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Cross country trip w/big family

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I will be taking a 2-month long trip with the dc next September/October. My plan is to go north from AZ across CO then east all the way to NY, head south to GA and then finally back west. I really need input on what to see, good places to stay, etc. We cannot afford hotels so we will be camping (yippee, my most favorite thing to do...HA!). Other input I need as far as sites to see is the time needed to see them. In other words what can we do in a day and what would we need more time for? If you suggest a site and have info such as cost that would be extremely helpful as well! Or if you have a website that might help me in planning this crazy trip I can use all the help I can get. :)



ETA: lol, should have done a search first as there appears to be a great thread about cross country trips going on. Sorry everyone! Disregard my post, please!

Edited by LuvnMySvn
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Just did this. Since you need to camp, highly recommend KOA. We stopped at the one in West Yellowstone and it was fantastic! We also got their atlas/catalog which allowed us to find all the others to stay out. Besides Yellowstone, our favorites were Mt Rushmore and Gettysburg. I would also suggest getting a National Park Pass and seeing the natural wonders and historical sites. South Dakota has several, going across on I-90, Pipestone in Minnesota was a wonderful discovery.


As for planning, we just got out the map to stopped at the places we wanted to see and then some. We were on the road for 33 days and had a blast!

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I don't have time to assist with the whole trip, but in PA, if you like history, Gettysburg is really nice although the Visitor's Center Museum is no longer free, so that would be pricey. You can opt to buy a 3 hour car tour CD and drive a "narrated" tour stopping when you want to get out and investigate. If you're going to visit the museum, allow a full day for it. If you're just doing the car tour, then part of a day is sufficient.


In NY, head to Alex Bay and the 1000 Islands in the St Lawrence River. It's absolutely gorgeous and they aren't lying about the islands - actually - they are, it's more like 2000 islands (literally). It's a gorgeous blue color and in the fall with the leaves turning... it'd be incredible! Campgrounds are plentiful. If you want to visit Canada at all, this is right on the border. Then you can head east and into the Adirondack mountains and enjoy their beauty.


In DC the Smithsonian museums are all free so enjoy them. You can easily allow a day per museum if you have the time. The harder part will be finding a campground to camp in as the commute will take a while. It's easier to take the Metro in rather than trying to park. My boys loved the Metro as a "ride" when they were younger. Arlington Cemetery is also in the area.


Shenandoah National Park can be on your way south if you head west from DC. The views are gorgeous. Stay and enjoy (hike, etc) or drive through and just enjoy the views. Don't expect to make much time driving though. The road is about 30mph and there are overlooks that will make you stop at them to marvel at the view along the way. Ditto that with Smokey Mountain NP if you want the inland trip south. If not, cut back east after Shenandoah (or part of it).

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I would recommend some time in Pisgah National Forest area in NC. There is lots of camping, hiking, tubing, and waterfalls in that area. I would also recommend Stone Mountain near Atlanta GA. If you go into West Virginia there is great white water rafting on the New and Gauley Rivers.

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We did a similar trip several years ago, for a month. I second KOA's as well, and you might want to even check into places like hostels and YMCA's. There are many alternate types of accommodations that are less expensive than regular hotels. When I was in my young 20's traveling through Europe, only young people stayed at hostels, but since then, I have seen many families at hostels including our own! :)

Bigger cities have hostels, such as Chicago, NYC, etc. They might be a nice break from camping.

You can check out hostelbookers.com or hostelworld.com.

Also, many big cities have free days at museums every week - like every Wednesday, or every Thursday.

If you make it to Virginia and enjoy American history, historic Williamsburg was one of our favorite spots, but ticket prices are pricey. Maybe they have a big group rate!

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If you want to take in Washington DC I recommend (as do many other folks on this site) the Harrington Hotel. We got one room that had more than enough beds for the six of us!!!! No one had to share a bed!!!! in ONE ROOM!!! Great for the budget-minded.


It is an older building - the first hotel in DC to get air conditioning back in the day. No pool, but a restaurant downstairs. Close to everything!




I also highly recommend Gettysburg. We did the 3-hour cd tour and stopped where we pleased along to route. Allow plenty of time for the museum, too...and the Cyclorama!!!

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The Grand Canyon - one day

Yellowstone - one day

Find something cheese related in Wisconsin. We were on a schedule and didn't stop there. - less than a day

Lincoln Park zoo and/or Sears tower in Chicago - two days if you have time to see each

Hershey, PA - a day

Philly, PA - could keep yourselves occupied for up to 3 days

NYC - like Philly

up to Bar Harbor - We spent three days there, could have done with 2. You could do the national park, the lobster nursery and the whale museum all in a day.

down to Boston - Paul Revere's house, the USS Constitution, lots of historic stuff - 2 days minimum

D.C. - can you hang around for a week?

Charleston, SC - historic down town and Ft. Sumter - two days

Take I-95 down to Brunswick, GA and go to the outlet mall in Darrin - one day

Head west to New Orleans - 2-3 days

Then west to El Paso - I have no idea

Check out Roswell, NM - a day

Head home.

Edited by Parrothead
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Sedona, AZ is breathtakingly beautiful. I adore almost everything about Chicago; if you like to sew, you really should go to Vogue Fabrics (the one in Evanston). It's fantastic! I also enthusiastically recommend the Smithsonian museums, esp the natural history museum (and if you are violently against evolution, you should still go there) -- the insect area is especially fun!


