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  1. Default Is this too crazy? West coast road trip advice!

    Hi everyone! I'm planning a 3-week road trip in July around the west coast to visit as many national parks as I can, but I'm not sure if the plan is absolutely crazy, and if so, what changes I should make / any other general advice you guys can give would be great! I'm 28 and I'll be driving with my boyfriend (who is 37) in a rental campervan starting from Las Vegas. We haven't nailed down the final schedule with driving dates or how long we plan to spend in each place, but we have a general loop in mind with a number of parks / cities we want to visit. The numbers I'm giving below are just estimates from Google maps and I know realistically everything will take longer due to gas / meal stops and traffic.

    The loops starting from Vegas is: Death Valley, Yosemite, Redwood, Crater Lake, Portland, Olympic, Mt. Rainier, Seattle, North Cascades, Vancouver, Banff, Calgary, Glacier, Yellowstone, Grant Teton, Arches, Bryce Canyon, Zion, Antelope Canyon, Grand Canyon, back to Las Vegas. According to google maps, this trip will cover about 5000 miles in total, which would average about 250 miles of driving per day over 20 days (we have to return the campervan in the morning of our last day unfortunately). But of course some days will be mostly driving and longer than others, while other days would maybe only have a few hours. It looks like there will be 4 super long drive days: from Yosemite to Redwood; Vancouver to Banff; Glacier to Yellowstone; Yellowstone to Arches. Each of these legs is 8-9 hours drive time according to maps, which I know will realistically take a few hours longer. We are planning to use all daylight hours to either drive or explore parks, plus we are both fine with driving at night and with taking turns driving and sleeping. We aren't really planning to explore the cities too much, but since these are some of the ones we'd be driving through anyway, we'll probably stop by them for a couple hours for a meal / restocking supplies.

    My major concern is that this would be by far the longest and most ambitious road trip that either of us have ever done, and I'm also worried we aren't factoring in how tired hiking and exploring the parks will make us over such a long period of time, or that exploring the parks at such a fast past (0.5-2 days per park) means we won't really get to see anything there. I did a somewhat similar road trip 2 summers ago where I drove around the ring road in Iceland in 5 days (830 miles total, so about 165 miles each day) in a campervan with just one other person my age, which is serving as my inspiration for this current trip. I remember that trip being a bit tiring but also incredibly wonderful and fun and I would do it again in a heartbeat. However, I recognize this current one I'm planning is longer not only in average driving per day but also number of total days. And we would be working with less daylight hours (in Iceland it was 24 hours sunlight which we took advantage of) and more traffic. But on the other hand, the driving distribution would be mostly coming from those 4 days of very long drives (basically 2000 of them would be over 4 days), so if I factor those out, the other days would average about 3000/16=187 miles per day, which is the pace I did Iceland at and was very comfortable with. I'm obviously ok not seeing every single thing in each park and there are some parks (like Redwood and Grand Teton) that I basically just want to stop by for a few hours and then move on. So far we're planning roughly 2 days each for the bigger parks Yosemite, Banff, and Yellowstone, and half day or one day at the other parks.

    Besides an opinion of whether or not you think this is too crazy or unrealistic, what are some other general advice or things I may be overlooking in a roadtrip of this length in a campervan where we are planning to free camp? Any advice on bears, since we will have food inside the van where we will be sleeping? What are things that are must see versus things we can skip? I keep going back and forth on so many things, one day thinking we'll be fine and the next day thinking we're crazy and going to burn ourselves out.

    Thank you so much for reading, and any advice you can give!!!

  2. #2
    Join Date
    May 2011
    Southern California


    Welcome to RTA!

    Free camping is not very easy to find, especially for an RV in and around national parks. You may find some national forest campgrounds on the outskirts of a national park, whose campgrounds will run you around $15-25 per night. Inside national parks, your campsites start at $20 and go UP, depending on their popularity, remoteness, etc. Outside of the parks, you might be able to get by with using a truck stop, by asking permission at the desk, but that's only for overnights -- no slide out, no chairs outside or BBQ grill, and you should make sure that you do some sort of business with the truck stop as a "thank you" (gas/fuel, restaurant, buy a shower, etc). So you need to rethink and possibly rebudget. The other thing about this is that campgrounds inside most of the NP's you mentioned, are probably already reserved for July. They fill fast. This doesn't mean you can't get in on a cancellation, so get on and keep trying. Otherwise, you need to be in line no later than 10 am at a given park, to get a spot.

    It's time to start planning your trip day by day. It will tell you how much you will have to cut. I can't imagine even trying to see all of those parks in 3 weeks, and I've been to every one of them except 3. As you do this, you will face this knowledge:

    * Just seeing the highlights of Yellowstone will take 3 days. Period.
    * Just driving around Olympic, which is the only way to see it (there are no through roads), is 450 miles. Plus driving into Hurricane Ridge, Lake Crescent, Hoh Rain Forest, and the beach areas. You won't have time to do much else on that day, no hiking except perhaps a very short nature trail.
    * Glacier NP USA is another problem. I'm not sure how long or tall your "campervan" will be, but the vast majority are not allowed past a certain point on Going to the Sun Highway. Since that is the major highlight of that park, you will have to allow time to take a tour or ride the shuttles (which have long waits to get on/off at each sightseeing spots).
    * NP's by nature are not high-speed. Many roads are less than 30mph, and most of them will have some sort of "bear jam" or even a traffic jam (right after Old Faithful has blown and everyone is moving on).

