3 Weeks road-trip in May

Old Jan 16th, 2018, 08:50 AM
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3 Weeks road-trip in May

Hello everyone !

It's my first post on Fodor's Travel ! I am a French guy living in NYC at the moment and I'd like to make the best of living in the US to visit the country !
A friend of mine is coming to visit at the end of April, after what we plan to go on a road-trip for three weeks, but we aren't settled on the destination yet.

Basically, we don't care about cities. We want spectacular landmarks and a lot of nature. Also, we'll be camping (under a tent, not in a RV).
Knowing this, we thought that we should avoid the North of the country as we don't want to freeze to death. I'd like to travel accross "exotic" landscapes (exotic for Europeans I mean) and my friend doesn't want to travel only from desert to desert. He has already been to Lousiana and I already went across Oregon (the Eastern part of the state was one of my greatest memories of travel, the coast was beautifull but less amazing as we felt like we were back to the civilisation with too many peoples and car everywhere). As I said, I live in New York City and I have been or will be travelling in the states around here at some point.
We would also like to avoid crowded places/landmarks but I'm guessing that we should be fine in May anyway.
Last but not least : we'd like to avoid paying more than $250 per person roundtrip for our flight.

Right now, we are considering two options :

- Charlotte (North Carolina) - about $150 per person roundtrip : I heard that the two Carolina(s) are beautiful and the Smocky Mountains (Tennessee) seem incredible. If we are around there, I'm guessing Virginia might be worth a trip too. However, I'm afraid the countryside might not be as "exotic" as I'd like compared to states around NYC or Europe and it might be a better idea to save a trip there for a small "escapade", like a one week getaway from New York maybe.

or

- Denver (Colorado) - about $200 pp roundtrip : We would go across Colorado and Western Utah. Maybe North of Arizona and New Mexico. Desert, Mountains, Forests and beer... Seems like a great trip but isn't May too early to go camping there ? I suppose that the weather can be quite cold in the mountains... Would you think it should be okay if we start by going down and west from Denver, to the desert, then stop in the Mountains on our way back to Denver ?


If you have any opinion, suggestions or "don't", I'm all ears ! Especially for the weather in May... I must say that I'm not sure what to expect...

Thank you very much in advance !
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Old Jan 16th, 2018, 10:11 AM
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May is "mud" season in Colorado mountains and it will be cold in the mountains in morning and night. Are you bringing camping equipment with you--it may be extra baggage. Just a thought. You might get a campground directory (like KOA and such). I think you could go south to New Mexico/Santa Fe and do a loop back to Denver.
NC and the Smokies are lovely but are also accessible for a week long trip from NYC (driving?).
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Old Jan 16th, 2018, 10:30 AM
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Welcome to Fodor's!

High altitude areas in the southwest or Rockies are likely to be too cold or snowy in May, although generalizing is difficult. If you decide to head in that direction, I'd try to stay at lower elevations at least for the first part of the trip while you give the higher areas time to "catch up."

You might look at a loop starting and ending in Los Angeles that includes Palm Springs and Joshua Tree National Park, then across to the Grand Canyon, Canyon de Chelly and Monument Valley in Arizona, then returning via Zion NP, Las Vegas and even Death Valley. These are iconic American landscapes, and it's a fine time of year to visit them, before the summer heat and crowds make it more difficult. Here's an imaginary route - https://goo.gl/maps/z7AHH8QbH7J2

Another possibility would be the California gold rush country along the western foothills of the Sierras including Yosemite, then west to the Monterey Bay area and back to your starting point in San Francisco, something like this - https://goo.gl/maps/B6LP2q7EFzu . This would include the superb gold country landscape, numerous fascinating and historic villages, giant sequoia trees at Calaveras Big Trees State Park, Yosemite itself, then Big Sur, wonderful Point Lobos State Reserve, the beaufiful Monterey Peninsula, Monterey Bay, and coast redwood groves between Santa Cruz and San Francisco.

