2 weeks in the US - city or national parks

Old Feb 9th, 2022, 02:25 PM
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2 weeks in the US - city or national parks

I'm planning a trip to the US in Aug and am torn between city hopping or national park hopping. somewhat slow travel is key here - after two years of no travel, I'm keen to get the most out of this trip.

Time I'm planning for is 2 weeks. We want to feel like we've got much of of this trip without feeling rushed (if that's even possible! ) We'll be in the US for a total of three weeks spending 1 week in NYC.

Bit about us- travelling from the UK, enjoy food, wine bars, craft beer, culture, walking tours, theatre and museums, meetings and chatting with locals, hikes, would love to visit a lake where people holiday

Option 1- Boston to Chicago- fly back to UK from Chicago
  • drive to Boston from NY, next 4 days in Boston
  • Spend 5 days driving to Chicago with stops along the way
  • 4 days in Chicago then back home
I'm not sure whether the drive over the 5 days will have interesting enough stops along the way so I don't feel like I've not got a lot out of this time. Niagara falls will be a stop and perhaps somewhere in or near detroit for a day. The rest feels like smaller towns that might not have much for tourists. Should I allocate less time for the drive?

Option 2 - National Parks road trip. I've previously visited zion, np grand canyon national park, monument valley, carlsbad caverns and absolutely loved it! I'd love to do something similar again starting from NY. Suggestions for this would be great! If I don't finish in or near a big city to fly out from I'll need to get back to NY!

Option 3- open to other suggestions

Feeling like I'm a bit in decision paralysis getting back to travel planning.

Any suggestions or ideas will be much appreciated.
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Old Feb 9th, 2022, 02:57 PM
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backtotravel ~ WELCOME to the Fodor's forums. Always nice to see a new name on the block!

If you are going to be in the US for 3 weeks and starting in NYC then a "back east" trip would make sense, either north or south. Have you been to the New England states? Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, all easily accessible if you rent a car and are willing to drive, they are all spectacular and not far distances.. This is the region I know best, but you could also head south into any of many states all the way down to Florida. Not necessarily bucket-list "national parks" (but some) rather beautiful states with a small enough footprint you could cover a lot in 3 weeks. Berkshires, Adirondacks, Green Mountains, White Mountains, etc.

As far as theater, museums, wine bars, craft beers... well that sounds more like cities or at least artistic towns, more than national parks??
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Old Feb 9th, 2022, 03:09 PM
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Suze is right. With limited time, might as well stay in the Northeast and explore the parks in that region. There is Acadia National Park in Maine and the huge Adirondack Park in Upstate New York which is like a national park. There is also the new Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in Maine plus high-quality state parks such as Baxter State Park in Maine,Smugglers' Notch State Park in Vermont andFranconia Notch State Park in New Hampshire.
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Old Feb 9th, 2022, 05:26 PM
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A general comment: a driving trip between NY, Boston and Chicago will have a lot of tolls, so you will either need to use the transponder provided (the car should come with one in a box) or buy one yourself.

Boston to Chicago is a distance a lot of Americans would drive in one day, so itís not like you have many long days of driving to fill.

Some thoughts on going south: All of the eastern half of the US can be ridiculously muggy in August but it becomes a daily certainty south of Baltimore. Thereís really no chance of not having oppressive weather, and the few hours of relief at altitude in a park wonít really help. Iíve seen Brits freak out in Bangkok or Singapore from the heat and from DC south is worse in August than those cities, the days are longer and the nights stay hotteró at least in the tropics the nights are always 12 hours so it cools some at night.

Things to research:

Fallingwater in SW Pennsylvania is neat, you can hike around without going on a tour. This is out of the way.

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Cleveland.

There are 3 top quality art museums on the way or close: Cleveland, Toledo (free) and Detroit.

There are the big museums in Dearborn outside Detroit: Greenfield Village and the Henry Ford Museum.

Cedar Point amusement park has the most rollercoasters, about 20, in Sandusky. I like that it has no simulated or virtual reality rides.

