View Poll Results: Which route would you recommend?

1. You may not vote on this poll
  • Straight Google route via I-80

    0 0%
  • Route 66 retracing via I-40

    0 0%
  • Scenic route via Rushmore/Yellowstone

    0 0%
  • Other (please comment)

    1 100.00%
Results 1 to 8 of 8
  1. Default Chicago to San Diego in 7 days with 2 kids?

    We're moving the family (with kids age 4 and 6) from Chicago to California and decided to drive. Starting the first weekend of August.

    Our final destination is San Diego. We will have to wait an additional 3-4 days in a hotel before we can move into our new home, so our arrival point would actually be a destination like Legoland or Sea World.

    There are three basic options for routes:

    1. I-80 straight route, 30 hours.
    2. I-40 retracing the historic Route 66, 31 hours.
    3. I-90 via Wisconsin Dells, Badlands, Mount Rushmore, Yellowstone, Grand Canyon - 37 hours.

    After some preliminary research I'm concerned that the fastest routes are also the most boring. Thoughts?

  2. #2
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Green County, Wisconsin


    Welcome to the RTA Forum!

    Online mapping tools, like google, can be great, however they can also lead people to make some common mistakes. One of the most common is believing the fantasy time estimates they provide. Such times fail to account for any of the stops and slowdowns you'll see in the real world, and more importantly, a trip of the length you are talking about needs to be measured in days and not hours. The other big mistake people often make is that they start to think the suggestions offered by google are their only route options, and that's never the case.

    In your case, a "straight I-80" route would typically mean I-80 to I-15 through Salt Lake City, although I suspect that Google is actually suggesting is to take I-80 across Nebraska, and then dip down to I-70 across Colorado to I-15 in Utah. The I-70 route is often considered one of the most scenic freeways in the world, and it also take you past about a half dozen National Parks.

    Even from there, you've got lots of ways you could modify that "fastest" route. You could get off I-70 around Moab, UT (Arches and Canyonlands NPs), head south to Monument Valley and the Grand Canyon, and pick up I-40 to continue to California. You could dip south in Colorado and visit places like Black Canyon, the Million Dollar Highway, and Mesa Verde. There are lots of other options, but that's just a couple of the possibilities.

    As it is, the "fastest route" would take you a minimum of 4 full days of driving, but you could more than easily fill up the 3 extra days at the National Parks along the way to make the 7 day trip you've mentioned.

    I'm assuming the 3-4 days at a hotel in SD you mentioned are in addition to the 7 days you want to spend on the road. If you have 7 days total, and want to spend some of that time in SD at the end, then you're not going to have as much fun on the road. As mentioned, you'd need a minimum of 4 days on the road, before extra stops.

    The I-40 based option would also take you about 4 days of driving, and certainly with Route 66 stops and perhaps a detour to the Grand Canyon, you could also easily fill up 7 days on the road.

    The idea of going up to I-90 to South Dakota and Yellowstone adds another 500 miles of driving, which by itself means at least one more full day on the road. Being that Yellowstone by itself is a huge park where you really need 2-3 days just to explore the highlights, that's probably not a route I would take on your timeline. However, if you are willing to save that time at the end in San Diego for later (which would make a lot of sense to me, since you'll be living there and will be able to see places like Sea World whenever you'd like) and extend this to a 10 day trip, then Yellowstone certainly becomes a much easier possibility.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    May 2011
    Southern California


    Welcome to RTA!

    Michael suggested this is a 4-day trip by itself, and he's correct. If you'd take the 55 down to St Louis, then take I-70 straight across to its end in Utah, then the 15 south into San Diego, it's a 4-day drive with overnights in Columbia MO, Burlington CO, Salina or Richfield UT, and San Diego.

    However, if you do indeed have 3 extra days to play with -- you could choose from Rocky Mountain National Park (just north of Denver), Colorado National Monument (Grand Junction), Arches National Park (Moab, just south of the 70 by about 35 miles), or Zion National Park (about 30 minutes east of the 15 in Southern Utah). You wouldn't be able to do all of these, but could choose a couple.