Finally, your idea of the Carolina Piedmont, Smoky Mountains and Tennessee is an excellent one, and with three weeks you could actually drive the whole trip from NYC and avoid the airfare altogether. You could visit historic Charlottesville, drive the Skyline and Blue Ridge Parkways through Shenandoah and Great Smoky Mountains national parks, maybe visit Nashville (or if you're big music lovers and don't mind a couple of long days on the road, add Memphis and Clarksdale Mississippi to the route.) Here's another imaginary map - https://goo.gl/maps/RvPpapYV1EU2 - that doesn't show the Skyline or Blue Ridge parkways (you'd need a bigger map for those) but google them and see what you think.

Happy planning, and again, welcome to Fodor's!
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Old Jan 16th, 2018, 01:25 PM
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Person from France commenting favorably on beer?
That is like a person from Denmark commenting favorably on wine!
Good news as there are many micro-breweries in the west.

Anyway, been to most of Europe (going to Poland in August).
The only very different scenery from that in Europe (excluding Alps in Switzerland/Austria) is west of the Rocky Mountains.
Given that, the most unique are in the state and national parks within Utah and northeast Arizona (Monument Valley, Canyon de Chelly, etc.)
My favorite is Canyonlands-Maze District that requires 4-wheel drive vehicles and reservation to camp/stay overnight. A serious hiking adventure.
In mid-May, I'll return (4th time) to Canyonland-Needles that has spectacular scenery. It is a hiking and 4-wheel drive park.

We may meet?

Vaga

These are my recommended books.

1. Fodor's Utah: with Zion, Bryce Canyon, Arches, Capitol Reef & Canyonlands National Parks Paper back only
2 Fodor's The Complete Guide to the National Parks of the West (Full-color Travel Guide) Paperback only
3. Hiking (serious): Books by Michael R. Kelsey. We have his entire collection. Kelsey Publishing ? Canyon and Mountain Guidebooks
4. Hiking (family): Wow Utah Canyon Country - Excellent book
5. Backroad 4-wheel driving: Canyonlands National Park Favorite Jeep Roads and Hiking Trails.
This book has an excellent description of the Island In The Sky 110 mile road.
One of the best tours in the west. Need a 4-wheel drive or mountain bike.
6. Touring guide four book series: From hiking to 4-wheel drive. Very detailed.
Covers all parks within Utah's Grand Circle. www.southutahparks. com. E-book (Amazon's Kindle) and print.
7 Cedar Mesa/Grand Gulch –A Hiking Guide to Cedar Mesa Peter Francis Tassoni. Brief, but adequate.

Vaga
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Old Jan 16th, 2018, 03:18 PM
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If you decide to follow Vaga's advice, which I agree with this map which was posted here ages ago, with distances and times might be helpful:

Southern Utah Map - OhioHick's Travel Tips

You might look into flying into Las Vegas and renting a car. There are lots of flights and the discount airlines like Southwest and Jet Blue might not show on the sites like travelosity and expedia so go to their web pages for information on rates. Southwest has a "Low fare calendar" which is very helpful. You don't need to stay in Vegas if casinos are not your thing, head out of town.

As you can see you could do a loop Vegas > Hoover Dam > Grand Canyon > Monument Valley > Moab (for Arches and Canyonland) > Bryce > Zion > Las Vegas. The loop could be done in the opposite direction if it works better for you and you could add in other State parks and Navajo parks.

Cars are usually a little less expensive to rent in Vegas. You might need a reservation to camp in the more popular parks like Grand Canyon and Zion.
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Old Jan 16th, 2018, 05:08 PM
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Thanks a lot to all of you !

Originally Posted by Gretchen View Post
May is "mud" season in Colorado mountains and it will be cold in the mountains in morning and night. Are you bringing camping equipment with you--it may be extra baggage. Just a thought. You might get a campground directory (like KOA and such). I think you could go south to New Mexico/Santa Fe and do a loop back to Denver.
NC and the Smokies are lovely but are also accessible for a week long trip from NYC (driving?).
We are bringing camping equipment with us, yes, as we are already quite well equiped. During our trip in Oregon we used Reserve America and a map we got at Portland's airport to search for campgrounds and they were usually perfect for us. I don't really like big campgrounds as they usually feel too... sophisticated for me, haha !