I found these links that look interesting:



and http://www.onlivingbylearning.com/2009/06/21/read-across-america-road-trip-begins-in-nyc/

(note the recommendation of the book Storybook Travels: From Eloise's New York to Harry Potter's London, Visits to 30 of the Best-Loved Landmarks in Children's Literature)


And Lynne Cheney wrote "Our 50 States: A Family Adventure Across America," which might also be worth checking out.

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Ok, I have more time now, so can add more thoughts. Are you a nature lover? If so, my thoughts could be worthwhile, if not, you might want to cut down on the time I allot for things.


North from AZ?


In EVERY NP plan to watch the visitor's film at the Visitor's Center. It'll make your park visit much more meaningful. Buy an annual NP pass and save tons of money.


If you haven't seen the Grand Canyon, then yes, it's worth a stop. If you don't plan on much hiking, spend two nights camping there and one complete day in between. You can hike some of the Hermit Trail along the ridge - or ride the bus - or a combo of both. Beware that there are NO fences along parts of it. This is one place where keeping a youngun leashed is likely a good idea.


Then, we'd head north to Utah and Zion NP. Spend two nights camping there and one day in between taking the shuttle and exploring the park. Let the kids play in the Virgin River for fun. There are a couple of short hikes even young kids might enjoy.


Then head over to Bryce NP. Again, camp two nights and give yourself a day to enjoy the park. Head down Wall St and hike back up the other side walking the rim trail back to the campground. It's fun for all ages - assuming no physical handicaps.


From Bryce we went via Capital Reef to Arches (stayed here, but in a motel) and Gooseneck St Park. Monument Valley is down there too. You can look at any of those to see if they interest you. Gooseneck is a stretch break only just to see an incredible natural feature, but nothing else is there.


Then we did Four Corners (quick stop) and Mesa Verde - loved this place, but with young kids, some of the cliff dwellings could be difficult to see. Check your interest.


We then cut back down into NM. If you're heading up... Rocky Mountain NP is there (one of the few we haven't visited, but want to). Then you're hitting the plains heading east. We did the plains higher up (SD), so can't assist there either. If you do opt to go further north into WY to see Yellowstone (3 day minimum if you want to see things), etc, then you can add in Devil's Tower (stretch break), Mt Rushmore (stretch break), Crazy Horse (interesting for the Indian museum/exhibits) and Badlands NP (really neat day stop). If you then continue east you can make it a point to stop and see each of the Great Lakes. My boys enjoy the fact that they've waded in each of them, plus the drives are pretty.


Otherwise, St Louis was our next stop where we went to see the Arch as a stretch break. It has a nice (free) Western expansion museum underneath even if you don't care to pay to go up into the Arch.


Chicago or Indianapolis are up to you if you want to head that way. We're not city lovers in general... plus cities are expensive comparatively. DC is the city with the most free stuff (museums).


It's prettier if you want to head from St Louis into KY where there's also Mammoth Cave NP (1 day or part of one) then up through WV and into MD and PA, but this route is more mountainous. The more northern route continues the flat of the plains for a while.


If you're more northerly, then Niagara Falls becomes an option. You could spend as little as a day there or as much as a couple - pending what you like for attractions. The Canadian side is much more tourist friendly, but the American side also has access to the Maid of the Mist and nice views.


If you're coming through WV and MD into PA, I already mentioned Gettysburg, and up into NY, then back down to DC, etc.


We didn't find a whole lot cutting across the south. We've enjoyed the Bayous of LA (short swamp trip and some hikes) and saw New Orleans, etc, but mostly this was just travel and good, local eating.


In NM, we loved Carlsbad Caverns (our absolute favorite of all times cavern and part of the NP so much of it is free with the pass). We also loved Chaco Canyon a lot (more Anasazi/Ancestral Pueblo ruins), but it's not for everyone I suppose. We like that sort of thing. Plus, seeing the stars there was second to nowhere else we've seen them (low humidity, no lights, desert).


Those are some not so quick thoughts. If you update your thoughts on which route (more specifically) you have in mind I might come up with other ideas. Plus, let us all know what sorts of things you want to see. We're very much into nature (so much that KOA's don't appeal at ALL to us, but they are good for those that like them since they have pools and more amenities). You won't get good shopping or much good city advice from us. We would never take a day on vacation to go shopping and try to just see highlights in cities - sometimes avoiding them altogether. :)

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Also wanted to add with the National Parks, there are Junior Ranger programs at nearly every park. The boys enjoyed collecting the badges, and we learned so much more than we would have had we just stopped to see. The National Parks puts out a guide book, the current one has a wolf on the cover. I would recommend this to help with your plans--that's how we found Pipestone.


With KOA, they have a rewards card, if you stay enough times you may be able to get free nights, but it gives you a discount. The National Park pass will also give you discounts to many of the extra fees the parks charge--such as the movie and museum at Gettysburg, the ride to the top of the Arch in St. Louis.


If you're not already, you may want to consider being a AAA member too. Not only will you get discounts to hotels and such, but if something happens you can get free towing--if traveling, I'd go with their plus service that gives you extra miles.

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