Places to see on a road trip?
July 13, 2006 12:55 AM   Subscribe

A friend and I are taking a long drive from Philadelphia to Taos, NM. Which route should we take, and what should we see along the way, particularly in terms of national parks and campsites? What sites and campgrounds are a must? And what's some good advice for two people planning to be on the road for about a week?

We're planning on taking our sweet time getting there, and are looking to camp along the way, rather than sleeping in hotels, so advice from anyone with experience in this regard would be greatly appreciated. We have no idea what route we want to take (straight west? through the south?) so suggestions in that area would be welcomed. We've no real desire to stop in any major cities along the way, unless there are very compelling reasons, so great national parks and other places to visit are what we're looking for.

My friend and I are not seasoned outdoorsmen, so we'd like to avoid camping that has us braving the elements. Just places to put up a tent, sleep, and do some hiking.
posted by deafmute to Travel & Transportation (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Get your car serviced before you go.
I can't recommend a route or anything but try to avoid cities durng peak times or you'll just be sitting in traffic.
It's also probably good to have an idea of where you might stay, helps with planning route, driving times and the like.
posted by cholly at 1:10 AM on July 13, 2006

all i can offer in the way of routes is to cut south earlier, perhaps into west virginia via 79 or 77. i've driven roughly that route from where you pick up 70 to where it enters Illinois and it's pretty freaking boring. i've also done that part of west virginia (albeit on a perpendicular route) and the hills/'mountains' were much prettier than anything ohio and indiana have to bring to the table.
posted by kaytwo at 1:23 AM on July 13, 2006

I second kaytwo; West Virginia and Kentucky are way more scenic than Ohio/Indiana/Illinois. Also, Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky is really cool.
posted by equalpants at 3:34 AM on July 13, 2006

What other way is there besides Route 66?
posted by JJ86 at 6:04 AM on July 13, 2006

North of Taos, outside of the town of Questa, you might enjoy camping at Wild Rivers National Recreation Area. It's not exactly car camping -- you'll have to carry your tent from the top of the Rio Grande Gorge down a 1.5 mile trail to the bottom -- but there are shelters at the bottom to set it up in, and the gorge + river are stunning.

Avoid Missouri.

Have a green chile beer at Eske's in Taos.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 8:16 AM on July 13, 2006

Best answer: I would head South to Virginia.

Take the Skyline Drive.

This should link to Blue Ridge Parkway.

This leads you to Great Smoky Mountains Nat'l Park in Tennessee.

Cut back up North to Mammoth Cave Nat'l Park in Kentucky.

Now head for the Mississippi River where there are a ton of State Parks between Memphis and St. Louis. I stayed at one campsite that had a spectacular quick hike to a sunset view of the river. Wish I could remember the name of the park.

After you cross into either Missouri or Arkansas, head for the Ozarks. There are any number of SPs and Recreation areas to stop at depending on your route and speed of travel.

This is where I always headed North, as my destination was typically Seattle or SF. So I can't help much with the last leg of your route, but here is a link to some recreation in Oklahoma.

Have a great time.
posted by sigbigups at 8:35 AM on July 13, 2006 [1 favorite]

I third/fourth everyone who's saying go south through Virginia- a few months ago I made the very same drive round trip (well, Santa Fe-Philly, and reverse) and on the way to Philly we tried going through Texas/Oklahoma/Missouri/Ohio, but it was the way back that was much better actually, since we headed south from Philly and passed through Virginia, West Virginia, and Tennessee- they make for some beautiful driving.
posted by Oobidaius at 9:06 AM on July 13, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks everyone!
posted by deafmute at 10:30 AM on July 13, 2006

While you're in Taos you should hike to the top of Mt. Wheeler if you're up for a long, but not too difficult hike (about 15 miles round trip, 4000' elevation gain). It was one of the high points of my trip there.
posted by pombe at 11:05 AM on July 13, 2006

If you like native American history, Bandelier is a very cool national park that's only half an hour out of your way. On your way from Santa Fe to Taos (US 84/285), take the Espanola exit, continue on to Los Alamos, and through Los Alamos to the Jemez Mountains. There are signs for Bandelier once you're in the Jemez.
posted by vorfeed at 11:19 AM on July 13, 2006

If you have extra time, I'd go further west than you need to, head down to Moab (take the squiggly scenic route that heads south near the Colorado border to get there), don't miss Arches National Park, then cut back through Durango over to Taos. You could go to Mesa Verde National Park if you head that way (I believe). Or go all the way south through Valley of the Gods / Mexican Hat area before cutting back over. Utah will be hot now, so plan to hike in the morning, but there are creeks to swim in, and the Colorado bits coming back over will be beautiful and really pleasant. Near Taos, go here to see magic dirt.

