Road trip from Kansas to Seattle
June 6, 2009 12:04 PM   Subscribe

Road trip Kansas -> Seattle (June 21'st - 30'th). We need recommendation and advice with accommodation, attractions, any things else.

We are planning a road trip from Kansas to Seattle. Currently it's scheduled from Jun 21'st to 30'th. Following is the tentative itinerary.

Day 1 - Kansas -> Mount Rushmore

Day 2 - Watch Mount Rushmore and surrounding area

Day 3 - Mount Rushmore -> Yellowstone

Day 4 - Yellow stone

Day 5 - Yellow stone -> Glacier National Park

Day 6 - Glacier National Park

Day 7 - Glacier National Park -> Portland

Day 8 - Portland and drive to seattle on the same day

Day 9 - Seattle/ Olympic National Park

Day 10 - Fly from Seattle to Kansas early morning

1) Accommodation - Suggestions on accommodation

2) Itinerary - what to change? We feel like it's too cramped. Specially we would like to visit Grand Teaton too. But the flight from Seattle to Kansas needs to be either on Jun 30'th or Jul 4'th.

3) Attractions - What to see? What to avoid?

4) Food - Any food/restaurants that we should try?

5) Any general tips and trick that will be useful for us.
posted by WizKid to Travel & Transportation (12 answers total)
On your way up towards Mt. Rushmore, take the scenic route and drive through the badlands. It'll get you to the same place, you don't even have to stop and get out of the car, but the scenery there will be worth far more than the extra 30 or so miles it tacks on to your trip. I'd also avoid the crazy horse memorial while you're there. An underfunded project that's barely completed and charges admission to see the progress in order to attempt to fund further progress. It's sort of a rather vaguely person shaped rock at the moment but just sort of.
posted by Teira at 12:42 PM on June 6, 2009

I would second the badlands. The only reason to visit South Dakota in my opinion.

I would skip out the Portland part of the trip. You will have a 10 and a half hour driver from Glacier National Park to Portland and then you have written in to go to Seattle the next day. The trip from Portland to Seattle is supposed to be less than 3 hours, but in my limited experience the traffic around Seattle to Tacoma is absolutely dreadful. I would drive from the park to Seattle and just take the extra day exploring Seattle and the beautiful Puget Sound area.
posted by aetg at 1:19 PM on June 6, 2009

Consider swapping Mt. Rainier national park for Olympic. Olympic is out of your way, but you can hit Rainier directly from Portland and then go to Seattle. Even so, that will be a very long day. There are lots of places to stay near Mt. Rainier national park.

On preview- yeah, maybe drop Portland. It's a nice place but you're going to be exhausted with that schedule.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 2:31 PM on June 6, 2009

A bunch of random thoughts (and a lot of them turned out to be just general road trip advice):

Destination. Could you scratch Mt. Rushmore, add one day to Yellowstone and one day to Portland? If you live in Kansas, Mt. Rushmore is a weekender you can do anytime, right?

Accommodation. Car camp all the way with maybe one or two nights in a hotel for shower/rest. Use the money you save to splurge on food or activities. Use to find campgrounds along the route. Avoid the commercial campgrounds, especially KOA and/or those just off the interstate; also avoid just about every discount, nationally-franchised hotel, especially Motel 6 and Super 8. Franchised hotels are disgusting more often than not. Go for ones that seem more local and/or up an exit or two from main city exits. An easy way to get a discount is to say the hotel next door's price is $55 a night. That works about half the time for me.

Navigation. Take US Highways if possible. The interstate is sameness for miles and miles. It'll take longer, but seldom more than +15% (and the truckers won't drive you insane). Use a GPS device. I use a Garmin nuvi; recommend it highly. Don't trust the travel times of online maps. You'll be driving through the mountains much of the way and, for some reason or other, the mountains wreak havoc on (underestimate) travel time quotes. Trust your GPS device for time/distance. If you've planned your trip without considering decreased speed up and down the Continental Divide, it's time to start cutting your trip down to size. I always find it hard to believe, but I average 40-42 mph through the mountains.

Mountains. Lower gears going up will save you a ton of gas. Lower gears going down will save your breaks. Learn to love your transmission's lower gears. The engine will be louder, sure, but trust me on this [and see earplug advice below]. Or don't trust me [and see roadside assistance below].

Fees. Buy an America the Beautiful pass for the National Parks. $80 might seem like a lot, but all of the fees at all of those parks will cost more than that. The pass covers a whole year, so it'll pay for itself on this trip alone.

Gas. You might think gas is cheaper in the rural areas, but it's invariably cheaper in the city, where there's more competition. When the sign says "Next Services X Miles", believe it. I learned that the hard way–I lived to tell about it surprisingly–traveling through the desert southwest.

Yellowstone. I'd avoid Old Faithful. (I guess I'm not much for the standby American attractions, like this or Mt. Rushmore). Depending on when you arrive, you can end up waiting 90 minutes for it to erupt. It's not worth the wait or the crowds, but it has sentimental value. And besides, there's a live web cam! The Fountain Paint Pots are neat. The Grand Prismatic Spring in the Midway Geyser Basin is a must see, as is Mammoth Hot Springs.

Food. Seattle and Portland have just tons of food options. I'd say Portland has the better dining scene. Visit the Pacific Northwest board on Chowhound for any number of dining options. Also consider posting to several regional boards with your plans and ask for dining suggestions.

