Author Topic: [DONE] Grand USA West road-trip (40 days, 9078km/5640mi)  (Read 11465 times)

beee

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[DONE] Grand USA West road-trip (40 days, 9078km/5640mi)
« on: July 19, 2015, 03:22:24 PM »
Hey guys, we're planning a long road trip from Edmonton to San Diego and back.
Me and my wife are both 27, decided to make such trip before we're bound with kids.
Thankfully, we work at small companies and our bosses allow us to take 38 days off.


Holy trinity:
Accomodation: Longer stay => AirBnB. Short stay => hotes/motels/hostels (Camping is not an option :)
Transportation: 2010 toyota matrix (24/30 mpg city/highway, 10/8 l/100km).
Food: We don't really like dining out, so it will be groceries and occasional take outs from food courts. We plan to take a big cooler in car, and a small backpack cooler.

Questions:
1) Maybe somebody hosts on AirBnB, feel free to post a link to your place.
We're looking for a clean budget places (we're at mustachian forum, you know).
We will be happy to meet you, and live in your place.

2) Any must sees attractions in cities we will stay?
What are your favourites? Can you recommend something?
We have an itinerary in mind, but maybe you know some great places which are not easily found on the internet?

  • Great Falls, Mt (1 night)
  • West Yellowstone, Mt (homebase for Yellowstone)
  • Idaho Falls, ID (1 night)
  • Salt Lake City, UT (1 night)
  • Flagstaff, AZ (2 nights, homebase for Grand Canyon)
  • Las Vegas, NV (4 nights)
  • San Diego, CA (5 nights)
  • Los Angeles, CA (9 nights)
  • Visalia, CA (1 night, Sequoia National Park)
  • San Francisco, CA (5 nights)
  • Medford, OR (1 night)
  • Portland, OR (2 nights)
  • Seattle, WA (3 nights)

We don’t plan to go to Yosemite National park as we have mountains here in Alberta (Banff and Jasper, been there several times).

3) LA Disneyland and Disney Adventures park:
2 or 3 days combined for two 27yo kids? :)
My wife is afraid of high rollers coasters, are there enough “not scary” things to see?
Do they allow to bring your own food inside (sandwiches and water in cooler backpack)?

4) Grocery Stores: which ones do you recommend? We have Safeways here in Canada, but they’re a bit on the expensive side. What are budget grocery store chains in USA? We will buy produce, cheese, meat, nuts, dried fruit, veggies and fruits.

5) Mobile plan: I have an unlocked iPhone. I plan to use it as GPS, so I need a 3G data plan. Data only, don’t care at all about sms and voice (Skype FTW!). What’s the best option for 38 days and GPS use only? I will need to buy it somewhere in Montana.

6) Cash or Credit: I plan to take only about $100-200 of us cash. We should be able to pay for majority of expenses with credit cards. Am I right?

7) Gas: what are the cheapest gas station chains? Is it worth the hassle to search for a specific ones? Is there a big price difference between different stations? What about the different states?

8) National park: how much is the pass? What options do exist (day pass/annual/etc)? We will be 2 days in Yellowstone, 1 day in Grand Canyon and 1 day in Sequoia National Park.

9) Any other general tips and advices?

Thanks! This is a big "project" for us.
We’ve never been to USA before, so it’s our first visit to this great country.

Route:
(click to expand)

The plan is to hit the road on September 3rd.
« Last Edit: February 17, 2016, 03:20:34 PM by beee »

wordnerd

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What a great trip!

SF: The Exploratorium, Golden Gate Park (I like to go to the deYoung museum when I'm there), Marin County. My favorite hole-in-the-wall restaurant is a divey sandwich shop with life-changing subs called Little Lucca's (it's near the airport in South San Francisco).

LA: Griffin Observatory (nice view in the day, but really best at night), The La Brea Tar Pits, the Getty Museum (if you like art).

SD: So many great beaches, it's hard to go wrong. La Jolla is nice (if fancy), and you can walk and around the beach and see the seals. The Hotel Del Coronado is worth a visit.

I'm not a big fast food fan, but I love In-N-Out burger, and it's a southern California classic, so worth a stop.

Credit cards will be fine on this part of the trip at least. Ralph's is a fine mid-range grocery store that you should be able to find everywhere. If you can find a Trader Joe's, they have really tasty pre-made foods (Indian, Thai, Mexican, etc) you could heat up in a hotel microwave and great deals on wine.

National parks are pretty cheap (much cheaper than the ones I've been to in Canada), but I think the entrance fees vary by park (someone correct me if I'm wrong). ~$25 per car per week seems right, but I'd check the NPS website.

Safe (and fun) travels!

wordnerd

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Oh, and Disney has plenty of non-scary/non-rollercoaster rides. It's more experience-focused than most theme parks. Last time I went, I was 13, but I had a blast then :)

zsmith

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Re: Disney - there is a ton to do that's not scary. You can bring in your own snacks and water bottles to refill. If you purchase coffee on Mainstreet (can't remember which shop), you can get free refills all day with your receipt. I have heard that you can get discounted theme park tickets through Costco, but haven't tested this out. If you have the Disney credit card, you can get discounts on dining, etc. in park. It's not a great Rewards card, but there is a card available with no annual fee. Be sure to take in the shows, etc. to maximize the experience.

Rufus.T.Firefly

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This looks like an awesome trip!

I've taken three separate trips in this region of the U.S. when I was a kid (I'm from the east coast). My personal preference is toward seeing the Great Outdoors. With that in mind, I would recommend more than 1 day in Yellowstone. It's huge and there is a ton of stuff to see between the Geysers, Wildlife, Canyon, etc.

Also, on your way back you should try to take a scenic detour along Hwy 1/101. The coastline is breathtaking. We stayed in Crescent City, CA along the coast for one night on a beach motel that was affordable. That stop allows you to see the Redwoods which are pretty epic and worth the travel time.

