Help me plan my road trip from St. Louis to Los Angeles
May 20, 2011 1:49 PM   Subscribe

Help me plan my road trip from St. Louis to Los Angeles, likely with a short stop at the Grand Canyon

In about a month, I'm picking up and moving to LA. No job or long-term housing out there -- but I'm young! follow my dreams! go west, young man! etc. So let's worry about practicalities only when I get there.

In the mean time, I want to plan my trip. I've never driven across the country before. Never visited the Grand Canyon. (Unless someone can make a case for taking 70 through Denver, I plan to take 40/44 through Oklahoma/NM/AZ.) I hope to find somewhere to stay each night on, though if nothing works out I guess I'll find a motel. Hiking all the way down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon seems out of the question, so I guess I'm looking for a few-hour day hike along the rim.


1) How many miles should I drive each day? (What time should I leave in the mornings? What time should I tuck in for the night?)
2) In what cities should I stay overnight?
3) What hike at the Grand Canyon should I do -- that would maximize grandeur and natural beauty, while perhaps not derailing the trip too much?
4) Never having driven anywhere longer than 45 minutes or so at a time, is there anything I need to know or prepare for about a trip like this?
5) Anything else I should look out for along the way?
(Alternative question number 6 -- is there a reason I should think about going the more northern route through Colorado?)
posted by lewedswiver to Travel & Transportation around Los Angeles, CA (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Stop at Shakespeare's Pizza in Columbia for your first lunch. Nom nom.

Then bring one here to me in Colorado please pretty please.
posted by cyndigo at 1:59 PM on May 20, 2011

This may be obvious, but if you can do a bunch of driving in the morning, you won't be driving into the sun. Which sets in the west. And will sear into your retinas if you stare at it all afternoon.
posted by purpleclover at 2:01 PM on May 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

This may be obvious, but if you can do a bunch of driving in the morning, you won't be driving into the sun.

Ah, obvious, perhaps -- but not so obvious that I had thought of it. Thanks!
posted by lewedswiver at 2:06 PM on May 20, 2011

My father and I drove cross country from Boston to Los Angeles once and when we got to St. Louis we pretty much tried to stick to the old Route 66 the entire way. It was a PHENOMENAL trip, and unfortunately, were we not constrained for time, we would like to have done it at a much more leisurely pace. We generally drove for eight hours a day and took an additional two hours each day to stop and see different things (including St. Louis.) The entire trip took us about seven days.

I've recommended it way too many times on here, but I'd suggest picking up the book 'Road Trip USA' It serves as a guide for the entire route (as well as many other two lane highways in the US) and offers some fantastic sights to see.

Alternatively, the entire contents of the book are free online at their website. (That link goes straight to the Route 66 page. Make sure to click on the individual states on the sidebar on the left for more details.)

Good Luck and take your time. It's a wonderful journey.
posted by Rewind at 2:18 PM on May 20, 2011 [3 favorites]

That sun stuff is good advice. I always tried to be on the road by 9 when driving cross-country. When I did it I pulled 9- or 11-hours on the road daily, which is too much too really do any sightseeing since you'll be exhausted. (I was in a hurry.) I'd recommend 5 to 6 hours a day for the casual traveler, preferably with something interesting in the middle. After the Grand Canyon, a 3-hour drive won't ruin your mood, but after 6 hours you may not feel like doing much of anything.

If you're doing it on a serious budget, don't forget:

* Camping is friggin cheap
* You can sleep in your car at any Wal-Mart parking lot.

Both assets to the frugal road-tripper.

Oh, and in the middle of nowhere distance between gas stations can skyrocket. Buy gas often. In somewhere like rural Oklahoma, consider buying gas every time you dip near a half tank, just in case.
posted by zvs at 2:25 PM on May 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh, I'm sorry, Interstates 40 and 44. Forget the gas thing then.

