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  1. Default Taking scenic route to West Coast from Chicago...being

    Hey all-

    I'm going to make a last-minute trip heading west, starting Wednesday. I'm thinking of going from Illinois, via Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Nevada, and then end in San Francisco, where I live. I'll have to make pretty good time, because I need to be in SF in 9 or 10 days, but I want to enjoy the sights.
    I'd love to see interesting things along the way, but I haven't really planned much. I definitely want to see some of the national parks...but what else are must-see's/ must-do's along this route? Should I mind the there much of it? Any tips would be appreciated!
    Last edited by Mike D; 10-11-2011 at 12:03 AM.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Green County, Wisconsin


    Welcome to the RTA Forum!

    We really don't believe much in "Must Sees" because that really depends upon you. It is hard to go wrong with National Parks, and you've got a few major ones along the way, like the Badlands/Black Hills, and Yellowstone/Tetons. Just keep in mind that you are at the point past tourist season where things will be shutting down or already closed for winter. I will note that Arizona is a very very long way removed from anything else you've mentioned, and while 9 to 10 days is plenty to make this trip, it could go by quickly if you want to start doing lots of zig-zagging.

    Weather is unpredicatable. It is still fairly early, but it is certainly possible to start seeing snow, especially in higher elevations.

    If you want more suggestion on the many many things you could see, I'd recommend you check out RTA's map center.

  3. Default

    Thanks - very helpful. Arizona was my bad - meant Colorado (changed it in
    posting). Any short cuts to see which parks are open/closed?
    Last edited by Mike D; 10-11-2011 at 12:03 AM.

  4. Default Change of plan - leave Chicago tmrw - got 8 days to get to SF - best route?

    Ok...I've done my homework and I see that my initial plan of driving west via the national parks in Montana and Wyoming may run into weather and early park closure snags. So...slight modification may be needed.

    If you had 8 days and a car to get from Chicago to SF, what would you do?

    Do I do Route 66 instead? Do I drive some combo of highways due west and catch Utah and South Wyoming, then Nevada etc?

    I am being very flexible to will take any advice very seriously.

    BUT, I leave on Weds my stopwatch is ticking :)

    Thanks in advance!

    Moderator Note: Please don't create multiple threads about the same trip
    Last edited by Midwest Michael; 10-11-2011 at 01:52 AM.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    South of England.


    Most National parks are open year round, but facilities close and snow can cause disruption, such as in Yellowstone, or along the Trail ridge road in Rocky mountain NP and Tioga pass in Yosemite in the mountains. These can close at any time from now depending on weather but the parks remain open. The best way to find parks of interest to you and along your route is to look up all the relevant details at using the 'Find a park' map and click on the park details.

    If you were to head to RMNP [Colorado] you will find a high concentration of parks from there through Southern Utah and you could consider heading down to the GC, Las Vegas and through Death valley NV to Yosemite NP and on to SF. ** [Checking the Tioga pass status before deciding on route**] It might be wise to choose between staying more northerly or venturing further south and have some quality time out of the car, and not trying to do both. A 'few' other NP's to consider on top of those described above, would include Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce canyon and Zion, plus places like Colorado National monument and Monument valley and some great driving roads.

    Once you have had a look around and got some dots on the map, we can help to fill in the blanks.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Melbourne, Australia

    Default Make your own discoveries

    If you had 8 days and a car to get from Chicago to SF, what would you do?
    I would go to the AAA, get maps of all the States between Chicago and SF, and look what there is along any of the routes on those maps. And/Or a Rand McNally Road Atlas. I would get in the car and head for the horizon, along which ever route I had chosen, all the time keeping my eyes open for any signpost to an attraction which may appeal to me. Towards late afternoon, I would check to see what accommodation is available in the area where I find myself.

    And repeat that the next morning and every day thereafter. All the while keeping an eye on the time and my progress towards my final destination.

    Enjoy and drive safely.


  7. Default

    Thank you so much - this is amazingly helpful!
    -Lifey - I like your approach - kinda how I roll when I travel...though I have time constraints which are a pain this time, so I have to be a bit purposeful.
    -Southwest Dave, your posting is what I used to do research on all the parks on the nps site.

