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  1. Default Maryland to California

    Hello everyone! I am planning a cross country road trip for the upcoming late Spring / early Summer, and I am looking for any advice/recommendations you have. In particular, what roads are the best to take (scenic, fast, or otherwise) and what are some must-see stops.

    The itinerary is as follows:
    Maryland to St. Louis
    St. Louis to Denver
    Denver to Arches, National Park
    Arches to Mesa Verde, National Park
    Mesa Verde to Grand Canyon, National Park
    Grand Canyon to Bryce Canyon, National Park
    Bryce Canyon to Zion, National Park
    Zion to Sequoia, National Park
    Sequoia to Yosemite, National Park
    Yosemite to San Francisco
    San Francisco to Craters of the Moon, National Preserve
    Craters of the Moon to Grand Teton, National Park
    Grand Teton to Yellowstone, National Park
    Yellowstone to Mount Rushmore, National Monument
    Mount Rushmore to Badlands, National Park
    Badlands to Chicago
    Chicago back to Maryland

    *whew* I'm exhausted just typing that. Most of the stays are only for 24 hours (the exceptions being Zion, San Francisco, and Yosemite). I have already planned out general driving time, made reservations, and applied for permits to visit the Parks. This will be my first visit to every destination so I am unsure of what to expect.

    This is the first road trip that I am leading. My family and I did a fair amount of road trips, travelling, and camping when I was growing up, but I know it'll be more challenging to be responsible for the trip.

    Any advice/tips are welcome :)

  2. #2
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Location
    Green County, Wisconsin
    Posts
    13,064

    Default

    Welcome to the RTA Forum!

    How much time do you have for this entire trip, and do you have some more specific dates for when you'll be on the road? A few weeks can make a big difference when it comes to what is open in late spring. Is this a family trip? Will you be camping for this trip, or will it be hotel stays?

    If the stops you've listed so far are intended to be your only overnight stops, then I see some red flags right out of the gates. Maryland to St. Louis and St. Louis to Denver are each 850 mile drives that are way too far to do as single day drives. Despite what online map programs may tell you, those drives would take you a good 15-16+ hours, and push beyond how far your body can safely travel in a day - even if you have multiple drivers. Attempting such drives will be both dangerous and counter productive, as it will make you too tired to enjoy your trip once you reach the national parks you've listed.

    In general, if you are planning to drive more than 600 miles in a day, you're asking for trouble, if you're traveling with kids, even that is probably more than you should be aiming for.

    I will also say that 24 hours really isn't enough time for Yellowstone. It is a huge park, and even 2 full days is a pretty rushed trip through the park. It is also one of several places where your exact travel dates will make a big impact on what will be open.

  3. Default

    Thanks for the kind welcome.

    It's a trip with my girlfriend. We're leaving during the last week of May (timed it so we get to Yosemite on a Thursday - best chance to hike Half Dome!), and we'll be doing both camping and hotel stays. It'll primarily be camping but stops at San Francisco, Mount Rushmore, Chicago, and possibly a few other nights will be hotel stays.

    Based on the second paragraph I'm guessing we should spend at least three days to drive to Denver... Or! Would you recommend certain stopping points for the drive from Maryland to Arches National Park? The stops in St. Louis and Denver were scheduled simply because they were on the way to Arches. Is there a better way to structure that drive?

    Finally, I understand that we'll be missing out a lot on Yellowstone - and every other park we go to. Our mindset is we want to just get a taste of what each park has to offer so we can then do a proper (i.e. a full week+) at wherever we most enjoy.

    Thanks for the response!!

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    Location
    Joplin MO
    Posts
    9,271

    Default

    Assuming the Baltimore area, it's just over 2000 miles to Arches, and even 3 days is pushing it. Best route without getting killed with tolls is I-70/I-68/I-79/I-70. I would plan on 4 days, arriving at Arches in the afternoon of the 4th day. I'd plan on overnights in Richmond IN, the KC area, and Denver area. Get off I-70 at UT exit 212 and take UT-128 to Moab.