I've never been to San Diego or LA, but definitely enjoyed San Fran, Portland, and Seattle. Those are all good choices.

Big Thumbs Up for the trip! My wife and I were just talking about doing a road trip out West in the future ... enjoy it!

Cassie

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WE just spent 5 days in Yellowstone & 2 in the Grand Tetons-they are next to each other. We never ran out of things to do. I would shave a few days off of Vegas. After awhile it all looks the same. Have fun!

decembeir

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4. In the San Francisco area and possibly much of California, I really like the Sprouts Farmer's Market grocery store chain. They have a lot of reasonably priced produce and bulk nuts, dried fruit, etc.

8. The National Park entrance fees are as follows (all are valid for 7 days): Yellowstone $30, Sequoia $20, Grand Canyon $30. Otherwise, a year pass good to enter all national parks is also $80, so you will likely be better off buying the year pass since it gives you more freedom to alter your trip as you go and possibly add on quick visits to additional parks. In reference to your question #6: you can pay for the entrance passes with credit card. If you do decide you are interested in other parks, I would highly recommend Arches National Park. My husband and I did a road trip going from the Grand Canyon to Arches (also stopped at Canyonlands), to Grand Tetons (just drove through) up to Yellowstone. I think Arches is a great family park with a lot of easy to moderate trails, spectacular scenery, close to the city of Moab for hotels, and you can see the vast majority of the park in one day (or just the major sights within a few hours)- but you would end up having to alter your route a fair amount to add it into your trip. You may have already come across the national park websites (here's the one for Yellowstone: http://www.nps.gov/yell/index.htm )but in case you haven't they are a great resource for planning out your visits.


Also, I agree with Cassie about thinking further about how your trips days are partitioned, specifically the 4 days in Vegas and 9 in LA might both be a bit much. I think it really depends on how old your kids are, but if they are fairly young I think 2-3 days would be better for Vegas before you run out of family friendly activities (if they are older, or you just want to have time to relax 4 days might be perfectly fine). If your family enjoys the outdoors, I wouldn't be afraid to add on more days at the national parks as there are a lot of world class sights available to take in.

socalteacher

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I have done a similar route to yours 3 times in the past 12 years to visit friends in Canada.

A few thoughts...
Zion National Park is incredible and you drive close to it. Look up "The Narrows" hike which is in water with huge canyon walls surrounding you. Be on the first tram to the trailhead and you will have the "trail" to yourself.

Once in San Diego look at catching a Padre Game in the Gaslamp, drinks at the Hotel Del Coronado bar overlooking the beach, Belmont Park, La Jolla is a must, Balboa Park is great and next to the zoo.

Also, Sequoia NP is great but Yosemite NP is better and worth the drive. Consider driving up the 101/ US1 coast highway starting after Santa Maria. It is an incredible drive. 

chippy

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1) What about camping? If you enjoy it, you can cut major costs by camping and cooking outside. A quick set up of gear won't break the bank.

2) My personal favorites (that you omitted) are Crater Lake and Ashland, OR. Both easily accessible from I-5 between Portland and San Francisco.

3) Disneyland may be even better if you don't like big crazy coasters, you won't be waiting in line!

4) Safeway isn't too bad price-wise, you'll find them up and down the I-5 corridor. If you really want to cut down on costs though, Walmart. If you want relatively cheap pre-made food, Trader Joes.

5) Get a prepaid sim from straight talk. 45$/month with unlimited data. Though keep in mind cell reception in the rural west can be really terrible.

6) Cash shouldn't be needed, though again in some rural parts of the west, I'd want a bit more cash in case of an emergency.

7) Get one of those iphone apps that show you the price of gas stations around. (Also in Oregon all gas stations are full-service, it is illegal to pump your own gas)

8) See others

9) HAVE FUN! I've been to almost all the places you'll hit, but never in a single trip.

lhamo

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If you don't have a Costco membership, consider getting one.  They have really good prices for large quantities of nuts, dried fruit, jerky, etc.  Also a great place to get meat, cheese and fruit/veggies if you have a cooler.  And if you can schedule your gas fillups to coincide with Costco stops, you will also save a lot -- here in Seattle Costco gas is typically $.10-20 cheaper per gallon than other stations (except maybe Arco). 

I personally would spend more time in nature and less in the cities.  Glacier National Park, Yellowstone and Grand Teton are all worth at least 2-3 days each, especially if you like hiking.  And it is worth spending more time meandering up the Pacific Coast.  An annual national Parks pass would also let you hit Yosemite (have never been, but heard it is great), Crater Lake, Mt. St Helens (highly recommended!) and Mt. Rainier.  Or you could also do the big loop around Olympic National Park -- some beautiful beaches and the rain forest is fun to see. 

I'm contemplating a road trip for me and DS in late August/early September.  Maybe we'll cross paths!


Sailor Sam

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I've driven across country 3 times, twice as a poor university student and the third time last April as a semi-mustachian. My proudest travel hack has been discovering the amenities available at truck stop style gas stations. Mainly the microwaves.

Before the last trip, I pre-cooked some stew type batch meals, stored each type in a gallon sized ziplock bag, and stashed the bags in a cooler. When we got hungry we would stop at the truck stop, microwave our meals, and chow down. All the truck stops had an attached fast food joint, so we even got to eat at tables like civilized beasts. One piece of advice if you choose this route - make sure your cooler is completely filled with ice when you refill. I found a partially filled cooler lasted 1.5 days, while a fully packed cooler lasted almost 4. Partial pressures or Boyle's Law, or something.   

