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Road Trip, West Coast/Central/Southern US - ADVICE NEEDED!!

Travel Forums North America Road Trip, West Coast/Central/Southern US - ADVICE NEEDED!!

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1. Posted by ESR0101 (First Time Poster 1 posts) 48w 1 Star this if you like it!

Hi guys, I need some (a lot!) of travel advice! My husband and I want to travel mainly the west/south/central of US, and basically have no idea where to start. We would really appreciate some help, especially as we're from the UK so don't really have a great deal of knowledge of travelling the US.
Ideally, we want to do it as cheap as possible without hindering our experience, but will be happy to pay out if it's something that will make our trip memorable, so for example we will be happy to pay for a luxury hotel in Vegas because of the experience, or water sports on Lake Tahoe etc.
I adore picturesque locations for photography, my husband is quite the fitness buff so loves hiking (I’m not THAT into it, but I’m not totally unfit), and I love cities, so we would like to visit a mix of cities, pretty landscapes, nature walks and physical activities and adventures (canoeing, hiking, cave-dwelling etc).

So far this is what we have in mind;
- Around 3 weeks (not long, I know, but my husband is in the Royal Air Force so can't get any longer)

We would like to be over for Fourth of July, I'd like to either be in Houston or Addison TX or Lake Tahoe as I've heard they have awesome fireworks, but it's not essential we have to be at those places.

We are open to either hiring a camper van, or a normal car and staying in motels, what would you recommend? The cheaper the better preferably. (My husband will be 25 at the time of travel, 2018, and I'll be 24) If it is cheaper to drive some of the way, train, coach or fly we are happy to do a mixture.

I have done some research and found a bunch of places that we would like to visit, however there is no way we will be able to visit them all, so I'll list the main places we would like to see and if you have any advice as to whether we should or shouldn't visit, if it will take up too much time, how long to spend there, any other places I've missed out etc. I'll put (D) next to the places we would definitely like to visit, but again feel free to suggest otherwise, we really value personal suggestions! (some of the places I've put, I've put as being a quick stop as we drive through if its on the route to the next location)
My original plan was to fly into Seattle, and fly home from Texas, but again that was a quick search, if you suggest avoiding Seattle or Texas then we will reconsider.

Here goes;

Seattle, WA (Pike Place Market, Pioneer Square, Kerry Park, Space Needle etc)

Portland, OR (Oneonta Gorge, Mt Hood National Forest) ((I'd like to, but my Husbands not fussed))
Newport, OR
Crater Lake National Park, OR

Lake Tahoe, CA/NV (D)
San Fransisco, CA (Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island, AT&T Park as I’d LOVE to see a baseball game) (D)
Yosemite National Park (D)
Redwood National Park (D)
General Sherman, Sequoia National Park
Death Valley (D)
The Big Sur Coastline
Los Angeles (Venice Beach, Griffith Observatory, Hollywood Sign etc) ((I'd like to, but my Husbands not fussed))

Monument Valley, AZ
Sedona, AZ (D)
Lake Mead National Recreation Area, AZ
Antelope Canyon, AZ
Saguaro National Park, AZ
Petrified Forest National Park, AZ
Grand Canyon, AZ (D)
Hoover Dam, AZ
Havusa Falls, AZ
Meteor Crater, AZ

Hoover Dam, Grand Canyon, Lake Tahoe, NV (already mentioned)
The Valley of Fire, NV
Area 51, NV ((I'd like to, but my Husbands not fussed))
Fly Geyser, NV (seen from State Route 34, north of the town Gerlach)
Seven Magic Mountains, NV
Sedan Crater, NV
Las Vegas, NV (we are happy to only do 2/3 days here)(D)

Monument Valley, UT
Zion National Park, UT (D)
Bryce Canyon National Park, UT
Salt Lake City, UT (only for the movie ‘The Sandlot’ locations, my favourite childhood movie, but I’m aware its completely out the way so prepared to avoid)

Yellowstone National Park, WY (D)
Grand Teton National Park, WY
Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area, WY
Devils Tower National Monument, WY

Rocky Mountain National Park, CO (D)
Mesa Verde National Park, CO
Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness, CO
Garden of the Gods, CO

Space Station, Houston, TX (D)
San Antonio’s Riverwalk, TX
Natural Bridge Caverns, TX
A Texas Rodeo, TX
Fourth of July fireworks, TX (either Addison or Houston) (D)
Big Bend National Park, TX
Congress Bridge, TX

Okay so I totally understand I will NEVER visit probably even half of these places in 3 weeks, but these are just the places I have found doing a quick internet search of top places in these states.
Again, I’ve put (D) next to the places we would defo like to go, but are open to suggestions.
We’ve put a lot of national parks on there, so if you think that a lot of them are just repetitive of another, then we are happy to cut out some.

