USA Road Trip Diaries

This post is an amalgamation of our daily trip reports from our two-week USA road trip from Portland, Oregon to Yellowstone National Park. It was an epic trip that we nearly did not do, initially thinking we should wait until our son was older. How glad were we that we didn’t wait! Here’s our diaries journaling our trip from Portugal to London, on to America and back again, and everything in between. Our USA road trip diaries.

Day 1

After a thoroughly enjoyable family day in London, I woke up at 7.10am and got myself quietly washed and dressed. The boys woke at 7.45am and while they got themselves airplane ready, I packed away our clothes and the few little souvenirs we’d bought in London. We checked out and got the airport shuttle bus across to Terminal 3. The bus only cost us £4.50 each, with our son going free, plus they are very regular.

We checked in for our flight to Portland by 9am, and quickly got rid of our bags before heading through security. This was pretty quick too, which surprised me and we were sat in the Oriel Grande Brasserie, ordering breakfast by 9.30am.

A picture of a bistro cafe at Heathrow Airport

This was a lovely restaurant where kids ate free and we all tucked into tasty breakfasts. Our flight wasn’t due to board until 11.30 so we got Water and snacks in Boots, and some extras and a magazine in WHSmith. We then hit Dixons as my hubby wanted to upgrade his headphones to the Bose Q25’s and I was on the hunt for a zoom lens to bring with us. I had ordered a Canon 70-300mm lens for my DSLR but it hadn’t arrived to us in Portugal before we left. Snail mail at its best! There was a Tamron 16-300mm Canon-compatible lens in Dixons so I bought that, hoping it would work out for shooting wildlife in Yellowstone. We also got some flight pillows for my husband and I in the hope they would allow us to get some sleep on the plane.

The kids play area with our son was next on the agenda, the idea being he could run off some energy before our 11-hour flight. This was to be our longest flight with him to date and I must admit I was a little nervous. We had flown for 7 hours to New York last September, and he had done very well then. He had about 15 minutes in there before the gate for our flight was announced. A last-minute toilet stop and we were ready to board our flight.

Although we had booked our flights via Virgin Atlantic, we were then able upgrade to Economy Plus seats direct with Delta and at the time they were not overly expensive. Our flight took off on time at 12.30pm and we were finally bound for Portland, almost 11 months after first booking our flights.

Within 30 minutes of take-off, our son announced he needed the toilet, again! The seat belt sign was still illuminated and we started to panic, thinking surely the pilot is going to switch it off at any moment. In the end we had to buzz a stewardess who very kindly said we could leave our seats, in her words “you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do for your young man, so no problem at all”. She was so lovely and I’m gutted I didn’t make a note of her name. She came across as very caring American mom. Moments after the boys returned from the toilet the light went off. Typical.

We had lunch at 2pm which was quite nice. Our son ate well and I was hoping he’d nap. No such luck. My entertainment touchscreen wasn’t working properly so by 3pm I gave up. I read, wrote blog notes and napped instead.

After a nice flight that was pretty uneventful we arrived in Portland at 2.30pm local time, almost an hour ahead of schedule. We cleared customs and immigration by 3pm and headed to Hertz to collect our car. The first Ford Expedition we were given had a flat tyre! Thankfully there was another in the parking lot and we loaded up our gear and set off bound for Richland, Washington, at 4.30pm.

We headed onto I-84 and passed Mount Hood and signs for Multnomah Falls. This was on our agenda for our return trip to Portland. Our mission was to get to Richland and into bed ready for a mammoth drive the next day.

A picture of the I-84 sign with Mount Hood in the background

Our son fell asleep soon after we left Portland and I kept him as comfortable as possible by sitting beside him and supporting his head. We arrived in Richland at 7pm and checked into our hotel, the TownPlace Suites by Marriott.

We put our son into bed and I was close behind him, shattered from a long day. My husband was hungry so went and got food before being in bed himself by 9pm.

Our son woke just after 3am but I managed to keep him quiet until 5am when we were all awake. Thanks jet lag! We got dressed and packed up, ready to hit the road to Yellowstone!

Day 2

Thanks to jetlag we were all awake by 5am so, after packing up and getting dressed, we were on the road by 6am. It felt very like the morning we left Santander bound for Portugal. We drove for about an hour before stopping to fill the car in a town called Ritzville.

It was here we discovered that the Americans have switched the colour code on the fuel nozzles! My husband couldn’t understand why the black nozzle wasn’t working. He had prepaid in the garage, as seems to be the norm in America, and nothing was coming out of the nozzle. It also wasn’t marked as gasoline or diesel. Then for some reason he thought he’d try the green nozzle, normally for petrol in Europe. Lo and behold, fuel started coming out of it. I panicked then, thinking he was filling the car with the wrong fuel. But nope, the nozzle colours are the opposite way in America! So, you’ve all been warned.

A picture of the sunrise in Washington state from a car window

Across the highway we spotted a diner so headed across in the hope they were open for breakfast. The Ritz Roadhouse Diner was your very typical America Diner and we were quietly chuffed as it was exactly what we had hoped for. Breakfast was good, but with huge portions as you can expect, and was reasonably priced. I drove the car from here for about 150 miles. This day was going to be all about sharing the driving as we had 606 miles to cover.

We drove passed a place called Coeur d’Alene, and the most amazing looking lake. I couldn’t sight see as much as I wanted, being behind the wheel, but the lake and its surrounding hills and roads was just stunning. The roads we were on were exactly what we had imagined and hoped for on our USA road trip. My husband and I were like two Cheshire cats with massive grins on our faces. So far so good for our holiday of a lifetime. Our son just quietly took it all in.

Our next stop for a toilet break was the 50000 Silver Dollar rest stop, just inside Montana State. This shop, bar, restaurant, casino and gas station was started in 1952 and is a sight to see. We bought a Montana fridge magnet for our travel collection, and our son got a car, another one to add to his ever-growing collection. After using the restrooms, we headed East again with my husband behind the wheel.

Missoula was our next stop for lunch. This town is located right beside Lolo, which was going to be our in-between stop on our return trip from Yellowstone. My husband had spotted a Five Guys sign on the junction sign and decided we were having burgers for lunch. That is one thing I loved about America highways. Although the UK has started to do the same, the Americans highlight the services, hotels and cafes/restaurants on their highway signs before each junction so you know before coming to it what is available off each junction.

My husband had been hankering after a Five Guys burger for ages but we’d never had the chance before, so he wasn’t going to miss the opportunity. We stopped and each tucked into tasty burgers and large portions of fries. We agreed we needed to re-evaluate our orders to take into account the size of American portions from here on in.

With 260 miles to go, my husband drove some more until we stopped just as we pulled off I-90 to fill up. I took over the driving from here and this was the first time we saw signs for Yellowstone National Park. The excitement was building and we knew we were getting close to our destination.

A sign for Yellowstone with 128 miles to go

Not long after leaving the gas station, we had to stop on the road to let a herd of cows pass us. I kid you not. We had seen a girl stopped on the side of the road waving a flag but didn’t think she was the warning sign until we turned a corner to come up against a wall of cows. Our son was a bit perplexed at the cows roaming by the car.

We finally arrived at our AirBnB log cabin in the woods in Island Park at 7pm. Our son had fallen asleep so we lay him on the couch while we unpacked our car. We got him into his pj’s and into bed before sitting down with a cuppa. We were both wrecked after a long day of driving, 12 hours in total (we lost an hour crossing a time zone from Washington into Montana) and were in bed ourselves at 8.30pm.

