scorpions.
We had a lot of good luck on the trip including great weather pretty much the entire time except in Washington (what else would you expect?) and of course the snow that surprised us in the Tetons. Our car (Subaru Outback) never broke down or caused us any major trouble, although we did do some maintenance along the way including an oil change, new headlights, and new tires.
The trip took a lot of planning to design the itinerary, get hiking permits, make campground reservations, and coordinate with family and friends (Katharine spent 8 months pretty obsessed with every detail). In the end, we don’t think there’s much we would have changed, except maybe making it longer and doing more backpacking!
After we finished our trip, we got a lot of questions about our favorite parts, parks, adventures, etc. It’s really impossible to pick, but here are a few highlights.
Favorite National Park – This one is really hard to pick. We think maybe Glacier, since it was our first time there, and it had it ‘all’ – wildlife encounters, amazing hiking, beautiful mountain views, glaciers and glacial lakes, rugged terrain… all without excessive crowds. We can’t wait to go back and do some backpacking!
Glacier National Park
Favorite backpack – Another tough choice. Our 4 day backpack on the Teton Crest Trail was definitely the most adventurous since it hailed or snowed every single day. On the other hand, Zion Narrows was just incredibly beautiful, and it was such a unique experience to hike down a river through the stunning canyon.
Snow on the Teton Crest Trail
Virgin Narrows, Zion National Park
Favorite hike – See above. Although we did some great day hikes, our backpacks were definitely the highlight.
Best wildlife encounter – Up close and personal with the bighorn sheep of Glacier NP.
Best sunset – Camping on Shi Shi beach in Olympic National Park.
Scariest part – Climbing the cables on Half Dome definitely took a lot of concentration, and there’s no question it’s scary. But we were mentally prepared for Half Dome… whereas when Nathan had to slide to a stop to avoid stepping on a rattlesnake, the surprise and and quickness of it got our adrenalin pumping. Luckily he was safe, but we knew a rattlesnake bite when we were miles from help is no joke. Since those both occurred on our backpack through Yosemite, that must make it the scariest backpacking trip we’ve done!
Half Dome Cables, Yosemite National Park
Best unplanned stop – Definitely the balloon glow at the Albuquerque Balloon Festival. A complete coincidence that we were there at the right time, but it was amazing.
Favorite hike not in a National Park – While we didn’t do too many of these, there were a few good contenders. But Havasupai was by far our favorite.
Beaver Falls, Havasupai
Favorite city – We surprised to love Nashville so much, but its great food, whiskey, amazing live music, and friendly atmosphere totally charmed us.
Best story – The story of Stuart, the mouse that invaded our car and made us crazy, is probably one of our favorites to tell.
Biggest disappointment – Overall our trip went really smoothly with very few issues, but we were definitely disappointed that the federal government shutdown made us miss 6 additional National Parks (Petrified Forest, Saguaro, Big Bend, Guadalupe Mts, Carlsbad Caverns, and Mammoth Cave). Guess we’ll just have to do another trip!
Least favorite part – Two contenders for this: Having to deal with a walk-in campsite and the frustrating park shuttle in Yosemite after our brutal descent down the Mist trail… we were completely exhausted (physically and mentally) and just not up to extra mile or so of walking or the logistics of setting up our campsite far away from our car. We learned from that mistake and from then on always booked a hotel for the night after finishing a backpack. The other least favorite part was having to do estimated tax returns on the trip… taxes are never fun, and we just did not feel like dealing with life’s realities while on our trip.
And to end with something a little more upbeat…
Favorite Photo – This would truly be impossible to pick. Even trying to choose our favorite landscape, wildlife photo, portrait, action photo etc would be too hard. Instead, we can just say that Zion Narrows was our favorite place to take photos… it felt like around every bend in the river we came upon another amazing and unique scene that we just had to capture.
So that’s a final look back at our trip… we knew as we started planning that it would be ‘epic’ and it certainly did not disappoint!
Of course if you are family, friend, or just follow our blog, you know this won’t be our last adventure. Next weekend we’re off to Alaska to greet the finishers of the Iditarod in Nome and hopefully see the Northern Lights in Fairbanks!
For a little fun, here’s a look at how we loaded up our car pretty much every day on the trip… it took careful organization to get it all to fit!