Plan our cross-country road trip!
June 27, 2008 10:47 PM   Subscribe

Where MUST we stop on a road trip from the Bay Area (CA) to Baltimore (MD)?

My fiancee and I will get married in November, in California. Afterwards, we'll throw some junk in her car, and drive from there (the East Bay, just across from San Francisco) to Baltimore (where I live, and will be carrying her, against her will but alas, for the sake of love).

She's got a fun car to drive (Acura TL -- it's an automatic, but I'm done giving her a hard time about that), and that's good, because I know she's going to make me do about 94-95% of the driving. I know we can just generically do the I-80 to I-70 thing all the way here, and that there's even some decent scenery along that path (mainly out west), but surely there's a more fun, more scenic way to do it?

I'm open to being torn away from this "optimal" route. For instance, I'm already pretty sure I want to throw Chicago into the mix. St. Louis is good, too -- I have friends there who'll offer us free lodging, and it'll be good to see them after a while. But I've wondered about the beauty of Montana for the longest (hear good things about Glacier National Park!), though I've also heard Utah's natural beauty is not to be missed. Geography demands I pick one or the other, though.

I've heard great things about the farthest northern reaches of Wisconsin and Michigan's UP. Idaho's supposed to be really pretty in parts. The Dakotas, from what I can tell, have an amazing, idiosyncratic beauty. (Me living in Baltimore, and her living in California, we'd actually find the "utterly mind-numbingly boring, flat" nature of the Great Plains to be an utterly fascinating change of pace.) I hear Central Nebraska is fascinating, in its own unique way.

So, in any event, I'd love to hear some recommendations about how we can transform this otherwise mundane "let's haul the rest of your crap into our new home" trip into an adventure, in and of itself. Hey, we're already going to be raped on gas, to the extent that it'll COST as much as an exotic vacation, so I figure we might as well make the trip BE a destination in itself!

FWIW, this will happen in November, just before Thanksgiving, so yeah -- certain parts of the continent might be kind of inhospitable, weather-wise. But let's assume otherwise, for the sake of argument.

Many thanks, fellow travelers!
posted by CommonSense to Travel & Transportation (12 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
This'll sound stupid, but if you're in St. Louis roll down the bluff in front of the arch. It's amazing. The incline is just steep enough to allow you to feel out of control without being steep enough to break your neck, and all you see is groundGIANTFUCKINGARCHskyGIANTFUCKINGRIVER on a loop. I first did it as a kid on a school trip, and a few years back decided to check if it was as great an experience as an adult as it was when I was twelve and it was even better.
posted by bunnytricks at 11:32 PM on June 27, 2008 [3 favorites]

Here's some nuggets of a trip I am planning for a different time of year. Might help to visualize:
  • Yellow: Amusement Parks
  • Omaha: Lots of National Register of Historic Places
  • Kansas City: BBQ
  • Memphis & St. Louis: Music & Food
Appalachia might be nice that time of year, and doable even if you cut up to Chicago. If you do that you can certainly loop up through the Dakotas, Minnesota, or Wisconsin. For Montana you'd cut up at SLC and that's an easy few days of sightseeing. Depending on the weather you'd probably want to at least dip down to SD if going eastward to Chicago from MT.
posted by rhizome at 12:00 AM on June 28, 2008

Better link
posted by rhizome at 12:02 AM on June 28, 2008

The most scenic part of a x-country trip I ever made was to zig-zag across Wyoming: US89 from Salt Lake City through Bear Lake to Jackson Hole, over Togwotee Pass on US26 to Riverton, US 20 through Wind River Canyon to Thermopolis, US 16 through Tensleep Canyon to Buffalo, where you can get back on the interstate 90.

So, yeah, totally out of your way, but should be exciting in November!

Seriously, if weather permits, stay off th Interstate as much as you can. Take the old US routes and let the spirit of the road move you.
posted by TDIpod at 12:06 AM on June 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

2nding Jackson, WY. Close to Yellowstone, too.
posted by gnutron at 12:12 AM on June 28, 2008

I know you said you weren't optimizing the route, but I'd probably pick either Chicago or St. Louis. It's a 5 hour drive on the Interstate (7-9 on old 66, depending on the stops) between them, and you're not that much closer to your destination. Illinois is a long state. I'd totally pick Chicago, but, I don't have friends to see in STL.
posted by hwyengr at 2:05 AM on June 28, 2008

I did this trap, but in reverse, Baltimore to SF.

