2020…what a strange, wild ride. This is a year that we wish we could forget but will definitely go down in the history books.
COVID-19 took front and center stage, along with everything that comes with it…lockdowns, masks, Zoom calls, social distancing, the race for a vaccine, and a year with little to no travel. But there were also bushfires and wildfires, protests against racial inequality, murder hornets, and hurricanes. It was a crazy year filled with dismal headlines.
The events of 2020 affected so many people on so many different levels. For us, the interruption of travel was the biggest impact.
Every December, I write a recap of our travels for the year, with ideas on how you can have the same experiences. This year is no different.
Despite COVID-19, we managed to travel quite a bit in 2020. We are extremely fortunate to live in the United States, where there are many outdoor places to explore. Visits to national parks, hiking, and road trips were the perfect way to get out and travel safely, in this year of social distancing.
A Recap of 2020
This year, we are counting up states and national parks, rather than countries.
Number of Countries Visited: 2 (Egypt and the USA)
Number of States Visited: 10 (Maryland, Texas, New Mexico, Virginia, North Carolina, Colorado, Washington, Wyoming, South Dakota and Utah)
Number of National Parks Visited: 17
Best Travel Moment: Just being able to travel in 2020 felt like a gift. But as far as the best moment, it is a tie between visiting the pyramids in Egypt and driving the White Rim Road in Canyonlands National Park.
Canceled Travel Plans: Costa Rica for Spring Break, Portugal over the summer, the European Christmas markets in December. Plus, we ended a trip early during the first wave of COVID-19, postponing our visits to White Sands National Park and Guadalupe Mountains National Park.
Making the Best of 2020
We try to make the best of every bad situation. When international travel got put on hold, we altered our plans, visiting national and state parks in the USA, where we could safely get outside and explore new places.
Here are our travels in 2020.
January 1: Egypt & the Pyramids of Giza
For us, this is how 2020 began…
This moment was filled with so much hope and excitement. If only we knew what was coming.
The afternoon of January 1 we flew to Frankfurt, Germany, spent the night at an airport hotel, and arrived home on January 2. That was the full extent of our international travels for 2020.
Egypt makes a fantastic destination for the winter months. And yes, you can travel to Egypt right now, although there are some regulations and restrictions depending on where you live. December through early March is the perfect time to visit Egypt, so it’s a spot to consider for early 2021. If you aren’t ready to make big travel plans yet, a trip to Egypt is an amazing destination for the winter holiday season at the end of 2021.
Early March: New Mexico and Texas
During the month of February, we watched the news reports about the growing numbers of a novel virus called COVID-19 and how it was quickly circulating around the world.
Tim and I had a trip planned to four national parks in early March but we only got to two of them. Our trip coincided with the week that social distancing, rapidly increasing numbers of COVID-19 cases in the US, and reports of toilet paper and hand sanitizer flying off of the shelves bombarded the news and social media.
Tim and I spent three wonderful days in Big Bend National Park. The hiking and the scenic drives are incredible but honestly, it was overshadowed by the alarming rise of coronavirus. This was the crazy week with a full moon, Friday the 13th, and non-stop news about COVID-19.
On the day that we visited Carlsbad Caverns National Park, we made the decision to end our trip early. It seemed risky and irresponsible to continue traveling with infections ticking up so quickly in the USA. It was a tough choice. We literally drove through Guadalupe Mountains National Park to get to and from Carlsbad, New Mexico. But in the end, it was the right choice.
One week later the USA went on lockdown, joining a long list of other countries around the world who had already been doing the same thing.
South Rim Trail
Big Bend Ranch State Park
Big Bend National Park Road Trip
Big Bend National Park is located on the border between Texas and Mexico. This is a relatively remote national park, which helps keep crowds low. I recommend spending at least two days here, but three is even better, since it takes so long to drive here (about 4 hours from the closest airport). You can include Carlsbad Caverns, Guadalupe Mountains, and White Sands National Park into a 7 to 10-day road trip, flying in and out of El Paso, Texas.
June & July: Colorado
Once states came out of lockdown and local travel became a possibility again, we wanted to get out and travel, but do it responsibly.
With international travel now off of the table, along with anything that would involve crowds of people (so visits to cities were out of the question), 2020 became the year of national park visits.
From the end of June into July, we road-tripped through Colorado.
The trick was staying safe. Our riskiest behavior was flying out to Colorado from our home in Maryland. With it being such a long drive, it was worth it for us to take the risk. Once in Colorado, we did everything we could to stay healthy…avoiding contact with others, preparing our own food or getting carry out, wearing masks, all of the things that are now part of our new normal.
