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  1. Default Road trip from southeast to northwest--Avoiding steep grades

    I'm currently planning a move from South Florida to Portland, Oregon. I have all summer to get to the northwest, so I want to drive and see some sights on my way up. I'm planning to pack my SUV with smaller items, but I won't take a trailor or anything (I'll acquire furniture and larger items when I arrive out west). My main concern is that I've never driven in the mountains before, so I think a route avoiding steep grades would be ideal.

    Any suggestions as to what routes I should consider would be appreciated! I'd like to enjoy the trip as opposed to speeding through it, but I want to keep a reasonable pace so that I can limit the amount of money I spend on hotels.

    Also, what is the maximum distance I should drive in a day to avoid unnecessary wear on my vehicle? I'll be driving a 2001 Pathfinder with 150K miles on it.

    I've never taken such a long road trip before, so any advice is helpful. Thanks!

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    Location
    South of England.
    Posts
    10,747

    Default A starting point.

    Hello and welcome to the RTA forums !

    Without any idea of your interests or how much time you might be considering and with thousands of route options and attractions to choose from, it's impossible to make meaningful suggestions at this point. What I would suggest you do is to keep looking around the RTA pages where you will find Lots of useful tips and ideas to help get you started and make plans based on your own interests. Get a good wall map of the US and start marking points of interest.

    You say you have all summer, but also mention that you want to keep a reasonable pace due to costs, so you really need to work out how much of a budget you will want to have and work on how far that will go.

    You should not worry about unnecessary wear on your vehicle, if all the fluids are topped up and it's in good shape you shouldn't have anything to worry about. If you got to do 5000 miles, it really doesn't matter to the vehicle how long it takes. More important is the wear and tear on the human body after a long day on the road, we need rest more than a machine ! With safety and reasonable comfort in mind, we generally recommend 500-600 miles a day to be a full day on the road with basic stops, but with no major sight seeing. Any more than that on a multi day trip and it soon stops being fun and can get exhausting. If you don't already belong to a motoring organisation like the AAA, it's certainly worth considering.

    I wouldn't worry to much about trying to avoid mountains, it's gonna be impossible to do anyway. All Interstates are built with gradual curves and gradients and are designed to cater for the needs of the largest rigs with relative ease. Of course there are many US and State Highways that travel through mountains that are also of no major concern, just paved roads that go up and down as well as around corners. These I find to be among the best roads to drive for the incredible scenery and quite often lead to a National or State park, forest etc.

    As I mentioned, you should build your trip around the things that interest you the most, in a package that suits both your timer and budget. Once you have got some dots on the map and an idea of time, we can certainly start to make some suggestions and help to join them up.

    Enjoy the planning !

  3. #3
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Location
    Green County, Wisconsin
    Posts
    13,063

    Default Things that matter

    Welcome to the RTA Forum!

    We'll kinds of work backwards here.
    Also, what is the maximum distance I should drive in a day to avoid unnecessary wear on my vehicle?
    The most we recommend that you try to drive in a single day is about 600 miles. It does not, however, have anything to do with your vehicle. A properly running car never really needs to stop, the human body, however does. 600 miles a day works out to about 10-12 hours a day, on the freeway, which is the most you can really do before fatigue becomes a serious issue. This recommendation is also roughly in line with the rules that professional drivers are required to follow.
    My main concern is that I've never driven in the mountains before, so I think a route avoiding steep grades would be ideal.
    If you stick to the interstates, steep grades should not be an issue. There are rules limiting grades as part of the designs of Interstate highways, so that truckers can maintain highway speeds no matter the terrain.

    Now, if you get off the freeways as part of the sightseeing, you might run into some steep grades, but so what? You're not towing anything, and a properly running car is going to easily be able to handle any grade you'll find on any american road.
    Any suggestions as to what routes I should consider would be appreciated! I'd like to enjoy the trip as opposed to speeding through it, but I want to keep a reasonable pace so that I can limit the amount of money I spend on hotels.
    This depends upon you: What do you want to see and do along the way. There are millions of route combinations, and just as many things you could see, as you go diagonally across the country. Figure out a few of your priorities, then a route will make itself more evident.

    You're going to need about a week just to cover the miles, but as long as you aren't planning any huge amount of zig-zagging, you can go almost anywhere in the US without your overall distance changing all that much.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Nov 2005
    Location
    Ft. Collins, CO.
    Posts
    304

    Default

    Steep grades- if you've only ever driven in Florida then your idea of steep grades might be what's on the Interstate. But Interstates don't have truly steep grades.

    However.... there can be a few grades where it might be handy to know that you can use the transmission to keep from building up too much speed on a downhill section.
    Please review your owner's manual and see if there is a section about this.

    Some flatlanders have been known to ride their brakes down long hills on the Interstate which results in, at best, excessive wear on the brakes. At worst you can get a brake fire. The smell of hot brakes is very noticeable along I-70 west of Denver when the air is still. (it's mostly trucks causing the smell but the occasional RV will have a brake fire from lack of driver knowlege)

    When I drive to/from Seattle there are several hills on I-90 where I'll bump the automatic transmission in the 2001 Jeep down from D to 3 for a few miles to help control speed on downhills. Shift down at the top of the pass while you're going slower.
    Climbing the passes might be steep but if you're driving an automatic the transmission will do all the thinking for you (if you let it). (Don't try to climb the hills at engine redline RPM- that's asking for overheating)

    I prefer I-90 across Montana to I-80 across Wyoming. The roads are better.

