Dad +3 Spring Break Road Trip - A 2,000 mile Journey

If we want children to flourish, to become truly empowered, then let us allow them to love the earth before we ask them to save it. Perhaps this is what Thoreau had in mind when he said, “the more slowly trees grow at first, the sounder they are at the core, and I think the same is true of human beings.
— David Sobel

It was Sunday night. I probably should’ve had a lot more planned out at this point but it’s the way I’ve enjoyed road tripping. I plot out a few major points of interest, and then look for the most epic routes. This was a Dad +3 road trip packed into five days for Spring break. National Parks and water fall hunting was on the activity list. Mammoth Caves had been decided. However, you have to book tickets in advance for the guided tours. Waiting until Sunday night wasn’t a smart move, the tours were booked up until Friday, and we initially wanted to be in Kentucky by Tuesday. Change of plans…

Lu 9, Bubba 7, Stinky 4.

April 2nd, 2018

            We hit the road at 8:50am Monday morning en route for The Indiana Dunes National Lake Shore. The plan was to camp in their camp ground on our way to Cuyahoga National Park. The thing about road tripping is you have the ability to maneuver the weather, for the most part. There was no way around the rain the direction we were heading. We did, however, miss the snow storm in MN. By about 3:30pm we were passing Chicago and by 5pm we were nearing the Indiana Dunes National Lake Shore. The weather was gloomy and rain was in the forecast. Not to mention it was maybe 45 degrees. Camp grounds were empty and we rolled into site D45. I don’t even think I had the truck in park before Bubba was jumping out, yelling, “I’ll be in the woods” as he takes off in between the trees. What a great start to the trip…

No Green leaves yet...

It's 38 degrees. 

Teaching children about the natural world should be treated as one of the most important events in their lives.

The vibe was incredible. I really had no idea what to expect road tripping like this with three kids. I mean, we’ve definitely road tripped as a family before but this was new territory for me. I wanted them to love it as much as I do. But at the same time, I want them to love because they love to travel and adventure. Anyway, we had a fire going. Bubba and Stinky were off running around finding tons of fire wood while Lu was fixing their beds up in the bed of the truck. They must’ve had twenty blankets back there not including their sleeping bags and the two, 3 inch camping pads. They had it good…And they absolutely loved it. We destroyed the Ramen and Lemon chicken. With full stomachs, everyone’s eyes looked heavy. By 8:30 the fire was waning and everyone was fading fast.

April 3rd, 2018

            5:30am and we were up. Rain was drizzling. Luckily the clouds blessed us with an hour+ window to break down, eat, and get down to the Lakeshore to explore a bit before hitting the road again. By 7:30 we were heading to Cuyahoga to hike the Stanford Trail and see the Brandywine Falls. We stopped to grab some rain jackets en route and made it to Cuyahoga by 3pm. It was raining so hard that we decided not to stay in the park too long. We did hike to the falls but the wood walkways were super slick. We drove on through the park and made our way over to the Historic Covered Bridge and snapped some photos before figuring out if and where we were going to camp that night. Sadly the rain won us over and we stayed at Days Inn in Richfield. It was definitely convenient. We drug all our wet clothes and gear inside the room to dry out. Bubs cranked the heat up to 90. And let me tell you… after being soaked to the bone, that heat felt out of this world. Ha! In hind sight, all of us would’ve rather slummed it out of the truck somewhere instead but it was all good. Spent the night swimming and were out cold by 10pm.

Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.

"Yeah, baby!"  -Stinky

April 4th, 2018

            We woke up Wednesday morning with a mission to explore Hocking Hills State Park in southern Ohio. We wanted to see Old Man’s Cave and check out Upper and Lower Falls. The drive was pretty wild. It was raining, and the wind must’ve been blowing 30-40mph+. The craziest thing was looking up and watching the clouds travel faster than we were driving. So surreal. We were on the road by 9:50am and at the trail head by 1:55pm. More rain. Although we had a lot of tree cover as we traversed along the creek to the falls. It was a blast. I feel like lot of people only check out their state’s state parks and miss a lot of beauty. The river rats had a blast and we stayed dry for the most part. We only stayed long to enough to explore for a couple of hours as we were driving south to camp in the Zilpo Recreation area, which is at the northern end of the Daniel Boone National Forrest.

