2020 is a year we all would like to put behind us. In the beginning of the year I had a goal to visit a new country every month, which could be relatively easy while living in Miami. This began with a trip to Dominican Republic in January and was to be followed up with a trip to Grand Cayman, and then Malta. Then came the COVID-19 pandemic. All travel plans came to a halt and I began researching yet another road trip. After last year's perfect road trip, I was sure it would be my final....for a few years at the very least.
I researched several scenarios on the west coast again but I decided to focus on parks that I had not yet visited. I came up with the itinerary outlined in this post which would knock off another 8 parks to bring my total to 39 (as of July 2020).
Remember: You can create your own itinerary with Roadtrippers. Use my code: JORDINARY for a discount. Every penny earned from this website goes to creating more content.
Disclaimer: This post does not encourage travel during the COVID-19 pandemic, it just shows that it is possible.
PS: The Social Distancing Score for each stop is my opinion on the overall cooperation of guests and staff at the parks, restaurants and hotels to wear masks and socially distance each other.
Another PS: I will publish my belated 2018 and 2019 road trip recaps as well, stay tuned!
Key Road Trip Statistics
2020 Road Trip Map
July 5th, 2020
My Lodging: Hotel Indigo
Lodging Score: N/A
My Dining: Black Market Bar & Grill
Birmingham was simply a layover for me as my goal was to get as far as possible with reasonable accommodations on Day 1. It was a complete ghost town due to strict COVID-19 procedures.
July 6th, 2020
I stopped here to briefly check out the park. It was lacking activities and nearly no one was practicing social distancing, so I moved on. Hot Springs seemed like a very nice town which I would have liked to explore, so it's a shame that the implementation was so poor.
- President Andrew Jackson set aside Hot Springs as a protected area in 1832, 40 years before Yellowstone became the first national park. The land of Hot Springs was deemed a national park in 1921.
- Hot Springs is the smallest U.S. National Park at only 5,550 acres.
- The thermal waters of Hot Springs heat naturally to 143°F and is odorless and chemical-free.
- Each day around 700,000 gallons of water flows from the hot springs into a reservoir system. This water is then used by the commercial bathhouses and also flows through fountains where locals can fill up their own jugs for free.
- Baseball teams such as the Red Sox were known to visit Hot Springs for training and recovery back in the 1880s to 1940s.
- Hot Springs was surprisingly a hotbed for organized crime from the late-1800s through the mid-1900s. Gambling, prostitution and bootlegging were common and the area was a popular hangout spot for Al Capone, Frank Costello, Bugs Moran, Lucky Luciano, and other infamous mobsters.
- Hot Springs National Park had 1,544,300 visitors in 2016 – 218,581 more than in 2013.
My Lodging: Hammock
My Dining: Snacks and camping food
This was incredible...so incredible that I wrote a separate blog post for it here.
July 7th, 2020
My Dining: True Food Kitchen
I stopped in Branson, Missouri as well but deciding to keep going and reach Kansas City for lunch before continuing on to Sioux Falls. True Food Kitchen is a great spot for healthy eating!
My Lodging: ClubHouse Hotel & Suites
Lodging Score: 2.5/5.0
My Dining: Carino's (onsite/room service)
My stay in Sioux Falls was to get as far as possible to allow myself more time during the following day, and it was a great decision.
July 8th, 2020
My Dining: Devils Tower Gulch
On my way to Devils Tower, I made a pit stop at the famous Wall Drug in Wall, South Dakota. What a waste of time, sorry. It's somewhat cool to look at and if you like gimmicky places, then go for it! Zero social distancing there FYI.
Lunch at the Gulch was very good, but bear in mind the staff does not practice social distancing (as of July 8th, 2020). I "cheated" and had a bison burger. Devils Tower is a fascinating monument. I managed to trail run around it and get a nice workout in. Afterwards, I spent far too long photographing prairie dogs!
I paddle boarded here while the sun was setting, enough said! I managed to come here last year during my 2019 road trip, but it was far too crowded midday, so I left. It's a microscopic version of Lake Tahoe.
My Lodging: The Lodge at Deadwood
Lodging Score: 2.8/5.0
My Dining: Marco's Pizza
Deadwood is a nice and surprisingly charming casino-driven town. Very close to a lot of beautiful sites.
July 9th, 2020
My Dining: Little Missouri Dining Room & Saloon
Nice park very reminiscent of Badlands. There is a North and South unit. Medora is a very cool western town, but gimmicky. Not as gimmicky as Wall, South Dakota though!
