Last year we went on our first family road trip. We wanted to see how we would all handle a week on the road together. My plan was to go somewhere none of us have been, and experience something amazing together. A friend mentioned her family went to Niagara Falls that summer and really enjoyed it. She also mentioned the drive wasn’t too long, so I thought that would be a great place for us to start!
We decided on the last week in July for our trip since it worked best for everyone’s schedule. While planning out our drive, I wanted to make sure to incorporate stops for fun things to do and see on our way. We live in central Illinois, so I broke the drive up into 5 hour drive days. This way we would be able to stop and check other things out, without being rushed.
We packed up our minivan and our cooler with water, snacks and lunch, and left on Friday morning. Our first stop was Indiana Dunes State Park to hike the 3 Dune Challenge. (I believe it is a National Park now.) The trails were fun and just what we needed to get out, stretch our legs and explore for a bit. There is a nice beach there too, but it was a cool that day and the kids just decided to put their feet in for a bit.
Indiana Dunes State Park: https://www.in.gov/dnr/parklake/2980.htm
After our picnic lunch there, we headed to our hotel near Toledo, Ohio to stay for the night. We had a full kitchen in our room, so I made us dinner and the kids played in the pool for the rest of the night.
The next day we were up early and headed to Presque Isle State Park in Erie, PA. We again had a picnic on the beach and did a bit of exploring the park, before pressing on to Niagra Falls.
Presque Isle State Park: https://www.dcnr.pa.gov/StateParks/FindAPark/PresqueIsleStatePark/Pages/default.aspx
We explored the United States side of Niagara Falls for two days. We hit all of the attractions that interested the kiddos, and even had time to play in the hotel pool. We had planned on crossing over to the Canadian side, but I dropped the ball and waited until the last minute to apply for the kids’ passport cards before we left, so we didn’t get them in time. (Sorry kids!)
Niagara Falls State Park: https://www.niagarafallsstatepark.com/
On the third day there we drove up to Old Fort Niagara and explored it. We had fun learning about the history of the Fort and the kids really enjoyed the presentation they did of firing the cannons. We again had a picnic lunch at Fort Niagara State Park , and then headed to Lockport Cave. It was something I thought would be fun to try and the kids liked the little tour they gave us.
Old Fort Niagara: https://www.oldfortniagara.org/
Lockport Cave: https://lockportcave.com/
On our way back home we again stopped in Erie, PA. This time we took the kids to Waldameer Park, a little amusement and water park. We had a great time, and the kids were excited to have a kid fun day!
Waldameer Park and Water World: https://waldameer.com/
We stayed near Cleveland, OH that night, and headed to East Harbor State Park in Ohio the next morning. The kiddos swam for a bit and we grabbed lunch at the harbor before heading homeward.
East Harbor State Park: http://parks.ohiodnr.gov/eastharbor
We made a quick stop by the University of Notre Dame. I heard the campus was beautiful and wanted to visit the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. Ryan and the kiddos were troopers while mom dragged them all over campus to see the Golden Dome, the Basilica and Touch Down Jesus. (Thanks guys!)
University of Notre Dame: https://www.nd.edu/
We made it home that night, and started brainstorming ideas for our next road trip!
Lessons learned on our first road trip:
- Breaking up the drive works great for us, but I need to plan for more time at each stop so I don’t feel like we are getting off schedule too much.
- Book all lodging in advance! I didn’t book our one night hotel stay for the way home, because I didn’t have our stops picked out before we left. I could have saved us some money by booking in advance and at a hotel I have rewards with.
- Picnic lunches worked great, and hotel breakfasts helped save us money too! I want to scope out where we want to eat dinners next trip, so we are not trying to figure out where to go when the kids are hangry 🙂