For three weeks, we road tripped through Colorado, visiting all four of its national parks: Rocky Mountain, Great Sand Dunes, Mesa Verde, and Black Canyon of the Gunnison. Throw in some state parks and scenic drives and you have an amazing road trip destination.
Sky Pond, RMNP
Chasm Lake, RMNP
Continental Divide Trail, RMNP
Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve
Tyler sand boarding in Great Sand Dunes
Mesa Verde National Park
Black Canyon of the Gunnison
Black Canyon of the Gunnison
How You Can Do This
You can loop all four national parks together, spending ten days up to three to four weeks visiting all of them. In the near future, I plan to publish our road trip itinerary, so stay tuned if this is something you are considering for 2021.
In 2020, Rocky Mountain National Park operated at 60% capacity due to COVID-19, which was wonderful since the park never got crowded. It was one of the few bonuses of traveling during the pandemic. In the summer, many of the national parks we visited were relatively quiet.
Colorado National Parks: Travel Guide & Itinerary
Rocky Mountain National Park Itinerary: Ideas for 1 Day to 1 Week
15 Great Hikes to do in Rocky Mountain National Park
8 Amazing Things to do in Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve
Top 10 Things to do in Mesa Verde National Park
6 Things to do on the South Rim of Black Canyon of the Gunnison
July & August: Washington
From Colorado, we flew to Washington state and then spent three weeks road tripping through the national parks here.
We started in Olympic National Park, which was challenging, since many of the beaches, which are located on Native American land, were closed due to COVID-19. But talk about a diverse national park. With mountains, beaches, and temperate rainforests, not to mention its large size, it is easy to spend a week here and never run out of things to do.
Olympic National Park
Olympic National Park
Mount Rainier National Park is spectacular. If you like hiking, this is a national park to put on the top of your list. And to summit Mount Rainier…how epic would that be?
Hiking to Tolmie Fire Lookout
On the Skyline Trail
The big surprise in Washington state was the massive day hike we did through the Enchantments, a beautiful area located in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. The Bavarian town of Leavenworth was pretty sweet, too.
Our trip to Washington ended with a few days in North Cascades National Park, a highly underrated park that is just a short drive from Seattle. This park is filled with awesome hiking and backpacking trails and with the low crowds, North Cascades is a hidden gem in the national park system.
North Cascades National Park
How You Can Do This
We linked all three national parks and Leavenworth/The Enchantments into a three week road trip, spending roughly 5 days in each national park. You can make this much shorter by limiting your time in each park, but you will end up missing out on a lot of experiences.
The best time for this road trip is during the summer and early fall, when all of the roads are open and the weather is warm and sunny.
Washington Road Trip Itinerary: 7 to 14 Days in the National Parks
Hiking the Klahhhane Ridge Trail to Mount Angeles, Olympic NP
Skyline Trail Loop & Panorama Point, Mount Rainier National Park
How to Hike the Summerland Trail to Panhandle Gap in Mount Rainier NP
9 Best Things to Do in North Cascades National Park
12 Great Hikes in North Cascades National Park
How to Hike the Enchantments in One Day: A Step-By-Step Guide
September: Grand Teton & Yellowstone National Parks
There are a few national parks that keep calling us back, and Grand Teton and Yellowstone are two of them. This time, we were eager to hike the trails we never had the time to do, on previous visits to Grand Teton National Park.
For one week we stayed in Jackson, Wyoming, primarily hiking in Grand Teton National Park. But we did spend one wonderful day in Yellowstone, to escape the stormy weather in the Tetons.
One advantage of COVID-19 was online learning. Kara came along with me and Tim, going to class via her computer in the morning and then hiking in the park in the afternoons and evenings.
How You Can Do This
With one week, you can make Jackson your home base and then explore Grand Teton National Park, Yellowstone National Park, and parts of Wyoming. Another idea is a 7 to 10-day road trip through Grand Teton, Yellowstone, and Glacier National Parks. We have done this road trip twice so far and it is amazing!
The summer and fall are the best times to visit these national parks, when the roads in both parks are open. The end of September is the perfect time to visit Grand Teton National Park if you want to see fall colors and the elk mating season.
Grand Teton, Yellowstone, and Glacier National Parks: 10 Day Road Trip Itinerary
15 Best Things to do in Grand Teton National Park
15 Great Hikes in Grand Teton National Park
The Perfect Yellowstone Day Trip from Grand Teton National Park
18 Amazing Things to do in Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone Itinerary: How to Spend 1 to 5 Days in Yellowstone
October: South Dakota
In early October, Tim and I spent one week in southwest South Dakota and it was so much fun! Badlands National Park is a beautiful spot, with its unique landscapes and stunning sunrises and sunsets. And nearby, there are many more great places to visit: Mount Rushmore, Wind Cave National Park, Custer State Park, Spearfish Canyon, and you can even day trip out to Devils Tower.
