When we left on our RV journey, we thought we would be gone for about 4-5 weeks. In fact, when we initially booked a rental RV, we reserved it for just shy of 6 weeks to give us a few days of leeway for packing on either end. We had NO idea we would end up spending nearly 4 months full time RVing.
We loved driving out to our high-health-risk parents on the opposite coast, and enjoyed spending time with them and our siblings. The RV allowed us to be self-contained and not come into contact with any others whatsoever on the way there, which was a gift.
We initially expected to drive back to California after our time on the east coast, and perhaps stop briefly at a few National Parks along the way. Instead, we we loved full time RVing so much that we ended up extending several times, taking detours, adding in additional spots, and really enjoying the time together and all the outdoor adventures. We were very grateful we’d packed our kids hiking gear!
Here are all the places we stopped and how long we spent in each of them (not including driving days). It was an incredible American National Parks road trip and I hope it inspires you to plan some outdoor adventures near or far!
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Our 4 Months of Full Time RVing Itinerary
Shenandoah National Park/Hinton, VA: 4 days
Our first stop after leaving my parents’ home near Washington DC was Shenandoah National Park. We’d visited the Shenandoahs a number of times before (when we ourselves lived in DC), so we didn’t feel the need to do a comprehensive visit. Instead, we stopped and did a short hike, drove Skyline Drive, and enjoyed ourselves at a cabin near Hinton, VA just south of Shenandoah National Park.
While at the cabin, we played in the stream, played at the Blue Hole, and ran around outside. It was relaxing and perfect.
Asheville, NC: 3 days
After our time in the Shenandoahs, we headed south to Asheville, NC. We loved all the waterfalls and other outside activities available in this charming city! We stayed in an Airbnb here with my sister and her family before we started our full time RVing.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park: 2 days
Two days wasn’t nearly enough for our time in the Smokies, but we were on a tight timeline to get back to Virginia for a commitment there. So we went to some viewpoints, did some beautiful hikes and got caught in a downpour, drove the main scenic drive, played and tubed in the river, and promised to return soon on another RV trip with kids.
Congaree National Park: 1 day
Truthfully, before this trip, I don’t know that I would’ve remembered in which state to find Congaree National Park. But as usually happens, we found magical things there, too! We loved our hike through the marsh and learned about cypress knees (still the source of a family rhyme) and saw an armadillo and played by the river.
Southern Virginia: 5 days
After Congaree, we headed back up to Southern Virginia to work on this family road trip itinerary in the Virginia mountains. Here are some amazing outdoor activities in Virginia with kids!
Pittsburgh, PA: 2 days
From there, we drove up to Pittsburgh to see Daniel’s brother and his family. We hung out outside their house and slept in the RV, which made it super easy. This is when we started heading west. If we’d had more time, I would’ve loved to do some of these east coast road trip itineraries!
Kirtland, OH: 1 day
After leaving Pittsburgh, we stopped at Kirtland, OH on our way to our next National Park.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park: 1 day
We were finally off on the National Parks-heavy part of our trip! Cuyahoga was surprisingly beautiful, and we really loved the Ledges Trail hike the best. It was so green and lush!
Indiana Dunes National Park: 1 day
Indiana Dunes was a big hit because our kids are giant fans of the beach. We went into Chicago for a quick driving tour (and to pick up lunch) in the morning, then spent the rest of the day on the beach. It was beautiful and the water was perfect!
Mammoth Cave National Park: 1 day
Mammoth Cave was a surprise add on to our trip as we didn’t realize it wouldn’t add much time to drop down there on our way to St. Louis. We don’t have a lot of reasons to head straight to Kentucky, so we figured we’d take advantage of the opportunity. It was so neat walking through the huge area!
St. Louis, MO + Gateway Arch National Park: 5 days
We were originally only planning to spend 3 days in St. Louis with Daniel’s other brother, but it turns out we had some RV issues just before arriving. That was actually pretty convenient as we were able to get them taken care of while there and had a place to stay since full time RVing makes it tricky to get the rig fixed, for which we were so grateful! While we were there, we stopped at Gateway Arch National Park.
Hot Springs National Park: 1 day
This is the point when we were officially done with any family member visits/home stays! Only full time RVing for us from here on out. We thought we’d be back home 3 weeks from this point; it turned out to be a day shy of 7 weeks.
We enjoyed a beautiful day at Hot Springs National Park celebrating our little guy who turned 3 years old – we enjoyed feeling the hot water, delicious cake from a bakery, and camping at a nearby lake.
Dallas, TX: 1 day
Dallas absolutely as enough to justify a much longer visit, but we didn’t feel comfortable spending a lot of time in busy cities right now. So we did a driving and food tour of the city, seeing outdoor murals and doing curbside pickup for some delicious eats.
Big Bend National Park and Big Bend State Park: 2 days
We debated a LOT whether we should drive all the way down to Big Bend. It is FAR!! And not close to really anything. Still, we figured since it’s far from everything, we wouldn’t ever really be much closer.
We were delighted by just how much we enjoyed Big Bend. It was magical and definitely worth the drive! We honestly could’ve spent much longer, especially if more had been open; this was the most closed of all the National Parks we visited. Still, we found some amazing hikes and views, and loved the desert landscapes. Driving through Big Bend State Park was just as beautiful!
White Sands National Park: 1 day
The last time we visited White Sands, it was a National Monument. We weren’t planning to stop again here originally, but it only added an hour or two to our route. And the kids asked to go back (they were more excited about returning there than returning to Carlsbad Caverns).