Once the stews ran out, we purchased microwave meals at Wal-mart. We even got the fancy organic stuff, with few strange ingredients. I great time was had by all, and we spent $4.37/day/person on food. Plus an additional $12 on ice. Do not ask the alcohol bill; I did say semi-mustachian.

wordnerd

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I personally would spend more time in nature and less in the cities.  Glacier National Park, Yellowstone and Grand Teton are all worth at least 2-3 days each, especially if you like hiking.  And it is worth spending more time meandering up the Pacific Coast.  An annual national Parks pass would also let you hit Yosemite (have never been, but heard it is great), Crater Lake, Mt. St Helens (highly recommended!) and Mt. Rainier.  Or you could also do the big loop around Olympic National Park -- some beautiful beaches and the rain forest is fun to see. 


All of this! I highly recommend Yosemite in particular. It's only 3 or so hours from San Francisco. It'd be well worth it to take a few days off of either San Francisco or LA to accommodate it in your schedule.

Tick-Tock

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You might want to consider stopping by Death Valley National Park.  It's only a couple of hours from Vegas. 

I echo the recommendations to plan less time in SoCal and more time on the road.  The parks in Utah are incredible.

overlord34

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I drove from the Grand Canyon to Las Vegas a few years ago.  It would have been quicker and more direct to drive there south of the canyon as you're currently doing but someone told me it's much more scenic to take the highway on the north side of the canyon to go toward vegas.  It took about 2-3 extra hours but it was a fantastic drive with great desert scenery.

spokey doke

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Cool trip!

If you want to experience the country you are driving through, then here are some recommendations...

1. Glacier NP is really a must, even hitting just the things on the E. side (like Many Glacier)
2. West Yellowstone is very touristy and while it is mid-way on the west border of the park, there isn't a ton of stuff to see right near there.  I would spend at least one night in Gardner and do Mammoth Hot Springs and an EARLY morning drive up the Lamar Valley for wildlife viewing.  Do everything you want to do in the park well before 10am and after 6pm and you'll be much better off (traffic and crowds).
3. Next don't go from West Yellowstone to Idaho Falls (BORING)...go out the south end of Yellowstone and into Teton NP and check out that park too.  Then head through Jackson, over Teton Pass and get an airbnb in Victor or Driggs, stop in Pendl's bakery and go hike up Teton Canyon or do the Table Mountain hike.  The drive to Salt Lake is still easy from there.
4. As mentioned above, do hit Crater Lake.

Have fun...

Cookie78

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Awesome trip!!

Also, on your way back you should try to take a scenic detour along Hwy 1/101. The coastline is breathtaking. We stayed in Crescent City, CA along the coast for one night on a beach motel that was affordable. That stop allows you to see the Redwoods which are pretty epic and worth the travel time.

I agree with this too. I drove from Calgary to Phoenix 2 years ago via Seattle and LA, and stuck to the coast as much as possible. HIGHLY recommended, especially through Oregon. It's better to do driving south though, so you can easily and more safely pull off at all the viewpoints, but even driving north it would be better than taking the freeway.


Trifele

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We traveled to California earlier this year, and I agree that you may want to check how your days are allocated . . . After seeing the stunning beauty of Yosemite and Redwoods, if we had it to do over again we would spend a lot less time in the cities, and more time in nature.  (Although the Alcatraz tour in SF was excellent).   Seriously -- trim some time off either LA or Las Vegas and go to Crescent City and visit the Redwoods.  You'll be glad you did!

opah

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Yes, yes, yes to echo the posters that are telling you to go along the coast from LA to SF. I'm not sure what's in Visalia, but if I were you I would shave 2-3 days off your LA stay and do a slow drive up the California coast. Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo - a lot of wine country through here, Hearst Castle, Big Sur, Santa Cruz... I lived in LA and I wouldn't want to stay there for 9 days for fun. If you want to see a lot of it (i.e. Santa Monica or Venice beach and downtown) you'll be driving around so much in traffic you may not feel like it's a vacation after day 5 or so. Definitely visit Griffith Park and the Getty. I love little Tokyo downtown.

You should be fine with 2 days at Disneyland Parks, one day at Disneyland, one day at California Adventure. It's expensive, and it's crowded.

San Diego is a beautiful city. Definitely check out Balboa Park, there are a lot of museums and it's gorgeous. Check out the San Diego Zoo. Eat lots of fish tacos, go to a lot of breweries (the North Park neighborhood has probably the highest concentration of breweries/tasting rooms you can walk to). If you go to Cabrillo National Monument on Point Loma you get a fantastic view of the whole city. I'm not a beach person so I'm not gung-ho about Pacific or Mission Beach. La Jolla and Coronado Island are much nicer in my opinion.

Cookie78

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This makes me want to take off and do long road trips soooooo much! I hope you post lots of photos and let us know how the trip was. :D


AZDude

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Probably not on your route, but just in case, I-10 between Los Angeles and Phoenix is closed for the foreseeable future due to a bridge collapse brought on by flooding. Make sure you have an alternate route(I-40 seems the logical one).

Mostly echo what others have said.

lsalinas

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My husband and I went to Disneyland without kids and we loved it so much we almost bought annual passes (we only live 30 minutes away), but figured that wouldn't be a financially sound move :).  It took us two days to see everything at Disneyland with some time to go on some of our favorite rides twice.  We were there from 8 am to midnight both days and we used fastpasses and a pre-planned strategy to make sure we didn't wait in lines and maximize our time and money.  The only rides at Disneyland that might be too much for your wife is Space Mountain and Thunder Mountain, everything else is pretty tame.  I haven't been to California Adventure but I think that is where all the scary big rides are.  If you want to explore the whole park and see all the shows then I would recommend 3 days.  If you just want to hit the highlights and don't mind leaving without seeing parts of the park, then 2 days would be great. 

spokey doke

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We traveled to California earlier this year, and I agree that you may want to check how your days are allocated . . . After seeing the stunning beauty of Yosemite and Redwoods, if we had it to do over again we would spend a lot less time in the cities, and more time in nature.  (Although the Alcatraz tour in SF was excellent).   Seriously -- trim some time off either LA or Las Vegas and go to Crescent City and visit the Redwoods.  You'll be glad you did!

