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  1. Default Road Trip Across the US - Looking for Advice!

    Hey guys. Later this year I'm heading over to the US to visit some friends in Alabama between August and November. I've decided that I'll end up spending a month or so around Alabama with friends, visiting places like the Great Smokeys and Universal Studios/Disney throughout the stay. Afterwards I've decided to take a 2-3 week road trip (round trip) from Alabama to Montana and I have some questions for you guys as I'm really not so well educated on the "sights and places" around the US.

    First of all, I love anything related to nature. Camping, views, hiking, rivers, mountains, snow. All of it. Not so big on museums, big cities and drinking/eating out. Secondly, Montana is a place I've always wanted to visit, but it's not about getting to Montana as quick as I can. I want to spend as much time experiencing all the scenic locations around the US in the time I have. If that only leaves me a few days in Montana, so be it! It's about the journey not the destination. Money isn't a huge issue - Obviously the cheaper I can do things the better, however this will probably be something I won't be doing again for a very long time so I don't mind going a bit out of pocket.

    So, do you guys have any "must see" locations or anything you consider "must dos" that could be found between Alabama and Montana? Do you have any specific routes you'd think would be better for someone with my interests? Is 2-3 weeks round trip enough time to get a decent look at things or should I consider flying back and using the 2-3 weeks just to get there? Any suggestions at all regarding destinations I would be so grateful for. So far, these are some of the ideas I've come up with regarding places to go by. If there is anything you strongly suggest or think i should avoid, I'd love to hear that also!

    Yellowstone National Park
    Black Hills/Badlands
    The Grand Canyon
    Arches National Park
    Spooky Narrows
    Zion National Park
    Greys/Torreys Peak
    Glacier National Park

    Obviously what I will and won't get to see depends on the direction I decide to take, but this should give you guys a good idea of what I'm interested in.

    Thank you all so much in advance!

  2. Default

    First thing to mention: Birmingham, Alabama to Orlando, Florida is about 525 miles each way so if you want to visit the theme parks it might be better to fly.

    Secondly, you've listed some truly magnificent places but in the timescale you'll only be able to visit a fraction of them. Each national park deserves at least one full day and some two or three days. Then you also need to allow for the vast distances in the USA and the time it takes to get between places.

    It would, I think, be worth flying to somewhere in the west rather than drive - perhaps Denver or Salt Lake City. On the other hand, the flight and car rental costs would be a factor in that decision. As to whether you consider the country and places in between Alabama and Denver (etc) worth the driving, well that's a personal decision but make sure you know what the country is like there.

    So I'd suggest you spend a lot of time studying a map (online or printed, as you prefer), see where these places are, see how far apart they are, see where the major mountain chains are (the Rockies, Sierras and Cascades - and the Appalachians in the east). After a while you'll get a feel for what is possible. There's tons of information about all the places online and in printed guide books, do some research and decide your priorities.

    I'm not trying to put you off, far from it, whatever you decide it'll be a superb trip, but to get the most out of it, it will require a fair bit of planning. Then you'll also be armed with enough knowledge to switch plans during the trip if the weather, your personal preferences, or some other factor makes you want to do that.

    You also need to consider the time of year. Do northern places and mountain places as early as possible before snow closes the roads.

    You'll also need to think about accommodation, in particular whether to stay in the parks or in towns close by.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Green County, Wisconsin

    Default start early

    Welcome to the RTA Forum!

    If you like nature, then you're going to love the American West. Having said that, it sounds like you're planning to do your roadtrip near the end of your trip, and I would suggest you really reconsider that. By November, winter will have arrived at many of the places you're considering visiting, completely blocking access to some parks. Yellowstone and Glacier, in particular, start closing down in September, and much of the parks are completely off limits. Doing this trip in September or early October would really give you more options, especially on the northern part of your trip.

    I would think a round trip would be your best bet - because it will give you a chance to see more places (which fits with your stated goal of it being "the journey"), and because one way car rentals tend to be very expensive. Having said that, I think you'll want a bare minimum of 3 weeks, and even that could be a bit rushed for all the places you want to see. We don't really do "must see" here, but all of the places you've listed are fantastic, and you really can't go wrong with any National Park, its just a matter of narrowing down into which places are your top priorities and working with the time you do have available.

  4. Default

    Thank you guys for your responses!

    The more I read and the more advice I get, I'm really starting to swing towards booking a flight to Colorado and spending 2-3 weeks from there exploring areas around Colorado, Wyoming and Montana rather than driving from Alabama. Flights are only about $200 and it will really give me more time out of the car and the ability to venture at a much more relaxed pace. Most of the things I'm really looking forward to seem to be around these regions too.

    I didn't think too much about the things getting closed off closer to November, it's a very good point, thank you! Do you think If I was to spend the later half of September through early October that most things will still be accessible?

    When it comes to camping or even sleeping in your car, are there many places or any places along the roads where that is acceptable? I'm really hoping to not have too many restrictions so if I end up getting distracted down a side road I don't have to worry about rushing away to make it to booked accommodation.

    Thanks again guys, I'm so grateful for all the advice!

