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  1. Default Early Fall 2012 Western US Roadtrip

    Hello all! I've been using Roadtrip America for a couple of months now to plan a 2 week roadtrip for myself and my soon-to-be husband for next fall. Let me start by saying this site and forum have been an incredible resource for me! I'm a veteran weekend roadtripper, but I'm new to trips that last more than a few days, so I needed all the help I could get!

    Now that we've spent a considerable amount of time deciding what states, cities, attractions, etc. that we can't afford to miss, I'd like to post the plan and see what you veterans think about the distance and pacing. If we're in over our heads, I'd like to know now so we don't get too attached to the itinerary!

    We're from Florida, and one of my close friends lives in Seattle, so we're planning on flying in late on a Friday night, 9/14, spending Saturday in Seattle with my girlfriend, and then leaving early Sunday morning heading east on I-90. We want to be back in Seattle by Friday night, 9/28, so we can fly out early on Saturday, 9/29. The basic plan is to travel down to the Grand Canyon through WY, MT, & UT, and then head back up to Seattle through CA & OR. The breakdown will go something like this:

    Day One - Seattle to Deer Lodge, MT
    Day Two - Deer Lodge through Yellowstone to Bridger-Teton Nat'l Forest, WY
    Day Three - Bridger-Teton to Antelope Island State Park on the Great Salt Lake, UT
    Day Four - Salt Lake to south Zion Nat'l Park, UT
    Day Five - Zion to Grand Canyon (we hope to camp at Toroweap Point, but the contingency plan is the North Rim in case road conditions prevent us from getting to Toroweap)
    Day Six - Grand Canyon to Death Valley, CA
    Day Seven - Death Valley to Mammoth Lakes, CA (specifically Silver Lake)
    Day Eight - Mammoth Lakes to Yosemite Nat'l Park
    Day Nine - Yosemite to South Lake Tahoe, CA
    Day Ten - Lake Tahoe to Umpqua Nat'l Forest, OR near Crater Lake
    Day Eleven - Umpqua to Portland, OR
    Day Twelve - Portland to Hoh Rainforest near Forks, WA
    Day Thirteen - Forks to Seattle, WA

    We're not at all interested in cities or urban areas, and hope to hit as many National Parks & Forests as we can, as well as a few State Parks. The only city we'll be stopping in purposefully other than Seattle is Portland, OR because we're interested in moving there (it's a 5-10 year plan, at least ;)) No amusement parks, no tourist traps if we can help it, no museums. We just want to experience nature in the Western states.

    Based on that, is this trip do-able, or are we over-reaching? Neither of us are opposed to spending a whole day in a car, but obviously we don't want to spend *every* day stuck in the car watching nature fly by. We know we won't be able to see and do everything we'd like to in this time, but from my estimation, we'll be able to meander a little here and there and still enjoy ourselves. I've used Google Maps to figure out driving times and distances, always overestimating based on what Google said. If there is a better program for realistic driving times and itinerary building, suggestions are welcome!

    Any and all advice or comments appreciated, since like I said, I've never done this before and want to get it right! Thanks in advance, and sorry if this post was too long, I have a tendency to be long-winded. :)

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    South of England.

    Default Busy, busy.

    Hello and welcome to the RTA forums !

    Whereas your trip is doable on paper, personally I think you might be trying to cover too much for the amount of time you have and end up feeling as though you are rushing from one place to another. You have a solid 7/8 days of driving and a long list of places to explore that would leave you less than half a day at each of them, whereas you could spend several days in Yellowstone alone and only just scratch the surface. Much will come down to your travel style, but even if you like to be on the go most of the time, I think you need to cut back.

    Perhaps skipping Antelope Island, Lake Tahoe, Forks and going direct to Yosemite from Death valley would free up some time to slow the pace in other places and enjoy them.

    Sometimes less is more.

  3. #3

    Default Lots of long days just driving, it seems

    Hello Duncable,

    While I haven't looked at your proposed intervals with mapping software, I've spent a good bit of time RoadTripping MT, ID, WY, UT, CO, AZ, and CA. Here's what jumps out at me regarding your plans:

    Day one from SEA to Deerlodge is a long day. No problem in my personal opinion, but you're looking at blowing past some pretty fine scenery just to get to Deerlodge on Day One.

