MOANA OF THE MOUNTAINS: Roadtripping through the Midwest

September 1, 2017

Roadtripping from New York City to the Wild Wild West, we drove for hours and hours and hours (and hours) through farmland, chain store meccas, and golden fields. But every turn we took, every trail we tracked, every path we made, every road lead back, to the place I know, where we were trying to go, where we loooonged to be.


The mountains. They callllll me. 


Sorry—we just drove 7,000 miles listening to Moana on loop—it's engrained in my head. 

 Here we are in the Badlands in South Dakota. Juuuuuuust on the precipice of being near precipices. 


Jamie and I road-tripped out west a few years ago, young 20 somethings, crazy kids who were free, broke, and directionless. Maybe I be Captain Obvious for a second  and say that road-tripping with a 14 month old was different from those carefree days?  But this road trip we went on with Z Baby was way more adventurous, because, let's face it: traveling with a baby keeps you on your toes and adds an element of adventure no matter what you're doing. 


The roadtrip started from our old home, New York City. Jamie got a job out west, and it was about time for something new, so the 3 of us decided to go for it. We packed up our used but new to us Kia sedan and road tripped for a month and a half—camping out when we could and living like dirtbags.

 Z fit into the dirtbag life well


To be honest, as I mentioned before, we were trying to breeze through the rust belt and midwest as fast as we could to get to the peaks (remember my whole thing about the mountains?) So, we did just that and hit up the coolest spots along the way. The first stop was Niagara Falls 


They did not disappoint.

We didn't stay there long, but there are some cool trails in and around the falls  that seem to be worth it, specifically the Niagara Falls Gorge Trail, if you do go and have a little longer to spare. There are also tours that you can do to see the Falls from a boat, or walking tours. 



We then headed to Detroit where we visited some friends. It didn't take much to convince them to travel north with us to go camping in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Oh wait, let me rephrase that so Michiganders can understand me. It didn't take much to convince them to "say yah to da UP, eh" How'd I do? Anyway, so we all drove 6 hours north to camp on the shores of Lake Superior near Pictured Rocks. 


 Pictured Rocks were cool, but if you can swing it, they are better seen by kayak. There are plenty of places in the area to rent kayaks, but we didn't feel comfortable bringing Z along in one. Maybe one day!


We were rookies, arriving to the first come first serve campsites in the park at 6pm on a Friday in the summer (aka peak season). We thought we would get a spot no problem, because who is camping way up north? Apparently, a lot of people. We didn't get a spot that night, but  looking on the bright side, we learned our lesson early on in the trip to arrive early.  The lesson cost us 2 hours of driving around to every campsite throughout the 45 mile park road. We ultimately landed in a crappy yet expensive motel in Munising, Michigan, the town just outside of the park, at 9pm at night with a crying baby suffering from a poop-plosion.


Adventures are never fun when you're on them....


The next morning we woke up early and went back to the best campground we saw: Twelvemile Campground. We got a spot! Woo! If you do head to Pictured Rocks, this is the place to stay IMHO. 


 Nothing like camping food (basically canned beans and chicken sausage every damn day). 


Being on the Lake Superior shore was like being at the ocean. it was a super cool to experience.  


 The views from the site at Twelvemile Campground


We moved on after 2 nights of camping in a quest for the mountains. Our next destination was the Badlands in Western South Dakota, a 14 hour drive from Pictured Rocks. We got there in 2 very long days of driving. It was honestly a blur and I don't remember (maybe because I tried to forget) what weird $25 motel we stayed in at the halfway point. It was certainly weird times for us, where we were only eating at whatever chain restaurant was closest to the side of the highway, and consuming an unhealthy amount of soft serve ice cream from fast food restaurants. 


 We stopped at Culvers for yet another soft serve cone because you eat shitty food on road trips (or at least I do). I was disappointed to only see frozen custard. "What is that?", I asked the 9 year old at the counter who was ready to take my order. "Is it ice cream?"

"No" he whispered softly, wide-eyed as if he just saw Santa Claus, "it's better". Sold, kid. And let me tell you, he was right. Frozen custard for the win.


After some really long driving days, we arrived to the Badlands. It was SO refreshing to see some diversity in the landscape. After driving hundreds of miles through fields and farmland, I felt like I was going a little bit insane. I also had just finished watching a few episodes of Fargo, so I thought anyone with a strong midwest accent was going to just murder me. I'm aware I'm the crazy one in this situation.


When we arrived, the campground closest to the Visitor's Center at the entrance of the park, Cedar Pass Campground, was full. That one definitely fills up fast compared to it's counterpart at the other end of the park, Sage Creek Campground. Sage Creek wins in my book though, because it's free, it rarely fills to capacity, it's more primitive because it has no running water so you're roughing it a little more (though it does have toilets), and the hour drive there through the park is breathtaking. If you're planning on heading to the Badlands, and you like to rough it more, Sage Creek Campground is the one for you. 


 The drive to Sage Creek Campground is beautiful and entertaining for people of all ages. This is when Z is seeing a bison for the first time, and boy do I wish this picture had sound. 


 My boys cooking me dinner


Up with the sun! I love nights camping when we can sleep without the rain fly. Star-gazing at its finest. 


It is really hot in the Badlands during the summer, with temperatures reaching past 100 degrees, so be prepared for that. There are hikes to do around the park that bring you to beautiful sites, but we decided to opt out of most of them because we didn't want a scorched bambino.


 We tried a mini hike but the heat got the best of us. Maybe it's my long black pants?


Even if you're not into hiking, the Badlands are a site to see  


 One last family photo before we ran to the AC


The next stop was Glacier National Park (aka the mountains), thus completing our travels through the midwest! Moana got her happy ending. Nay. She willed her happy ending (#feminist).




What are your favorite spots in the midwest? What did we miss? Comment below to give us ideas for the future!






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