We would also be so grateful if you could suggest how long we should spend in each location, that would be amazing, I will eventually do some proper research into it, but if you can help now then we will be so thankful.

Really hope you can help, I understand this is a lot of information, we should probably visit a travel company, but sometimes it is best to get advice from locals or those who have in-depth knowledge!

Thanks in advance!

2. Posted by hasbeen (Travel Guru 1260 posts) 48w 1 Star this if you like it!

The first thing I would want to do is make a map .. look at the amount of mileage that entails & estimate how many hours per day I wanted to be in a car. Then I would decide for a number of days between drives . . . say two days. Do the math to fit that into your available time .. to be able to decide the start & end points.

I did a quick Google map & it comes up with 4,000 miles & sixty hours on the road. Only you know how much time you can tolerate driving.

And share a TP map with us to see what you come up with.


3. Posted by greatgrandmaR (Respected Member 471 posts) 48w 1 Star this if you like it!

I suggest sticking to the West Coast for two weeks and then flying or driving to Arizona to do the Grand Canyon and that area for another week.

So Seattle and do the things listed there (without a car) for 3 days (at least one of them getting over jet lag), and then get the camper and drive down to Portland and make your way down the Oregon Coast to San Francisco - stopping first at Yosemite for 3 days. After spending a couple of days in SF (without the van), fly to Las Vegas and visit the Grand Canyon. Then drive up to Yellowstone and from there fly back to Seattle (driving back would take an additional 2 or 3 days)

You won't want a camper in the big cities unless you are staying at a camp ground outside the city and have some transportation in the city. And you will have to make reservations to stay in the National Parks a year in advance - at least

4. Posted by zzlangerhans (Respected Member 47 posts) 48w 1 Star this if you like it!

It's good that you have already realized that you will not be able to visit close to half of the places you listed in three weeks. The critical thing you need to do is get out your map and pick a bunch of top choices that are CLOSE TOGETHER. Driving directly from Seattle to Houston would take 35 hours. Sure, you could cover an area that large in three weeks, but why? It's like an American going on a road trip in Europe and saying he wants to visit London and Moscow (except that's four hours less of a drive). Meanwhile, he misses 90% of what's in the cities and between because he's only stopping over for a day or two in Paris and Berlin. People forget that one day they will be able to go back, and want to get everything on the continent seen in the first go.

Every place you have mentioned is worth seeing. You might be surprised that some places which loom large in myth may fall somewhat short of expectations in reality. For example if Camden Market is a ten, then Pike Place Market is a four. The Space Needle is just a tall structure to go to the top of, like the Eiffel Tower or Statue of Liberty. I personally found little in Seattle to justify a detour, unless one has an overwhelming fascination with Starbucks or the history of grunge bands. Portland, on the other hand, is a truly awesome American city with its own unique brand of friendly counterculture, great food and farmers markets, and funky walkable neighborhoods. Portland is surrounded by great natural resources such as the Columbia River Gorge as well.

San Francisco is fantastic, possibly the best city to visit in the US after NYC. If I were you I would spend your three week vacation in San Francisco, Napa, Yosemite, and Lake Tahoe. If you're determined not to linger more than a few days in any one place, I'd throw in either Portland/Northern California or Las Vegas/Grand Canyon. However, you could easily spend three weeks in the San Francisco Bay Area alone if you do your research and find all the other places worth seeing like Muir Woods, Berkeley, and Napa. There's absolutely no way I would attempt to run to the other states on your list on that same short trip.

5. Posted by Beausoleil (Travel Guru 437 posts) 48w 2 Star this if you like it!

Having lived in southern California for more than 20 years, I'm going to suggest that you may not want to visit Death Valley in July. It's kind of like crawling into a working oven and yes, people do die there every year because of simple things like a car breakdown and they didn't think to bring enough water for themselves in 120 degree (Fahrenheit) heat. It's beautiful in the winter, usually lovely in spring especially if there has been rain as this year and even late autumn is nice, but summer is horrible. It is a deadly dry heat and every plant is dormant. If you like heat and dust, come on, but otherwise, save it for a late fall or winter trip in the future. Spring is usually best and we once saw the entire bed of the valley filled with water . . . a beautiful lake with about 6-inches of water and people were kayaking in it. Right now wildflowers are fabulous but in July they will be completely gone.

