Our overall trip plans -- trying to hit all the high points here:
Since our daughters were toddlers, my husband and I’ve talked about taking them on a cross-country driving trip once they’re old enough to really appreciate it. Our goal is to show them the size and variety that exists in America. We are looking for a balance between cities and wilderness destinations. VARIETY is important to us! He and I are very interested in history; the girls are not so much into it. We all enjoy state/national parks, though we’re trying to keep hikes rather short given that we’re going to be on a schedule. I feel like my drive times are fairly accurate because they came from Microsoft Maps & Streets, which I have found to be very close to the truth the great majority of the time; however, it never hurts to hear from people who've actually been through these areas!
We’re picked out July 2009 for our trip; at that point our daughters’ll be 12 and 15 – old enough to remember and appreciate the trip and old enough to endure the long driving. They’re both good travelers. We’ll be driving a mini-van.
We plan to stay in inexpensive hotels; my husband travels frequently for work, and he’s saving up all his “points”, and he’s going to trade in his airline miles so about 1/3 of our stays should be free – Holiday Inn Expresses and Residence Inns’ll be our mainstays. While an occasional night in the car is possibly do-able for college-age roadtrippers, it’s not realistic for a family with two children! We’ve also rejected camping (though we love it) because of the time involved in setting up/breaking camp each day and the space necessary to tote all the equipment. We also like the idea of hotels because it means the kids can swim every evening, and after sitting in the car for hours, that’ll be good for them. And DH must have internet access so he can check in with work at least every other day; I'm a teacher, so work's not an issue for me.
We plan to eat one sit-down meal each day (and we’re saving all our Discover cash-back rewards, and we should be able to get about 20 free meals at places like Red Lobster and Chili’s), and many of the hotels we’ll use will have a free breakfast. We’ll carry a cooler for snacks and drinks (which can really add up x 4 people!). I am concerned about too many burgers and pizzas on the trip, and I hope we’ll be able to balance it out with plenty of exercise. We don’t plan to eat anywhere that doesn’t accept patrons in shorts – in other words, only casual dining is planned!
We currently have $11,500 in our trip fund, and it’s still two years away – we don’t want to spend unnecessarily, but we can afford to spend moderately every day and splurge on a few things along the way. We are not souvenier people.
I’d appreciate feedback on our plans. In particular, I’d like to hear specifics like, “There’s a great restaurant here” or “This museum isn’t worth getting off the interstate” or “Expect to spend more time in that location” or “You’re unrealistic here because __” or "You can get a discount there". Both my husband and I drove across the country as teens, but we haven’t visited most of these places as adults.
Please comment! Thanks!
Thursday July 2 – leave mid-day as soon as Dad can get home; drive 6 hours to Sparta, TN area – main purpose here is to put miles between ourselves and home; after all, we’ve already seen most things within a day’s drive of home!
Friday, July 3 – Early morning hike @ Burgess Falls State Park, take breakfast to falls (1 mile round trip – not a long stop); Drive 1.5 hours to Nashville, TN; See The Hermitage; Spend the night somewhere cheap in Nashville; Possible evening excursion -- Nashville Shores water park
Saturday, July 4 – Drive 4 hours to Memphis, TN; Tour Graceland; See Mississippi River Museum on Mud Island – watch fireworks from island; Have good barbeque dinner – Corky’s or Beale St.?
Sunday, July 5 – Drive 2 hours 47 minutes to Trail of Tears State Park in MO – short stop; Drive another 1 hour 37 minutes to St. Louis; See City Museum (art museum); Dinner at Zia’s on the Hill
Monday. July 6 – Up early; Visit St. Louis Arch and Museum of Westward Expansion; See Lewis & Clark documentary; Take one-hour sightseeing riverboat cruise: Eat at Fitz Rootbeer Bottling Company; Drive to Kansas City – spend the night at Great Wolf Lodge (big treat for the kids -- will it be open late at night so they can get good and worn out and sleep a lot tomorrow?) . . . Do we have too much for one day?
Tuesday, July 7th – Sleep in a little; Drive 8 hours 30 minutes to Colorado Springs – Please, please make suggestions about interesting stops along the way! The trip’ll be essentially I-70 West, and we need a couple stops along the way. I’ve been through Kansas, and I know it’s the country’s most dull state . . . suggestions appreciated!
