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SeeOne of my favorite memories as a kid was when my family drove across the US for 3 weeks and visited a bunch of national parks including Mt Rushmore, Badlands, Yellowstone, Pike's Peak, Grand Canyon and a few other landmarks like the St. Louis Arch, the Mississippi, 4 Corners, and a few others.

I'd like to take my family on a similar trip and am planning a couple of years out. My time frame is a little more compressed. Probably 2 to 2.5 weeks total. We'll be starting from NJ.

So what I want to know, is what are your top recommendations for parks, national and state, and landmark type places? With the timeframe, I can't imagine making it all the way to California. That may be a future trip to itself. Areas with easy accessibility and/or easy hikes to things are preferable due to my wife's MS.

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Just returned from our trip out west and figured Id leave a review for anyone considering this trip in the future. Keep in mind that we did this early June, so conditions will be different depending o

Assuming you're gong to the Grand Canyon I'd also include Zion Nat'l Park and Bryce Canyon while you're in the neighborhood....

Just got back from our trip, I ran out of adjectives on day 3. Breathtaking stuff. I'll post pictures once I go through the 2,000+ the wife and I took. Day 1 - Flew into Phoenix, took the scenic

Oh, and Mt. Rushmore is almost certainly not on the list. Not all that exciting and not much to do at all. If you've seen pictures, you've pretty much experienced Mt. Rushmore.

The Badlands and Yellowstone were fantastic though. And driving through the Rockies is almost certainly a must. I would love just to show my daughter a bunch of the different really cool geographic areas of our beautiful country. The plains, the mountains, the forests, the beautiful desert, etc.

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5 minutes ago, The General said:

Doesn't sound like you'll make it this far west, but if you make it to Washington State PM me. I know the parks here really well.

Yeah, I think with just 14-17 days, even making it as far west as Grand Canyon is unlikely. 

Another summer of California up to Washington would be a pretty cool trip. I've never been to Oregon or Washington and only been to San Diego in Cali.

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If you're going through the Black Hills (which I assume you are), while Rushmore may not be on the list you've got to do Needles Hwy and the scenic loop through Custer State Park.

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Also, FWIW, I think Rushmore is way more interesting than Devil's Tower.  I'd take a hard pass on that one.  Too far out of the way and basically if you've seen a picture you've seen pretty much all there is to see.

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11 minutes ago, GroveDiesel said:

Yeah, I think with just 14-17 days, even making it as far west as Grand Canyon is unlikely. 

Another summer of California up to Washington would be a pretty cool trip. I've never been to Oregon or Washington and only been to San Diego in Cali.

You could easily do a west coast tour if this one goes well. Start in SF make way through Oregon then into Washington. Between SF, Napa, Portland, Seattle for city stuff. The coast and all the parks in the three states for nature stuff, 14 days would be filled very easily.

Enjoy this one.

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52 minutes ago, GroveDiesel said:

I can't imagine making it all the way to California. That may be a future trip to itself. Areas with easy accessibility and/or easy hikes to things are preferable due to my wife's MS.

We're thinking of the same trip, but would fly to/from Denver or LA and keep the driving loop in the west.

Edited by Dinsy Ejotuz
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32 minutes ago, Psychopav said:

If you're going through the Black Hills (which I assume you are), while Rushmore may not be on the list you've got to do Needles Hwy and the scenic loop through Custer State Park.

Good info. I remember driving through the Black Hills and it being beautiful, but somehow absolutely freezing in the middle of July.

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10 minutes ago, Dinsy Ejotuz said:

We're thinking of the same trip, but would fly to/from Denver or LA and keep the driving loop in the west.

That may end up being an option. While I think it would be good for my daughter to see the Plains, that's a whole heck of a lot of driving without seeing a whole lot more than flat fields.

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And just FYI for anyone else, 4th graders from September to August of their 4th grade year get a free annual national park pass good for a car of 4.

I hadn't even really planned it that way, but it will line up perfectly for us.

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25 minutes ago, NutterButter said:

Any thought to flying into one city, renting a car, and flying out of another.   That would save you a few days of low value travel.   

If it isn't a major cost addition, that would be an option. We're starting to set aside money, but we're not you're typical $FBG$

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Fly into LA, hit Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, drive up to Yosemite, stay in the valley and exit via Tioga Pass, hit Mono Lake and continue north through Tahoe and Lassen, then Crater Lake in Oregon.  There is all kinds of stuff to see in WA and OR.  Fly back out of Seattle.