    You are correct in your assumption that those driving days will take longer than the electronic mapping programs will tell you. You are human with needs such as food, bathroom, and your vehicle will need gas, and all of those take time. Construction and other road delays will slow you down. And yes, most RV's will go up hills a lot slower than a little sedan. In an RV, a 500 mile day is a long, long day -- hubby and I used to tow, and our limit was 450 miles a day ON an interstate.

    Vancouver to Banff is well over 500 miles, Yellowstone to Arches is 550 miles (a lot on slower-going 2-lane roads).

    If this were my trip, I might cut quite a bit out of this itinerary, so that I could do something in each park to really remember it.


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


    I am very much in agreement with Donna, while a lot of what you are saying sounds like it could work, the best way to really get an idea is to at least sketch out, day by day, what it would take for you to make this work. That's going to give you a much better idea of how much time you really have, than just trying to work in terms of averages.

    Really getting into the specifics, you've listed 20 places to visit in 20 days - plus you've got at least 10 full days worth of driving (5000 miles total/500 miles per day) - so while you've talked about spending half days at some places and a couple days at a few of the larger places, I don't see how you'd make the math work. On average, you'd only have time for about a half day at each of those places, so something doesn't seem to add up with your plan.

    I will say that it raises some concern when you're talking about taking turns driving at night, which is not a good idea - you really should have two people awake and alert at all times - and wouldn't really make sense anyway for a trip like you've laid out, where most of your drives between destinations are only a few hundred miles apart. As Donna mentioned, "free camping" isn't that easy to find, especially when you're going to be in and around National Park, and even more importantly, when you're on a fairly tight schedule and won't really have time to drive the the well out of the way places you are likely to find free camping.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Mar 2016
    Phoenix, Arizona

    Default Camper Vans are NOT Bear Proof

    Regardless of where you're parked for the night, whether it's an established campground or a "free" camp site, if you're in bear country? Don't keep food in your van when you're sleeping. National Park campgrounds provide "Bear Boxes", heavy steel containers that latch securely closed, and they provide those for a good reason. Bears have an incredibly keen sense of smell, and if they smell something potentially tasty inside your van, you could have a big (600+ pound) problem. If you're in a place with bears, and there aren't any bear boxes? Leave your food outside your van, in a cooler, or in a net bag tied from a tree branch, away from your vehicle. "Food" includes anything aromatic, including toiletries. That might sound extreme. It's not. In the unlikely event that a bear does come sniffing around, it would be much better to lose the lid off your ice chest than the door off your rented vehicle (or worse).

    Be careful out there. And stay safe.


  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    South of England.


    First a couple of points with an RV. As you mentioned, drop off day is a day you have no time for anything except pack up, clean up and return it by mid morning so you need to be close by. Unless you have made special arrangements pick up day is very short as well, usually starting at 2pm you need to do the orientation, get your bedding and kitchen kits, inspect the vehicle, sign the paperwork and get your luggage at least stowed safely. Once you get on the road you will stop to get supplies and take time to adjust to the vehicle, so don't plan on getting too far ! Next up, I doubt the RV company will permit you to take the RV through Death valley during summer so check the small print.
    Sleeping comfortably in the vehicle while it is moving is not possible. Everyone has to be secured in their seats by seatbelts while the vehicle is moving and the rear benches are not that comfortable for long periods. Besides that all your body clocks would be out of zinc making some of you tired when others want to 'play'. Just drive during sensible hours and all sit down and chill out around the campfire before getting a good nights sleep.
    Never mind free camping, you could have issues finding an RV site in the National parks if your trip is this year, they are limited in number and in high demand.

    I also agree with the others, it's just too much to do with the time you have and it's going to get tiring and expensive. Although fuel is cheap you will burn a lot and you will most likely pay extra for every mile you travel unless you have a prior arrangement. I would be looking at Mt Rainier your furthest point north and then head to Yellowstone and save Seattle, Olympic NP, Canada and Glacier for another trip in the future. For me that will give you the best possible experience with time to stop at other places along the way (of which there are many) and enjoy the main ones listed at a far more relaxed pace.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Melbourne, Australia

    Default 1000 Miles per week for a comfortable trip.

    Having at times spent long periods on the road, and visited many natural attractions along the way, I have always found that an average of 1000 miles per week, is the most for a comfortable trip, and time at the attractions. Sometimes a day or two other times less than a day. However, a place like Glacier NP can take the best part of a day just to travel the GTTSR.... especially in July. Something to which both Donna and I (and others) can attest, as we all did it July last year. Not that it was planned that way, it just happened.

    Besides cutting back on this trip, parts of your itinerary don't make sense to me. Vamcouver to Calgary could see you going through Whistler, Yoho NP as well as Banff. But then, you would have to come a long way back to Glacier (and Waterton Lakes) NPs.

    As others have said, I would leave that very northern section and Canada for another trip, and enjoy the wonderful parks and scenic routes in Wyoming, Utah and Arizona, as well as all the other wonderful natural attractions in those States.

    As for free camping spots - I too was seduced into using those quite a few years ago. Besides the fact that many which I found on the internet, just did not exist (meaning having to find someplace else). At the few I found - and used - I never felt safe. They were usually dirty, rarely had amenities, and all round were undesirable places to spend a night. Since those experiences I have looked at State parks and forests, some of which have free camping. Ocasionally a small tourist town will have free parking either on their fair ground or in a town park. Information on all those was given to me at the various ranger's and BLM offices, or Tourist Bureaux/Chambers of Commerce.

    In more built up areas truck stops are the way to go. But you won't find them anywhere near the national parks.


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