You have to see the Badlands. Deserts never looked so good. The Rockies and Yellowstone were gorgeous.

Along the way, you must eat at the local dive restaurants or bars. That's where all the good food is.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:27 AM on June 28, 2008

I think the most majestic scenery I've ever seen in the continental US is the Grand Tetons near Jackson Hole, WY, so I'd second that detour.
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 7:05 AM on June 28, 2008

I live in Montana, and I would suggest Yellowstone over Glacier. Glacier is indeed fantastic, but Yellowstone is a place that everyone should explore. Glacier is a long drive north.

Traveling out the east entrance of Yellowstone takes you to Cody, Wyoming and the fantastic Buffalo Bill Museum. Keep going east through Wyoming and you'll find yourself near Devil's Tower, which is a spectacular sight worth seeing. The Black Hills and Mt. Rushmore are in South Dakota just across the border. Deadwood, SD is a fun but touristy town with casinos and other attractions. (Kevin Costner owns a hotel/casino there and is seen there pretty often). The west has some boring drives, punctuated by incredible sights.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 7:49 AM on June 28, 2008

Response by poster: It just occurred to me that I'll see the friends in STL a couple of weeks prior, at the wedding, anyway. It IS kind of out of the way if I'm going via Chicago (which I'd rather do anyway), and while I'd miss the chance to see whatever cool downtown lofty place they'll have by then, I guess I can live without.

We'll either do this after the wedding (which is November 8), or right after flying back to CA for a friend's wedding on November 22. The challenge with the latter is getting back here in time for Thanksgiving, which will only be five days the friend's wedding . . . and I really don't want to rush this.

We'll figure it out in due time, I suppose. Sigh . . . I hate this pressure of time . . .

Anything interesting on the eastern half? Would you suggest routing through SE Ohio/West Virginia for the scenery, for instance? I've been through the eastern Ohio/sliver of WV/SW PA area before, and that can be kind of neat if you take non-Interstate alternates. But is the more southerly alternate more interesting?
posted by CommonSense at 9:41 AM on June 28, 2008

You might not want to cut this far north, but if you're thinking of heading through the Dakotas anyway, I highly recommend heading north and doing the Upper Peninsula. It's beautiful, underpopulated, and not to be missed. Are you camping or city-hopping? (the former, if you're thinking of doing national parks?) This will obviously make a difference in what you decide to see.

If you're thinking of taking a southerly route, check out the Blue Ridge Parkway. It's an easy alternative to highways, and lots of good hiking opportunities along the way. I went last August, and even at the height of camping season it was pretty empty for large spans. Great driving, if that's what you go in for (radio on, in the middle of nowhere, half the time coasting up and down hills in neutral - sigh).

If you do the Upper Peninsula, go roll down the sand dunes.

Oh man - some goodnatured jealousy going on here- sounds like a great trip!
posted by puckish at 6:18 PM on June 28, 2008

Response by poster: I've driven parts of the Blue Ridge before -- from Asheville north into west central Virginia. Definitely jaw-dropping beauty, and I DO want to do it again some time, but it's probably too out of the way for this trip.

I love the idea of Michigan's UP -- I've heard good things about it -- but it's probably going to end up being too out of the way. Still, who knows . . . we've still got a few months to hammer this out.

I don't think we'll be camping; the fiancee and I are too "soft" and "domesticated" to handle it, I think. We'll probably end up doing a mix of cheap motels (in remote areas) and mid-level hotels via Hotwire (in suburban/urban areas).

There are sand dunes in Michigan? Wow . . . this I have to see.

I don't blame you for being envious. This road trip idea might actually be the realization of a plan I've had in the back of my head since senior year of high school . . . 16 years ago.

Wow. That was depressing . . .
posted by CommonSense at 10:18 PM on June 28, 2008

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