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  1. Default Planning Road Trip From East Coast to West and Back (hitting best National Parks)

    Hi, I am new on the board. I am currently planning our road trip for this spring/summer. We will be going to California from South Carolina and back. I am planning on going thru Nevada on the way to California, then on to Oregon, and going back thru Montana and the Dakotas before heading back South. That is the only plans I have so far. So I am in need of advice on where to go in between. The main places we want to visit is the Grand Canyon, Redwoods, Yellowstone , Glacier, Yosemite, and Mt Rushmore. We will be renting a car and plan on staying at hotels along the way. I am trying to decide if I should book all hotels ahead since it will be busy season. My only concern with that is how will we know how long we will want to spend in each place. I am guessing we will have to have every single day planned out ahead to make it work. I would love to hear advice on planning as I have just begun and it seems a little overwhelming. I am very excited I have 3 children that will be ages 10 and 7 at the time of travel. Any places you would suggest we make sure to see with kids? Also should we do interstates or try to stay on all scenic routes? We are planning to leave late May and hoping to keep the trip at 75 days if possible. Thanks!

  2. #2
    Join Date
    May 2011
    Location
    Southern California
    Posts
    4,546

    Default

    Welcome to RTA!

    The beauty of a road trip is that you can make it completely yours. If you want to stay on interstates the whole trip, or on as many 2-lanes as possible, it's your trip. I think 75 days sounds like a winner to me! Here are some other comments so we can get you going:

    I am trying to decide if I should book all hotels ahead since it will be busy season. My only concern with that is how will we know how long we will want to spend in each place.
    For the national parks, you're probably going to have to book ahead of time. Rarely does an opening exist if you just drive up and ask for a room inside any of the parks you mention. BTW, Mt Rushmore does not have an inn -- you'll have to stay in Keystone or Custer City. We can help you with estimating how long you want to stay in each place. Here's my "take":

    Grand Canyon = at least one full day, in order to see the sunset or the sunrise. You can stay at the Inn there (if you can get reservations), Tusayan (kind of pricey), Williams or Flagstaff (less expensive but farther away).

    Yellowstone = at least 3 - 4 days. There are lots of inns there, but you could also stay in West Yellowstone, MT, Gardiner, MT, or Flagg Ranch, which are all outside the park.

    Redwoods = a full day.

    Glacier = at least a full day, possibly two, especially if you want to hike.

    Mt Rushmore = while a half day at the monument is good, there are a few places around the area that you might want to check out: Wind Cave NP, Jewel Cave NM, Custer State Park's 3 scenic drives, Crazy Horse Monument, the town of Keystone itself. We spent 2 days there this summer which was fine for 2 adults (Mt Rushmore, Custer's 3 drives and Wind Cave), but with children, you might want to allow 3.

    Yosemite - 2 days, 3 if Tioga Pass is open. There are two or three inns within the park, but other accommodations can be found at Mariposa, Oakhurst, but these would involve a good drive into the park each day.

    May I also suggest Devil's Tower NM, between Yellowstone and the Black Hills of South Dakota (Mt Rushmore area)? It's about 30 miles off of I-90, but you cannot see it from the interstate. There are two things that your kids will love about it, besides it being the landmark setting in the movie CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND: the prairie dog village, and then the 1-1/4 mile hike around the Tower. On a good day, there could be climbers on it, and it's fun to watch them.



    I am guessing we will have to have every single day planned out ahead to make it work. I would love to hear advice on planning as I have just begun and it seems a little overwhelming.
    But it's just as much fun as the trip itself! You should have a plan laid out, somewhat day to day, if you are booked at national parks. It can be pretty fluid, such as "well, we ended here at Yellowstone and our next reservation is 2 days from now, so how far should we drive each of these days?" Or it can be solid, that's up to you.

    I am very excited I have 3 children that will be ages 10 and 7 at the time of travel. Any places you would suggest we make sure to see with kids?
    They are old enough to be of some help to you. Get a good map out and have them see if anything strikes them as a place they'd like to see. They can do a little research on the Internet, particularly your 10 year old.

    Wall Drug and Corn Palace, both along I-80 in South Dakota, are places that kids would probably enjoy. (One is in Wall, and the other is at Mitchell.)


    Donna

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    Location
    South of England.
    Posts
    10,749

    Default Great family fun !

