Can you still get your kicks on route 66?
May 18, 2012 2:37 PM   Subscribe

Recommendations for routes and things to do on a two week road trip from Illinois to California and back?

My wife and I are taking the first two weeks of June off, and want to go on a great American road trip. Any suggestions? We'd both like to see a bit more of America and are also looking for fun places to stay / things to do along the way. We both like hiking, music, food, and we may be going with a dog.

Thank you hive mind!
posted by xammerboy to Travel & Transportation around United States (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
It's further north than Route 66 (and Calilfornia, where I live, can be a 2 week road trip on its own), but the first thing that comes to mind is: South eastern and southern Utah. For hiking and spectacular scenery, it's really hard to go wrong, although the Escalante Petrified Forest State Park is better than the national one ("hike" the whole loop, don't stop at the first sign of petrified wood).

You might want to clarify "California" a bit: High Sierra (Yosemite, King's Canyon & Sequoia national parks), northern coastal (Redwoods down to San Francisco), mid-coastal (Big Sur), southern coastal (Malibu, LA, San Diego), southern desert (Mojave), northern inland (Shasta, Trinity Alps, Lassen)? You could come across the higher route, 90 or 94, maybe hitting Yellowstone or Grand Tetons and down through Washington, Oregon (either eastern, bleak, empty and spectacular; or coastal, California refugees[smirk]). There's 80 (Utah, Nevada), not much in Nevada (or tons in Nevada, 'cause acres of stark emptiness can be spectacular), definitely detour down through the canyons and sandstone in Utah. Or down through Arizona and New Mexico (with a drop over to the Grand Canyon) and into LA.

I dunno, that's just so wide open a space you've left us. When I was in high school, back in '84, my family did a 6 week road trip from Connecticut and we never made it as far as California. Now that I live on the left coast I could spend several years road-tripping from Utah or so west and still be finding new spectacular vistas.

Okay, deep breath. If I were to do that trip today, with what I know, I'd head up I94 and make Yellowstone a stop. Come down through the Grand Tetons to Rock Springs Wyoming, and whence wind my way down through Utah towards Bryce Canyon. Make my way back north to US50 to cross Nevada (haven't done that yet, heard it's cool), come Carson City cut down 395 and take 120 over Tioga Pass through the back side of Yosemite. From there... uh... that's where I think you need to choose between Californias. I'd head north, up through eastern Oregon, but my head's in bleak vast amazingly colored landscapes right now, and I'd totally understand if you headed out to SF and down Route 1, or down the central valley, up into Sequoia National Park, then back down in the Mojave, skipping LA altogether, but...

Yeah. Too damned much amazing stuff already.
posted by straw at 3:11 PM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

We left it wide, because we really don't know. We'll probably be able to spend a few days at 3 or 4 spots. Your suggestions are incredible!
posted by xammerboy at 3:31 PM on May 18, 2012

I'm an Okie with California relatives, so my experience is limited to the second half of that trip. Be sure you check out the Round Barn just east of Oklahoma City. There are lots of cool off-the-wall spots in the in-between towns in Oklahoma.

I was also gonna suggest 66 Bowl but google tells me it fucking closed in 2010! (I live in Houston now.)

That picture comes from this website which has some cool signs. Once you get out into the desert there are a million Indian Trading Posts, weird roadside attractions and crazy religious signs to keep you interested. Be sure to at least spend a night in Vegas.

As you can tell, I'm into the kitschier aspects of this. I do love state and national parks, too, but info on those is easy to come by. For the kitsch, Roadside America is the Bible.
posted by Brittanie at 3:55 PM on May 18, 2012

Oh, also? I took a long road trip over New Years through Big Bend, New Mexico and back around to the Texas Panhandle, and finally ate at the Big Texan (home of the 72oz steak) a roadside marvel I've long been curious about. It was actually really good. I was surprised. The steak was amazing, they brew their own beer, and the inside has a crazy carnival kind of feel, while you watch some poor sap try to eat all that meat in 60 minutes.

Nearby is Palo Duro Canyon State Park, the second largest canyon in the country, and it's stunning. It's about a 30-minute drive south of Amarillo.
posted by Brittanie at 4:02 PM on May 18, 2012

A different idea, with more culture/food/music aspects ...

Start by heading down to Memphis. Cut across Arkansas, maybe hitting Little Rock or checking out the lovely Ozark Mountains in the N.W. part of the state for some truly lovely hiking. You could hit Fayetteville while you're in the area. It's a college town with a lot of cool music.

