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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Sep 2008
    Location
    Litomysl, Czech Republic
    Posts
    4

    Default National Parks of the West: A Monthly Trip

    Hello,

    We're 4 Europeans planning our first road trip in the US next summer. We're gonna fly to Denver, rent a car there, and then drive to Salt Lake City -> Yellowstone -> Mt. Rushmore -> Denver -> Phoenix -> San Diego -> Eureka -> Crater Lake -> Las Vegas -> Denver (our itinerary in Google Maps: here Distance: 7000 mi).

    The budget:
    Car rent: 1000 $
    Fuel: 900 $
    Sleeping: at campgrounds; in a car at parking lots; at friends'; maybe rarely at motels. 1000 $
    Food: grocery stuff; cooking with a propane grill. 1800 $
    Other costs & reserve: 1000 $

    1) My primary question: Can it be done in 30 days?
    There are many national parks and other interesting sights along the way (as shown in the plan). We'd like to stay some time (i.e., spend entire day or so) in the most interesting places like Rocky Mountains NP, Yellowstone NP, Great Sand Dunes NP, Messa Verde NP, Grand Canyon NP,Yosemite NP, Sequoia NP, Death Valley NP (and others, if we like them a lot), plus we have friends in Denver, Phoenix, San Diego, San Francisco, and Eureka, who we'd like to pay a visit. We're gonna drive thru the rest of the sights (like Monument Valley) or stop for a few hours (like Mt. Rushmore). I know it seems quite ambitious, and I think we'll have to miss some of the sights. The thing is that we want to see as much as possible in one month, but with no excessive rush during the trip. What do you think? Is it doable?

    2) My secondary question: Is it necessary to plan every day in advance and in detail?
    I find it very hard to make a detailed schedule of such a long trip in a country I have never been to. Moreover, I don't want to follow any strict plan which would force me to rush for the next scheduled stop if I realized that I didn't plan the plan so well. We'd like to be flexible, with a possibility to spend more time in an unexpectedly beautiful location, and vice versa. Nevertheless, I've read that it is necessary to book a site in some national parks' campgrounds months ahead. It seems a little bit strange to me; is it true? (If so, any advice? That would complicate the whole trip a lot...)

    Additional questions:

    3) Shouldn't we rent an RV instead of a small car?
    It would cost at least twice as much (plus additional fuel; on the other hand, we could spare some money sleeping more at the parking lots), but there would be much more space to sleep, cook, etc. It would certainly be more comfortable. Do you think it is worth the additional cost?

    4) Would Woodall's Campground Directory be OK for such a trip?
    I'm thinking also about the Woodall's "Tenting" version. Which one do you think is more appropriate?

    5) Is camping in the American West generally safe?
    What about criminality? Is sleeping at parking lots OK? And I've heard several wild stories concerning some neat animals. Is this a problem at the campgrounds? I suppose that camping outside official campgrounds isn't permitted anyway...

    6) Is the above mentioned budget reasonable?

    7) Do you think that some sights in our itinerary aren't worth visiting given the circumstances? Which ones?

    Thanks a lot for your time reading all this and for your suggestions to any of my questions. Thanks for this great forum!

  2. #2
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Location
    Green County, Wisconsin
    Posts
    12,987

    Default a bit much

    Welcome to the RTA forum!

    1) My primary question: Can it be done in 30 days?

    I think you could do a lot of this in 30 days, but I don't think you'll be able to fit it all in. I counted 45 stops that you've listed, and you've listed 13 places that you'd like to spend a full day. When you add in the driving, I think you've got more than you'll be able to fit on your plate.
    2) My secondary question: Is it necessary to plan every day in advance and in detail?

    You certainly don't have to plan out every single day in detail, but I think you should build a rough day-by-day itinerary. That should give you a better idea of how much you really can pack into a 30 day trip. One nice thing about camping in the West is that there is lots of land and legal camping places, so you won't often have to have reservations. It won't hurt to have reservations at some of the most popular areas, especially if you are there on the weekends.
    3) Shouldn't we rent an RV instead of a small car?

    An RV is a great way to travel, and in some ways it can be more comfortable than a car and tent - if you don't like sleeping on the ground - its almost never the cheapest option. In fact, when you factor in all the additional expenses, its usually cheaper to even stay in motels. Having said that, I've never found a way where 4 people can comfortably sleep in a standard car, so I would plan on setting up a tent most every night.
    4) Would Woodall's Campground Directory be OK for such a trip?