Our son woke at 2.30am, jetlag catching up with him, and he rolled beside me until he finally nodded off somewhere nearer to 5am. He didn’t sleep long as he was awake again at 7am.

Day 3

My husband kindly let me sleep in a bit later and I eventually arose at 8.20am. We were all pretty knackered after our 606 miles over 12 hours and we decided to take the day handy and just see what it brought. The boys had had cereal so I did us all some toast to have with a cuppa.

After breakfast I made use of the washer in our log cabin, very grateful there was one there. It meant I could catch up on a few days’ clothes. I certainly hadn’t packed a full two and a half weeks clothes for each of us, so having laundry facilities was brilliant. We left the cabin at 9.15 am and headed to West Yellowstone for groceries as there was only a gas station with a small shop near us. We found the store easy enough, parked up and firstly took a stroll around West Yellowstone.

A picture of a building in West Yellowstone with a windmill on its roof

Although a modern town, it still had remnants of older days and still had the look of a Wild West town. It is located almost 7000 feet above sea level and lies almost exactly halfway between the Equator and the North Pole. Although summers are warm, averaging around 26C (78F), winters are long and bitterly cold with snow on the ground from late October to mid-May. The west gate of Yellowstone National Park and roads to the Madison junction within the park close for this period with no access to the entire southern half of Yellowstone.

The first thing we did was pick up some souvenirs. I got a lovely hoodie jumper and fridge magnet. We also picked up some Christmas decorations, although we had to buy two of one of them as our son managed to break one within a minute of us letting him hold it!

We then stopped into a diner, the Old Town Café, and shared their flapjack special of pancakes with apples and cinnamon. It was delicious washed down with a cup of tea. And one portion was more than enough for us three to share.

We got some groceries and then headed to the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Centre. This is a small, non-profit organisation that houses wolves and bears, who for one reason or another, cannot be released back into the wild.

The sign for the Grizzly and Wold Discovery Centre, one of the top things to do in West Yellowstone
The Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Centre is one of the best things to do in West Yellowstone, outside of the park.

We saw four wolves and one grizzly bear, who was just magnificent. They rotate the bears in the large enclosure so you can see more if you stay longer or visit again. The great thing about your tickets here are they are valid for two consecutive days.

It was about 1pm when we left the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Centre and we decided to take a drive into Yellowstone National Park. A 7-day pass costs just $30 per car. We drove along the River Drive road from West Yellowstone, seeing two elk along the road, to the Madison junction and decided to turn right and take the road towards the geysers. The drive along the Firehole River was just stunning and we couldn’t believe we were actually in Yellowstone National Park!

A picture of a curve in the Firehole River in Yellowstone

Our first stop was the Lower Geyser Basin. Here we saw the Fountain Paint Pot and Great Fountain Geyser, the Clepsydra Geyser, the Silex Spring and some Fumaroles. This was our first experience of the Yellowstone Geysers and we were very lucky. The Clepsydra was spouting water, as it is a near constant erupting geyser. We were just walking away, along the boardwalks, when we heard some shouts behind us. Great Fountain Geyser had just started erupting and it was an amazing sight to see. We rushed back to grab some pictures. A Yellowstone Ranger was quite excited as he thought it might be the Morning Glory Geyser, but it wasn’t. The eruptions from that geyser are very few and far between and very unpredictable. The rangers call in any they witness as the park is collecting data to see if there is any pattern to its eruptions.

The Lower Geyser Basin is one of the top places to visit in Yellowstone with its vivid blue springs and fountain pots
Lower Geyser Basin of Yellowstone

We were simply in awe of these natural wonders. They show Earth in its most raw form. The smell of sulphur is quite strong and unmistakable.

From the Lower Geyser Basin we drove south, passing the Midway Geyser Basin, and headed for the Upper Geyser Basin and the most famous one of all, Old Faithful. As we entered the car park of the Old Faithful area, we saw the very end of its eruption. We managed to find parking (no mean feat at 3pm) and decided to get something to eat in the Old Faithful Lodge as we had between 60 and 90 minutes before the next eruption was due.

Unfortunately, the food was mediocre at best and cost us $37 for the three of us. It was also cold, not hot, and eaten out of necessity. We made a mental note to bring a picnic with us the next day.

At 3.55pm, I took our son over to the seating area and found us some good seats. My husband was browsing the shops in the Lodge and I hoped he wouldn’t miss the eruption.

Just after 4.30pm, it was showtime. Old Faithful teases you with bubbles and steam before the main event. The main eruption lasts for between 1.5 and 5 minutes. The length of its eruption predicts the next one. If it lasts for less than 4 minutes, the next eruption will occur between 40 and 60 minutes later. 4 minutes or longer, and the next eruption will occur between 75 and 100 minutes later. Although it is an amazing sight to see, we came away feeling a bit like we did when we saw the Mona Lisa or the Sistine Chapel. A bit meh. It’s amazing to see and we’re lucky to have seen this wonder of nature but both my husband and I felt the Great Fountain Geyser we had seen was much better and more ferocious than Old Faithful. Still, it was one thing ticked off our bucket list.

Olf Faithful Geyser in Yellowstone - A must-see in Yellowstone with kids
Old Faithful Geyser

Before we left the Old Faithful area, we popped over to the Snow Lodge gift shop as they had been holding a hoodie for my husband. I got one too and we picked up yet another fridge magnet.

We decided to head for home as it was after 5 and we had at least a thirty-minute drive from West Yellowstone itself. We did get to see our first bison on the drive from Madison to the West Yellowstone gate. Our son also enjoyed the drive out of the park as we were escorted by some Harley Davidson motorbikes.

We stopped at the grocery store in West Yellowstone again to get some fresh supplies we had decided not to get earlier in the day, such as meat, eggs and milk. As we’d had a big meal at 3pm, we decided just to have snacks at home. Our son didn’t nap at all, which I was surprised about and kept going until we put him to bed at 8pm. My husband and I had a cuppa with some donuts before turning in ourselves. What a first day in Yellowstone!

Day 4

Although he cried out a few times during the night, our son slept until 7am. We all got better sleep than the night before and felt we might just be over our jetlag. My husband kindly cooked us bacon and eggs for breakfast while our son and I watched a chipmunk on our cabin porch.

The cabin had large windows at one end that led onto the porch and these windows made it very easy to watch any wildlife that was out and about early morning. Our son thought it might have been Mouse from the Gruffalo as he believed we were staying in the “deep, dark woods”. After breakfast we got dressed and were out the door by 8am, headed for West Yellowstone, this time with a picnic on board.

A picture of steam at the Midway Geyser Basin at Yellowstone

Our first destination within Yellowstone was the Midway Geyser Basin, home to the Grand Prismatic Spring, the largest hot spring in Yellowstone and the most recognisable from above. We arrived at 9am, and it was quite misty at the spring. It was also cool but this didn’t detract from the beauty of the Grand Prismatic Spring. We had passed the Midway Geyser Basin the afternoon before, and there was no parking in the car park, and a lot of cars were parked along the roadside. But, as we had arrived early, there was plenty. The trick seems to be get there early in the morning, a piece of advice given in the Park paper which acts as an information and guidebook of sorts.

