We're 4 Europeans planning our first road trip in the US next summer. We're gonna fly to Denver, rent a car there, and then drive to Salt Lake City -> Yellowstone -> Mt. Rushmore -> Denver -> Phoenix -> San Diego -> Eureka -> Crater Lake -> Las Vegas -> Denver (our itinerary in Google Maps: here Distance: 7000 mi).
Car rent: 1000 $
Fuel: 900 $
Sleeping: at campgrounds; in a car at parking lots; at friends'; maybe rarely at motels. 1000 $
Food: grocery stuff; cooking with a propane grill. 1800 $
Other costs & reserve: 1000 $
1) My primary question: Can it be done in 30 days?
There are many national parks and other interesting sights along the way (as shown in the plan). We'd like to stay some time (i.e., spend entire day or so) in the most interesting places like Rocky Mountains NP, Yellowstone NP, Great Sand Dunes NP, Messa Verde NP, Grand Canyon NP,Yosemite NP, Sequoia NP, Death Valley NP (and others, if we like them a lot), plus we have friends in Denver, Phoenix, San Diego, San Francisco, and Eureka, who we'd like to pay a visit. We're gonna drive thru the rest of the sights (like Monument Valley) or stop for a few hours (like Mt. Rushmore). I know it seems quite ambitious, and I think we'll have to miss some of the sights. The thing is that we want to see as much as possible in one month, but with no excessive rush during the trip. What do you think? Is it doable?
2) My secondary question: Is it necessary to plan every day in advance and in detail?
I find it very hard to make a detailed schedule of such a long trip in a country I have never been to. Moreover, I don't want to follow any strict plan which would force me to rush for the next scheduled stop if I realized that I didn't plan the plan so well. We'd like to be flexible, with a possibility to spend more time in an unexpectedly beautiful location, and vice versa. Nevertheless, I've read that it is necessary to book a site in some national parks' campgrounds months ahead. It seems a little bit strange to me; is it true? (If so, any advice? That would complicate the whole trip a lot...)
3) Shouldn't we rent an RV instead of a small car?
It would cost at least twice as much (plus additional fuel; on the other hand, we could spare some money sleeping more at the parking lots), but there would be much more space to sleep, cook, etc. It would certainly be more comfortable. Do you think it is worth the additional cost?
4) Would Woodall's Campground Directory be OK for such a trip?
I'm thinking also about the Woodall's "Tenting" version. Which one do you think is more appropriate?
5) Is camping in the American West generally safe?
What about criminality? Is sleeping at parking lots OK? And I've heard several wild stories concerning some neat animals. Is this a problem at the campgrounds? I suppose that camping outside official campgrounds isn't permitted anyway...
6) Is the above mentioned budget reasonable?
7) Do you think that some sights in our itinerary aren't worth visiting given the circumstances? Which ones?
Thanks a lot for your time reading all this and for your suggestions to any of my questions. Thanks for this great forum!