When my dad first mentioned his plan to visit all 50 states, my ears perked up. I got excited about the idea of tagging along to some of the places I had never been to. I was especially interested in exploring the areas around Yellowstone, because I’ve always been captivated by the pictures and videos I’d seen of the park.
We decided to plan an overland trip for June, since I was moving to San Francisco for school in August and this off-road adventure would be the last chance for us to spend time together one-on-one, out in nature and off the grid, for a while.
Dad thought this would be a great opportunity to teach me a few more life skills before I was finally out on my own. Like learning how to plan an overlanding trip from start to finish—everything from deciding how many hours to drive each day, what trails to take, picking campsites, and finding places to explore along the way.
While I was more than ready for the adventure, I wasn’t prepared for the responsibility of planning a seven-day trip through Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. I’d never planned so much as a simple overnight trip, let alone one that would last an entire week and take us across multiple states. But I was excited for this camping trip, so with a few tips from my dad to point me in the right direction, plan is what I did.
Day 1: Off to a Good Start
My dad made it clear from the start that he wanted to keep the driving each day under eight hours, so I tried to make sure we hit that goal. The first day was the longest in terms of hours in the truck, with it taking us just over eight hours to reach our first destination, a beautiful little trail that snaked through a creek in southern Utah.
The images of the trail I looked at beforehand were promising, but pictures can sometimes be deceiving, and I didn’t really know how good (or bad) it would be until we arrived. As we headed down the trail, I was glad that dad was impressed by how scenic it was, and I was really pleased about my first destination pick. I was off to a good start.
As we began to head further up the trail, we started to notice there were many dead trees—thousands of them. We learned later that this was due to bark beetles and they’ve affected tens of millions of acres of forest in the U.S. In addition to the dead trees, we could see evidence of ongoing efforts to replenish those lost trees.
We were tired from driving and looking forward to setting up camp, so we decided not to finish the trail. Of course, we also needed to get some filming done before nightfall. Our moods were high as we relaxed that evening at camp, excited for what the week had in store.
Dad decided to show off his culinary skills and cooked up some salmon sandwiches for dinner. I have to give him credit though, because they were delicious. Even though the wind kicked up when the sun went down, we enjoyed some good conversation as we enjoyed the warmth of propane fire.
The first day was under wraps, but the trip was only just beginning. We both went to bed excited for our adventures in the coming days.
Day 2: Surprised by Idaho
With the soft gurgling of the creek throughout the night, we slept soundly and woke up feeling refreshed and ready for the day. It was a little chilly, but dad had a hot cup of coffee waiting for me. If you know my dad, this should be no surprise—in his world, coffee is life.
Our second day consisted of a seven-hour drive into Idaho. Initially, I wasn’t too excited about this part of the journey because I thought this state was all farmland and the drive would be less than exciting. But, wow, was I wrong. Yes, there was quite a bit of farmland on the drive, but it was so green and beautiful, and the air was much cleaner than I’m used to in San Diego.
We arrived at a trail that began in Idaho and crosses over into Wyoming, the end of which contained an amazing array of powerful waterfalls. The mist carried by the falls gave the place a mystical, dreamy feel.
Our campsite was a huge open area of green grass and wildflowers in shades of yellow, purple, and white. I immediately realized that I was completely wrong about this part of the country and this trail won my heart over.
After we set up camp, we watched the wind as it flowed through a path in the trees. It was pretty cool being able to “see” the wind and the trees seemed to keep it at bay. This was such a beautiful place to camp and my dad mentioned, if we hadn’t already had other plans, he would have liked to have stayed for a couple nights and explore some of the nearby trails.
Dad flexed his cooking skills yet again, making some pan-fried steaks with a coffee and herb rub, as well as some chimichurri rice. Part of what I enjoy about overlanding and hitting the trail with my dad is that we always eat well.
Great food, great company, and great scenery. So far, we’ve experienced two amazing destinations and two amazing meals – I was pretty happy because our trip—the trip I had planned—was off to a fantastic start.
Day 3: Stunning Lake Overlook
Our third day was the final stop before Yellowstone. As soon as the day began, I was anxious for it to end so I could finally see this national park for the first time.
There was less driving on day three as it took just under an hour to get to the trailhead, which was officially in Wyoming. I was stunned at the landscape of rolling hills covered in green grass and clusters of trees.
This trail didn’t appear to be heavily trafficked and there were some fairly muddy spots, making it more difficult than we were expecting. Even so, the Power Wagon took it all in stride, even while towing the trailer.
We climbed steadily for a little over an hour until we reached the waypoint for our campsite I had marked in advance. My dad got out before me to try and film, which was interrupted by some very loud birds nearby. I have no idea what they were, but they stood almost four-feet tall and sounded like some sort of wild turkey—definitely not the sweet sound of songbirds.
Dad reached the campsite before me and waved me over, saying that I needed to come get a good look at our campsite. Great. Was my two-day streak of picking great sites at an end?
As soon as I cleared the trees that had blocked the initial view, I saw that our spot overlooked a pristine blue-green lake from the top of bluff, hundreds of feet high. This site was incredible. I was a little dazed, not to mention shocked and overjoyed, that I’d picked this spot with spectacular views. We arrived shortly after 3 p.m. and there was plenty of daylight left so we decided to relax, enjoy the view, and just soak it all in.