You should swim in one of the Great Lakes, good beaches on Lake Michigan west of Detroit, the water is warmer on eastern or southern shores.

Last edited by tom_mn; Feb 9th, 2022 at 05:29 PM.
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Old Feb 10th, 2022, 02:44 AM
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Chicago is a great city to visit. I would compare cost of flying with cost of a one way car rental. You don't need a car in Boston or Chicago and will probably pay extra in parking fees at your hotels. I can only get as far as Columbus OH in one day of driving.

breweries and hard cider (alcoholic cider) and distilleries are very popular in Maine, NH and VT. I'm going to vote with suze. If you stayed in Meredith NH you would be on Lake Winnipesaukee and the Hermit Winery is right in town. Drive over to Tamworth for the Tamworth Distillery. There are three summer theaters in the Meredith area. Hop over to Portland ME stopping for a hard cider tasting on the way (we did it last September heading to Wells ME). The Portland ME food tour was not one of my favorites and has probably changed a lot since we took it. Also on Lake Winnipesaukee is the town of Wolfboro which is the oldest summer resort area or something like that. The lake is just south of the White Mountains so there are many choices of hikes. The Flume is fun and since it's a gorge it might be ok in August. A good way to talk with locals if you like old cars and trucks would be to go to a cruise night where people park their antique or classic cars in an area, usually a parking lot, and love to have people ask them questions.

food truck gatherings are getting popular. The one in Wells ME looks fun but we haven't been. I believe you can take a chartered beer tour in Portsmouth NH.
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Old Feb 10th, 2022, 05:10 AM
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For the ultimate national parks fix, You could fly from NY to Bozeman Montana ( look at Southwest Airlines which often does not show up on consolidators). Easy drive to Yellowstone NP, then Grand Teton. Plenty of state parks to visit while in the area then fly back from either Bozeman or Jackson, WY depending on the costs and the other sites you want to see.
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Old Feb 10th, 2022, 05:21 AM
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>>Boston to Chicago is a distance a lot of Americans would drive in one day

Uh, no. Itís nearly 1,000 miles from one to the other.
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Old Feb 10th, 2022, 06:49 AM
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Oldemalloy has another good idea. See Yellowstone NP (one the premier national parks) and Teton NP (absolutely stunning mountains). The Black Hills (actually small mts.) are a day's drive to the east of Yellowstone and there are two national parks there: Wind Cave (bison) and Badlands National Parks. Plus, there is Custer State Park which of national park-quality with its bighorn sheep.
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Old Feb 10th, 2022, 08:01 AM
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I like the western parks idea although he has had a taste of that )all are different_ with his previous tours of western parks.

Of course there is always the cities of the south--Charleston, Savannah, Nola.

If the OP hasn't spent any time in Washington DE I always point out that this is the most erroneously underrated destination in the US. How about a road trip to Washington, Charleston, Savannah and St. Augustine. Museums, historic houses,
Regional food specialties all along the way--Carolina BBQ, lowcountry cuisine.
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Old Feb 10th, 2022, 09:33 AM
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Uh, no. Itís nearly 1,000 miles from one to the other.
Americans who don't live on the coasts regularly do 12-14 hour one-day drives without considering it in any way exceptional, really.
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Old Feb 10th, 2022, 09:43 AM
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We don't know your heat/humidity tolerance, but it will be sorely tested pretty much anywhere on the east coast, and probably in the Chicago area, in August.

I did have a thought, however, just to think of a combination city + countryside trip that might appeal. What about a loop out of Boston that includes the Maine coast and Acadia National Park, then heads north to Quebec City, Mont Tremblant National Park and Montreal, before returning to Boston via Lake Champlain and the Berkshires in Massachusetts? Google the places on this map - https://goo.gl/maps/j7pZBapNosV3YWweA . This would be a relatively compact route with some outstanding scenery, fabulous towns and easy driving. The weather will likely be warm but not as stifling as farther south on the east coast. You shouldn't have any logistical issues, just be sure you're compliant with whatever Covid requirements are in force in both Canada and the US, and be sure you tell the car hire people that you're taking the vehicle into Canada. This is usually not an issue.

