Every summer, my dad and I take a father-daughter trip. Since I discovered my love for hiking about six years ago, we’ve gone hiking in a different spot each summer. This year, it was time to pack the car and take a 3000-mile road trip across the midwest to Colorado and Wyoming! This trip was absolutely amazing, and I can’t wait to show you guys all the fun we had along the way!
dates of my trip: July 23rd-30th, 2017
DAY ONE – July 23rd
We set off from Cincinnati at about 9 am, destined for Kansas City, Missouri. To break up the monotony of Kansas, we spent a lot of time beforehand researching the quirky roadside attractions along our route – hence the reason for our first stop in Vandalia, Illinois. After lunch at Subway, we found the Kaskaskia Dragon! For a dollar, you can buy a “dragon coin” from the liquor store next door and insert your coin to make the dragon breathe fire. My dad and I both agreed – it was pretty awesome.
After our first magical encounter, we hit the road again until we reached St. Louis. Crossing the Mississippi River marked the first of 6 new states for both my dad and myself, and we were excited to start off Missouri right with a visit to the top of the Gateway Arch.
The Arch experience was, to be quite honest, bizarre. You climb into little (I mean little – I wouldn’t advise doing this if you’re claustrophobic) capsules that feel like they came straight out of The Hunger Games and take off up the side of the arch. The top is crowded and it was hard to find an open window at first, but once we found a spot, the view was amazing! I think the pictures speak for themselves.
Once we came down from our perch high above St. Louis, it was back in the car and on the way to Kansas City. As avid barbecue lovers, we booked it to Jack Stack Barbecue in the Crossroads Arts District to try some authentic Kansas City barbecue. Although they were out of pulled pork, we definitely enjoyed the burnt ends and onion rings and left totally satisfied. We then rushed up to Grand Boulevard to catch Kansas City’s streetcar, an identical streetcar to the one we just opened at home in Cincinnati. After one loop, we headed to our hotel (a Hilton Garden Inn that we booked while waiting to go up the arch) on the Kansas side of Kansas City (another new state!) and crashed.
DAY TWO – July 24th
We woke up early the next morning, excited to get to Denver (and the mountains!) by the end of the day. After grabbing a coffee for me and a hot chocolate for my dad at Splitlog Coffee, we headed back to Missouri for breakfast at an adorable neighborhood spot called Succotash. If I’m ever in Kansas City again I plan to go back! Then itwas time to hit the road.
My dad and I are also huge college basketball fans, so we felt we had to exit the highway in Lawrence, Kansas to visit the University of Kansas’s Allen Fieldhouse. After a quick look around, it was time to begin the long trek across the Sunflower State. Now, friends, you have probably been told that Kansas is long, boring, and flat. BUT NO! Kansas isn’t flat, and I found the rolling fields to be absolutely beautiful. Yes, we saw more cows than people (Kansas is a great place to play the car game My Cows), but I loved spotting wind farms off in the distance and guessing how far it was to the next exit.
We had lunch at Bogey’s in Salina, KS (not the greatest, but there weren’t a lot of options and the yummy milkshake redeemed my bleh chicken sandwich) and continued right along. Sadly, we found out that the World’s Largest Prairie Dog was closed, so we stayed on the highway until Denver. We checked into the La Quinta in Cherry Creek (not such a great hotel – definitely would not recommend it, but it worked) before heading to Esters Neighborhood Pub a few blocks away. This place was the highlight of the day! The berry salad and mushroom pizza was absolutely delicious. Then it was back to the hotel to get a good night’s rest.
DAY THREE – July 25th
Our first day in Denver served one purpose: acclimate to the altitude. But we also wanted to have fun! We woke up and walked about a mile to the west to the University of Denver, where we grabbed some tea, coffee, and scones at LostCoffee (mega shout out to the barista – he was super friendly and gave us several recommendations for things to do in Denver and hikes in the surrounding area!). We then walked through the university to get to the light rail station, where we bought tickets and climbed on the train to downtown. On the way, we were treated to a harmonica concert by an extremely kind man. He played Twinkle Twinkle Little Star for the little girl across the aisle over and over, and their happy little interaction totally warmed my heart.
