Chicago to Seattle - too ambitious?
Hi - we're a couple in our mid 40s and this year we're planning our very first holiday without the kids (their choice, not ours). The plan is to travel from Chicago to Seattle away from the Interstates and see a bit of back road America. We'll allow three weeks and definitely want to visit the Badlands park - and preferably one or two others as well. Another objective is to see something of Montana - but we're open to advice. Could anyone offer any recommendations / possible itineraries? The main reason we've chosen these start/finish points is that they seem convenient for flights from/to the UK so we're flexible if you know better ... but we do want to end up on the Pacific coast! Finally, we're budgeting around 200 dollars a day between the two of us (not including car hire) - is this reasonable?
Not too ambitious! Perhaps the kids should reconsider their non-participation in this adventure. I'd have given my left arm AND my baseball bat to have seen these areas when I was a kid. I think $200 per day will do you quite nicely if you're careful. Be sure to buy an annual National Parks Pass when you arrive at the entrance gate at Badlands – it'll be worth it if you follow my itinerary as suggested (about $50)!
You'll probably find Montana to be among your most indelible memories from this trip, but there are lots of other great attractions as well. Here's one option for itinerary:
Chicago west to the Mississippi River, follow the Great River Road north to La Crosse, WI and head west from there into South Dakota. I'd use I-90 across South Dakota – it is wide open country and just as spectacular from the interstate as any other way. Get off at any area you'd like along the way if you want and see a few of the small towns. One possibility is the Akta Lakota Museum at Chamberlain, SD; the name means to "honor the people" and the focus is on Lakota (Sioux) culture and art. Have a Buffalo Burger at Al's Oasis too! (also at Chamberlain, along I-90).
From Chamberlain, go west to Wall, SD (see the famous Wall Drug Store!) and the Badlands. Then visit the attractions in and around the Black Hills; these include Wounded Knee, the Crazy Horse Memorial (a work in progress), Mt Rushmore, Sturgis, Deadwood and Lead, and Custer State Park. You can easily spend 2 or 3 days between the Badlands and the Black Hills.
Move west and see the Devil's Tower (a famous butte in northeast Wyoming), then into Montana to the Little Bighorn Battlefield near Garryowen (where Custer met the Indians for the last time). Pompey's Pillar is north of there along I-94 (northwest, to be exact) -- it is the only known site wehere Lewis and Clark left PHYSICAL evidence of their passing -- Clark scratched his name on the roack there, still visible).
Next, is the Yellowstone and Grand Teton area. Spend about 3 nights between them and see everything! I would then take US89 all the way up through Montana. Be sure to check out the great falls of the Missouri at Great Falls! Go on north to Calgary and Lake Louise (Banff National Park), and then back south to Glacier National Park (using Highway 93 on both sides of the border). Be sure to drive Going to the Sun Road (at Glacier NP).
From Glacier, you'd head south along the banks of Flathead Lake, and pick up I-90 west toward Coeur d'Alene (taking a little side trip up to Kootenai and Sandpoint is worth the effort). Then down through Spokane, Kennewick, WA, Madras, OR and Bend, OR to Crater Lake NP. Then, I'd go west to Coos Bay, and up the Oregon coast all the way to Astoria. Along the way there are several neat stops – Cape Lookout (a state park), Depoe Bay (be sure to stop and stand on the bridge over the entrance to the bay and watch a few boats come in – you'll never forget it!), and the tour of the Tillamook Cheese Factory at Tillamook, OR. Also, if you are an airplane kind of guy, check out the Evergreen Aviation Museum at McMinnville, OR. The giant Hughes Flying Boat (the largest aircraft that has ever flown) is on display there. BUT, do not miss the northern Oregon coast to do it – drive US101 to Astoria, then on the way to the Columbia River Gorge (US30), make a little detour and see the Museum if you're interested. Also at Astoria, see the ruins of Fort Stevens (a WWII coastal defense position that HAD 16" naval guns emplaced) and Fort Clatsop, the westernmost outpost of the Lewis and Clark expedition in winter of 1805-06.
See the Columbia River Gorge (east of Portland along the interstate highway), including a hike to the top of Multnomah Falls if you're up to it, and then head north to Mount St Helens and the visitor's center there. That area is swiftly recovering from the devastating blast of the late 1980s and is definitely worth seeing. You could also visit Mount Rainier NP, or if you've seen enough snow-capped mountains by then, bypass that and go on up the WEST side of Puget Sound to Port Angeles, take the ferry across toward Anacortes, and then spend a day cruising the ferries out to the San Juan Islands – maybe have dinner at Friday Harbor. Then it's back to Seattle and home.
This route and itinerary can be accomplished in less than 20 days, with stops in all the places I mention. You might want to slow it down a little and take some extra time – I don't know what your personal "style" of travel is. This route is 5400 miles (approx.) and 107 hours of driving time at average speeds. Bob
Chicago - Seattle
Your advice has already proved invaluable in that it has transformed the trip from something we were 'planning' into something we are now 'doing'.
However, look through other threads, I did see one recommending that the poster consider choosing quality over quantity. You suggested that we could either spend more time or reduce the itinerary - I reckon we're going to do both (persuading ourselves that, once we've paid the flights and set off on the road, it would be foolish to spoil things by constantly having to check the mileometer). All being well, we're therefore going to stretch it to 4 weeks (i.e. the whole of July) and skip the Canadian section - though still drive up to the Glacier Park. As a rough calculation, I think this will reduce the daily must-drive from 250 miles to almost exactly half that, substantially reducing the pressure and allowing us more time to enjoy places.
And of course, if we find ourselves unexpectedly ahead of any schedule we may have, Canada can be reinstated! I do have to admit however, that it wasn't just the distance that led us to that decision, but also slight concerns over (probably unfounded) scare stories about the experiences of non-Americans crossing out of and back into the States.
One final querry (and I know from reading other threads that there's no clear answer to this one, but ...): anyone got any tips on one-way, unlimited mileage car hire from Chicago to Seattle?
Thanks for any help you can offer!
Shop around for the best deal is the best advice I can give -- I wrote quite a bit on this topic in a post yesterday so you might check that out. (I have strong opinions about car rental agencies, be forewarned!) :)
It's the thread titled "Car Hire" under Spring Break Road Trips.
Another possibility is to drive back to Chicago for the flight home at the end of your trip -- you might save a lot of money doing this on the car rental, and the drive can easily be done in 3 days. Just a thought. Bob