Originally Posted by Gardyloo View Post
Welcome to Fodor's!

High altitude areas in the southwest or Rockies are likely to be too cold or snowy in May, although generalizing is difficult. If you decide to head in that direction, I'd try to stay at lower elevations at least for the first part of the trip while you give the higher areas time to "catch up."

You might look at a loop starting and ending in Los Angeles that includes Palm Springs and Joshua Tree National Park, then across to the Grand Canyon, Canyon de Chelly and Monument Valley in Arizona, then returning via Zion NP, Las Vegas and even Death Valley. These are iconic American landscapes, and it's a fine time of year to visit them, before the summer heat and crowds make it more difficult. Here's an imaginary route -

Another possibility would be the California gold rush country along the western foothills of the Sierras including Yosemite, then west to the Monterey Bay area and back to your starting point in San Francisco, something like this -. This would include the superb gold country landscape, numerous fascinating and historic villages, giant sequoia trees at Calaveras Big Trees State Park, Yosemite itself, then Big Sur, wonderful Point Lobos State Reserve, the beaufiful Monterey Peninsula, Monterey Bay, and coast redwood groves between Santa Cruz and San Francisco.

Finally, your idea of the Carolina Piedmont, Smoky Mountains and Tennessee is an excellent one, and with three weeks you could actually drive the whole trip from NYC and avoid the airfare altogether. You could visit historic Charlottesville, drive the Skyline and Blue Ridge Parkways through Shenandoah and Great Smoky Mountains national parks, maybe visit Nashville (or if you're big music lovers and don't mind a couple of long days on the road, add Memphis and Clarksdale Mississippi to the route.) Here's another imaginary map -- that doesn't show the Skyline or Blue Ridge parkways (you'd need a bigger map for those) but google them and see what you think.

Happy planning, and again, welcome to Fodor's!
To be honnest, California isn't really appealing to me at the moment. I went to the Redwoods National Park last summer and it was incredible (seeing redwoods' forest was one of the first thing on my list of things to see in the US) but I feel like discovering something new.
I'm sure there's a lot of new things for me there anyway, but I don't know... It just doesn't feel like the right time...

I'm glad you are so enthusiastic about the Carolina/Smoky Mountains idea haha ! But I'm considering Colorado/Utah more and more seriously (even though I'm still a bit concerned by the likely very cold weather)... I'm keeping Carolina in mind for a shorter trip with my girlfriend though !

Originally Posted by RVvagabond View Post
Person from France commenting favorably on beer?
That is like a person from Denmark commenting favorably on wine!
Good news as there are many micro-breweries in the west.

Anyway, been to most of Europe (going to Poland in August).
The only very different scenery from that in Europe (excluding Alps in Switzerland/Austria) is west of the Rocky Mountains.
Given that, the most unique are in the state and national parks within Utah and northeast Arizona (Monument Valley, Canyon de Chelly, etc.)
My favorite is Canyonlands-Maze District that requires 4-wheel drive vehicles and reservation to camp/stay overnight. A serious hiking adventure.
In mid-May, I'll return (4th time) to Canyonland-Needles that has spectacular scenery. It is a hiking and 4-wheel drive park.

We may meet?

Vaga

These are my recommended books.

