1 month road trip to the West, looking for quiet and uncrowded nature
Replies: 19 - Last Post: Jun 30, 2012 7:19 PM Last Post By: tilos
Jun 27, 2012 5:51 PM
1 month road trip to the West, looking for quiet and uncrowded natureI will be leaving from Ann Arbor Michigan and driving to Seattle, then returning to Ann Arbor. Those are pretty much my only 3 "must go to" points on this trip and everything else is still up in the air... I leave in 2 weeks. I first thought I'd hit all the big name national parks, but then I thought about all the people that would be thinking the same thing in July, and shuddered. I'm looking for alone time in nature, not wall to wall traffic. Some places I thought of originally were Rocky Mountain National Park and Yellowstone, but obviously they're out now. I've read good things about Glacier NP for my drive home, as well as Canyonlands in Utah and the Smoky Mountains in general. I'm going to take the southern route on the way out, and have no problem driving as far south as Texas. Also I should mention that I do nature photography.
Any suggestions for places I should think about checking out? State parks, National Forests etc. are all awesome, doesn't just have to be a National Park.
Jun 27, 2012 6:10 PM
1Fairly uncrowded places:
Theodore Roosevelt NP.
Big Bend NP.
Be aware that many places in the southwest and plains may be very hot.
Btw, Great Smoky Mountains NP is THE most visited park in the US, by double the amount of second place (Grand Canyon).
Jun 27, 2012 8:57 PM
2I think you should focus on the ones you really want to see, then pick long hikes. I've been in many national parks during times with way too many visitors. Just walk 1km or so down a path and you'll be almost alone. Parking can be a problem, but other than that, most stay close to the road.
Glacier has dozens of great hikes. You can be all by yourself. It can get a bit hot in Utah.
Jun 28, 2012 2:41 AM
3If getting away from crowds and noise is your goal, I'd recommend you focus on visiting National Forests instead of National Parks. Some of America's most beautiful and remote areas are in our national forests and there are many national forests along your route.
You can camp for free or for very little in national forests. You can hike, fish, hunt, run around naked for weeks at a time if you want.
Jun 28, 2012 6:05 AM
4From Ann Arbor to San Francisco (the southern route) and then the coast, and then the northern route from Seattle via Glacier NP back to Michigan - is a wonderful itinerary, but I think the crowds will defeat your objectives at virtually all the parks en route. I have never been to the US in July (only September to January) - and even then the crowds have been crazy busy in many of the national parks.
Maybe your timing and your goals are incompatible - unless as mentioned above you have a car and a tent, and get well off the road too-well travelled, via national forests, state parks, and so on. And even trying to get away from crowds in national parks by venturing further afield can be a drama - since traffic is generally concentrated in one or maybe two road corridors through all of them.
Jun 28, 2012 6:32 AM
5The monsoon season is due to start soon in the Southwest, including Texas and New Mexico. Hopefully, it will drown the wildfires by the time that you start your vacation.
Instead of driving along Interstate-70 past Rocky Mountain National Park, try driving from Denver through the Rocky Mountains on Highway #285 toward Buena Vista, then south toward Salida and Poncha Springs. At Highway #50, turn west and drive over the Continental Divide at Monarch Pass, then down through a beautiful, green valley of cattle ranches to Gunnison. Gunnison has lots of western history, including Wyatt Earp and Doc Holiday, and their main street has preserved the frontier buildings. Drive north 30 miles through Paradise Valley/Gunnison Valley, past more scenic cattle ranches, to Crested Butte, at 9,000-feet elevation. Crested Butte is the Wildflower Capitol of Colorado and their festival is during July, so all of the fields that you pass will be strewn with colorful wildflowers. There are Jeep roads into the backcountry and many mountain bike/hiking trails, including one that goes over the mountain to Aspen. Very picturesque and uncrowded after the festival is over. http://www.CrestedButteWildflowerFestival.com for the dates of the festival. (It might be .org, if not .com)
If you continue west along Highway #50 to Montrose, then south on Highway #550, then over the Million Dollar Highway above Ouray, more absolutely spectacular scenery climbing up the escarpment cliff to the town of Silverton. Then the highway takes you to Durango and New Mexico. You could drive along the foothills east to Chama and Taos or west to Mesa Verde, Four Corners and Monument Valley. The Utah and Arizona national parks are in that region. The monsoon rains may cool down the temperature of the desert.
