Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Road Trip USA -- Travel Advice, part 2...

I'm slowly but surely figuring out how to deal with all this -- thanks for your patience and please keep in touch!

Here are some more of the letters and queries we've received so far, followed by my best efforts to help:

Subject: Motorhomes?

Hello Jamie,

I was wondering if your roadtrips take into account places that motorhomes can travel.

Because bridges sometimes have a height requirement on 2 lane highways, some are not negotiable for motorhomes.

Your book about special places to visit sounds so interesting and we like exploring but do need to know if there are roads to avoid.

Thanks so much.

Paulette L


Hi Paulette --

Thanks for writing in to Road Trip USA. I feel pretty confident in saying that at least 99.99% of the roads in my book are suitable for RVs -- the one height restriction I know of for sure limits height to a pretty accommodating 13'3" , on a stretch of US-2 in Washington State (because of a railroad bridge, I think.)

I also know that the Going to the Sun Road across Glacier National Park is not recommended for vehicles longer than 21 feet (including bumpers), wider than 8 feet (including mirrors), or over 10 feet in height. But there is a free shuttle to take you along the Going to the Sun Road, and an easy alternative driving route along US-2, which lets you cross the Rockies w/o any restrictions.

In New England and such places, a lot of the really quaint old roads (especially over covered bridges etc) are limited to smaller, lighter vehicles, but these are well-signed and always provided with an alternate route.

A good proportion of Road Trip USA readers are RVers, and in over 15 years of writing (inc the new, April 2009 edition!), I've never heard of any motorhome driver having a problem driving any of the 35,000 miles worth of scenic highways I cover in the book. In my experience, most RVers make sure the roads are OK by carrying a good road atlas, which all mark any height, weight or width restrictions.

Hope that answers your concerns, and that you give us a test-drive.

Happy Trails,

Jamie Jensen

===== === ===

Good morning, my name is Brian and I am an avid fan of your book and site, it must have been exciting to visit so many places around North America. I am writing about my planned trip for this coming summer (in mid-August). My friends and I are planning on driving across the U.S (from NY to California) for about 9 days and we are trying to find the best roads and stops to make on our route. The trip is planned to be one way (we are renting a car and going from NYC to San Diego and up to San Francisco), but we are looking to maximize our trip’s fun. Our initial intentions are driving from NYC to St. Louis (probably through NJ, PA, WV, OH, IN, and IL). After spending one day in St. Louis and then traveling from St. Louis to New Mexico and Arizona(through KS, OK, TX) in order to visit the southwest, especially the: Grand Canyon, 4 Corners, Monument Valley, Sedona NP, and any other suggestions you might have for the southwest. We also would like to travel through nice sections of Colorado (i.e. Colorado Rocky Mountains) and Utah, but we want to keep these routes close to the four corners/Arizona area. We plan on going to the “Heart Attack Grill” in Phoenix and then proceeding to San Diego. In order to reach the southwest area, my friends and I are interested in using Route 66 and the scenic areas of the southwest. What sites, stops, food, and parks (national/camping) do you recommend? What route(s) do you recommend for travelling from Phoenix to San Diego? Once we are in San Diego, my friends and I intend to visit for at most one day (What sites, stops, and food do you recommend?), but then proceeding up the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) to LA, where we intend to stay for one or two days (What sites, stops, and food do you recommend?). We then intend to continue travelling up the PCH to San Francisco in order to do more site-seeing and adventures, but we also intend to travel up to the Avenue of the Giant/Redwood section of California in order to experience these areas. What sites, stops, and food do you recommend? We then intend to end our trip by going back to San Francisco and site-seeing more for a day or day. We have nothing set in stone but I would like to get your input about recommended sites, parks, stops, food, and everything in between for the trip that we are planning. In addition, please recommend some routes that we could use, especially along Route 66 and the PCH. Thanks for the help and I look forward to hearing back from you soon.



Thanks for writing, and sorry it took me so long to reply.

Your trip sounds like a blast, and I hope I can help make it as fun as it can be.

It sounds like you will be packing a lot into a fairly limited time -- 9 days to cross the country, with a day or two in St Louis, Phoenix, San Diego and LA doesn't leave much time for sightseeing and exploring along the way, but with your friends along to share the driving, you should be able to pull some safe all-night-drives ad still have time to enjoy yourselves.

My first question is: have you looked into the costs of what sound like a pair of one-way trips, both for the rental car and the flight back? In my experience one-ways. especially for rental cars, cost a lot more than when you return the car to the place you rent it. Be sure you ask about "drop off fees", and make sure there are no surcharges for extra drivers or drivers under age 25.

Also, have you looked into doing a "driveaway" -- where you drive someone else's car, and deliver it for them? These are not uncommon, esp between NY and SF or LA.

Now, on to the fun stuff: a coast to coast drive will take you around 40 hours of driving time, at 65-75mph (whatever the legal safe speed limits happen to be). So if you really really want to get across the USA in 5 days, you are going to end spending a lot of time behind the wheel. The more time you have, the better.