This visit was MUCH more enjoyable. The last time, we endured 50 mile per hour winds blowing the sand. We had to wear our swim goggles just to be able to open our eyes! This time, the skies were a bit overcast so it wasn’t hot, but it was perfectly still and perfect temperatures. We spent the entire day sledding and playing and running around and it was incredible.
Great Sand Dunes National Park: 1 day
We headed back north! Entering Colorado brought feelings of relief and familiarity in the mountain west. We loved our day at Great Sand Dunes.
We hiked to High Dune, which felt like one of the most difficult treks of our trip. It’s not that far, but the sand makes it feel like you’re hiking straight up and sliding straight back. Plus, we weren’t acclimatized to the elevation at all, and I was wearing slippery-bottomed sandals. Still, we made it and had a delightful time sand sledding and sandboarding.
We also enjoyed a couple nights of boondocking outside the park in the most stunning spot!
Mesa Verde National Park: 1 day
Mesa Verde is unbelievably fascinating. Even with the cliff dwellings currently closed off, it was incredible seeing them from afar and learning about pit houses and other ancestral Pueblo homes and rituals. We can’t wait to go back when the cliff dwellings are open, but felt it very worth our while to visit now, as well. When RVing full time again, it will be fun to stay at the beautiful campground again, as well.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park: 1 day
Black Canyon was a surprise beauty of our trip. It was stunning! And also terrifying. It felt like the Grand Canyon, but steeper and with less infrastructure – so it looked and felt more dramatic since it wasn’t as blocked off, but definitely scarier with little kids.
We took the most beautiful (and short!) hike to a stunning vista of the canyon. Then we attended a fantastic evening ranger program about the soundscapes of the park, and saw some stunning dark skies. We also loved stopping at a nearby natural hot spring.
Rocky Mountain National Park: 3 days
We had originally reserved timed entry tickets to RMNP when we thought we’d be there a couple weeks earlier. But then we spent more time in St. Louis, and detoured to Hot Springs and Big Bend, and did the other Colorado parks first since we decided to head north after that state. But we forgot to re-reserve entry tickets!!
Fortunately, we were able to get some last-minute release ones and were able to enter the park for 3 days in a row, which was wonderful. We even managed to snag the very last RV campsite at Moraine Park Campground for one of the nights – which happened to be on another one of our kiddos’ birthdays with our daughter turning 8! Fortuitous.
We certainly could’ve spent more time here, but we were heading north to meet some quarantined friends. Plus, 3 days in Rocky Mountain National Park did feel like a great overview. We loved it and it was one of our favorite parks! It was a perfect place to explore on a full time RV trip.
After this, we were sad to leave Colorado and can’t wait to come back. It would be so fun to explore in the winter, too – I’d love to take a family ski trip to Winter Park!
Yellowstone National Park: 5 days
Yellowstone was a wonderful and leisurely time where we spent a lot of time with another family with whom we met up. We were grateful for their caution in quarantining and driving their campervan up, as well. We camped, boated, made s’mores, and did everything on this amazing Yellowstone itinerary with kids.
Grand Teton National Park: 6 days
Grand Teton was another beautiful and slow park visit that was restorative and wonderful. We also found out about some family health issues during this time, so we spent a good bit of time the first couple of days on the phone, without doing a lot. Still, we managed to do a few hikes, took out our inflatable boat, scenic drives, a bike ride, water play, and just enjoyed the stunning scenery. It’s such a great place for RVing with kids and spending some extra time.
Salt Lake City, UT: 6 days
Since we have family in Salt Lake, we spent some time outdoors and distanced with relatives and friends, and caught up on showers/laundry at Daniel’s parents’ old place. It was a nice break where we picked some some favorite foods and had more human connection than we’d had in months.
Great Basin National Park: 1 day
We’d seen signs for Great Basin for years anytime we drove from the Bay Area to Utah, but it was always far enough off of I-80 that we hadn’t made the stop. We were determined to do it this time! It was more than worth the time.
We loved seeing the ancient bristlecone pines and some alpine lakes, some super dark skies, and the amazing archipelago in the sky.
Cathedral Gorge State Park: 2 days
As we were driving from Great Basin to Kings Canyon, I vaguely remembered something I had seen a while back of a pretty spot nearby. I quickly googled and found Cathedral Gorge. It turned out it would only add an hour or so to our route, so we figured we’d go for a quick stop since we wouldn’t make it to Kings Canyon in one day, anyway.
Whoo, was it worth the stop! The kids LOVED climbing in and through all the little slot canyons and rock formations and caves, and seeing the beautiful stars at night. Such a fun place to climb and explore. We ended up staying a second day and night and it was well worth the time. It was also a wonderful RV campground!
Bullhead City, AZ: 1 day
After Cathedral Gorge, we popped down for a quick outdoors visit with Daniel’s grandma. So fun to see her!
Kings Canyon National Park: 3 days
The final National Park of our trip! We’d visited its sister park Sequoia before, but I was pregnant and motion sick and couldn’t handle another windy drive. We were so happy to return to Kings Canyon!
The hikes here were stunning, the campground was our favorite of the trip, and the kids adored climbing all the rocks. We also celebrated our oldest’s 10th birthday here!
All in all, it was a magical time and we’re so grateful for our time full time RVing. We’re also really glad we bought the RV (a rental that long would’ve gotten reeeeal expensive!), especially because we’re already itching to go back out. We have plans to take the rig out again not for full time RV life, but for a few shorter trips in the next few months. Then we’re planning another spin with full time RV living next summer!
Have you ever done full time RVing before? Would you consider it to see some of these amazing places?
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