Help plan my bucket list trip- with special considerations, naturally
June 5, 2022 2:31 PM   Subscribe

This summer I’m going to drive a dear friend from Austin to Seattle. He’s in declining health but nonetheless walks 4-5 miles a day. He’s never really seen any of the incredible sights in the American West so I’m hoping to show him some amazing stuff on this, likely to be the last driving trip he’s able to make. Difficulty: dog, no crowds.

I know the expectation is for millions to crowd all the National Parks this summer, so except for the occasional drive by (look! It’s the Grand Canyon!) I’m hoping to mostly hit National Forests and state parks. This is especially true as we’ll be traveling with his beloved dog. I’m hoping to spend ~10 days or so, with time for some lovely 2 hour hikes as well as nice scenery out the windshield. I’m looking for recommendations for the best route to take but most importantly beautiful spots less likely to be overrun and where we could take some nice easy walks.

Here’s one example of what I’m looking for- I was underwhelmed by the crowds and stalled RVs at Sequoia NP, but thrilled by the hikes I took in Sequoia National Forest, which was deserted by comparison, peaceful and lovely. What are some other places we should go?
posted by carterk to Travel & Transportation (5 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Avoid any routes that take you through New Mexico - most of the state is under severe fire restrictions and that will probably only get worse. Driving through Utah and Colorado down through Texas will give you plenty of beautiful places. But yeah, really truly, all the state land and BLM land is closed in NM and even a lot of roads are closed if you don’t live on it because the fire danger is so extreme.
posted by Bottlecap at 2:52 PM on June 5, 2022

Capitol Reef is one of the less visited National Parks in Utah.
posted by trbrts at 3:39 PM on June 5, 2022 [3 favorites]

I don't know whether to recommend the Columbia Gorge waterfalls or not. I'm iffy because of your desire for calm and quiet. Many of the hikes along the waterfall corridor are quieter, but they're usually the more challenging ones. However, this year, something new is being tried; it's a limit not just on the number of people who can park in the Multnomah Falls parking lot, but permits and (I think) timed/spaced out entry onto the old (historic) highway.

These permits will hopefully achieve a few things. Space out the visitors a bit on the trails, space out the cars on the old (narrow two-lane) highway, and perhaps reduce the number of people who are just randomly driving through because they thought of it at the last moment and took the exit. With any luck, it will be a bit safer, and encourage people to plan ahead just a little bit. (It'd also be nice if it had an impact on the number of car prowls that occur.)

There *are* falls that are outside that section, so that's another option. I'd actually recommend the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail more for the actual hiking, and perhaps just drive through the permitted section, making shorter stops. The Twin Tunnels and Mitchel Point sections are paved and wide, and I presume the Bonneville section is the same.

The Twin Tunnels section is more arid, being east of Hood River, at the very beginning of the transition to Oregon's high desert. The other two sections tend to cooler, wetter, and greener, though in the summer, the biggest different one notices is the trees. (And a better chance of occasional rain.)

(The Mt. Hood National Forest is wonderful, and I'd totally recommend it, but for a couple reasons. I can't think of any fairly easy hikes off the top of my head - except perhaps about Lost Lake - and that gets crowded. The odds of some or all of it being closed due to fire restrictions are high, and you'd really need to check close to your planned dates. And finally - unless you choose to deliberately, it's unlikely to be on a typical route.)

For ANY of the western U.S. during the summer months, you're going to want to keep on eye on wildfires for the disruptions they might cause to your itinerary, ESPECIALLY if your friend's health might make them more susceptible to smoke. If you'll be staying in hotels/motels/other accommodations, consider calling and asking them how they manage air quality.

Because heavy smoke can end up a long way from the actual source, and hang in the air, keep an eye on air quality in the areas you'll be passing through, too. Hiking, walking, or even just sitting outdoors is not a good idea if it gets too bad.

As an aside, I recommend having a couple N95s in the car in case you need them. They can be tough to track down once you need them. And make sure your vehicle's air filter is clear before you leave. If you do run into smoke, plan to replace it afterwards.
posted by stormyteal at 4:29 PM on June 5, 2022 [3 favorites]

How late can you go? Crowds drop way off in early fall.

Seconding Capitol Reef, and putting in a plug for Natural Bridges!
posted by inexorably_forward at 11:10 PM on June 5, 2022

Response by poster: Sorry to threadsit- As National Parks prohibit dogs from any and all trails, I’m looking for N. FORESTS and state parks, which typically do not. Thanks!
posted by carterk at 6:17 AM on June 6, 2022

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