To trace the history of a river or a raindrop, as John Muir would have done, is also to trace the history of the soul, the history of the mind descending and arising in the body. In both, we constantly seek and stumble on divinity…
— Gretel Ehrlich

Upper Falls, Hocking Hills State Park

            The kids were killing the drives. Device free…might I add. I was a tad worried. So.. I had warned them that this trip would be like driving to the cabin every day, and it was. Not once did I hear, “Are we there yet? Or “How much longer?” … etc etc. Everyone was all smiles. Singing, convo and photography filled a large amount of time driving. There are several Greek words for love unlike the English language. (My favorite is Agape) One word for love being.. storgē or familial love referring to the affection towards your children. You know when you’re a kid and your parents start to lecture you..blah blah blah…when you’re a parent you’re going to know how we feel.. Yeah yeah, well, ok I get it. There was nowhere else I wanted to be. These three little humans are my best friends!

I’ve never been to this part of the country. The drive was absolutely beautiful. For whatever reason waterfalls and abandoned structures are my two favorite things to photograph…as a result Bubba’s too. We stopped everywhere to take pictures. I don’t know how put into words what I was feeling as we were driving, but what I can say is that it seemed as if I was feeling history. Now that I think of it, I feel this way in the mountains too. The difference here was that it was completely new territory. Weird, I know.

By 8pm we were pulling into spot #32 in The Zilpo Rec campground. Our spot was on a peninsula surrounded by Cave Run Lake. From the rain, everything was wet. We were tired. No dry wood so we fixed up mac and cheese and the beds fast. This was the only part of the trip I was getting legitimacy frustrated with the kids. I might have cursed a couple of times… MIGHT have.. Black bears have been spotted in the area again after years of none. And I was finding snack food everywhere. Granola bar under the truck, noodles in the fire pit. Listen….. You guys are in the bed of the truck, I am in a tent….Daddy does NOT want to get eaten. I cleaned up everything I could. I was so tired I slept well anyway. Haha.

April 5th, 2018

We somewhat took our time waking up and were up and heading south by about 10am. Then the wildest thing happened. Each one of us seemed to capture a different perspective of this damn deer running into the side of the truck and flipping over the windshield. I was easily going 30mph, and slowing down so that Bubba could snap a picture of this barn and out nowhere this ****** runs right into me. He smashes my driver’s side mirror into the window, scratches the hell out of it and leaves a dent in my rear driver’s side door. I stop. None of us know what just happened. I literally just saw a giant brown blob fly across my front windshield. He even left a nice chunk of hair in the roof rack over the topper. What the heckkkkk just happened!? What the heck man. Hopefully he was okay because he was nowhere to be seen when we all go out to look. Wheeeeeeeeew! (Let me just say, it is so utterly exhausting driving without a driver’s side mirror and I apologize to anyone whom I may have cut off. I normally love driving. But with no mirror, it felt as if my equilibrium was off the entire time.)

Dog Slaughter Falls

By 2:30pm we were rolling by the trail head to Dog Slaughter Falls which is at the southern end of the Daniel Boone National Forrest. What an awesome trail! It’s located near Cumberland Falls in Daniel Boone National Forest, Whitley County, Kentucky. What we saw was that it was 2.2 out and back. My garmin clocked just shy of 4 miles, so I’m not really sure on the length.

As a child, one has that magical capacity to move among the many eras of the earth; to see the land as an animal does; to experience the sky from the perspective of a flower or a bee; to feel the earth quiver and breathe beneath us; to know a hundred different smells of mud and listen unselfconsciously to the soughing of the trees.
— Valerie Andrews, A Passion for this Earth

