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  1. Default Western Loop (6.5k miles / 32 days)

    Hello!

    I am planning a road trip for this summer, specifically 6/25 - 7/26. I've always wanted to go on a road trip, recently got a new car I love to drive, and managed to get a month off work...so I figure now is the time to make the trip. I'd be making this trip solo, but hope to meet some good people along the way.

    Right now I like the trip I have planned but am thinking it might be too ambitious, so I am looking for feedback on how to mold it into the best trip possible! The trip as planned is:

    Code:
    Chicago, IL           (Start Trip) 
    -> St Louis, MO       (296 mi - 4h 40m - 1 night stay)
    -> Kansas City, KS    (259 mi - 4h 30m - 1 night stay)
    -> Garden City, KS    (380 mi - 6h 12m - 1 night stay)
    -> Denver, CO         (335 mi - 5h 20m - 2 night stay)
    -> Telluride, CO      (365 mi - 6h 19m - 2 night stay)
    -> Flagstaff, AZ      (341 mi - 5h 52m - 1 night stay)
    -> Las Vegas, NV      (250 mi - 3h 58m - 2 night stay)
    -> Los Angeles, CA    (269 mi - 4h 22m - 2 night stay)
    -> Santa Maria, CA    (159 mi - 2h 39m - 1 night stay)
    -> Monterey, CA       (175 mi - 2h 54m - 1 night stay)
    -> Half Moon Bay, CA  (91 mi  - 1h 45m - 2 night stay)
    -> Mendocino, CA      (181 mi - 3h 35m - 1 night stay) 
    -> Eureka, CA         (143 mi - 3h 07m - 1 night stay)
    -> Coos Bay, OR       (217 mi - 4h 08m - 1 night stay)
    -> Portland, OR       (223 mi - 3h 59m - 1 night stay)
    -> Seattle, WA        (174 mi - 2h 50m - 2 night stay)
    -> Coeur d'Alene, ID  (312 mi - 5h 03m - 1 night stay)
    -> Whitefish, MT      (222 mi - 4h 06m - 1 night stay)
    -> Great Falls, MT    (220 mi - 3h 44m - 1 night stay)
    -> Yellowstone Park   (301 mi - 5h 19m - 2 night stay)
    -> Casper, WY         (324 mi - 5h 56m - 1 night stay)
    -> Rapid City, SD     (254 mi - 4h 11m - 1 night stay)
    -> Sioux Falls, SD    (349 mi - 5h 20m - 1 night stay)
    -> Minneapolis, MN    (269 mi - 4h 07m - 1 night stay)
    -> Chicago, IL        (409 mi - 6h 29m - End Trip)
    Crunching those numbers...

    # of Days that Include Driving: 25
    # of Rest Days: 7
    Total Days: 32
    Total Distance: 6,517 miles / 109h 56m
    Average (Including Rest Days): 203.7 miles / 3h 26m
    Average (Excluding Rest Days): 260.7 miles / 4h 24m

    With this route in mind, I had a handful of questions.

    1) Am I trying to fit in too much? Would this trip be better if I cut some of the stops off? If so, how would you switch it up?
    2) Would it make more sense to reverse the route? I hear it's better to travel Pacific Highway from north to south, but im not sure if that warrants reversing the trip.
    3) Kansas is big. I'm thinking about stopping in Garden City overnight. What other options are there for a decent stop between KC and Denver? Hays maybe?
    4) I was thinking about visiting the Grand Canyon during my 1 day in Flagstaff. Is 1 day enough time for that, or is that a stop that requires more time?
    5) Would it be better to drop LA or some other CA beach towns for a day or two in Yosemite? I've never been to either.

    Of course if you had any other thoughts or comments I would love to hear them.

    Thanks!

  2. #2
    Join Date
    May 2011
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    Southern California
    Posts
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    Welcome to RTA!

    First things first -- are you getting your driving times from an electronic mapping program? If so, you'll need to do one of two things: 1) add 20% to the time, or 2) take the mileage, drop the driving time, and divide mileage by 60 (for interstate driving), 55 (4-lane non-interstate), 50 (2-lane) or 25 (in a national park) to get the driving time.