+1

Being aware that the coast route takes a lot more time than I-5, it is really incredible, esp. Redwoods.

From Ashland (great town, catch a play for sure, skip Medford), hit Crater Lake then up to Bend (one of my favorite towns, period), then up over Mt. Hood to Portland.

Mirwen

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I live in Las Vegas and I often vacation in the National Parks, San Diego, or Oregon when on vacation.  The National Parks in the West are really a treasure and well worth the time to explore.  Here are my comments and impressions of your itinerary.

1.  Absolutely buy the $80 year long pass.  There are so many national monuments or forest picnic areas that you might want to stop at along the way.  It will almost certainly pay to get the pass and not worry about individual fees adding up.  You can add another person to the pass and either one can bring in up to 4 adults (including themselves).  If you only put one person on the card at the beginning, you can pass it off to someone else when you are done with your trip.  (Both have to present IDs at a park window to do this.)

2. The drive from SLC to Vegas will be hell.  I'd rearrange your trip to drive down (and back) through California instead of Utah or Nevada if you can.  It's very barren and there aren't many services.

3.  You aren't spending enough time in Yellowstone or the many parks in Southern Utah.  You can see all you need of Vegas in a day.  The attractions here are gambling, drinking, and shopping in a very low life way.  I'd plan just one day here to eat in a nice restaurant (we have world class ones) walk though a couple of casinos and see a cirque du soleil show.  Go stay in Moab as a jumping off point for the National parks.  Including Zion: drive in from the east entrance and drive through the tunnel even if this means you have to turn around and go back through, Arches, Staircase-Escalante, Northern Rim Grand canyon.  Red rocks canyon (just on the outskirts of Vegas) is very nice, but the parks in southern Utah are better. 

4. I wouldn't stay in Phoenix to see the grand canyon.  It's too far and the southern rim is too crowded.  I have a strong preference for the north rim and there is a great little cabin/hotel there.  It's higher elevation so it's cooler in the summer than the southern rim.  http://www.grandcanyonlodgenorth.com/  You'll access this side from southern Utah.  You can combine this with the other National parks there.

5.  Absolutely do not miss the Zoo in San Diego.  Take the tour bus (inside the zoo) at least once and don't miss the amazing but tiny humming bird house.

6. I wouldn't take the time out for Death Valley unless it was January.

7.  If I were in Oregon and didn't have kids I'd take a day for whitewater rafting.  My husband and I did it once before we had our first and we're still trying to work out how to do it again.  It's much tougher once you have kids.

8. Why no camping?  Is it because you don't have gear and don't want to sleep on the ground?  I have had some good experiences with KOA campground cabins or similar.  They are usually a little noisy, but you have a roof over your head and a flushing toilet and warm running water just a short walk away.  For $30-40ish dollars a night just a few nights in a cabin instead of a hotel could save you a lot of money.  You will need to bring your own sheets/pillows if you do this.

mm1970

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I live in Santa Barbara -

 I agree that a drive up the coast is worth it, and maybe more time in nature and less in the cities - if that's what you like, anyway.

I would also consider a stop at Joshua Tree National Park.  Especially if you have the pass.  It's going to be hot though.

Grand Canyon is great.

So, anyway, on groceries and gas - really, I'd just get an app for gas (that tell you the cheapest stations), and not worry too much about groceries.  You aren't going to want to shop around TOO much.  If you are settled in a place for a few days, then by all means, ask the locals.

expectopatronum

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What a phenomenal trip!! That looks like a lot of fun. We've done the "eastern" part of your loop and some of California.

I would chop the time in LA in half (to 4-5 days), and spread the extra days between the splendor of Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons - absolutely do not miss the latter. Between the two, I actually preferred the Tetons

IMO, 4 nights for the first time to Vegas is a bit much, unless this is a really high priority. I personally would drop a night and put it elsewhere (towards a Ntl Park), but this very much depends on personal taste.

Salt Lake City: Absolutely try to see the LDS temple there. Lovely.
Yellowstone: Old Faithful was neat, but my favorite part was the colorful springs and the canyon. The Tetons were amazing; we had a hike at Lake Jenny and saw a moose.
San Diego: Seconding the zoo. My dad loved the Midway Museum. Last time there my mom and I did La Jolla (lovely!), Coronado Island (beautiful historic hotel), and I think Point Loma too.
San Francisco: No shortage of stuff to see. Chinatown, Golden Gate, trolleys, the zig zaggy street, Alcatraz, Ghirardhelli....I loved SF.

I really would love to get to see the Redwoods and Yosemite someday. Are you getting to see Mt St Helens too?

Someday I would suggest parts of Colorado and Big Bend. Big Bend is just stunning, especially at night - I have never seen so many stars in my life.

AZDude

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Midway museum was cool. If you like military history you will enjoy it. Might want to pass if you are claustrophobic. Instead of the San Diego Zoo, I would visit the Safari Park, near Escondido. No buses, more open, and just overall a better experience, IMO. Kind of a drive, but since its a road trip you could plan to have it be on the way. Can get kind of warm and humid in the summer.


beee

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Hey, thanks for all your replies.
You guys are awesome!

I’ll try to answer all the questions.

About the first part of the route:
Edmonton to Las Vegas: 7 days and 3245 kms
A LOT OF DRIVING!
Here’s why:
We will be travelling with my father-in-law this part.
He has only 1 week, and really wants to see Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, and Hoover Dam.
That’s why we have so much driving in this first part of the trip.
In addition, we will have 2 drivers till Las Vegas (my wife doesn’t drive)
He will fly from Las Vegas back to Edmonton.
After Las Vegas we won’t have long drives (6 hrs is a max).


