NJ to LA, LA to NJ
I'm planning on driving with my wife to LA for the last 2 weeks of June. Our kids will be out there with their Aunt who lives there. We plan on picking them up and driving back. I'm allowing 4 days to drive out from NJ to LA and then taking 8 days to drive back.
I drove a cross country trip about 10 years ago over a 3 week period and saw some beautiful country. I have a couple of questions and would appreciate any input on this drive.
What's the best route to take out to LA? I'm planning on taking 40, but also considering 70.
On our way back, I would love to take the kids to the Grand Canyon and hopefully see a beautiful sunset at Hopi Point. Also, I would love them to see Monument Valley and the Painted Desert. Sedona and Giant Sequoias would be cool too. I just have to start limiting. I've also heard Bryce Canyon was beautiful. Given I only have 8 days to get back, I'm assuming I can only hit 2-4 places.
I would appreciate any suggestions! Thank you so much!
I think you need to allow more than 4 days to get out there - this is a 5 day trip at the least. Fastest route from Philly to LA is over 2700 miles. Sure - you can drive 700 miles in a day, but not 4 days in a row. You will be completely exhausted when you get there. 70/44/40/15 is the fastest, how to get to 70 is dependent on where exactly in NJ you are.
Suggested overnights are Columbus OH, Springfield MO, Amarillo TX, and Flagstaff AZ.
I've done parts of both routes. Last year, we took I-40 from Arizona to Tennessee, where we picked up I-81. We took that to I-80, since our destination in NJ was along I-80. (Your mileage may vary). We had our overnights in Phoenix area, Santa Rosa NM, Sallisaw OK, Cookeville TN, and Staunton VA before arriving at my brother's in NJ. It was definitely a SIX DAY trip. Even my ex-long-distance-trucker husband would not have done it in 4 days.
When we returned home, we did so via I-70. We took I-80 through Pennsylvania, catching I-71 and I-76 down to I-70 at Columbus. We were then on I-70 all the way to Utah, and went down I-15 to home. Our overnights: Springfield OH, Columbia MO, Burlington CO, and Richfield UT. All of those days were between 550 and 600 miles each. We split this direction up, however, as we had to make a mad dash from Stanhope NJ to Columbia MO for a funeral, and we were there for a couple of weeks.
Because of our family in Columbia, MO, we have not used I-44. So routing you that way makes more sense for you.
The scenery is BEAUTIFUL along I-70 in UT and CO. We also consider Kansas to be beautiful because we enjoy the rolling farmlands. Along I-40, northern Arizona and New Mexico are both beautiful. To me, the Texas panhandle and western Oklahoma are very stark, high desert. We really enjoyed the scenery in eastern OK all the way up to Pennsylvania.
On the Other Hand...
...seven days is plenty of time to get home with some great stops. As glc noted, you will (absolutely) need five days minimum to get to the west coast, but taking that day from your return drive still leaves you with seven days, so what can you do with that? Even with a few 'detours' the driving time won't increase all that much, leaving you close to two full days to spend exploring a few sites along the way. Since you mentioned the Grand Canyon, let's assume that is going to be your first stop on the way home. From there you can head northeast on US-89 and US-160 through Monument Valley to the Four Corners area and Mesa Verde National Park. Then stay on US-160 across southern Colorado going up and over Wolf Creek Pass to Walsenburg. Use CO-10 over to La Junta and pick up US-50/US-400 which will take you through Dodge City (old west town), Greensburg (a town which has completely rebuilt itself after a devastating tornado a few years ago, and home to the world's biggest hand-dug well) and Wichita (home of America's General Aircraft industry and some good museums). Next head up through Kansas City and St. Louis where a stop at the Arch and the subterranean Museum of Westward Expansion would be in order, and continue eastward on US-70 with two final stops that should thrill any young boys: the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the US Air Force Museum in Dayton OH. Spreading out your stops that way, all along the trip rather then doing so many stops and detours in the southwest, will make the trip a continuous adventure and ultimately more enjoyable I think.
