Going West with Young Men.
January 23, 2007 12:06 PM   Subscribe

Summertime Roadtrip : My brother and a couple of my nephews have been contemplating trying to make the quintessential western american road trip this summer.

We're planning on flying into a major city ... probably Denver or Las Vegas (though we're open to other suggestions) and renting a convertible, then driving to some major destination, but taking our time doing it. We were talking about either the Grand Canyon or maybe Yosemite. We're willing to devote as long as a week for the whole trip, and ideally, we'd use camp parks for part of the trip and cheap motels every couple of days to wash off the road grime.

Have you ever done such a trip? Are there pluses or minuses to any of the thoughts I've laid out above? Do you have any advice to make the trip better? Thanks in advance.
posted by Dave Faris to Travel & Transportation (25 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
We drove from CT to southern Utah - which is FULL of state parks, gorgeous ones - and took about 10 days to do the drive out and the parks. Flying out would obviously shorten your trip so you could concentrate on the good parts. We did the same camp-camp-motel technique (but lots of state parks have showers).

You could likely do this from Vegas - go to the Grand Canyon from there (it was snowed out for us), and then go north into Utah to Arches (highly recommended), or Bryce and/or Zion.
posted by cobaltnine at 12:13 PM on January 23, 2007

I've done this many times (except I lived in the West, so I don't ever fly). One thing to watch out for is that many camp grounds get filled up/sold out during the summer, even on weekdays, so it's a good idea to bring a AAA guide in case your first choice camp ground is filled up.
posted by muddgirl at 12:17 PM on January 23, 2007

Figure out ahead of time some really awesome things you want to see, then plan your route based on that. Plan ahead where you want to stay, and if possible, book those places early.
posted by Caper's Ghost at 12:27 PM on January 23, 2007

I've flown into Vegas, driven to Utah, Arizona (the major parks and stuff along the way) and made the circle back to Vegas. It took a week (it was about 1000 miles). You can definitely make it longer.

It was a really sick trip.
posted by jourman2 at 12:27 PM on January 23, 2007

Cobaltnine's Vegas idea sounds great. I'd love to do that. I wonder how hot it will be?

Many years ago I did a road trip that included Glacier National Park, Grand Teton and Yellowstone -- I am not sure where you'd fly into -- but great places to see.

(flying into Seattle) The Olympic Penninsula is cool too -- mountains, ocean, a temperate rainforest -- plus funky towns etc. and a ferry ride from the mainland.

Have a great time!
posted by nnk at 12:32 PM on January 23, 2007

Yosemite is my favorite place on earth, but it's not so great as part of a road trip. (It's more of a destination in itself, for one thing, and a week doesn't leave you that much time to drive to other places.)

I've done a Badlands/Bighorns/Wind River Range/Tetons/Yellowstone trip, and a Grand Canyon/Zion/Bryce Canyon trip. I'd say flying into Salt Lake City and driving south to all the parks in Utah would be a great trip — you will not run out of places to see within a fairly small radius (at least for the western U.S.). Plus, then you could hit the North Rim of the Grand Canyon and avoid all the tourists! (Unless you like kitschy roadside stops, which I kinda do.)

Definitely take along a list of phone numbers for campgrounds, especially if you want to camp in state or national parks. They'll fill up in the summer for sure, so you want to be planning your reservations at least a couple of days in advance, just in case you need to find another place to stay (less fun at 10 p.m. when you want to stop for the night).
posted by limicoline at 12:56 PM on January 23, 2007

Driving Route 66 (or as much of it as you can follow) would be the quintessential western-states road trip, and would take you near some interesting sights. It would also expose you to more of the interesting bits of small-town America than interstate driving would.
posted by adamrice at 12:57 PM on January 23, 2007

A couple of friends and I drove down Highway 1 from SF to Tijuana (with stops everywhere), up to Vegas, Yosemite, Mono Lake, Lake Tahoe, the wine country and back to SF.

That was a great trip. Took us about 3 weeks.
posted by mrunderhill at 1:14 PM on January 23, 2007

Convertible, out West? Is Montana in your plans? If you will be anywhere near, take that open top chariot up the Beartooth Mountain Highway into Red Lodge. What a great drive.
posted by caddis at 1:20 PM on January 23, 2007

Get a campground directory and a guide to the best road food. I've driven cross-country several times, and as long as you know what to eat and where to sleep, you've got nothing to worry about.