About Yosemite:
Here’re my thoughts, please correct me if I'm terribly wrong:
When we check if something is worth the visit, we always do a “google images” search:
if what you see inspires you => go there
if it’s just “ok", then probably skip it

So, Yosemite. It does look cool.
BUT
We have mountains 4 hours from Edmonton, been there 2-3 times a year for the last 3 years.
We’ve also seen British Columbia mountains.
We do love mountains: hiking, wildlife, etc.

Here’s a google images check (North to South):
Jasper: https://www.google.ca/search?q=jasper+national+park&tbm=isch
Banff: https://www.google.ca/search?q=banff+national+park&tbm=isch
Glacier National Park: https://www.google.ca/search?q=glacier+national+park&tbm=isch
British Columbia: https://www.google.ca/search?q=british+columbia+mountains&tbm=isch
Yosemite: https://www.google.ca/search?q=yosemite+national+park&tbm=isch
Grand Teton: https://www.google.ca/search?q=grand+teton+national+park&tbm=isch

Looks pretty much the same, so we decided to skip all of those.
We have enough mountains, bears, mooses, etc. :)
After so much of those, they just don’t inspire us enough to pay them a visit.
USA has a lot of variety, so why not to check something else this time?

What does inspire us?
Deserts, palms, canyons, beaches, beautiful gardens.
All the things that we don’t have here :)
For example, these parks:
Arches National Park
Zion National Park
do look really amazing and DIFFERENT, but we have time constraints for the first part of the trip :((
I just don't know how to fit them in our itinerary

Why so much time in LA?
3 days for Disneyland, 1 day for Universal Studios = 4 days.
The rest: we just want to live a bit in a warm climate near an ocean.
We plan to live in Anaheim first (near Disneyland), and somewhere else (where?) later.

Why not skip Disney for future "family-kid" vacation?
We don’t have kids yet, so “Family-kid” vacation is at least 6-7 years away.
(I think it doesn’t make sense to go there until a kid is at least 5-6 yo or even older)
And we just want to go there, we love such things.

Yellowstone:
we will have 2 partial days there:
1) Great Falls => Gardiner: 4 hours and 360kms. The rest of the day is in Yellowstone, following the road to West Yellowstone.
...) just a night in West Yellowstone
2) West Yellowstone => Idaho Falls through Yellowstone


About Redwoods and Highway 1:
Our initial plan was to take Highway 1 and have 2 stops: Santa Barbara and Monterrey. Visit Redwoods too.
Then I’ve found Sequoia NP (stay at Visalia), and we changed the route:
We will have enough “beach” and “ocean” in LA and SD, so giant sequoias are better than redwoods.
Do you thinks it’s a mistake?
Maybe there’s a way to get the best of 2 options?
Sequoias VS Redwoods? Which one is better?

We can easily change this part of the trip.


Grand Canyon:
All over the Internet people say that the South Rim is the best. That’s why we chose it.
We stay in Flagstaff (not Phoenix, Mirwen)


Las Vegas:
We have 4 nights there, 3 full days.
Do you think it's too much?
We don't drink, don't party, and I plan to spend around $20-30 on the cheapest slot machine (just for the experience of pulling the handle :), without any hopes to make a profit).
We plan to wander the strip at day and night, there're several interesting free things there.
Plus: Valley of Fire, Red Rock Canyon, they're nearby

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You might want to consider stopping by Death Valley National Park.  It's only a couple of hours from Vegas. 

Ok, we will consider it. I checked google images, and didn't understand what's in there :)
But DESERT! That would be cool to just drive there :)
Or insanely hot :)



About camping

My wife doesn't like camping. She is awesome in all ways except more "dangerous" stuff (camping? with bears? no way! roller coasters? no way!) We're both pretty young, but we married at 22, so it's our 5th year of happy marriage :)


About GasBuddy:
Thank you all! I'll install it.


About Medford and Crater Lake
We chose Medford just to split long road in 2 day.
We will stay at Ashland, OR then, because several people recommend it.
I'll redo the route.

Ashland => Crater Lake => Portland is 6 hours, 555kms... too long :(


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Get a prepaid sim from straight talk. 45$/month with unlimited data

I was hoping for something cheaper... Any other suggestions?


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Also in Oregon all gas stations are full-service, it is illegal to pump your own gas

Good to know. I hope to not accidentally break a law :)


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Mt. St Helens (highly recommended!) and Mt. Rainier.  Or you could also do the big loop around Olympic National Park -- some beautiful beaches and the rain forest is fun to see.

Mountains again :) We will pass them.
About the loop: sounds interesting.
Maybe, if we won't be exhausted from driving.
Or next time when we visit just Seattle and area.


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Once the stews ran out, we purchased microwave meals at Wal-mart

Walmart! How can we forget about it :)


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we had a hike at Lake Jenny and saw a moose
One morning in Jasper we got up, opened the door of our cabin and saw an ass of the moose in 3 meters :)
He was eating his breakfast grass and didn't really care about us.


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Instead of the San Diego Zoo, I would visit the Safari Park, near Escondido

We plan to visit both :)

lhamo

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OK, so maybe your Canadian mountains make our US mountains boring but Mt. St. Helens is REALLY F-IN' COOL!  Especially the east side drive, where you literally go over a ridge an move from green forests into devastated blast zone.   The exhibits at the visitor center (including the movies) are also great. 

Bummer that you don't have more time to meander around Yellowstone due to FILs schedule.   

You don't need 3 days in Vegas to play some slots and stroll the strip.  1 day/2 nights is more than enough. 

If you cut down the time you spend in Vegas/LA you could spend more time meandering up the Pacific Coast and also hit Crater Lake, which also is seriously worth seeing. 

 

lsalinas

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Since you mentioned beaches and gardens I figured I would give you some more information on those types of things in LA. 

