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  1. #1

    Default Chicago to Utah suggestions

    Thanks to DonnaR57, who led me to this forum, I'm here looking for suggestions for an upcoming road trip. We have 7-8 weeks to travel from Maine to Chicago, then on to Utah, California, Washington, and back. Right now I'm looking for advice on the first part of the trip from Chicago to Utah. Below is what he have planned, but I am open to suggestions for the Chicago to Utah leg of the trip. Thanks!

    Home to Lake Erie SP
    645 miles 9.5 hours June 15
    Lake Erie SP to Chicago
    490 miles 7.5 hours June 16
    Chicago to Mormon Island State Rec. Area, NE (I-80)
    590 miles 8.5 hours June 18
    Mormon Island to Lebanon KS (Geo Ctr. of the US)
    90 miles 2 hours June 19
    May stay a second night to see Carhenge and the largest ball of string
    Lebanon KS to Limon, CO KOA
    305 miles 4.5 hours June 19
    Limon KOA to Black Canyon/Gunnison NP, CO
    333 miles 6 hours June 20

    From here, on to Utah to Moab, Arches, Bryce Canyon, and Zion before heading to California
    Attached Images Attached Images

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

    Default 'Real world' drive times.

    Hello and welcome to the RTA forums !

    It looks as though your travel times have come straight from the mapping program, so you should know that they are unrealistic in the 'real world'. A safe bet is to estimate that it will take you 10 hours to cover 550-600 miles with time for short breaks to eat, use the bathroom and to fill with gas, while dealing with real world delays such as traffic congestion and construction works. These days will not include any major sight seeing. You have enough time for a thoroughly enjoyable trip, but to help you with your planning I would use these numbers rather than a mapping program. If you were to try and cover 645 miles in 9.5 hours you would be having to hit 'triple digit' speeds to maintain that type of average. That's more like a 12 hour day with appropriate stops.

    No Rocky mountain NP in Colorado ?

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


    I very much agree with Dave about your drive time estimates, and will note that if you are in an RV or pulling a camper, your times would be even slower.

    Its hard to get real good feel for your trip, because the map is very small, but I think you'd be better off looking around the Buffalo area for that first night. I've stayed at Darien Lakes SP and it was reasonably nice.

    I also have to ask, Why Limon? If you drive another hour, you can actually be in the mountains, where Limon is still very much in the plains (the really large part of Colorado that people forget about!). I'm also not a big KOA fan, as I don't think they are a good value. As they put it, "it's not camping, it's kamping," but unlike their marketing people, I don't think that's a good thing!

    Just scanning your map, your trip home through Canada is a good idea, but you'll really need an overnight somewhere between Michigan and Montreal.

  4. #4


    Thanks for the info on drive times. I used the AAA map, thinking they would have more realistic driving times. Fortunately we are driving a small zippy Mazda and are not towing a camper, and are traveling light.

    SWDave, I am open to Rocky Mountain NP, it sounds amazing, we just had to pick something to skip, and that was it. We could enter CO further north and drive south to UT. Our only fixed dates are in CA, where we have reservations in the State Parks the first week in July, and are going to be in San Francisco on Independence Day.

    Mike, we picked Limon as we thought we had a long drive to get there after an even longer drive the day before. Hence my posting for advice on this leg of the trip. We want to maximize time in the west and push through the midwest as quickly as possible. I've spent plenty of time there already in college.

    So advice for the Chicago to UT portion zipping through Iowa and Kansas. Aim south entering CO in Limon, or north and spend time in Rocky MT NP but hit Denver traffic?

    Our blog shows more details of the trip including our full itinerary as developed with the AAA site.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    May 2011
    Central Missouri


    Hi! Welcome aboard, and I'm glad to see you over here too! (For the rest of you, we were having a camping food discussion on a cooking forum.)

    I'm with my cronies over here -- even AAA has its moments when it comes to calculating travel times. AAA, Mapquest, Google Maps and the like don't have to stop for the bathroom, to eat, to get fuel (at least with a Mazda you'll be able to skip some of those, grin), or just to stretch. Our 600 mile days are usually 11-12 hours...add another 45 and you're into a 12-13 hour day (exhausting!). Buffalo would be a good stop, mileage wise.

    Personally, if I had to choose between Rocky Mountain NP and Black Canyon of the Gunnison, I'd go for RMNP. We've tent-camped at RMNP (Moraine Lake CG) and RV'd outside of BCG because they didn't seem to have a CG for our 5W camper. But that was our choice, and we did enjoy both places. If you change your mind and do RMNP, I highly suggest going one way on Fall River Road - it's dirt road but especially scenic - and then return on Trail Ridge Road.

    I know that there aren't too many camping opportunities between Lebanon and Limon. (Are you planning to stay at Waconda Lake near Cawker City at GlenElder SP?). But like above, I don't have love for KOA's as places for tent camping. (I say that, too, as the daughter of a former KOA owner. My dad and two partners owned a KOA in Arizona when I was in HS.) If you get on US36, there's Bonny Lake SP which has a CG (never been there, but I see it on my map) just north of Burlington in the plains. Or head for the hills, as suggested above.