Another recommendation: don't take the Interstate, especially if you aren't necessarily constrained by time. In rural areas in the west the difference in speed isn't that significant (driving around Idaho, for example, you rarely dip below 65 anywhere), and your trip will be 30)% more interesting.

posted by zvs at 2:28 PM on May 20, 2011

If you're not a member, join AAA. There's various discounts on things, and the roadside assistance is worth it, I think. Also, you can plan your route with them. Also, if you don't have GPS, think about it.
posted by Ideefixe at 2:32 PM on May 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'd suggest picking up the book 'Road Trip USA'.

Will do.

In rural areas in the west the difference in speed isn't that significant (driving around Idaho, for example, you rarely dip below 65 anywhere), and your trip will be 30)% more interesting.

Good advice, thanks.
posted by lewedswiver at 2:34 PM on May 20, 2011

Driving across Kansas sucks donkey balls, and they'll pull you over for doing exactly the speed limit (ask me how I know). I44->I40 is a good idea.

If you're not pressed for time, go ahead and meander north when you get to Gallup NM. Head up to Monument Valley, then down to the Grand Canyon. Hell, hit the North Rim instead, if you feel like it, then head up to Zion. From there you can get on I15 and head back down via Vegas.

The *instant* you feel your eyelids droop, pull over. DOn't try to fight it, just get off the goddamn road. Trust me on this. If you're just feeling a bit tired, pull up an off ramp, go over the cross road, and park on the on ramp. Set your alarm for 15 minutes and nap out. Also, splashing water on your face, ears and back of the neck works wonders for waking back up.

I"ve done the drive out to the Canyon any number of times. If you need more advice, memail me.
posted by notsnot at 3:06 PM on May 20, 2011

Apparently I've driven too many miles in this country. I've driven most of both routes. I'd personally pick I-70 every time. Note that the difference in the distances is negligible. Google Maps puts the difference at 40 miles.

Northern Route: Kansas City is first, eat barbecue. Speed through the rest of Kansas. Be careful in Limon, CO, it's a notorious speedtrap. Denver has.. well Denver. Boulder is close to your path as well. If you have spare time, you can detour up towards Estes Park and come down through Rocky Mountain NP, which is a fun drive. Summit County follows that. You can always detour off to any of the resort towns which are kinda dead for the summer. Mount Evans if you have a car that can handle it. Glenwood Canyon (speedtrap) is a beautiful drive as well, and there is the tunnel section where the canyon is made to play in (that is on I-70). Once you get to Utah, it's only 30 miles from the freeway to Moab and Arches National Park. I-15 drops you in to Las Vegas. Hoover Dam is close to there as well.

Southern Route: If you are in your 60's you can stop off at Branson and listen to washed up country acts. Eat at Lambert's in Springfield, MO. I'd personally skip Tulsa and get to OKC. The cowboy museum in OKC is actually kinda neat. Western OK and the Texas Panhandle are emotionally draining. Don't. Slow. Down. Amarillo (speedtrap) has the Big Texan Steakhouse, which is a tourist trap. You will know this by the 700 billboards you will see notifying you of this. I'm sure there is something to see in Albuquerque, I just never found what that might be. Taos and Santa Fe are healthy but doable detours, and both are beautiful. Petrified Forest NP is on I-40, easy to hit. Flagstaff is pretty, Sedona and the hills around there are all pretty, and again, easy to get to with a smallish detour.

I've never driven the California stretches of either path. Good luck on that. Watch out for airplanes doing speedtraps, I got tagged once in Western OK. Distance between gas stations does spread out in Western NM and CO, and all of AZ and UT. Be mindful of that. Once you get into elevation, the octane rating of gas at the station will go down to 85 or 86, make sure your vehicle can handle that or consider buying midgrade gas (this usually has no effect because of the way your engine runs at elevation, etc.) Take your car to a mechanic for an inspection, get oil changed and fluids topped off. Best $50-60 you can spend. If you haven't been in elevation before consider that elevation sickness will probably get to you at some point. Sleep plenty, lots of fluids. Don't drink alcohol until your body has adjusted to the altitude (2-3 days). Take it easy on hikes. I-40 clears 7500'; I-70 clears 11000'.

4) Never having driven anywhere longer than 45 minutes or so at a time, is there anything I need to know or prepare for about a trip like this?