Having lived in both southern and northern California, I much prefer Los Angeles to San Francisco. There is a lot more to do there. It also has some remarkable architecture and wonderful museums and the beaches. You won't be swimming in San Francisco; it's chilly and I'm not sure I've seen a beach there (but admit I've never looked). LA is larger and traffic is bad in both. Public transportation is wonderful in SF but in LA, you really need a car. BTW, have you looked at San Diego? I like it better than SF too. They always have good weather and it's a gorgeous city.

The national parks are all spectacular and in July will be crowded but there will also be lots going on for fun then. I'd schedule as many of the parks as you can. I'd really recommend you keep this trip to the West Coast. You will be too busy even limiting yourself to that. Plan another trip in the future for the other sections of the country so you can enjoy and remember what you've seen.

Have you looked at Google Maps? There is a "directions" function that allows you to map a trip. It will give you pretty good information about how long it will take to get different places. There are some beautiful Interstates in the West so you don't have to use local roads for picturesque scenery all the time. Take advantage of flights and trains to give your driver(s) some occasional rest. Think about flying into Seattle and out of Los Angeles to save some time. That is still a lot of travel . . . and I love car trips.

Honestly, I'd think about putting the Grand Canyon on a future trip too. It's going to be miserably hot in Arizona (AZ) in July so why not return later in the year in the future? Just a thought.

Whatever you decide to do, have a wonderful trip.

6. Posted by Lugor79 (Full Member 72 posts) 48w Star this if you like it!

So I would recommend getting a car and a tent. If you don't mind camping, you can get cheap/decent camping all around the western US with a combination of national, state and private campgrounds. Also you can most of the time do last minute motels as long you don't accidentally run into any local 'events'. Did this with my wife a few years back, reserved campsites in key national parks, and then simply drove around; started looking for motels around 6pm, settled on ones that were decent/cheap and clean. If you want National park camping you need to book NOW! And I would recommend getting lodging IN the park. Even though outside lodging is only a few kilometers/miles away from the park, the main spots are usually buried deep in the park, and most park speed limits are 20mph, and you deal with the tourist slow driving everything to gawk at anything AND you have to wait inline to get into the park... So get lodging in the park, the only place I've been that has reasonable outside lodging is Zion, one of the towns is walking distance to the gates and plus you can't really drive the 'cool' part of it. Get a US National Parks pass, you can purchase this at the first park you enter. I've noticed that the entrance fees of 2-3 parks is pretty much the price of the pass.

I like Furkot for Road trip planning; many other sites out there. Put in your destinations, how lomg you want to spend, average driving speed, stops, start/stop times, etc... and it builds your trip for you. Including suggested over night stops, food, etc...

Let us know if you have any more questions!
PS: That list you have, I did it over 4-5 trips, each at least 2-3 weeks and I still felt rushed. You can spend a week in Yellowstone alone.

7. Posted by goodfish (Budding Member 115 posts) 48w Star this if you like it!

Hi there -
This has already been touched upon by posters above but one of the pitfalls many, many first-time travelers to the U.S. tumble into is in seriously underestimating just how vast our country is. While you have already wisely figured that you won't be able to do "probably even half" of the locations on your list, the reality is that you need to settle with far less than that for a three-week itinerary, and narrow your focus to single regions.

That said, you mention combined interests in photography, hiking, outdoor activities, landscapes and cities?

Hands down I'd send you to the Southwest. It's going to fall short in the city department but pay off in spades for everything else. We've traveled that region many times and it never fails to amaze with its wealth of landscapes which are unique to the U.S. and indeed to much of the world: you can overload your camera's memory card in a fat hurry. Hiking? The best. Ever. There's a range of treks for just about any ability, from short and flat to canyon scrambles of many miles.

Just as an example, our most recent three-weeker was a circle starting/ending in Montrose, Colorado, and included Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Mesa Verde, Antelope Canyon, Grand Canyon South Rim, Coral Pink Sand Dunes, Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef, Goblin Valley, Arches, 2 units of Canyonlands, Dead Horse Point along with stops in Durango and Silverton + some other stuff.

A circle could also be worked from Las Vegas, Phoenix or Albuquerque which could include some of the above /others such as Monument Valley, Canyon de Chelly, etc. Santa Fe is our favorite small American city, and there are some fun day trips you can make from that one: Tent Rocks, Chimayo, Bandelier National Monument, Taos...

