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From coast to coast.. just which road to take?

From coast to coast.. just which road to take?

Old Aug 25th, 2019, 03:22 PM
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From coast to coast.. just which road to take?

Hey everybody,

I'm in the early stages of planning a road trip across the US, from East to West (in 2020).
The closest thing I've ever done to this was a roundtrip along the Rocky Mountains from Calgary to the CO/NM stateline and back.
Looking back, this was not really that hard to plan (as I needed to get to certain point in Southern Colorado to visit a friend), but the options to go from sea to sea look more mind-boggling.

Things I am already somewhat sure of:
I want to start in Philadelphia and end in Seattle (have not been there yet). That combo is also pretty convenient re. airfare from Europe.
Any rental car will come with a $500 surcharge for the o/w rental. That's calculated into costs.
Month of travel: flexible
Total duration of trip: 3 weeks, probably bit more than less, I guess.

I've already been to NYC and DC so I thought that starting in Philadelphia would be cool (2 nights in town before I wanna hit the road).
For the Eastern part of my trip, I'd like to follow the Lincoln Highway (US 30) - "must see" stops already identified are Gettysburg and Fallingwater (the latter somewhat off US 30, but that's okay). Maybe also Lancaster or Pennsylvania Dutch Country in general?

While I've been to several parts of the US already, I'm still kinda weak on the Eastern states.. anything re. history (colonial, civil war, etc.) would be of interest.

Next major stop(over) would be Pittsburgh.
So far so good.

Now Big Q #1: Should I by-pass or include Chicago.
Fact is: Even though I won't be rushed, this still is a road trip. I'm not against staying 2 nights in the same place, but I get the feeling that 2 nights in Chicago is next to nothing given the size of the city and the stuff to see and do.

My next big waypoint would be Badlands NP or Scotts Bluff NM. So that's some 850 miles I have no real clue which route to take.
It does not have to be the quickest route, and it does not have to be on interstates only.
I *think* that the slightly more northern route to Badlands might be better as it would also include Mount Rushmore and Wind Cave NP.

West of either Badlands or Scotts Bluff lingers Big Q #2: Should I by-pass or include Yellowstone NP?
You probably already guessed that national parks or monuments are really high on my list. Nevertheless, given the size of Yellowstone I see a similar dilemma as with Chicago. Is it too big to just drive-thru? Maybe not literally, because I'm not against spending 1-2 nights in the park, or one in Cody, and one in the park. But does such a short visit really do it justice?

That's as far as I got so far. Just in case you wonder why I did not choose a more Southern route: I'm pretty familiar with Colorado, Arizona, Southern Utah and New Mexico already after some 20+ visits and (shorter) road trips. I know next to nothing about Oregon and Washington, so I still have to do some homework.

Any generic advice on these really epic road trips is also very much appreciated. Or anything that comes to your mind.
Many thanks.

Last edited by Cowboy1968; Aug 25th, 2019 at 03:24 PM.
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Old Aug 25th, 2019, 03:51 PM
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Well, the point of a road trip is to see what’s along the road — I vote for visiting Chicago.
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Old Aug 25th, 2019, 03:55 PM
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Have you been to Montana? I love going into Yellowstone from Montana. Big Sky is very nice. Coeur d Alene also. Badlands, only been there for Sturgis and coming cross country from BC but would do Needles highway, crazy horse for sure. Are you retired military? Asking because there is a base close by and lodging is great. Ellsworth.
Chicago, that is hard to say. I would check out something scenic on lake Michigan. Minnesota and Wisconsin, have to think. I lived in Grand Marais but that is way north. My husband just did a cross country motorcycle trip and he loved Oregon the most. He went to Bellingham where all those little islands are but hated Seattle traffic. There is someone on here that has an airbnb on one of those islands. I have to think about that. We are in Fl and he goes north to beat the heat in the summertime. Sounds like a fun trip.
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Old Aug 25th, 2019, 04:32 PM
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Go via the Badlands and Mt. Rushmore. You can drive around Yellowsotne and see a lot of things. Even if you drive for one day, staying there two nights, you probably will have been there longer than the average visitor. Most of the listed sights are on the existing loop, and elk and buffalo are common sights along the road and in the meadows nearby.

It's not like a city which might be bland between the sights. But if you do spend a night in Chicago, the Museum of Science and Industry and the Art Institute are a must (a quick visit might convince you to come back). Driving out of Chicago, if you go directly west, Oak Park has a collection of Frank Lloyd Wright houses.