    1) Am I trying to fit in too much? Would this trip be better if I cut some of the stops off? If so, how would you switch it up?
    There are places where you aren't allowing much time to see what you're going for. I'm assuming with "Whitefish MT" for one night, you're looking at Glacier National Park. You'll want to allow at LEAST one day, possibly 2, there. Two nights in Yellowstone after a 7-8 hour drive isn't going to allow you to see many of the highlights -- it is a HUGE park. Just driving around the upper loop of the figure-8 can be a full day, because of the size and because of the "animal jams".

    2) Would it make more sense to reverse the route? I hear it's better to travel Pacific Highway from north to south, but im not sure if that warrants reversing the trip.
    The reason that we recommend north to south is because the scenic pullouts are on the western side (right side) of the road, and you won't risk your life every time you pull into and out of a pullout.

    3) Kansas is big. I'm thinking about stopping in Garden City overnight. What other options are there for a decent stop between KC and Denver? Hays maybe?
    Well....at 420 miles or so, it's not that big, but Kansas City to Denver IS a bit much for a one-day drive. Hays has a couple of things of interest, as does the area around Liberal (Eisenhower Library and a Russell Stover candy factory outlet).

    4) I was thinking about visiting the Grand Canyon during my 1 day in Flagstaff. Is 1 day enough time for that, or is that a stop that requires more time?
    You'll want to see either a sunrise or a sunset over the Grand Canyon, as it's beautiful. A full day ought to do it, but two would be wonderful.

    5) Would it be better to drop LA or some other CA beach towns for a day or two in Yosemite? I've never been to either.
    It's your trip, but the beach towns would have to go if this was my trip. If you like natural awesome beauty and scenery, Yosemite has to be in the Top 10.


    Donna

  3. Default

    Thanks Donna!

    Driving times and mileage all come from https://roadtrippers.com/. I don't know anything about the accuracy of the numbers on that site but in general they were longer than googles, but ill schedule in more time as you suggest to be safe.

    I haven't done much research on Whitefish or Glacier National Park, but I just wanted to make sure that I would drive the Going to the Sun road on the course of this trip. Driving from Coeur d'Alene and doing the Going to the Sun Road seemed like too much for one day, so I figured stopping somewhere in between made sense. I don't know much about Whitefish and would be open to other suggestions on where to stay in that area.

    Along those same lines, there are a few other stops i'm not sure on, but they just seemed reasonable based on distance and population. Namely the trip up the far northern california / oregon coast. Are Mendocino, Eureka, and Coos Bay nice places to stay for a night or are there better options in the area? Or would it perhaps make more sense to stray further from the coast as I get that far north?

  4. #4
    Join Date
    May 2011
    Location
    Southern California
    Posts
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    area around Liberal (Eisenhower Library and a Russell Stover candy factory outlet).
    MY error -- not Liberal (which is in the southwestern corner of the state), but Abilene -- exits 272 and 275. SO sorry!!!!

    I haven't done much research on Whitefish or Glacier National Park, but I just wanted to make sure that I would drive the Going to the Sun road on the course of this trip. Driving from Coeur d'Alene and doing the Going to the Sun Road seemed like too much for one day, so I figured stopping somewhere in between made sense. I don't know much about Whitefish and would be open to other suggestions on where to stay in that area.
    It's a gorgeous area. Who knows, we may even bump into you there. :-)

    Places to stay for Glacier: There are a number of campgrounds. For hotels, the park has 6 I think, but all are pretty pricey, so if you're on a budget....hmmm. On the west side of the park, there are motels in Whitefish, Columbia Falls, West Glacier/Apgar. On the east side, East Glacier Park and Browning are less expensive than St Mary. Kalispell on the west side, and Great Falls on the east, are both the closest larger cities but neither are close enough to be at a decent mileage from the park.

    Coeur d'Alene to Glacier via the Canadian route is closer to 450 miles. I didn't figure out the mileage going via US-2 between the two places.

    Going to the Sun Road is about 50 miles, but years ago, when my family went, we took the entire day to drive from Columbia Falls through Essex, the Marias Pass, East Glacier Park and then traverse GTTSR from east to west.

    If you are into Lewis and Clark history at all, Montana is full of it.



