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  1. #1

    Default Qs For Ambitious Multi-State Road Trip

    Hello everyone

    I'm so glad I stumbled across this site, as it seems to be full of highly knowledgeable and helpful people! I am in the process of planning a fairly ambitious road trip for me and my girlfriend in a window of 7 weeks from June through to late July. I will also be the only driver....

    Please bear with me here as I'm just going to summarise the whole trip:
    Starting St. Pete in Florida, the plan is to drive to Orlando and take the Amtrak Auto Train up to Lorton, VA just south of Washington DC.
    Q1 - Has anyone had any experience of using this Auto Train? Any thoughts?

    We're then planning 7-8 days to cover DC, Philadelphia, and NYC ideally staying in as cheap hotels as poss. From here we're heading west via stopover in Cleveland to Cedar Point amusement Park, then on to Chicago for a few days.

    From Chicago will be the mammoth drive to Rocky Mountain NP, via stopover around Omaha.
    Q2 - Are these mountain creek roads particularly troublesome for small cars? (I'll be driving a US Kia Rio, a small 4 door sedan)

    From RM NP to Glen Canyon NP to Monument Valley to Grand Canyon to Vegas - roughly 7 days from arrival RMNP to arrival into vegas.

    Prob just the 1 night in Vegas as we're not exactly gamblers! Then a drive-thru of Death Valley to get to Yosemite NP.
    Q3 - Again concerned about the car, is it sensible to drive through Death Valley at that time of year (end of June) with relatively few stops in order to reach Yosemite the same day?
    Q4 - Can you see the Sequoias and other awesome landscapes of Sequoia NP and Kings Canyon NP from the Highway 395 North to Yosemite?

    From Yosemite NP we'll head to Sacremento where we'll have a 10 day window for California. There appear to be many threads here for California road trips, so I'm pretty confident I can find some good spots. Prob head across to San Fran and down Pacific Coast Highway to Big Sur.
    Q5 - Should I stay on Highway 1 all the way down, or cut over to 101? I'm wondering if there's only so much coastline you can take :P
    Q5 - Is there really anything unmissable between Big Sur and LA?

    Prob stay in LA for a few days once figured out again what's unmissable. From there head down to San Diego,
    Q6 - I-5 or I-15? Is the Marine Corps base worth driving through?
    Q7 - Any opinions on whether Disney World here is better than Orlando? We'll prob have the option of going to either, if we even decide to go to any.

    Basically the trip then heads east ultimately back to Florida via Tucson, Austin and Houston (Warped Tour!!!), with possibly New Orleans, over the final 8 days.

    It will be 7 weeks with a lot of driving, but I think it is realistic. The main concern I have is having to book campgrounds etc before we go, forcing us to stick to a rigid schedule. We are planning to stay in KOAs for most of the 1 night stopovers that will be necessary, as well as for main stays in some cities. I want to have the flexibility to not have to book before I leave...
    Q8 - Has anyone had experience with KOAs? I know I'm going in high season, but do they really fill up? I phoned them to ask and they couldn't advise either way. I'm just looking for any advice from anyone who may be a seasoned KOA user!
    Q9 - Depending on KOAs, are there any other recommended ways of sleeping cheap (sub $50 per night) with flexibility?
    Q10 - Trying to keep the flexibility theme, my research suggests that there are enough first-come-first-served campgrounds at all the national parks we'll be staying at, so I am planning on not booking. However, I have had conflicting advice - to book, or not to book?
    Q11 - I am happy to book the East coast accommodation before I go, as it is unlikely that plans will chaneg so early on. However, I will need to keep flexible with booking nice-ish accommodation in Vegas, San Fran and LA. Any recommendations for how long I can feasibly leave before booking anywhere to stay in these areas? Suffice to say we'll have a big list of possible hotels with us for my GF to call while I'm driving!

    Anyone who has stayed this long, I congratulate and thank you!!! If anyone has any advice covering any of the questions I have raised, I thank you even more! Anyone who hasn't got this far, you obviously won't be reading this, but I'm sorry I rambled on so far and forced you to click the 'back' button :P

    Dave

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jan 1998
    Location
    Las Vegas, Nevada
    Posts
    10,059

    Default Lots of Opinions around here!

