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  1. #1

    Default August 2010 'Out West' Road Trip

    Hey everyone! My girlfriend and I are planning on taking a road trip next August and I stumbled across the RTA site as I was doing some research for the trip. I’ve found a lot of great information so far and so I thought I would post our proposed itinerary to get some feedback on it.

    Some background about us and our trip… We’re in our early 20’s and full of energy (I know, I know, it sounds corny but that really does describe us). Most importantly, I love to drive. I will be purchasing a BMW next summer so the main purpose of the trip is to ‘put the car through its paces’ and experience as much of the West as we can while doing it. My girlfriend and I don’t mind driving 400-500 miles a day and have done so on numerous occasions. I say this so that you understand we are not the typical people who can’t stand to drive more than 200 miles per day or have to stop to deal with children :) That said, here’s our current plan:

    Day 1: La Crosse, WI to Badlands National Park – 520 miles. Planned on arriving in early evening, doing some hiking, and spending the night at the National Park Campground.

    Day 2: Badlands National Park to Mount Rushmore to Yellowstone National Park – 580 miles. Planned on leaving Badlands NP early, stopping to see Mount Rushmore, arriving at Yellowstone in the late evening, and lodging at one of the Lake Yellowstone cabins.

    Day 3: Yellowstone National Park. Lodging at Lake Yellowstone cabin.

    Day 4: Yellowstone National Park / Grand Teton National Park. Leave the parks late, drive through the night (taking turns or perhaps stopping to nap for a few hours) and arrive early morning in Susanville, CA – 870 miles.

    Day 5: Susanville, CA. (Girlfriend has family that we will be staying with)

    Day 6: Susanville, CA. Visiting Redwood National Park.

    Day 7: Susanville, CA to San Francisco, CA. Then on to Cambria, CA by way of the Pacific Coast Highway – 525 miles. Lodging at hotel in Cambria. **Cambria is not set in stone, we’re just hoping to stop at a city on the coast and stay the night – anyone have any suggestions?**

    Day 8: Cambria, CA to Hoover Dam to Las Vegas, NV – 470 miles. Planning to arrive in Las Vegas near evening to see the Las Vegas Strip lit up at night. Lodging at hotel in Vegas.

    Day 9: Las Vegas, NV to Clifton, AZ – 560 miles. Pretty much just a driving day in preparation for day 10. Lodging is undecided. Hoping to find a nearby campground.

    Day 10: Clifton, AZ to Eagar, AZ by way of the Coronado Highway and then on to Grand Canyon North Rim – 500 miles. This is probably one of the most important sections of the trip to me – I have read and heard so much about the Coronado Highway and how it is the one of the best roads in America for a driving enthusiast that this part of the trip is a must. (Yes, I know some of you are thinking I am crazy right about now :) Lodging will be at the Grand Canyon North Rim campground.

    Day 11: Hike at the Grand Canyon till around noon then drive to Bryce Canyon National Park – 200 miles. Hike/sightsee at Bryce and then camp in the park.

    Day 12: Hike Bryce in the morning then drive to Arches National Park – 265 miles. Hike/sightsee at Arches then camp in the park.

    Day 13: Arches National Park to Rocky Mountain National Park – 430 miles. Camp at one of the many campgrounds in RMNP.

    Day 14: Rocky Mountain National Park. Camp at RMNP campground.

    Day 15 & 16: Drive back to Wisconsin – 1100 miles. Planning on driving about 500-600 miles one day, spending the night (hopefully at a campground), and driving the rest on the next day. **Any suggestions?**

    Like I said, that’s the proposed itinerary but we are up for any thoughts or suggestions. If anyone has any suggestions about scenic roads/highways we should take in between any of our stops that would be great – especially through the Rockies. Also, if anyone has any suggestions as to good places to hike in any of the National Parks we will be stopping at we’d appreciate it.

    We’re looking to keep costs to a minimum – staying at campgrounds, trying to ‘eat out’ only once a day – but if anyone has any suggestions as to lodging or things to see (even if they are a bit costly) let us know as we are not opposed to spending the money if it’s worthwhile. After all, this is a vacation.

    That’s pretty much it. Like I said earlier, we are open to any and all suggestions. Thanks in advance for your help!

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

    Default Too much IMO.

    Hello and welcome to the RTA forums !

    Tbh right now your trip looks way to much. Driving 500 miles a day is fine, hiking in NP's is fine but you have to much of trying to do both going on early on in your trip that is going to leave you exhausted, never mind how energetic you are ;-) And then you still have to set up camp etc

    You plan on looking around Yellowstone and the Tetons and then drive through the night for 15 hours. That would be a safety issue, not just for you but other road users. I think I would take a stepback and see where you can trim your trip and make it a memorable ride for both of you, but for all the right reasons.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Green County, Wisconsin

    Default seriously underestimating

    Welcome to the RTA Forum!

    I'm sorry, but you are really overestimating how far you can travel in a day and underestimating how long it will take you to get between these places. Even taking into account the fact that you don't mind long driving days, you are just pushing things beyond what's possible.

    Driving from LaCrosse to Badlands can certainly be done in a day, but by the time you set up camp, you're really not going to have much time at all to do any hiking.

    Continuing on to Yellowstone the next day will leave you no time to take the extra detour to Mount Rushmore - or if you did, it wouldn't be late evening when you arrive, it will be the middle of the night.

    Driving 900 miles to the California coast through the middle of the night, just not smart. Plain and Simple

    Driving 500 miles down the California Coast from Redwoods to Cambria (through San Francisco to boot) - not physicially possible to do in a single day - unless you are spending about a major part of your time driving in the dark.