  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    South of England.

    Default A bunch of possible options.

    If you want to "Zip through" and visit RMNP, there would be no need to go through Denver. From Lebanon KS take US36/KS161/NE61/US34/I76/US34 through Loveland to Estes Park, a wonderful town on the doorstep of RMNP and the Bear Lake area. You could then drive over the Trail Ridge Road [the highest continous paved road in the USA and cross the continental divide] and down through Grand Lake. Once on I70 you could take a short detour and drive across the continental divide, over Loveland Pass.

    To get to Black Canyon you could head through the old historic town of Leadville [highest in the USA] and down past Twin Lakes on 285 and head west on US50. This will take you over the continental divide at Monarch Pass [for the third time] and through the Currecanti Nat. Rec. area to Black canyon.

    Once you get to Montrose you could head north towards Grand junction but if time permits you could head south to Durango on the 'Million Dollar Highway' through the mountain towns of Ouray and Silverton and then to Cortez [nearby Mesa Verde NP] and up to Arches and Canyonlands NP. On route to Zion you could drive to Hanksville and Torrey [passing Capitol Reef NP] and take Utah scenic 12 to Bryce canyon and to Zion.

  7. #7


    Thanks for the great suggestions, Dave. We are working on a new plan taking this advice into account.

  8. #8

    Default Favorite camgrounds/campsites in Utah

    We'll be driving through Utah the last two weeks of July, car camping, no trailer. We are old hands and while a shower house/toilet is nice, I can survive without them but would like to have potable water. I have 3 requests.

    1. I've got some reservations in UT because I'm nervous about finding sites, but I much prefer to use modern technology make reservations the night before I arrive. Is this too risky for areas near the national parks in Utah (or other states for that matter)?

    2. Please share your favorite campground/campsite NOT in one on the national parks, but nearby Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands and Zion.

    3. What is your #1 thing to see/do in Utah?

    Thanks in advance, and if you ever come to Maine/NH, I'll share advice gladly!

    Moderator Note: Please keep all questions about this trip in the same thread.
    Last edited by Midwest Michael; 06-04-2012 at 05:34 AM. Reason: Merged Thread

  9. #9
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Green County, Wisconsin

    Default camping

    I will say that campgrounds in the national parks are usually among the best places for camping, especially as a tent camper. I'll say that the campground at Islands of the Sky in Canyonlands is one of my all time favorites - although the downside is that there is no water, and just pit toilets. But it is a small campground that's just steps away from one of the best overlooks in the park.

    The Moab area in general is a campers paradise with numerous BLM campgrounds, in addition to the national parks and many private campgrounds in the area. The downside is that because of the desert environment, many of these places do not have water. One exception that you might consider is Dead Horse Point State Park which overlooks the Canyonlands. I've not stayed there myself, but it does have water and is in a great location.

    I also really enjoyed camping at Natural Bridges National Monument. The campground is another very simple one, and I don't remember if there was water there, but I found the park to also be an easily overlooked gem.

    I rarely make reservations - especially because booking often includes a fee that costs as much as the site itself - but they are basically essential if you want to stay in some of the more popular campgrounds, including the ones inside of Arches and Zion. A day in advance would likely be too late for those places. In fact, I'd say in most place, by the time you are just one day out, your odds of getting a site via reservation are really no better than if you showed up for one of the "first come" non-reservable sites that are at nearly all campgrounds.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    South of England.

    Default Not 'not' NP campgrounds.

    Devils campground in Arches NP is wonderful with hikes direct from the campground. It has flush toilets and water but no showers. It also saves having to drive in and out of the park each day, the only problem is is that it might already be too late to book ! You can also visit Islands in the sky section of Canyonlands from here if you wanted to make it your base. Ride down to Grandview point and walk to the end of the Mesa, it's very rewarding. On the way down you could make a stop at Mesa Arch and a short walk rewards you with a great view through the arch.

    The same can be said for the Watchman Campground at Zion NP which has the same facilities, but again is busy. The free shuttle bus into the canyon is [and is the only way to get into the canyon during the summer] just a short walk away. This will save the need to drive in and having to try and find a parking place.

    Ruby's Inn for Bryce canyon is as near as you can get to the park entrance and is pretty cool !

    There are many number 1 things to do in Utah ! Connecting Arches/Canyonland to Bryce and Zion via scenic Utah 12 as I mentioned earlier, is quite fantastic ! Throw into the mix Capitol Reef NP between Hanksville and Torrey, plus quick stops at Red Rock state park and Checkaboard Mesa and through the Mt Carmel tunnel between Bryce and Zion, and you have quite some journey !!

    Thanks in advance, and if you ever come to Maine/NH, I'll share advice gladly!
    We always appreciate it when members can join in and share their knowledge with others, so if you notice anyone asking in other threads where you feel you can help, please feel free to jump right in !!

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