Roadtrip help - Seattle to Houston in three weeks
April 3, 2016 1:48 PM   Subscribe

I am planning a roadtrip with my husband, brother-in-law, BL's wife and 6 year old daughter. Basically, what I am trying to suss out is: are we being too ambitious with our itinerary?

We'll be flying in from Europe and arriving in Seattle around noon. Our plan is:

Day 1-3: Seattle (3 nights)
Day 4: Drive to Missoula (or farther towards our destination of Yellowstone if possible), this will take all day
Day 5-7: Yellowstone (3 nights)
Day 8-9: Grand Teton (2 nights)
Day 10: Drive to Arches National Park, this will take all day (2 nights at Arches)
Day 11: Explore Arches
Day 12-13: Grand Canyon (2 nights)
Day 14: Drive to Albuquerque (or farther towards destination of Dallas if possible), this will take all day
Day 15: Palo Duro Canyon (1 night)
Day 16-18: Dallas (3 nights)
Day 19-21: Houston (3 nights)

All four of the adults can drive. We're spending the last week in Texas because that is where my family is so we want to spend a minimum 3 nights in both Dallas and Houston.

I want to make sure that we are able to take the time to appreciate the stops along the way, and that we're accurately estimating how long it will take to get from one place to another. We'll be spending over 50 hours in the car and it is hard for me to tell if this is reasonable or not. Any suggestions or tips for our plans along the way are welcome!
posted by Blissful to Travel & Transportation (9 answers total)
That itinerary would probably be just fine if it was only adults in the car. But I'm concerned that your average six-year old is going to go stir-crazy over the course of a day requiring more than about 6 hours of time in the car. Seattle to Missoula is 7 hours of driving, and Grand Teton to Arches is 8 1/4.

I did lots of road trips with my parents when I was a kid, and I loved it. But they always stopped frequently (once an hour, as a rule) for at least 15 minutes at a time, and there was usually a longer stop mid-day (an hour or more) to see some minor tourist attraction along the route. All of this stopping makes for a longer travel time than Google Maps will indicate.

The AAA (American Automobile Association) used to publish so-called "Tourbooks" that would tell you about various attractions in each town you were driving through; my parents found some pretty neat stuff for us to do that way. A quick look at their website seems to indicate that these are now available as e-books, though I can't vouch for them still being as up-to-date and well-curated.

As far as how to modify this itinerary, I would try to break up the Seattle–Yellowstone stretch somewhere closer to the middle, if you can; or break it into three days (stopping in Coeur D'Alene and either Butte or Bozeman, depending on which part of the park you want to see.) Salt Lake City might be a good spot to break up the Grand Teton–Arches drive. Honestly, you may have to drop one of the parks from your itinerary to fit it all in.
posted by Johnny Assay at 3:17 PM on April 3, 2016

I think you're looking at several "lost days," where a recovery from a full day's drive diminishes your enjoyment of the new location. Day 5, for example, comes after a full day (and Day 5 could even start with a five-hour drive). Day 11 is coming after a full day, etc.

Consider fewer stops and more time in places.

Is there a specific reason that you're ending in Texas? There's not much for a six-year-old to do for three days in Dallas.

If you're not married to Texas as an end point, spend more time in Utah -- Zion, Bryce, Canyonlands, etc.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:01 PM on April 3, 2016

Have you been to the western U.S. before? This is a crazily ambitious driving schedule, even for adults. For example, once my dad and I drove from Seattle to Cheyenne in two days, and we basically fell dead asleep in the motel at the end of each driving day. This was when I was 26 and still used to driving for long periods of time. Last year, I did a day trip from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon with two friends. We rented a sports car that could easily do 90, made a quick stop at Hoover, spent a few hours at the Grand Canyon (until dusk), and drove back to Vegas. That was a long, long day.

You need to scale back the trip, way back. As in, decide on whether you are going to do Yellowstone and points in the upper Rockies or the Grand Canyon and points in the SW. When you do schedule a long driving day, and I would make it five or size hours TOPS (assuming that the 6yo is ok with long days in the car--what do her parents say?) and then give yourself a rest day after this. Like lounge around in the hotel, go for a walk, swim in the pool.

TL; DR: The U.S. west is big. Yuge. Don't underestimate that.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 6:38 PM on April 3, 2016 [4 favorites]

Seattle to Houston is 3774 kilometers.
London to Moscow is 2874 kilometers.