Anyway, just this region can very easily gobble up 3 weeks and more. Moab is a mecca for outdoor activities such as rafting, slick-rock biking, 4-wheeling and glorious hiking: we've twice spent an entire week just at that one.

The best and really only way to efficiently do this region is with a rental car.

Now the bad news: your challenge in July would be the heat, and that it's smack in the middle of peak vacation season. Rooms and campground spots at the most popular parks are going to be hard to snag at this point, and parks/cities in the lower altitudes are going to be HOT. If you could move your dates, I'd highly recommend spring or fall versus summer, and making reservations at the biggies in advance.

Think about it? And just a couple of offhand comments:
Texas will also be brutally hot in July; I'd skip it.

Havasu Falls is a 10-mile hike ONE WAY with no shade and you have to have a permit from the reservation to do it plus camp or stay at the one motel in Supai. Those permits can be hard to land, and it would be a death march of a hike in July.

Garden of the Gods: meh, there's better scenery in any of Utah's "Mighty Five"

Death Valley: don't even think about this one during the summer. It's called what it is for a reason!

It may be impossible to nail accommodations for 4th of July weekend at the parks at this point, and Yosemite starts booking up nearly a year in advance of the summer season.

Antelope/Page: I struggle with this one and usually recommend that people with already overloaded itineraries just skip it. Upper and Lower are both conga lines of people (tours are mandatory) and we've frankly done better slots on our own. There also isn't a lot to do in Page, and boat rentals for the lake are expensive so I'd take this one out.

[ Edit: Edited on 19-Mar-2017, at 06:01 by goodfish ]

8. Posted by berner256 (Moderator 939 posts) 48w Star this if you like it!

I share Kate's (goodfish) recommendations, particularly the parks in southern Utah. They are spectacular; and they offer a lot in the way of outdoor activities. Access them from Las Vegas instead of Salt Lake City.

Yes, it will be hot in the Southwest; but humidity usually is lower than elsewhere, so it might be more bearable. See this link:

Another option would be to visit the Pacific Northwest. From there it's possible to do a round-trip to Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks returning by a different route. See the discussion in this thread that began three weeks ago: "A few days in Yellowstone."

Tony (zzlangerhans) also makes a good suggestion about the Bay Area and Yosemite.

Since your husband will be 25 at the time of travel he won't have any problems renting a car. Suggest returning the vehicle to the same location to avoid drop-off charges. Keep in mind that while many rental companies offer unlimited mileage, they limit travel to adjoining or nearby states. Go online to check any limitations before you rent.

If you decide to make a flight, consider Southwest Airlines, which does not charge fees to check two bags. Southwest, however, only sells tickets on its Web site. Other carriers on the route might offer similar or perhaps lower fares but may charge baggage and other fees.

You have lots of options. Whatever you decide, you'll have a grand time.

9. Posted by greatgrandmaR (Respected Member 471 posts) 48w Star this if you like it!

I think given that the OP is from England it would be better to concentrate on north western parts of the US (climate wise) rather than the south west (as beautiful as that area is) The fact that there is low humidity isn't going to be much help when the temps are over 100 deg F. It is still going to be hot in July even there, but it won't be AS hot.

If you do decide to rent a car in the SW in July - be sure to do al the things possible to keep the car cool (or less hot) while you are out and about - hug the shade and cover the windshield (windscreen to you) to reflect the sun's heat out of the car. Cover the seats and the steering wheel with a towel or some removable fabric, otherwise they will be too hot to sit on or touch.

10. Posted by goodfish (Budding Member 115 posts) 48w Star this if you like it!

Yeah, the heat thing...

While the humidity can be lower, hot is just, well, HOT. That last trip I mentioned was in Sept. and temps in southern Utah were running unusually high for fall. Hiking arid rock in little-to-no shade at 90-100 degrees can quickly take the starch out of you, especially if you're unused to it to begin with. Caution is advised to avoid heatstroke and/or dehydration. Getting up and out in the early morning and off the trails in the afternoon (if possible) is helpful, and early evening can be a good time for some shorter hikes.

Locations at higher elevations tend to run cooler. Santa Fe (7,100 ft) for instance, would be a lot more comfortable than, say, Las Vegas (2,000 ft) or Phoenix (1,000 ft) The rims of the Grand Canyon (7,000 - 8,000 ft) run cooler than Arches (4,000 ft).