Grand Prismatic Spring is one of the best things to see in Yellowstone with young kids, just keep hold of them on the boardwalks
Grand Prismatic Spring

At the Midway Geyser Basin, you can also view the Excelsior Geyser which pours over 15,000L of water into Firehole River every minute.

From here we headed on South along the Grand Loop Road and West Thumb via the Craig Pass. Through here you pass across the Continental Divide twice but we didn’t stop for pictures as we had passed the two signs before we realised what they were.

From West Thumb we followed the edge of Yellowstone Lake, the largest body of water in Yellowstone National Park. Lying over 7000 feet above sea level, Yellowstone Lake covers 136 square miles and during winter, it is covered with a 3-foot layer of ice that can remain until late May. It is a beautiful lake and we decided to stop at Lake Lodge for a cuppa and a cake to enjoy the view of it.

Two cakes, a coffee, a tea and two packets of crisps cost us $14. While the lodge and view are lovely, the canteen and food were not. The cakes were dry and the canteen was in need of some serious updating. We were also saddened to see the same poor-quality food on offer for lunch as we had experienced the previous day.

After our pit-stop, we carried onto the Fishing Bridge, a very beautiful spot on the Yellowstone River. We went down to the water’s edge and our son had a great time throwing stones into the water as you do when you are three.

A picture of a boy about to throw a stone into the Yellowstone River at the Fishing Bridge

From the Fishing Bridge, we carried on the great Loop Drive stopping off at the Mud Volcano area where the clouds rolled in and we even had a little bit of rain. It didn’t stop us seeing the Dragon Cave and Dragon Cauldron. Our son was fascinated by the steam coming out of the Dragon Cave, firmly believing a dragon lived inside. He wanted it to come out!

Once again, the smell of sulphur around this area was quite strong. That was one thing we noticed. Whenever you are entering a volcanic-type area, the smell hits you before you can see it. In areas where springs and geysers are not prevalent, there is no smell.

A young boy looking at Sour Lake in Yellowstone

We continued our drive along the Yellowstone River and it was along here that we finally spotted a small herd of bison. Joining everyone else, we pulled in and got some pictures with the herd in the background. Our son’s fascination with bison really started with this herd.

A picture of a mum and boy looking at bison across the river in Yellowstone

Our next destination was Canyon Village and it was just as we arrived that our son fell asleep in the car for the first time since our trip from Richland. My husband and I tag-teamed to see the Brink of the Upper Falls. This is one of two waterfalls along the Yellowstone River and you could only view the top of it from the Brink Lookout. The Yellowstone River itself is quite beautiful and its power is ferocious around the falls.

The viewpoint of the Upper Falls was closed due to construction work, which was a shame. Still, it was amazing to see the top of these falls. The noise was incredible with the force of nature certainly at play. By the time we’d both seen the top of the Upper Falls, Sleeping Beauty had awoken from his slumber, so we had our picnic in the car. We carried on along Canyon Drive and although we didn’t stop, I scouted out the lookout point for the Lower Falls, and my husband scouted the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, both now firmly on our to-do list for the next day. Our plan was to get there early in the morning to avoid the crowds and to get a decent parking spot.

We eventually left the Canyon Village area at 4pm and decided to head out of the park. We had completed the Grand Loop Road of Yellowstone and ticked off another of our Yellowstone Bucket List points.

We arrived at West Yellowstone at 5pm and our son and I made a return visit to the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Centre, using our ticket from the day before for our visit, while my husband went to shoot some guns.

A boy peering through a fence at a wolf

Once my husband had completed his assault course (only kidding) we got some more groceries and head for home, thrilled with a fab day in Yellowstone. I cooked us a spaghetti bolognese while the boys had their shower.

After dinner we all relaxed and our son discovered the delights of Tom and Jerry, or Tommy and Jerry as he’s taken to calling them. Then it was early to bed for an early start to the waterfalls.

Day 5

Not quite over his jetlag, our son was awake from 5am. So, at 6am, we got up. We had breakfast, packed a picnic and were ready to jump into the car by 6.40am, record time. As we were pulling away from our cabin we noticed a mama moose and her calf in the neighbour’s garden. We couldn’t believe our luck. Our AirBnB hosts had mentioned we might see some wildlife but we never imagined we’d see a moose and her calf so close.

We filled up with gas in West Yellowstone to ensure we had plenty in the tank for the day. We were in the park by 7.30am and on our way to check out not one, but two waterfalls. First up was Gibbon Falls. We had spotted this on the drive out of the park the day before and knew we had to return. There was lots of spaces in the car park and we jumped out and headed for the lookout point. However, our son had a nasty fall off a rock on the way down and he was in a bad mood for our family selfie!

A picture of Gibbon Falls in Yellowstone National bathed in golden light just after dawn
Gibbon Falls

Gibbon Falls themselves are very beautiful and we picked the perfect time to visit them, just after sunrise. The light on the falls was just magical and no picture can do it justice. From there, we headed towards Canyon Village, spotting more bison along the way. I needed the toilet and we had to drive around a second time as the only toilets on Canyon Drive are at the Brink of the Upper Falls, something to remember!

Our son had actually fallen asleep by the time we parked up so I went first to see the Lower Falls via the Red Rock Trail. This is a very beautiful but steep trail down the side of the cliff that leads you to the lookout point. You pass some brooks and it is shaded in parts and was just lovely at that time of the morning. I passed only about three or four people as I made my way down.

And what a sight you are greeted with. The Lower Falls are just stunning and this was certainly the best place to view them from. I was so glad I went down, after debating with myself whether I would or not.

The Lower Falls of Yellowstone cascading over the mouth of the river
Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River

However, what goes down must come back up again and the return trip was a slog. What took me only a few minutes to get down took me almost 15 minutes back up with a few stops to catch my breath. I was in good company with another couple who found the trek back up as hard going as I did. I was thankful my husband had suggested I take a bottle of water with me.

Once I was up, I had to convince my husband to go down as I knew it was highly unlikely we’d be back during this trip. Off he went, completing the return trip in only 8 minutes! He was glad I had talked him around as it’s one of the most beautiful sights either of us have ever seen. We were also secretly glad our son slept through it all as it wasn’t the sort of trail we would want to do with a pre-schooler. Despite our opinions, it didn’t stop other parents with young children taking them down the Red Rock Trail. I take my hat off to those who have completed it with young kids in tow. Our son can return at a later date to see the Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River.

Satisfied we had seen the waterfalls we set out to see, we headed towards Tower Falls with me in the driving seat, I could now officially say I had driven in Yellowstone National Park. But before leaving Canyon, we stopped briefly to capture some pictures of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. Yes, they have one too.

A picture through some trees of the Yellowstone River snaking through the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

We didn’t stop at Tower Falls and instead carried on to Roosevelt Lodge in the Northern half of Yellowstone. We had a cuppa and some cookies with our son who was quite refreshed after his nap. It was lovely to sit out in the sunshine outside the General Stores.

From Roosevelt Lodge we continued west to Mammoth Hot Springs, an area that had been recommended to us. We found some picnic benches and enjoyed our lunch outside. Our son enjoyed himself running around on the grass where the benches were located and picking Jinny Joes from the grass (that’s dandelion flowers). I think he just needed to stretch his legs. After our lunch we had a wander through the Albright Visitors Centre which has a lovely display of the history of Yellowstone and the rangers. It was really well done and very interesting.

We also took a stroll around Mammoth, the town where the rangers reside. The road that leads from Mammoth to Roosevelt is the only one to remain open all year round. Ever other road in Yellowstone closes, typically from October or November to May due to snow.