- Theodore Roosevelt was officially designated a National Park in 1978.
- The park was named after former United States President Theodore Roosevelt due to his early ranch and love for the area.
- Many say that Theodore Roosevelt’s love for nature was established during his days ranching in North Dakota. During his presidency (1901-09) he went on to establish the US Forest Service, 18 national monuments, 5 national parks, 150 national forests, and numerous federal reserves – a total of over 230 million acres of protected land.
- Wildlife in the park includes horses, bison, prairie dogs, while-tailed deer, white mule deer, elk, bighorn sheep and pronghorn.
- A petrified forest can be found within the wilderness area of the South Unit. It can only be accessed via foot or horseback.
- Bicycling and horseback riding are both popular activities in the park, though the park does not offer rentals or guided tours.
- In 2016 the park had just over 750,000 visitors.
My Lodging: ClubHouse Hotel & Suites
Lodging Score: 3.0/5.0
My Dining: I forget, I arrived late so it wasn't memorable.
This was just a layover in Fargo. Not much to add.
July 10th, 2020
My Lodging: Arrowhead Lodge & Resort
Lodging Score: 4.1/5.0
My Dining: Arrowhead Lodge & Resort
Voyageurs is a great park. It's very similar to the Thousand Islands on the border of New York and Canada, but far more private and less congested. I paddled to a few islands and had a blast doing so. The lodging at Arrowhead was great and the service was very personal. The location of the resort is perfect and they have plenty of kayaks and canoes you can borrow. No one wore masks though and there was no distancing, otherwise, I would have rated it a 5/5.
- In 1975 Voyageurs became the United States 36th National Park.
- Voyageurs National Park is made up of 218,054 acres of land and water, with 500+ islands and 655 miles of shoreline to explore.
- Wildlife found in the park include moose, white-tailed deer, gray wolves, foxes, coyotes, lynx, bobcats, beavers, black bears, eagles, ravens and common loons.
- Renting houseboats is another popular activity in Voyageurs, with numerous overnight docking sites available.
- Voyageurs has an average of 240,000 visitors each year.
July 11th, 2020
Porcupine is a fun park with lots good hiking. The views of Lake Superior are incredible. I would like to come back here for some camping.
My Lodging: Ramada by Wyndham Hancock Waterfront
Lodging Score: 2.0/5.0
Layover location before my seaplane flight the following day.
July 12th, 2020
Isle Royale National park was one of the most beautiful places I've ever been to. I took a seaplane to get there because the only other option was private boat. COVID-19 took ferries out of the question and they had strict policies in place to ensure safety. In order to enter the park, you need to pass a thermometer check. Upon arrival, I was greeted by one of the few park rangers on duty. She gave me an in-depth overview of the side of the park that we were on called Rock Harbor. The island boasts around 2,000 moose and 80 wolves as of July 2020. I was convinced I would see a moose as I embarked on my hike to Scoville Point. I saw plenty of droppings, most of which appeared to be fresh, but no moose sightings :(. If I make it back here, I'd love to camp for about a week!
- Isle Royale was formally established as a National Park in 1940.
- Although Isle Royale is one of the least visited parks (25,000 visitors in 2016), it remains the most revisited national park in the United States.
- Isle Royale is the only national park in the United States that is closed entirely during the winter season, due to formidable winter conditions and extreme isolation.
- The park is located in the middle of Lake Superior – the world’s second largest freshwater lake.
- Wildlife that inhabit Isle Royale include moose, wolves, beavers, loons, ducks, foxes, hares and squirrels.
My Lodging: Bicycle Street Inn & Suites
Lodging Score: 4.8/5.0
My Dining: Horn's Gaslight Bar & Restaurant
I arrived back in Hancock around 3:30pm and made a mad dash to catch the very last ferry to Mackinac Island at 8:00pm from St. Ignace, Michigan. Needless to say, I made it! For years, as an air charter advisor, I've been arranging flights for clients to Mackinac Island. It was great to finally see what all the hype is about. Mackinac has no cars. The only modes of transportation are bicycle and horse. The hotel was fantastic, a great find via Trip Advisor.
July 13th, 2020
Indiana Dunes is one of the newest parks as of August 2020 and it was added specifically to my itinerary as a short visit. I managed to see a great sunset behind Chicago just as I arrived in the parking lot. Timing is everything.
- Indiana Dunes is one of the newest national parks in the system, having been elevated from National Lakeshore to National Park in 2019.
- Indiana Dunes includes approximately 25 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline.
- Within the national park is Indiana Dunes State Park, an area of 2,182 acres, which is managed separately by the state of Indiana.
