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Planning a Last- Minute Road Trip - Colorado 2017

Five Tips for a Successful Last-Minute Road Trip

By the time April rolls around, we are pretty stir crazy and ready to get out of the house. In 2017, I looked at Michael and said, “I just want to be in the mountains." With that on Thursday evening, we planned a last-minute road trip from Minnesota to the Rocky Mountains, leaving Saturday morning.

Check out our Year in Review: 2017

Spontaneous is difficult for me (Alisha), as I am a planner to the end. Planning a trip in a short amount of time can be stressful, but I have found ways to make it less so. We packed overnight bags, backpacks with laptops and cameras, Euro’s bag and did a smidge of planning before we hit the road.

Planning Tip 1: Determine Destination and Calculate Mileage

Nothing would be better than just getting in the car and going where the road takes you, but I like anticipation. I like to be excited for what’s to come next. We are pretty open to locations and tend to determine destinations based on an events, parks, concerts, or other random reasons. Why Fort Collins? Well, we happen to love New Belgium’s beer, so we thought to visit their taproom and brewery - and it’s gorgeous. 

Our trip clocked in at just under 1000 miles each way. We planned some pretty intense days of driving to get there and back within our three day timeframe. Take the total number of miles and divide that by the number of days. We would need to drive approximately 500 miles per day to finish our trip. Divide that by an approximation of 60 mph and you’re looking at 8 1/2 hour days of driving. During road trips, we try to take advantage of getting out of the car whenever possible, but we also tend to keep moving to stay on pace with miles for the day.

Planning Tip 2: Pack Breakfast, Lunch, Snacks and Water

We generally only eat dinners out when we are road tripping. We pack a cooler with snacks, water, breakfast and lunch items. I like breakfast as soon as I get up - brunch is a difficult concept for me as I find it unfathomable to wait to eat for hours after waking. I do love breakfast out, but we don’t always have the time. With a tight schedule and a day of driving, it’s faster to eat at the hotel or in the car on the way to the highway. For breakfast, we pack yogurts and granola, fruit, or hardboiled eggs. 

For lunch, it's easy to spend an afternoon looking for a place to have lunch and we avoid most fast food. We also usually always have Euro with us and try not to leave him in the car whenever possible. Most of the time, we carry lunch items with us or stop into a grocery store for meat, cheese, fruit/vegetable and crackers. I can easily cut and serve from the passenger seat while we continue on our way.

Planning Tip 3: Pack Refillable Water Bottles and Coffee Mugs

We always pack refillable water bottles and coffee mugs. We will stop for coffee multiple times on the trip and I loathe having to use styrofoam cups (yep, many places still use them). We also pack gallons of water to refill our bottles and Euro’s water dish instead buying single-serve water bottles. By using refillable containers, we are able to keep the interior of the vehicle much cleaner as disposable containers don't pile up in the backseat or roll around on the floorboards.

Day 1: Kadoka, South Dakota

We drove just over 450 miles west though South Dakota and stayed the night in Kadoka before heading south to Colorado. The waitress at dinner that night asked us if we were headed east or west as most were ‘just passing through.” When we told her we were headed south, she laughed and asked why. We explained that we were on our way to Colorado.

Optional Planning Tip: Make Accommodation Reservations

Being spontaneous is great, but presents it’s own challenges. You can always opt to find a hotel when you arrive at your destination for the night. This works if you are driving many miles and are not sure how far you will make it on a given day. With Euro, I really like to have the hotel identified to ensure we don't get stuck paying a ridiculous $75 per night pet fee. We also enjoy staying at airbnbs - they are generally more comfortable for us and in areas where we can walk Euro easier. Airbnbs are easier to book a day or two in advance, though we have had luck booking same day as well.

Kadoka is quite small and we were happy to have reserved a place in advance. Kadoka literally translates to “hole-in-the-wall.” We were able to find our motel quickly, have dinner and walk Euro before the sunset.