From there, you could drop even further south and hit Shreveport/Northern La. for some fine cajun times. Or cut straight across Oklahoma and head for Albequerque/Santa Fe for amazing Mexican food made with the famous local Hatch chiles.

Alternately, you could cruise northward and head for Denver on I-70 and cross the mountains there.

From either New Mexico or Colorado, you've got the Grand Canyon in range.

And that's where my knowledge ends, but it sounds like you could follow on with straw's itinerary from that point if you so desire.
posted by ronofthedead at 4:06 PM on May 18, 2012

I live in Milwaukee and I've done the trip from San Francisco back to here (on a motorcycle!). It took a week.

Here was our route. The lines are pretty crude but you get the idea. I'll go through it in the order we went, not the order you're going.

San Francisco to Sacramento - yawn (not the cities, the drive)

Sac to Lake Tahoe - Beautiful drive through the Sierra Nevadas. I'm sure there's tons of hiking there, but we just rode through.

Reno - there's a certain novelty to casinos since we don't have many of them in the midwest. It's not the glitz of Vegas, but still. Fun to blow $20.

Reno to Idaho border - desert, flat, "do not pick up prisoners" signs

Winnemucca - my first buffalo burger

Twin Falls to Idaho Falls - honestly, I don't remember much except 1) some naked woman pressed herself against the glass window of a roadside motel and 2) we almost rear-ended a truck that stopped suddenly.

Idaho Falls to Yellowstone - scenery gets good again

Yellowstone! Spend some time here. Obviously, tons of camping and hiking, although you want to look into the permits NOW. Like open another tab and do it right now. Forget about hotel rooms there, not happening unless you meant next June. Camping spots are almost definitely gone too, so you're probably stuck with backcountry camping (if there are still permits) or a KOA-type place outside the park. Learn bear safety, although the rangers will pound this into you.

If I'd been the driver, knowing then what I know now, I'd have either 1) taken a side jaunt south into the Tetons or 2) exited the park through hwy 212 (aka Beartooth Highway) on up to Red Lodge. There may still be snow in June on option #2, check road reports.

But, Cody was cool, we caught a rodeo, if that's your thing. It's a bit touristy, but you start getting into real cowboy country very quickly. Eastern Wyoming is not very scenic, honestly.

Then you get into the Black Hills, which ramps up the scenery again. Lots of fun, curvy roads to drive on. Might as well see Mount Rushmore while you're there.

Rapid City - there's a Native American museum, don't remember much beyond that.

Wall, SD - you'll see a billion signs for Wall Drug. It's fun, it's kitschy, it's right off the interstate, what the hell.

The SD Badlands are a nice change of pace from Illinois (which, frankly, yawn).

The rest of the trip is pretty f'ing boring, to be honest. We just cruised on home, but if you're still in the mood for scenery, follow the Mississippi south from LaCrosse to the appropriate latitude in Illinois and head east.

Honestly, you're going to be hauling ass and not seeing all that much with only two weeks there and back. It's 2100 miles from Chicago to SF; you have to drive at least 300 miles a day to make it in two weeks. That's a LOT of time in the car, especially on the western end where the speed limits are lower (mountains). We were on a motorcycle, and I know you can drive faster/longer in a car, but who wants to be in the car for so much of the trip? Do you have the potential to fly out west (Salt Lake?), rent a car and do a big loop? For three to four days of the trip (Illinois to the mountains and back) there's not a hell of a lot to see. You have the time; if you have the means, I would strongly urge you to do this. If you want to hike and bike around flat land, just stay in Illinois.
posted by desjardins at 4:11 PM on May 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

So just rambling further here: I've only done the "drive like hell across 80" from SLC to Reno (although, being a Bay Area person, I have gone up to the Black Rock Desert for Burning Man and other activities), which is why I recommended US50. But that could be a long drive with spectacular vistas, but a long drive.

And most of this is outdoors and vistas because you mentioned "hike".

Warning: Lots of self-links follow, and clearly I started blogging and road tripping before digital cameras, because I know I've done a lot more cool stuff but here's some random 2004 onwards: You could spend a lifetime here in Northern California. That's why I've decided to stay. But you could also only make it half-way here and still have an amazing spectacular two weeks.

And I love where this thread is going. I'd say let it ride for a few days, print it out, and then do a "I think we're going to go to there today" and see where that takes you. If you can get past the plains and into "the west", two weeks pretty much anywhere will be fantastic.

Now I'm jealous.
posted by straw at 4:14 PM on May 18, 2012

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