- The National Park Service opposed changing Indiana Dunes from National Lakeshore to National Park, arguing that the lakeshore designation was (obviously) much more accurate.
- The lowest elevation found in Indiana Dunes is 597 feet at Lake Michigan
- The highest elevation found in Indiana Dunes is variable, depending on dune heights
- There is no entrance fee for Indiana Dunes National Park, but there may be beach fees at certain times of year
My Lodging: Inn at Saint Mary's
Lodging Score: 3.4/5.0
South Bend was just a layover.
July 14th, 2020
Cuyahoga Valley National Park has some good hiking, but it's still an urban park. While you're exploring the wilderness and enjoying the waterfalls you can hear trucks roaring by. It's nothing you can't see at state parks, but still a nice place and worth a stop.
- Cuyahoga Valley began to be developed as a park in the 1910s, becoming a National Recreation Area in 1971, and was later designated a national park in 2000.
- Cuyahoga Valley covers a total area of 33,000 acres.
- The lowest elevation in Cuyahoga Valley is the Cuyahoga River (590 feet) and the highest elevation is Brush Road (1,164 feet).
- Cuyahoga Valley has 105 bird species that breed within the park and 250 bird species that have been seen within the park boundaries.
- The Ohio & Erie Canal is a 308-mile long waterway that runs for a small section through the park. The canal was built in the early 1800s.
- In 2016 Cuyahoga Valley National Park had just under 2,500,000 visitors.
My Lodging: Oakhurst Inn
Lodging Score: 4.9/5.0
My Dining: Oakhurst Inn
Charlottesville was more of a layover stop, but I managed to find a very unique, boutique inn called Oakhurst Inn, found via Hotel Tonight. Absolutely worth a stay.
July 15th, 2020
Shenandoah blew me away. I hiked Old Rag Mountain loop, 10.2 miles. There was a lot of rock scrambling and it was one of the more difficult hikes I've done. Absolutely worth it with the summit views though. I saw two black bears as well!
- Shenandoah National Park was established on May 22, 1926.
- Skyline Drive joins onto the Blue Ridge Parkway, which connects Shenandoah to Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
- The park is home to the state’s oldest rock, dating back one billion years!
- Shenandoah also has Virginia’s largest black bear refuge and is considered one of the densest populations of black bears in the country.
- President Herbert Hoover enjoyed spending his summers at Shenandoah’s Rapidan Camp, a retreat of 13 cabins.
- The 2,184-mile Appalachian Trail runs through Shenandoah for 101-miles.
- The park is home to the endangered Shenandoah Salamander, an amphibian that breathes through its skin.
- In 2016, Shenandoah National Park had 1,437,341 visitors.
My Lodging: Colonial Houses - Colonial Williamsburg
Lodging Score: 4.9/5.0
My Dining: Precarious Beer Hall
This town is great! I stayed at Colonial Houses, which is a collection of very old and historic residences in the heart of town. Thomas Jefferson once stayed in my room, that's how old it is. Precarious Beer Hall is a nice brewery with a taco stand inside. Wednesday is trivia night.
July 16th, 2020
My Dining: Nags Head Pier Restaurant
My first time in Outer Banks did not leave the best impression. I was hoping to catch some good surf, but the conditions were terrible when I was there. Will give it another shot sometime I'm sure! The Wright Brothers National Monument leaves a lot of questions on the table and it's very underwhelming. Visiting the Wright Brothers exhibit at the Air and Space Museum in Washington DC is better use of your time.
My Lodging: Shipping Container via GlampingHub
Lodging Score: 4.2/5.0
My Dining: The Eddy Pub
I found this unique stay on GlampingHub after passing on several hotels in the Raleigh area. This set of shipping containers are Beatles themed and they are 5 minutes away from the village of Saxapahaw, North Carolina. That's where you'll find The Eddy Pub!
July 17th, 2020
My Lodging: Kimpton Hotel Arras
Lodging Score: 4.6/5.0
My Dining: Bhramari Brewing Company
My blown out flat tire on I-40 en route to Asheville delayed my arrival and affected my Asheville experience, but luckily I have family in town and they showed me some great spots. After Bhramari I went to Green Man Brewery. The morning after, a late breakfast was enjoyed at Early Girl Eatery followed by a trip to the famed Omni Grove Park Inn before I ventured out to the Smokies. I plan to come back to Asheville in the not-so-distant future.