Mammoth town is really lovely and made for a good spot for a picnic. We decided not to stop and walk around Mammoth Hot Springs themselves. Instead, we headed for West Yellowstone and home. The return journey to West Yellowstone took over an hour due to road works taking place between Mammoth and Norris. Warnings were clear in the paper we had received on our first entry into the park but we didn’t envisage such a delay because of them.

Between Norris and the Madison junction we spotted more bison and a coyote, although the couple who stopped alongside us were convinced it was a young wolf. It wasn’t! Arriving at West Yellowstone after 3pm, we stopped at a bookstore café, the Book Peddler, we had spotted on our first day and had a cuppa and some cake. I can’t for the life of me remember what we had but I do remember the cakes were really good.

A picture of a bison in Yellowstone

We had a stroll around West Yellowstone and stocked up on a few more groceries before having a meal in Pete’s Pizza Parlour. My husband and I shared a pizza while our son thoroughly enjoyed spaghetti Bolognese. We were home before 5.30 and treated our son to his first ever campfire.

He and my husband built it and got it going, ready to make S’mores with the kit our hostess had left for us. Not only was he thrilled with the fire but our son also rather enjoyed his S’more.

A young boy watching the flames of a camp fire

We adults did too, albeit with a cup of tea. After a bit of TV, we were all tucked up in bed by 8pm, ready for our last full day at Yellowstone.

Day 6

We were all awake by 7am. My husband kindly cooked breakfast for everyone and after we headed to West Yellowstone. We had to piggy back free WiFi in West Yellowstone to sort something out, and as soon as that was done, we headed into the park, bound for the Lower Geyser Basin and the Snow Lodge gift shop beside Old Faithful. My husband really wanted something he’d seen a few days earlier. Once we’d picked up our souvenirs, we headed east, destination Roosevelt.

We stopped at the sign for the Continental Divide as my husband wanted a picture beside it. One day he plans to ride most of the Continental Divide. One of our favourite YouTube bikers has, Alex Parillo. We took our time driving to Roosevelt and passed a few more smaller herbs of bison near the same spot we saw them two days earlier.

We had our lunch picnic at Roosevelt Lodge with a cuppa before heading out along the Lamar Valley. It is this valley I remember well from the BBC Yellowstone series that piqued our interest. We didn’t see any wolves, which my husband was hoping for. I think you really need to be there before first light to stand any chance of seeing wolves.

A little boy spotting bison through binoculars in Yellowstone

That said, we saw the real herd of bison along the Lamar Valley. We even had to stop the car at one point while about twenty of them decided to cross the road. Our son was delighted and got his ‘noclars’ out, although you didn’t need them as the bison were so close. We even saw two young males squaring up to each other but their fight lasted only a few seconds.

And would you believe it, we got rain while driving along the Lamar Valley. There were quite a few big splodges in there. I commented to my husband the snow mustn’t be too far off. Little did I know. We returned to Roosevelt Lodge for 3.30pm, in time for us to join the Old West Dinner Cookout. During my research into things to do with young children in and around Yellowstone, someone suggested this dinner experience and we thought it would be a good way to end our visit to Yellowstone.

The Old West Dinner Cookout involves either a wagon or horse ride out to the cookout area, where you are greeted by real cowboys and are treated to a traditional cookout and western music.

We left Roosevelt just before four in wagon number 5 with the main man, Joel, leading our horses to the Cookout. We had a real cowgirl in our wagon too, Kimberly, and my gosh she was inspiring. A lady, probably in her 50’s, she had raised her kids and decided, when they left home in Ohio, to become a cowgirl. And she spent the next 6 years making her way towards Yellowstone while learning the ropes, if you’ll pardon the pun.

We arrived at the Cookout and found a seat before the bell went for dinner, round one. Yes, you get the chance to have seconds if you have room. And I can categorically say the steak was amazing. During dinner Joel and another musician played country and western songs and my husband got one dedicated to his Dad, who is a big fan. After dinner, the cowboys told stories around the camp fire and it was just brilliant.

Meeting the wagon horses from the Old West Dinner Cookout - One of the best things to do in Yellowstone with kids
Meeting our wagon horses after the Old West Dinner Cookout

What an experience. The setting was beautiful and thankfully the rain we’d seen earlier had stopped and stayed away. And we were told by Kimberly that they were expecting their first snow fall within the next week, hence my comment earlier about little did I know! Snow in early September! The food was great, the atmosphere was lively and it was a real treat to end our visit to Yellowstone on the Old West Cookout. If you EVER get the chance to go to Yellowstone, you MUST do this!

We left Roosevelt after 6.30pm and started the long drive back to Island Park. But we got our son dressed in his pyjamas in case he fell asleep along the way.

As we drove along the Madison River we saw lots of elk along the river and some running through the long grass. They looked like something had spooked them but we couldn’t see what.

We also drove along the River Drive itself off the main road and were treated to the most amazing colours in the sky. I know I’ve used the word amazing so much while writing about Yellowstone but there are few words that can accurately describe Yellowstone. My husband and I tried on that last drive out of the park and we failed miserably trying to find the right word.

Sunset over the Madison River in Yellowstone with a sky full of red and pink hues
Sunset over the Madison River in Yellowstone

As we left Yellowstone, we were quite quiet in the car, almost lost for words. Yellowstone had affected us in a way we didn’t expect and I, for one, was emotional to leave this beautiful place. I think we’ll be returning in years to come.

We got home after 9pm and were all in bed by 10 after some packing. Although we didn’t quite complete our entire Yellowstone Bucket List, we did almost all of it and came away completely satisfied with what we did see.

Day 7

We woke at 7am and after a quick shower we had breakfast. I cooked us an omelette in my bid to use up our fresh food before our day of driving. We finished packing up, tidied up our ‘cave’ and got the car ready to go. We thoroughly enjoyed our stay in our AirBnB cabin in the woods and were sad to leave.

We left at 9.30am and there were mixed emotions as we turned onto US-87, ready to retrace our steps to I-90 as we headed for Missoula and Lolo, the next stop on our road trip. We passed through a town called Ennis in Montana and it turned out to be a really western type of town. I took a few snaps to send home to my sister and her hubby who got married in the Irish Ennis.

The welcome to Ennis sign in America

We stopped at the Lewis and Clark gas station just that we’d visited on out journey towards Yellowstone to fill up, get drinks and snacks and to make sure everyone had used the toilet. We had seen these two names quite a lot throughout Montana and Googled them. It turns out these are the surnames of the two men who lead the first American Expedition during 1804 and 1806 into what is now the western portion of the United States. Leaving from St Louis, they crossed the Continental Divide (which we crossed ourselves in Yellowstone) and carried on until they reached the Pacific Ocean. It was the first expedition west and opened up the rest of America.

It was just before this pit-stop that we entered the smoke haze from the many fires in Montana. We couldn’t believe how bad it was in parts. We drove along I-90 until we hit Missoula just after 2pm, in time for another Five Guys lunch.

For some reason I didn’t enjoy this lunch as much as the first time. I had a double burger the first time but only a single this time around and it fell apart quite easily as I was eating it. As we were early for our check in, we decided to get groceries before going to our AirBnB apartment in Lolo. The smoke haze was quite thick around Missoula and I had a bad feeling about our planned visit to Lolo National Forest.