    Day Two including getting to and through Yellowstone makes me wonder "why bother?". It'll be around a half-day's HARD drive just to get to Yellowstone from Deerlodge, and travel through the park is slow. You'd be looking at a less-than-cursory glance at one of the most spectacular National Parks we've got in the Lower 48.

    I've been to Antelope Island (but never camped there). Accessing Antelope, however, means passing through a highly congested urban/suburban area running between Logan and Provo, including SLC. Antelope is close enough to the flight pattern for SLC to see and probably hear airliners coming and going. Yes, it's unique, but as a destination for those seeking to avoid cities and congestion, it strikes me as a curious choice. You'd face a 50 or so mile slog through the remainder of the SLC basin to reach Provo enroute south, too. I'd much rather spend a night in the eastern Unitas below Green River, WY or even over in Park City, UT and head south from there, having never dropped down off of the Wasatch to the SLC basin.

    The remainder of your proposed trip lies outside of areas where I have a lot of experience, but it seems as there's a continuation of the "all go and no slow" itinerary.

    If you're driven to see Yellowstone, may I suggest stopping in or near Missoula, then down US 93 to Lost Trail Pass, then over into the Big Hole, then to Dillon, Twin Bridges, and Ennis, MT, and entering Yellowstone from West Yellowstone, MT. There you can use West Yellowstone as a base for at least a full day inside the Park, departing for points south afterward. I'd make time for that by eliminating Antelope Island. You may also enter Yellowstone from Red Lodge and the surreal alpine tundra experience of the Beartooth Highway, but be aware of its short season--highways which top out at 12,000' can close early in the season. Either way, plan to spend at least one full day in Yellowstone if you're going to the time and trouble to get there. Finally, be aware of the grizzly and black bear presence in Yellowstone and vicinity. If you're tent-camping, you've got to study up on the various precautions. Also, you're traveling at the beginning of hunting season, so be aware of the likelihood of NF campgrounds hosting groups of hunters, particularly in MT and WY.

    These observations and suggestions are of course purely my own personal preferences. The opinions of others, and your own mileage, may vary.

    Enjoy planning and taking your Autumn 2012 RoadTrip!


  4. #4
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Green County, Wisconsin

    Default some immediate concerns

    Welcome to the RTA Forum!

    I see a few things that jump out right off the top.

    First, you aren't giving yourself nearly enough time to see Yellowstone. It is a huge park, it takes a long time to get around (max speed 45 mph, with traffic and animal delays) and even seeing the major highlights is tough in just 2 full days. Your current schedule barely leaves you enough time to race through the park, stop for an old faithful eruption, and continue your sprint.

    Second, While Toroweap Point is a spot that I'd love to get to someday, I get the impression that your trip will be in a rental, which makes this impossible. Access is only via high clearance 4 wheel drive roads, which will invalidate the rental contract from every major rental company, even if you rent a 4 wheel drive vehicle. You'd be 100% responsible for all damage, your insurance would be invalid, and a tow out of there can cost more than $1,000 if the worst happens.

    Third, Yosemite is on the West side of the Sierras while Death Valley, Mammoth, and Lake Tahoe are all on the east side. Its a great drive to go over the mountains, but going back and forth is going to take more time than you've allowed if you want to see any of the Yosemite Valley.

    I suspect there are other issues, and I suspect that overall you'd be best off trimming things way back, but those are the big concerns that immediately jump out.

  5. Default

    Thanks for the quick responses guys!

    Dave - that was my fear, that it looks good on paper, but in practice, we'd just be rushing around like crazy. Some of the places we're stopping are just that, stops for the night, where we don't plan on doing any exploring or sight seeing (Mammoth Lakes, for instance; it was the closest campground I could find east of Yosemite, since we wouldn't have enough time to get into Yosemite and set up camp that day before the sun sets.) Even still, I had a feeling we were pushing it.

    Foy - I purposefully made Day 1 long, and I know we're flying past quite a bit of stuff, but we were just trying to get as close to Yellowstone as possible. And as blasphemous as this might be, we never intended to spend much time in Yellowstone; it was always going to be a "drive through" with a few quick pit stops along the way for some pictures. I can talk to the Mr. about skipping it altogether, but I'm not sure he'll be down for that. I like your suggestion about changing the route, though, and I think I'll play around with it to see how much time we can save.

