Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Road Trip Advice 8 -- "Wild West" to Pacific Northwest

Dear 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 June 22. 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!

Jennifer M


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 preserved 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 (* as I see you've done -- i stole your picture, posted above, and hope you don't mind! -- via Carhenge!),

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


Hi again Jamie ! –

I just wanted to thank you for an amazing itinerary. I am so impressed that you took the time to provide me with such relevant recommendations. I am so looking forward to the sights that you highlighted.

I have highly recommended your book and website based on your excellent advice and your personal touch in giving advice on my trip. People are amazed that I got a personal response. So thank you so much for taking the time.

I actually plan on "tweeting" across country on Twitter. Please feel free to follow me

** Note to readers who've stuck with this post this far: I've asked for permission to share Jen's Twitter details. and will post them when she says OK **

To many more road trips (and happy follower of your trips)!

Jennifer M


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