Wednesday, July 8th – Tour Olympic Training facility in Colorado Springs; Drive 20 minutes to Pike’s Peak Cog Railway, take train to the top; Drive 39 minutes to Florescent Fossil Beds National Monument (a minor stop, but we’re going right by it)
Thursday, July 9th – Drive 5 hours 17 minutes to Arches National Park, hike to Double Arches area; Stop at Hole in the Rock; Spend the night in Moab
Friday, July 10 -- Breakfast at the Jailhouse Café; Drive 3 hours 8 minutes to Mesa Verde National Park (this is one of the things I’m most excited about seeing!); Take tour to Balcony House; Spend the night in Cortez, CO
Saturday, July 11 – Drive 7 hours 28 minutes to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon; See 4-points on the way; Drive through Kaibab Forest; Consider eating at Kaibab Lodge; If we arrive in time, hike Bright Angel Point trail (1 mile round-trip) at sunset; Stay at Grand Canyon Lodge
Sunday July 12 – Morning hike down North Kaibab Trail to Coconino Overlook (2 miles round trip), possibly go as far as Supai Tunnel, which is 4-mile round-trip hike; Look into ranger-led programs in the afternoon/evening . . . my husband really wants to do an airplane flight, but I fear that’s a budget-buster
Monday, July 13 – Drive to Las Vegas; have car put into the shop for oil change – possibly do a time-share presentation to get free/cheap hotel rooms for these nights
Tuesday, July 14 – See Vegas sites, see a show, lay out by pool, catch up on some rest
Wednesday, July 15 – ATV trip to Valley of Fire
Thursday, July 16 – Drive 6.5 hours to Salt Lake City area; see Museum of Ancient Life @ Thanksgiving Point – anything else in this area?
Friday, July 17 – Drive 5.5 hours to Jackson Hole, Wyoming; Take aerial tram to top of Rendevous Mt.; Have dinner in Jackson; Stay in Signal Mountain Lodge (inside Grand Tetons)
Saturday, July 18 – Drive to Jenny Lake area (inside Grand Tetons); Take shuttle across lake, hike 2.2 miles to Hidden Falls, then continue on to Inspiration Point, which overlooks Jenny Lake; Late afternoon rafting trip through Grand Tetons area
Sunday, July 19 – Drive to Yellowstone; See Old Faithful area, then drive on to Norris Geyser Basin, Stop at Canyon Village (good lunch spot), see Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone – hike 1.5 miles round trip to lip of the falls; See Grizzly/Wolf Center late in the day; Stay in West Yellowstone . . . Do we have too much crammed into this day? I’ve visited Yellowstone, and I know crowds can be horrible, and that might slow us down badly.
Monday, July 20 – Drive through Yellowstone, see Hayden Valley (wildlife area), stop at Mud Volcano; Drive 3 hours 5 minutes to Cody, Wyoming; See Buffalo Bill Historic Center; Go to Cody Night Rodeo (8:00 PM) . . . My kids are really looking forward to seeing a real western rodeo – will this be good? Would the Greeley Stampede be better? I originally had it in my plans, but it was really “costing us” in time.
Tuesday, July 21 – Drive 6 hours 50 minutes to Custer State Park; Visit Mt. Rushmore evening program (9:00)
Wednesday, July 22 – Sleep in, Visit Wind Cave OR Jewel Cave National Park; Take Buffalo Sarafi /Chuckwagon Dinner at Custer State Park . . . Which of these two caves is better? The buffalo safari is something that we’re all excited about!
Thursday, July 23 and Friday, July 24 – Drive 14 hours to Chicago; Stop at 1909 Prairie Homestead, Badlands National Park, Pipestone National Monument, Herbert Hoover Memorial, and Wall Drug . . . I think we have plenty of interesting stops on the way to Chicago – any others that wouldn’t take us far off the highway? This’ll be a long two days, and I’m open to suggestions!
Saturday, July 25 – Breakfast at Cereality; See Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium, Take Shoreline Sightseeing Tour; Navy Pier in the evening (buy 2-day Go Chicago Cards) . . . None of us have ever been to Chicago – suggestions welcome!
Sunday, July 26 – See Magnificent mile, Hancock Observatory (I’ve heard it’s better than the Sears Tower – opinions?); Drive 4.5 hours to Sandusky, Ohio; Stay in the Breakers’ Hotel inside Cedar Point
Monday, July 27 – Visit Cedar Point . . . probably the day my children are looking forward to most!
Tuesday, July 28 – Our 19th wedding anniversary – Drive 2 hours to First Ladies’ National Historic Site (Canton, Ohio); Dive 5 hours 27 minutes to Hershey, PA . . . not much of a big anniversary celebration is it? Maybe we’ll pop for an expensive stay in the Hershey Hotel. Can we eat in their nice restaurant wearing shorts? I saw it on the food network – how much $$$ are we talking anyway?
Wednesday, July 29 – See Hershey’s Chocolate World; Drive 42 minutes to Amish Country, maybe take a buggy ride . . . hmmm a rather quiet day.
Thursday, July 30 – Visit The Amish Experience; eat at Good & Plenty or Plain & Fancy; Drive 54 minutes to Valley Forge National Park; Drive 26 minutes to Philadelphia; Cheesesteaks from Pat’s for dinner
Friday, July 31 – Tour America’s most historic mile: Independence hall, Liberty Bell, Betsy Ross House, Franklin Court, Edgar Allan Poe’s home, Philadelphia Museum of Art – none of us’ve ever been to Philly – suggestions welcome – our girls are not particularly history buffs, so this destination is more for hubby and me.
Saturday, August 1 – Drive 4 hours 27 minutes to Monticello in Charlottesville, VA; Drive 4 hours 50 minutes home
Many thanks to anyone who can give us any information or improvement on our plans!