Monday, September 13, 2010

Month+ Road Trip, May 2011

Hi Jamie,

I am looking for some help and advice for a road trip my girlfriend and I are planning on doing next year.

We are arriving into Seattle from the UK on the evening of 23/04/11 and will be leaving from Chicago on the 08/06/11. We need to be in Ohio on the 28 May for a wedding (which we can not miss!) and a few days after both in Ohio and Detroit seeing family. But the 34 days before the wedding we are hoping to travel across the country.

We have a rough idea of a plan which is to set off from Seattle and head towards Yellowstone NP and then down towards the Gulf of Mexico and New Orleans, stopping off at places such as Bryce, Zion, Monument Valley, and a few others on our way to New Orleans.

Once in New Orleans we are looking at heading North East towards Washington, Philadelphia, New York, Boston, Montreal (if we have time) and back towards Ohio before heading to Detroit and Chicago, then (unfortunately, I'm sure) home to the UK.

The stops I have mentioned above are not definite stops, just ones we'd like to see along with others, but just as a guide as to the different parts of the country we'd like to be in on our trip

While we have a basic plan we are unsure about the timescales/distances and what we would be able to see in the time we have before needing to be at the wedding.

It would be great if you could give us some advice and help with our plan.

Thank you in advance,

M & N


Hi there M & N --

Thanks for writing in to Road Trip USA.

It sounds to me like you have a pretty great trip planned, and also that you plenty of time to really enjoy yourself and the places you are passing through. As far as timing/distance, here is my effort at a rough itinerary, based on your outline.

Hope this helps:

April 23rd Arrive Seattle. Spend some time here -- the city is brilliant (English usage; "totally cool" in West Coast-speak). And the surrounding area is truly astounding -- if you can spare a week to explore Mount Rainier / Mt St Helens / Olympic National Park / Port Townsend / San Juan Islands, you won't regret it.

I know you want to go east toward Yellowstone, but May can be awkward -- many roads are still closed by snow. Yellowstone is over 2000m in elevation -- 7500 feet -- and snows can linger, not only here but all across the Cascades and Rockies. If you are a skier, you're in luck -- the Jackson Hole are south of Yellowstone is powder heaven, as well as being gorgeous (the Grand Tetons are spectacular -- like the Alps, without all the French people...)

Depending upon the weather outlook, you might want to consider heading south from Seattle, down the Oregon coast, which is gorgeous. As is northern California... I have a chapter in Road Trip USA on the coastal drive, all the way from Seattle south to San Diego.

But Yellowstone is indeed truly amazing -- make sure you book a room asap, because it is also very popular. Also, many of the lodges don't open until May, so check well in advance and plan accordingly. I give some more info on Yellowstone in the "Oregon Trail" section, which also plots a good route should you opt to head down the coast from Seattle then east via Portland along US-20/26, a fine road.

OK, next phase. After Yellowstone, or on your way there if you took more time on the West Coast, you can see the glories of the desert Southwest: Bryce, Zion, Monument Valley. Don't forget the Arches and Canyonlands, the Grand Canyon, and the less-known but at least as interesting, ancient remains of Native American cliff palaces -- at Mesa Verde National Park, Canyon de Chelley, all of northern Arizona, really. Moab Utah is a good base, for some of these places, as is Flagstaff Arizona, and Santa Fe New Mexico. (Flagstaff and Santa Fe are more pricey than some spots, but the food (esp in Santa Fe) makes it worth the potential added expense. I cover some of this area in my "Loneliest Road" chapter, and others in Route 66 -- and years ago I wrote a book on the Southwest, which has tons more info but didn't sell well enough for me to keep in print, alas...)

This is about 2 weeks into your trip, and it'll be getting close to the middle of May, so you are on your way to New Orleans. The Great Plains don't offer a lot, compared to what you've been seeing, but the area north of New Orleans is pretty fascinating, and especially pretty in May. Check out Memphis TN (music mecca, even if you don't love Elvis), then head south across the Delta to Oxford, Vicksburg and Natchez Mississippi. Baton Rouge is lively, and the "Plantation Alley" stretch of the Great River Road is memorable, for sure.

New Orleans is sensory overload -- give it a couple of days at least. Maybe more if you love it, which most visitors do.

You say you want to head toward Washington, Philadelphia, New York, Boston, Montreal -- but I think you may want to spend more time on the western and southern parts of your trip, if only because the weather is so much more agreeable. Also, NYC / Boston et al aren't really "road trip" country to my mind -- it would be much better to treat them as city breaks, maybe on a later trip. (Also, I don't really have a lot to say about them -- though Philadelphia is an under-appreciated place, and less exorbitantly expensive than NYC or Boston...)

So, I'll give some pointers on New Orleans to Ohio, most of which send you along what I cover as the "Appalachian Trail" (in a new mini-book, and in my big Road Trip USA book, too.) This route follows the Blue Ridge Parkway and other great drives along the mountain crest. Asheville NC is a good destination (to see the Great Smoky Mountains) and the entire drive is spectacular when all the azaleas and rhododendhrons are in full bloom (late May?). You could follow this "Appalachian Trail" route as far north as Wash DC, which is a very very interesting city -- esp. if you like museums and Beaux Arts "classical" monuments, like the presidential memorials.

Other good mid-sized cities you might want to check out on your travels: Louisviille Kentucky? Cincinnati OH?? both are worth a look on your way back towards Ohio for May 28th.

Where in Ohio? It is a big state. Cleveland is kinda like Newcastle -- lots of rust, and huge character. Then not to far away you have Detroit (ditto the Cleveland story, heartbreakingly so), while Chicago is very exciting and lively. Any of these cities is worth a couple of days, for sure, and if you want to see one more area of spectacular natural beuaty, you could head up north to the rugged Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and maybe loop back down via Niagara Falls...?

Then, after a few days in Chicago, you can go home! Phew, I'm exhausted just thinking about your trip, but I bet you have a grand time.

Hope this breathless epistle -- and my books and website, which have a lot more detail -- help you plan a great experience.

Please take some pics or keep a travel journal, as I'll be interested to hear what all you get up to.

For now,

Happy Trails,

Jamie Jensen
Road Trip USA

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