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  1. Default Cross Country and back advice appreciated

    We are taking a trip from NYC to California and back.

    We are planning to drive the northern route to San Francisco, going down through California and returning across the southern route.

    The part of the trip that is the most challenging to plan is coming down through California.

    I'd love some advice on what to see and what to exclude on this trip.
    Of course we'd love to spend days or weeks at several locations, but we only have about six weeks for the whole trip.

    I'll be traveling with my 7 kids -- ages 6-17. Besides seeing the national parks, any suggestions on activities or attractions that would be memorable for the kids.
    We plan to camp some of the time, but do hotels most of the time.
    We haven't traveled any further west than TX before, so everything will be new to us.

    As of now, we hope to stop at the following places -
    Badlands, SD
    Mt. Rushmore, SD
    Yellowstone NP
    Grand Teton NP
    Lake Tahoe
    Yosemite NP
    San Francisco
    Pacific Coast Highway
    Sequoia NP
    Sedona, AZ
    Hoover Dam
    Grand Canyon
    Zion NP
    Bryce NP
    Arches NP
    Mesa Verde NP
    San Antonio
    Back to NY

    I know this is an ambitious itinerary, but I don't expect we will make this trip again any time soon, so we'd like to see as much as possible.
    Any advice would be appreciated.

    Thank you!

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    South of England.

    Default Good start to a great trip !

    That looks like quite the family adventure ! Hello and welcome to the RTA forums !

    I think at this point of your planning you need to start breaking your trip into smaller segments [maybe 4 parts] and then each segment into days just to see how you can fit it in to suit your your travel style. For example how much time you may want in each National park and how well your Kids travel in the vehicle when covering distance. With that size group I wouldn't look to travel any more than 500 miles on a 'travel' day, but personally I like to keep to highways and Byways where possible and keep it to 300-350 miles per day which allows you time for stops at smaller attractions.

    National park lodging and those nearby can get booked up early in the summer months [and be more expensive] so you may want to look at options. If you plan to camp the NP's are great value but again availability is limited although you do have some 'First come first served' non reservable sites if you arrive early in the day. Keep in mind that some need a few days to really enjoy them, especially places like Yellowstone [3-4 days] and Yosemite [2-3 days]. San Antonio is a big detour, depending on how much you want to go there and what else you may want to visit after, you could look at some of the other amazing sites in and around the Colorado Rockies. If you did want to go as far south then you might look at going to Southern Utah etc after the Tetons and before Yosemite and then take a southern route from LA to Sedona and San Antonio etc.

    There are thousands of other attractions along a route of this size and once you start breaking it down and seeing your timeline you will be able to look closer at what appeals and of course once you have done so, we can offer suggestions and perhaps alternatives to help 'Fine tune' your trip.

  3. Default

    Hi Southwest Dave!

    Thanks for your reply.
    This will be a big adventure for us!

    We have to keep San Antonio - visiting family. That is as far west as we have been.
    Two summers ago we did a five week trip to TX and back stopping all through the south.
    The kids traveled pretty well then. That trip was open ended and other than 1 week planned in Houston - the rest of the trip was open ended.

    Due to accommodations around the parks - this trip will need to have a more solid itinerary.

    I wanted to add more of CO - and Rocky Mountain NP. I'm not sure if I will have the time.
    Do you think it is a "must see"?

    I'd also considered coming south for Great Salt Lake. Again, not sure if there is time and if it will be a "must see".

    After reading your post, I am considering rerouting to go further south after Grand Teton and doing more of CO and UT.

    Fitting everything in CA efficiently has been a challenge.
    Originally, I was considering coming across to CA after Grand Teton - stopping at Craters of the Moon then into Lake Tahoe. Not sure if either of those are must sees.

    That plan would have us criss-crossing CA in order to do the Pacific Coast drive and Disney as well as the in state NPs. It's appears inefficient to cross the state more than 2x.

    Perhaps a better plan would be to go south after Grand Teton and do CO and cross over to CA further south. That would allow us to see CO, and more of UT. We could stay inland CA and head north through the parks to Lake Tahoe and then across to San Francisco and down the coast.

    This would bring us back across CA and through AZ and NM into TX.

    I will work on the mileage for both to see if there is a major difference.

    I will break it down into segments like you suggested and post them for tips and advice.
    The first part seems relatively easy. We won't do any/many sightseeing stops until we get to SD.

    Any tips on areas to splurge would be welcome also. Kids vary in age - 17, 16, 8, 7, 7, 6, 6 -- two teens and a bunch of little guys --so they have different ideas of what might be fun.

