What to see when driving from Austin to Seattle?
July 18, 2005 5:10 AM   Subscribe

My wife and I are planning on driving a friend's car from Austin, TX to Seattle, WA, and we're wondering what to see along the way. One place we want to hit on the way is the Grand Canyon, so that constrains the question quite a bit. We've picked a few other national parks in which we're interested (although we won't have time for them all), but we're curious to see what other "must sees" people might suggest.

The trip will be at the end of Aug. / beginning of Sept. (love those deserts in the summer!) We'll have roughly 9 days for travel, perhaps a bit more, and we plan on spending at least two nights camping at the GC. Any and all suggestions or recommendations are welcome...neither of us has spent any real time in this part of the US.
posted by abingham to Travel & Transportation (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If you're heading through Idaho I really liked Craters of the Moon national park. Also, The Grand Tetons and Yellowstone are very cool as well. Or if you're heading up through northern CA check out the Redwoods.
posted by princelyfox at 5:19 AM on July 18, 2005

Zion Canyon is awesome, particularly (if I remember correctly), the Zion Narrows trail.
posted by Alt F4 at 5:36 AM on July 18, 2005

Do you have your campsite reservations for GCNP? If not, you're probably not staying there. It books up fast.

I did a similar trip in the early 90s and some of the places I really like but wouldn't have necessarily thought of myself:

Big Bend NP in southwest TX. This would be out of your way, but it's big and mountainous and more than anything else just plain surprising. One day I stood on the top of Emory Peak and could look somewhere around 200 miles into Mexico.

El Morro NM in NM. A big rock, what people have carved I AM HERE messages on for umpty-thousand years.

With that little time, you could do worse than hitting GCNP, driving up and seeing one of the parks in Utah, and then moving up through the Tetons and Yellowstone before heading west to Seattle.

If you don't have reservations at GCNP, you might also think about going to the North Rim instead of the South. The views are admittedly a bit less OMG WTF!!, but in compensation 90% of the people in the park won't be with you.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:02 AM on July 18, 2005

Also the North Rim is 1000--1500 feet higher and so *substantially* cooler than the South.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:03 AM on July 18, 2005

The Hoover Dam is certainly worth a stop, and if you are headed to Vegas from the Canyon (which I would recommend, if you've never been), it's right on your way.
When we did this we went from the Grand Canyon to the Hoover Dam to Las Vegas, then got back on I-40 West to L.A., and drove up the coast on Highway 1 to San Francisco at which point you could just keep going North. At least that was the way it was supposed to work, but Highway 1 was closed because of mudslides that year. It's supposed to be a gorgeous drive, Big Sur and all that, and I really regret not seeing it when I was there.
posted by Who_Am_I at 6:09 AM on July 18, 2005

Hmmm...also, you may already be aware of this, but I should mention that it is important to bring some extra gas and water when driving through West Texas/New Mexico/Arizona. We found gas stations (and other drivers) to be few and far between in places.
posted by Who_Am_I at 6:14 AM on July 18, 2005

In my experience, you won't need extra gas. Just gas up at a half-tank and you'll be fine, unless you have the unfortunate combination of a gas-guzzler with a small tank. Or an Elise. It might be 40 or 50 miles from one gas station to the next, but if you can't go 50 miles on a half-tank you've got serious problems.

Water/antifreeze and oil are good to have along wherever you are.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:41 AM on July 18, 2005

Meteor Crater
posted by planetkyoto at 7:02 AM on July 18, 2005

Big Texan in Amarillo, home of the classiest "Eat it All and it's Free" dinner.
posted by planetkyoto at 7:20 AM on July 18, 2005

The Painted Desert and the Petrified Forest. They're spectacular, and right next door to the Grand Canyon.
posted by languagehat at 7:40 AM on July 18, 2005

Have you seen The THING?
posted by realcountrymusic at 8:57 AM on July 18, 2005

I really enjoyed driving down Highway 50 in Nevada which is known as the Loneliest Highway in America. It's sort of an anti-attraction but it's peaceful and the area is lovely and there are a few towns and little things to look at.
posted by jessamyn at 9:35 AM on July 18, 2005

Not a bad road trip you've got going there! I've done the Grand Canyon to Seattle part of it. Apart from the middle of Nevada, which redefines "wasteland", it's a nice drive. I would recommend you stop in at Lake Tahoe and Crater Lake, both of which are absolutely beautiful and have great campsites nearby. Bryce Canyon is worth checking out too. Do note that the Thunderbird, AKA the home of the Ho-Made Pies, looks far more kitschily entertaining than it actually is.

