Best Activities to do in Western USA
June 25, 2008 8:54 AM   Subscribe

What really fun, random, and cheap activities can I do with a bus full of thirty 16-year olds thoughout the western USA?

Starting this Sunday, I will be staffing a teen travel trip throughout the Western united states. We take a bus from Michigan and travel all the way to Cali and back.

We are a non-profit summer camp and need some fun, cheap and random/goofy ideas to entertain the kids while we aren't camping or in the backcountry.

Anyone have any ideas or recomendations? I will take any suggestions. The more goofy the better. Thanks.

Here is our general itinerary:

Scott Country, IA
Estes Park, CO
Buena Vista, CO
Moab, Utah
Springdale, Utah
Twenty Nine Palms, CA
Santa Monica, CA
Sierra Nevada, CA
Lake Tahoe, Nevada
Salt Lake City, Utah
Jackson, WY
Yellowstone Park, WY
Wall, SD
Luverne, MN
Back to Michigan

Some ideas that we had were:

Pig Wrestling at a fair
Roller Derby
Water Parks
A Mine Tour
Juggling Lessons
Baseball games

Thanks for all your help! I appreciate it.
posted by benji to Travel & Transportation (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Hike to upper calf creek falls in Utah. It is an easy hike if you go cross-country across the red rock, from the road, rather than up the steam bed from one of the campgrounds. Just make sure the kids have hats and enough water. The landscape is strange and beautiful, and the falls, and the ponds above them, are an oasis.
posted by Good Brain at 9:18 AM on June 25, 2008

Look for unusual roadside attractions and take loads of pictures.

For example, you cannot go through Wall SD without stopping at the world famous Wall Drug Store.
posted by triggerfinger at 9:22 AM on June 25, 2008

Wall Drug Store
posted by triggerfinger at 9:23 AM on June 25, 2008

From Buena Vista CO, you can drive up Mt. Princeton (on CR 162) to St. Elmo, an old ghost town where you can do some exploring but also hand-feed the deer and chipmunks.

I'd also recommend renting some bikes in Moab UT and riding around the most incredible scenery in the state.
posted by mattbucher at 9:28 AM on June 25, 2008

You'll actually be passing right by a miner's fort/living history museum in Delta, CO on your way between Buena Vista, CO and Moab, UT. Fort Uncomphagre was a place I stopped at while on a road trip of my own -- it's a recreated trapping camp that at first blush looked kind of corny, and there is a brief guided tour that some of the kids may find mildly dull. But the guide looks exactly like Uncle Jesse from THE DUKES OF HAZARD, and after the tour he and another guide give a target-shooting demonstration and they let visitors try throwing a tomahawk at a target.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:32 AM on June 25, 2008

If you are looking for a game you could play on the bus, I will offer this up:

One time on a summer camp bus ride, a bunch of the Boy Scouts thought it would be fun to have a competition to see which scout could start from the back of the bus, and work his way to the fronf of the bus while the other boys in the seats tried to prevent him to pass through the alley by using their legs/feet. It was pretty intense.
posted by yoyoceramic at 9:48 AM on June 25, 2008

There's really a crapload of fun stuff to do in California, but I don't know what will be on your route!

101 and 1 North from Santa Monica:
The Danish Village of Solvang (free to wander about in)
Hearst Castle He had rotten taste imho
The Monterey Bay Aquarium (not super cheap, but the best aquarium in the country. Located on historic now touristy Cannery Row)
The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk (free admission, rides extra, but cheap deals weeknights)
Sky High Sports Wall to wall trampolines in San Jose
The Tech Museum in San Jose

Four things you can do in one day in the Eastern Sierra (if you're really bookin'):
Bodie! Peer through the windows of this ancient ghost town. WooooOOooo!
Mono Lake Tufa is weird.
Devil's Postpile Nearby Rainbow Falls is also a fun spot, dunno how wet it'll be by then.
Tuolumne Meadows Great hiking and picnicking at like a bajillion feet in altitude on the eastern edge of Yosemite.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 10:08 AM on June 25, 2008

The Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs offers free tours to the public (though for a busload, you might want to call in advance!).
posted by mdonley at 10:27 AM on June 25, 2008

Other suggestions:

Between Utah and California is Las Vegas and environs (which I imagine you may be skipping with a busload of teenagers!), but don't skip the Hoover Dam (best visited in the morning or late afternoon, both because of the heat and the crowds) - it's about 30 miles southwest of Las Vegas. The tour's pretty short and it's not hugely off the beaten track, but unless your students have stood next to, like, the Pyramids of Giza, it's going to blow them away.