Sunrise in Badlands National Park
Bison in Badlands National Park
Badlands National Park
Custer State Park
Hiking around Devils Tower
How You Can Do This
With one week, you can visit two national parks, one extraordinary state park, and several iconic national monuments. From Rapid City, drive out to Badlands National Park and plan on spending two days here. For the remainder of the trip, base yourself either in Rapid City or the Black Hills of South Dakota. Custer State Park, Wind Cave National Park, and Devils Tower all need about one day of your time, but there is plenty more here to keep you busy.
I still have a lot more to write about South Dakota, but here are a few articles that are published on our website.
One Week South Dakota Itinerary: Black Hills & the Badlands
8 Amazing Things to Do in Custer State Park
15 Things to Do in Badlands National Park
Mount Rushmore: 10 Things to Know Before You Go
Complete Guide to Devils Tower: How to Plan Your Visit
How to Hike the Lookout Point Trail & Centennial Trail Loop in Wind Cave NP
October: Shenandoah National Park
Shenandoah National Park is just a short drive from where we live in Maryland, so this was a quick and easy getaway. I did this trip solo and my visit coincided with the peak fall colors. Even though I have visited this park numerous times, I hiked some new trails and had fun photographing the fall colors.
How You Can Do This
One day is all you need to drive Skyline Drive, visit a handful of overlooks, and hike one or two short trails. This can be done on a road trip through the mid-Atlantic region or along the east coast of the USA. With more time, you can hike more of the trails and explore Luray Caverns.
We saved the best for last.
It’s no secret that we love Utah. We just cannot stay away. This was our fourth visit in three years (and already we are planning a return visit). We half-joke that we should just move out here.
On this trip, we re-visited three national parks that we have already been to numerous times, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, and Arches, with a quick trip to Goblin Valley and Little Wild Horse Canyon. This 10-day trip was absolutely amazing.
A good chunk of our time was spent in Capitol Reef, which is now one of my favorite national parks. The hiking is incredible. The backcountry drives are beautiful and remote and unforgettable. And crowd levels are extremely low. If you want to visit a beautiful national park without the crowds, go to Capitol Reef. The cover photo for this post was taken in Capitol Reef National Park.
Capitol Reef National Park
Hiking the Grand Wash in Capitol Reef
Cathedral Valley in Capitol Reef
Overlooking Capitol Reef National Park on the hike to Navajo Knobs
The main reason for this trip was to drive the White Rim Road in Canyonlands National Park. This 100-mile road loops around the mesa of the Island in the Sky district. Along the way, you drive along cliff edges, past canyons carved out by the Colorado and Green Rivers, and to viewpoints that will take your breath away.
If you do this drive, you will never look at Canyonlands National Park the same way again. This is one of our favorite national park experiences.
White Rim Road
White Rim Road
White Rim Road
Shafer Canyon Road, part of the White Rim Road route
We also spent some time hiking The Needles district of Canyonlands, exploring some new spots in Arches National Park, visiting Goblin Valley, and hiking through the thrilling Little Wild Horse Canyon.
The Needles, Canyonlands National Park
Hiking Little Wild Horse Canyon
Delicate Arch in Arches National Park
How You Can Do This
You can take your time and string these three national parks into a 7 to 10 day road trip, starting and ending in Salt Lake City, Utah. A 7 to 10-day trip through Utah’s Mighty 5 is also a very popular road trip, which adds in Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks.
But if you have the time to spend, and if you really want to get to know these parks, consider slowing down and venturing into the backcountry. It’s well worth the extra time.
Arches, Canyonlands and Capitol Reef: 10 Day Road Trip Itinerary
Complete Guide to the Cathedral Valley Loop in Capitol Reef
Best Things to Do in Canyonlands: Island in the Sky District
How to Hike the Syncline Loop in Canyonlands National Park
How to Drive the White Rim Road
How to Hike the Chesler Park Loop in The Needles
One Perfect Day in Arches National Park
New on the Website
We are on a mission to visit all 63 of the US national parks. We were able to visit quite a few of these in 2020, giving us enough content to publish a brand new section about the national parks.
As of the end of 2020, we have been to 34 of the parks with plans to visit the remainder in the upcoming years. It’s a fun project for us and a great planning resource for you.
If you have plans to visit the US national parks in the future, or are just looking for some travel inspiration, check out our Guide to the US National Parks.