1. Fodor's Utah: with Zion, Bryce Canyon, Arches, Capitol Reef & Canyonlands National Parks Paper back only
2 Fodor's The Complete Guide to the National Parks of the West (Full-color Travel Guide) Paperback only
3. Hiking (serious): Books by Michael R. Kelsey. We have his entire collection.
4. Hiking (family): Wow Utah Canyon Country - Excellent book
5. Backroad 4-wheel driving: Canyonlands National Park Favorite Jeep Roads and Hiking Trails.
This book has an excellent description of the Island In The Sky 110 mile road.
One of the best tours in the west. Need a 4-wheel drive or mountain bike.
6. Touring guide four book series: From hiking to 4-wheel drive. Very detailed.
Covers all parks within Utah's Grand Circle.. com. E-book (Amazon's Kindle) and print.
7 Cedar Mesa/Grand Gulch ľA Hiking Guide to Cedar Mesa Peter Francis Tassoni. Brief, but adequate.

Vaga
Are you implying that French don't have good beers ? We actually do (mostly small breweries), but most importantly, we have easy access to German and Belgian beers wich are great !
Thank you very much for your insight about Utah ! I never drove a 4-wheel drive vehicles though (and I doubt my friend has either), I'm not sure that I want to try it alone in a desert... But I'll look into the places and books (wow ! thanks !) you suggested !

As for meeting you in may, if we are around, sure ! Why not ! I'll let you know when we got a clear schedule

Originally Posted by emalloy View Post
If you decide to follow Vaga's advice, which I agree with this map which was posted here ages ago, with distances and times might be helpful:



You might look into flying into Las Vegas and renting a car. There are lots of flights and the discount airlines like Southwest and Jet Blue might not show on the sites like travelosity and expedia so go to their web pages for information on rates. Southwest has a "Low fare calendar" which is very helpful. You don't need to stay in Vegas if casinos are not your thing, head out of town.

As you can see you could do a loop Vegas > Hoover Dam > Grand Canyon > Monument Valley > Moab (for Arches and Canyonland) > Bryce > Zion > Las Vegas. The loop could be done in the opposite direction if it works better for you and you could add in other State parks and Navajo parks.

Cars are usually a little less expensive to rent in Vegas. You might need a reservation to camp in the more popular parks like Grand Canyon and Zion.
Thanks for the map !
I'm searching for flights using Google flights, just to get an idea of what it would aproximately cost to go to any place in the US. Once my friend and I decide where we go, I'll look more precisely and I'll follow your advices about Southwest and Jet Blue

______________________

Once again, thanks to all of you for your answers ! It's great !
My friend said that he's not afraid of the cold, so I think we'll be headed to Denver and if it's really impossible to camp, we'll go to a motel there and head to Utah as soon as possible.
There is a lot of things I want to see on the way ! Rocky Mountain National park, the Arches, Zion and back to Mesa Verde : I think those will be our 4 "stars" of the trip and then we'll see what might be worth a detour ! (I know... The Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Monument Valley, of course )

My friend heard there were Bisons in Utah and that's a plus for him, haha !

Do you have any tips to rent a car ? (Apart the one from emalloy : I'm not sure we'll go to Vegas, so we won't be renting it there)

Thanks again !
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Old Jan 16th, 2018, 07:06 PM
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If you fly to Denver, you may find it cheaper to rent the car downtown instead of at the airport. There is a campground at the Great Sand Dunes NP. (Pinion Flat).
There is a small campground in Arches NP and some outside the park as well.
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Old Jan 17th, 2018, 05:56 AM
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As to car rental, it is usually less expensive to rent/return to the same location. Denver tends to be one of the places with higher costs, so doing as tom fuller suggests might help. The other thing that might work would be to fly to Grand Junction, Colorado and do a loop to the Mesa Verde and the Utah parks then a loop through Rocky Mountain NP. This puts RMNP at the end of the trip when Trail Ridge Road and more trails would be likely to be open. Even if you just fly to Denver, do RMNP later. Ideally, I would like to fly into Grand Junction and out of Denver, but this might be much more expensive.