    Quote Originally Posted by DavidPrice1981 View Post
    I'm so glad I stumbled across this site, as it seems to be full of highly knowledgeable and helpful people!
    Well, we will give it a shot anyway -- Welcome to the Great American RoadTrip Forum! We appreciate all of the info you provided in your opening post....
    Has anyone had any experience of using this Auto Train? Any thoughts?
    Haven't done it yet, but sounds like a good idea.
    We're then planning 7-8 days to cover DC, Philadelphia, and NYC ideally staying in as cheap hotels as poss. From here we're heading west via stopover in Cleveland to Cedar Point amusement Park, then on to Chicago for a few days.
    Time frame seems very doable.
    From Chicago will be the mammoth drive to Rocky Mountain NP, via stopover around Omaha. Q2 - Are these mountain creek roads particularly troublesome for small cars? (I'll be driving a US Kia Rio, a small 4 door sedan)
    Any paved road will be fine for your car. I am not sure what the term mountain creek road means.
    From RM NP to Glen Canyon NP to Monument Valley to Grand Canyon to Vegas - roughly 7 days from arrival RMNP to arrival into vegas.
    Again, very reasonable pace.
    Prob just the 1 night in Vegas as we're not exactly gamblers!
    There is a lot more than gambling in Las Vegas. We established the national HQ for RTA here in Las Vegas, because of all of the roadtrip possibilities.
    Then a drive-thru of Death Valley to get to Yosemite NP.
    Q3 - Again concerned about the car, is it sensible to drive through Death Valley at that time of year (end of June) with relatively few stops in order to reach Yosemite the same day?
    Tioga Pass will be open by then, so it is doable -- but your time will be so rushed in Death Valley -- I would suggest an overnight at Bishop so you can enjoy Tioga Pass in the daylight.
    Q4 - Can you see the Sequoias and other awesome landscapes of Sequoia NP and Kings Canyon NP from the Highway 395 North to Yosemite?
    No, for all practical purposes you need to access them from the western slope of the Sierra Nevada mountains. Here is an excellent thread the discusses this route.
    Q5 - Should I stay on Highway 1 all the way down, or cut over to 101? I'm wondering if there's only so much coastline you can take :P
    Q5 - Is there really anything unmissable between Big Sur and LA?
    Only you can be the judge of that -- but the Big Sur is probably in the top 10 most scenic drives in the world.
    Q6 - I-5 or I-15? Is the Marine Corps base worth driving through?
    You don't get to see much of the base -- Both highways have advantages.
    Q7 - Any opinions on whether Disney World here is better than Orlando? We'll prob have the option of going to either, if we even decide to go to any.
    No opinion on that for me.
    Q8 - Has anyone had experience with KOAs? I know I'm going in high season, but do they really fill up?
    I have stayed in KOAs around the country -- they don't tend to be as scenic as state or county parks, so less pressure -- but they can certainly fill up. There is no way to really make a blanket statement on this.
    Q10 - Trying to keep the flexibility theme, my research suggests that there are enough first-come-first-served campgrounds at all the national parks we'll be staying at, so I am planning on not booking. However, I have had conflicting advice - to book, or not to book?
    Better pre-book -- high season and all. Just about every national park has an overflow campground -- so you can go risk it, but it all comes down to the level of personal risk you enjoy.

    Some more of those California threads are here and be sure to look at the bottom of each page for more ideas.

    Mark

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Location
    Washington state coast/Olympic Peninsula
    Posts
    3,318

    Default Oh, what a fun trip you have planned!

    Welcome, David, to the RTA forums.

    Quote Originally Posted by DavidPrice1981 View Post
    From Chicago will be the mammoth drive to Rocky Mountain NP, via stopover around Omaha.
    Q2 - Are these mountain creek roads particularly troublesome for small cars? (I'll be driving a US Kia Rio, a small 4 door sedan)
    Mountain roads should be fine with your Rio. The only potential issue you might have is loss of power at higher elevations because of the thinner air. It just means that you'll be driving a little slower but you're car won't be the only one affected by this so don't sweat it and just be considerate. This means staying in the right-hand lane if there is one. If not, pull over and let people pass periodically. Especially if you have 5 or more cars behind you. It's not only polite, it's the law in some states. Of course, you should have your car checked out before you leave and do general maintenance to ensure it's running its best.

    Prob just the 1 night in Vegas as we're not exactly gamblers!
    I hate to gamble but there is so much to see in Vegas that you won't be bored. Just walking around and looking at the different casinos with their themes can take a couple of days. And there are free shows that are worth catching. You'll find plenty to do, believe me.

    Q7 - Any opinions on whether Disney World here is better than Orlando? We'll prob have the option of going to either, if we even decide to go to any.
    I love them both equally. They are very different from each other and, obviously, Disneyworld is much bigger. Because it's bigger, it has more awesome rides. But Disneyland has great rides, too. And I think the way it's laid out is really more charming. I love Main Street USA. I never saw anything equivalent to that in Disneyworld. I also think the parades and the night-time fireworks display are more fun at Disneyland. I can't really explain why. I just enjoy them more in CA. I think it might be because it's a smaller setting and you feel more part of them instead of viewing them from afar. The new California Adventure section is very cool, too.

    While you're in LA, you might also want to do Universal Studios. It is also smaller with fewer rides than the one in Orlando but it has something that Orlando lacks...the fantastic tour of the sets. Maybe it's just me but I loved seeing the real house from Psycho, for example.

    Q8 - Has anyone had experience with KOAs? I know I'm going in high season, but do they really fill up? I phoned them to ask and they couldn't advise either way. I'm just looking for any advice from anyone who may be a seasoned KOA user!
    Are you doing a tent? If so, you probably won't have any problems getting a spot. The RV sites fill up much quicker. They can usually find a place for you to stick up a tent. I can't guarantee you that. Some KOAs next to very popular areas might get filled up. But I would be too concerned about it. You can always determine that day where you intend to end up that night and then call ahead and make a reservation that day. If they're booked up, at least you'll know ahead of time and can find something else.

