End of Summer Road Trip
Last month we hit the road on a mission to visit some of the amazing farmers and ranchers we partner with, like Durham Ranch, which supplies the all-natural bison on our menu. We drove through 9 states in 14 days and shared our entire adventure, day by day, on Instagram stories. In addition to meeting with a handful of vendors, we were on the lookout for awesome roadside attractions, famous greasy spoons and as many national parks as we could find. We’ve taken some time and put together all our travel tips and findings from each leg of the trip. If you haven’t already seen it, Part 1 and 2 of our Lazy Dog road trip story can be found on our Instagram page under the highlights section! (@lazydogrestaurants) And be sure to follow #lazydogwolfpack to see where the road takes us next! Until then, we hope this post provides some cool tidbits and inspiration for your next trip!
Now if there were only two things I could recommend to anyone planning a road trip, the first would be: Leave room for the unexpected. We found so much success by planning the amount of driving we had to do each day, figuring out where we needed to spend the night and then letting the rest be open for spontaneous fun. The second tip: Buy an atlas! We picked up the Rand McNally 2020 Road Atlas at a gas station and never used our phones to map again. Being able to see a whole state in one glance makes it easier to decide which route makes the most sense and how to see everything on your list … and still ultimately get from point A to point B. We had a rule that whoever was in the passenger seat oversaw the map and was in charge of flagging anything that looked interesting or worth a stop.
Because we had so much info to share in one blog post (14 days on the road!), we’ve broken down our the tips and notes by each stretch of our journey, and then the cities we stopped at in between. This way you can skip states or sections that don’t interest you or aren’t a part of your upcoming trip.
Important National Park Note: If you’re visiting multiple national parks, consider getting the annual park card called the America the Beautiful Pass — at 80 bucks a pop, you get a pass that covers entrance fees for all national parks for a year! The pass covers you and all the passengers in your car. Each national park is anywhere between $30 to $50 to enter, so if you plan on going to a couple throughout your trip or in the 12 months that follow, it’s worth it. You can buy one right at the gate when you enter any of the parks.
Costa Mesa, CA > Las Vegas, NV [273 mi]
Baker, CA – The first place we stopped to stretch our legs was Alien Fresh Jerky. Totally weird. Totally worth a stop. Brace yourself for alien novelty galore. We stocked up on beef jerky and should note that Abducted Cow Pineapple Teriyaki and Sweet & Spicy were our favorites.
Las Vegas, NV – We stopped at John Mull’s Road Kill Grill, which was featured in "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.” I get emotional just thinking about this no-frills BBQ joint. It’s tucked in a residential area with a dusty gravel parking lot. When you arrive, you’ll line up and wait to make your way inside—only a dozen people can fit at once, and you order cafeteria-style one by one. When we arrived, the line wrapped around the building—and it was over 100 degrees outside. But don’t worry, it’s worth it. Everything is insane. Whatever you do … make sure you get the Burnt Ends. I repeat … Burnt. Ends.
Las Vegas, NV > Salt Lake City, UT [420 mi]
Springdale, UT – Home to Zion National Park, Springdale is located in the southwestern corner of the state and about 3 hours from Las Vegas. Nearby are Bryce Canyon National Park, Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. You could plan a whole trip just exploring this insanely breathtaking region. If you have time, stay in the park at Zion Lodge. When you do, you get to experience the park all to yourself in the morning and evening before and after the day visitors. Reservations for the Lodge can be made up to 13 months in advance, and it books up quickly! On the first of each month, the calendar opens for that whole month in the following year. There are also three campgrounds in the park. These also book up fast.
Provo, UT – We stretched our legs at Bridal Veil Falls. You can see the waterfall right from the highway turnout—no major hike involved—but there are trails if you want to get your climb on. It’s another good spot to stretch your legs if you are driving through Provo. But keep an eye out as you approach—it comes out of nowhere and the signage is not very good!
Salt Lake City, UT > Jackson Hole, WY [284 mi]
Salt Lake City, UT – Grab a quick bite to eat at Tacos Don Rafa (claim to fame: first taco cart in SLC) It’s located at the edge of the Sears parking lot in downtown, and you will find the most epic $4 burrito. Their salsa bar also deserves a shout-out at this heavenly little taco stand.
Afton, WY – Afton is a darling little Western town (claim to fame: home of the World’s Largest Elk Antler Arch). You can’t miss it: It spans 75 feet across the four lanes of Highway 89 that take you down the main street. The arch consists of just over 3,000 elk antlers and weighs 15 tons!
Alpine, WY – The next major town on the road to Jackson Hole is home to the Melvin Brewing Taproom and HQ. Stop by for lunch and a game of cornhole. You can sip on an ice cold one and see the magic that is Melvin, brewing right in front of your eyes!
Jackson Hole, WY > Gillette, WY [771 mi]
Jackson Hole, WY – There are too many things we love about JH to list! Be sure to spend one night at the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar to enjoy live local music, stiff drinks and the most epic barstool and taxidermy collection of all time. Our favorite meal together in town was at the darling Persephone Bakery. Go, sit on the patio and order everything. This place is heaven on earth. I have dreams about their Quiche Lorraine and Bread Pudding French Toast! Also—homemade pop tarts and rice crispy treats, anyone?