Random. Bring pillows from home and buy some disposable 30dB ear plugs (which you can buy in bulk at Home Depot, etc. in the safety aisle). The comfort of a pillow you know and love and ear plugs to dampen all of the noises you're not accustomed to will improve your sleep dramatically, especially if you're car camping. Ear plugs are helpful for the road noise too, and road noise really grates after a while. I suspect most don't realize just how exhausting random noise can be. That said...

Music/Radio. I usually regret not having a satellite radio when I road trip. FM radio is so variable along the highway that it'll drive you to madness (scan, scan, scan, static, country music, static, etc.). Leave the iPod at home. There's something about familiar music that makes a road trip less new, less unique. Bring new music! R.T.L.R. = Road Trip Library Raid. Raid the library's CD collection and just grab CDs off the shelf, music you've never heard of and may not even like. Odds are you'll find something new. I found Odetta, Tom Waits, and many others I just love now from RTLR.

Auto. Nothing will stop a road trip cold like auto problems. If you have roadside assistance, have the phone number handy. If not, consider getting coverage from your insurance company or other. If you have a breakdown or a lockout, call your insurance company for dispatch. Do not try to find local help yourself, because when you do, it'll cost a fortune and take hours. Your insurance company will provide. I won't regale you of the $300.00 charge and 4 hour wait to unlock my car 15 miles from Yellowstone. I called local. Trust me when I say that used car dealers are not the worst of the legion of automobile scammers. Tow trucks are! They help you first and then tell you how much it costs. And the price will be jaw-dropping.

Last, but most important:

Snacks. Bring munchies and drinks. I like to empty the bulk bins at the natural food store. Coffee. Believe it or not, McCafe at McDonald's is a pretty good bet for decent coffee on the road, almost always better than the watered down stuff that passes for coffee at roadside gas stations. Bring lots of water, keep hydrated, don't forget your cell phone or its charger. Oh, and have fun!
posted by foooooogasm at 6:36 PM on June 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for all the replies and keep em coming :-)

Sometime back either on Travel or Food channel I saw a seafood restaurant (near Seattle fish market), in which you buy like buckets of steamed seafood (crabs, lobsters, shrimp, fish, etc ... ) and they dump it directly on the table and you eat. Not a fancy place. not even forks and knives for eating. But it kind looked good on tv.

Does anyone know what I'm talking about?
posted by WizKid at 11:26 PM on June 6, 2009

You must be talking about The Crab Pot.
posted by Balonious Assault at 12:08 PM on June 7, 2009

Response by poster: @ Balonious Assault:
I think that's the one. Thanks.
posted by WizKid at 1:27 PM on June 7, 2009

In 2002, on the way back to I-90 from Glacier, we took 93 south past Flathead Lake and turned right towards Lonepine. We ended up driving past a large field of llamas that is part of the Montana Large Animal Sanctuary and Rescue. Not sure if it is still there.
posted by soelo at 9:26 AM on June 8, 2009

Why go from Glacier to Portland, and then to Seattle? You will save time and see more if you stay north as you go west. Mt. St. Helens is the park to see as you travel the I-5 corridor. Mt. Rainier is a constant companion, but not worth a closer look if you can't spend multi-days hiking/climbing. MSH, on the other hand, is a great one-day excursion, and gives one a real feel for the Cascade volcanos (ona clear day you will see Rainier, Adams, Hood, maybe even Baker from MSH.

In truth, having done, at one time or another, all of the things on your list, i think your plan is overly ambitious. You are going to spend far, far more time in your car than you will enjoying these awesome places, any one of which deserves 4-7 days (save MSH).
IMHO Mt. Rushmore is overhyped, and will add days of driving, as will the massive detour north to Glacier.
Go directly to Yellowstone/Tetons, enjoy. Drive to Portland, enjoy. Go North to MSH, enjoy. End up in Seattle, enjoy.
posted by OHenryPacey at 12:15 PM on June 10, 2009

Response by poster: Mt.Rushmore I kinda expected to be over hyped, but I thought Glacier is as good as Yellowstone. So am I wrong about Glacier?
posted by WizKid at 2:51 PM on June 10, 2009

Glacier is fabulous, but it's a backpacker's park. Make a trip to Glacier its own thing sometime. The Going To The Sun road is one of the great drives, and the mountains are spectacular, but it will add days to your trip to go that far north and then back south again. On paper the distances might seem reasonable, but you will be on winding mountain roads for miles and miles, not interstate. This is country to be savored. what will you do when you see a herd of pronghorn or bison, but still have 400 miles to travel in a day? leave yourself time to take it in, you will love it and the places you don't get to will be there for another time.
For example...someone mentioned 10 1/2 hrs from Glacier to Portland -- not gonna happen. Whitefish to Missoula will take three hours in the summer, and then it's 550 miles to portland, the first 200 of which is a mountain range to cross, so you won't be pinned at 75 until spokane, and then you might have a 30mph headwind all the way to Portland.
This is not in any way meant to discourage an epic road trip. rock on! just understand that unlike Kansas, there is something to see around every bend from the rockies on west, so cramming it in will not pay dividends and you'll be exhausted.
posted by OHenryPacey at 4:58 PM on June 10, 2009

This is a retraction of my Super 8 comment above. I'm wrong.

Some of the Super8 motels are very well managed and not at all disgusting, like the one I just stayed in (necessity, not choice) last night.

I stick to my comment about Motel 6. Ugh! Nay, ugh squared!
posted by foooooogasm at 7:45 AM on June 18, 2009

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