At 4pm, we unloaded the car into our apartment for the next three nights, and while it wasn’t as modern as I was expecting, it was clean and comfortable with modern furnishings. Our son certainly made himself at home as you can see below.

A young boy relaxing up-side-down on a white chair

I cooked us a spaghetti bolognaise and we all chilled out watching some Netflix on the PlayStation in the apartment before we got our son into bed. It was nice to chill out after doing over 270 miles in the car with only one stop. 

Once Our son was in bed, my husband managed to get us the last episode of Game of Thrones, which was brilliant. We had wanted to watch it before going back on social media and having it ruined for us! Once that was done, we headed to bed. Not a very exciting day, but driving all day isn’t exciting at all.

Day 8

Unbelievably I didn’t wake until 9.30am. I must have been tired from all the driving. Our son didn’t wake until after 10! Shortly after a light breakfast we spotted some deer in the back garden of the building our apartment was in. The smoke haze hadn’t lifted either. In fact, I thought it was getting worse.

After getting dressed, we headed for the National Bison Range, located 55 miles from our apartment. Our host had left some information magazines in the apartment about Montana, and we had spotted the National Bison Range in one. Although we had seen lots of bison in Yellowstone, the article said there were other animals to see, so we thought we’d head there. Unfortunately, our plans of spending two days exploring Lolo National Forest went up in flames, literally. The fires we’d hit at we crossed from Idaho to Montana had hit Lolo Forest and the surrounding areas, so we had no chance of seeing any of it. I was thankful for the information magazines our host had left in the apartment.

A picture of the National Bison Range sign

Established by Theodore Roosevelt, the National Bison Range is a wildlife refuge set up in 1908 to provide safe sanctuary for the America Bison. Incredibly, we had learned in the Albright Visitors Centre Museum in Yellowstone that the bison population had been decimated between 1870 and 1880 by 85% from 5.5million to less than 400k. I was absolutely shocked at this statistic. One question raised during our cookout was why people hadn’t farmed them. I can understand them being slaughtered for their meat but not in those numbers over just a ten year period.

The National Bison Range is also one of the oldest refuges in America and serves as a basis for research with the United States. The bison herb is quite small numbering between 350 and 500 individuals, but the range also has other animals including prong-horned deer, elk, big-horned sheep, black bear, coyote and even mountain lion. It covers 18,800 acres and has two different trails, along with a visitor’s centre where you pay your entrance fee, can get information and even see examples of some of the animals to watch out for during your visit.

We stopped at the gift shop just outside the gates to the National Bison range when we arrived, and my husband hired a set of binoculars from the shop for $10, with a refundable deposit of $100. He was hoping to buy some for my husband as the little ones we had bought him in Yellowstone were only toy ones and you couldn’t really see anything through them. But there weren’t any suitable ones in the shop. Armed with better binoculars, we went in.

We entered the Range and went to the visitors’ centre first where it cost us just $5 to gain entry to the range. We decided to do the longer drive, the Red Sleep Mountain Drive, through the range, which took us just over an hour. We saw individual bison, but no herds. The office does warn you that the bison can be anywhere in the Range and that some areas aren’t visible from the roads. You can hike part of the Range, but we weren’t planning on doing any hiking, especially with our son in tow.

A picture of the river in the National Bison Range

We did see some prong-horned deer and also some elk along the river on our return drive towards the visitors’ centre. One thing we did realise was that you really need a 4×4 type vehicle to do the full drive as it is a dirt road and very bumpy in parts. We would not have enjoyed it had we been in a normal family car. There were steep inclines and switch backs too, which aren’t advisable for trailers either, which you must leave in the car park at the visitors’ centre.

We returned the binoculars to the gift shop as we left the range, with my husband getting us a small wooden carved bison as a memento of our visit, and we took our time driving back to Missoula. We decided to have an early dinner in a TripAdvisor recommended Chinese Restaurant called China Garden. Hailed as THE best Chinese in Missoula, we weren’t disappointed by our meal. The portions were absolutely huge though! We could have easily shared one main between the three of us.

Suitably stuffed we decided to make our first ever visit to a Walmart. Holy cow, what an experience. Not only was the store ginormous but what an array of people visit it. We couldn’t get over the size of the place and the fact they sell guns in what we’d class as a supermarket! You can literally buy anything in Walmart.

A picture of Chinese dishes on table

In the end we bought an extra suitcase to bring home all our souvenirs and things we’d bought, and at the same time treated our son to a new set of Cars 3 models. But my word, did it take some doing to free them of their packaging. Each car was held in by not one but two of those annoying string ties and there were 5 cars. Frustrated isn’t the word for it. And no mean feat to get it done quickly with a three year old constantly asking for his new cars either.

We decided to have a chilled afternoon and evening after our long drive the day before. So, I made us some popcorn and we found Paddington to watch on Netflix on the PS3 in the apartment. I thoroughly enjoyed the film and our son watched most of it, in between driving his new cars.

We got our son into bed not long after 8pm and My husband and I watched the first episode of Ozark, a new Netflix series starting Jason Bateman, who I hadn’t seen in years. We’d been meaning to start it, so thought this was as good a time as any. Us parents were in bed by 10pm though, still tired from driving.

Day 9

Our son and I woke shortly after 7am and chilled in the living room with the help of Puss in Boots, the series, on Netflix. I managed to catch up on some writing before my husband appeared shortly after 8am.

Again, we watched a deer in the garden but this time she had three babies with her. I made us all an omelette for breakfast, and then we packed a picnic and headed out on the road, bound for somewhere else we’d seen in the information magazines our host had left. We needed an ATM as we were all out of cash and found one near a Cabela’s Outdoor Store. My husband had played the Cabela’s PC games many moons ago and really wanted to go inside. So, we did.

A picture of a mother deer and three calves

Oh my word, this was another experience. Cabela’s is a huge store with the outdoors firmly in mind. It was bigger than some of the Asda shops of the UK. There were sections for fishing that my Dad would have gotten lost, a camping section and the biggest range of guns and ammo I’m ever likely to see for a very long time.

There was also a section designed for ski and winter wear. By the end of September, Montana sees snow and temperatures that can drop well below freezing. I spotted some trapper hats for our son and I. I snapped them up, all in preparation for our trip to Lapland in 2018. We also got our son a much better set of nocklers, with the help of a very friendly staff-member. As we were paying for the hats, the lady on the checkout asked were we getting ready for winter. Sort of we responded, haha.

Satisfied with our purchases, we set off. Our destination was the Garden of a Thousand Buddhas, located near Arlee which we had passed through the day before on our way to the National Bison Range. It took us just over 40 minutes to drive there and we parked in the car park and walked to the Garden.

A boy walking along a white wall at Ewam Buddha Eden

And what a beautiful place to visit in the middle of Montana. The Garden of a Thousand Buddhas has exactly that, 1000 statues of Buddha in various sizes, set in 10 acres of beautiful gardens. Still under construction, this spiritual site on the Flathead Indian Reservation is intended to be a place of pilgrimage for the Western Hemisphere and expected to welcome people of all faiths in the future. 

It was one of the most peaceful, serene places we’ve ever been. One of our longest friends in Wales introduced us to Buddhism many years ago, and although we are not Buddhists, we appreciate their way of life and much prefer their teachings and morals over the religion we were brought up in.