I had a similar thought about a couple of west coast itineraries. First, you'd need to book an "open jaw" air ticket - fly into New York, back from, say, Seattle (easily done.) You can fly one way across the country in August for $120 - $200 depending on the dates and specific destinations.

I'd also mention that you should be open to state parks in addition to national parks, particularly in the west. Often these parks are older and contain many of the same scenic attractions as the national parks, but without the crowds and lodging costs.

For example, here's a loop out of Portland, Oregon that could be spectacular in August. Again, google the places on the map - https://tinyurl.com/wallowaloop . This would involve flying to Portland, Oregon, then driving through the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area (not a national park because of too much human settlement) to Mount Hood, then south to the fabulous "old west" scenery around Smith Rock State Park. You'd then cross Oregon to the incredibly attractive town of Joseph, set next to glorious Wallowa Lake in the Wallowa mountains. This is a relatively "undiscovered" (not really, but nothing like the national parks) area with superb scenery and a remarkable arts culture. You'd then cross Washington to Mount Rainier National Park, up to Seattle, then back to Portland with a stop at Mount St. Helens National Monument.

Smith Rock -



Joseph



Mount Rainier



A similar loop could be devised out of Seattle which would include Mount Rainier and Olympic National Parks, as well as some islands in the Salish Sea, Vancouver and picturesque Victoria BC.

Both of these western loops would offer better weather than the eastern seaboard, and would include some of North America's most attractive and interesting cities as well as natural splendors. Maybe worth a "thought experiment" or two...


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Old Feb 10th, 2022, 12:12 PM
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When I read your post I immediately thought of Seattle for craft breweries, good food and close to nature and several National Parks plus it has a more temperate climate and not the nasty humidity of some East Coast cities or the South (I have been in Atlanta and Virginia during August).
Just make sure you plan carefully as far as lodging if you want to stay inside a park, since school will be out and lots of families will be traveling.
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Old Feb 11th, 2022, 02:02 AM
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Hi all - thank you so much for your suggestions. I haven't nailed down an itinerary yet but I have enough ideas (thanks to you all!) to book my flights.

I hadn't thought of mentioning this but while we are travelling from the UK, where we now live, we are aussies so have a much higher tolerance to heat and loooong drives than one might expect.

I'm still keen to visit Chicago on this trip as I think it might be my one chance to do so for a little while. My future trips will be west coast, south etc. So with that in mind this is what I've come up with:
Fly into NY, train it to Boston, hire a car and travel around Maine, Vermont, Cape Cod etc. I'll spend 7-8 days in this part of the country. I'll then fly to Chicago for 4-5 days, fly back to UK.

Gardyloo beautiful, beautiful pics. Thank you for sharing and definitely will add to the itinerary.
Gretchen How about a road trip to Washington, Charleston, Savannah and St. Augustine. Museums, historic houses, Regional food specialties all along the way--Carolina BBQ, low country cuisine. - girl after my own heart. I plan on dedicating a whole trip to these cities, probably either over spring or autumn due to the heat. I've done DC and Nola a couple of times now. NOLA is a city I will visit again and again and again I'm sure - it's the one city I want to travel solo and just lose myself in the music, food and atmosphere.
Thank you to everyone for your contributions which will help me in putting together a detailed itinerary. I'll report back when I'm done.

I wish I had more time to travel around your beautiful country.....aahhh maybe one day....



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Old Feb 11th, 2022, 06:46 PM
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Originally Posted by k_marie
>>Boston to Chicago is a distance a lot of Americans would drive in one day

Uh, no. Itís nearly 1,000 miles from one to the other.
Since you mentioned using a train to Boston from New York, you might want to take the #449 Lake Shore Limited from BOS to Chicago. It leaves Boston South station at 12:20PM and takes about 23 hours to arrive in downtown Chicago before noon (central time) the next day.
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Old Feb 14th, 2022, 03:16 PM
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backtotravel Welcome to fodors! Good decision not to drive to Chicago. Unless you really enjoy long road trips, that seems like a slog through pretty unremarkable country. Flying into Chicago's Midway or O'Hare airport will allow easy public transport (CTA train) into the city, but please ride before dark. In August, that should be before 8:30 p.m. or so. It's just much more grim after dark, and may color your impression of the city. Of course, a taxi is good, too. It should be about $50-60. You will not want a rental car in Chicago, unless you want to drive into the north shore suburbs to see the Botanical Gardens, or something. But England's gardens put ours to shame.