    Donna

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
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    South of England.
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    Most of us here love to drive but there always needs to be a nice balance with some time out of the car and to 'smell the roses' so to speak. It's your trip and what's important is what you want to get out of it, but it looks heavily biased towards city's when you will be driving by so much natural beauty with the option of driving slower scenic by-ways. Example are 2 nights in Denver when on the way to Telluride you have places like Rocky mountain and Black canyon NP's. Driving from Telluride to Flagstaff and then leaving next day for Vegas will give you minimal time at the Canyon, not to mention Monument valley and Zion NP. From Vegas you have Death valley and Yosemite NP's and an amazing drive you could choose and as said your time in Yellowstone will be quite rushed, and it goes on throughout your trip. On paper your trip is doable and if spending a lot of time on the road and in the city is what you want then that's great but my point is, you could do a smaller loop and see so much more along the way.

  6. #6

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Wizrad View Post

    <snip, snip>
    With this route in mind, I had a handful of questions.

    1) Am I trying to fit in too much? Would this trip be better if I cut some of the stops off? If so, how would you switch it up?
    My understanding is that the 2-day visits are down-time, resting days. Denver and Telluride are back-to-back rest periods from long driving. That makes sense in addition to most of your road trip days not being super long and hard. If I were going to hang around the Rockies for a couple of days it might be Ouray, not Telluride. Ouray may not be as chic as Telluride, but it won't be short on relaxation and scenery, not to mention the hot baths for soothing the bones and muscles.

    Denver may be a bit off the path in your trajectory from Garden City to Telluride to Flagstaff. Not that there are several decent options... the northwesterly (Denver & I-70, Rocky Mtn NP), westerly (Pueblo, Gunnison, Black Canyon NP) and the southwesterly (Pueblo, Alamosa, Great Sand Dunes NP).

    Between Telluride (or Ourey) and Flagstaff are some wonderful attractions/sights including Mesa Verde NP (southwest Colorado) and the Monument Valley area.

    Quote Originally Posted by Wizrad View Post
    3) Kansas is big. I'm thinking about stopping in Garden City overnight. What other options are there for a decent stop between KC and Denver? Hays maybe?
    Dodge City is a decent alternative to Garden City. Maybe a little more to stretch your legs walking around in the "downtown" section. Garden City is more citified, a good place to stock up on supplies.

    Quote Originally Posted by Wizrad View Post
    4) I was thinking about visiting the Grand Canyon during my 1 day in Flagstaff. Is 1 day enough time for that, or is that a stop that requires more time?
    One day is enough unless you are hiking or riding a mule down the bottom of the Canyon. Get an early start if day tripping from Flagstaff. You can drive a "circle route" from Flagstaff to GCNP with some sights to see along the way.

    Quote Originally Posted by Wizrad View Post
    5) Would it be better to drop LA or some other CA beach towns for a day or two in Yosemite? I've never been to either.
    Instead of Santa Maria, I would recommend nighting over just a little further up the road at Pismo Beach (or Shell Beach, basically North Pismo Beach), San Luis Obispo, Morro Bay or Cambria. They each have their distinct charms.

    Ventura, a couple of hours north of Los Angeles, is a Southern Calif. beach town. Nice main street area with eateries and shops; the Pier and the Point have plenty of good beach vibes and a long beach walk.

    Unless you are riding the light rail into San Francisco or have friends in Half Moon Bay/Bay area, I would allocate more time to north of the Bay area. Northern Calif (coastal Redwoods) is nice. SF is very expensive to park, much better off riding mass transit (e.g., BART) into the city.

    Quote Originally Posted by Wizrad View Post
    Of course if you had any other thoughts or comments I would love to hear them. Thanks!
    You are hitting many of my favorite cities (Seattle, Portland), beach areas (Central Calif). Northern Oregon is also killer. Easy to cut to the coast from Portland via Tillamook and drive north to the river (Astoria), cross over to Washington and then fork over towards Seattle by way of Olympia.

    Have fun!

  7. Default

    Thanks for the excellent feedback everyone! I've revised my trip based on all your suggestions, did a little more research, and managed to make the route a hair shorter (100 miles), but with the stops more evenly spaced out and more varied.