    Thanks for the insight on Antelope Island, too. I didn't take into account the urban areas we'd have to drive through to get to it, or the noise disturbance from the planes! I fell in love with the Island when I was doing initial trip research so I've been pretty attached to the idea of camping there, but you make some great points. I'm looking at a map now and wondering if you mean taking 191 from Bridger-Teton down to I80 near Green River, WY, then cutting back over to I15 south of Provo? I think we could make that work, but again, I'll have to make sure the Mr. won't mind missing the Great Salt Lake.

    Michael - I know I'm not going to make any friends by saying we always planned to just drive through Yellowstone, but it's the truth! ;) We don't get vacations very often (the last one we had as in 2007 for 5 days, if that gives you any idea...) and we're not the kind of people that want to spend our vacations standing still. We want to see as much as possible without feeling like we didn't get a vacation at all, if that makes sense. The big four motivators for choosing this trip as our honeymoon were the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Death Valley, and the Olympic Peninsula (so we're not cutting Forks, WA, either,) and there was just soooo much inbetween each of those that we just couldn't ignore completely, hence the current itinerary.

    There's a chance we might be borrowing a car as opposed to getting a rental, which should eliminate the Toroweap issue, but thanks for the heads-up on the rental; I knew it was seriously off the beaten path, but I've never rented a car before so I wasn't aware it would affect the contract. If we did the North Rim instead, I'm thinking it would save us time, since even though it's farther away, the driving would be on major roads and highways - am I correct in that assumption?

  6. #6

    Default I double-checked, and..... recollection of the causeway access point to Antelope Island is dead on target. You drive through the suburbs of Layton, UT to the edge of the lake, across the causeway, and you're then on Antelope Island. Take a look at a map and note the SLC airport is on a small peninsula north of I-80 and west of I-215/I-15. The main runways (yes, there are 2 parallels there) run north-south, so the flight pattern will always have dual lanes of flight traffic either descending parallel to Antelope or climbing away from it. I forgot Hill Air Force Base right there on the north side of Layton, too. Oh, and a large oil refinery on the east shore of the lake just south of Kaysville, too, with a ton of train traffic north and south. Bottom line is it's a highly developed urban/suburban/industrial corridor wedged in between the Salt Lake and the Wasatch Range all the way from Logan on the north to beyond Provo on the south. The north end of the island is only around 3 miles from Layton and the south end only 4-5 miles from SLC International.

    And yes, US 191 south of the Jackson area to and over I-80 is what I was mentioning. US 191 from Green River to Dutch John is a nice high plateau ride, you cross the dam some 400' over the Green River (and can drive down a river access road to the base of the dam), and the Uinta Mountains from there toward Vernal are very nice, especially in late September when the aspens are golden.

    Most any route you'd take from Vernal over towards I-15 at or south of Provo will be nice, too. I drove US 40 from Park City to Grandby, CO in late July, and the area just east of Heber City was very nice, forested, high elevation, and cool temps. Strawberry Reservoir is surrounded by NF lands and there must be many campgrounds, as surely you'll find many NF campgrounds all the way from Jackson, WY to Zion.

    Frankly, I think the Great Salt Lake is over-rated. Approaching from the west or northwest, which means approaching from the most remote part of the Lower 48 (northeast NV and northwest UT), yeah, that'd be pretty neat. Approaching from the wannabe LA Basin which I find to be a good description of the SLC area, not so much. It's hard to get close to (surrounded by marsh for the most part, and it smells terrible (hydrogen sulfide gas--a natural smell of highly saline waters, but it still smells like rotten eggs). Give me some freshwater lakes any day.


  7. #7
    Join Date
    May 2011
    Southern California


    This is the part that jumped out at me:

    Day Four - Salt Lake to south Zion Nat'l Park, UT
    Day Five - Zion to Grand Canyon (we hope to camp at Toroweap Point, but the contingency plan is the North Rim in case road conditions prevent us from getting to Toroweap)

    Salt Lake to South Zion is about 325 - 350 miles, depending on whether you are on the US highway (slower going) or I-15 (faster, but more miles). That is about 7 hours on the highway (more on the US highway) and leaves you only 3-4 hours of daylight to see Zion. We spent 2 days in Zion a few years back, and could have spent 2 more.