    If I'm going to be super ambitious, I'd take the 90 to Montana (which I've heard is a must-see) then down south into Yellowstone, then further to Teton (would be limited to car trip through these due to time)...then south through WY to stop by SLC Utah for an overnight (friend there), and then build in some combo of Arches/Canyonlands/Bryce/Zion (not all of them, of course, maybe one or two) in Utah, then take a flight to SF from SLC or Vegas. A more rational approach may be to skip SD and Montana and head west using the 80 instead.

    My questions are:
    1) States: I understand taking the 80 via Nebraska and southern WY isn't much to look at vs. the 90 via SD and Montana - is this true? If so, is it worth it to check out SD/Montana so quickly this time of year (with my time constraints and where weather may also be iffy) before heading south to WY and Utah, or rather make a separate trip of SD/Montana during summertime and focus on the southen route for now? Can I still make an interesting trip out of the 80?
    2) Parks: I also understand the Yellowstone and Teton are the (subjectively) some of the pinnacles of national park beauty (I could be totally wrong here). Same as q #1: is it worth rushing through these 2 parks now, or make a separate trip of them summertime?
    3) "Repetition": I know each park is uniquely beatiful, and I don't mean to sound simplistic...but if I was to see Yellowstone and Teton, would Arches/Canyonlands/Bryce/Zion seem repetitive or less interesting right after? Would they be an anti-climax?
    4) If I skip the 90/SD/Montana/Yellowstone/Teton altogether and instead focus on getting to Utah quickly instead, which of Arches/Canyonlands/Bryce/Zion would you recommend in order to see the maximum variety of geological formations and wildlife?
    5) How crazy is trying to do it all, this time of year, in 8 days? Answering my own question, the mileage seems it is crazy, yes? What plan would you land on?
    6) Car rental: any recommendations, or do I just go with the standard agency options for a one-way trip? Would I need snow chains?
    Thanks so much - I head out in the morning, and your response is literally how I will proceed - no pressure! :-)

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    Joplin MO


    I would deadhead from Chicago to Denver in 2 days via I-80/I-76. Then you would have plenty of time to take I-70 to Utah and see some parks, winding up in Las Vegas. I don't want to hurt the spontaneity, but I'd look at Arches/Canyonlands (make sure to enter Moab via UT-128 instead of US-191), then UT-24/UT-12 to Capitol Reef and Bryce, then Zion. You can make it from LV to SF in one long day via I-15/CA-58/I-5, but if you have 2 days left you could take a run through Death Valley and Yosemite on the way to SF.

    Standard car should be fine, and chains probably won't be needed.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    South of England.

    Default Agreed.

    What glc described above is exactly the way I would be looking at things and what I was 'hinting at in my previous post. It's the best part of 5 days driving so you have a little time to get out of the car and take in a few sights. Of course it's your choice and if you want to head for Yellowstone and Tetons, check the weather conditions before travelling. If you can get an Internet connection on the road you are more than welcome to keep us up to date with where you are and answer any questions you might have for the day ahead.

    Have a great trip and please let us know how it turned out and share your thoughts.

    Oh, and don't worry about parks becoming repetitive, each and everyone is unique in it's own way and every time I think it can't get better than this, it does !! Not to mention all the 'bits in between' you will stumble across.

  10. Default Thanks

    I took your excellent advice and took the 80 westwards and got to Denver in 2 days...checked in at 2AM this morning to keep the schedule. Today I'm a bit delayed heading out to Moab, but here's my rough plan:

    Friday (today): Drive Denver to Moab. Get in late, spend night in Moab
    Saturday: early start to get both Arches and Canyonlands in, mostly by car, maybe 1-2 short hikes. Then head off evening for SLC - will be a very long day. Night in SLC. Not sure if this is doable as it's about 6 hours to SLC after a day of 2 parks.
    Sunday: hang out with friend in SLC, head south Sunday eve...maybe sleep in car if nowhere near Bryce Canyon/Zion to sleep.
    Monday: early start to get both Bryce Canyon and Zion in...same day plan as Arches/Canyonlands. Sleep somewhere between south UT and north side if Grand Canyon (I did south side years ago).
    Tuesday: Grand Canyon, evening head for LV. Night in LV
    Wednesday: LV to Yosemite. Not sure where to spend the night.
    Thursday: Yosemite to SF.

    I know: this is very rushed. But I have one spare day (I only need to be in SF by noon Friday). I feel like I'm shortchanging the UT parks, which should be the highlight. If so, where should I add a day? Is my Saturday even doable?

    Thanks in advance - your advice has been instrumental.

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