    That is one good option. Here are RTA's recommendations for Camping Directories.
    5) Is camping in the American West generally safe?

    Yes, as long as you practice good safety practices. Animals are a potential problem, and you'll want to make sure you safely store your food especially in Bear inhabitated areas.
    6) Is the above mentioned budget reasonable?

    I think you've pretty good, lean budget, except for your fuel costs. You need to factor in some extra driving beyond the point to point distances for driving around parks, cities, etc. So your overall distance will probably be about 9,000 miles. A mid-sized sedan will generally get about 25 mpg, and based on trend over the past couple years, gas next summer will probably cost $4.50-$5. Based on those numbers, I'd be budgeting about $1800 for fuel expenses.

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

    Default Very ambitious trip!

    You will have to average driving about 300 miles per day which is do-able. But it's not going to leave you a long time to explore places either. If you are fine with that, it's feasible. If I were you, I'd leave myself the option to make changes on the fly if you find it's too tiring of a pace for you.

    Actually, I would encourage you to make some adjustments before you come or, at the very least, identify what you will cut if you find you need to make those cuts.

    While I agree that you can probably find a campsite, be aware that you will often have to drive quite a few miles to find one with a vacancy as the national parks tend to be booked in advance and even close-by campgrounds might be full.

    You will find that an RV is the most expensive way to travel. Better to camp in a tent and/or stay in hotels if money is an issue.

    If you are camping someplace where bears or other critters are a problem, the campsite will provide bear-proof places to store food. If you are in a place like this, do not put food in your tent, eat food in your tent, or do anything else to bring food odors into your tent.

    For tent camping, I do prefer directories that focus on tent camping.

    I agree with Michael's fuel estimate.

  4. #4

    Default

    "We're gonna fly to Denver, rent a car there, and then drive to Salt Lake City -> Yellowstone -> Mt. Rushmore -> Denver -> Phoenix -> San Diego -> Eureka -> Crater Lake -> Las Vegas -> Denver"
    First off if you want to do this you need to change the schedule here a little bit. Your going to make it tough to see other things along the way because you would be in a big hurry to complete this. I would say instead of flying to denver and comming back to denver just fly to salt lake city and start there. And you dont want to go clear to Oregon and back down to Vegas when you was just by there. Ok think about this one......

    Fly to Salt lake city> Yellowstone> Mt. rushmore> Denver> Las vegas> Phoenix> San Diego> Eureka> Crater Lake> and come back to Salt lake city to fly home!

    You would make a giant circle and be able to see alot of stuff inbetween such as National Parks. Also, you need to add in at least 2 National Parks in Utah there amazing. You can do this between the Denver and Vegas routes. If you like my ideas I can come up with many ideas how to make this work for you and how to get all them parks in.
    Last edited by Mark Sedenquist; 09-30-2008 at 08:54 AM.

  5. #5

    Default

    I'd make time to see all the sights of the Black Hills & Custer Park around Mt. Rushmore. IMO, Rushmore by itself isn't worth the trip into South Dakota. You get there and realize you're looking at something that looks exactly like every photograph of it you've ever seen. Blah. There are a lot of other things to see in the Black Hills; wildlife, the Wind and Jewel Caves, the Crazy Horse monument (again a little like Rushmore redux), etc.

    I'll second the motion to make a few more stops in Utah. Bryce Canyon is quite gorgeous, as is Zion Canyon (a lot of great hiking too).