The gardens were beautiful, there was a lovely little lake and also a set of prayer-flags on a hill. Had we known before we visited, we’d have brought one to add to the ones there. The Garden of a Thousand Buddhas is free to visit but there are donation boxes there, which we put some money in. I was glad we had stopped at the ATM at Cabela’s. We thoroughly enjoyed our quiet walk through and around the garden.

A picture of a boy standing at the edge of a lake at the Ewan Garden of 1000 Buddhas

Back in the car park, we started talking to a guy and his friend from the car beside us. Nate, a very nice guy from Utah, was really friendly and has since become friends with my husband on Facebook. He was interested in why we’d visited and our travels. Nate was also interested in recommendations for Irish films to watch once he learned we were Irish, and he gave us some great recommendations for Portland.

Before departing, he gave us a bunch of lavender as a gift, which we weren’t expecting but was a lovely gesture. Lavender is the essential oil our Buddhist friend used to use on us during our sport therapy treatments with her. It felt like something had come full circle for us. All we could offer him was some bottles of water, as we had a case of it in the car. Both Nate and his friend were very grateful as the temperatures were over 30C that day and they had run out.

We headed back to Missoula and located Caras Park, where two children’s attractions that had been recommended to me were located. We had a picnic first as it was lunchtime, before our son and I enjoyed some rides on the Carousel for Missoula, where an adult and child can share a seat for just $1.50.

A volunteer-built, hand-carved carousel in Caras Park, Carousel for Missoula was completed in 1995 but not without the efforts of many volunteers and fundraising. Cabinet maker Chuck Kaparich from Missoula visited a carousel in Spokane in 1988 and it was there the vision for a carousel in Missoula was born. However, it took a lot of fundraising, over 100,000 volunteer hours and four years before the carousel was completed. The carousel has 38 hand-carved ponies and two chariots and hosts over 200,000 rides a year.

After our rides, we let our son run off some energy in the Dragon Hollow Playground, which he thoroughly enjoyed. Created in just 9 days with the help of over 4000 volunteers, Dragon Hollow Park is a playground adjacent to the Carousel for Missoula. Free to use, it has castles, slides, swings and plenty of hiding places for kids to let off some steam. Thanks to those on Facebook for these recommendations.

A picture of a boy on a swing in the Dragon Hollow Playground in Missoula
A boy walking across a wooden bridge in the Dragon Hollow Playground

On our way back to our AirBnB, we stopped by Walmart on the way back to our AirBnB to get a pizza and some American croquettes called Tater Tots. My husband had always wanted to try them, and they were tasty. Back at the apartment I got packing us and tidying up while the boys played and chilled with Netflix. After dinner we watched Zootopia with popcorn before getting a little boy into bed. After another two episodes of Ozark, My husband and I were in bed, ready for another long day of driving, the penultimate leg of our road trip.

Day 10

I woke at 7.30 with our son to a lot of smoke outside. It was even thicker than previous days. I was glad we had experienced smoke haze and the associated smell in Portugal as it didn’t panic me like it might have. That said, I was glad we were going to be leaving this day.

My husband woke at 8 and after showers, we had breakfast before tidying up the apartment and packing up the car. Even he remarked how thick the smoke haze had gotten overnight.

At 9.30am we left the apartment and filled up with gas just down the road from the apartment. We stopped at Cabela’s as I wanted to swap my trapper hat for a larger size. Despite trying the first one on in the shop, we came to realise after that I could do with a bigger one. My husband bought himself a cap and hoodie.

I have to say that the staff at Cabela’s were one of the nicest set of people we’d come across in a shop. Extremely friendly, and very helpful, it was no wonder the Missoula store had been voted best in America, 3 years after first opening up.

I started the driving for the day, taking us 230 miles until we hit the other side of Spokane. We drove all of those miles through smoke haze, there was just no let up. In parts you had limited visibility, until it would open up again, giving us hope we might be coming through it. But to no avail. It was everywhere we went.

Our son got an hour sleep and woke shortly before we stopped for lunch, just outside Spokane. We pulled into services off I-90 and decided to try a Denny’s for some food. We’d seen these advertised on many of the highways and my husband wanted to try them. I had a chicken salad, our son had chicken nuggets and My husband enjoyed a Phily sandwich. All the food was good and definitely filled a hole in our bellies.

A picture of the outside of a Denny's Diner in America

My husband then drove the last 120 miles to Richland, our stopping point for the night. Again, all we saw en-route was smoke haze.

We arrived at our hotel for the night, the TownePlace Suites by Marriott again, the same place we’d stayed at on our first night in the States. The same guy was on reception and he was very welcoming and accommodating. And I have to say I highly recommend this hotel, apart from the sofa beds.

The exterior of the TownePlace Suites by Marriott in Richland

I spent the first hour doing laundry as I knew there were no washing facilities at our next AirBnB, having checked with our host. Guest laundry is a room with a few washing machines and separate tumble driers. I managed to get all of our washing done and most of it dried before heading back up to the boys to sort what we were going to do for dinner.

My husband did a TripAdvisor search and we settled on visiting the Steppe Smokehouse Brewery for dinner. I’ll be honest and say this wasn’t the best meal we had in the States. The meat was nice and quite tasty, but the sides were just okay. Our son wasn’t too fussed on the meal either.

Back at the hotel by 8pm, we got into our pj’s and got our son into bed. We had a one-bedroom suite this time and it worked out great, as My husband and I were able to watch some Ozark before getting into bed ourselves by 10pm, ready for our last day of long driving.

Day 11

We woke just after 7am, tidied up and after getting dressed, went downstairs for breakfast. Breakfast was included in the price and was quite nice with a continental breakfast available, as well as some other hot and cold choices.

We packed up and got the car loaded, ready for our final day of driving big miles. My husband, unfortunately, had to complain to reception about the uncomfortable sofa beds in the hotel. I had shared the main bed with our son and my husband had taken the sofa bed and it was extremely uncomfortable. This was our only grumble about what is a great hotel in Richland.

We were on the road by 9.30 heading for Portland. It felt strange to be on the last leg of our USA road trip, but we were looking forward to a few days in Portland, a city we’ve always wanted to visit. I did the driving this day as my husband had managed less than 5 hours sleep. We took I-84 and stopped at the same Love’s gas station we had filled up on our first day in the USA. It was here we heard news we didn’t really want.

I-84 was closed from junction 64 at the intersection with I-35 as there were fires all along the Columbia Gorge Creek, including around Multnomah Falls. We had intended the falls to be our pit stop as we drove towards Portland, so that I could photograph it. It’s been on my wish-list for some time and now we had no chance of visiting it.

My husband did a Google search which confirmed what he had overheard in the gas station. I was gutted. The fire had started two days before due to a teenager setting off fireworks for Labour Day celebrations. A fire was the result of him ignoring the signs around the Creek which forbids the use of fireworks and portable barbeques.

The closure of I-84 also meant I had no pictures of the Columbia Gorge Creek. I had been unable to photograph it on the day of our arrival into the States as I sat in the back of the car with our son, trying to keep him comfortable while he slept. We had been stunned by its beauty and had decided to photograph it on our return trip to Portland. Alas, another thing not meant to be.

Because of the road closure, we were diverted around the back of Mount Hood National Forest, along I-35 and meeting up with I-26 and taking that into Portland. It lengthened our journey by a few hours. We also couldn’t see Mount Hood from the north side due to the smoke haze.