Moose, WY – We decided to drive through Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park in one day. The Grand Teton is not very large, and we were able to cross by car in 1 hour. Beware of the potholes and unpaved sections of road. The price is $30 per car and allows access to the park for 7 consecutive days. See note above on park pass.
Yellowstone National Park, WY – There’s a lot to see and do here. Most people we asked recommended at least two days to see it all. We didn’t have that much time, but we spent a day driving through. It was totally worth it. A weeklong pass to the park is $25 per vehicle. There are no single-day options, but all national parks offer free entry a few days each year, which you can look up. There’s no Wi-Fi or cellular service anywhere in the park; when people hand you maps, keep them because you will need them.
We saw so many animals driving through Yellowstone National Park: bison, elk, deer, antelope, birds …we even saw a mama bear and her cubs right off the road! But the animals are the least of it. Geologically, the Yellowstone region is in a class of its own. There are these insane steaming thermal pools, bubbling hot mud pots and oh yeah, more than half of the world’s geysers. So. Rad.
Cody, WY – Claim to fame: self-proclaimed “Rodeo Capital of the World.” As you leave Yellowstone and head east, you pass through Cody, named after William Frederick “Buffalo Bill” Cody, the famous American scout, bison hunter and showman. Cody has a super cute main street area filled with little shops, bars and restaurants, lots of neon lights and Western storefronts. We saw the whole town walking to the rodeo around dinnertime. Note: It’s the last real town you will see for a LONG TIME if you’re headed across the state to Gillette.
Gillette/Wright, WY – There is something so magical about Wyoming sunsets and skies! This portion of our drive was where we experienced the BEST night sky of the whole trip.
Gillette, WY > Rapid City, SD [141 mi]
Wright, WY – We had the pleasure of enjoying one morning at Bloomings Bakery, Cafe and Florist. It’s not only the best breakfast in Wright, it’s pretty much the only breakfast! The egg burrito was the size of my arm and covered in this delish green salsa. When we arrived, we saw our waitress frosting hot cinnamon rolls right out of the oven. For lunch in Wright, we sat outside a stationary food truck called Food Riot. This tiny operation is run by two sisters and their mother. It’s one of three places to eat in town. If you go, order the Monster Burger and extra napkins!
Sturgis, SD – We happened to be in town for the 79th Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. It is the largest motorcycle rally in the world and is held annually for 10 days during the first week of August. I have never seen anything like it. It’s an insane display of motorcycle culture, history and enthusiasm. Such a fun crowd of people too, some of the kindest and most interesting people we met the whole trip were bikers in town for the rally.
Rapid City, SD > Greeley, CO [335 mi]
Belle Fourche, SD – While the actual Center of the Nation is located on private property, the rancher allows visitors to come see it. Here’s how to find it: Drive 13 miles north on Highway 85 from the intersection of highways 85 and 212 and then turn left onto Old Highway 85 (look for a small blue sign with white lettering). Next, drive 7.8 miles until you see a barn on the left. On your righthand side, you’ll see a small hand-painted sign telling you that you’ve reached the Center of the Nation. Just ahead, across a large pasture, you can see a pole in the ground and a U.S. flag flying. You can park and climb through the barbed wire fence to make the short walk out there. At the flag you will see the official survey marker. Kansas is the center of the 48 conterminous states, but in 1959 when Alaska and Hawaii joined the union, the center of the nation was officially moved from Kansas to South Dakota.
Rapid City, SD – Rapid City may be the second largest city in SD, but it has major small-town charm. The city is filled with little shops and restaurants—a super fun area to explore and walk on foot. They boast the nickname City of Presidents because there is a life-size bronze statue of each American president on every street corner downtown. Dallerie Davis, co-founder of the project and local artist liaison for the city, spent the morning with us at a coffee shop called Harriet and Oak. She explained her love for SD and helped us map out our day trip to Mount Rushmore National Memorial, Black Hills National Forest and Custer State Park. (All of which are incredible and completely worth making time for!)
Badlands National Park - I was not prepared for the beauty that is Badlands. Everyone needs to go and see this place. There is something so prehistoric and awe-inspiring. The best part? This is an excellent driving park, by which I mean you can see much of what there is to see from the road with very little walking. The park is basically one big loop (which refers to Highway 240, the main road through the park). Both park entry/exit booths connect back to Interstate 90. On the west side of the loop at exit 110 is the town of Wall. Ever heard of Wall Drug? Make sure you stop there to stretch your legs if you’re a fan of kitschy souvenirs housed in an awesome cowboy-themed department store. Photo on giant jackalope optional.