    I would get a good tent camping guide so you have other options. Here's a list of some good ones. Personally, if you're tenting it, I would get one of the ones that emphasize tent camping. Some RV parks listed don't allow tent camping so, I figure, why have the extra pages to haul around.

    Q9 - Depending on KOAs, are there any other recommended ways of sleeping cheap (sub $50 per night) with flexibility?
    Well, there are plenty of other types of campgrounds out there. In addition to national, state, and county parks that allow camping, there's also tons of other campgrounds run by other private companies. Some nicer than KOAs. Some not as nice. But all are fine for just an overnight stop. I really wouldn't sweat this. Just like I mentioned above, you can always call ahead that day to reserve someplace up the road when you get an idea of where you will want to stop.

    Some hotels will be around that price. Motel 6 is often that low, but some are higher. It depends on location. You might check out their website for some of the places you'll be going through to see what kind of rates they offer there. But hotels that low are generally hard to find.

    Q10 - Trying to keep the flexibility theme, my research suggests that there are enough first-come-first-served campgrounds at all the national parks we'll be staying at, so I am planning on not booking. However, I have had conflicting advice - to book, or not to book?
    Your research depends on what national park you're talking about. Some might have spots, some not. Most first-come/first-served spots are jumped on really early in the day, in my experience. Even before noon. But there are some national parks that are visited less and aren't as popular that might have spots. I wouldn't rule it out but I sure wouldn't count on it.

    Q11 - I am happy to book the East coast accommodation before I go, as it is unlikely that plans will chaneg so early on. However, I will need to keep flexible with booking nice-ish accommodation in Vegas, San Fran and LA. Any recommendations for how long I can feasibly leave before booking anywhere to stay in these areas? Suffice to say we'll have a big list of possible hotels with us for my GF to call while I'm driving!
    Actually, I find that cities usually have lots of rooms so it's not hard to find lodging even if you just drive up. However, a few big conventions in town could change that. Unless you are intent on staying in a particular place or specific area of the city, I think you'd be safe to wait until the day or two before arriving. No guarantees on that, though. You might also end up paying a bit more for a room if the lesser-cost places are already booked up.

    Hope this helps!

  4. #4

    Default Thanks for your replies!

    Any paved road will be fine for your car. I am not sure what the term mountain creek road means.
    I just meant high altitude winding roads that would exist around some of the mountainous areas we would be driving through. Judy's answered this one tho - so thanks!

    I hate to gamble but there is so much to see in Vegas that you won't be bored. Just walking around and looking at the different casinos with their themes can take a couple of days. And there are free shows that are worth catching. You'll find plenty to do, believe me.
    I guess I'll book another night then! I've managed to save some time on the east coast by staying shorter in Philadelphia, so hopefully this should make it possible.

    Tioga Pass will be open by then, so it is doable -- but your time will be so rushed in Death Valley -- I would suggest an overnight at Bishop so you can enjoy Tioga Pass in the daylight.
    Great suggestion Mark, thanks for that.

    Well, there are plenty of other types of campgrounds out there. In addition to national, state, and county parks that allow camping, there's also tons of other campgrounds run by other private companies. Some nicer than KOAs. Some not as nice. But all are fine for just an overnight stop. I really wouldn't sweat this. Just like I mentioned above, you can always call ahead that day to reserve someplace up the road when you get an idea of where you will want to stop.
    I've investigated this further, and I think you're right. There seem to be a number of options on the routes I'll be travelling, not only KOAs, so calling in the morning to reserve a place for the same night should be doable, especially on weekdays.

    Your research depends on what national park you're talking about. Some might have spots, some not. Most first-come/first-served spots are jumped on really early in the day, in my experience. Even before noon. But there are some national parks that are visited less and aren't as popular that might have spots. I wouldn't rule it out but I sure wouldn't count on it.
    I'm really talking here about Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Glen Canyon and Rocky Mountain National Parks. It will be a pain having to book, with it being in the middle of the trip, but might be the only way. I'll call them all and see if they can give me any flexibility. In answer to another question, yes will will be tenting.

    Thanks a lot for the answers you have given, they've helped a lot. If I think of anything else, I know where to come! :)

    PS I may host some links to my google maps route plans and placemarks for each leg of the trip if anyone would be interested or find it useful for their own road trips?

    Dave

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Location
    Washington state coast/Olympic Peninsula
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    3,318

    Default We love links!

    In other words, yeah, please feel free to post your google maps and other trip plans. Those are also interesting to review.

    Yosemite and Grand Canyon are two of the most popular national parks. You will definitely want reservations there. There is no flexibility though. I'm pretty sure you'll have similar problems with Glen Canyon and Rocky Mountain. Popular parks fill up fast and are often booked months in advance. I hope you find spots there. If not, you may need to explore reservations at private parks outside the park boundaries. This is a time when I would encourage reservations even at private campgrounds. Popular areas like these tend to fill up fast and even mediocre campgrounds can be totally packed.

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