The Western USA is really, really big. Scale this trip back.
posted by blob at 7:15 PM on April 3, 2016 [5 favorites]

Day 1-3: Seattle (3 nights)
Day 4: Drive to Missoula (or farther towards our destination of Yellowstone if possible), this will take all day
7 h 15 min (764.5 km)
But you aren't close to Yellowstone.
Missoula to Yellowstone is an additional 4 h 9 min (426.9 km)

Day 5-7: Yellowstone (3 nights)

Day 8-9: Grand Teton (2 nights)
The map says 8 minutes/11km, but that's from the southernmost spot in Yellowstone to the northernmost spot in Grand Teton.
the actual drive is more like one hour.

Day 10: Drive to Arches National Park, this will take all day (2 nights at Arches)
8 h 22 min (775.5 km)

Day 11: Explore Arches

Day 12-13: Grand Canyon (2 nights)
5 h 1 min (495.5 km)

Day 14: Drive to Albuquerque (or farther towards destination of Dallas if possible), this will take all day
5 h 41 min (633.2 km)

Day 15: Palo Duro Canyon (1 night)
4 h 48 min (490.0 km)

Day 16-18: Dallas (3 nights)
5 h 46 min (611.2 km)

Day 19-21: Houston (3 nights)
3 h 25 min (384.6 km)

and remember, you need petrol stops, food stops, and toilet breaks, each of which adds between 0.5 and 1.5 hours to the day's journey.
posted by blob at 7:30 PM on April 3, 2016

Besides the very vastness that you're proposing to drive through, some of this driving will be very stressful. Do you have experience driving up and down curvy mountain roads? Have you ever driven through very sparse, flat country with very few visual or physical (like town) things to break the monotony, which has its own kind of stress?

Yellowstone alone can be very stressful to drive in - not only do you have some very curvy roads, you have to deal with other tourists, some of whom may stop in the middle of the road with no warning because they thought they saw a deer. The speed limit is not higher than 40 mph; you may have to deal with bison jams (bison on the highway stopping all traffic); bear jams (everybody stops to take pics of a bear); the people in the RV who refuse to pull over and/or have never driven an RV before so they're super slow; and extremely variable weather (it can snow any month of the year there). It's a giant loop, as well, which means unless you stay in a different hotel each night you will be committed to driving back to where you're staying.

Also do not underestimate the amount of driving it takes in every single one of those parks - even when you're "exploring" a park you may find yourself sitting in a car for hours unless you commit yourself to exploring one single spot. . .and honestly, it's not like you can go on an all day hike with a 6 year old. You'll also be driving through some very sparsely populated areas, which means long distances between services - that has its own kind of stress. Not to mention. . .that's a long time sitting in the car with that many people - that's almost a guarantee of conflict, no matter how well you get along. That's also a lot of packing/unpacking, checking in motels, and probably not eating very well due to the sheer amount of travel.

I really hate saying this, because I understand what you're trying to do, and if you were a couple in some kind of camper-van I'd say go for it. But with the number of people involved, especially a 6 year old, and this kind of distance/time, this is just a fuckton of driving. It's entirely possible that you have multiple 12 hour days in there if conditions are right. I would seriously drop one of those stops and build in more days of just doing "nothing." For example, you commit to staying at Old Faithful for the day, or staying on Jackson Lake without going anywhere. (That's another example - just the south entrance from Grand Teton into Jackson proper can be as much as an hour if traffic is bumper to bumper.) You might consider building in more time in the Seattle to Teton leg, and drop one of the Southwestern stops, or spend less time in that leg and add more time to the SW.

One other thing to consider: You don't say what time of year you're going to be doing this - some of those places will be booked solid at certain times, which means you might not have a lot of room for flexibility if you need it.
posted by barchan at 8:48 PM on April 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

We've done similar drives with young kids but haven't been jetlagged. Seattle to Missoula is very doable under regular circumstances. We usually stretch it to Butte but we travel later in the year (Julyish) with more daylight. Don't forget you'll lose an hour crossing into MT and then again whenever you roll into central time.

With 4 adult drivers you should be fine. I'd be concerned about the jetlag though. Commit to being OK with stopping short of your planned targets and realize that cellular and especially data coverage will be spotty, even unavailable for hours. Plan accordingly.
posted by the christopher hundreds at 9:47 PM on April 3, 2016

Hello everyone thanks for the answers! You've confirmed my fears . . . we're going to scale it back a bit.
posted by Blissful at 10:11 PM on April 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

I've driven from Seattle to Yellowstone in a day. It's not fun, but if you drive to Jackson WY on Day 4, you won't be travelling heavily until Day 10 - you can daytrip to both Yellowstone and Grand Tetons easily from Jackson.

If I were you I'd skip the Grand Canyon and spend more time in Arches!
posted by bravecanary at 3:16 PM on April 13, 2016

« Older Are any women's groups calling for state boycotts?   |   Has anyone used Letgo or similar apps or are they... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.