We are a family of 2 adults and 2 children (12 and 9yr) planning to travel in the USA for 3 months from Australia.
We are arriving in mid july in Chicago, picking up an RV, heading across the north states to the West Coast and heading along the coast there, doing a loop of the National Parks and returning our RV to San Francisco after 6 weeks. We then intend to fly to Miami, hire a care and do the East Coast for 6 weeks.
Any tips re travel in an RV ( we plan to get a 28 ft), or hire car, family accom, places not to miss etc?
Northern states highlights from Chicago:
South Dakota--The Badlands (don't miss), Mount Rushmore (don't miss), and Deadwood
Wyoming--Yellowstone National Park (don't miss) and Grand Tetons National Park
Montana--Glacier National Park
Washington--Seattle area (Space Needle (don't miss), Snoqualmie Falls, Kirkwood area, Lake Union, Puget Sound), Olympia National Park--only rainforest in 50 US states, Mount St. Helens visitor center
British Columbia (Canada)--Vancouver (city--and Grouse Mountain resort north of town) and Vancouver Island--in particular city of Victoria and Butchart Gardens (don't miss)
Alberta (Canada)--Jasper and Canadian rockies
Washington/Oregon border--Columbia River Gorge
Oregon--Oregon coastline and city of Eugene (college town)--go near Bend if go want great hiking, skiing
Northern California--Redwood National Park (don't miss), wineries (Napa Valley, Sonoma Valley, Russian River Valley), Muir Woods, Trees of Mystery is something your kids would love (don't miss)
Lassen National Monument, city of San Francisco has lots of interesting sites--listed below
San Francisco--Golden Gate Bridge (don't miss), cable car museum, fisherman's wharf--including the Boudin Sourdough bread factory here, Golden Gate Park--especially the Japanese gardens (not free) and the botanical gardens (free). Parking is difficult here, so try to go on a weekday, not a weekend.
I'll leave it to others to recommend places on the east coast (although I will say that Washington, D.C. is a don't miss, as are the Everglades, New Orleans, and New York City).
[ Edit: Edited on 15-Jan-2012, at 09:23 by Calcruzer ]
East coast from Miami
in Florida (aside from Disney), try to see the Everglades, the Florida Keys, Sanibel/Captiva islands and St. Augustine.
Georgia - Savannah.
South Carolina - Charleston
If you can do it - take the North Carolina ferry system to go up the Outer Banks to see wildlife, the seashore, lighthouses and more. Otherwise Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill
Virginia - Really good Maritime Museum, Historic Williamsburg and a number of Civil War Sites
Maryland - Baltimore and the Aquarium there (one of the best in the US), also going to see Annapolis to see a nice little town is worth while. When driving up 95 towards Philly and NY take a nice stop for an hour or two in Havre Le Grace (the other spot that almost became the US capitol) to see a lot of historic homes, some interesting small museums and to get a feel for a different type of US lifestyle. One which seems easier and simpler than in a lot of places.
If you like Victorian style architecture head from Philly to Cape May, New Jersey to see one of the best preserved sections of it on the east coast. The Jersey shore is busy during the summer with people vacationing and you could swing through Atlantic City if that is up your alley.
From there head to NYC.
Since you plan to return the vehicle to SF, I think I would fly from Chicago to SF, pick up the RV or auto there and do a loop around the W. Coast - saving considerably on a drop charge. Much of the land mass west of Chicago is flat plains (uninteresting farm land until you reach the Rockies in Colorado).
This is a very ambitious trip. You do know that you'll have to pay to park that RV? Camping is very big in places like Oregon. Parks like Yosemite are extremely crowded in mid-summer (you need reservations to camp and the traffic can be heavy).
My partner and I just returned from an RV trip around the US and had an amazing time. We did a loop around the outside of the country in 3 months so I think you have plenty of time.
I would definately suggest hiring an RV instead of a car - it works out cheaper for accomodation and especially food as you can always cook your own instead of going out for every meal.
We hired a 23ft van and had 6 people in it for some of the trip. It was a really good size as it wasnt too hard to drive or park in the city - if you go for something a lot bigger you may have trouble.
Is it set in stone that you are flying into Chicago? I would suggest picking the RV up in San Fran and then travelling to Chicago from there, that way you can then continue on with your trip down the east coast in the RV and drop it off in Miami.
You need to be aware that you still have to pay to park your RV each night - prices range for $10 to $30 per night and the cheapest places to stay are the state parks. You can also park and sleep overnight at most Walmarts for free!
I hope that helps!
Here is a little info on free camping for RV's Free campgrounds
I think just about everyplace on the east and west coast has been covered in previous replies. Just a couple more to consider. On the way up on US1 from St Augustine, stop at the little fishing village of St Mary's and try to make a trip out to Cumberland Island national park
Also up in North Carolina if you are still on the coast roads. stop in at Nag Head, great history, and Kitty Hawk, the place where the Wright Brothers made their first flight.