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Today I’m welcoming Susan from Mountain Mom and Tots. Her family is about to embark on the adventure of a lifetime, road-tripping more than 5,000 miles as they explore the national parks on the National Park-to-Park Highway. You can follow along this summer on Susan’s blog – MountainMomandTots.com. Welcome to Back Road Ramblers, Susan!
Exploring America’s National Park-to-Park Highway
by Susan Strayer
This summer I intend to have an adventure unlike any other. The plan? Travel the National Park-to-Park Highway with my young family of five – camping, hiking and biking along the way.
As an outdoor family blogger at MountainMomandTots.com, I’m no stranger to getting outdoors with my little ones. Hikes and bike rides are all well and good, but this year I wanted to do something extra special. It is the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, after all.
Mountain Dad and I were ready to try something beyond our comfort zone, something neither of us had ever done before. So we’re taking seven weeks and driving around the west, through seven states and nearly twenty National Parks and Monuments to celebrate the wild spaces all around us.
We’ve prepped the Adventure Mobile (AKA our Chevy Silverado) so we can all sleep inside and mapped out our 5,600-mile road trip. The route? The 1920s National Park-to-Park Highway.
What is the National Park-to-Park Highway?
Spearheaded by Steven Mather, our nation’s first National Park Service Director, the National Park-to-Park Highway linked twelve National Parks on a loop of mostly dirt roads spanning over 5,600 miles.
The group of intrepid motorists that rallied behind the plan formed the National Park-to-Park Highway Association. They planned and raised funds for “A Grand Scenic Tour of the National Parks.” The route would be the longest auto trail of its time through seven western states.
In 1920, the Association left Denver for the inaugural trip. Together they drove for 76 days in a publicity tour to all the Nation’s Playgrounds, as National Parks were then called. On the list were Rocky Mountain, Yellowstone, Glacier, Rainier, Crater Lake, Lassen Volcanic, Yosemite, Kings Canyon (then General Grant), Sequoia, Zion, Grand Canyon, and Mesa Verde National Parks.
At the time Rocky Mountain National Park was the most popular park of its day, exceeding the annual visitation of Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Grand Canyon combined. Although those parks may be more well known, many of the smaller ones desperately needed the attention the National Park-to-Park Highway brought. Lassen Volcanic National Park didn’t even have a driveable road in 1920 and Mesa Verde National Park may have won the prize for most remote of all the National Parks.
Road Travel Then and Now
Imagine driving one of the thin-tired locomobiles over mostly dirt roads for seventy-six days. The group barely averaged twenty-six miles per day. Sections of the trip required shipping their automobiles by ferry or train, like in Glacier National Park where the Going-to-the-Sun Road wouldn’t be completed until the 1930s.
A lot has happened to the roads of the west since then. Today the National Park-to-Park Highway can be easily driven on paved highways with gas stations and hotel beds at ready supply. Many more national parks and monuments have joined the ranks of the Nation’s Playgrounds, allowing adventurers more options to explore.
We’re no stranger to family camping, but this adventure brings it to a whole different level. In order to sagebrush (the 1920s term for car camping) through the national parks of the west, we’ll be turning our Chevy pickup truck into the ultimate camping vehicle. No RV or tent for us. We’ll be sleeping our family of five in a full sized pick up for weeks on end. I know it sounds crazy, but if anyone can pull it off it’ll be me and Mountain Dad. For seven weeks we will be hiking and biking through some of the most beautiful spaces in the US, dragging our 7, 4 and 1-year-old with us.
I’d love for you to come along, too! Only I don’t think there’s any more room in my truck. Instead, follow our journey on MountainMomandTots.com then go out and plan a National Park adventure of your own. Now’s the time to “See America First!”
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Susan Strayer is the author of MountainMomandTots.com, an outdoor family blog. Based in the mountains of Sundance, Utah, she spends her time skiing, biking, hiking and camping with her husband and three kids. During the summer of 2016, she and Mountain Dad are taking their three tots on their biggest adventure yet – a seven-week road trip of the National Park-to-Park Highway. Please connect with Susan on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.