Stop every couple of hours to stretch out, drink some water, pee, etc. If you have any day free between now and then, drive for around 2-3 hours in one direction, then go home. Yeah, it's a waste of gas, but it's good practice. Go somewhere pretty.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 3:09 PM on May 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've had a ton of memorable road trips just scouring the internet for strange attractions, which I love.

This site has a lot of route 40 stuff:

This website is also one of my favorites.

Route 66 IS amazing. I've only driven part of it, but seeing the Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo and Tinkertown in New Mexico are experiences I won't forget. The West also has SO MANY beautiful things to see, and I wouldn't be hesitant to drive out of my way to see something I think I might enjoy. You probably won't regret it. Myself, I've seen the White Sands, Petrified Forest, Painted Desert, and my mind was changed by all of them.

For the Grand Canyon, I spent three nights there. You're going to be blown away just seeing it for the first time, so don't worry about that. I'd seen hundreds of photos before I went and, literally, my breath was still taken away. I did a guided hike down a portion of the Bright Angel trail. I liked going with the ranger who told us a lot of interesting stuff, but there are annoying people to deal with, too, so keep that in mind. I went to a fireside talk at the Grand Canyon, too, which was great. I camped there, and I loved hearing the coyotes and knowing I was sleeping in one of the most majestic places in the United States. I suggest it if you can, the campgrounds are OK as I remember.

Bring an atlas and look at it a lot before you go. Make notes in it/on stickies about things you want to see. I would bring a journal. It's hard to keep up with, but I like having it to look over. Traveling is one of the most life changing experiences and worth documenting if you can stand to.
posted by amodelcitizen at 3:52 PM on May 20, 2011

Just because it is the sort of thing people always have in a bucket list, you should REALLY take this chance to drive Old Route 66. I guarantee you will never forget, or regret it. I've done it three times (self link) MeMail me for personal recommendations, and folks you should meet along the way.
posted by timsteil at 3:54 PM on May 20, 2011

I'd definitely do I-44 --1-40. Lots of neat things along the way. A lot of neat small towns, but don't miss the biggest city on your route - Oklahoma City. You'll be impressed with their downtown/bricktown area. Weekend nights there are fun. Say hello to Kevin Durant and the Thunder. A must-see is the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum honoring the victims of the 1995 bombing. It's truly a moving experience and known as the "model" for any future memorial type sites. That's a good place to get off the interstate and visit some of old Route 66. Pops was a fun place and they're also lucky enough to have the url:

Once you get out of metropolitan OKC you're in for a longggg drive through a lot of nothing until you reach the foothills of the mountain range near Albuquerque, another interesting, albeit smaller city with not a lot to do frankly (unless you make the detour to Santa Fe). The scenery around NM is gorgeous. AZ you've got covered - the Grand Canyon has to be seen to be believed. Pictures do not do justice to the Grand Canyon.

Great road trip. Have fun!
posted by Gerard Sorme at 4:35 PM on May 20, 2011

Never having driven anywhere longer than 45 minutes or so at a time, is there anything I need to know or prepare for about a trip like this?

I totally recommend you get yourself a lumbar support pillow and/or other things for your car to make it more comfortable for long driving. Do you have a Healthy Back or similar store near you?? If not, check out online options.

I personally recommend driving no more than around 6 hours per day on a journey like this. After a couple of 7-14 or 20 hour driving days, you will want to kill someone. 6 hours is manageable, but still enough to let you cover a lot of ground.

In addition to having a loose plan for what you want to see/where you want to stop/where you will stay, I recommend a GPS (I have a Garmin and love it). Also books on tape, music, etc. You may have some stretches without too much to look at.
posted by pupstocks at 5:18 PM on May 20, 2011

If you have a smartphone, use its map feature instead of GPS and get a cigarette lighter type charger for it.
Roadfood is invaluable for places to eat.
posted by brujita at 11:55 PM on May 20, 2011

I made an identical trip years ago. One must see: Havasu Canyon. It's just off Grand Canyon and a hike, but worth the visit--a secluded Native American tribe and crystal blue waterfalls.
posted by vecchio at 9:55 AM on May 24, 2011

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