The kids absolutely tore through the trail on the way to Dog Slaughter. Once we arrived at the falls, Bubs and Lu took off to explore the falls. There was a narrow walk way behind the falls so let me remind you, its maybe fifty degrees and now they are soaked from head to toe. As the sun dipped behind the clouds, they got cold so we didn’t stick around for too long.  Stinky’s (she is four) legs were getting tired, so I ended up carrying her on some of the steeper climbs. This was one of the most memorable experiences of the trip for me. Bubba made up a game on the walk out imagining fairy prisons in certain trees. The Fairy Queen (Stinky) and her two companions Lu & Bubba had to rescue them all. Now…thankfully due to this game, Stinky was off running up and down the trail instead of asking me to carry her…even though her legs were tired.  What win for my arms! It was awe-inspiring to see Bubs as an older brother really showing Stinky the way in such a loving way. Spend a few minutes with him and you will immediately realize what warm soul he has. He is the light.

The falls were incredible and it was blast exploring the area. The entire trail was absolutely beautiful, really. The greens from oak and hickory trees illuminated the trails.  I didn’t find it too challenging although there is some exposure so kids should be kept in sight.

We were back on the road and en route to Horse Cave to camp before our last day. We had tickets for the 8:30am Domes and Dripstones guided tour. These tours have to be planned in advance and sell out quickly, especially the routes that are shorter and easier for families and groups.

We opted to slum it in the Horse Cave KOA as it was close and made for a quick easy drive in the morning. We wanted to be early just to be safe. By 9:11, Thursday night, we were out cold. Crazy how fast the time flew; our day closing in on us quickly.

April 6th, 2018

I was up by 5:30am and sauntered over to take a thirty minute hot shower. The kids were up by 6:30am.We fixed up breakfast and arrived at the Mammoth Caves Visitor Center by 7:30am. We chose the Dome’s and Dripstone’s tour.


By 8:30 were on the shuttle that took us four miles to the entrance of Mammoth Cave. I have to say our guide was awesome...full of knowledge and absolutely hysterical. I wish I remembered his name! From entrance you descend about 300ish stairs down into the cave. (Note: It takes a single drop of water 45 minutes to descend from the entrance to the cave floor.) It was incredible. To someone put this into perspective, it takes nearly 100 years for a stalactite to lengthen by 1 single inch. The walk wasn’t too long, only ¾ of a mile, but still took the group two hours to make it through. The hike concluded right after Frozen Niagara, which was so breathe taking, largely due to how long it takes these things to form!

 And lastly, Sadly, a disease that has spread from Europe to the US called White-Nose Syndrome is killing the bats that inhabit the caves in Kentucky by the millions. Step on the mat, save a bat. After the cave tour, each person is asked to walk across a bio mat with a mixture that helps prevent the spread of spores.

The Mammoth Caves national Park wrapped our road trip. And what an ending it was. Absolutely, undeniably unforgettable ;)

 By noon we were back on the road. What should have been a twelve hour drive turned into a fourteen hour drive because of a two hour accident delay in Indiana. (I’m sorry to say this, but Indiana takes the cake for the state with the absolute worst drivers in North America.) We all missed Mom and the dog so we decided to high tail it home. I wanted to drive a lot at night so that I could sit in the passing lane and move over when I saw someone coming up behind me. I could only see out of the passenger side mirror. It was exhausting but didn’t ruin the trip or the vibe so whateva! Not much to note on the route home other than a whole hell of a lot of tolls! Hot damn man, the roads weren’t even nice! I paid a twelve dollar toll somewhere; I will have to make sure I prepay one of those quick passes next trip east. You pay fifty percent and don’t have to make the stops. Lesson Learned!

April 7th, 2018

Anddddd…. by 2:22am we were pulling into the garage.

I’d like to take a moment so say thank you for the hospitality. We met a lot of kind and incredible people along the way. And to the workers and protectors of our incredible State and National Parks, a sincere THANK YOU. And lastly, to my children, thank you for an absolute unforgettable memory. You three light my soul on fire. And especially to you, Lu. This trip couldn't have happened without you and your help.  Stay young, smile and I am forever proud of you. Don't Worry, Be Happy.

Bubs found this near the visitor center at Mammoth Caves. He plans on hiding it at his favorite State Park here in Minnesota. Stay Tuned!

Live Fearless, Not Reckless


Mileage: 95,728-97,845

Road trip song of choice.