The Crooked Tree Tavern sign in Oregon

After two and a half hours of driving around the mountain we pulled off I-35 for a toilet break and to get some lunch at the Crooked Tree Tavern. I ordered a mushroom soup and it was terrible. A congealed, thick goo which was hardly edible. The boys, however, had a nice burger each. I did steal a few chips from them.

Back on the road, we finally rounded the bottom of Mount Hood and finally caught glimpses of the peak through the smoke. We arrived at our AirBnB at 3pm to falling ash in the sky. We had experienced ash in Missoula, but this was something else.

While our AirBnB house was quaint and looked exactly how we imagined a house in Portland to look like, the location of the house was terrible. We went to a Walmart a few miles away and as we drove towards it, we went through a rough looking area. There were cannabis shops, beside guns shops, beside casino shops and it looked rough as hell. There was even a wanted poster for a murderer of an eight year old boy!

Now, I should explain something. Both My husband and I grew up on council estates in Dublin which weren’t exactly the poshest areas of Dublin. With that comes a sort of sixth sense about a place and this area of Portland was really freaking us out. For that to happen to us, it must be pretty bad. Our spidey senses (as we like to call it), were in overdrive. We felt completely uneasy about spending a night in the AirBnB, particularly with our son in tow. Had it just been the two of us, we’d probably wouldn’t have been that bothered about the area, but we just knew we couldn’t stay there.

We debated in the car park of Walmart for a good half an hour before I got my phone out and searched for a TownePlace Suites in Portland. I figured we had stayed in the one in Richland and loved it, so if one was available, then to hell with it. We found two which had two-bedroom suites (so my husband could get some decent sleep) and we tried the first one, but it was full. However, they kindly transferred us to the other one who had a two-bedroom suite available and not at a ridiculous price either.

My husband passed over his Marriott rewards card number, secured the suite and we both breathed a sigh of relief. We went into Walmart to get some supplies for the rest of the week and even treated our son to yet another Cars 3 toy, this time a steering wheel. We sent our AirBnB host a message to let them know we weren’t going to be staying in their place, and that we’d return the key on Saturday on our way to the airport. We returned to the house, put the suitcases into the car and drove the 45 minutes, in rush-hour traffic, to the TownePlace Suites by Marriott in Hillsboro.

The same lady my husband had spoken to was on reception and, Gracele I think her name was, couldn’t have been nicer. The hotel was lovely, the staff were friendly, and it really put our minds at ease. I was so grateful we were in the position to be able to switch accommodation just like that. I dread to think what the remainder of our week would have been like had we not been fortunate enough to be able to afford an accommodation change at a moment’s notice. It is the first time we’ve ever done something like that and the first time we haven’t felt comfortable in an AirBnB house.

My husband later spoke to a colleague who regularly uses AirBnB with his family, who travel the world, and he said they’ve done the same on a few occasions; booked into a hotel when they’ve gotten a bad vibe about an AirBnB place or the surrounding area. He said we did the right thing. This made me feel better knowing we weren’t the only ones to ever do this.

After checking in, we found our room and it was just gorgeous. Large and comfortable, I knew straight away this was a good place to end our USA road trip in, whatever the rest of Portland had in store for us!

We unpacked and then drove across the road to find somewhere to have dinner. We decided on a Red Robin and were really impressed by the place. The food was great, portion sizes weren’t ridiculous and reasonably priced too. It felt so good to sit down, comfortable with where we were going to be staying for the next four nights.

A picture of the exterior of Red Robins in Portland

We got back to the hotel at 8.30 and had our son in bed half an hour later. It was then we realised he had done 3000 miles in the car, spending 60+ hours in it and he had been an absolute star. He never complained once or had a tantrum. He did it all without a tablet or electronic gadget in sight and his overall behaviour had been amazing. We couldn’t have asked for a better travelling companion and I was glad we had some things in store for him to enjoy in the coming days.

We went to sleep that night feeling a lot safer, excited to explore Portland.

Day 12

Our son and I woke at 7 but snoozed for another hour. The beds in the TownePlace Suites were very comfortable. We got up at 8am and I discovered I had missed a call from Portugal about our application for a school place for our son. I called back to no avail.

We got dressed and drove to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, also known as OMSI. Established in 1944, this science and industry museum had been recommended to us during our planning stage for our visit to Portland. It contains three auditoriums, a planetarium and exhibition halls with hands-on permanent exhibits. Located on the east bank of the Willamette River, it was once housed in Washington Park, in the now-home of the Children’s Museum. But as visitor number outgrew the building, it was moved to the now impressive building.

A picture of a young boy running towards the entrance of the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry in Portland, Oregon

OMSI has five different specialised exhibition halls, a planetarium as mentioned, and also a submarine exhibit, which I totally missed and am gutted about. The submarine was featured in the film The Hunt for Red October!

We paid entry to the museum, the Pompeii Exhibition and for the Starry Night Planetarium show. We visited the coffee shop before starting our exploring of the museum and enjoyed some hot drinks, a coffee and our first ever peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It wasn’t bad at all.

After 10am we headed upstairs and found a great area for our son to explore, the Science Playground. Aimed at children between the ages of newborn and six years of age, we knew he’d enjoy this area the most. Fully enclosed and designed to keep children visible and secure, it has a variety of experimental areas for children to freely explore, with specially trained staff on hand to help or give information to interested parents.

Our son had fun with balls in the physical science exhibit, in the water area and, my personal favourite, the luminescent rocks. Our son had loads of fun in the science playground until we headed back downstairs at 11.50am, in time to catch the planetarium show.

A mum and her son playing with a puzzle in OMSI, Portland

This was my husband’s first time in a planetarium. Our son had been in one at Techniquest in Cardiff. The show was very good. We adults thoroughly enjoyed it, particularly as we see the Milky Way on clear nights above our house in Portugal. Our son got a little bored towards the end.

Next we visited the Pompeii Exhibition. It was fascinating seeing the exhibits and learning more about that fateful night in 69AD. Pompeii is now on our bucket-list. We did have to forgo one video as it was advised it wasn’t suitable for young children, so we managed to skip it with the boy.

Once we had finished seeing all we wanted at the OMSI, we headed to the Clackamas Town Centre for a late lunch and some shopping. We visited the Disney shop and picked up some bits for our son for our forthcoming trip to Disneyland Paris. And I finally got to visit a Sephora. I’d passed one in New York last year but didn’t venture in and I came out with a few goodies for myself.

A picture of Sephora and Disney Store bags

Back in the car by 4pm, we hit rush-hour traffic on our way back to the hotel. As we’d had a late lunch, we made some popcorn and watched Mulan with Our son when we got back. We ordered a pizza to share later in the evening while watching Finding Dory with the boy. After food, we got our son ready to bed and into it by 9, in time for my husband and I to watch another episode of Ozark, which we were really enjoying. So far, we’d had a great start to our few days in Portland.

Day 13

I had set my alarm for 7am, so I could try and catch the school in Portugal before it got too late. However, there was no answer. I left a message hoping someone might call me back. I was worried about securing a place for our son. Both he and we needed routine back in our lives.

The boys woke a short time later. After showers, we had breakfast in the hotel before heading to Washington Park for a day dedicated to the boy. It took us just 30 minutes to drive to Oregon Zoo in Washington Park.

A little boy looking at a waterfall inside the Great Northwest section of the Oregon Zoo in Portland

We had been kindly invited to review the zoo and were given complimentary entry. I collected our tickets from reception and we went inside, starting at the Great Northwest section. The zoo was amazing. You can read about our visit in more detail in my blog post, but suffice to say we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. From bears and elephants, to mountain lions and cheetahs, there is a large variety of animals to see in the largest zoo in North America west of the Mississippi. 