Once we arrived at Union Station, we grabbed coffee and hot chocolate again at the coffee shop inside the station, then walked over to Coors Field for a moment before heading down to Confluence Park while we waited for the museums to open. I couldn’t help but be jealous of the wonderful running paths along Cherry Creek – I wished I had my running shoes! Then we trekked back up to the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, which, while interesting, was not quite my taste in contemporary art. I’d love to go back and see some different exhibits, and the rooftop garden and cafe were very cute, but unfortunately the portfolios on display were not my favorites.
After lunch at Illegal Burger in Larimer Square, we walked up the 16th Street Mall to the Clyfford Still Museum. My dad, being an architect and art lover, had to go, and I figured it would be okay. I definitely didn’t expect this to be my favorite museum of the day! I found Still’s art to be very beautiful and interesting (I was especially captivated by his choices to remove paint in certain areas to leave the canvas completely bare), and the architecture of the museum was also exquisite. I can definitely say I’m a Clyfford Still fan now!
After we finished there, we walked next door to the Denver Art Museum. Unfortunately we didn’t get to see the whole museum before it closed for the day, but I enjoyed some of their contemporary art (especially the exhibit of Hispanic artists) and the exhibits of Native American artwork, both old and new. I was disappointed to be escorted out of the building at closing time.
Now that it was time for dinner, it started to pour, so we hopped on the 16th Street Mall shuttle and rode all the way to the bottom, hiding out in Union Station while we decided to walk or find an Uber. Eventually, it lightened up, and we across the river on foot to the Highlands neighborhood, excited for dinner at Linger. They squeezed us in at a community table, and we were en route to a divine meal.
Linger, an old mortuary, is now arguably Denver’s hippest restaurant. They serve small plates filled with cuisine from around the world, and we quickly dove into our menus, trying to decide which delicious food to try first. I can honestly say that our beet falafel, Korean barbecue tacos, and lemongrass dumplings were all so good that I still don’t know which was my favorite, and the dessert trio was absolutely delicious, too. I had to save room, though, because next door to Linger is Little Man Ice Cream. Sold out of a giant cream can, this ice cream is super creamy and super yummy! We had a great time sitting in an old-fashioned glider and watching the kids run around while the shop celebrated Christmas in July, equipped with Santa in a Hawaiian Shirt. After taking in the beautiful evening, it was time to head back to Union Station to catch the train back to the hotel for a good night’s sleep.
DAY FOUR – July 26th
Day four was the day to start hiking! My nature-loving self was itching to get into the mountains, so after a yummy breakfast at Caitlin’s, a local spot with southwest-inspired breakfast, we headed north toward Eldorado Canyon State Park, a spot about 10 miles south of Boulder recommended to me by a friend.
This canyon was beautiful! Rising up out of the plains, it’s a common spot for rock climbers, and we had fun picking out their bright shirts on the canyon walls as we trekked from the canyon floor up to the overlooks along the Rattlesnake Gulch trail. It was a fun little hike, about 3.7 miles, and we got to explore the ruins of a hotel that burned down in 1912, do a little rock climbing of our own to a secluded viewpoint, and see a train barreling down the cliffside as we descended from the top. It was a great warmup hike, and it felt good to stick my sweaty feet into the creek once we returned to the canyon floor.
After cleaning up a bit with the wet wipes in the car, we headed into Boulder to find some lunch, even though it was already mid-afternoon. Eureka!, a burger place, definitely filled us up, and we were ready to return to Denver for showers and some chill time. We battled the rush hour traffic back, cleaned up, and returned to Esters (it was nearby and easy) for dinner. Though significantly more crowded than it was when we first visited, we enjoyed dinner just as much and crashed as soon as we got back to the hotel.