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7 minutes ago, GroveDiesel said:

If it isn't a major cost addition, that would be an option. We're starting to set aside money, but we're not you're typical $FBG$

Probably looking at a few grand extra but if you're thinking about the western half of the country, its going to save you probably 4 days.

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A couple years ago (2015) we did a similar trip. We did it from DC over 5 weeks and did Gaitlinburg, TN, went down to coast in MS, over to NO (Had to see Tipsey's place) went to Houston, San Antonio, across TX to NM, went to Roswell, Four corners (NM, AZ, CO, & UT meeting), went to Grand Canyon, Vegas, to LA, up the coast hitting Pebble Beach, SF, up to Crater Lake, over to Yellowstone, Mt. Rushmore, Badlands and then we headed home. We were supposed to hit St. Louis, but were just done.

It seems like a ton, but we drive everywhere with 3 kids and family in not too easy to get to places (Green Bay) we are forced to drive. We rented a van (3 kids) because ours is old, and didn't want to have a breakdown in the middle of nowhere NM or something cause our trip to be destroyed.

Plan your trip well, doing it 2 years out will help a ton. I wouldn't toss out places like Mt. Rushmore because there isn't much to do; you pop in see it and push on. Some of these things are just quick visits, checks off the list of things to have seen. Remember also that kids (if there are any) will appreciate some of the less exciting things more.

One thing think about is getting an Annual Pass for the National Parks. It's currently $80, but you have access to all National Parks for free. Calculate the parks you will be hitting and see if you will pass that amount.

Another is to get a good camera, better than a smartphone!

I'm sure there are more things to pass along, but can't think of any right now. Feel free to hit me up for more questions.

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1 hour ago, Nugget said:

You can skip Kansas.  

:angry:

:shrug:

Yeah ok, you're right.

Presumably you've already driven it but if not Skyline Drive of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Shenandoah National Park is beautiful in the fall.

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Skip everything east of the Mississippi. Fly west and put the miles on a rental car. Plenty great options from most major cities out west. Grand Canyon and Southern Utah is awesome.  Tons of variety near San Francisco.  Yellowstone and Teton in western Wyoming are great too. 

In typical FFA fashion, I predict that you'll cave on the drive distance and talk yourself into the Poconos as being just as good as Yosemite. 

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Since most National Parks are out west you may want to consider flying into Vegas, SLC, Denver, ABQ, PHX, or LA to start your trip. With proper planning you could probably find 4 out  back tickets + rental car for about what it cost in gas, food, and lodging to drive the 4k miles round trip just to get from NJ to CO. And you save 6-10 days of travel time. 

There are so many parks that deserve a visit the best bet is to do your research (here, YouTube, blogs, Instagram, friends, etc) and pick the region or two that appeal the most to your family. A few "power trips" have been mentioned already. CA>PNW, Grand Canyon + Utah Mighty 5, MT>WY>SD (Glacier, Yellowstone, Teton, Badlands) would all be incredible if your family has the stamina. 

Cascades and Glacier are going to be hard to beat in terms of majesty. The parks of the southwest along the AZ/UT border are probably the most unique and visually stunning. 

 

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11 hours ago, psychobillies said:

Depending on how close you're gonna be, the Buffalo River is pretty great.  Nice easy paddle that would be fun with kids.   There are trails and caves all over the place.  

Was going to mention this.  Greatest river for a float trip in the country.  Stunningly beautiful scenery.  The tallest waterfall west of the Mississippi is a 1/2 mile hike off the river and worth it.  Just a cool, cool place.

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13 hours ago, higgins said:

Assuming you're gong to the Grand Canyon I'd also include Zion Nat'l Park and Bryce Canyon while you're in the neighborhood....

he mentioned 4 corners, so I assume he's hit all of these... but if not- definitely. and while there, go to Goblin Valley. probably changed the rules since I was there 25 years ago- but you used to be able to walk amongst the goblins (IIRC, some ####head knocked one over for youtube fun HAHAHAHAHAHA, so hopefully they're protected against similar ####heads).

and of course in CA, Yosemite, Muir Woods (or redwoods further north... if they haven't burned down this week :( )

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1 hour ago, brettdj said:

Mammoth Caves, Kentucky

Was just coming here to post this. Their cave tours are pretty cool, and the one we went on had a paved trail with hand rails, so I'm guessing would be accessible for his wife. And the scenery of the mountains is just incredible. I could spend two weeks around there and see a bunch of cool stuff. 