    Code:
    Chicago, IL          (Start Trip) 
    -> St Louis, MO      (296 mi - 4h 40m - 1 night stay) 
    -> Kansas City, KS   (259 mi - 4h 03m - 1 night stay) 
    -> ???               (Let the road decide!) 
    -> Denver, CO        (339 mi - 5h 18m - 2 night stay) 
    -> Ouray, CO         (335 mi - 5h 41m - 2 night stay) 
    -> Grand Canyon      (384 mi - 6h 52m - 1 night stay) 
    -> Las Vegas, NV     (277 mi - 4h 32m - 2 night stay) 
    -> Los Angeles, CA   (269 mi - 4h 22m - 2 night stay) 
    -> Pismo Beach, CA   (177 mi - 2h 54m - 1 night stay) 
    -> Monterey, CA      (155 mi - 2h 34m - 1 night stay) 
    -> San Francisco, CA (114 mi - 2h 02m - 1 night stay) 
    -> Mendocino, CA     (154 mi - 3h 00m - 1 night stay) 
    -> Arcata, CA        (151 mi - 3h 18m - 1 night stay) 
    -> Bandon, OR        (185 mi - 3h 32m - 1 night stay) 
    -> Portland, OR      (246 mi - 4h 25m - 2 night stay) 
    -> Seattle, WA       (174 mi - 2h 50m - 2 night stay) 
    -> Coeur d'Alene, ID (312 mi - 5h 03m - 1 night stay) 
    -> West Glacier, MT  (243 mi - 4h 27m - 1 night stay) 
    -> Helena, MT        (243 mi - 3h 57m - 1 night stay) 
    -> Yellowstone Park  (213 mi - 3h 55m - 2 night stay) 
    -> Bighorn Natl Park (213 mi - 4h 18m - 1 night stay) 
    -> Rapid City, SD    (318 mi - 5h 22m - 1 night stay) 
    -> Sioux Falls, SD   (349 mi - 5h 20m - 1 night stay) 
    -> Minneapolis, MN   (269 mi - 4h 07m - 1 night stay) 
    -> Chicago, IL       (409 mi - 6h 29m - End Trip)
    The main differences are that I will get more camping in and save a few bucks by leaving behind Casper, WY for Bighorn National Park and Flagstaff for Grand Canyon National Park. Also, Ouray sounds great so I will stay there instead of Telluride.

    In terms of distance, the only drive i'm not thrilled about is Ouray -> Grand Canyon. I guess i'll be leaving bright and early that day. I was thinking I could stay somewhere in between Ouray and the Grand Canyon, but one of my other goals was to do all or at least most of the San Juan Skyway, which I don't think i'll want to do without an extra rest day in the area.

    I've also swapped out Santa Maria for Pismo Beach in hopes of getting a nice spot to lay out on the beach for the day.

    I'm excited for every stop along the way on this trip, except for the one random night in western Kansas in between Kansas City and Denver. So, to keep it interesting, I figure i'll just let the road decide how I get to Denver. Maybe i'll stop off in Abilene, Hays, Garden City, or could even be somewhere in southern Nebraska (Kearney, Hays, Grand Island). We'll see how that leg of the trip goes.

    Once again thanks for all the great feedback, and if you have anymore let me know.

  8. #8
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    I'm excited for every stop along the way on this trip, except for the one random night in western Kansas in between Kansas City and Denver.
    If it were me and following 2 reasonably comfortable days on the road, I would bite the bullet, hit the road early and head straight to Denver, looking at a Motel near the airport east of the city centre. That would allow you more time to explore around Ouray and Grand canyon.

  9. #9

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    Shell Beach Inn in Pismo Beach is a clean, basic motel, probably less costly than others in the area. I stayed there this past October. A traditional owner-operated park in front of your room motel.

  10. #10
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    May 2011
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    Southern California
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    If it were me and following 2 reasonably comfortable days on the road, I would bite the bullet, hit the road early and head straight to Denver, looking at a Motel near the airport east of the city centre.
    This would be something my husband and I would do, as well. For us, 600 miles isn't all that bad, especially when it's all interstate. It's the highest amount the two of us prefer to do, however.

    Exits 285 and 283, in Colorado along I-70, both have a few motels to choose from, in various price ranges. They are both near the airport on the east side of Denver.


    Donna

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