DAY FIVE – July 27th
We checked out of our hotel around 9 am, then headed back towards the University of Denver for breakfast at a cute place called Jelly, which had several locations across the city. I filled up on cinnamon sugar donut bites before my meal even came, but that didn’t stop me from devouring my lemon blueberry pancakes too! I loved this place, especially because they had free stickers at the checkout counter, and I’m a sucker for stickers.
After breakfast, we headed north to Rocky Mountain National Park (my fifth National Park). After stopping to shop and buying some t-shirts at the entrance station, my dad and I wound our way up to an elevation over two miles above sea level! We were both astonished at the beauty of the park, and we decided as we left that we’d have to return some time to do some hiking there. For now, it was time to head north to Wyoming, but only after we stopped at Freddy’s in Loveland, CO for lunch and frozen custard (this was my first time trying frozen custard and HOLY. COW. It’s so good).
After lunch, we hopped back on the highway towards Wyoming. As soon as we crossed the border into our fourth new state of the trip, my dad officially won My Cows after he saw four camels on the side of the road. Camels. Camels. In Wyoming. What even? We probably laughed for two whole miles. Then it was time to find our way to Curt Gowdy State Park for the hike of the day.
Now, usually, I pride myself on being able to navigate for my parents when they’re driving in an unfamiliar place. But this time I failed. We ended up driving 15 miles over a washed-out, bumpy-as-all-getout dirt road to get to the park. Even though we finally made it, we had to dodge cows and count to see if all our teeth were still in place when we finally reached pavement again. Then it was time to find Hidden Falls.
This hike was a lovely little hike for a driving day. Although it was a little hard to navigate the trails since we didn’t have a trail map, the trail was relatively level and scenery along the way was just gorgeous. The rock formations in the area looked like they were blocks that a child had stacked up like Legos. I especially got a kick out of how the aptly-named Chameleon! Before too long, we reached Hidden Falls, and although I decided not to soak myself in the waterfall, it was nice to strip off my shoes and socks and stick my toes in the water. The location was beautiful and it was amazing to sit there and feel so small in this giant world. I love hiking locations that really give you perspective, and this secluded area was surely one of those.
The serenity ended when we realized that a storm was rolling in. As we tried to scramble back to the car before it rained, we laughed and laughed at our craziness, and it was totally therapeutic and hilarious. It was getting late by the time we got back, and we decided we’d better get going so we could find some dinner. Right as we got to the highway, we found the giant Abe Lincoln head that towered above the interstate.
After a quick photo op, we realized that check-in at our hotel ended at 9, and it was 8:15. We were 40 miles away, so it was time to book it across southeastern Wyoming.
Thankfully, we made it to the Old Corral Steakhouse and Hotel in Centennial, Wyoming (population 270) with about five minutes to spare. The steakhouse stopped seating at 9, and we snuck in at about 8:58 (we weren’t the last people to be seated, though)! After treating ourselves to a steak dinner, we headed up to our room to get a good night’s rest before our big hike the next day. Unfortunately, the room was about 100 degrees because it faced west and there was no air conditioning, but that was this hotel’s only shortcoming. It was far better than the place in Denver, and we were excited to get a good night’s sleep. We made use of the comfy beds in no time.
DAY SIX – July 28th
We were up early today to get a head start on the big hike of the trip: summiting Medicine Bow Peak, the highest peak in southeastern Wyoming. We got a quick breakfast at the coffee shop in the hotel, loaded up our packs with supplies, and headed out to the trailhead to start the trek.
Usually, my dad and I get stuck in a rain storm on our hikes. When we climbed Mt. Mitchell, the tallest peak east of the Mississippi, we couldn’t see more than 50 feet because of the thick fog. Finally, finally, Medicine Bow was not the case! We had the most gorgeous weather for the entire hike, and it made for absolutely spectacular views.
The route we took followed the ridgeline along a series of smaller peaks, and from the minute we reached the first, I knew it would be magnificent hike. With breathtaking views to the south and east, overlooking the shimmering alpine lakes below, I was in awe of the scenery. I can’t tell you how many times I sucked in my breath and whispered “wow,” my words taken away by the whipping wind.
