Thursday, May 07, 2009

Two Great Road Trips -- travel advice, Part 3

I'm finally getting in gear with these travel tips -- if you have any additional suggestions you'd like to make, please feel free to add them using Blogger's "comments" feature.

Here are some ideas for two very different trips. One, a historic tour around Virginia and Maryland. The other, a long-distance family road trip for 2 parents and 3 young kids, moving from New York to Seattle.

Historic Virginia and Maryland

Hello Jamie --

My husband and I (ages 62,65) live in the Kansas City area - our daughter's family, with our only grandchild, lives in Jacksonville, FL. In addition to lots of airline trips we have made that drive too many times to count - and will be back on the road May 18 for a month - the first 2 weeks getting to Jacksonville and then babysitting. We'll be ready to leave Jacksonville about June 3 and need to be back in KC on June 17. We've spent a lot of time in the FL panhandle and winter months on the Gulf side of FL. We've been the Memphis-Vicksburg-Natchez route. We've rattled around TN - Chattanooga, Nashville, Gatlinburg, and chasing ancestors through Bledsoe County. We've spent time in Asheville, NC, and along the Blue Ridge Parkway in that section of the state. Last year we spent time in Myrtle Beach then Hickory, Salem, Hendersonville, NC, and the Lexington, KY, area. We've been to Savannah and Charleston, along with the other barrier islands of GA and SC, several times. We spent one Memorial Day weekend at Callaway Gardens, GA. We're looking for something new and interesting.

We've been reading your book (haven't got the new edition yet) but can't decide whether to try mountains or shore - or how far North we can go. We've not spent much time in VA, except daytripping out of D.C. so have considered Jamestown, Williamsburg, etc. We've also considered trying to get up to the Jersey or Maryland shores - we're not sure which is more easily accessible or the better route (Ocean City boardwalk in either place). We've looked at barrier islands along the VA coast but

We really enjoy history and historical sites, interesting small towns, locally owned restaurants or diners, farmers' markets or festivals, the oddities of boardwalks or similar situations, interesting architectural sites. We are not interested in theme parks.

Do you have any suggestions for us?

-- Bonnie


Hi there Bonnie --

Many thanks for looking at the Road Trip USA website and for writing in -- it was a while ago, I'm sorry to say, but I hope I can help with your quest. I think I share your taste in travel fun, and have to say I'm jealous of your times "rattling around" Tennessee and the Carolinas.

Now that you're heading north, I'll try to point you toward some memorable places. First of all, though I don't really cover it in my Road Trip USA book, the Williamsburg area is brilliant, especially since you enjoy history. The preserved and recreated "Colonial Williamsburg" community is truly great -- definitely worth a couple of days to take it all in. The more commercial "resort" aspects are kept at a distance from the historic area, which preserves and interprets some of the finest early American architecture anywhere -- all in a lovely setting with gardens aplenty.

And the "road trip" connections are made by Standard Oil magnate John D. Rockefeller, who in the late 1920s and early 1930s funded the whole Williamsburg shebang.

Nearby Jamestown and Yorktown are also well worth visiting (though you may have to turn a blind eye to a few "theme park"s along the way. And if you really like early American history, the James River plantation homes between Williamsburg and Richmond (another great place to explore!) are fascinating -- estates like Shirley, off Hwy-5, have been in the same family since the early 1600s!

Further inland, one of my favorite places to spend time is the Shenandoah Valley, and Shenandoah National Park. You can experience the wilds of the Appalachian Trail , enjoy some characterful small towns like Lexington Virginia.

And Harpers Ferry, too, which stands in an amazing setting, rising above the Potomac River.

Once you've sated your history hunger, the beaches or Maryland and Delaware are a mixed bag -- some glorious stretches of undeveloped shoreline in Assateague Island, mixed in with classic vacation towns like Rehoboth (this is my favorite, with great local cafes and restaurants!) and bustling Ocean City MD (where a great old amusement park, Trimper's, has stood on beachfront boardwalk since the 1880s.)

How's that for a start? Hope it leads you somewhere sufficiently "... new and interesting... "

Keep in touch, and Happy Trails,

Jamie Jensen


Family Road Trip Across the USA -- New York to Seattle

Hey Jamie --

My dad turned me on to your book. We are planning a cross-country move from New York City to Seattle. We thought it is a perfect opportunity to drive across country. With three kids (10 yr old and 4yr old twins), we may be crazy but we thought it would be fun (and memorable). I would love to get your thoughts on the trip. My initial thoughts on a route seem to cross 4-5 of your itineraries. Here are the details.

Leave late June. Want to arrive in Seattle in 8- 10 days. Need to find activities/events/points of interest that work for children to keep them preoccupied. I love rodeos and my husband loves baseball so those added points of interest are a plus but not required. The key places we want to visit are:
St Louis (have friends there)
McCook and North Platte (Grandparents buried there)
Mt Rushmore
Devil's Tower, WY
Yellowstone (maybe) - we have spent a lot of time there so it is a nice to have

My initial thoughts were to:
- Head down the Blue Ridge mountains
- Cross over to St Louis (through Louisville)
- Head to Kansas City and across
- Up North through McCook/North Platte to South Dakota
- Across S Dakota and Wyoming
- Hit Cody and Yellowstone
- Then up through Montana and across to Seattle

Would love your thoughts on must see routes. I would assume we would do some two-lane highways and some interstate depending on the points of interest.