The only thing is, a week isn't an extremely long time, given the distances you'll be travelling. You might want to pick 2 or 3 parks or attractions and concentrate on those (I'm partial to Bryce, Zion, and Monument Valley.) Otherwise you run the risk of cramming too much in and not giving yourself time to appreciate what you're seeing.
posted by sonofslim at 1:37 PM on January 23, 2007

I drove from New England to San Antonio via Iowa two years ago (total, over 3200 miles in one week), then flew back. So I have no input on where to go, but you should be aware that there is usually a significant added cost for one-way car rentals. When you get price estimates, be very explicit about what you plan to do.
posted by Partial Law at 1:39 PM on January 23, 2007

1) i second caddis's Beartooth Pass suggestion. It's near where my dad grew up, so I've been on that pass many times, and it's always absolutely amazing. Pink snow in July.

2) When my husband (then boyfriend) and I did our cross-country trip, some of the best places we saw were not places we planned to see. We'd never heard of Zion national park until a bag-pipe-playing retiree on a west-east road trip recommended it to us as we headed west (we met him on Grande Isle, LA). It was incredible, one of the best hikes ever. So while I wouldn't necessarily disagree with the above advice to book stuff ahead, I wouldn't get too stuck to an agenda either (maybe only book campgrounds one day ahead? Boy, it would have been handy to have had a cell phone back then...) because serendipity can make for a fun trip. (It can also lead to spending the cash for a motel when all the campgrounds are booked though, so there's good and there's bad to the unplanned trip).

Also, bear in mind when you pack (as we failed to do) that it can get dang cold in the mountains in summer. Our coldest night that summer was on the north rim of the grand canyon, when it was 36 degrees and we wound up sleeping in the van, running the motor intermittently to run the heat. It was also cold in Glacier Nat. Park, but we expected it there.

Have fun!
posted by jessicak at 2:04 PM on January 23, 2007

Spent two weeks on the best roadtrip of my life hitting 9 states, including WA, OR, CA, LV, MT, UT, ID, CO. Absolutely and totally worth it - do it, do it and do it again!

One of the coolest parks i've ever seen: Arches National Park. Tons of camping, too.
posted by cgg at 2:05 PM on January 23, 2007

Pack for unpredictable weather. Some parts of the west get a bit cold and rainy, even as late as July.
posted by muddgirl at 2:13 PM on January 23, 2007

Fly into Las Vegas and either do the Southern Utah drive and hit Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, and Arches and then continue on to Denver (doable in a week if you don't spend much time at each park).


Fly into Las Vegas and cruise along some lonely Nevada highway, hit Death Valley, drive along the Sierra Nevadas near Mt. Whitney, cross over the mountains and visit Yosimite, and finish in San Fransisco (easily done in a week).

I've done both these road trips and they are both great in their own ways. Have a great time where ever you go.
posted by Staggering Jack at 2:16 PM on January 23, 2007

Books on Tape my friend. Trust me, your friends will only keep you entertained for so long and it's nice to have something stimulating to focus on. Another plus, you and your pals can debate the merits of Dostoevsky's salvation through suffering (in that you'll purify yourself by trying to even understand it)
posted by Dr.James.Orin.Incandenza at 2:39 PM on January 23, 2007

Many campgrounds, especially in National Parks, will be booked months in advance. You may not be able to find anything at all if you plan on calling just a few days ahead.

If you are using a convertible for a road trip with 4 people and all their camping gear, it might be a tight fit.

Road trips are great fun. Be sure to leave some time for exploring interesting areas you come across. Are you from out of the US? Be aware that distances here may be more than you are used to, there will be a lot of driving with no towns to speak of for hours.
posted by yohko at 2:47 PM on January 23, 2007

Yomesite is great but the Grand Canyon is beyond comparison. So is the drive through Monument Valley - this a place that is etched into the American sub-conscious as the epitome of the south-west. (for example, it's the scene where Forrest Gump stops running). Road tripping through the desert is awesome; you drive at 90 mph and you still have several minutes of reaction time to avoid obstacles, since you can see bloody forever the whole way.

I like the idea of flying into Denver, actually; you get half day of snowy rocky mountains, and then it blends into desert mountains. The next day you go down Utah through Moab in the painted desert, where the roadrunner and wile e. coyote hang out. Swing through Arizona and it gets more and more spectacular with each passing hour, until you reach the canyon - your finale. There are plenty of ways to organize a trip like this: fly into Denver and out of Vegas, or do a loop and hit Bryce and Zion on one side, or fly into or out of Salt Lake City.