    For the record -- Grand Canyon is about 10 hours drive from San Diego. Joshua Tree National Park is 2-3 hours away. Disneyland is 1-1/2 to 2 hours, depending on where in San Diego you are moving.

    And....welcome to San Diego. You'll love the weather (but you may hate the housing prices).


  4. #4
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    Joplin MO


    If you'd take the 55 down to St Louis, then take I-70 straight across to its end in Utah
    I-80 to I-76 to I-70 is more efficient, and it avoids both STL and KC traffic.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Tucson, AZ

    Default "Boring" Doesn't Apply

    Quote Originally Posted by atr
    I'm concerned that the fastest routes are also the most boring.
    Others have pointed out some of the real-world time constraints you'll be under. I'd like to focus a bit on the common misconception that I-80 is somehow 'boring'. Yes, it's true that the Great Plains are wide, flat, and largely devoted to farming and ranching. But that hardly means that there is nothing to see along I-80 or any other cross-county Interstate. Specifically, along I-80 there's the Amana Colonies, it largely follows the route of the old Oregon Trail, and reaches the Rockies (via I-76/US-34) at Rocky Mountain National Park. Dropping south a bit, I-70 over the Rockies and into Utah is one of the most scenic roads in America. Then finishing on I-70 to I-15 down to San Diego, you'll pass within easy visiting distance of Colorado National Monument, Arches National Park. Zion National Park, and Las Vegas. Hardly what I'd call 'boring'. Adding miles to try to find something that might (and I mean might) be more interesting, just means that you'd spend more time in the car and less time actually experiencing the places you do get to.


  6. Default adding 2 days

    Thanks all for your comments so far.

    We decided to extend the road-trip to 9 days (Friday-to-next-Saturday) and take the Oregon Trail route through Wisconsin Dells, Badlands, Mount Rushmore, Yellowstone, then direct-route from there to SD. I'm thinking to skip Grand Canyon and Hoover Dam since these are 7h and 5h respectively from San Diego, therefore easy pickings for future vacations.

    Yellowstone is roughly the middle of the trip, and probably the biggest attraction in the entire route, so I'm thinking of making this a "repeat hotel" destination - staying for 2 nights. Many of the park accommodations are already full... are there any "hidden gems" that don't get filled quickly but are still a pleasant stay? We'd probably want to make the intervening day entirely car-free. Possible??

  7. #7
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Green County, Wisconsin


    Yellowstone car free is going to be difficult to impossible. The park is as big as some east coast states, and there isn't much for public transit. The main attractions are pretty well connected by the figure 8 road that goes through the park, and it really is designed to be toured by car.

    I supposed you could stay near Old Faithful or Mammoth Hot Springs and limit yourself to just that area, but you would be cutting yourself off from quite a lot of the park's attractions.

    There are no "hidden gems" when it comes to hotels around Yellowstone - there are limited lodging options that are all very busy. On short notice like this, you're going to take whatever you can find. I'd guess you'll have to stay outside the park (which really makes going car-free impossible), and in that case West Yellowstone is the most central option.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    May 2011
    Southern California


    I'm thinking to skip Grand Canyon and Hoover Dam since these are 7h and 5h respectively from San Diego, therefore easy pickings for future vacations.
    Grand Canyon is going to be 10-11 hours from San Diego, no matter which of the three main routes you might pick. It's more than 500 miles, and depending on the route you choose, you're going to go through either Riverside/San Bernardino or Phoenix. (I don't know about Phoenix, but Riverside/San Bernardino is rated at among the top congested traffic areas in the country.)

    Hoover Dam is 350 miles, and that's going to also include that very congested area. If you drive up there on a Friday and south on a Sunday, it will take you every bit of 7 hours, possibly more.

    Been to both places, live in San Diego County --


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