Itinerary help for 6 week western USA partly-solo roadtrip extravaganza
December 1, 2015 6:47 PM   Subscribe

Past answers have already given me tons of great ideas for the Best Roadtrip Ever™; now help me polish my itinerary to perfection. Bonus points for advice on enjoying the solo stretches of the trip.

From mid-May until the end of June, I'll have six weeks off and I'm going to use it to see the west. I plan to do a lot of hiking (I'm up for long day hikes but won't have the gear for backpacking during this trip) and I'd like to find a rafting tour suitable for a newbie like me. I'm pretty into astronomy and have been looking at some star gazing outings. I definitely want to balance the great outdoors with art museums and bookstores and wine tastings and city walking tours. I plan to car camp about half the time and stay with friends, airbnbs, or hotels the rest.

Budget: Pretty flexible. I'm tentatively allocating $6,000 for the trip - I'd like to and will try to spend less, of course, but if I spent more I'd be fine. Overall strategy is to eat homemade granola and sandwiches and camp and stay in tiny closets most of the time, so that the rest of the time I can semi-splurge on good food and places like this.

Current itinerary:

1. Drive from southwest Missouri to Tulsa (stay with friends)
2. Tulsa (stay with friends)
3. Tulsa-Santa Fe
4. Santa Fe
5. Santa Fe-Moab
6. Moab
7. Moab
8. Moab-Bryce, via Capitol Reef
9. Bryce-Zion
10. Zion
11. Zion-San Luis Obispo or somewhere in the general area
12. To Big Sur
13. Big Sur
14. Big Sur-San Francisco
15. San Francisco
16. San Francisco
17. San Francisco-? (some midpoint in the drive up the coast, suggestions welcome)
18. ?-Jedediah State Park
19. Jedediah-Yachats/Newport OR area
20. Newport-Bend
21. Bend
22. Bend-Portland via the Colombia River Gorge
23. Portland (possibly stay with friends)
24. Portland (possibly stay with friends)
25. Portland-Seattle (stay with friends)
26. Seattle (stay with friends)
27. Seattle (stay with friends)
28. Seattle-Glacier NP
29. Glacier NP
30. Glacier NP
31. Glacier NP
32. Glacier NP-Yellowstone
33. Yellowstone
34. Yellowstone
35. Yellowstone-Grand Tetons
36. Grand Tetons
37. Grand Tetons
38. Grand Tetons-somewhere in Kansas
39. Kansas-Arkansas, where I'll spend the weekend visiting family and then return to real life.

I'm mostly looking for feedback on the itinerary before I start booking the fast-to-fill places in Yellowstone and the like. Am I spending too much time somewhere? Not enough time somewhere else? Is the whole thing too long? I'm obviously excited for the national parks but I'm worried that the last ten days of nothing but driving, hiking, and crowds will leave me kind of indifferent to and worn out by all the pretty scenery - valid concern?

Additionally, a friend will be traveling with me for 2-3 weeks, but we still don't know which of the weeks our time off will overlap so I don't know which parts she'll join me for. I've traveled by myself and it was fine (I really like long drives alone), but I've never enjoyed it as much as travel with friends/SOs. Mostly this is because doing things alone is a little uncomfortable and takes more mental energy than doing them with other people, and I've tended to be too self indulgent and just, like, find a nice park and read a book (not that there's anything wrong with that! I just don't want it to be all I do on vacation). I'm partly trying to counter this by doing lots of planning beforehand so there's no wasted mental effort in deciding where to stay, what to do, whether it's worth it or should I just stay in my room instead, etc. But partly I enjoy traveling with others because the things I like to do are more fun with other people. I like good food, but half the enjoyment of a meal is the conversation and company. I'll go on a hike or see an art museum by myself and have a great time, but go beer tasting? Horseback riding? Going out at night? Is it best just to cut those things from the solo part of the trip, or toughen up and learn to enjoy them alone, or...? What have you enjoyed by yourself in the places I'm going?
posted by exutima to Travel & Transportation (12 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
17-18: Fort Bragg or Mendocino (there are recs here if you search AskMe). While in Fort Bragg, you can go to the bar at the Fort Bragg Brewing Company. Have a great time!
posted by wintersweet at 6:54 PM on December 1, 2015

It's not on the way to anything but if you can swing it, Carlsbad Caverns is incredible. I've been to most of the National Parks and Carlsbad is my favorite.
posted by phunniemee at 7:08 PM on December 1, 2015

Nth Carlsbad Caverns. You forgot Sedona, Grand Canyon and other parts of Arizona.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:11 PM on December 1, 2015

Santa Fe to Moab. Go via Ganado, Arizona, and see the Hubble Trading Post. Then to Canyon de.Chelly, buy a tour from the Navajo, or just do the overlooks. Go on up through Kayenta, take a right to Monument Valley. See The Mittens, take the self drive through the valley. Go on to Mexican Hat, pass town, go down by the San Juan River, behind Mexican Hat Rock. Do the drive thru of Garden of the Gods, end up near the Goosenecks of the San Juan, and look over. It is worth it, a major aesthetic experience the entire view of the goosenecks. Get back on the road. Take a meal at Twin Rocks Cafe in Bluff Utah, or drive north to Blanding, there is a good, inexpensive drive in on the left side on the way through town, after you turn right at the light. In Monticello up the road, motels are cheap because they are not Moab. The Peace Tree Cafe has good coffee and reasonable breakfast.

