When we arrived to SLC on Friday’s evening we took a train ($2.5) to the downtown area where our hotel was. Our plan was to drink some local beer on Friday night and then pick up a car on Saturday morning. Rental offices work until 12pm on weekends so we rushed to get a car first thing in the morning. Probably because that rental location is not very busy, instead of a standard car we got this:
Somewhere in Idaho
Then to save some money during our trip we went to Costco to build a stock of food for sandwiches, snacks and water. It was a great thing to do and we always had some quick snacks when we had to drive the whole day and there was nothing around.
Finally, we visited Utah State Capitol and Temple Square and then drove to Jackson, WY.
Utah State Capitol
Salt Lake City Temple Square
We can be wedding photographers too 🙂
Stop 2: Idaho Falls, ID
We made a very quick stop here to rest from driving and take a short walk along the river.
In general, I was nicely surprised with the views of Idaho. Everything around looks very green and well maintained. As an example, some of the views on our way:
Stop 3: somewhere in Wyoming
When we reached Wyoming, we were surprised by the weather. We thought that we packed for the wrong season 🙂
Flight: Orange County, SNA –> Salt Lake City; Denver, DEN –> Orange County, SNA Duration: 10 days Mileage: ~3200 Starting point: Salt Lake City, UT States: UT, ID, WY, MT, ND, SD, NE, KS, CO Budget for 2 people: $1953 ($22.5* flight, $500 car rental, $700 hotels, $300 gas, $330 food, $100 other) Map
Day 0: flight from Orange County, SNA to Salt Lake City, SLC; night walk in the downtown
Day 1: explore Salt Lake City, UT; drive to Jackson, WY via Idaho Falls, ID (300 mi, 5 h)
Day 2: explore Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park; stay in Jackson, WY
Day 3: continue exploring Yellowstone; drive to Hungry Horse, MT (550 mi, 10 h)
Flight: Orange County, SNA –> New York, EWR –> Orange County, SNA Duration: 14 days Mileage: 0, used buses and public transportation Starting point: Irvine, CA States: NY, NJ, PA, MA, Washington DC Budget for 2 people: $3000 ($1316 flight, $176 buses; $275 hotel, $1000 food, $230 other)
Flight: Orange County, SNA –> Seattle, SEA –> Orange County, SNA Duration: 5 days Mileage: ~500 Starting point: Irvine, CA States: WA Budget for 2 people: $1530 ($613 flight, $57 car; $330 hotel, $80 gas, $250 food, $200 other)
Day 0: late flight from the Orange County, SNA to Seattle, SEA; sleep close to the airport to pick up a rental car next morning
Day 1: drive to Olympic National Park, WA; see Port Angeles, Clallam Bay (200 mi, 5 h); stay at Port Angeles
Day 2: continue exploring Olympic National Park, WA; see La Push, Hoh Rainforest and get lost taking a wrong road (400 mi, 8 h)
Day 3: explore Seattle; see Space Needle, Science Center, Chihuly Garden and Glass, Pike Place Market
Day 4: see Waterfront Park, Olympic Sculpture Park, downtown, Gum Wall; take a ferry to Bainbridge Island (35 min)
Day 5: walk to and take pictures from Kerry Park; fly back home
This day we only visited NASA Space Center. If you decide to visit it ask for some guidance at the entrance. You need to reserve tram tickets in advance before they are all given away (they are free). There are also several theaters with scheduled shows. The shows tell you a lot of details and we found them very motivating. But most of all we enjoyed flight simulator ($7 / 4.5 min). Makes you feel in a military aircraft where you are controlling it and firing at the enemies.
This day we drove to Dallas, TX via Oklahoma state. We stopped in Paris city, TX with their local version of Eiffel tower 🙂
Dallas is a huge city which offers a variety of art museums, amusement parks, shops, restaurants, zoo, and aquarium. It is a modern city and a significant business hub. The city is split into several districts. We only explored the most touristic areas – Dallas downtown and uptown in the evening. Klyde Warren Park looked cozy at night with all the lights and Christmas decorations. We walked from the uptown to the Thanksgiving square and back. Uptown is a popular area for going out to the upscale restaurants.
This was December 31st so our plan was to quickly visit Hot Springs National Park, Hot Springs downtown, buy champagne and food and go to our hotel room with a hot tub to enjoy the rest of the day.
I think Hot Springs mostly attracts local people. The park is not so big, you can visit bath houses if you’re into something like this. There are several of them on the main street. There are multiple driving routes in the park, observation tower and hiking trails. But for us this day was more of a relaxation stop after a long trip.
The weather was terrible and Mississippi river was creating a lot of flooding which forced us to cross the river quickly and go to Arkansas. We chose to drive through Missouri state to have an understanding of how it looks like. I think the difference between some states is clearly seen once you cross the border. Missouri was covered in water everywhere and looked like an agricultural area. Arkansas looked a little more organized and orderly.
Our final stop for the day was Little Rock, the capital of AR. Some of the places to see are Big dam bridge, Riverfront Park and State Capitol. If you want some exercises or walk you can try their downtown Arkansas River Trail.
Gatlinburg is a small town located in the mountains close to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is also a popular gateway destination as it offers great views of the mountains, several amusement parks, lots of restaurants and hotels.
The most popular places to view the mountains are the Space Needle and the Sky Lift. However, you can also drive on Gatlinburg Scenic Overlook to get the same nice views for free. This is what we did and were not disappointed.
View from Gatlinburg Scenic Overlook
Stop 2: Great Smoky Mountains, TN
One of the most popular hikes is 4 mi Chimney Tops. It was our original plan to climb to the top of it, but because of crowds and heavy rains a day before we adjusted our plan. We were advised at the visitor center to drive to the Newfound Gap for the views and quick hike. Unfortunately, there were no leaves on the trees nor snow so we missed the most beautiful views.
Nashville is the capital of Tennessee and is often called “Music City”. If you are interested in music and its history you can visit such landmarks as Grand Ole Opry (the oldest radio program in the United States), Ryman Auditorium (hosted the Grand Ole Opry from 1943 to 1974), Country Music Hall of Fame, RCA Studio B or Symphony Center.
If you are mostly interested in getting the feel of the city then go to the downtown. It is an amazing place for an evening walk, lively Broadway, lots of musicians, bars, pubs, people. We were there during the New Year celebration period and were lucky to attend their free concerts. Our final stop was this accidentally found a cool place with great beer and good people – Hops & Crafts Taproom.