I too love beaches.  The main tourist beach with the most things to see and do is Santa Monica.  Venice Beach is like a circus side show.  It is crazy if you like that sort of thing and I like that sort of thing!  If you go to Venice you might also want to visit the canals.  It’s a tranquil walk among beautiful houses and gardens and the odd neighbor paddling through the canal on their kayak after the looniness of the rest of Venice.  Further south is Hermosa Beach, Redondo Beach and Manhattan Beach, they have much less tourist attractions however depending on when you come Hermosa and Manhattan have pro beach volleyball and surfing tournaments which are fun to watch.  Hermosa has a spring break vibe; younger crowd and cheaper drinks.  Manhattan crowd is like Hermosa but 10 years older.  Redondo Beach is where the families are and the pier is next to the marina so there are boat rides and water activities. 

For gardens and art the Getty Center and the Getty Villa are spectacular.  They technically have free admission, but they charge to park.  These are near the beach but north of Santa Monica.  To the east of Universal Studios there is the Huntington Gardens which have themed gardens, like the Rose garden, Desert garden, Japanese garden, etc.  The buildings also have art galleries and rare book collections.  Admission is spendy, but the first Thursday of the month is free if you reserve your tickets in advance online. 

beee

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Quote
maybe your Canadian mountains make our US mountains boring

They are definitely not boring.
We've just seen enough mountains and wildlife here in Canada (what else do we have? :)
Now we want to check something else.


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Mt. St. Helens is REALLY F-IN' COOL!  Especially the east side drive, where you literally go over a ridge an move from green forests into devastated blast zone.

What route do you mean?
(check attachments)


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If you cut down the time you spend in Vegas/LA you could spend more time meandering up the Pacific Coast and also hit Crater Lake, which also is seriously worth seeing. 

Yeah, we're discussing this option


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Since you mentioned beaches and gardens I figured I would give you some more information on those types of things in LA.

Thanks!
What do you think is the best part of the city to stay?
« Last Edit: July 21, 2015, 09:19:35 AM by ildar »

lhamo

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Neither map looks right to me, though #2 does seem to get you to the eastern side of the park.

I would suggest taking 1-5 to to State Route 504 (exiting at Castle Rock) and at least going up to the Johnston Observatory.  If you have more time, it is worth circling around the north side of the mountain and going over to Windy Ridge on the east side -- that road has the most dramatic changes as you enter the blast zone. 

This map shows the detail within the park.  I can't get Google Maps to work right to show the correct sites/roads for the larger area.

http://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprd3843476.pdf

Others with a better sense of geography may suggest better routes.  I've only visited driving down from Seattle, never up from Portland, so not really sure what the options are.


hyla

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2) Any must sees attractions in cities we will stay?
What are your favourites? Can you recommend something?
We have an itinerary in mind, but maybe you know some great places which are not easily found on the internet?

    Great Falls, Mt (1 night)
    West Yellowstone, Mt (homebase for Yellowstone)
I like Gardiner better than West for a Yellowstone gateway. 
Yellowstone can be a crowded mess in the summer, you will have a much better time if you do some hikes (even short hikes of a few miles) to get away from the crowds along the boardwalks and roads.  Some of the backcountry thermal areas are really neat to hike to because you can see thermals without all the people and railings. 
   
    Las Vegas, NV (4 nights)
Red Rocks - 20 miles outside the city, great hiking and climbing.  All desert and red rocks and joshua trees so it will be something different from your Alberta mountains.

4 nights seems like a long time in Vegas unless you're really into gambling and shows.  If you're inspired by deserts, you might consider a few days based out of St. George Utah or nearby before you get to Vegas.  1 hr to Zion, also an excellent state park (snow canyon) with red rocks and lava tubes, lots of neat desert and trails on the BLM land around there.  But if you do go to St. George, spend all your time in the surrounding desert, the city is nothing special.  You might also consider driving a bit further east towards bryce canyon, escalante, or capitol reef, they are beautiful but not quite as far off your route as Moab. 

Flagstaff, AZ
Flagstaff is a nice town, but it's a bit of a drive to the Grand Canyon and I recommend the North Rim over the South. 

San Francisco/Portland
You mention beautiful gardens, both these cities have neat Japanese Gardens, Portland also has an arboretum, rose garden, and chinese garden, have not spent as much time in San Francisco but I think they have similar. 

4) Grocery Stores: which ones do you recommend? We have Safeways here in Canada, but they’re a bit on the expensive side. What are budget grocery store chains in USA? We will buy produce, cheese, meat, nuts, dried fruit, veggies and fruits.

5) Mobile plan: I have an unlocked iPhone. I plan to use it as GPS, so I need a 3G data plan. Data only, don’t care at all about sms and voice (Skype FTW!). What’s the best option for 38 days and GPS use only? I will need to buy it somewhere in Montana.

Verizon is the only carrier with extensive coverage in most of the interior West, so I would suggest a prepaid carrier that uses their network.  I have PagePlus (in Montana) and have been happy with the coverage.  You can't get data without voice/text, but you can pay by the month. You will probably have to fork over $30+ a month to get data, depending on how much you want.

6) Cash or Credit: I plan to take only about $100-200 of us cash. We should be able to pay for majority of expenses with credit cards. Am I right?

Yes

7) Gas: what are the cheapest gas station chains? Is it worth the hassle to search for a specific ones? Is there a big price difference between different stations? What about the different states?

Not a huge difference between chains, it's more area based.  Buying in places people live will be cheaper than buying in tourist places (for example, buy gas in Bozeman or Livingston or Ennis before you get to any of the Yellowstone gateway towns, and avoid buying gas in the park). 

8) National park: how much is the pass? What options do exist (day pass/annual/etc)? We will be 2 days in Yellowstone, 1 day in Grand Canyon and 1 day in Sequoia National Park.

$80 for an annual (good for all parks) or $15 - $40 for a week in one park (parks you mention are likely near the high end), no day passes.  Annual is probably the best choice, and is also good at some BLM and forest service sites

9) Any other general tips and advices?