    It sounds like an amazing family adventure with enough time that most of us dream of ! When planning it is important that you don't try to plan every moment of every day. Sure you will need to book in advance in some cases (or all that's what you are comfortable with) but make sure you leave enough time for spontaniety when you stumble upon those hidden gems. While in the GC area you could visit Monument valley and I would look into Southern Utah and the parks of Arches, Canyonlands, capitol reef, Bryce canyon, and Zion. Of course there are so many options on a trip of this scale the list could be endless. As you move forward with your planning and start mapping it out we will be happy to answer specific questions and make suggestions.

    Enjoy the planning !

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Location
    Melbourne, Australia
    Posts
    6,936

    Default Tools to make planning easier.

    Planning is so much easier if you have some good maps. A large one of the US to lay out your route. Maps of individual States to see the detail, scenic routes and attractions along the way. Or a good road atlas. You will need these on the road. Don't be tempted to rely solely on electronics.

    If you are a member of AAA get the maps there. You can get a Rand McNally road atlas from the shop on the green bar above.

    Lifey

  5. Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Lifemagician View Post
    Planning is so much easier if you have some good maps. A large one of the US to lay out your route. Maps of individual States to see the detail, scenic routes and attractions along the way. Or a good road atlas. You will need these on the road. Don't be tempted to rely solely on electronics.

    If you are a member of AAA get the maps there. You can get a Rand McNally road atlas from the shop on the green bar above.

    Lifey
    Thank you so much, I am going to go ahead and join AAA to get my hands on all the state maps. :) I think my children will have a lot of fun looking at these and planning our route.

  6. Default

    Lifemagician and Southwest Dave,
    Thank you so much for all the wonderful information! I am going to look into booking the National Parks this weekend. I am hoping to try to stay in some of the Inns inside the parks if available. I really appreciate you giving me an idea on days for each park and places to stay. I am a little overwhelmed in the fact that I am not sure how many days to space inbetween. I am a very spontaneous person so this is taking a lot of effort for me to have almost 3 months planned out to the day..lol I do need to do it and know the trip will be more enjoyable if I have everything lined up. Should I just plan for extra days between incase we stumble upon a hidden gem, or if the weather is bad and we cannot get all things done at one of our destinations?
    Thank you again, I am so happy I found this page to help me plan this out!

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    Location
    Joplin MO
    Posts
    9,270

    Default

    If anything, I would plan for extra days in between the major attractions - no need to book hotels in between them, you shouldn't have a problem finding lodging on a walk-in basis along Interstate highways and in larger towns and around large cities. This will give you flexibility to adjust things on the run. The only thing I would caution you against is trying to drive too many miles in a day. If you are traveling on Interstates, 10 hours in the car should get you between 500 and 600 miles. If on non-Interstate non-freeway quality roads, this will have to be adjusted accordingly. If you use software to estimate drive times, add 20% to allow for delays and stops, software assumes speed limit and no stops whatsoever.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Location
    Melbourne, Australia
    Posts
    6,936

    Default Definitely

    Quote Originally Posted by AdventureMommy View Post
    Should I just plan for extra days between incase we stumble upon a hidden gem, or if the weather is bad and we cannot get all things done at one of our destinations?
    I would certainly stay flexible between the major attractions. As mentioned above, bookings should not be essential. There is so much to see and do along the road and in the smaller towns, if you take the time to call in at BLM, Rangers and Forestry Offices. I have always found those folk so full of local knowledge and interesting places you may not have heard of. There's nothing like stumbling upon a gem.

    I sure hope you will all be keeping journals and records, and that you are able to make time to share them on our field trip forum, while on the road, or after the trip.
    .
    Lifey

  9. Default

    Thank you, I think that is what I will do. We will all be taking photos and keeping journals and I would love to share on the board when we return. :)

    I have so much we want to see and do from the Grand Canyon over to California all the way back to the East Coast. What I am having trouble with is finding things of interest that are age appropriate in between SC and Nevada. Any suggestions for stops that may be worth taking. Also is there a particular route you would take on this stretch? We have done many trips around the south (Carolinas, Virginia and Tennessee) So I am looking for some things to do going across but not in those states. Thanks!! Any advice on this would be so appreciated!

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

    Default A lot of reading to do.

    BTW, I should also have mentioned that if there happens to be a holiday weekend during your trip, I would be booking rooms just in case.

    When I travel across country, especially though the middle States, I look for attractions which interest me on the map, and try to learn a little about the history of the country. Such as travelling through the 1930s dust bowl States. I imagine what it would have been like. Other areas I like to know about the native settlement before Europeans, the early explorers and pioneers, to what we have today. I still marvel at those who choose to live in some of the more remote areas. As a city person, I wonder at how they cope without all the services we have at our fingertips.

    If you too live in an urban area, it could well be an eyeopener for your children.

    Lifey

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