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9 hours ago, Mad Cow said:

In Utah you have Zions which is fantastic,  Bryce Canyon, Arches.  All unique and worth it.

Yeah...this... Utah/Grand Canyon north rim can easily be 10 days by itself.  Arches and Bryce have easy hikes and the drive around the rim in the Grand Canyon is nice.  Zion would be a little harder, but its still pretty spectacular even though she can't hike up to the rim, etc.  The drive from Bryce to Arches on route 12 and 24 is pretty spectacular as well. 

For that amount of time, I'd probably do a something like Jackson WY to Salt Lake through Colorado loop.   

Edit: the Canyonlands also has easily accessible hike/drives and Dead Horse Point State Park

Edited by Sammy3469
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there is a neat little park south of milwaukee called the bong recreational area it has trails and some trees and who doesnt want to drive south of milwaukee but not quite to illinois to expericene nature no one thats who take that to the bank brochacho

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12 hours ago, -OZ- said:

:angry:

:shrug:

Yeah ok, you're right.

Presumably you've already driven it but if not Skyline Drive of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Shenandoah National Park is beautiful in the fall.

We just did Skyline Drive in August and were very underwhelmed. I'm sure it's much nicer in the fall but the views don't change much along the drive.

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Just to expand

  • Zion is spectacular and is an easy 3-4 days if you hike.  If you aren't staying at the hotel/cabins in the park, you park at the entrance and then you get bussed to various points within the park.  There are a couple of easier hikes, but a lot of what it is known for is hard hikes.  It should be seen, but probably isn't ideal for your wife
  • Bryce - stunning from the lodge with a lot of easy hikes.  This is a place where she'll be happy to just sit at the lodge and admire the view, but there's also a longish drive along the rim with various views.
  • Grand Canyon - it's about 4 hours from Zion, but the drive in from 67 is a pretty cool Alpine plateau.  There's a nice drive around the rim once you are there and then obviously the view from the lodge is pretty spectacular.  You need to stay in the park, you probably only need a night here since you won't be hiking into the canyon.
  • Drive from Bryce to Moab on 12 and the 24 is pretty awesome.  On 24 you can drive into Capital Reef National Park even in a crappy car which is pretty cool for the kids.
  • Arches and Canyonlands (Isle in the Sky part) would both be good for her.  Both have drives that with easily accessible sights, etc.  (Both can also be more challenging if you want).  Moab is nice town with cheap lodging to spend 2-4 days in the area.  On the way to Canyonlands, you can also drive to Dead Horse State Park which has a pretty cool view of the Colorado River.

You're on your own everywhere else

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:blackdot:

I'll probably be in Arizona next Summer for a wedding and thinking about taking family on a western road trip. As of now, I'm torn between an Arizona/Utah trip (possibly adding White Sands) vs a California (Sequoia, PCH, Yosemite, Death Valley) trip. Haven't decided how long we'll take.

For those who have suggested one-way car rentals, they add extra fees for that. If anyone knows of an affordable way to do a one-way car rental, I'd love to know because that would be a good way to possibly see more without having to loop back to your origin.

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5 minutes ago, dgreen said:

:blackdot:

I'll probably be in Arizona next Summer for a wedding and thinking about taking family on a western road trip. As of now, I'm torn between an Arizona/Utah trip (possibly adding White Sands) vs a California (Sequoia, PCH, Yosemite, Death Valley) trip. Haven't decided how long we'll take.

For those who have suggested one-way car rentals, they add extra fees for that. If anyone knows of an affordable way to do a one-way car rental, I'd love to know because that would be a good way to possibly see more without having to loop back to your origin.

At least for Utah/GC everything is can be done as a loop.  Ideally you'd start from SLC or Las Vegas, but even then you are 4-5 hours from the start of the loop (i.e. you'll have 4-5 hours of driving at the start and finish no matter what you do).  Phoenix is really just another 4-6 hours of driving on top of that (3 more hours from Moab and 2-3 more to the North Rim lodge).  

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1 minute ago, Sammy3469 said:

At least for Utah/GC everything is can be done as a loop.  Ideally you'd start from SLC or Las Vegas, but even then you are 4-5 hours from the start of the loop (i.e. you'll have 4-5 hours of driving at the start and finish no matter what you do).  Phoenix is really just another 4-6 hours of driving on top of that (3 more hours from Moab and 2-3 more to the North Rim lodge).  

Yeah, my current plan is to use Vegas for my loop. 

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