I think you're speeding through some of the parks too fast, and would probably enjoy yourself more if you spent a bit longer in each one, even if it meant cutting a few things out or doing some long haul driving days in between.

zsmith

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OK, so maybe your Canadian mountains make our US mountains boring but Mt. St. Helens is REALLY F-IN' COOL!  Especially the east side drive, where you literally go over a ridge an move from green forests into devastated blast zone.   The exhibits at the visitor center (including the movies) are also great. 

Bummer that you don't have more time to meander around Yellowstone due to FILs schedule.   

You don't need 3 days in Vegas to play some slots and stroll the strip.  1 day/2 nights is more than enough. 

If you cut down the time you spend in Vegas/LA you could spend more time meandering up the Pacific Coast and also hit Crater Lake, which also is seriously worth seeing. 

 

Agreed! We go to Vegas just about every year and two nights is almost too much.

zoltani

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In you first map I would take HWY 410 instead of I-90 to Seattle, much more scenic.

Also, LOL at Mt Rainier being "just another mountain". You have nothing like it in canada. Please point me to a mountain with as much prominence.

expectopatronum

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Yes, for someone like this, I think Vegas would easily feel done by day 2. I personally felt that Vegas had to offer: shows, gambling, alcohol, food (overpriced), a little walking about seeing the different casinos, strip clubs, clubs with DJs, pool parties, renting fancy cars in the desert...I'm not normally of the mindset that one must spend money to be amused, BUT in Vegas while traveling, there's just not that many ways to kill 3 days if all you want to do is play some slots (old after an hour, tops) and wander. Though I guess you could make an argument that you can do two days of Vegas and one of Red Rock Canyon...

It definitely makes sense to "diversify", but having been to the Alps, Rockies, Smoky Mountains, Appalachians, and more...They all felt different to me and were all worth it. Also, add in some mountains from Costa Rica and Japan. But that's personal preference! If you want variety, do variety.

Even with Disney, 9 days looks long, but that's because LA would be one of my lowest priorities on that whole itinerary - to each their own!

zoltani

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A lifetime can be spent in red rock canyon, if you are a rock climber ;)

Most people just drive around the loop road and look at the face of the mountains. The true beauty is behind those mountains, in the canyons. You will find pine trees, streams, desert wildlife, and generally rugged terrain. It is a truly amazing place, and it feels crazy to feel so out there, and in my case lost at times, so close to a major population center. We ended up hiking out in the dark one night, got lost and couldn't find the parking lot. The whole time you could see cars on the distant highway and the lights of vegas twinkling. It was kind of surreal.

Also a fun fact is that the strip and casinos are not even in las vegas, they are in paradise.


coffeehound

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Getty Museum is free, if you arrive on a city bus, otherwise you pay $15 to park, but no admission fee.  Getty Villa (which is gorgeous) requires reservation, and has a parking fee, too.  Huntington Library and Botanic Gardens in Pasadena is worth a visit - someone mentioned that there is a 'free' day - if you like gardens, this is one not to miss!

LA is seriously spread out - you may want to do something like AirBnB at one place near Anaheim, one place in the Pasadena area, then move west to visit Santa Monica, Pacific Ocean, etc. It sounds like a lot of moving around, but the traffic here is horrible, and you could end up spending most of your day in the car. Someone mentioned La Brea Tar Pits, which are fun, as is the museum attached to them - there's also a funky little museum of arts and crafts on Wilshire Boulevard, near the tar pits.  Marina del Rey is a great place for a quiet walk on the beach. Also recommend a visit to Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Gardens and a stroll around Claremont, a college town east of downtown LA.  The campuses are pretty, the garden is almost all desert plants.........

Disney will let you bring your own food, but you'll have to store it in a locker outside the park, then exit the park when you're ready to eat.

If you want a uniquely 'LA' experience, check for tickets to a show at the Hollywood Bowl or at the Greek Theater - they both sell tix online.

Best burgers in town are at Father's Office, which is a small chain of funky little bars, and a great place to meet 20-somethings, which could be useful for you to chat with folks your age about living in LA.



  • Visalia, CA (1 night, Sequoia National Park)
Traveling through the CA Central Valley in summer (yes, September/October is still summer here) is not a great idea - we're talking hot as the surface of the sun (95+ F)......... Get thee to the 101/1! 
If you do decide to go through the Central Valley, don't miss Yosemite.  It's unique.  Seriously.



forummm

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Unless you have a specific reason to spend that much time in LA, I'd cut some of that time and move it to something else (like Yellowstone or adding Yosemite). LA is OK, but not amazing. I think Yosemite would be a great add. You can see a lot in 2-3 days there. I would think 2 days at Disneyland/California Adventure is all you'd need if you go on weekdays. You can do the whole park in one day if that's your goal. There's more on the Disneyland side than the CA side. The CA side is more traditional theme park roller coastery type exhibits, but with a Disney flair. There are a few I wouldn't go on like the Twilight Zone ride (something tower?) if you don't like that kind of stuff. Disneyland is more tame and more my style.

You'll have a great trip!

Langer83

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AWESOME! The best month of my life was a roadtrip around the country. My preferences are likely quite different than your's, so take this with a bit of a grain of salt. For me, the scenic beauty of the west would be the focus of a trip rather than most of the cities on your list. But here are the things that struck me most:

1) You should spend some time exploring southern Utah. It's an absolutely phenomenal area. For your route, Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capital Reef, and Grand Staircase Escalante would be closest. On the eastern side of the state, you could base yourself in Moab (a neat town) and explore Arches and Canyonlands, but that's a further afield.

2) Travel up Route 1 in California. It's great and simply not the same as the beaches in San Diego and LA.

3) Your route spends too much time on interstates--these are a great way to quickly get from Point A to Point B, but you'll see nothing inbetween and random pit stops are uncommon. To me, that's not the point of a roadtrip. Consider state highways instead. You can still go 55 mph, but you'll see so much more. Similarly, look up a list of best roadtrips in the U.S.--Beartooth highway in MT/WY and Route 1 in CA are two that are obvious alternatives to your route. Or just an atlas with scenic drives.