Finally, we scrambled up the rock pile to the top of Medicine Bow Peak. At 12,016 feet, it was the highest elevation that my dad and I had ever hiked to. You could see for miles in every direction; we could make out the town of Laramie 45 miles away, but that, besides the road, was the only manmade object in view. I shed a few tears because I was so overwhelmed by the beauty.
On the way down, we got to hike down a snow field (it hadn’t melted yet!) and then descended quickly to the base of the ridge. We continued back to the car along a trail that led us past the beautiful, crystal-clear alpine lakes, the imposing mountains looming over our head. And, although I was relieved to see bathrooms when we returned to the trailhead, I knew that this was a hike that I’d never forget.
After cleaning up back at the hotel, we drove into Laramie for dinner at Corona Village, a Mexican restaurant recommended to us by a kind lady we passed on the trail in Curt Gowdy State Park the day before. The enchiladas hit the spot, and it was back to the hotel to put our feet up and go to bed.
DAY SEVEN – July 29th
It was time to head home :(. We got up and had a delicious breakfast made with local ingredients at the Mountain View Cafe, then hit the road, headed for Omaha, Nebraska. There weren’t many places of interest between Centennial and Lincoln, Nebraska, so we kept moving, stopping for lunch at Qdoba in North Platte, NE but otherwise trucking on through our fifth new state of the trip.
When we reached Lincoln, we decided to visit Memorial Stadium at the University of Nebraska – on game days, the stadium is the second largest city in Nebraska! Slightly delusional from our long drive, we had a photoshoot with a mastodon statue on campus and then drove to the state capitol building before getting back on the highway to Omaha.
Then, as we crested a hill somewhere between Lincoln and Omaha, my dad spotted a beautiful church shining in the sun. He was sure it was designed by Fay Jones, a well-known architect, and we immediately exited the highway for a visit. After bumping along some backroads, we finally came to the church, and we spent a few minutes taking pictures from afar because it was closed and we didn’t want to trespass. Although we lated discovered that the Holy Family Shrine may or may not have been designed by Jones, it was breathtaking and worth a visit.
Not long after, we arrived at the DoubleTree in southwest Omaha, dropped our belongings in the room, and headed downtown to the Old Market area for dinner at Upstream Brewing Company. I gobbled down their mac and cheese, swearing that I was too full for dessert. Then, as we walked around the Old Market, enjoying the music carried on the evening air, I spotted a sign in the window of Dolci, an ice cream shop. They had spaghettieis! Four years ago, my German teacher told our class about a German dessert called spaghettieis, where vanilla ice cream is made to look like noodles, then topped with strawberry sauce. I had always wanted to try it, but I thought it didn’t exist in the United States. But there, in Omaha, Nebraska, I found it! Even though I was about to burst from dinner, I immediately ordered some and devoured it, happy. After a late night drive through some Omaha neighborhoods and Creighton University, we headed back to the hotel for the night.
DAY EIGHT – July 30th
Our last day on the road began early, as we had a long drive back to Cincinnati ahead of us. After picking up smoothies and scones from Crane Coffee, we were headed into Iowa, the sixth and last new state. In Avoca, IA, we got off the highway to find the Volkswagen Beetle Spider – pretty cool! Then it was on across the state.
Since we were trying to get home at a reasonable hour, we didn’t stop much except for lunch at Culver’s (I needed more frozen custard!) in Coralville, IA and dinner at McAlister’s Deli in Indianapolis, IN. When we arrived home at 9:30 pm, we concluded one of the most fun trips I’ve ever taken.
I highly recommend taking a road trip! It’s a great way to get to know your companions and see the country up close and personal. You’ll eat good food and bad food, interact with different people, and experiences a different culture at every stop. Plus, there are fun things to do along the way, and some of the quirky stops we made were highlights of the trip in my opinion! What a wonderful way to spend a week.