In Montana, the Plains Indian museum just east of Glacier NP is worth a visit. https://www.doi.gov/iacb/museum-plains-indian.

You could stop in Garnet to see a ghost town.

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Old Aug 25th, 2019, 04:53 PM
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I live just off Rt. 30/Lincoln Highway between Philadelphia and Lancaster. I am not a fan of the Amish and the Amish Country these days is mostly overrun with outlet shopping.

I suspect you know that there is a marker for the end of the Lincoln Highway in San Francisco?
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Old Aug 25th, 2019, 04:54 PM
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My husband and I made a similar driving trip just a few years ago although did almost double your mileage in 21 days because we had some commitments we couldn't flex on. We started in from LA and went to Colorado-Kansas City-Indianapolis-Falling Water-Washington DC-New York-Buffalo NY, Niagara Falls-Mount Rushmore and finally back to Seattle. Based on our drive yours actually sounds fairly "do-able" in 21 days although the longer the better in my book if you are coming from Europe. I would definitely not do our trip again-way too much mileage in the time we had but I like the sound of your trip!

We made our trip in the autumn-returning across I-90 in late October and I will say we did actually get some snow in Minnesota so I would advise driving the New England northern route to Washington earlier than that. I think starting the trip in late August or early September for a fall trip would be nice or maybe mid-late April for a spring trip would also be a nice time. Summer of course is also fine but higher airfares and more crowds.

Here are my comments about Falling Water from a trip report that I didn't finish about the trip (I just kind of lost steam and now I wished I had finished of course!):

"The next major stop was Falling Waters in Southern PA. The home is considered Frank Lloyd Wright's "masterpiece" and sits on nearly 5000 acres of protected land in the an area called the Laurel Highlands. Going there in mid-October was stunning! The area is quite hilly (some skiing in the winter at around 2500 ft) and if you make the trip be aware that there are not that many places right near the house to stay at. We drove about 40 minutes from where most of the motels are clustered off of I-70 in New Stanton PA, which is the basically a good stopping place to jump off the next morning to drive to Falling Waters.

There are some B&B closer to the house but many were closed for the remainder of the winter, and there isn't really that much choice unless you really plan ahead. That said, the tour itself was really terrific. We did book ahead since, otherwise you will have to wait for a probably at least an hour. It is very well organized with a lovely gift shop and good background on Wright and the family the house was designed for-the Kauffmans. We love architecture so the house was a point of destination for us. In LA we have a handful of Wright designed homes, but Falling Water is unique in that it is surrounded by nature versus having had urban development creep up on it the way that is true in Los Angeles. Anyway, it was a stellar stop. Also, just FYI for those considering the trip, there is a fair amount of walking both down to the house and back and a fair amount of stairs. Handicapped accessibility is quite limited and of course the area can be slippery with the water and leaves. The docent giving the tour mentioned that April is a particularly nice time because the waters of the falls are quite high due to snow melt and that the cherry trees are in bloom. But I can tell you that the fall was pretty spectacular as well."

In terms of the drive from Philly area to Seattle some of our highlights were:

Eating at the The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park. We ate at one of the less formal restaurants-if you don't know about it, it is one of the top culinary training programs in the US:


Not far from there is the home of FDR which is also fascinating to visit:


Ours was a foodie trip and we have really fond memories of "Buffalo Wings" at the home of the dish in Astoria NY called the Bar-Bill Tavern. It is an amazing place open daily 11:30am 'til 2am and cash only with almost always a line out front! And in general, most of upstate New York was super scenic.


I would also recommend Niagara Falls if you are near there-be aware that part of the Falls are in Canada, so if you are coming from Europe-check the policies about crossing back across borders. It is really touristy but still worth seeing and taking a boat ride under the falls.


Last but not least I would also try to see Mount Rushmore-just so American and unique!