Sitting by that lake and talking with my dad while we watched a bald eagle and countless other birds soar over the water was amazing. This is a memory that will stay with me forever. This is what overlanding is all about.
But with all this natural beauty around, it didn’t take long for my legs to get a little restless. After noticing, dad suggested we hike around the area and explore a little.
The only wildlife we saw were some antelope (they were pretty far away and we had to use our binoculars), but we did run into a few groups of locals who were surprised we were able to find this spot, which is considered a hidden gem. To be honest, I had no idea it was “hidden” since I found it on a website for off-road trails but I'm glad I found it.
Dinner that night was improvised, using some naan to go with our hotdogs (someone forgot the buns). But I have to say, even if they were a little “bougie,” I was pleasantly surprised at how they turned out. If you’ve never had a naan hotdog, you should give it a try.
Finishing the day watching the sun set over the lake, relaxing with my old man for one last hoorah before I left for San Francisco, was more than I could have asked for.
Day 4: Yellowstone
This was the day I would finally achieve my goal of visiting Yellowstone. After enjoying the lake view one last time over a few cups of coffee, dad and I got an early start so we could beat the crowds to Yellowstone.
The drive took about an hour and a half, which seemed to fly by because the views on the way to the park were almost as beautiful as the park itself. But not quite.
As we entered the park, we immediately saw a few small herds of bison about 100 yards from the side of the road. We pulled over and took some pictures from a very safe distance. These are huge animals and they need to be respected.
This was my first time ever seeing bison in person, and I love seeing animals in the wild, so this was a real treat. I honestly thought my day couldn’t get any better. I was wrong.
After about 15 more minutes of driving, we reached our first spot of traffic, which we found odd since it was so early in the day. As we got closer, we saw the cause—a herd of maybe 50 bison were directly next to the road and some were only a few feet from the pavement.
I never expected to get this close. From that distance, I could see many of the bison had large tufts of fur missing, making me think they must be in the midst of shedding their winter coats. Again, dad and I kept a safe distance away, unlike other visitors who didn’t seem to realize just how dangerous these beautiful animals could be. Luckily, the bison didn’t seem to be too bothered by all the attention – I’m sure they are probably used to it.
Our next stop was the Grand Prismatic Hot Spring, but due to the early morning fog, we could barely see even the outer edges of the spring. We still walked around it and enjoyed the smaller springs that were visible. A little disappointing, but you can’t waste energy getting upset by nature doing what it does.
We made our way to some of the various mud pits, more springs, and a lake. Everywhere we went, bison were scattered across the roads, with the occasional female elk making an appearance as well.
Aside from the areas that smelled purely of rotten eggs due to the high concentration of sulfur, the air smelled fresher and cleaner than any I have experienced before, maybe even when we lived in Washington state.
Yellowstone was teaming with life—the park itself seemed alive. Rivers and waterfalls were everywhere with mud and hot water springs boiling out of the ground creating colorful ecosystems of bacteria.
Before coming to Yellowstone, my expectations were high and I’d been told by countless people how amazing this place is. And still, I was blown away by everything I saw. The crazy part is, even with everything we saw, we’d barely scratched the surface of the park. We didn’t even see any of the northern area because we just didn’t have enough time. One day is definitely not enough time to do Yellowstone justice.
My dad and I discussed that if we’d had two days, we could probably all of Yellowstone. Three days would have allowed us to really take our time and savor the experience. If you’re planning a trip to Yellowstone, make sure to factor in how much time you have—the more, the better.
As the day progressed, the number of tourists greatly increased. Had we come later, it would have been much more difficult to get to all the sights, which were surrounded by an immense crowd of people as the day wore on. I’m thankful my dad is an early riser. But, even with all the crowds, you can’t help but admire the beauty of Yellowstone.
After a long day of driving around, seeing natural wonders and wildlife in Yellowstone, and getting quite a bit of sun, dad and I decided to stop filming for the rest of the trip and just enjoy the last couple of days. Sometimes, you just have to turn the camera off and just be in the moment. And those last few days were just for me and dad. Memories just for us.
I Should Have Planned a Trip Long Ago
As we began this adventure, the first one I’d ever planned on my own, most of it was a mystery to me. Even though I did my due diligence researching all the trails and campsites, you never really know what it’s going to be like until you get there. Looking at a map or pictures online isn’t quite the same thing as being there and seeing things in person.
Although it was a challenge learning how to plan a trip and it took me a long time, I wish I had learned to do this before now. Many things are a challenge when doing them for the first time, but part of the reward is conquering the challenge and learning new skills.
In hindsight, I can say that I am glad I was thrown to the wolves, so to speak. I’ve always been more of a hands-on learner, and the process of planning this adventure, and the results, were worth every minute of work. I guarantee the next trip I plan will be far less stressful because I now have the experience and confidence to take it on. I also understand how rewarding it can be.
If you are like me, and you’re hesitant to plan your first big adventure, don’t be. Jump out of your comfort zone and into adventure with both feet. Countless memories are waiting to be made.
If you want to watch the video of our father-son adventure, check it out below!