I forgot about taking a left at Comb Wash, just before Bluff along the the canyon wall on the right, are many 500 ft roadlets, each one goes to ancient hunter shelters, with rock art. It is worth kicking around in there. Read up on the Butler Wash hiking it is great.

Meanwhile go into Moab, the drive from Monticello is spectacular. Arches is north of Moab on the right after you cross the Colorado. They are serious about the speed limit in Moab, especially as you exit the town toward Arches, crossing the Colorado. It is 45 until it isn't. You will pay big for forgetting this. On the left past the entrance to Arches is a road to the Island in the Sky. This place is a 27 mile long, arrowhead shaped mesa that overlooks the confluence of the Green and Colorado Rivers. The Green River overlook is one of the most amazing things to see in a life time. Grandview Point is the confluence and outrageous. Lot of driving but evocative overviews.

One more small place is at Crescent Junction when you hit I 70, heading either east or west. You can back track five miles toward Colorado and see the Sego Canyon Petroglyphs and pictographs at Thompson Springs. Those images are amazing in the true sense of the word. Just a slight detour. There are more images just down and across the wash depicting legions of warriors who met the apparitions on the large cliff. If you look these up, they are large images. An amazing energy is there. Have a great trip.
posted by Oyéah at 7:22 PM on December 1, 2015 [4 favorites]

I would add Moki Dugway/Muley Point to Oyeah's suggestions, if you're going to be at Monument Valley. The self-driven tour of Monument Valley is best done in AWD/4WD vehicles.
posted by falsedmitri at 7:26 PM on December 1, 2015

On your way out of New Mexico, you should really stop by the Chaco Culture site. It's not that far out of your way depending on how you head to Moab, and the main problem with visiting is that it's a pain in the ass to get to from anywhere that people usually go for vacation.

That said, it is amazing and gets far too little respect as a national historic park. I lived in Arizona and went to several archaeological sites in the Southwest when I lived there, and Chaco completely blew me away. It is as impressive as many of the Mayan sites in Central America, except underground and dug into the cliffs rather than sitting atop huge towers (and originating in a totally different culture, of course). And as an astronomer you might appreciate the archaeoastronomy, including the fact that "[m]any Chacoan buildings may have been aligned to capture the solar and lunar cycles, requiring generations of astronomical observations and centuries of skillfully coordinated construction."

Allocate at least a half day, though you could definitely spend a full day and stay overnight without getting bored, if you were inclined to.
posted by Joey Buttafoucault at 7:27 PM on December 1, 2015 [3 favorites]

Visit Pine Mountain Observatory if you are in Bend on a Friday or Saturday. You can see galaxies through a 32" telescope!
posted by monotreme at 7:34 PM on December 1, 2015

> On your way out of New Mexico, you should really stop by the Chaco Culture site. It's not that far out of your way depending on how you head to Moab, and the main problem with visiting is that it's a pain in the ass to get to from anywhere that people usually go for vacation.

Yes yes yes this. Chaco is incredible. Breathtaking. Surreal and moving and should go there. You're going to spend a lot of the trip in the NM/UT area looking at rocks (which is great! I love rocks! and those states have really killer rocks!) and I was BLOWN AWAY by Chaco because it's what people did with and among those rocks.

And on your way from Moab to Bryce you should go by Kodachrome State Park. And if you can swing the cost, one of the best things we did was a small plane tour out of Moab over Needles and into Monument Valley.
posted by rtha at 8:18 PM on December 1, 2015

Between San Francisco and oregon, you can stop in Crescent City, CA, and visit the redwoods. And / or detour NE and visit Crater Lake in Oregon. Though if I were in that area, a might want to check out the southern oregon coast, like Brookings. If you head up to Yachats, stop near Florence and go for a dune buggy ride. Lots of fun!
posted by hydra77 at 10:51 PM on December 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

Bandelier and Tent Rocks while near Santa Fe. Most amazing landscape I've seen in the US (caveat, I've not been to AZ). And pop into Los Alamos - small museum, especially if you're into Kitsch.
National Parks Pass will likely pay for itself with some of the places you're planning. Plus it's valid for 12 months so useful while at home if you do Parks.
Seattle Underground was surprisingly fun.
posted by TravellingCari at 10:02 AM on December 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

This might require adding a day or two, but you could go from the Tetons to Devil's Tower National Monument, which is also close to the Black Hills, Mt. Rushmore, and the Badlands of South Dakota.

Of those, Rushmore is skip-able depending on how you feel about what many feel is white men's defacement of Indian sacred ground. On the other hand if you're in the 'hood and want to say you've seen it...

Devil's Tower is certainly remarkable, though.
posted by dnash at 2:11 PM on December 2, 2015

I would try to fit Antelope Canyon in Page, AZ, probably somewhere around Zion. I've always wanted to go there.
posted by phreckles at 9:37 PM on December 2, 2015

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