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  1. Default Chicago-Los Angeles-Portland: Route Advice Appreciated!

    Hello! My husband and I are planning a road trip for late June/early July. We are leaving from Chicago, and our main destinations are Los Angeles and Portland. I am mainly looking for advice on routes and stopping points. My apologies if this is well worn territory - I haven't done a road trip over 700 miles since I was a kid, and I obviously wasn't driving back then! I'm overwhelmed by options.

    Some background:
    -We'll be driving our own car (Scion Xa) and staying either with friends or in hotels/motels
    -We're interested in scenic routes, but not anything too challenging
    -We love kitsch and interesting thrifting/antiquing, so routes that would take us into good areas for that would be a plus. My husband is also very into rollercoasters.
    -He definitely wants to see Mt. Rushmore. I'd love to see the Grand Canyon and Redwood National Forest, but I don't know that our timeframe will allow for it, so I haven't scheduled that in
    -Realistically, we only have 3 weeks, tops, for the entire trip, but even that might be pushing it

    What we're thinking:
    First Leg
    Day 1 - Chicago to Kansas City
    Day 2 - Kansas City to Denver
    Day 3 - Denver to Las Vegas
    Day 4 - Spend a day in Vegas
    Day 5 - Vegas to LA

    Second Leg
    Day 1 - Los Angeles to San Jose via Pacific Coast Highway (stop at Big Sur)
    Day 2 - San Jose to Portland

    Third Leg
    Day 1 - Portland to Butte, MT
    Day 2 - Butte, MT to Rapid City, SD
    Day 3 - Rapid City to La Crosse, WI (have to pick up our dogs from WI)
    Day 4 - WI to Chicago

    • How do the stopping points look? We're not married to this itinerary - Are there different routes or stopping points that you would suggest, based on experience?
    • What quick stop points should we see along the way? (When I say "quick," I mean stopping out of the car for up to 30mn max, not spending a day or anything.)
    • With only having 3 weeks, I wonder if this is pushing it? That's our absolute maximum amount of time. We need at least 2 full days in LA (want to see regular LA sights and go to Magic Mountain), and we'd like to spend as much time as possible in Portland, as that is where friends are.
    • Given the above question - are there places we can/should cut out time to make get to our destinations more quickly? I was thinking we could do Chicago to Denver in a day, though that route is pretty dull, from what I've heard.
    • Also related - Would it make more sense to focus on one main destination (LA or Portland) and save the other for another time? I'd love to hit both in one trip, but I also recognize that focusing on one destination would free us up to spend more time enjoying the journey and seeing more sights.

    Thanks in advance for any input you can offer!

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


    Welcome to the RTA Forum!

    You've got a few areas where your drives are not feasible or at least not ideal.

    First, under no circumstances should you consider driving from Chicago to Denver in a single day. At 1000 miles, that's 2 full days on the road. Trying it in one is both dangerous and will have you in no condition to do the rest of your drive.

    Kansas City is an ok distance for a stopover, but it really is out of the way. It would be quite a bit shorter to take I-80 through Nebraska. Along the same lines, if you really want to get to Vegas in 3 days, then Denver isn't really a good stop either. Denver to Vegas is 750 miles, which is also too much for a single day. If you want to get to Vegas in 3 days, you should look at stopping at Grand Island, NE and Glenwood Springs or Rifle CO. Those are going to be 10+ hour days, which won't leave you time for doing much other than covering miles.

    Trying to get from LA to San Jose via the Coast Highway is a very long day (likely 14 hours or so), and following it up by trying to get to Portland the next day - another 12 hours. Neither of those drives would really be recommended, and doing them back to back isn't a very good idea.

    Your drive back is pushing things as well, and you really don't have much time to stop anywhere there either, including Mt. Rushmore.

    Doing everything you want in 3 weeks isn't impossible, but it would be a pretty quick trip. How much time do you want to spend in Portland and LA? Have you considered flying out west and then driving? That would make it a lot easier to fit everything in, and give you time to fit in the other sites and kitschy things you are interested in.

  3. Default

    Thanks for the input. We considered flying and then renting a car, but the price was a bit off-putting. Our initial itinerary definitely includes some long stretches - my husband has toured the US a few times and done several 12 hour days in a van (though usually not as the primary driver), so I was leaning on his experience and recommendations with those plans. His touring wasn't for recreation, though, so it's good to hear from those who do it for enjoyment.

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

    Default rules of thumb

    A good rule of thumb for the most miles you should travel in a day is 600 miles. That's roughly the limit that professional drivers are allowed to travel in a day, because of safety concerns. If you want to talk about enjoyment or recreation, then you should certainly be looking at less driving.

    I would actually be a little surprised that it would be much more expensive to fly. A pair of plane tickets and a rental car likely shouldn't cost that much more, when you factor in the costs of driving across country. You're looking at $500 just for gas, and that doesn't include the other costs of driving coast to coast.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Melbourne, Australia

    Default "Would it make more sense to focus on one main destination?" Yes.

    Just as above, you have not left yourself time to do any sightseeing. Even 500 miles a day leaves very little time to see much along the way. Certainly does not give you time to stop anywhere to really appreciate a place of interest. You say you like scenic routes, but do not give yourself any time to enjoy them. Scenic routes, with a few exceptions, are off interstate routes and as such usually slower speeds and more time consuming, though often vastly more memorable.

    If you don't want to do a fly drive trip, I would drop one of the destinations and concentrate on the sights to and from the other.

    Quote Originally Posted by pretzel View Post
    ... though that route is pretty dull, from what I've heard.
    Don't believe all you hear.


  6. Default

    I agree with all of the above comments - with that plan you're not going to be seeing anything other than interstates.

    If you do decide to go ahead with the original plan then there's one tweak that I'd suggest but it's very much based on my own personal preferences: instead of stopping for a day in Las Vegas, how about opting for Zion National Park? There are several suitable towns near the park with good choices of accommodation.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    South of England.

    Default Got to enjoy the ride !

    With 21 days available the trip is possible, but it's not gonna be a lot of fun travelling the way you have considered it. If you were to cut your time in LA and Portland to a couple of days each and take 17 days for the journey, slowing your pace as you got west to actually see some sights, then you could have a nice time.

    I would also agree that cutting out one of the destinations and concentrating on one area would be more rewarding.

    South there options lIke the National parks of Rocky mountain, Arches, Canyonlands, Bryce canyon, Zion, Grand canyon, Yosemite, many mountain towns and scenic byways and when you go around Big Sur you might have a little time to spare for San Francisco.

    More north you have places like the Columbia River Gorge, Shoshone Falls, Yellowstone, The Tetons, Mt Rushmore, Custer State park, Badlands and so much more on either route.

    Once you have figured out what you want to do, I'm sure we can help you create a memorable trip.

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