In Palm Springs, which is relatively near Twentynine Palms, there's an aerial tramway that goes up 8000 feet in a few minutes and leads to some cool views and day-hikes, but the heat might really be too much.

Try to go to a few more beaches outside Santa Monica - it's a really crowded corner of the shore because it's got a pier and is relatively urban. On your way up north, I highly suggest taking US Highway 101 from the LA area to San Jose because the views of the coast, at least to Santa Barbara, are a lot nicer. Heading north, you'll also "come out" of the Coast Ranges around Monterey and Santa Cruz, which are laid-back, lovely and beachy on their own: Santa Cruz is a great little town for walking around and is literally on the beach, so giving your young charges a few hours to tear around the small, funky downtown and the beach area will win you some serious praise later.

Between Monterey and Santa Cruz are a whole string of beaches which are far less crowded than anything down south (at least on weekdays), but not much else. Do stop in Castroville for a photo next to the World's Largest Artichoke; if you're passing through Gilroy, you may hit the Garlic Festival if it's happening. The Monterey Bay Aquarium is, like Ambrosia Voyeur says, the best aquarium in the country.

You can also take California Highway 1 ("Pacific Coast Highway") between San Luis Obispo and Monterey if you want to see Big Sur, which is pretty much the most beautiful place in the universe. There are lots of oppotunities for day hikes among coastal redwoods, and the heat is really reduced most of the day because of afternoon coastal fog. Big Sur also has the highest coastal peak in the US - Cone Peak rises a mile high only three miles from the shore. This route is a lot slower because the road is windy, so keep that in mind. There is also pretty much nothing except the gorgeous scenery for 90 miles or so - so keep that in mind if you have anyone who gets carsick or hungry.

The California State Parks website has details on our 63 amazing state beaches and other things.

Above all: try to watch a sunset on the shore of the Pacific at least once - seeing the sun dissolve into the waves is an almost spiritual experience, and to drive 5000 miles round trip and not see it would be a tragedy.
posted by mdonley at 11:11 AM on June 25, 2008

While not really a on the spot activity, a scavenger hunt. You can create one strictly for on-the-bus or for the whole trip, and you can make it as silly as you want. The kids can mark off items that they see (i.e. in YNP, the continental divide; across Wyoming, a nodding donkey (instead of "oil pump" and see if they get it)).

If you're coming up from Salt Lake City, I also suggest stopping in Kemmerer, Wyoming, and digging for fossil fish. There are lots of fish quarries in the area that offer really good group rates.

Go river rafting on the Snake River outside of Jackson. Or in Jackson itself, take a ski lift ride or go sledding down one of the ski runs.

Stop at Devil's Tower outside of Sundance, WY.

For the love of all that is holy, if you get a chance to go pig wrestling, do it! There is a great one in Greybull, Wyoming around July 4th. Stop at a thrift store for some clothing, though. (E-mail me for pig wrestling tips.)

The Cody Rodeo (open nightly)! and the Cody, Wyoming 4th of July parade.
posted by barchan at 12:43 PM on June 25, 2008

Some more: You're hitting Wyoming and SD right during fair and rodeo season, so keep an eye out for them, which may include activities like lawnmower racing, rubber duck races, or cowpatty bingo ; Red Gulch Dinosaur Tracksite outside of Greybull on Hwy. 14 (free); coal mine tours outside Gillette (I suggest either Thunderhorse or Wyodak if you can get to them).
posted by barchan at 1:03 PM on June 25, 2008

As a kid, I spent summers outside of Rapid City, and one of the things I liked best were the cave tours in that area.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 1:50 PM on June 25, 2008

Don't miss Joshua Tree National Park, just outside of 29 Palms. It will be hot hot hot, but at least stop and let the kids out to do a little rock scrambling. Make sure they all have hats and water and are slathered in sunscreen. Go to one of the many day use areas or do the Jumbo Rocks hike. It's not too long and you get a nice sense of the the park and some fun on the rocks.
posted by jvilter at 10:33 PM on June 25, 2008

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