Planning Tip 4: Investigate Route for Must-see Attractions

Plaid Pinecone: front of corn palace with Willy Nelson Rock of Ages 2016-2017 Mitchell, South Dakota

We thought of stopping in the Badlands and decided to spend our time in Colorado instead. We went through Mitchell, South Dakota, where we took a break to walk Euro and got a glimpse of the world-famous Corn Palace. We would also pass near Carhenge in Alliance, Nebraska, but decided against that adventure for this trip. Looking back, we should have also researched hiking trails in Rocky Mountain National Park. With the original itinerary of only four days, we were unsure of how much time we would be able to dedicate to a hike. It was worth the trip to soak up the mountain air and see mountains lining the horizon.

**Added after 2017 Solar Eclipse: Ensure you look out for celestial events (eclipses, meteor showers) and other natural events.

Day 2: Through Nebraska to Fort Collins, Colorado

It was a shorter drive today at just under 400 miles. I could tell you that we did exciting things while driving through Nebraska, but we didn’t. We put our foot on the accelerator and went full speed into Colorado.

Upon arriving in Fort Collins, we went directly to the New Belgium Brewery to ensure we could enjoy their outdoor patio during the warm, sunny day. The place is amazing. It’s really picturesque and quite busy. The day was beautiful and we were so excited to be outside in the sun without humidity and mosquitoes. There were food trucks parked on the grounds, plenty of merchandise and some pretty long lines for beer. With Euro, one of us stays outside while the other goes inside to get beers and look around. Michael bought Euro a new dog leash made from a used bicycle tire, complete with bottle cap opener. (see it in action during our adventures in the Canadian Rockies)

Plaid Pinecone: Alisha smiling with dog, Euro in front of New Belguim Brewery sign Fort Collins, Colorado

We met a nice woman waiting for her family to finish the brewery tour. She told us that we looked happy and after chatting with her, she told us we should definitely stay another day before heading back. And that was that. I called to make the arrangements to stay an extra night in Fort Collins.

Day 3: Rocky Mountain State Park and Estes Park, Colorado

Planning Tip 5: Pack Layers, Pack Light

It was April and still being Northwesterners at heart, we always assume that we will encounter some rain. We always pack rain coats, hoodies, and extra layers (tank tops, long sleeves). We pack extra socks and a second pair of shoes (in addition to hiking shoes) to ensure a back-up if one gets wet and muddy. We aim to pack as little clothing as possible, re-wearing multiple items throughout the trip.

We drove to Estes Park and spent the morning hiking. We didn’t have much time for a formal hike. We opted to eat lunch in the Rocky Mountain National Park and walk Euro around the area for a few hours. We don’t always have the time that we want to hit an official trailhead at our destination. 

Plaid Pinecone: view of snowy mountains, rock, trees and stream in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

A trip to Estes Park wouldn’t be complete without a stop at The Stanley Hotel. It is the hotel where Stephen King  was inspired to write The Shining. It is one of the hotels where The Shining has been filmed. Other hotels that have been used include Oregon’s own Timberline Lodge and the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite Park, California.

Plaid Pinecone: view of Stanley Hotel, Estes Park, Colorado

Day 4: Omaha, Nebraska

Back to Minnesota by way of Omaha, Nebraska and our longest driving day at close to 600 miles.

We stayed the night in Omaha. After take out dinner at the hotel, we headed out to a brewery near our hotel: Infusion Brewing. We really enjoyed this small tap room. They had just started bingo and invited us to play. The bartender stamped our cards to catch us up with the round. We didn’t win anything but we bought t-shirts and collected coasters to commemorate. We tried their signature Vanilla Bean Blonde which we enjoyed. We also tried the Dominican Brown Ale which we enjoyed. We were surprised that Omaha was quite hilly in comparison to Minnesota and the rest of Nebraska.

Day 5: Back to Minnesota by way of Iowa

On our last day, we drove approximately 350 miles, opting to take a route through Sioux City, Iowa. We stopped for lunch and a quick walk on our way back to Minnesota.

Total States tripped: 5 - South Dakota, Nebraska, Colorado, Iowa, Minnesota

Summary of Planning Tips:
  • Determine Destination and Calculate Mileage
  • Investigate Route for Must-see Attractions
  • Pack Breakfast, Lunch, Snacks and Water
  • Pack Refillable Water Bottles and Coffee Mugs
  • Pack Layers, Pack Light
  • Make Accommodation Reservations (optional)

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