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Old Aug 25th, 2019, 07:54 PM
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WQED in Pittsburgh (public tv) did a show on the Lincoln Highway....there are clips about it......you should ck it out....
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Old Aug 25th, 2019, 11:38 PM
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Wow.. what a wealth of information - thank you so much!

pasandy91 I think it was exactly that show I found on YouTube which started my interest.
elberko Yes, I've seen that in the show mentioned above. For my trip, I'd take the Lincoln HIghway as guidance roughly for the Eastern part from Philadelphia to Chicago. I might leave the Lincoln Highway for a more Northern route to end in Washington state.
jpie Thanks for the details on Falling Water! And the nearby FDR home. I had not seen the latter on te NPS map as the site is not visible until you zoom in.
Macross I've been to Montana, but only once! The only places I explored throughly had been Glacier NP, the "free roaming" buffulos at the National Bison Range near Missoula and the area around Butte. So I think there is still a *bit* left to see ;-)
Michael Thanks for your opinion Yellowstone and for reminding me of the other Frank Lloyd Wright houses near Chicago. That had skipped my memory.
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Old Aug 26th, 2019, 03:48 AM
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So much to see and do: Black Hills, Badlands, Devils Tower. Yellowstone, and the Tetons since you are sorta/kinda in that area. Salt Lake City? The Oregon and Washington coasts? Portland?
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Old Aug 26th, 2019, 03:59 AM
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That‘s right. Lack of options is not the problem.
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Old Aug 26th, 2019, 06:33 AM
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I've taken a number of overseas pals on long road trips in the US, including one pair of first-time visitors to the US that I took from Chicago to Seattle. I've driven coast to coast a few times, including one high-speed trip between Philly and Seattle (only had 6 days, made it in 4 1/2) a few years ago.

I'm going to address the "when" question first, because - in my view - weather and driving conditions are important considerations. A cross-country route that follows (basically) the northern tier needs to take into account the fact that spring comes late and autumn comes early in the high country, while the great plains and Midwest can be hot until later, and occasionally stormy.

So with those factors in mind, I'm going to suggest that you do this trip starting in September (or even a bit later) and that you pick a west-to-east route, rather than the east-to-west route you're now contemplating. Now of course that adds some risk factors that need to be acknowledged, mainly travel conditions in the Yellowstone area, but in my view those are risks worth taking. You're not going to be able to avoid inclement weather no matter when you travel, but - in general - conditions in September are likely to be better on average than earlier in the year.

I've divided my recommended routes into two parts (Google maps only allows ten waypoints per map, hence the split at Yellowstone.) Note these reflect MY favorite places, and your choices might well be different. But nothing ventured...

Map 1 - https://goo.gl/maps/st8UrNuCNGu1ytRk7 . This starts in Seattle and makes a brief run out to the Pacific coast to the (awesome) mouth of the Columbia River at Cape Disappointment. In general, the first part of the drive follows the Lewis and Clark trail in reverse, heading up the Columbia (with detours) all the way to where the Missouri River drainage begins in Montana. Along the way you'd visit the Columbia River Gorge with its vista points and waterfalls, the glorious Hood River Valley, overlooked by Mount Hood, the weird copy of Stonehenge at Maryhill, then to the remarkable mountain scenery of the Wallowa Mountains in northeastern Oregon (picture below.) This is a region, not very well known to visitors, that will leave you gobsmacked. Along the way, if you did this trip in early September, you might consider stopping in the historic Oregon town of Pendleton, where the Pendleton Roundup, one of the premier rodeo events (along with a big Native American gathering) occurs during the second week of September - https://www.pendletonroundup.com/

You'd then follow US 12 (the Lewis and Clark Highway) through the Bitterroot Mountains and into Montana. Visit Helena, the state's historic and fascinating capital, stop for a terrific steak dinner at the Land of Magic (can't resist putting in a plug) then down to Yellowstone.

Map 2 - https://goo.gl/maps/smDXhdfGEeJn6h266 . This map picks up in Yellowstone, travels south to Grand Teton National Park, then heads north by east to Devil's Tower and the Black Hills. I've included Rapid City as a base, from which you could make excursions to various Black Hills destinations like Mt. Rushmore, Crazy Horse, Deadwood and Lead, and east to the Badlands National Park loop road - a remarkable and easy excursion into other-worldly landscapes.

After a couple of days in the Black Hills, head south into Nebraska with a stop at the second "henge," in this case the tongue-in-cheek Carhenge near Alliance NE. From there, I'd strongly recommend following Nebraska Hwy 2 diagonally across the state to I-80 at Grand Island. By doing so you'll travel through the Nebraska Sandhills, a remarkable and beautiful region, also not well known to overseas visitors. Visit Lincoln, Nebraska's state capital and a very pleasant university town. If the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers are playing a football game when you're there, try to get tickets for a quintessential American experience.