    Your trip continues like this, so I'm not going to keep going point by point, but really, its just not going to work. Many of the roads you are talking about are not freeways, so these 500+ mile days you are talking about will easily take 12 hours or more just to cover the distance. Most of the time to be camping, you're going to be setting up in the dark, and will not have had any time to see anything but what is out the car window.

    I can understand and appreciate a trip where you are always on the go, but you really are trying to do more than can physically be done, and you are going to be way too exhausted to have any fun. I would strongly suggest you do some scaling back to a more manageable trip, so it can be a vacation, and not a painful chore. It doesn't mean you can't do a lot of this trip, but somethings just have to give.

  4. #4


    Thanks for the quick responses. I guess we were overestimating what could be done. And, like you both said, last thing we want to do is make our trip unsafe by driving tired. I appreciate your honesty, even if it means cutting out stops on our route.

    So I guess my next question would be what should we cut out? Are there certain places that you would recommend over others?

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jan 1998
    Las Vegas, Nevada

    Default 15 Days -- Cut the mileage in half

    At the pace you outlined, you'd be driving more miles than professional truck drivers are allowed to drive....

    You're going to have to decide which parts of the USA you want to explore and then we can help fill in the gaps.


  6. #6
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Tucson, AZ

    Default Not Much Give

    As long as you intend to make it all the way to the west coast, you're really going to be saddled with over 5,000 miles of driving. There are really very few places on your route where you can save significant miles. The one place that sticks out is your effort to include the Coronado Highway, the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, and Bryce Canyon. Here is where your route seriously departs from a relatively straightforward one. I'd suggest that you hit Hoover Dam AFTER Las Vegas on your way to the SOUTH RIM of the Grand Canyon, forego both the Coronado Highway and Bryce Canyon altogether, and instead head up through Monument Valley on US-160/US-163/US-191 to Arches National Park. That alone will save you nearly 850 miles of driving, and Monument Valley is not a bad 'consolation prize' for such a change.

    Still, you must be prepared to do little more than take short hikes at the magnificent places you'll be driving to. You simply won't have time to linger anywhere.


  7. #7

    Default Revised Itinerary

    After looking through a couple of books on the National Parks and looking at where we can cut (many) miles we decided to cut out everything in California and the Coronado Trail (and everything in between). This will allow us to have two nights per National Park, more time to sight see, and totally cut out night driving. Here's what we came up with:

    Day 1: La Crosse, WI to Badlands National Park. Arrive late, set up camp & sleep.

    Day 2: Badlands NP to Mount Rushmore area. Hike Badlands in morning, drive to Mount Rushmore, stay near Mount Rushmore.

    Day 3: Drive from Rushmore to Yellowstone National Park.

    Day 4: Yellowstone NP

    Day 5: Yellowstone NP

    Day 6: Drive to Salt Lake City or somewhere near there to sleep (it seems to be about half way between Yellowstone and Bryce). *Any suggestions on hotels/campgrounds?*

    Day 7: Drive to Bryce Canyon National Park

    Day 8: Bryce Canyon NP

    Day 9: Drive to Grand Canyon (North Rim) and camp.

    Day 10: Grand Canyon NP

    Day 11: Drive to Arches National Park and camp. (Arrive late evening)

    Day 12: Arches NP

    Day 13: Drive to Rocky Mountain National Park and camp.

    Day 14: RMNP

    Day 15: Drive half way home.

    Day 16: Drive home.

    There are a few longer stretches in there (La Crosse to Badlands, Grand Canyon to Arches) but with two nights at each park we thought two longer days of driving would be alright. You guys are the experts though - what do you think? Is this more do-able? Or are we still trying to overdo things? Again, we really appreciate your help and any criticism/critiques. Thanks!

  8. #8
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Green County, Wisconsin

    Default much improved

    This trip does look a whole lot better. None of the drives here are too bad at all, and you've got plenty of time to actually be seeing things along the way. I might even try to squeeze in a little more, like stopping at Zion between Bryce and the North Rim, and including Monument Valley or Canyonlands around Arches.

  9. #9


    Our family driving trips have taken in most of these sites. I would suggest for the Mt. Rushmore night, staying at Sylvan Lake Lodge in Custer State Park or you could camp near there. There is a really interesting Pinnacles highway there and the Mt. Rushmore is about 10 minutes. Check out the nighttime lighting also. On the way to Yellowstone stay on 90 to 94 through Montana, drive to Red Lodge Montana, over the Bear Tooth Highway to Cooke City and enter the park through the Northeast entrance. Really quite a drive.
    One very important tip for driving trips like this. The journey is as much fun as the destination. If you want to stop and see things, historical sights, scenery it sometimes requires adding an hour or two to the day that you didn't plan for.
    For instance in Montana you'll see signs for Pompei's Pillar (important Lewis and Clark site) and Little Big Horn (Custer battlefield). Deadwood SD is interesting also.Stopping adds time to the day but well worth it and it's hard to plan for them because things just pop up.
    Also very important. The driving distances that are calculated by mileage don't take into account winding, slow drives over mountain passes, through parks, etc. where your're lucking to average 35 miles per hour.
    I woul definetely add Zion NP to the trip, Glen Canyon dam, Monument Valley is great, there are American Indian sites. Southern Utah has some of the most unique terrain. I never like driving at night in these scenic areas because you never know what your missing
    Sounds like a great trip.

  10. #10


    You should try to fit in Zion, at least a few hours to hike "the narrows" its a blast!

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