National Parks Road Trip Accross America

2:26 p.m. on November 3, 2008 (EST)
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Hey Everyone,

We are startling to plan our 2009 family summer vacation. As is typical with Michelle and I, a simple idea to take our kids out to the Canyon has morphed into a 2+ week odyssey across our fine Nation visiting the National Parks from Virginia to Arizona. I have a couple thoughts as far as the itinerary but since Michelle and I have never taken a big road trip like this, other than as a passenger in our parents cars, I wanted to get some input in a couple areas.

My first though was, looking at the map on Google Earth (I love that tool), it looks to me like the Eastern part of the Southern Route from VA to AZ is sparse when it comes to National parks but as you get out west there are quite a few more to choose from so...

Option 1 - Would you recommend a marathon drive to get out west and hit places like Petrified Forest National Park, Grand Canyon National Park, Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, and continue on through Colorado...

OR

Option 2 - Take it slow and hit The Great Smokey Mountains National Park 1st night. On the second night Hot Spring Arkansas, 3rd night McClellan Creek National Grasslands, day 4 arrive Grand Canyon National Park. Hike the Canyon for 3 days and then ???

We will be traveling with our 3 boys age 9,10 and 13. The suburban is set up for entertainment with DVD, Xbox and PlayStation, the long hours are going to be a challenge for them but they do have some diversions to keep them occupied.

We are taking the Southern route which will take us out of DC on I66 to I81 to I40. I40 will take us all the way from Tennessee to Arizona.

Any input is more than welcome and I hope to tap into some of your personal experience and suggestions on places not to be missed.

This is a big undertaking but with planning and foresight we can make this an epic trip for the entire family.

Hope to hear from everyone soon.


Best,
Greg

2:59 p.m. on November 3, 2008 (EST)
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Make it a record-seeking trip - minimum of 5 parks a day!

Well, I personally opt more for quality than quantity. I believe it would be better to pick 2 or 3 parks to spend several days in. Keep in mind, first of all, that you will drive somewhere between 6000 and 10,000 miles in going across the continent and back. That's somewhere between 100 and 200 hours of just sitting in the car. If you can stand driving 10 hours a day, that's 10 to 20 days of driving. On a 2 week trip, that leaves 4 days to visit parks.

When I was a kid, the tradition was to take a month to do the Great Western National Parks tour (we had fewer parks then). Since we lived in Arizona, we hit Grand Canyon, Painted Desert, Rocky Mountain, Grand Teton, Yellowstone, Glacier, Mount Rainier, Yosemite, and Death Valley. A number of fantastic parks did not exist then - Arches, Canyonlands, Dinosaur in Utah, among them - and skipped Bryce, Zion, Kings Canyon, and Sequoia (that was while Kings Canyon and Sequoia were separate parks). When Young Son was growing up, we did 3 weeks just in Grand Teton and Yellowstone (we stayed 4 different places within Yellowstone alone). Since Young Son was interested in volcanoes (his first birthday was the day St Helens went off), we did the Great Cascades Volcanoes Tour, hiking up Lassen, camping on the side of Shasta, circumnavigating Crater Lake (one of the few National Monuments that is administered by the US Forest Service instead of National Park Service), skied for several days on Mt Hood (there is skiing there year around except for a couple weeks in September when they close for maintenance), climbed St Helens (snagged 3 of the 100 permits issued each day at that time), camped at Rainier (and hiked up a ways from Paradise), visited various lava tubes, then back down the coast, stopping at caves (like Oregon Caves) and Redwoods National Park. Again, about a 3 week tour.

When we lived in Mississippi, we did various tours with The Kid as well - hiking in the Smokies, Shenandoah, Civil War Battlefields (kids like these a lot), etc.

There are lots of parks on your southern route. But the point is, you can't "see it all" and do justice to anything. If you want to see the western parks, you should probably just head west on I70 and I80 to Colorado, spend a couple days in Rocky Mountain, then head for the parks in southern Utah (Arches, Dinosaur, Canyonlands, Bryce, Zion) and to the Grand Canyon. If you prefer mountain parks, then make a tour of the Sequoia-Kings Canyon and Yosemite combination (except Yosemite Valley is jammed all year around, so take a part day there and stay in Tuolumne instead). Rocky Mountain, Grand Teton, Yellowstone, Glacier is a good combination for a 2 week trip including the flat-out race across America on the Interstate. It is easy to spend 3 or 4 days in Yellowstone, especially if you do some fishing (Yellowstone has some interesting rules for fishing - in Yellowstone Lake, you catch and release the big cutthroats while keeping the small ones, while in the river you catch and release the small fish and can keep the big ones, with different rules for different species in the various bodies of water).

For a first trip, just pick a small number and spend time. Driving time across the US, ocean to ocean, is 3 days flat out (been there, done that in my Porsche when we had one), more usually 4 or 5 days (probably longer with kids who need breaks from sitting in the car hitting each other).

5:01 p.m. on November 3, 2008 (EST)
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Bill,

Your stories remind me of my childhood family vacations with my folks and my brothers. Particularly memorable was our trip to Niagra Falls. There was a lot of hitting each other during the drive, I got lost for a couple hours at the falls which caused my parents to go into full panic mode, etc...

good times. ;)

5:07 p.m. on November 3, 2008 (EST)
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I was thinking the same thing, about motoring out west and spending some quality time in the parks out there. The smokies are close enough that we could do that one with a 4 day weekend. I am a big proponent of night driving. Less traffic, easier on the car (less heat at night) and everyone else is sleeping in the car so its more peaceful. I am a night owl so fatigue and sleepiness is not a problem. If and when I do get tired I just find a nice safe place to catch some rest.

If I drive straight through to GCNP its 34 hours so 2 days of solid driving with the wife taking over during the day we should be able to pull the mileage to get there in 2 days. This will give us 10 days to visit parks considering we need 2 days to get back home. The main focus is the Grand Canyon. We are not talking walking to the rim, peaking over and then getting back in the car, we want to get off the beaten path and get down into the canyon, away from the crowds. We will be bringing a couple of tents and I might even rent a pop up trailer to pull behind my buba-burban. I hate those things but 2 weeks on the road, it might be nice to pull some comforts along behind the truck.

Is there anything anyone can recommend regarding the Canyon as far as backcountry camping or trails that are a must see while there?

8:32 p.m. on November 3, 2008 (EST)
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For the most part, the trails in the Grand Canyon are down into the Canyon and back up out of the Canyon. Since you are talking about a summer vacation, be aware that once you get 1000 ft or so below the rim it gets pretty warm. Plus there are only a couple places to get water (on the more interesting trails, there are NO places to get water between the Rim and the River - but those trails will go unmentioned, because I don't want too many people on MY trails). The hike down, whether South Rim (most populous) or North Rim, is easy enough. But keep in mind that the climb out is a few thousand feet of gain, very hot and dry in summer, and with only a couple of water sources on the way, even on the most heavily traveled trails.

I personally favor the North Rim and a couple of rarely traveled trails, one starting near Toroweap. But dedicate 3 or 4 days to any hike from Rim to River - there are lots of things to see and do on the way down and up. Don't make it a Personal Record Attempt (much less a World Record Attempt), especially not on a family vacation.

December 21, 2014
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