  6. Default

    Quote Originally Posted by makeitso View Post
    Car rent: 1000 $Fuel: 900 $
    You're estimating 7000 miles; my 40 mpg Honda Civic could do that for about $800 (if gas averaged $4.50), BUT my Honda Civic cannot carry four people AND their luggage AND tents, sleeping gear, propane stove, and food. Two people could do it, but not four.
    Quote Originally Posted by makeitso View Post
    1) My primary question: Can it be done in 30 days
    Yes, especially if your four travelers are all adults and can share the driving.
    Quote Originally Posted by makeitso View Post
    Nevertheless, I've read that it is necessary to book a site in some national parks' campgrounds months ahead. It seems a little bit strange to me; is it true?
    Yes. I already have all my reservations for our July 2009 trip -- except our end-of-trip Vegas hotel; I just haven't found a deal that's good enough yet.
    Quote Originally Posted by makeitso View Post
    Shouldn't we rent an RV instead of a small car??
    If your goal is to save money, no. When you compare the cost of renting the RV, buying gas for it, paying camping fees, it's NOT a budget choice. I was very surprised when I first learned that, and I kept doing the numbers over and over, but it wasn't even close -- and that was when gas was only $2/gallon. Also, if you choose the RV, you'll need to shorten your itinerary; you'll cover fewer miles in a day.
    Quote Originally Posted by makeitso View Post
    Is camping in the American West generally safe?
    Yes.
    Quote Originally Posted by makeitso View Post
    Is sleeping at parking lots OK?
    No, it's not safe.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Location
    Green County, Wisconsin
    Posts
    12,987

    Default Now hold on a second

    Is sleeping at parking lots OK?
    No, it's not safe.
    I'm sorry, but that's just not an accurate statement.

    There are many ways that you can legally and safely sleep in a parking lot. If you are in a well lit, patrolled location, there are many people -including many who frequently contribute to this forum- who regularly sleep in their cars in parking lots.

    Of course, you don't just want to pull into a dark corner of a rest area or onto an unfamiliar street and assume that its a good place to spend the night. However, if you are at a place, like a truck stop where you've been given permission, there is no reason you can't safely sleep in your car.

    Now doing it comfortably, especially with 4 people in a standard car is another story.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Jan 1998
    Location
    Las Vegas, Nevada
    Posts
    10,052

    Default I've done it scores of times

    There is a "way" of doing what is known as "urban boondocking" but I have slept in parking lots over years, scores -- perhaps even hundreds of times.

    Mark

  9. Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Midwest Michael View Post
    I'm sorry, but that's just not an accurate statement . . . Of course, you don't just want to pull into a dark corner of a rest area or onto an unfamiliar street and assume that its a good place to spend the night.
    I can't agree, and I'll give you an illustration:

    If you were to visit the Super Walmart -- a common overnight spot -- in my town, you'd see a big, open parking lot with lots of people coming and going. The lighting is decent. You'd see other businesses (bank, fast food, and a couple others) in the same parking lot. You'd see that it's a clean parking lot. You might very well think to yourself, "This is going to be safe".

    What you WOULDN"T see -- and couldn't know -- is that after dark this is a VERY DANGEROUS spot. At least once a month there's a car jacking in that parking lot -- it's always after dark, and it seems to happen more in the summer. I personally know two people who've been attacked and robbed in that parking lot. I won't go there after dark at all. Why is this true? A couple bad things converge in this particular parking lot, and they aren't visible to the casual observer: The biggest thing is that the parking lot is super-easy to leave quickly. The road in front is a four-lane straight shot in both directions, so the thieves can pull out without waiting for the light. There are no trees or buildings preventing you from seeing down the road as you pull out. It's about two miles to the county line, and just over the line are all kinds of little tiny roads, making it very easy for theives to zip out of the parking lot, then disappear. The police watch this place, but they aren't there all the time. My sources: Personal knowledge, the resource officer at my school, and my uncle the retired state trooper.

    If you came into my town, would you happen to talk to the right person who'd tell you the truth about this parking lot? Maybe, maybe not. I'm sure there are places like this in every town. Is it really worth taking that chance?
    Quote Originally Posted by Midwest Michael View Post
    Now doing it comfortably, especially with 4 people in a standard car is another story.
    Now I agree with that completely!

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Location
    Washington state coast/Olympic Peninsula
    Posts
    3,318

    Default Situational safety

    If you visit any of the websites that cater to the RV crowd, there are tons of discussions on staying overnight in WalMart parking lots, and other parking lots as well. I've never seen a report of a bad occurrence. This doesn't mean it's never happened, but it doesn't seem to be something that is met with heavy concern amongst RV travelers.

    I would advise locking up tight, not answering the door, and keeping a cellphone handy if something does happen. And, if a place makes you feel uncomfortable, move on.

    Personally, I would rather stay at a place that's open 24-hours. I don't know if any WalMarts are but some grocery stores are. Or, of course, trucking plazas and mini-marts, too.

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