Jun 28, 2012 7:53 AM
6The Wallowa Mountains in NE Oregon, The Steens in Central Oregon, The Warner Mts and Surprise Valley in NE Calif. Medicine Lake and Lava Beds Natl monument Northern Calif.
Jun 28, 2012 1:30 PM
7For "alone time in nature", you can either 1) still visit the National Parks, but as others have suggested, go for long hikes, or better, backpacking trips of several days; or 2) visit the National Forest Wilderness areas rather than the parks. This isn't universally true, some backcountry areas of the parks can be quite bustling, as can particular spots in certain National Forests. but it is pretty close as a general rule of thumb.
To some extent, National Parks are located where they are to protect the most spectacular features, but in many cases, the boundaries of the formal National Parks are somewhat arbitrary and political in nature, leaving some of the most spectacular scenery in nearby national forest and bureau of land manangement (BLM) lands. In Colorado, for instance, I'd say that the general consensus is that the most spectacular mountain scenery is not within RMNP, but out within the millions and millions of acres of less-publicised Forest Service lands. National Forest and BLM lands are found throughout every western state. So if you're willing to do a little extra research, you'll find of spectacular scenery to get your alone time in.
Jun 28, 2012 3:35 PM
8There are free national forest campgrounds along Taylor Creek, midway between Gunnison and Crested Butte. There are low-priced national forest campgrounds closer to Crested Butte. There are low-priced national forest campgrounds within one mile south of Telluride, plus free national forest campgrounds near Lizard Pass, further south on that highway that leads to Cortez.
Jun 28, 2012 8:17 PM
9I grew up in the West Coast and in the last several years have traveled out to Badlands, Black hills and Yellowstone, so that is the perspective I'm coming from. You can find plentlyof uncrowded areas crossing over to the west coast. Badlands are beautiful and you can enjoy then in a hour chunk passing by on the interstate or stay for a couple of days. Mind you it's too hot to hike during the day, unless you love hot weather and bring literally a gallon of water with you. Great photography opportunities.
Black hills should be much better known-they have very lovely drives, camping or hotels on the outskirts. Once you get away from Mt. Rushmore its not very crowed, especially during the weekday. Lots of hiking and the Needles hwy is wonderful. Great wildlife viewing in the south (competes with Yellowstone any day) of the park. Great area for photography.
North/east of Yellowstone along the Beartooth Hwy (212) is possibly the prettiest mountain area I have ever seen. Very rural and very few people. Not many lodging options and slow driving. There is a town just not too far outside of the park on the NE enterance that was cute (rustic/artsy). Yellowstone is crowded but mostly around Old Faithful and the Yellowstone falls, though if you haven't seen is worth the crowds anyway.
Northern Idaho is quite pretty between Glacier and Spokane, and of course Glacier is very beautiful. The coastal drive along the Oregon Coast (my home state) is possibly the most beautiful coastal drive any where and not populated at all. Some sections are dull but where ever you have a coastal view it's great. Tons of vacated parks up and down the coast. Just north of Coos Bay is a large sand dune area that goes on for miles and is about 1/2 mile across- quite literally you can get lost out there.
Bryce, Zion, and the Grand Canyon, Canyon Lands are all great too but so much driving. Your time is better spent in the North where there's lots to do, plus the heat won't be unbearable.