You have chosen some great routes -- Route 66 is a classic cross-country route, and the stretch across the Southwest is fantastic. Considering your time constraints, especially after dark you'll probably want to avail yourselves of the Interstate freeways (like I-44 and I-40) that run alongside old Route 66, but there are a number of stops along the way you won't want to miss. (Chicago for one, which is a truly great American city, if you can set aside any NYC-centric prejudice.)

Once you're on RT66, take time to see Springfield Illinois (stop for a Cozy Dog, and to respects to Abe Lincoln!), and in St Louis enjoy a "concrete" ice cream at Ted Drewe's. Heading west, enjoy the light show at Meramec Caverns, and set aside a couple of hours for "might pretty" Oklahoma City -- esp the OKC bombing memorial, and maybe a baseball game. (You could do a whole cross-country tour stopping for baseball every day!)

Other must-sees: the Grand Canyon, and on your way to Phoenix, the red rock canyons and sculpted rocks around Sedona, AZ.

I won't spend too much time suggesting city sights (for STL, PHX, LA SD or SF...), since that is a subject unto itself, but if I were you I would plan to race across the Arizona and SoCal deserts -- by night, since it will be very hot, and following dull but safe freeways (like I-8 or I-40).

Finally, I'm sorry to say it but I don't really think you have enough time to do the PCH trip along the coast, much less to make it to the Avenue of the Giants and the Redwoods of Northern California.

If you can give yourself another week, maybe...


Hope this helps as a start -- and please let me know how you get along.

Email a virtual postcard or travel photo to me c/o !

Happy Trails,

Jamie Jensen


Subject: FW: Your suggestions for a west coast road trip

Hi Jamie,

My family (wife, and kids 9 and 11 years) have never done a “road trip” greater than a weekend getaway. I know that the kids would get a kick out of one and even stopping at some campgrounds along the way would be great. As long as it was not ALL campgrounds. We were thinking 1-2 weeks, late June and early July, would make for a really memorable trip. We are located in California, just inland of Laguna Beach.

Any suggestions? Camping, hoteling, B&B’ing, moteling, great food spots, places to see, places for the kids to have fun at, as well as educational places would be great. We are open to suggestions…

Thanks for anything you would suggest.

John B & Family


Dear John B --

Many thanks for your note, and I hope I can help you and your family discover the joys of road trip travel.

I'm a California boy myself (LA born, SF Bay resident), and now travel with a pair of 10-year-olds, so I think I know some of what you all might like.

First off, despite what seems like endless bad news on the economy etc, let me say you are incredibly lucky to be living in a place most people dream about: California has a fantastic range of natural beauty and good old fashioned fun, so the challenge is to find the right balance for grown-ups and children to all have a good time.

I usually try to do a mix of camping and comfort, which I think suits the California summer perfectly.

Here's a rough draft of a suggested "Grand Circle" tour of California (by the way, I wrote a Road Trip California guide a few years ago, which you might be able to find on EBay for around $1...)

You can go clockwise or otherwise, but here are some of my personal favorite must-see places and must-drive roads:

Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) -- You could easily spend a week enjoying leisurely drives between LA and SF -- more if you have an interest in the many historic Missions along El Camino Real, today's US-101 (For California schoolkids, the Missions are a fantastic "living history" lesson). Along the coast, Big Sur is breathtaking, and the kids will love the Monterey Bay Aquarium in idyllic Pacific Grove (I like to stay overnight at Asilomar, an historic state park lodge right on the Pacific). Also worth seeing along PCH: Santa Barbara, with its beautiful mission and glorious beaches. It's an expensive place, however, so maybe camp beneath the palm trees at nearby Refugio State Beach! And of course Hearst Castle, near one of the quaintest towns in California: Cambria. San Luis Obispo is very nice, too, and kids may get a kick out of the kitschy rooms at the Madonna Inn.

If you and the kids haven't been, San Francisco is essential. And even if you've been before, think about planning a trip to see the new Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park. It is fantastic.

OK, that's one week sorted out. Other places to see: Yosemite National Park -- at least two days for the spectacular Yosemite Valley (camping is possible, though hard to get campsites). Then drive over the Sierra Nevada to Mono Lake and Bodie Ghost Town, cruising north to lovely Lake Tahoe, then south to Death Valley (yes, it will be HOT!)

If you like mountain roads, there are some spectacular winding drives over the crest: the old Donner Pass Road north of Lake Tahoe, plus Hwy-88, Hwy-4 and others -- most of which are only open during summer, when the snows have melted.

There are also a number of great towns along my longtime favorite road, US-395, which runs along the eastern foot of the mountains, offering spectacular views and access to untouched wilderness (like Mt. Whitney, the highest point in the lower 48.)

US-395 brings you into Southern California along I-15, and then you're nearly home.

Hope this helps inspire you -- write back and let me know how it shapes up. I just wish I could do the trip myself -- maybe next year!

For now, Happy Trails,

Jamie Jensen


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