  5. Default

    Quote Originally Posted by traveladviceplease View Post
    Do you think If I was to spend the later half of September through early October that most things will still be accessible?
    You can look up the average historical closure dates for the critical roads yourself using Google, but of course nobody can predict when the first big snowfall will occur each year. Some roads to check but this is far from a complete list:
    The Trail Ridge Road through Rocky Mountain National Park.
    The Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park.
    The Tioga Pass road and the Glacier Point Road in Yosemite.

    When it comes to camping or even sleeping in your car, are there many places or any places along the roads where that is acceptable?
    AFAIK illegal and dangerous except in some Walmart parking lots (and then at the discretion of the manager). Not a good idea IMHO. Use the budget motel chains such as Motel 6, or mid-price chains such as Super 8 if you want to aim a bit more up-market, and also consider "mom and pop" family run motels but standards vary considerably.

    Once the school holidays finish, accommodation is unlikely to be a problem except in the parks themselves. You can use the motel chains' toll-free 1-800 phone numbers or the internet to maintain provisional bookings a few days ahead of yourself while travelling - probably a wise precaution over weekends and in popular places with a limited number of motels. Provisional motel bookings are automatically dropped without any charge to you if you don't show up by a certain stated time (commonly 4pm), whereas confirmed bookings are held all night and you are charged even if you don't show up.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Green County, Wisconsin


    The end of September should work for you. Glacier's Going to the Sun road will start to close on Sept. 21, however, you can still see much of the road for another month beyond that. Similarly, the first road closings within Yellowstone start on October 14th, but most of the roads don't close until the beginning of November. With both those parks, however, keep in mind that some campgrounds, lodges, and other visitor services start closing in September, so you will have to plan ahead. Also, if you're camping, remember that these places will likely be below freezing overnight by the end of September.
    When it comes to camping or even sleeping in your car, are there many places or any places along the roads where that is acceptable? I'm really hoping to not have too many restrictions so if I end up getting distracted down a side road I don't have to worry about rushing away to make it to booked accommodation.
    There are zero places where this is safe or acceptable. Camping along the side of the road is both illegal and dangerous (remember, all land in the US is owned by someone), and pulling off the side of the road and sleeping will likely result in you getting an unpleasant knock on your window. Camping in National Parks is pretty much limited to designated campsites. If you're exploring National Forests or other public lands, there often are more options for "dispersed" camping, where you can find a spot yourself to make camp, but even there there are restrictions about where you can be (usually a certain distance from a road or waterways.)

  7. Default

    Sorry, I really wasn't clear with what I said, looks like I just wanted to sleep on the highway!

    What I meant was would it be easy to pull up into a campsite/hotel and find a place to crash without booking ahead, mainly so there aren't any restrictions with having to be at a certain place at a certain time, allowing for side-road distractions and such. It seems as though most people are advising booking long ahead, which would mean having a pretty strict route and itinerary.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    May 2011
    Southern California


    As someone mentioned above, finding accommodations without booking ahead should be fairly easy during the fall. Once school starts (mid-to-end of August in many locales, by the week after Labor day in others), people stop traveling so much and it's easier to find motels. The exceptions are within the national parks themselves, which book quickly way ahead of time. However, getting in on someone else's cancellation is quite possible! But these motels/hotels/lodges aren't cheap. The campgrounds also book quickly and are lots cheaper, but it will be cold someplace like Yellowstone, and may even be closed for the winter by then.

    Off-season rates outside of the parks (West Yellowstone and Gardiner for Yellowstone) may be less expensive, too, in September.

    My husband and I don't always book places ahead either, and we have to travel during the summer. Often times, we use coupons, found in travel books at truck stops and visitor centers, to get a place for the night. These have their downsides, like they don't always work on weekends. Sometimes we use an app on my husband's phone,, but it's best to do a little research ahead of time. It is RARE for us to pull in someplace and just try for a room, unless it's a place we have used before or if it's listed in the AAA Tour Book.

    Another thought is to use the hotel finder on this page. (Look to the right.) We've used that to find places, too.


  9. #9
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Melbourne, Australia

    Default Camping with the car.

    As already mentioned, camping areas should be abundant in September, without booking. I have never booked a campsite. Just make sure you have the phone numbers of some in the area you are considering, and then, when you know how far you are going to make it for the day, ring and ask about availability.... and check if they are open.

    Sleeping in your car is not really recommended. Unless your vehicle is set up for it, you really do not have an opportunity to get a good night's rest. What I would do is go to one of the big box stores and purchase a tent, sleeping mat and sleeping bag. Get a three season one. (For extra insulation, collect newspapers and spread under the mat.) This should not cost more than about three or four night's accommodation. At the end of the trip you could donate it to one of the charity stores. (Or you could check out charity stores as you see them, and see if you can pick up some of the gear there.)


  10. #10
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Green County, Wisconsin


    Quote Originally Posted by traveladviceplease View Post
    Sorry, I really wasn't clear with what I said, looks like I just wanted to sleep on the highway!
    You might be surprised the number of people who really think they can set up camp on the shoulder of the road!

    I rarely make reservations for camping. Really the only exception tends to be when I want to stay in a national park, and/or there aren't many other options nearby, or for things like holiday weekends. In Sept/Oct, it would be a bit surprising to find an issue of finding an available campsite. Yellowstone could potentially still be an issue here, however, as only a couple campgrounds remain open after September.

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