DC to Oregon I-90 Gay Road Trip Adventure
August 8, 2017 8:14 AM   Subscribe

Later this summer I'll be doing a massive cross-country road trip from the DC-area to the West Coast. I'm trying to figure out all the practical stuff (where to camp, where to stop for a few days, good spots to eat, good places to take a break from driving, really pretty back roads).

Looking for tips for organizing for a big road trip for 2 twentysomethings. The last time I did a coast-to-coast trip was pre-smartphone, so it was much more of a drive until it's getting dark and wander around we find a hotel or campground situation. This time around I'd like to be a little more organized.

I'm less interested in World's Largest Ball of Twine roadside attractions at this point and more interested in how to plan all the practical stuff - great places to camp vs. spots where we should just get a hotel, really fun towns/parks that are work stopping at for a few days, great places to stop and eat, best routes for avoiding terrifying semi-trucks.

The exact route is not set, but we will have 14-ish days for the trip and I'd like for it to be fairly relaxing and fun. I still have to figure out which stretches we should just drive straight through and which stretches we should plan to stop for a few days.

Bonus points for LGBTQ friendly suggestions - particularly in areas like South Dakota and Montana. I'm a bit nervous as a queer traveler going through the "real America" parts of the trip.
posted by forkisbetter to Travel & Transportation (8 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Some scattered remarks on the sections with which I'm personally acquainted:
- Ohio's tollway station/mall things (I forget what they're called) are nice and spacious and clean in my experience.
- IIRC, Gary IN is to be avoided. Also, Indiana gave us Mike Pence.
- Budget a good hour or more of extra time for getting through Chicago, more if there's lots of toll booths on your specific route. (If you plan to spend TIME in Chicago, and if you like Greek food, Greek Islands at the corner of Adams and Halsted is worthwhile, but not solely worth a huge diversion for. The Art Institute *IS* solely worth a huge diversion for IMO. It's absolutely world-class.)
- State Street in Madison is probably worth a stroll. Very collegey, very hip, very LGBTQ friendly. Some cool food options. Wisconsin's state capitol building is also very impressive inside and out.
- Terrifying semi truck action will absolutely be a thing on the stretch between Madison and Tomah, WI, where 90 is joined with I-94. Certain days and times may be lighter, but I've rarely gotten lucky in that manner myself. (And whether it's more or less terrifying than stuff out east, I couldn't say.) After Tomah, it should lighten up.
- Central Wisconsin (i.e. Madison-Tomah for your purposes) often gets furious thunderstorms. In my experience, they seem most common in the mid-to-late afternoon.
- Between Madison and Tomah is the Wisconsin Dells, a tourism hub that's got lots of cheesy/chintzy/corny stuff if you're into that sort of thing. (Examples: a large, scenic minigolf complex on a hill; The Ducks, which are amphibious trucks to ride in; pretty sure there's a Ripley's Believe It or Not too.) A wide variety of dining options also. OTOH, it can be frustrating, getting-around wise (especially in the summer)--but it's nothing like Chicago or even Madison in that regard.
- Southern Minnesota is basically Iowa. If it were me, I'd power through.
- I suspect that the most LGBTQ-friendly part of Montana on I-90 will be Bozeman. I may be mistaken.
- Try to avoid crossing from western Montana through Idaho into Washington at night. The interstate is not as well-lit as you'd like on the narrow, gut-wrenching mountain curves.
- Beautiful places to stroll/stay in the western portion of I-90: Coeur d'Alene ID, the bridge over the Columbia River gorge near George/Vantage WA, Snoqualmie Pass and surround.
- If you're going south from 90 around Seattle into Oregon via Portland, Mount Rainier and/or Mount Saint Helens are undeniably worth the stop.
- Know that they don't let you pump your own gas in Oregon. They will come and forcibly remove the pump from your hand if you try. Ask me how I know.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 9:21 AM on August 8, 2017

College towns are going to be more queer friendly than other places. In Montana, the major universities are in Bozeman and Missoula. Missoula is very liberal (its nickname is "Berkeley of the Rockies"). Bozeman is gay enough to have a queer campus group and the occasional drag show, but no gay bars. I was there in the late 90s and there was only ever graffiti, so I can't imagine it's gotten worse.

But I still wouldn't hold hands.
posted by AFABulous at 10:19 AM on August 8, 2017

A random note - the west is far, far emptier than you'd imagine. There are vast stretches of highway with absolutely nowhere to stop. Fill up your gas tank before you cross into Montana. Check your tires and your oil. Buy paper maps, or at least download offline maps onto your phone. There is no cell signal or data in many places.
posted by AFABulous at 10:23 AM on August 8, 2017 [2 favorites]

I've heard great things about Badlands National Park. And Yellowstone is sort of on your way, too.

I've never done it, but you could take the SS Badger across Lake Michigan. It'd add a day to your trip but you'd avoid Chicagoland.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 11:27 AM on August 8, 2017

Echoing what AFABulous said about college towns. I went to the University of South Dakota in Vermillion, where there's a sizable LGBT community. Vermillion has a little bit of that Missoula vibe, but it's a much smaller town--not a whole lot to do in the summer. Do check out the National Music Museum if you go, though.

There's a lot of fun stuff to do in Western South Dakota--Black Hills, Mount Rushmore, etc. There's a great summer theatre company in Custer State Park -- it's called the Black Hills Playhouse. If the timing works out, you should definitely check it out.
posted by roll truck roll at 11:31 AM on August 8, 2017

Check Roadfood.com for eating suggestions that aren't your standard chains. Also Atlas Obscura for weird and wonderful things to go see.
posted by MovableBookLady at 11:59 AM on August 8, 2017

It doesn't list anything between Nebraska and the West Coast, but you might find Greggor Mattson's Who Needs Gay Bars outpost map to be useful for the eastern half of your road trip.
posted by zebra at 12:01 PM on August 8, 2017

14 days is a long time, I have made this trip many times, and usually do 4 days with some sight seeing, so you will have plenty of time to take side trips. You will have to decide when to head north (to 90), and when to head south (to OR). Unless you specifically want to go to Chicago, I would avoid it like the plague. I usually stick to 70 and then cut up at an angle to 80 and go across Iowa, then head up to 90. Ledges state park is not too far off of 80 in Iowa. From there you can make Wall, SD and Badlands in one day. Mt. Rushmore (never been) and Devil's Tower are just a little further. Easy to Bozeman/Livingstone the next day (stop at Custer battlefield along the way), then you can take a day long (or more) side trip and see Yellowstone directly south. Then you have to make a decision, if you are headed to Oregon, you can stay south and hit Hell's Canyon, John Day Fossil beds, Twin Falls, etc in central Idaho/Oregon. Or go back up to 90 and hit Missoula/Glacier National Park, then decide whether to head south in easthern Washington or the Cascades or Seattle and the coast.
You didn't say how much later in the summer, but keep in mind that Stugis makes it hard to find motel through out August and within a 1000 mi of SD (only exaggerating a little), and many families are out vacationing because of school summer vacation, so you are right to plan ahead.
Feel free to memail me and I can advise specific camping spots once you have a tentative route/timeline.
posted by 445supermag at 1:01 PM on August 8, 2017

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