Also you will find nice scenery at Crater Lake in Oregon-check out photos online. Nice hiking there plus the lava tubes near Bend Oregon are very interesting and a cool relief from the heat. Some very remote lava viewing in the area between Crater Lake and Bend. Nice drive past mt. Hood, but I personally love the Columbia Gorge- wind surfers,waterfalls, public fisheries, which are along the Washington/Oregon border. Portland is a lovely city, nice farmers market downtown and fun people watching. Mt. Saint Helen's has great visitor centers about the volcanic activity and nice view at the end, if it's not clouded in. It's an all day activity. I'm not a big visitor center person but really enjoyed there centers.
Have a great time, you really can't go wrong in the West.
Jun 29, 2012 4:38 AM
10Bryce, Zion, and the Grand Canyon, Canyon Lands are all great too but so much driving.
Are you sure about that? The most direct (northern) route Michigan to Seattle is 2100 miles, and to go north but via Yellowstone NP is 2475, and to go via Denver and southern Utah to San Francisco is only 2590 miles. Not much more.
The OP could easily do that "southern" route (via Denver, Las Vegas, San Francisco), and then invest a few days in the drive up the wonderful West Coast, and then return home via Seattle, and either Glacier NP or Yellowstone NP.
The driving distance differences are not the issue - it's where the best places with fewest crowds are.
Jun 29, 2012 1:06 PM
11Hi again, in response to the above post going south is doable depending on how quickly they are willing to zip through. Miles are not so important, but time driving is. Once you get off the freeways it slows down conciderably. Though you may still be right as Zion is near the freeway as is the Grand Canyon. The Arizona/nevada national parks are definately unique, interesting and visually pleasing. If I were planning a month trip to see "the best nature sights" in the USA I would loop through the parks north of Grand Canyon, Grand Canyon it's self, head over to Hwy 101 up the coast (redwood forests, outstanding coastal views) and through Glacier, north of Yellowstone, Yellowstone (for the geysers) possibly Needles Hwy in the Black hills, and the Badlands.
It depends how much it's a to do list and how much an enjoy myself and breath a bit trip it is.
Jun 29, 2012 3:34 PM
12Thanks everyone for the replies! I have a (sort of) preliminary plan for the drive, and will probably just stop wherever I feel like along the way. Basically, my first definite place to stop is badlands national park, where I'll most likely camp for my second night of the trip. Then west through the black hills, south through the very east of Wyoming to Colorado, drive through Colorado to Utah, see some of the southern parks/stuff in Utah. Then either cross over to the California coast or stay a bit more inland, through Death Valley, possibly a stop over in some of the NP's, or just a drive through. I went to Yosemite earlier this year, so I don't really feel any huge desire to stop there. I'll be skipping Yellowstone this time around in favor of Glacier NP. Obviously this is all INCREDIBLY subject to change/whim, but I think this is a generally good trip plan. I might end up staying longer in some areas or just driving through others. This is sort of a "sample" trip in general, I will probably go back to a lot of these places for a longer, more stationary, vacation. Unfortunately for this trip backpacking is out for many reasons, but my main one is the 40lbs of camera equipment I will be lugging around. I realize it's going to be hot as hell, but the plan is pretty much to get up at 4am - 10am for the light, then chill/drive until around 6-9pm, then sleep. Hopefully it wont be AS hot if it's not the middle of the day. Plus I'm a pasty red head so I usually don't go out between 10-2pm in the summer anyway.
Thank's everyone for the great info!
Jun 29, 2012 5:46 PM
13trekker502: What is this monsoon season you speak of for Texas? Last summer we saw next to no rain and the state burned. This year we are getting rain, but it isn't particularly heavier in June/July than it is in the spring (unless we end up with a tropical storm or the rare hurricane).
OP: Keep in mind that Big Bend isn't crowded in the summer for a reason: it is roasting hot. Not to say you shouldn't go, just be aware.
Jun 29, 2012 8:20 PM
14Last summer, la nina, was a drought. Now, we have el nino weather change with historically early hurricanes flooding Florida now. The hurricanes blowing up the Gulf of Mexico from the Yucatan Peninsula are headed toward Texas and New Mexico. Rain has been forecast for several days now for the Santa Fe area, with dark clouds and appearance of rain falling in the distance.
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