From there it's a blast through the Heartland to Chicago. Even a couple of days in Chicago is important; if nothing else, take one of the architectural tours in the city, eat pizza, visit the Art Institute... IMO Chicago is in the "don't miss" ranks for visits to the US.

Continue east across Indiana and Ohio to Pennsylvania. I've included Fallingwater and Gettysburg on the map, as well as transiting Lancaster County, but the list of stops could be longer, either en route or as excursions from the Philly area - Valley Forge, for example. Philly itself is well worth a few days; in addition to being very historic, Philly has terrific food, markets, and for a big eastern city it's surprisingly affordable and easy to visit.

So that's a lot to digest, but a late summer - early autumn time frame would help you avoid the chances of terrible weather, the summer crowds (especially in the national parks) would be lessened, and you'd have enough daylight to make for long days and comfortable nights. Worth some googling, anyway.

Last edited by Gardyloo; Aug 26th, 2019 at 06:37 AM.
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Old Aug 26th, 2019, 06:52 AM
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Just outside of the Philadelphia area is Valley Forge National Park https://www.nps.gov/vafo/index.htm
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Old Aug 26th, 2019, 07:40 AM
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Unfortunately if you are starting in Philadelphia, Hyde Park with the Roosevelt historic sites is a long detour and taking you in the wrong direction.

I would definitely not go to any of the big tourist sites in the Lancaster area. There are some museums that explain the history of the area that might be of interest and it is beautiful farm country.
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Old Aug 26th, 2019, 07:48 AM
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"I'm going to suggest that you do this trip starting in September (or even a bit later) and that you pick a west-to-east route, rather than the east-to-west route you're now contemplating."

I also think that you might consider doing the trip from west to east for a couple of reasons:

Since you don't know the west as well as the east and the whole northwest to Dakotas is filled with an abundance of natural sites and parks, you could leave your trip a bit more flexible in the beginning and shorten the last part to get to Philly faster than you might have planned. Also, that way if you feel like you are "running out of time" in the East you can come back there more easily in the future.

Also, I would prefer to get the long flight to Europe out of the way at the beginning and then rest and relax in Seattle for the first few days, get over jet lag and then start the driving rather than feel pushed with a flight deadline and then catch a long flight. Anyway-something to think about.

Gardyloo's maps are awesome especially if you want the focus on nature. I would add that Portland Or is definitely worth a night at least if you have time. The only other route I might suggest from the Seattle area to Yellowstone (aside from just I-5 which is also pretty scenic) if you go in non-snow times of years would be the North Cascade highway-that is a really spectacular drive through Washington. Here's something that describes it in more detail:

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Old Aug 26th, 2019, 10:50 AM
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Great routes, Gardyloo! I'm saving!
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Old Aug 26th, 2019, 02:54 PM
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While reovering from jet-lag make sure you get to see the Barnes collection; reservations might be necessary.

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Old Aug 26th, 2019, 03:29 PM
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Wow, just wow.
I wish I could start tomorrow but this is just awesome. Thank you so much for your advice and itinerary suggestions.
I will keep the West to East vs East to West in mind but actually I like the longer flights from the West coast better cause those are night flights so I can sleep longer than from the East Coast
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Old Aug 26th, 2019, 04:31 PM
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there are 3 Frank Lloyd Wright homes close to Falling Water...Kentuck Knob==and the Duncan House.....please ck the days they are open and hours...it is a good idea to make a reservation to make sure you can get on the tour.........sometimes there are too many people.....also Flight 93 Memorial is in the same area....also I don't think I would want to miss Yellowstone of any of the other National Parks......they are just beautifully breathtaking........
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Old Aug 26th, 2019, 08:13 PM
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Since I am out West, most of my thoughts are going to be on that portion of the trip. But I have some more macro questions about your Midwest portion of the trip.

I think Gardyloo gives you a great map and rundown. I too would go west to east. I am going to throw in a few other add-ons or tweaks based on his map.

1. If you are going to Cape Disappointment in SW Washington, you ought to go about 1 hour south and visit Astoria and Cannon Beach for the afternoon. The bridge itself, the view from the Astor Column, a stop in Cannon Beach, maybe a quick visit to Ecola State Park. This is really a famous part of the coast. Gardyloo and others of us on the Oregon threads all have our favorites, and for many of us, this area is well-loved. Please consider.