July 18th, 2020
My Lodging: Treehouse Grove
Lodging Score: 5.0/5.0
The Smokies consumed about 2 days of my trip. I took 441 from Cherokee through the Smokies and first stopped at the popular Clingman's Dome. After the observation tower, I hiked for a bit on a trail just off the Appalachian Trail. Afterwards, I enjoyed the sunset at Morton Overlook. I spent that night at Treehouse Grove - Dogwood. The most expensive Treehouse I've ever stayed in, but it's immaculate. The units are designed by Pete from Treehouse Masters.
- Great Smoky National Park was officially established on June 15, 1934.
- The National Park Service maintains developed campgrounds at nine locations within the park. There are more than 100 backcountry campsites for those wanting to explore the quieter wilderness areas.
- The signature smoky haze in the park is created by rainfall combined with evaporation and high elevations.
- The Blue Ridge Parkway (469-miles) is one of America’s most famous stretches of road. It runs through the Smokies, connecting it to Shenandoah National Park.
- Around 1,500 black bears live in the park. That is a population density of approximately 2 bears per square mile!
- The park is known as the “Salamander Capital of the World”, being home to 24 species of lungless salamanders.
- Each year there is an eight-day peak synchronous firefly display in the Elkmont area, with the park offering a lottery system to view the popular spectacle.
- During late November of 2016, the Chimney Tops fire burned an area of approximately 11,000 acres in the park.
- Great Smoky Mountains is the most visited park in the US, at a whopping 11,312,786 visitors in 2016.
July 19th, 2020
My Lodging: Hammock
My Campsite: Icewater Spring Shelter
My Dining: Snacks and camping food
Day 2 of my Smokies experience consisted of hiking a few trails and camping at Icewater Spring Shelter. It's on the Appalachian Trail, so it was a bucket list experience. I purchased my backpacking permit that morning and parked at Newfound Gap (plenty of safe parking). I found two perfect trees to hang my hammock and I was set for the night. Sunrise was enjoyed thoroughly prior to my departing hike.
July 20th, 2020
It was 106 degrees when I was at Congaree and all of the water dried up. I sadly didn't get to experience the park for what it really is, but I managed to get some unique shots!
- Congaree Swamp National Monument was established in 1976 and the area was later designated a National Park in 2003.
- The park was named after the native Congaree People, who occupied the land prior to European settlement.
- The Harry Hampton Visitor Center has a Mosquito Meter that ranges from “1 – All Clear” to “6 – War Zone”. Be sure to visit during the winter months for lower ratings.
- Visitors can participate in a night owl prowl during spring and fall, which is an opportunity to listen to the resident barred owls.
- In 2016 the park had 143,843 visitors, which is considered relatively low compared to other national parks in the United States.
My Lodging: Zero George Street
Lodging Score: 4.9/5.0
My Dining: Blind Tiger Pub
Charleston was a nice surprise. I always heard mixed reviews, but even during COVID-19 it was lovely. I spend the night at the near perfect Zero George Street. Their daily wine and cheese hour starts at 6pm and is a classic boutique perk. Complimentary bicycles can get you around town. I woke up the next morning and drove to Folly Beach to a spot called the Washout and found some waves to surf. I went back to Zero George to checkout and went back to surf some more after a nice taco lunch. The surf conditions weren't great, but it was still a great time as usual.
July 21st, 2020
My Lodging: Kimpton Brice Hotel
Lodging Score: 3.5/5.0
My Dining: Treylor Park
Savannah was a relatively late arrival and I didn't get to fully enjoy it. The next day was a blast as I got to explore Tybee Island, a lovely barrier island beach town. The best surf spot is on the southern tip of the island, right near all of the warning signs. Be careful, don't go on the sandbar while the tide is rolling in. A few people die each year.
July 22nd, 2020
My Lodging: The Collector Inn
Lodging Score: 5.0/5.0
My Dining: Casa Maya Restaurant
I finally got to see what all the hype is about in St. Augustine. It started with a perfect booking at The Collector Inn. I found it on Hotel Tonight and backed up my decision with research on Trip Advisor. I may have been the only solo guest, but it's a very romantic lodging experience with unique, free-standing units. The city of St. Augustine is inspired by 400+ years of Spanish-Floridian culture. It's the first city in the US founded by European settlers and it's history is clearly maintained. I had an excellent, socially distant meal at Casa Maya where there was live music! Yes, live music during the pandemic. After my meal, I wandered around the quiet town and returned to my room/house.
July 23rd, 2020
My Dining: Rikki Tiki Tavern
Cocoa Beach was a lunch stop and a very hopeful surfing stop. My drive home to Miami took about 3 hours from here.