    Zion to the North Rim is also a long haul. No matter where you actually make, if you want to see the North Rim OR the South Rim, you may want to drive the rim drives. That takes a few hours, and you're getting less daylight in September.

    So I'd go along with the other responders...take a good look at your plan and see if you can do more at less places. It will seem less "whirlwind" that way.


  8. #8
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Green County, Wisconsin


    I understand the concept of a fast paced trip, and many of my trips certainly fall into that category. Its rare when I spend more than one or two days in any given area (although the older I get, the more I appreciate having more time.)

    I'll admit my bias towards Yellowstone. I've been to most of the place you have highlighted, and Yellowstone is pretty much hands down my favorite. I was there for 3 days, never stopped moving, and there was still so much that I wanted to do, I can't wait for my next chance to go back. The roads through the park are basically laid out like a figure 8, plus the lamar valley, and on your schedule you'll only be able to do one side of the 8, meaning you won't even get to go near more than half the major attractions. I really do mean that on your pace, stopping for a quick look at Old Faithful and maybe stopping for a picture of some wildlife is about all you'll have time for, and to me, that's not really visiting the park. I'll sum it up this way, Every national park I've been to has been worthy of multiple days, but I've had a very good time just seeing it with one day or in some cases just a few hours, except Yellowstone. That's the one park where I think 2 days is a blitz run through things, and anything less doesn't let you even let you scratch the surface. But as I said, I'm pretty biased, simply because of how much I enjoyed it.

    Toroweap is high on my places that I have not been, but want to go. The remoteness of it is very very appealing to me. However, it is very much correct to assume that going to the North Rim would be faster and much easier. I'll also say that even with a borrowed car, I don't think I would make the drive to Toroweap, unless I was borrowing a jeep that my friend uses for off-roading. You're talking about 100 miles of poorly maintained dirt track, and the risk of doing damage to someone else's vehicle is more than I'd want to risk. The only 2 ways I would personally consider doing the trip is in my own 4 wheel drive vehicle, where if something does happen its my loss, or if I rented through a specialty off-road/jeep outfitter designed for such a rugged trip. There maybe a company out of St. George or the Zion area who would offer that service, but I haven't looked into it at all.

  9. #9


    You say the basic plan is to travel down to the Grand Canyon

    Firstly, the pace and complexity of your trip is well outside my comfort zone. But looking at the bigger picture I am reminded of the old gent who was stopped by a road tripper and asked, “Which way is it to the Grand Canyon.” The old gent looked quizzically in the distance and said, “The Grand Canyon. If I was going to the Grand Canyon I wouldn’t start from here.”

    The old gent has a point. From Seattle, via Yellowstone to the Grand Canyon is near 1700 miles which relates there and back into 7 days of solid all day driving with no frills. That is half your trip gone. I would have looked at flying to somewhere like Las Vegas, doing a loop road trip making good use of your 14 days and flying back to Seattle.

    I see you have the benefit of time to refine your trip and being a first time long distance road tripper you will go through all sorts of options before deciding what is best for you. Experience is a good teacher; it would be good after your trip you come back and tell us how things went. Have a great time.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    South of England.

    Default One way ?

    I think the fact that you have not had a vacation for so long, is the motivation of trying to do as much as possible with this one, but in doing so, might end up not feeling like much of a vacation by the end of it. As it is also your "Honeymoon trip", I would of thought it as good a reason as any to slow down just a little. [Gotta have a little romance !] Your trip is certainly doable as it is, but as said from the start, busy !

    As a weekend road tripper, it's understandable to keep on the move from place to place and cram plenty in, but over thirteen days it can wear you down and leave you wanting more quality time. As you are camping you need to factor in time for setting up and tearing down camp each day on top of the driving.

    Eris has come up with one good alternative above, or [ if you are renting] have you considered visiting your friend in Seattle/Forks and doing a one way trip. It would make your rental subject to a one way drop off charge, but would save a quite a bit of gas and give you more time in other areas. Perhaps it would mean missing Portland and Crater Lake and flying home from Vegas. [?]

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