Thanks everyone for your responses! AZBuck, I was just planning an extra rest day in LA, so I can still take 8 days to return. I should have mentioned my kids are 17 and 18 year old girls. I'm not sure how thrilled they might be with the Speedway and Air Force Museum. LOL! You lay out a great route though I was really hoping to drive through the Painted Desert. Do you think taking 40W might be a little too much? I actually have from June 18th to July 1st for the total round trip. I was just thinking I would need a day or 2 to chill at my sister-in-law's in LA. Have you been to Mesa Verde? I guess if I take your route I'd be missing Sedona and Painted Desert, but I can't do everything in one trip.
Originally Posted by AZBuck
Moving the Line
The whole point of planning RoadTrips in general, and this site in particular, is to work through the many options available to you on any RoadTrip. To that end...Yes, you can easily include Sedona on this trip, what you would do is take I-10 to Phoenix and then head north to Sedona before using AZ-89A through Oak Creek Canyon to Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon, I'd suggest that you take US-89 north and drive along the South Rim Road, AZ-64, westbound (with the Canyon and pull-offs on your right) to Grand Canyon Village. You can then return to Flagstaff via US-180 and head east on I-40 to the Petrified Forest/Painted Desert. Since you won't be stopping in Indianapolis or Dayton, use that time instead to head north on US-181 (gorgeous road) and check out Canyon de Chelly National Monument on your way to Four Corners. Yes. I've been to Mesa Verde and it is well worth the stop. The Ranger-guided tours book up in advance, so I would recommend that you arrive early in the day and head for Spruce Tree House which is a self-guided tour (no tickets required) but with Rangers on duty to answer your questions.
The other place where you may want to change off some time is between Dodge City and Greensburg. Dodge City is a bit of a kitschy place in my experience, while Greensburg is a true American recovery story and has made every effort to go as 'Green' as possible in its rebuilding.
Do you mean take 191N from I40 to get to Monument Valley? From there do you think continuing to head north on 191 to 70 would be a good return route to NJ or is there more scenery along I40? Maybe even a stop in Albuquerque.
Sorry for the typo. And how you want to cross the Rockies is entirely up to you. I have crossed on both US-160 in southern Colorado and I-70 in central Colorado (and a couple of other routes. And my strong preference for a scenic RoadTrip would be US-160. But you need to understand that that is my preference, and that I am a former rally/sprint driver. Parts of US-160 will require your undivided attention, notably Wolf Creek Pass at nearly 11,000 feet up. By comparison, pilots are required to be on supplemental oxygen above 12,500 feet. If that is a bit daunting, then a couple of very scenic alternatives would be to either take US-550, the "Million Dollar Highway", after Mesa Verde north from Durango to Grand Junction, or the easiest of the lot - but still scenic in the extreme - skip Mesa Verde and stay on US-191 north to visit Arches National Park before picking up I-70. Note that using I-70 to cross the Rockies will mean that you will not be a position to include the Kansas stops that I mentioned earlier, but will put you in excellent position to take I-76 out of Denver to I-80 in western Nebraska which follows the Platte River and the old Oregon Trail, the Amana Colonies in Iowa, and the southern Great Lake. Continuing on I-40 after the Petrified Forest/Painted Desert is also an option and sites along that route (I-40/I-44/I-70/I-78) include Petroglyph National Monument in Albuquerque, Santa Fe (small detour), Cadillac Ranch outside Amarillo, the Oklahoma City Memorial, the Ozarks, and St. Louis as previously mentioned. I would, however, rate the I-40 route a notch below the Colorado routes in terms of scenery. The ultimate point here is that there are no bad choices, just choices, and whichever way you go there will be things to see and so with your daughters.
A great choice.
It is hard to imagine a more scenic route including along an interstate. Not only 191 to Moab (a lovely little place), but then take 128 to I-70 into CO... probably one of the most scenic interstates in the country.
Originally Posted by NJTraveler
You mentioned that your girls are 17 and 18 so they could do a bit of reading and indicate some preferences for your family road trip. It was a treat to travel with my kids when they were that age.