  5. Default

    Thanks so much for all of the input. I've never planned a road trip before so all of this advice is really helpful. I've given it some thought and have decided that it would probably be best to take the trip fairly slowly with some days sightseeing in one location instead of traveling, since I would like to make a vacation out of it and have never done a road trip like this before. I tried to put together a rough timeline and list of places I'd like to stop along the way and came up with this:

    Day 1: FL to SC (714 mi, and I've done this trip before so I feel very comfortable going that distance)
    Day 2: stay put and visit friends (0 mi)
    Day 3: SC to NC (118 mi, going to a wedding)
    Day 4: NC to St. Louis, MO (576 mi)
    Day 5: St. Louis to Wichita (442 mi)
    Day 6: Wichita, KS to NE (not sure where I should stop here.)
    Day 7: NE to SD (and I'd like this leg to be shorter the day before so I can visit Mount Rushmore)
    Day 8: SD to WY (478 mi)
    Day 9: Spend the day at Yellowstone (0 mi)
    Day 10: WY to UT (362 mi)
    Day 11: UT to NV (547 mi)
    Day 12: Lake Tahoe, no driving (0 mi)
    Day 13: NV to CA
    Day 14: Redwood National Park (0 mi)
    Day 15: CA to OR (328 mi)

    I think the parts of the trip I'm struggling with most are days 6-7 (a good stopping location) and days 10-11 (is that too much driving or will it be ok?). If anyone has knowledge about some scenic, but drivable roads I can take during the various legs of this trip, that would be very helpful. Also, suggestions for safe places to stay would be great (it's just me and a friend, two females, doing this trip alone). I'm thinking that it would be nice to camp out most of the time, but inexpensive hotels would not be out of the question either.

    Thanks so much!

  6. #6
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Location
    Green County, Wisconsin
    Posts
    13,063

    Default

    I think the parts of the trip I'm struggling with most are days 6-7 (a good stopping location)
    Is there a reason you are going to Wichita? It is quite a long way south from a direct route between St. Louis and Mt. Rushmore.

    The direct route would be to head north at Kansas City, past Omaha to Sioux Falls, and then across South Dakota. You could make it from StL to Rapid City in as little as two days, but you could also use the time you've got to explore the Badlands before you get to the Black Hills.

    I will also say that Yellowstone is a huge place, and you might want more than a day there. At the very least, spend one night there, and then spend the next night around Jackson, so you have a little more time to explore the park, as well as the Grand Tetons.

    For campgrounds, I recommend as a first point to simply look at a map - where state parks and other public campgrounds are typically highlighted - for options that will be near your route.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Location
    Melbourne, Australia
    Posts
    6,936

    Default Back to Maps.

    Quote Originally Posted by hdr View Post
    If anyone has knowledge about some scenic, but drivable roads I can take during the various legs of this trip, that would be very helpful.
    Just as Michael suggests you look at maps for the location of State Parks which have camping facilities (they show a tent symbol), you will find that these same maps have the scenic routes hilighted. A great source for maps is the AAA, where if you are a member, they will be free. If not, they are only a couple of dollars. I would get one for every State you plan to visit. For a trip of this size it would be a good idea to have an emergency roadside assistance membership. There is nothing worse than being stuck on the side of the road with a car issue.... especially for two women. Think of it as an insurance policy.

    Be aware that whenever you take a scenic route, you adjust your time and distance for that day. You will generally be travelling quite a bit slower.

    ... but inexpensive hotels would not be out of the question either.
    Keep an eye out for the hotel and motel discount coupon books at rest areas, some travel plazas (truck stops) and most welcome centres. Always check the room before committing. They have to allow this. Besides cleanliness etc, check that the smoke detector has not been disabled and that the room has a lock such as the chain lock, which cannot be opened from the outside.

    Lifey
    Last edited by Lifemagician; 03-27-2013 at 02:21 PM.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Location
    Tucson, AZ
    Posts
    9,358

    Default Traveling North on the High Plains

    There really aren't a lot of north-south, high-quality highways in that neck of the woods, and even fewer that run on a southeast-northwest angle. However, there are always choices and assuming that you have your reasons for going to Wichita then an excellent choice for heading towards Rapid City (another assumption - where you're headed in South Dakota) would be something like the following. Head out of Wichita on KS-96 to the Wetlands and Wildlife Scenic Byway around Great Bend. From there head north using KS-14 and KS-181 which will take you past a couple of 'oddities' beloved by RoadTrippers. The first is the "world's biggest ball of sisal twine" in Cawker KS and the geographic center of the contiguous United States in Lebanon. From there take US-281 up to Grand Island NE and get on NE-2 to US-83 north, Those routes will take you by Victoria Springs State Recreational Area and Valentine NWR to put you on I-90 east of the Badlands. Depending on how fast you want to move or apportion you sight-seeing time, Grand Island NE would make a good overnight stopping point.

    Yellowstone to Tahoe is easily done in two days, and I think pretty much every road in between those two points would qualify as scenic by one definition or another It might help to break the drive up into two relatively equal days of driving by making your overnight stop in Wells.

    AZBuck

  9. #9

    Default The Nebraska Sandhills

    AZ Buck's suggestion to head northwest from Grand Island on NE-2 to US-83 is a marvelous tour of the Nebraska Sandhills, a unique terrain. The Sandhills are about 20,000 square miles of virtually treeless grass-stabilized sand dunes, pockmarked with thousands of lakes and wetlands, and drained by bold running streams. Take your time, it's a great half-day drive from Grand Island to Valentine.

    Foy

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Location
    Melbourne, Australia
    Posts
    6,936

    Default The Dustbowl

    Quote Originally Posted by Foy View Post
    ... northwest from Grand Island on NE-2 to US-83 is a marvelous tour of the Nebraska Sandhills, a unique terrain.
    Would have to agree with all of the above.

    Having recently had the priviledge of seen the magnificent four part TV documentary of 'The Dustbowl', I have an even greater appreciation of and respect for this area. Enjoy the serenity.

    Lifey

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