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  1. Default Seattle to Trenton, NJ in 11 days, mid-August

    I had last posted about three years ago seeking advice on a trip the wife and I took through the Midwest and the Southeast. We were able to see a lot more due to the assistance of people on this forum, and I'm very grateful for your help. Now we're trying to do something else ambitious, and I'd like to see if anybody has any pointers.

    We're going out West from NJ to a wedding, and leaving SeaTac in a rental car for a one-way drive to Trenton, NJ in mid-August. We would like to spend maybe two days in Yellowstone, and maybe two days in Chicago. Aside from that, the goal is maximum scenery and to hit a few tourist traps (Wall Drug, probably). I also would like to check as many states as I can off the "driven through" list if I can do it without going nuts. Budget is not a major concern, and while I'd love restaurant recommendations it's too large a drive to be specific so that'll be the subject of more research later on. The challenge is mostly that even though there's the two of us I think I'll be doing all the driving - I enjoy it but it also means I don't really want to go over, say, 10-11 hours on the days where we just have to cover ground.

    Before you admonish us, now that I'm reading through the forums carefully it occurs to me that I should have booked accommodations at Yellowstone some time ago. We're not terribly outdoorsy people but we would like to have a place to stay somewhere near the park.

    My thought was:
    • to go SeaTac to Butte right along I-90 on day one, then get from Butte to Yellowstone (I90-->287-->87-->20?) on day two.
    • Stay in Yellowstone day three, leave morning of day four and get somewhere around Rapid City, SD by way of US 16/20 to I90 by day's end.
    • On day five try to see the Black Hills/Rushmore through to Sioux Falls on I90.
    • Day six from Sioux Falls to Minneapolis or Eau Claire, WI (I90-I35-I54).
    • Day seven to get to Chicago by way of Green Bay, WI (WI-29 to I43 to I94).
    • Stay in Chicago day eight, leave morning of day nine, get to Cleveland by way of South Bend IN (I80/90).
    • Cleveland to State College, PA (to see my brother) via I80 on day ten.
    • State College, PA to Trenton (US322 to I83 to I76 or just take I80 on back, depending) on day eleven.

    I am pretty confident in the trip through to Rapid City, and I'm comfortable with the (somewhat more relaxed) pace between Chicago and NJ. I'd love to get some input as to whether the bit from Rapid City to Chicago by way of MN/WI is feasible - I would very much like to see the Twin Cities and Lambeau Field and to a lesser extent a drive through Wisconsin but if it's madness then I need to plan for a swing farther south, I guess.

    Thanks in advance, everyone.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Melbourne, Australia

    Default Don't give up yet.

    Hi, and Welcome back. Good to hear the help you received was of benefit in the trip.

    A couple of things which come to mind. Before you give up completely on Yellowstone accommodation, keep checking the national parks website. With the park's no cost cancellation policy, you never know when a cancellation could come in. Meanwhile you may like to keep an eye on West Yellowstone and other nearby places.

    That first day is going to be a long one. I'd try to get away as early as you can. Keep an eye on the wildfires in WA lest they should impact on your chosen route. A wonderfully scenic way to get from I-90 to Yellowstone is to take US-191 from Belgrade to West Yellowstone.

    Definitely go and visit Wall Drug, one of those touristy places you visit just once. Interesting place, non-the-less. Be sure to get your 5 cent coffee and your free iced water. Out the very back, where unfortunately not too many go, there is quite a lot of history.

    Don't forget Badlands NP, Mt Rushmore and all the other attractions in the Rapid City area. Should be a great trip.


  3. #3
    Join Date
    May 2011
    Southern California


    Glad our forums helped you earlier. Here are some commentary I have on your planned trip. Some of it, I just finished doing on a trip with my hubby, so this is fresh in my memory.

    to go SeaTac to Butte right along I-90 on day one, then get from Butte to Yellowstone (I90-->287-->87-->20?) on day two.
    Stay in Yellowstone day three, leave morning of day four and get somewhere around Rapid City, SD by way of US 16/20 to I90 by day's end.
    Seattle to Butte on day 1 will be a long day, about 600 miles. This is about the most you would want to do in a one day drive.

    For Day 2, I might recommend that you come down through the north entrance of the park so that you can see things that day as you drive - the section from Gardiner to Mammoth down to Norris. If you're lucky, you may have time to drive over to Tower Jct. If you have not already got your reservations, it may already be too late. The park's lodges and cabins fill fast, and so does West Yellowstone. Still, you *might* get in on a cancellation.

    On the third day, you will have time to do the Lower, Midway and Upper Geyser Basin (which will include Old Faithful). You might also have time for West Thumb and the Fishing Bridge Area -- you'll have to make it a long day.

    It will be a TOUGH thing to make it through the park and get to Rapid City by the day's end. That's a long drive. Park drives are lucky to make 40mph, but are usually a lot less. You'll get stuck in animal jams.

    On day five try to see the Black Hills/Rushmore through to Sioux Falls on I90.
    Don't expect to see much more than Mt Rushmore, which is a good 30 slower miles off of I-90. If you are trying to get to Sioux Falls that day, you won't have time for Wind Cave, Jewel Cave, or any of the beautiful drives through Custer State Park.

    Day six from Sioux Falls to Minneapolis or Eau Claire, WI (I90-I35-I54).
    Day seven to get to Chicago by way of Green Bay, WI (WI-29 to I43 to I94).
    Minneapolis to Chicago via Green Bay is not impossible.


  4. #4
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Tucson, AZ

    Default Not as Much Time as You Think

    Eleven days sounds like a lot of time for a drive that could be done in around five days without pressing too hard. But start adding in all those detours and time spent at all the attractions and relatives you'd like to visit and you quickly run up against serious time constraints. Just the detours (Yellowstone, Black Hills, Green Bay, State College) add a full day's worth of driving to your trip - and I consider 500-550 miles a 'day'. As the sole driver, you already have a full plate before you. Then spend two days at each of Yellowstone and Chicago, and just a half day in Green Bay and State College, and your time is all gone, and you still want to see the Black Hills, Wall Drug, South Bend and Cleveland. Obviously, something's got to give.

    The first thing I'd do on your case is put an absolute upper limit of 550 miles on any given days' driving. That means no 600 mile run to Butte on the first day, or anything like it on any other day either. This needs to be treated like a marathon where you want to keep up a relatively modest, but sustainable, pace. Trying to do too much on any given day will just leave you worn out on subsequent days and not able to accomplish anything like you thought you'd be able to. The second thing I'd plan on, and get input from my traveling companions on, is a couple of short stops at small parks or historic sites near the highway as part of each day's drive. These stops are vital to maintaining your mental acuity and focus and to get at least some exercise each day.

    With pacing more or less fixed, then, I'd really decide on what I want to accomplish on this trip. You simply can't do it all: See lots of sights, visit lots of people, hit a lot of states. That's just too much. I can't tell you what you should cut, that's up to you, but you will need to prioritize and drop about one-third to one-half of your current 'targets'. You can visit fewer sites, especially those that requires significant detours off I-90/I-80, or you can spend considerably less time at each site you stop at. But cut you must.

    To some extent, facing up to all those realities will help you. For example, since you really can't plan on either getting to Butte on Day 1 or spending two full days in Yellowstone, then perhaps a workable plan would be to spend you first night in Missoula or a little east of there - say Drummond. Get a good night's sleep and drive through Yellowstone the next day with minimal stops at Old Faithful, some of the thermal mud pools, and Yellowstone Lake, then leaving by US-14 to the east and ending Day 2 in Cody.

    Last edited by AZBuck; 07-21-2014 at 08:34 PM.

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