I've done a couple of trips from Denver to the area, if you click my name and scroll to TRs you can find where we went. I think the 2013 and one of the earlier ones were through Denver.
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Old Jan 17th, 2018, 07:37 AM
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Did you check the fares to SLC and Las Vegas vs. Denver? If it is not too much more, you should fly to Salt Lake city if you know you want to see several of the Utah parks.
If you fly to Denver you can take the Amtrak California Zephyr west to Grand Junction from Denver. When it is on time (sometimes), it leaves the Denver station at 8:05AM. The scenery in the Glenwood Canyon and the Ruby Canyon are the best on any Amtrak route IMO.
It is easy to rent a car in Grand Junction to go to see Arches and other southern Utah parks.
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Old Jan 18th, 2018, 03:32 AM
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Just a thought--they would have to schlep camping gear and luggage to Union Station via shuttle (cost?), buy a ticket on Amtrak (cost?), enjoy scenery they could see from a car at a speed they choose, get off in Glenwood and rent a car, maybe at another location (cost. And maybe unlike the Denver car return at DIA, pay a drop off charge at DIA.
They DID mention they had chosen some of the airports for economy.
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Old Jan 18th, 2018, 04:29 AM
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Haha ! Thanks again to all of you !

Gretchen is right : my friend and I haven't officially agreed on anything yet but it seems like we'll be flying to Denver because it's less expensive than Vegas and I'm more attracted by Colorado than I am by Nevada anyway
Also, I checked rental cars prices in Denver and we should be okay, it's not as expensive as I thought ! Having a car once and for all will simply be way easier than hopping on a train and trying to rent a car somewhere else and it will leave us free to do an go wherever we want !

@Emalloy : I checked some of your TRs and photos and it made me realized there are a lot of petroglyphs around there ! It's great ! I'll look them up, I'd really like to see some of them for real, thank you !
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Old Jan 18th, 2018, 05:59 AM
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There are thousands of places to see rock art in the southwest. We've made several trips with that in mind. In the Moab area there are both petroglyphs and pictographs to be seen. If you ask at the Visitor's Center in Arches they might give you a map for the major sites in the area. There are some in the park near Wolf Ranch just off the trail to Delicate Arch as well as many sites in town. There is a small camp ground on Kane Creek Road that has a nice panel as well as a split in the rock with a branch of wood that was used as a ladder.

We also love a place called Thompson Wash/Sego Canyon which is a short distance north of I-70 a bit east of where 191 goes south to Moab.

There are some in Mesa Verde and many in other areas of the Southwest that are fun to explore.

Unfortunately not everyone respects the art and/or artists and many have been vandalized or actually cut out and stolen. Some places are harder to get to.

When we started we used a book called "Rock Art Along the Way" which gave directions and information about the art.
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Old Jan 18th, 2018, 08:50 AM
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https://www.denver.org/about-denver/.../airport-rail/
It is $9 per person from the Denver Airport to Union Station. Is all of your camping gear compliant with TSA requirements to get on a plane?
I saw some rock art on a wall along the highway in Capitol Reef.
I did drive a rental car that I got from SLC out on a dirt road about 23 miles north of Moab to see some dinosaur tracks in stone. If you do that, make sure to go through a car wash and be careful.
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Old May 23rd, 2018, 04:09 AM
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Hi! I am from UK, and I love United States! I have traveled through the all country, and I think that it is one of the best countries for car trips! I recommed you to rent a car (I usually use this service https://rental24h.com/usa , but there are many of the same services, so you can choose any you want). What about places, as for me, Arizona and New Mexico aren't interesting places (it's a desert), I have been there once and don't want to visit one more time (I don't like very hot weather). In Colorado, every city you will visit will be great! There are many places to visit, recommend you to check tripadvisor or foursquare to find something special. Tennessee and Virginia for me are places for relax (whisky and tobacco do their work well ). In North Carolina the only one place I have visited is a NASCAR museum, it was great! In South Carolina I can't remember nothing interesting. In Utah I visited only Salt Lake City, I was interesting to see these churches, but now I don't want to have a trip there (there is too hot for me). If you have a chance, I recommend you to visit Denver, San Francisco, San Diego, Fort Lauderdale, Miami, LA, Las Vegas, Chicago. In these cities really many entertainments! Have a good trip!
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