Where to go to camp, learn, eat, and have fun between NYC and Colorado.
October 3, 2012 11:14 AM   Subscribe

My boyfriend and I will be driving from New York City to the Colorado Rockies via Appalachia, MO, and KS, and would like specific suggestions of things to do and places to eat along the way, camping style!

I've looked through some other "we're driving cross country!" questions, but none of them seem to provide the specific information we're looking for. Sometime in early-mid November, my boyfriend and I will be driving cross country to take our jobs at a ski resort in the Colorado Rockies. (Yay! Adventure!) We like the idea of driving through Appalachia, so our general route will be NYC-Pennsylvania-Maryland?-West Virginia-Kentucky-Missouri-Kansas-Colorado.

So far the only places we will definitely be going will be to stay with a mutual friend in rural Pennsylvania, and my cousins in Kansas City. (With a possible detour to visit a close friend of mine in Baltimore.) Most if not all of the rest of the time we'll be camping, so suggestions of good places to camp along the way would be super super helpful. Neither of us (besides my own brief forays to Pennsylvania and Maryland) have ever been to this part of the country at all, so we basically have no idea.

We want to make the most of this drive, so we would like suggestions of cool things to do along the way. Money will be tight, so the cheaper the better. We're willing to drive off of our route a bit to do or see something awesome.

Things we enjoy: good cheap food, especially of the ethnic or regional variety, music (especially folk/bluegrass-inspired, another reason we chose this route), hiking/outdoorsy stuff, scenic drives, bookstores, bars, beautiful places, art, theater, mountains...I'm a history geek and am really excited to go through Appalachia (Hatfield/McCoy country! whee!) so any interesting historical spots along the way are awesome too. Weird/strange stuff is welcome.

As for cities along the way, it looks like we'll be passing by Lexington, KY, Louisville, KY, and St. Louis, MO (meet me at the fair...), and the aforementioned Kansas City. Are any of those other ones worth spending a day at?

We're thinking we'll leave a week or so for the trip, but any advice on that would be helpful too. Like I said, this is the first time either of us have ever done anything like this! Thanks a bunch!
posted by Emms to Travel & Transportation (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If you go to St. Louis and are planning to check out the Gateway Arch, stop in at the Cahokia Mounds site beforehand. I think it's only about a half hour away at most by car, and is free (well, there's a suggested donation, so slip 'em a few bucks). I went to see these both on the same day on a road trip myself and Cahokia blew my mind.

Just past St. Louis is Meramec Caverns, which has a campground on site - but also is great fun to check out, as it's in this weird perfect sweet spot between "natural wonder" and "gloriously blatant kitsch". It's been a roadside attraction since, like 1900, and there's historic import (Jesse James is rumored to have used it as a place to store weapons at one point, but there's also been all sorts of ways people have used it since the 1920's at least), and a couple of the cave formations are actually damn cool (there's a spot called "the Wine Room" that is like no cave I'd ever seen). And alongside that you also have the tour guide doing dippy things like "recreating a concert" by putting on a record of Ethel Merman and projecting a slide show on the cave wall. The basic cave tour is about $20 per person; the campgrounds are also about the same.

You can trace Route 66 through Missiouri, which is its own appeal. As for Kansas - most of the things you'll see are of the "kitsch" variety. In Kinsley, Kansas, you will find a small site touting the fact that it is the exact geographic center of the continental US; there's also a recreation of a Kansas Settler's Sod House on the site. Somewhere in Kansas is one of the two different "biggest ball of twine" balls (there are actually two of them in two different places -- one is "the biggest ball of twine made from one continuous piece of twine," and the other is "biggest ball of twine made from a bunch of pieces tied together"; I forget which one is the one in Kansas). Then there's Dodge City - the "historic district" is actually a couple blocks of cheeseball fake storefronts and dippy "cowboy costume" recreations and such, but just outside Dodge there is a section of the prairie preserved that used to be part of the Oregon trail; you can still see the tracks of wagon wheels etched into the sod in places.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:29 AM on October 3, 2012

In Kansas City, be sure to stop at Gates Bar-B-Q for Kansas City-style barbecue.
posted by shoesietart at 11:49 AM on October 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

I can speak to Lexington and Louisville. Not really.

Sure, if you had to kill time in both, I could give you some advice there.

One thing that might be interesting, although about an hour or two off of your path are:

Berea, KY. Home of Berea College and Husbunny's alma mater. Berea is a cute little town about 40 mins south of Lexington on 1-75. Here's a blurb from their page that kind of explains it, it's really cool:

Berea College, founded by ardent abolitionists and radical reformers, continues today as an educational institution still firmly rooted in its historic purpose “to promote the cause of Christ.” Adherence to the College’s scriptural foundation, “God has made of one blood all peoples of the earth,” shapes the College’s culture and programs so that students and staff alike can work toward both personal goals and a vision of a world shaped by Christian values, such as the power of love over hate, human dignity and equality, and peace with justice

Everyone at Berea needs to work at the college and they're known for their work in Folk Arts. Plus the town is adorable.