We left at 1.30pm and went into The Portland Children’s Museum next door to the zoo. Founded in 1946, this is the sixth oldest children’s museum in the world and receives over a quarter of a million visits each year.

This museum had lots of different play areas and we had a great time exploring them. There was a water section, which our son loved, a creativity room with crafts and nails and hammers (I was supervising very closely here), and of course a room with cars in it. It was great to let our son enjoy something all for him after the many hours and miles we’d done in the car. I’ll be reviewing this in great detail on the blog at a later stage, so please stay tuned.

A little child at a water play area in a children's museum

Both the zoo and museum had been recommended to us on Facebook and I’m so glad we added them to our itinerary. My mum had been worried we wouldn’t get any down time during our holiday, but this was the perfect things to do for just that.

We headed back towards our hotel at 3.30 and stopped at the retail park. I wanted to visit a Michael’s I had spotted for my husband’s aunt in Portugal. It was an amazing store, completely dedicated to arts, crafts and decorations. If I lived in America, I’d be in it all the time! We went across to Red Robin for dinner and had another great meal. I cannot fault this restaurant at all.

We got back to our room by 6pm, so our son enjoyed a bubble bath which is a treat for him. We don’t have a bath in our home in Portugal, so it was a nice way for him to relax after a busy day. We got into our pj’s and watched a Tom and Jerry film, which our son broke his heart laughing at. At 8pm he got into bed, leaving us adults to carry on with Ozark Have you seen it?

Day 14

We woke around 7am and after showers and getting dressed, I packed some of our things up in preparation for our return to Europe. We called an Uber at 9am and got him to drop us off at a bistro that had also been recommended to us, Mother’s Bistro and Bar in Downtown Portland.

A picture of the exterior of Mother's Bistro in Portland

We had to wait about 10 minutes for a table as it was very busy, even though it was after 9am. And the wait was worth it. I had the Wild Salmon Hash and poached egg, while my husband had the same hash but with scrambled eggs. Oh my word, the food was amazing. Even Our son ate well. It wasn’t a cheap breakfast, but I could understand why it was so busy. Once again, thank you to those on Facebook who recommended it. Definitely a great breakfast!

After we were suitably fed, we walked from there to a shopping area in Downtown Portland, visiting yet another Sephora for me and a Nike shop for my husband. Neither of us got away with cheap purchases. I bought some more makeup and another Tom Ford perfume, while my husband bagged himself some very nice Nike trainers and an Oregon football jersey, which was not cheap.

From there we walked to Finnegans Toy Store, where we got our son a Brio Police Motorbike toy. It was a quaint toy store selling more traditional type toys and not an electronic gadget or toy in sight. Our son could have stayed for hours playing with the Brio Train set on display. I can highly recommend this shop as a stop in Portland if you’re with kids.

We had also been urged to visit Powell’s City of Books store, so from the toy shop that’s where we headed. It was amazing. Occupying a whole city block with over 1 million books, it is easily the biggest book shop I’ve ever come across. The children’s section was huge and there were areas to sit and read to kids too. We didn’t make any purchases there, but it was lovely to say we’d visited it.

A picture of some of the items on sale at Powell's Bookstore

Next on the cards was Voodoo Doughnuts but the queue was incredibly long just to get into the shop, so we called an Uber to take us to Salt’N’Straw in the Alphabet District of Portland, another Facebook recommendation. And we weren’t disappointed. We got a tasting tray of ice cream, and apart from the coffee flavour, they were amazing. The salted caramel was out of this world.

After our ice cream treat, we had a wander along the main street of the Alphabet District of Portland, and it was here we got a taste of the Portland we had been hoping for. Cool little cafes beside hip and trendy shops, and buildings that were right out of Grimm, this was the Portland we’d come to see. If we get the chance to return to Portland, this is the area we’ll probably spend more time at.

A picture of a quartet of tasting ice-creams at Salt'N'Straw

We got another Uber back to our hotel at 2pm, and spent the afternoon chilling and packing. My husband and I also got a proper chance to read our Kindles. At 5pm we went across to Red Robin for our last dinner before getting our son into bed for 7pm. By 9pm I couldn’t keep my eyes open so followed him in after a great day discovering Portland city itself. I could easily see us returning to Portland for another visit in the future.

Day 15/16

After getting showered and dressed, we ate breakfast in the hotel at 8.30am. Our son and I went back to our room to do some final packing while my husband visited a chemist for some throat spray and melatonin for our son for the plane.

We had to check out by noon, so shortly before we loaded up the car and set off to drop off the AirBnB keys before heading to Portland International Airport.

The PDX airport sign of Portland International Airport

We got rid of our bags, made our way through security and went to some lunch. As we had some time to kill before our flight was due to board, we found the children’s play area and let our son have fun. He even met another boy with the same name as him and it got quite confusing for them when we or the other parents would shout the name.

The play area at Portland Airport is great and both older kids and toddlers had fun in there. Our son’s favourite part was the soft airplane. We boarded at 4.30 for our 5.30pm flight and settled down for the night. It was an uneventful flight, with our son and I managing a few hours’ sleep.

A picture of a boy in the kids playroom of PDX airport

As usual my husband didn’t sleep much and as a result was knackered by the time we landed in London on the Sunday morning. He had to run an errand while there, so once we’d transferred from Terminal 3 to 5, he went off, leaving our son and I to chill out. When he got back we checked through our bags and went through and grabbed a Wagamama’s for lunch/dinner.

Our son is quite fond of noodles but was fascinated by chopsticks, which I can’t figure out myself. Our flight was due to leave London shortly after 4pm but we were delayed by an hour and a half.

The plane had come from Athens and was carrying a man with a broken leg. They had gotten him into the plane using a particularly narrow wheelchair in Greece, but he became wedged in his seat and they couldn’t get him back out at Heathrow. The crew called the on-site nurse who had to call for a doctor’s assistance. They couldn’t administer any more pain relief as he was on morphine already. Eventually they freed him with gas and air. As soon as all the passengers were on the plane we took off.

Awesome Tips For Flying With Babies and Toddlers - A toddler in pyjamas in an airport looking out the window at a plane
Comfortable in his pyjamas after another trans-Atlantic flight.

Our misfortune in getting back to Portugal didn’t end with that. We were seated towards the rear of the plane and ended up beside a group of about 12 gentlemen who were clearly on a golfing holiday and who were quite drunk even before they boarded the plane. As a result, they were loud and leery and a right pain in the behind. A poor elderly couple in front of us ended up sitting in the crew’s jump seats for the flight as they couldn’t stand the noise. I take my hat off to the crew who somehow kept their cool with them.

I’ve never been gladder to get off a plane. We collected our bags and headed out to find the car. I read the parking printout and couldn’t get the ticket machine to accept payment. I found a parking office and he informed me I had done our entry to the car park wrong. Thankfully he sorted it out with no additional costs and I now knew what to do next time I booked parking at Faro Airport. We got back home after 10pm and fell straight into bed, shattered but pleased we’d had a great holiday in America. It was certainly one we would remember for a very long time.

If you’ve gotten this far, I have to thank you for reading all about our incredible USA holiday. Has it inspired you to consider a road trip with your family?

Cath x


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