Interstate 80/90 and National Parks
Replies: 13 - Last Post: Jul 14, 2010 5:05 PM Last Post By: DarcyLady
Apr 21, 2010 9:05 AM
Interstate 80/90 and National ParksMy boyfriend and I are taking a roadtrip from Chicago to California this summer, we would like to travel along I-80 or I-90. We are hoping to camp our way across the country. Does anyone have any recommendations for camp sites, which route to take and which national parks to see? I'm currently debating purchasing a national park annual pass, is it worth it? Thanks!
Apr 21, 2010 10:03 AM
1Of the two, I-90.
But after you get past central South Dakota, you should leave the Interstate altogether. Traffic will be light enough out there that the Interstate won't save you all that much time anyway, and you see more on the two-lane roads. Besides which, most national parks out there are nowhere near the Interstates.
Beyond that, I can't give you advice without more detail, because there's just too many options out there.
Check out the National Park Service's website.
Apr 21, 2010 10:50 AM
2http://www.ReserveAmerica.com is a booking service for many campsites. They have an interactive map.
You also don't mention how long you have for this trip.
Apr 21, 2010 11:18 AM
3I-80 follows the old emigrant route over South Pass, which means it avoids the mountains as much as possible, and therefore, anything interesting. I-90 passes within striking distance of the Black Hills, Yellowstone, Glacier, Hells Canyon, Mt. Rainier, and North Cascades, among other worthwhile places.
The annual National Park Pass pays for itself by the time you enter your fourth park. I buy one every year, not for that reason, but because it's a voluntary tax I happily pay, given the way the NPS is always starved for funding (park use is up 23%, but is the BUDGET increased by that much? Nooooooo).
You should be aware of the many camping opportunities in the National Forests, and on BLM land. There are many private campgrounds as well, but they have generally morphed into concrete RV slablands--if there's tent camping, it's usually an afterthought. That said, you should be aware of all options, as campsites often fill up on weekends.
If worst comes to worst, most national forests allow "dispersed camping", where you simply claim a patch of ground, put up your tent, and provide your own cooking, washing, and pooping facilities. The price is right ($0).
Apr 21, 2010 11:29 AM
Apr 21, 2010 11:49 AM
Apr 21, 2010 11:55 AM
6I-80 goes right to San Francisco; I-90 takes you to Seattle.
How much time do you have for your trip?
Apr 21, 2010 12:17 PM
7For I-80, I suggest you look at Truckee, Donner Lake, and up top of The Hill at going for a hike on the PCT, head north towards Castle Peak. Only problem that time of year is lots of other hikers. As for eastern end of the freeway, I dunno.
On I-90, I'd get off at Ellensburg and head down to the Yakima Canyon.
Sidenote: Interstate 70 probably is the most scenic in my opinion. Just outside of Glenwood Springs is a fantastic area, but I have no idea about camping.
Apr 21, 2010 12:35 PM
8There's an idea. You could stay at the Clair Tappaan Lodge which is near Donner Summit on I-80. $55 per night includes cooked breakfast and dinner and a sack lunch to take with you during the day. Dorms and some private rooms. There's a discount if you belong to the Sierra Club. There are all sorts of hiking trails in the area, including one of my favorites, the Pacific Crest Trail to Anderson Peak (described in that link). The photo on the link page is from that trail.
Check it out. It will give you an idea of outdoors places that are not part of National Parks.
Edited by: nutraxfornerves, because the Sierra Club prefers to give you a cooked dinner, rather than a cooked sinner.
Apr 21, 2010 1:21 PM
9You could take I-80 to I-76 and Denver, from Denver take I-70 to I-15 in Utah, then head across Nevada either on I-80 or Hwy 50 - I did the Hwy 50 drive last summer and it was awesome. You can camp pretty much anywhere you want along that road, there's A LOT of public lands out there. As far at Nat'l Parks go, I-70 would get you close to Rocky Mtn, Arches, Canyonlands, Capital Reef, and maybe Colorado Nat'l Monument (not sure if that's included in the NP pass). The scenery on I-70 from Denver to I-15 is hard to beat, ranging from high alpine mountains to red rock desert. Camping is plentiful along I-70 as well.
Apr 22, 2010 6:48 PM
Apr 22, 2010 7:42 PM
11Yes. Obviously, you can't even drive over South Pass proper, but the point I was trying to make is that I-80 has by far the easiest crossing of the Rockies available. If you look at a US map, you'll see that from the Midwest to Salt Lake City, it actually veers quite a bit north, then back south, to avoid the central Rockies high passes. You can compare that with US 40 and US 50, for an historical perspective.
And as far as the later crossing of the Cascades/Sierras, I-80 is the higher of the two when compared with I-90 (I-70 peters out before it ever gets to the Sierras), but I-90 has multiple passes to negotiate, whereas you don't have to deal with much of anything on I-80 until Donner Summit, and that's it. If the weather is at all iffy and speed is your primary concern, I-80 is the way to go. I-90 is better for proximity to the national parks and great camping, and is much more scenic since it doesn't have the five hundred+ miles of nothing that I-80 has between Salt Lake City and Reno.
Apr 23, 2010 10:59 AM
12If you end up taking I-90 through South Dakota, don't miss the Badlands NP - it is fabulous. Nearby is Wall Drug which is a fun stop. From there, as #1 says, get off the interstate. Take route 16 through Custer and see Rushmore & Crazy Horse and Custer State Park is also very cool (Wind Cave National Park is also a bit south of there though I didn't have a chance to go). You can then take 16 out of SD to Wyoming to Gillette, WY where you can head north to Devil's Tower National Monument. After that, if you get back on I-90, you can go to Little Big Horn National Monument.
I don't have any advice for I-80 unfortunately....
Edited by: sonichaggis
Jul 14, 2010 5:05 PM
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