    Your return trip from the Badlands will take 3 days. Again, to avoid tolls, take I-90/I-29/I-680/I-80/I-74/I-70 retracing your steps, with overnights around Des Moines and Richmond. Richmond may appear to be a small town but it has a good selection of budget-friendly hotels.

    A tip if you are planning on spending a night near a big city - go through the city first and stay on the other side. This will avoid morning rush hour trying to get back on the road.

  5. Default

    Are the tolls worth avoiding? I haven't driven out west in a few years so I don't really remember how much they cost/how many there were.

    I think I'll revise my planning to take three days to get to Denver, and then make the final 5.5/6 hour drive to Arches on that fourth day.

    The tip about going through the city is smart - I feel like that'll save me from at least one mistake!

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    Location
    Joplin MO
    Posts
    9,271

    Default

    If you take I-70 to the PA Turnpike, then the Ohio and Indiana toll roads and I-80 all the way to I-76, your cash tolls will be about $40, EZ-Pass will be about $27. Going via my route they will be $2.75 (Kansas).

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Location
    Tucson, AZ
    Posts
    9,358

    Default Tolls

    I remember reading a number of years ago, that most people had a 'break point' on tolls of about $8/hour. That is, a toll road had to save you an hour's worth of driving for every $8 it charged in order to be worth it. With inflation, let's call that $10/hour today as a rule of thumb. Of course, the value that you place on your time may be different.

    The route that glc laid out for you from Baltimore through Saint Louis and Denver to Arches is both the shortest all-Interstate route available to you and free of any tolls. The route he gave you for the return from the Rapid City area is all of 45 minutes longer than the shortest route. But that shortest route would use the Tri-State Tollway, the Indiana Toll Road, The Ohio Turnpike, and the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Those would pile up tolls of roughly $37 (assuming you have EZPass) or $58 (if you're paying cash). That is hardly worth it, especially since you'd be paying for the 'privilege' of driving through Chicago, Gary, Cleveland, Youngstown, and Pittsburgh!

  8. Default

    Quote Originally Posted by AZBuck View Post
    The route he gave you for the return from the Rapid City area is all of 45 minutes longer than the shortest route. But that shortest route would use the Tri-State Tollway, the Indiana Toll Road, The Ohio Turnpike, and the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Those would pile up tolls of roughly $37 (assuming you have EZPass) or $58 (if you're paying cash). That is hardly worth it, especially since you'd be paying for the 'privilege' of driving through Chicago, Gary, Cleveland, Youngstown, and Pittsburgh!

    WOW. Thanks for the head's up - I had no idea they were that much. That tip alone will save me half the money for one night at a hotel!

    Are there any other common mistakes a first-timer like myself would make?

  9. #9
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Location
    Green County, Wisconsin
    Posts
    13,064

    Default

    If you still want to visit Chicago, you can still avoid most of the tolls on the way back by taking I-65 south out of Chicago/Gary to Indianapolis, and pick up I-70 from there. You'd still have a few dollars in tolls getting into Chicago, but it avoids the major issues of the IN/Ohio/PA turnpikes. Of course, if you have an EZ-Pass you can use that in Illinois and points east, but not Kansas or any other places out west.

    It is also worth noting that Badlands to Chicago is another leg that is far too much for one day, and you'd need a stop somewhere along the way.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    Location
    Joplin MO
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    Default

    The route that glc laid out for you from Baltimore through Saint Louis and Denver to Arches is both the shortest all-Interstate route available to you and free of any tolls.
    Almost but not quite - there's a $2.75 toll in KS between KC and Topeka. My suggested return route is completely toll-free.

    My routes do involve cities - I'd suggest the following bypasses:

    Wheeling WV - I-470 if construction is done, otherwise I-70 straight through. I-70 involves a tunnel and a very narrow stretch.

    Columbus OH - I-270 south.

    Indy - I-465 south.

    STL - I-270 north.

    KC - I-470/I-435 south. If you want to spend the night in Lawrence, then take KS-10 into town. If you are going to go straight through, KS-10 isn't that good a bet because it's not expressway through town.

    Denver - take I-70 straight through. The only good bypass is a toll road and adds considerable mileage. One decent place to look at to spend the night is the Super 8 in Georgetown.

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