Hawk Springs, WY - As we drove south toward Colorado, there were a bunch of tiny farm towns. Highway 85 takes you back across the border into WY for a little bit before you make it to CO. If you are traveling on a Sunday, keep in mind that not many places will not be open for business. We stopped in the little town of Hawk Springs where there are two awesome burger joints. One is called The Emporium and the other is Longbranch Steakhouse & Saloon. Each is an intimate roadside structure with a small bar and probably 10 tables inside. Trace was the one-man show working the floor and bar when we walked in to Longbranch. He told us he used to work with the guy who owns The Emporium just a stone’s throw down the road. It should also be noted that if you are headed to the nearby lake, The Emporium sells firewood, beer to-go and live bait—spend $10 and get a free bag of ice thrown in.
Cheyenne, WY – Right before you cross the border into Colorado, you will pass through the capital of Wyoming, also known as America's rodeo and railroad capital. Cheyenne was once nicknamed “The Magic City of the Plains” because it grew so fast after becoming the supply depot for the Union Pacific railroad. Near the depot, in Holliday Park, look for the Big Boy Steam Engine, the world's largest coal-fired locomotive and one of only eight left in existence.
Greeley, CO > Santa Fe, NM [473 mi]
Greeley, CO – Located just 50 miles north of Denver, CO, and 25 miles east of the Rocky Mountains, Greeley is considered the high plains region of northern CO. We arrived late and found few places open to grab a beer, one of them being High Brau Taphouse. They had 30 rotating taps of local beer, and the bartender/owner was extremely knowledgeable and friendly. We pulled out our atlas and along with a couple of locals sitting at the bar, proceeded to map out the remainder of our journey through Colorado. We decided to take Route 285 south from Denver through Pike National Forest, which was longer but more scenic. It’s northwest of Pike’s Peak, the mountaintop where the song “America the Beautiful” was written by Katharine Lee Bates in 1892. (The song was originally a poem she wrote called “Pikes Peak.”)
Mosca, CO – Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve is located out in the middle of nowhere and feels like a dream. Imagine you are driving through Colorado’s stunning farmland, snowcapped mountains and green valleys, and then seemingly out of nowhere, comes the Sahara. From afar, this park is so bold and beautiful that it feels like you are driving toward a painting. It's surreal, to say the least. Bizarre as it may be, this park and preserve is real and is a totally phenomenal place to visit. It will take about two hours to hike from the base to the High Dune, but you don’t have to hike these 300- to 700-foot dunes to experience their magic. The park is basically one giant sandbox for people to play in. You can even rent a sandboard and ride the dunes. Something we wish had prepared for but are glad we know for next time. Hike up. Shred down.
Antonito, CO – Right before you cross the border into New Mexico, there is a little red and white building on the left side of Main Street in this little railroad town. It’s called G6 Burger. There is no real sign—just look for the small “G6” on the side door. This place is a total gem, owned and operated by the same family for three generations. Get the Paul’s Special and save room for a chocolate-dipped soft serve cone.
Santa Fe, NM > Flagstaff, AZ [383 mi]
Santa Fe, NM – I’m not sure why, but the moon is just bigger and brighter in Santa Fe. There is something really special about this area of the United States, and two days was not enough time to see all of the things we wanted to see. That said, there are a handful of things we loved and would recommend to anyone going through town. We stayed at El Rey Court, which was cool and affordable. They have a little bar called La Reina connected to the lobby that makes a killer mezcal cocktail, too. On your way downtown, stop by Modern General Feed and Seed for delish food and smoothies, in addition to gardening supplies, spices, teas, books … all sorts of very beautiful and carefully curated provisions. I only wish they had more goods that were sourced locally. We also found a handful of small shops that work with the local tribes like KESHi, a co-op for arts, pottery and jewelry crafted by the Zuni people. The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum is within walking distance from the co-op. One of the best meals we had the whole road trip was at Café Pasqual’s also located near downtown. This place is small and quaint with incredible service and food. I have dreams about their chile relleno and green salsa.
Flagstaff, AZ > Joshua Tree, CA [391 mi]
Grand Canyon, AZ – This year was the Grand Canyon National Park’s big centennial. Located in northern AZ, just an hour or so north of Flagstaff, it encompasses 277 miles of the Colorado River and is one of the most amazing examples of erosion anywhere in the world. We drove all night to make it there before sunrise after reading that the South Rim was open 24 hours a day. We crossed our fingers a campsite would be available—something that I do not recommend. No surprise, both campsites were booked up, but we were fully prepared to sleep a night in the van. We slept for a few hours and headed to the Rim at 5am. We had the whole place to ourselves for over an hour before the first bus of tourists arrived. I highly recommend staying in a motel or at a campsite in the park so that you can take advantage of this perk. It was a real highlight of the trip for us.
Joshua Tree, CA > Costa Mesa, CA [119 mi]
We never made it Joshua Tree National Park. Long story short, our trusty ’95 Ford Sportsmobile broke down off Route 66 just outside of Kingman, AZ. We ended up getting a tow and hanging out at body shop for longer then we’d hoped. So we added this one back on our wish list for the future.
Last pro tip for anyone heading out on a road trip … don’t leave home without your AAA card!
Words + Photography: Rebecca Simms