When I tell people that our family—two adults, two kids and one large dog—took a month-long national park road trip, people usually respond one of two ways. They either say something like, “Oh wow, that sounds amazing!” Or they say “huh” and look at me with confusion. I understand both responses. 

Related: Turn the volume up with the best road trip songs that won’t make you wish for earplugs 

A month on the road with two children and a dog isn’t for everyone. But it was perfect for us. Whether you are in the “wow” or the “huh” camp, here’s the inside scoop on how to spend a month on the road seeing some of the hot spots and hidden gems this country has to offer. 

8 things to know about taking a month-long national park road trip

1. You don’t need to quit your job to take an extended road trip or travel

We started planning our road trip about 6-7 months before we took to the road, and since I would be working a bit while we traveled (using a mix of vacation time-off and also working from the road), we planned our route and lodging so that we’d have good internet connections. We also mapped out which locations we wanted to straddle a weekend so we could maximize our time there without using extra vacation days. By communicating early with my colleagues, I was able to create a flexible work schedule that allowed me to work and enjoy our time on the road.

2. You don’t need a camper or RV to take an extended family road trip

Our family mostly stayed in vacation rentals that were located just outside of the national parks. We considered renting an RV, but the process quickly grew overwhelming. While there are a lot of pros to traveling in an RV—you can stay on the park grounds and have everything you need in your vehicle—there are also a lot of benefits to not traveling in an RV as well. 

For instance, we traveled in our minivan, which meant we were familiar with the vehicle and saved money on gas. Because we stayed in pet-friendly Airbnbs, we had a bit more space to spread out at the end of a long day of driving or hiking together. After factoring in the price of gas, cost to rent an RV and the nightly rates at campgrounds, it was fairly comparable to stay at vacation rentals. 

Dog looking at camera with mountains in the background, on national park road trip
Photo credit: Christine Organ

3. The internet is your friend

When we were in the planning phase, I read a lot of blogs and TripAdvisor threads about how many days to spend at each location. While we were on the road, my husband relied on All Trails to get practical user-generated feedback on the hiking trails in the area so we could pick the ones best suited for our family. There is so much helpful information out there—a lot of junk too—but with a little time and a good internet connection, you can plan a custom road trip that your entire family will enjoy. 

4. Don’t pass over the state parks near the major national parks

Many national parks have a state park nearby. Not only are state parks generally pet friendly (unlike most national parks), they can also be a hidden gem with tons to see and do. For instance, we spent a few hours driving through the Badlands but spent days hiking and swimming in Custer State Park, which is right next door. 

Boy and dog walking across a river, on national park road trip
Photo credit: Christine Organ

5. Consider pet care while on the road

Whether you stay in a vacation rental, hotel or an RV, pets are generally not allowed on hiking trails in national parks. So if you want to spend a full day in the park, you’ll need to make plans for your four-legged family member. In our case, we found pet boarding facilities near the entrance of the national park and boarded our dog for the day. He had fun romping around with new furry friends and we were able to hike without worrying about getting back to let him out for a potty break. Win-win.

6. Don’t be afraid to call an audible

Even the best laid plans go astray. There might be weather challenges or a place might not be what you were hoping. You will likely have car trouble at some point and you will all need a break from each other now and then. We called an audible a couple times and left a vacation rental early to cut down on the next day’s driving time and spend a night in a hotel with a pool. It was one of the best decisions we made on the trip.

7. Be realistic

Our kids were 11 and 14 years old when we went on our month-long road trip. Nap times weren’t a concern for us, but staying connected to their friends was. So we let them each bring their Xbox with them so they could play games with their friends every now and then. Our kids also preferred shorter hikes with some swimming involved versus longer hikes with great views so we tried to mix it up. 

Mom and two boys sitting on a large rock, looking at lake and mountains on national road trip
Photo credit: Christine Organ

By the end of the trip, some of us (raises hand) needed a little more rest than others so my husband took a few solo hikes while my kids and I slept or worked. Listen to yourself and listen to each other about what you all need.

Related: I travel with my young kids to build their hearts, not memories 

It’s also important to be realistic about how much you can see and do in the amount of time you have. In the month that we were on the road, we stayed in (or drove through) nine different states and visited six national parks—Mount Rushmore and Badlands, Glacier National Park, Yellowstone, Grand Tetons, and Rocky Mountain National Park—along with a bunch of state parks along the way. Don’t expect to see too much or do too many things; you’ll end up running yourself ragged and miss a lot of good stuff along the way.

8. Let go of expectations

Some things will be better than you think. Other things will be a colossal disaster. Let go of your expectations and enjoy the ride. Remember: travel misadventures often make for the best stories later on.