    A few splurge/excursion options that we're considering--
    -floating/raft - Snake River (or elsewhere)
    -Monteray Aquarium
    -Whale Watching
    -Surf lessons (older kids)
    - Disney/Universal
    -MLB game (most likely in TX)
    -guided tour/jeep tour to bottom of Grand Canyon

    They will be able to choose 2-3 of those activities to do as a family.

    Thanks again for your reply. I'll check back in after I have some solid plans/schedule

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    South of England.


    'Must see's' are different for everyone and there are so many options you will never get to see them all, so it becomes a case of prioritising what appeals to you and the family the most. Colorado is an amazing State but if you can't fit it into your timeline then it will still be there for another time. It's too tempting to try and see everything, where you end up just rushing from place to place and actually see little of anything. Get the Kids involved in the planning so that they have a vested interest in the trip which will make it more fun and exciting for everyone.

    In Moab UT [near Arches] there are float/rafting trips on the nearby Colorado river and Jeep tours into Canyonlands and around Bryce canyon there are Horse riding and ATV activities. While in San Fran, a boat trip to Alcatraz is a nice excursion.

    As you are visiting a number of National park sites it would make sense to purchase the annual pass for $80 which you can order on-line or simply pick it up at the first park you visit, which is actually the best option as the clock starts ticking on the day of purchase.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    May 2011
    Southern California


    The only guided tour to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, to my knowledge, is the mule trip that overnights at Phantom Ranch. That trip books out a couple of years in advance, too.


  6. Default

    Thanks Donna! I will do more research on our options there.

  7. Default

    Thanks Dave! Those are some good options.
    Your suggestion to go south into CO makes so much sense.
    I wish I would have realized it sooner.
    It has really helped some of the planning pieces fall into place!

  8. Default

    OK, went to AAA and got a Trip Tik and state maps. (+ an atlas).
    It took almost two hours to work it out.

    All of the trip is fast paced. As far as the NPs, we will have approximately 1-2 days at each. Several may simply be drive thrus. Not ideal – I know - but we want to see a little of each.

    Several places we will be staying with family or friends. The rest of the trip will be camping and hotels. If we are off schedule for hotel/camp reservations, we can skip some stops.

    We are hoping to add a few more days in for some relaxation time at nicer hotels to break up the fast pace of the rest of the trip.
    I was thinking of adding 2-3 days in Sedona and maybe another 2-3 days in CA (not sure where – maybe in Tahoe or on the coast)

    Does this schedule look possible/doable? What segments should be tweaked or revised?
    Thanks for any feedback, advice and insights you can offer.

    1. – Yonkers, NY to Badlands NP & Mt. Rushmore
    5 days

    2. – Mt. Rushmore to Yellowstone & Grand Teton
    4-5 days

    3. – Jackson Hole to Rocky Mountain NP & Denver
    3 days

    4. Denver to Mesa Verde
    2 days

    5. Mesa Verde to Four Corners to Arches/Bryce/Zion
    4 days

    6. Zion to Grand Canyon to Hoover Dam
    3 days

    7. Hoover Dam to CA
    Either start with Death Valley or skip it and go straight to Sequoia
    3 days

    8. Sequoia to Yosemite
    3 days

    9. Yosemite to Tahoe
    2 day

    10. Tahoe to SF
    3 days

    11. SF to Anaheim (Pacific Coast Highway)
    4 days

    12. Anaheim to Joshua Tree
    1 day

    13 Joshua Tree NP to San Antonio
    4 days

    14. San Antonio to New Orleans
    1 day

    15. New Orleans to Dauphin Island
    1 day

    16 Dauphin Island to Buffalo NY
    2 days

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    South of England.


    I think you have done an excellent job and have an amazing and exciting trip to look forward to. I would be tempted to add an extra day between Mesa Verde and Zion as you could easily spend a day and a half around Moab for Arches and Canyonlands and the same in Zion. Between Arches and Bryce is Capitol Reef NP and the drive along UT24 and scenic Byway 12 is spectacular !

    From Denver to Mesa Verde you could also drive the amazing 'Million dollar Highway' [US550] through the mountain towns of Ouray and Silverton. To get there you would take US285 to Poncha Springs and US50 which is also a lovely drive over Monarch Pass, through Currecanti National Recreation area and past Black canyon of the Gunnison. It would add a couple of hours to your journey to MV although you could stop short in Durango for the night. If you had the time you could also 'Splurge' on a wonderful steam train ride to Silverton.

  10. Default

    Thank you Dave!

    This is really fantastic advice. We've researched your latest pointers and the kids are very excited to drive along these routes. We're looking forward to some spectacular views! We have been looking at various train rides and this one seems to be the winner! Thank you for suggesting it!

    We appreciate all the help! You've really helped us figure out the trickier parts of the trip. I'm really pleased with the way it is shaping up!

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