Despite the pandemic and the challenges that came along with it, we were fortunate to be able to travel quite a bit, and stay healthy. This year did not go as planned, but we still made the most of it.
So, what about travel in 2021? If only we had a crystal ball.
As more people get vaccinated, regions will begin to reopen for travel and tourism. I imagine that travel will get easier in 2021 and that many more people will travel than those that did in 2020. But I think it is hard to make big travel plans right now, since so much is still unknown.
We have no big travel plans for 2021. There are countries and national parks that we hope to visit, but it will take some time to see how things around the world open up before charging ahead with flights and hotel reservations. We are hoping to travel outside of the US during the second half of 2021 but only time will tell.
As we count down the final days of 2020, we are hopeful for a much better year ahead. We wish you and your family a very happy and healthy New Year with many wonderful adventures in 2021.
So, what about you? How was 2020 and do you have any travel plans for 2021? Let us know in the comment section below.
You Might Also Like:
- 2019 RECAP: Our Travels in 2019…Ideas for Your Next Big Trip
- 2018 RECAP: Our Travels in 2018…Ideas for Your Next Big Trip
- 2017 RECAP: Favorite Photos, Favorite Moments of 2017
- 2016 RECAP: Favorite Photos, Favorite Moments of 2016
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I’ve really been enjoying your website so much! I’m finally at a place in life I can travel a little, and your blog has been the best source of travel info I have found yet. I’m already planning a return trip to Big Bend National Park this fall, and since I also wanted to include White Sands, your itinerary is perfect and covers all the types of things I enjoy on vacations. I really appreciate how thorough you are, and the itineraries are nice and easy to follow. Now I’ll also get to add Guadalupe and Carlsbad Caverns to my National Park passport book too! It’s been really neat seeing the different places you all have been able to go, and I really love these recaps like this, especially the way you did them for 2018 through 2020. I was wondering if you have any plans to do more of these?
Hello Michael. Thanks for writing in. The recaps are nice and they take a long time to write. We have been so backlogged in what we want to publish that we felt like my time was better spent publishing another guide or recap rather than a yearly update. I’m glad you like our recaps but as of now we have no plans to publish more of them.
However, I can give you a quick 2022 recap here…it was our biggest year of travel. We did the Virgin Islands in January, southern California and Savannah in February, White Sands and Guadalupe in March, NYC in April, Indiana Dunes in May, the Dolomites and the Walker’s Haute Route in the summer, 6 weeks in Italy in the fall, New Orleans in November, and London in December. We traveled so much that it will take me the first 6 months of this year just to get caught up. And as a preview for 2023, Tyler is studying abroad in Australia so this spring we will be in the South Pacific. Thanks again for writing in and happy travels! Cheers, Julie
I am not familiar with travel blogs, or any blogs for that matter. I have been on your email list for several years, getting your email updates but this is the first time I have looked at your site in depth. I just got your latest email and don’t know what made me delve in a little deeper. Your 10 day Colorado itinerary was just what I was looking for, a trip before I visited my sister in Boulder. Well, I am blown away. As I said, I can’t compare you with any other site but the detail you provide is mind boggling: road directions, travel times and sightseeing/hiking times, what to see in each park, places to stay, where to eat. This is exactly what I was looking for, not knowing how to spend my time before I got to my sister’s. I am a hiker so your blog is right up my alley. And I like to see “the sights” also. After planning my Colorado trip for this summer, I went to your Niagara Falls blog as I am going there for my April break, I’m a teacher from CT. I am just so thrilled to have all this planning done for me. I have been planning trips, researching hikes and things to do all my life. It takes a lot of work. Here I have somewhere to start or the whole trip planned for me. I travel outside the country also. Can’t wait for my Europe trip. Well, all this was just a kudos for such a great site.
Thank you so much for your kind words! I hope you have a great trip to Colorado and Europe! Cheers, Julie
Great stories. I am just curious how do you have so much vacation time? No need to work?
Running this website is my full-time job. Tim works full time outside of this website but is able to work remotely which gives him lots of time to travel.
Great, thank you for your comment.
Any plan for Canadian Rocky? Banff or Jasper?
We would love to go and were hoping to visit in 2020 but couldn’t because of COVID. We live in the USA and right now we are planning to stay in the US this year because of travel restrictions…but one day we would love to visit the Canadian Rockies.
Happy new year to you and your family! Your blog always has been a great resource for planning trips to US National Parks, so I am glad that you have a new section for it now. You guys are an inspiration. Wish you good luck and health in 2021 🙂
Happy New Year to you as well. We are so excited to have launched our National Parks section…and check off more parks this year. Happy Travels!! 😊 Cheers, Julie