I'd also suggest you hit your local Costco/Sam's Club or anyplace where you can get cases of bottled water. Bring two of them, and make sure there's always some of it in the cooler. (Basic, I know, but I was shocked at how quickly we went through our water supply.)

Oh! If you hit I-5 in time, you MUST stop at this cafe called "Heaven on Earth" (exit 86). They make these amazing cinnamon rolls that are literally the size of your head. Now that's good eatin'!
posted by Vervain at 10:35 AM on July 18, 2005

Bryce (self-link). Definitely see Bryce.

Zion, too.

Others will disagree, but unless you gamble, I wouldn't waste time with Vegas. Really, it's not even worth driving through.
posted by rafter at 11:19 AM on July 18, 2005

I suppose it depends upon your devotion to GCNP, but you *could* do both rims, if you really love it. I have to disagree with the comment that "...if you haven't made reservations, you aren't staying there..." I have camped six times at both rims (tent camping, mind you) a month later than you are going, and never had a reservation. When the campground was full (at the south rim), we just parked near the ranger hut where they let people in, and checked every hour for a cancellation - in two hours, we had a site! At the north rim, you can camp primitive just outside the park boundaries (no bathrooms, etc). Asking and having a positive attitude are the key here.
I think it might be almost as hard to secure a site at Bryce or Zion - they have considerably smaller campgrounds.
Second on El Morro - it's my favorite place, although it is a bit out of the way. Take them seriously about the thunderstorms though, and don't start up to the top if it looks at all as though it may rain.
Also, if you are so inclined, and in NM anyway, we like to stay in Gallup, and head out across the Navajo and Hopi reservations. It's desolate, but beautiful country - and if you've ever watched cowboy movies from the 40's, 50's and 50's Monument Valley will feel really familiar. Canyon de Chelly is exquisite, though somewhat remote - the overlooks are worth the drive (IMO).
Our favorite place to stay in Gallup is the fabulous El Rancho Motel (crappy website, the lobby of this place is amazing!), which is surprisingly popular - especially with those Cowboy-and-Indian loving Germans.
I'm jealous - have a great trip!
posted by dbmcd at 11:53 AM on July 18, 2005

I did a similar drive 5 years ago. I agree with the Petrified Forest and Crater Lake National Park (OR). The route I chose was to go west to L.A., then up the coast on Route 1. You'll miss the sights people are talking about in Utah, Nevada, etc, but the Pacific Coast Highway is a wonderful drive. Noteable things along the way include Big Sur, the Redwood State and National parks, San Francisco, and the Hearst Castle.

The Oregon coast is nice too - after hitting Crater Lake, I went out to Oregon Dunes National Rec Area and then up along the coast though Newport and Cannon Beach then back inland to Portland.

In Washington, if you're coming up I-5, you can head over to both Mount St. Helens Nat'l Volcanic Monument and Mount Rainier National Park, each a few hours off the interstate. Have fun!
posted by pitchblende at 12:49 PM on July 18, 2005

If you haven't been to Vegas, you might as well go and decide whether or not you like it. I didn't.
I thought Zion was waaaaay cooler than the Grand Canyon.
Carlsbad Caverns are neat.
You're going to get sick of west Texas well before you get to El Paso. And El Paso will not alleviate that. Neither will New Mexico, at first. Stay strong, there's a light at the end of the tunnel.
Have a peek at Muir Woods if you're going that far west
Swing by Crater Lake.
Have dinner at the Cowboy Dinner Tree. Actually, don't go there if you're a vegetarian.
Palouse Falls is neat. The Wallowa-Whitman National Forest and Blue Mountains are neat, too.
posted by willpie at 3:03 PM on July 18, 2005

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