Baby wipes or that hand sanitizer stuff will help you feel clean while camping. It's humid, so to avoid mildewy towels draped over your luggage, I'd get one of those quick-dry compressible camping towels (they sell them at car repair stores, too, actually). If you can afford it, I'd buy two flashlights -- one of those huge foot-long Maglites for when you need to look around to get the lay of the campsite, and then a headlamp for setting up the tent.
posted by salvia at 1:42 PM on July 13, 2006

Great trip!

First, read Blue Highways.

Second, avoid interstates whenever possible. This will make your trip much more enjoyable, memorable, less solitary, and is still do-able in a week.

Third, after getting yourself to Mammoth Caves, where you can camp on the shores of the green river and take your car across the green river ferry, you should head south west to Memphis (Graceland!) and then south through the blues delta and Highway 61 OR down the Natchez Trace to Vicksburg, MS.

Then head south to cajun country in Louisiana where you should eat some boudin blanc. New Orleans is optional, unless you have never been there.

Then head west through Texas, which is the most attractive of the states at that longitude, IMO. Check out the Guadalupe Mountains and Carlsbad Caverns on your way to El Paso and Juarez, Mexico.

Next head up the Rio Grande through some of the oldest towns in the country, ending in the premier American culinary town, Santa Fe.

Finally, the night before you arrive in Taos, pander yourself at 10,000 Waves.

Good luck!
posted by billtron at 5:36 PM on July 13, 2006

A little late to the thread but....

I really enjoyed the Ozarks in Arkansas. 7 is a beautiful mountainous road that takes you down to cute Hot Springs, a cheap vacation town that's super if you're into early 20th c. bungalow style bath houses.

7 also has a small cave tour somewhere between I-40 and Hot Springs that's neat. You'll seen signs along the road for miles beforehand. The small cave has a neat story about prohibition parties and where the still used to be.

Be careful if you get around Branson MO. I thought it might be kitchy fun to drive through but I got stuck in traffic jam after traffic jam with giant trucks, bus tours, and RV's.

The "River Road" along the Mississippi is also lush with lovely landscape.

If you get as far down as Louisiana, check out The Blue Moon in Lafayette. They have a guest house and a back yard bar / stage that has some excellent music. A great place to see any band - especially local cajun favorites. They are super nice people and would love to suggest other things to see in the area.

Maybe out of the way but... If you're anywhere near West Texas you must check out Marfa. Especially if you're interested in minimalist art. Donald Judd and the Chinati Foundation's collection is stunning. Downtown Marfa, a tiny tiny town, has an amazing art / bookstore and hotels that are dirt cheap motor inns to a couple that are very stylish and a nice way to treat yourself on a road trip (that second link is in Marathon).

I really love West Texas - it's so out there, wide open and full on some downright weird and interesting things. And it puts you in line for White Sands NM and Carlsbad Caverns that billtron mentioned.

The guy behind Road Trip USA is good at finding nice 2 lane highways with oddities along them. I've gotten a lot out of that book.

Even more out of the way but... The 4 corners area is pretty interesting. Road 550 from Durango, a charming fabulous little town, is a mountainous drive that's one of my favorite drives anywhere. Truly amazing.

Have a great time. Be open to anywhere the road takes you. Even the hickist little hole in the wall can be interesting if approached with the right attitude. Give yourself lots of time and stop often. If you get way off track and wind up in Houston, email me - I'll make sure you see the good side of this town.
posted by dog food sugar at 8:39 AM on July 15, 2006 [1 favorite]

Also if you go through the panhandle of Texas, the Cadillac Ranch is kinda fun.

Caprock canyon and Palo Duro canyon are pretty cool.

The Groom Cross is along Route 66/I-40. This American Life had an interesting story about it.

A mefite runs which I plan to visit next time I'm around St. Louis, along with the City Museum.

Sorry for rambling on. I love road trips with a passion. It's broadened my mind more than anything. When I travel now I can enjoy pretty much anywhere and love finding little places along routes. Have a grand time.
posted by dog food sugar at 8:50 AM on July 15, 2006

Opps! Sorry for the bad linking above. That's The Moxie in St. Louis, that a mefite runs, which I'm going to visit someday because it looks totally amazing.
posted by dog food sugar at 8:53 AM on July 15, 2006

DARN IT! The Moxie is in SPRINGFIELD MO. I'm getting off the computer right now.
posted by dog food sugar at 8:54 AM on July 15, 2006

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