I would love any of your or your readers thoughts. I think the kids attractions are going to be most important as 8-10 days in a car with three kids will be challenging.

Thank you for your help and keeping the American Family Vacation alive!



Dear Jennifer --

Many thanks for your message -- I'm sorry it took me so long to get back to you, and I salute your bravery. (And your understatement -- 8-10 days in a car with three kids is sure to be challenging, to say the least.)

You've set me quite a challenge -- Keeping the American Family Vacation alive! -- but I will try to live up to your ambitions.

Here goes:

The route you outlined sounds pretty good -- here are my thoughts on kid-friendly attractions, baseball teams and other things that come to mind, along the way:

Day One -- west from NYC:
To set the right tone for the trip, my recommended first stop for your cross-country adventure is right along I-78, your likeliest "Escape from New York" highway: the miniature village of Roadside America, an absolute gem, 8000-square feet of wonderful, handmade, mechanical charm.

Added bonus in the Allentown area: Yocco's Hot Dogs, the rollercoasters at Dorney Park, and baseball aplenty -- the Class AAA Lehigh Valley Ironpigs play near Allentown, while the AA-level R-Phils play in Reading. Both are farm clubs for the defending World Champion Phillies.

Day 2: Louisville Visit the home of Louisville Slugger baseball bats (there's a real factory out in the 'burbs, and a more kid-friendly visitor center right in town, complete with a 75-foot-tall baseball bat!). The local team, naturally, is called The Bats, Class AAA farm club for the Reds.

Day 3?: St Louis: Your friends will probably show you the sights, but be sure to spend time at the fabulous Missouri Botanical Garden (which many people rate as the best in the USA). They have great kids programs, a "Climatron" dome full of exotic plants, and St Louis' poet laureate Chuck Berry is doing a concert (not until July 24th, alas!)

Day 4 -- Kansas City : Before you cross the country, be sure to set aside some time for the unhyped but fascinating National Frontier Trails Center in Independence. This city-run museum vividly tells the story of pioneers -- many of whom were young children being dragged to a new life in the west by their parents (some things never change, right?!).

Tracing the routes of the Oregon Trail and other routes, this may well captivate your kids, and give you some themes to follow on your way west. Independence is a pretty neat place, too -- and the kids will probably enjoy a milk shake in Clinton's Soda Fountain, the drug store where Harry Truman used to work!

Baseball: The Negro Baseball Leagues museum is great, but sorry to say, the success-challenged KC Royals are the only game in town. However, their stadium is pretty nice (in a 1970s municipal sort of way..)

Day 5-6? From here for the next 1000 or so miles west, you'll probably want to take advantage of the Interstates.
Along the way, following the I-80 freeway in the tracks of the old Oregon Trail, North Platte is interesting thanks to the larger-than-life figure of Buffalo Bill Cody, who lived here at what is reserved as "Scout's Ranch", and is pretty much central to anything and everything we think about cowboys, Indians, and the Wild West.

This would be the time to detour north to Mount Rushmore (via Carhenge!), but at the risk of outraging all of South Dakota, I'd like to suggest that while the Black Hills are astoundingly beautiful, Mt Rushmore itself is not likely to impress your 4-year-old twins. (In my experience, long-distance views and scenic overlooks don't really appeal to young kids -- my own precocious and sensitively appreciative twins have only just begun to appreciate the appeal of things like Mt Rushmore at the ripe old age of 10-and-a-half...)

Back on track: Buffalo Bill's North Platte museum is worth a visit, but the main event is further west, in the town named for him: Cody Wyoming, where the world-class Buffalo Bill Museum is fantastic -- and huge; you could easily spend a full day or more.

For rodeos, one of the most memorable moments of my own (long ago..!) childhood road trips was a visit to the Cody Night Rodeo. Well worth planning your trip around, for sure.

But then Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons are just up the road, and those are pretty tempting places to see, too.
For an unforgettable overnight -- or at least a meal in an unforgettable setting -- go to Old Faithful Inn, next to the iconic geyser.

Day 7-8?: You suggested driving across Montana, but while Montana is a beautiful place, the Rocky Mountains can make for slow-going, so I humbly recommend cruising straight across Idaho instead. After the lush forests, raging rivers and wild thermo-geology of Yellowstone, your next stop could be the arid volcanic plains of Craters of the Moon National Park -- which kids usually get a kick out of (there are lava tubes and caves to explore, if the weather gets hot). Overnight in family-friendly Boise, where you can float down the river (rafts and innertubes can be rented in Barber Park, near downtown) and generally stretch your legs.

Day 9-10. Almost there! On your way west be sure to stop at the National Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, off I-84 near Baker City, Oregon. The rolling expanses east of the Cascades are a good place to make up time if you've been having too much -- but one last great place to stop and enjoy is Mount Rainier, the iconic peak of the Puget Sound region.

Celebrate your trip by staying overnight at the newly restored, mile-high rustic Mt Rainier National Park lodge at Paradise, a fitting end to what I hope will be a great trip.

Hope these tips help you have a safe and happy adventure, and let me know how it goes!

Happy Trails,

Jamie Jensen

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