4) Suggestions #1 and #2 are for scenic beauty that you don't have in Canada, but as others have said all mountains are different--Tetons, Beartooths, Wind Rivers in WY; Sierras (especially Yosemite); and the Cascades (Mt Rainer, N Cascades NP) are all spectacular.

5) Hating on LA seems too common, but I think I'd go crazy spending 9 days there. But 9 days in LA is better than 4 days in Vegas, which is just an awful city as far as I'm concerned. You say you don't have time for Utah and the Rockies because of time constraints. So if you have a week to get to Vegas, I'd say spend more time in southern Utah and the WY Rockies (Grand Teton NP). I've been to both sides of the Grand Canyon--not surprisingly, they look the same. The north rim has about 10% the people (fewer crowds), will be considerably more comfortable in early September, and avoids a huge detour to get to the southern rim. Then just spend 1-2 nights in Vegas. Then as others have said, cut back on LA and San Diego to drive up Route 1. Unless you're visiting friends, I think you'll get bored spending 9 days in LA, 5 days in San Diego, and 4 days in Vegas.

Anyways, whatever you'll do I'm sure you'll have a blast! Enjoy!


Jouer

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Stick to your guns on your LA portion - keep the 9 days. I grew up in Newfoundland - I don't need to travel to see nature, I need to travel to see cool big-ass cities. Living near Banff et al., it sounds like you are in the same boat. Having said that, if you are cutting anything, you could maybe shave a night off of Vegas.

socalteacher

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You are going to have an epic vacation no matter what you end up doing. One more suggestion for your time in San Diego is the Cordiano Winery. It sits above Escondido and the sunsets from the top are incredible and stretch all the way to the Pacific. This little winery is owned by an Italian couple and they will make you up a wood fired pizza while you sip wine. I take all out of town guests there and it is always a hit with them. http://www.cordianowinery.com

Telecaster

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Las Vegas:
We have 4 nights there, 3 full days.
Do you think it's too much?
We don't drink, don't party, and I plan to spend around $20-30 on the cheapest slot machine (just for the experience of pulling the handle :), without any hopes to make a profit).
We plan to wander the strip at day and night, there're several interesting free things there.
Plus: Valley of Fire, Red Rock Canyon, they're nearby

Too much time.  I like Vegas, and I do drink  :)  But even I wouldn't do four nights there.   For all the sideshow, Vegas is really about gambling and it gets boring fast if you aren't doing that.  For me, it is fun to sit at the blackjack table, bet the minimum, use basic strategy, and get free drinks.   If you are luck it is a wash, and if you are unlucky you didn't lose much.  But one night is enough of that.  Seeing the spectacle is fun, and certainly you should see it just to see it but it isn't all that great, IMO.  Again, I like Vegas.

The reason why I mention this is you are passing up Zion and Bryce which are amazing.   Valley of Fire is cool, but not on the same level as Zion.   Even if you could do one day at Zion you'll be glad you did. 


zsmith

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Disney will let you bring your own food, but you'll have to store it in a locker outside the park, then exit the park when you're ready to eat.


I've found that they aren't too strict on this rule, and as long as you aren't bringing in a massive cooler, you should be fine with some sandwiches and snacks in your backpack. No glass though.

forummm

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I also find Vegas to not be worth 4 days. If you don't drink, gamble, or spend $100 per person to go to a show, there won't be much to do there. Walking down all the amazingly bright lights and seeing the silly casino themes is entertaining. For awhile. But it's repetitive. And everything is smoky. There's not much to do there besides making yourself poorer.

VCaddy

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West Yellowstone to Idaho Falls, don't miss the Mesa Falls Scenic Route.  The loop is only 8 miles longer than driving straight thru on boring Highway 20.  You can see the Grand Tetons from the top of the route.

Flagstaff to Vegas, don't take I-40.  Take Route 66 instead, it's one of the longest surviving stretches of the old road, and there's some great sights along the way.  The Galaxy Diner in Flagstaff is pretty cool, and there's some good local breweries across the tracks from the old railroad station.   Roadkill Cafe and Snow Cap burgers in Seligman, tame burros wandering in Oatman.  The Hackberry General Store is worth a stop too. 

Telecaster

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Neither map looks right to me, though #2 does seem to get you to the eastern side of the park.

Here's a better route.  You get both St. Helens and Rainier without a ton of time investment.    Both are great.   

Iron Mike Sharpe

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Have fun!

When I was a kid, we'd do family road trips every summer.  Our big one was a four week trip one year from St. Louis to Glacier National Park in Montana, up into Canada, all the way over to Vancouver, and then down the whole west coast into Tijuana and finally back home to STL.  Good times.

2ndTimer

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My favorite grocery chain in the West is Grocery Outlet.  Check out the cheeses which can be an incredible deal and the snack isle where all kinds of strange things wash up.  I just bought some 10 oz cans of giant cashews there for $1.99.  You never know what you will find there because they specialize in ends and pieces, over runs and stuff that is approaching sell by date.

beee

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Thanks for all your suggestions.
I'll rework the route today and post an updated map:
- include highway 1
- maybe include St. Helens and Rainier mountains (thanks Telecaster, looks like almost the same length))
- include Route 66
- maybe something else (need to reread all the replies)


About Utah parks:
We need to get to Las Vegas on 7th or 8th day maximum, so my father-in-law can fly back home.
So, there's just no time to visit more things on that part of our route :(
Moab looks really cool, we do want to go there. Maybe next time, though.


About the mountains again:
I know, that the mountains are not the same.
Even just one single mountain will look and feel different from different sides and in different seasons :)
But we had enough mountain travel here in Alberta/British Columbia.