Post back when you want some suggestions or to check your itineraries. I'm in Chicago, and much prefer traveling to the UK, but am a huge theater lover, having worked at Steppenwolf for a decade, and can help advise. Chicago's walking tours through the Chicago Architecture Foundation, or their Chicago river architecture tour, are highly rated. If you enjoy hiking, a Saturday or Wednesday morning hike from downtown, up to Lincoln Park (route: South Pond, the Green City market, the Lincoln Park Zoo, Lincoln Park Conservatory, and North Pond) is a good walk, or also along the lakefront. You can do the walk to Lincoln Park (around 4 miles), and then cut over at Fullerton, and do the Lakefront Path back down to the city.

As Covid lifts, the locals will know better how the cities recover. Chicago has had a rash of carjackings all over the city, and much of the restaurants downtown have closed. The nearby neighborhoods like Lincoln Park seem to have fared better. Perhaps just check in on the trip advisor forum or here to ask about safety in the cities you'll be in. It's helpful to post the neighborhoods you want to visit so the locals can give you an idea of places to avoid. Chicago has some dangerous neighborhoods on the west side and south side. Most are places that offer nothing for a tourist, but good to check in.

Have fun planning!

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Old Feb 14th, 2022, 03:22 PM
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pretty unremarkable country.
Itís really a shame that Americans know so little about their own county.
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Old Feb 14th, 2022, 04:20 PM
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Originally Posted by tom_mn
Itís really a shame that Americans know so little about their own county.
I think she meant that if you follow the interstates from NY or Boston to Chicago it's a pretty boring drive.

Enlivened for me once when a tractor-trailer missed a curve and plowed off the road.

FD
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Old Feb 15th, 2022, 04:47 AM
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Originally Posted by tom_mn
Itís really a shame that Americans know so little about their own county.
No, I mean the hours on the interstate and gas station breaks and semis and the constant stress of 80 mph driving. That's not my idea of a holiday.
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Old Feb 15th, 2022, 05:18 AM
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Originally Posted by tom_mn
Itís really a shame that Americans know so little about their own county.
That's a presumptuous statement. I imagine I know as much about this country as you evidently think you do, though we would both have our spheres of interest and personal experience. We're here to offer advice from our personal pov, not snark and lazy "burns," and my personal experience through Indiana and Ohio tells me that the route is hardly a road tripper's paradise. Granted, I've not driven through upstate NY, though I imagine the landscapes are pretty there if you get off the highways. But having spent my high school and college years in downstate Illinois, and having traveled all over the UK on multiple trips (and not on their expressways) and comparing their picturesque landscapes to midwestern commercial farms and suburban sprawl and billboards, I don't believe these tourists would find much to be charmed by that drive, especially after their time in New England.
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Old Feb 15th, 2022, 09:23 AM
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Fly into NY, train it to Boston, hire a car and travel around Maine, Vermont, Cape Cod etc. I'll spend 7-8 days in this part of the country. I'll then fly to Chicago for 4-5 days, fly back to UK.

That makes for a great trip, but there's no way to cover the non-Chicago portion in 7-8 days! Just 3 days in Boston, 1 day in Portsmouth, NH, 1 day in Portland, ME and 2 days in Acadia/Bar Harbor would use up all your time without any of VT or Cape Cod!

As long as you're planning, though, I have 3 specific restaurant recommendations - in Chicago, fabulous Meditteranean tapas at Ema, and the best pasta I've ever had at Daisie's. In Bar Harbor, a fantastic lobster roll at The Barnacle on Main Street.
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