The next trip is an hour south. Cumberland Falls is a KY state park, and they have camping available. It's close to Corbin, KY so you can see the first KFC! (Cheap and cheap)

The claim to fame for Cumberland Falls is that when the moon is full, you can see a "moonbow" which is a rainbow, but at night.

It's very pretty and since it's straight off of I-75, there's not a lot of schlepping off the beaten path.

You can drive through Louisville, you won't miss much.

Have fun!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:52 AM on October 3, 2012

I can't offer any advice on what to do on the way to your ski resort job, but I can tell you that you must go to the Tattered Cover bookstore in the Denver LoDo location (on 16th St. Mall) if at all possible. If I could move into that bookstore, I would. It's amazeballs.

When I lived there, there was an excellent free tram system that would run you the whole length of the 16th St. Mall, where you could find great eating, awesome microbreweries, and coffee to die for. I tasted just about every kind of ethnic food possible thanks to my time living there--Indian, Sushi, Thai, Egyptian, Russian (with authentic flavored vodkas!), real Mexican enchiladas sold from an amazing food truck, real (not American style) Chinese dimsum, and of course vegan/vegetarian specialty restaurants. And lots more.

Dozens served the most amazing breakfast I've ever tasted, and was located near a gorgeous church. The Denver Public Library is awesome. When Denver hosted a Summit of the Eight all of our Dozens dining companions were wearing noodles in their ears. There's a cool skyscraper (at 1999 Broadway) in Downtown Denver that's literally built around the Holy Ghost Catholic church.

You should also make it a point to see the Stanley Hotel, which was used in the movie The Shining. Estes Park is gorgeous. In fact, just driving the route through the Rockies offers some excellent site seeing because of all the weird houses people like to build on the sides of mountains.

There's just sooo much to see and do in that area it's almost disgusting, plus you get to meet some pretty interesting people in the Rockies. Lots of Olympians and other athletes train there because of the thin air. I had a hilarious encounter with a cyclist training for a race who was annoyed that I was rollerblading around his lake and he shouted, in a heavy French accent, "fuck-ink toureeests." Famous people are wandering around in Vail and other resorts. It's fun!

I hope you have an awesome adventure.
posted by xyzzy at 12:20 PM on October 3, 2012

Pittsburgh is pretty much on your route. It is dramatically situated at the confluence of two rivers, which become the Ohio. It has a lot of awesome architecture and industrial/labor/Whiskey Rebellion/westward migration history. You can trespass at an abandoned blast furnace. (Park in the Duck Hollow trail parking lot, walk about a mile along the railroad tracks next to the river). There are nice parks & botanical gardens & museums & libraries & suchlike.

If you want to travel olde-timey, you could travel westward via the National Road. That'll hit most of the oldest settlements along a westward route. It crosses the Monongahela River at Brownsville, PA, which is a mightily bombed out old market town with an active bridge downtown from 1839, and there's a lot of bombed-out industrial infrastructure & towns up the Monongahela Valley to Pittsburgh.
posted by akgerber at 3:23 PM on October 3, 2012

A few years ago I drove cross country from Georgia to California and part of our trip took us through Kansas and Colorado. First of all, I would highly suggest the World's Largest Ball of Twine in Cawker City, KS. It was pretty hilariously hokey but the drive from there to Colorado was stunning. I also believe that somewhere in KS or CO we also found a giant painting of van gogh's sunflowers, but I cannot remember where it was. Oh yes internet to the rescue: Giant van Gogh. There is also the Brown vs Board of Education national historic site in Topeka, KS. Fun times in Kansas!
posted by ruhroh at 4:29 PM on October 3, 2012

If you are taking the I-70 corridor across Missouri (St. Louis to Kansas City), please do not think that the landscape is representative of the entire state because it's pretty bland.

Outside of Columbia, Missouri, home to the University of Missouri, you can take a quick break off the interstate at Rocheport, Missouri. It's a tiny little hamlet with a few antique shops, public restrooms, and there is a winery (if you like wine). It's also a popular spot with people biking the Katy Trail across the state.

Another place you might be interested in is Arrow Rock, Missouri. It is a bit off of the interstate, but it's really neat because it is the Middle West's version of Colonial Williamsburg - only not as big, less crowded, and pastoral. The entire place is on the National Historic Landmark. The artist George Caleb Bingham once called this one-time river town home as did Dr. John Sappington, the individual who invented anti-malaria pills. It's also free!

Have a great trip!
posted by Coyote at the Dog Show at 6:08 PM on October 3, 2012

Kansas City also has The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.
posted by shoesietart at 6:14 PM on October 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

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