2. Portland is a cool city and it's known for its urban transit, including a gondola, food carts, Powell's books and more. You may want a few hours here, if not a day. In some ways, I'd suggest it more than Chicago but we'll get to that later.

3. Pendleton--Yes, there's the roundup. There's a tour of the Pendleton Underground and bordellos, which I thought was just okay. It takes some imagination, IMO. On the other hand, just past Pendleton, consider a stop at the Native American museum for a couple of hours. Link below.

3. Joseph--I love Eastern Oregon and given your tag name of Cowboy, I think you will definitely want to visit Joseph and the Wallowas. The Wallowa Mountains have been called Little Switzerland.A drive out to Wallowa Lake and a ride up the gondola if you have time. They tend to get left off of itineraries because they aren't close to Portland or Seattle, but given your route, that's the time to do it. Note that right outside the lake's state park (it's easy day use, don't worry), there is the gravesite of Old Chief Joseph.

4. There are 2-3 ways to go from Joseph, Oregon to Yellowstone. Gardyloo gave you a route through Missoula. I have not been on that cutoff through Highway 12. I'm guessing it's very beautiful and that's why he picked it. I can address the alternatives--

4a. You could go up through Coeur d'Alene as mentioned above. It's really a beautiful lake. I haven't spent time here but people do go as a destination.

4b. You could take a southern route, going back to I-84, proceeding south past Baker City, Boise, and then take a cutoff for US20, going East. This will take you past a couple of things.
First, you could do a detour up to Sun Valley. I don't think you have the time, and not sure it deserves a detour given your other destinations. But it's a beautiful town right in the mountains.
Second, further along US20 (without any detour), you could stop for an hour at Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve. This really does seem like an otherwordly place. It is about a 1-hour on paved paths. Unique landscape.
Third, you could stop at Arco and/or Atomic City, two of the first places to have atomic energy in the world. See below for link.

4c. From this route, near the end, we opted to stay on US20 and stay the night in Idaho Falls for far less money. Then we got up early and headed to Yellowstone for the day.

5. Yellowstone
Yes, I would DEFINITELY do 1-2 days here if you can. Some thoughts... Yellowstone is not that close to a major airport. If somehow you make it back later to this area, you won't be sorry that you came again. I did not expect to like it as much as I did. And again, you can see A LOT in Yellowstone if you get in there early in the morning. We did a total of two days and saw a lot--quite a few geysers, Yellowstone Lake, Yellowstone Falls (by Canyon Village), and we made it up to Mammoth to see bears (but not moose).

Unless you stay in Idaho Falls right beforehand, if you can stay in a park lodge that would be amazing. Otherwise, I would suggest going on booking.com or travelocity for a night in West Yellowstone. Look at the booking map, compare it to Google Maps or the official NPS Map. Shoot for closer to the park entrance, because some hotels say "West Yellowstone" but they are not really.

Macro thoughts about Chicago and your overall trip.
So I noticed in reading your past TRs that you are from Munich, or you are an expat in Munich... If you come back to the USA for any reason, Chicago is a major airport hub and you can get a direct flight there from almost any major US airport. I have lived in Chicago and I really like the city. But you're right, you could spend more than 1-2 days here.

But there are other routes, where you could see cities that you probably won't want 3-5 days in, that you might not ever see again. Maybe it will just be a late afternoon walking around and dinner at a landmark restaurant or cafe on Yelp. Here are a few, on Interstates or major freeways to consider:

1. Springfield Illinois, the home of President Lincoln, and supposedly a great national historic park to visit there.
2. Kansas City, known for barbecue, some excellent museums. And right next door is Independence, the jumping off point for the Oregon Trail, the home of the Harry Truman Library (one of my favs ever).
3. St. Louis
4. Cincinnati
Throughout all these cities, if you go in September, you might hit a Major League game. This really is Americana... The Cards, the Reds and the Royals will almost be certainly easier to get tickets for than the Cubs.

Sites to look at
Tamasklikt Cultural Institute, near Pendleton, Oregon
Joseph, Oregon and Old Chief Joseph Grave:

Arco and Atomic City

Remember that Fodor's has destination guides ...
Here's one for Cincinnati (apparently there's a National Underground Railroad museum).
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Old Aug 26th, 2019, 10:34 PM
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Going west from Philly, Fallingwater is close to Pittsburgh--reservations required

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