I agree though that you risk cramming too much in with only a week, so be careful. It is worth spending an entire day at the canyon just to experience it. (go for a hike down for a while if you're brave...). There are reasonably cheap hotels in Tusayan or places to camp. It is worth spending a few days just on the road, too - and it is much better if you have the flexibility to pull over and see what's down the road labelled, for example, Valley of the Gods.
posted by PercussivePaul at 2:56 PM on January 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

we went to the Grand Canyon from Vegas this past summer. I suggest checking out the North Rim. We rented a cabin there so that we could check out sunset and sunrise. It was an amazing experience.
posted by busboy789 at 4:05 PM on January 23, 2007

I've done Staggering Jack's "B" trip. It was grand. Lots and lots of desolate roads and tiny ghostly abandoned or nearly abandoned towns on the Nevada and California Borders. We crossed back and forth a bunch, and it was really really cool.
posted by zpousman at 5:03 PM on January 23, 2007

Oh, dear God, please let the American subconscious not be defined by Forrest Gump. John Ford maybe, say The Searchers, but that insipid box-of-chocolates tripe, noooooooooooooooooo.

I began my western tour in Albuquerque, drove up to Santa Fe, lingered around Chaco Canyon and the Sangre de Cristo mountains, up to Silverton, Ouray and Telluride, across to Utah (Arches National Park was great, but a little crowded in summer unless you hiked pretty far in). Then down through Monument Valley, to the Navajo Nation and the Painted Desert and back to Albuquerque. Right there, you have a trip full of cool, piney forests, and dry, sagey desert, cowboys and prospectors and saloons and bikers, and hawks etching circles in the sky and petroglyphs and dinosaur footprints and everything that you could hope for. Make those kids read! Edward Abbey! Rachel Carson! Willa Cather! Don't worry about washing off the grime, worry about dallying in cities when you could be out in the open.
posted by eve harrington at 5:28 PM on January 23, 2007

I have driven up the eastern sierra a couple of times and I would not do this without a couple of Hank Williams sr tapes for daytime driving and some Patsy Cline for the night time.
If you camp in a forest make sure you lock up every last bit of food, gum, toothpaste etc in the steel bear box provided.
posted by Iron Rat at 6:33 PM on January 23, 2007

If you're going to Yosemite, you may want to plan that out in advance. I used to go there as a kid and remember my family reserving camping spots way in advance.

I, as many here, strongly suggest you check out Zion's, Bryce, Arches (maybe Moab?). You will not regret it.

Save some money and throw a cooler in the trunk.

If you're 21, Vegas would be a great way to start & end your trip I'd say.

Have a blast!
posted by mrmarley at 6:52 PM on January 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My '86 whirlwind with 2 brothers:

Fly to Vegas (I drove from Santa Fe with my Blazer - you'll have to rent it sounds like - get a jeep or something with ground clearance [for Monument Valley]). Don't stay up late playing Baccarat - get some sleep the first night.

Drive to Zion Nat'l Park - stay as long as your schedule allows.

Then drive over East to Bryce Canyon (we camped out).

Drive to North rim of Grand Canyon - we then went around to South Rim and stayed at the El Tovar hotel - great place.

Next drive to Monument Valley. From there you can go to Natural Bridges park - we then went to Mexican Hat, Uath and spent the night in a dive motel - it was swell.

Go to Arches, as described above.

From there, due to time crunch, we went to Telluride, Colorado and spent the night, then back to Santa Fe/Albuquerque.

You can change up by making South rim a latter part of your circle and return to Vegas.

You will miss all of Canyonlands, Mesa Verde, Chaco Canyon, and Canyon de Chelle, etc. but plan on taking more time than a week and lay it out like a military operation, with some flexibilty built in. Do some online research ahead of time on where to stay and what you can see more than just a drive-by by making arrangements ahead of time.

I'm jealous.....
posted by Pressed Rat at 9:46 AM on January 24, 2007

Awesome. I did a 5-week trip with the Boy Scouts that took us through the Grand Canyon, Bryce, Zion, the Tetons, Yosemite, et al.

Coolest hike of my life was up the Zion Narrows (and back).
posted by Alt F4 at 12:37 PM on January 24, 2007

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