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Old Jun 22, 11, 2:38 pm   #1
 
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Rocky Mountains Road Trip - Advice?

I'm tentatively planning an ambitious solo road trip for this fall (October) to fulfill a lifelong dream of seeing the Rocky Mountains. At this point I'm not sure whether to drive from New York or fly, but it does seem like I'd have more time to cover more ground if I opt to fly and rent a car instead. Car rentals are exorbitant though, which is why I'd actually save more money by driving, even though I'd be driving three times as many miles. Given I only have 2-3 weeks to spend, I want to be able to take my time seeing the sites, rather than rush around like it's a National Lampoon vacation.

Here's what the trip might look like:

http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?msid=...887becee&msa=0


The idea is fly in at a base city, say Denver, then from there loop around 7 states so I can visit the Grand Canyons, Yellowstone, Mt Rushmore, Devils Tower, along with some of the major cities of the region. Is this a bit too ambitious for an allotted time of only 3 weeks though? One of the reasons I'm packing so much in is because I may not have a job next year, so this could be my last chance for such an undertaking.

Anyone have any suggestions or advice for a trip like this, including cost saving measures and can't-miss POIs? Let me know! :-)

Last edited by Lincoln; Jun 24, 11 at 5:21 pm.. Reason: Map Updated
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Old Jun 22, 11, 4:50 pm   #2
 
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Don't take I-25 between Santa Fe and Denver....it's get a few nice stretches....but most of it is horribly boring. Take US 285 instead, "The Turquoise Trail" thru Taos, then up thru Salida and Fairplay to Denver. The scenery is AMAZING and you probably won't have too much trouble with snow in early October. Keep an eye on the forecast, though.....

It's a shame you're not hitting Ouray/Mesa Verde/Durango/Silverthorne. Canyonlands and Moab are also def worth a look. Maybe skip I-15, take 160 instead? I've never done this but I can definitely vouch for 285 instead of I-25.

I've always wanted to check out the attached slot canyons...

http://www.americansouthwest.net/slot_canyons/map.html
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Old Jun 22, 11, 5:54 pm   #3
 
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I'd second the 285 suggestion (I-25 from Santa Fe to Denver is one of my least favorite drives), but I'd add on that you should cut over to US-84 in Espanola, then take a right onto CO-17 in Chama. It adds something like an hour or two to the drive, but it's one of the most beautiful drives I can think of in the state. Just be aware that the 285 interchange in Espanola can be... confusing. It should be fine with a GPS, but it's not very well signed.

EDIT: Just noticed you're going the other direction, which is fine, just reverse the above, and ignore the bit about Espanola being confusing. It's fine south-bound.

Also, I'd agree to watch the weather, but I've always had far worse luck with I-25 closing near Walsenburg (between Pueblo and Trinidad) than with 285 being un-driveable.
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Old Jun 22, 11, 6:56 pm   #4
 
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Thanks for the replies so far! Actually, I could go either way, it doesn't matter as long as I complete the loop. This is just a soft itinerary, because as you both aptly pointed out, there's no way for me to know that I-25 would have been a dull ride. I'd LOVE to check out Durango, the particular route I have set up in that region is only set up that way so I could approach the Grand Canyons. Can you snake through the mountains in Colorado easily enough to Arizona instead? If I can I could bypass New Mexico altogether and visit Durango instead.

I also have no idea what to make my base city (meaning the city my plane lands at), but I'm leaning towards Denver as its the city I've wanted to spend maybe a couple of days sightseeing. I could land anywhere within the loop though. I have enough reward points from my credit card to take a free flight one way, so airfare isn't much of an issue.
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Old Jun 22, 11, 8:51 pm   #5
 
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Sure, you could easily cut through to Durango (and beyond). I'd recommend 285 to US-50 in that case, as the Black Canyon of the Gunnison is fantastic. I would, in that case however, HIGHLY recommend checking snow/road reports, as the San Juans can get pounded early. FWIW, cotrip.org has very good, detailed snow/ice reports and tons of webcams views. The road from Durango towards the Four Corners also skirts Mesa Verde, another place I think makes for a nice drive (whether you stop or not).
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Old Jun 22, 11, 8:57 pm   #6
 
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Finally had a chance to take a closer look at the map. It looks like I could take I-285 to I-160, cutting through Durango and all the way to the Grand Canyons. That might be perfect, and of coruse vice versa if I go from the Canyons to Colorado instead. Since it's not a major interstate I wasn't sure how good the road conditions or traffic would be. Thanks for the cotrip link!

I'm shooting for last week of September and the first weeks of October so I'm there when fall foliage is in full bloom. Should make for some breathtaking drives and scenery.
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Old Jun 23, 11, 2:54 pm   #7
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Lincoln View Post
I also have no idea what to make my base city (meaning the city my plane lands at), but I'm leaning towards Denver as its the city I've wanted to spend maybe a couple of days sightseeing.
If you can fly anywhere in the loop you might as well pick a city that has lots of nonstop flights for scheduling convenience. DEN is the best for that, probably SLC is #2.

As far as your decision to drive vs. fly, consider that driving out to the Rockies from NY is going to be 2 hard days of driving each direction, possibly more like 3 days depending on your endurance. Along with the gas costs for the extra miles be sure to factor in the depreciation on your car for the whole trip as well as the value of your time. Even if car rental rates are high I don't see how driving the whole way could make sense for a solo traveler.
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Old Jun 23, 11, 5:46 pm   #8
 
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Originally Posted by darthbimmer View Post
If you can fly anywhere in the loop you might as well pick a city that has lots of nonstop flights for scheduling convenience. DEN is the best for that, probably SLC is #2.

As far as your decision to drive vs. fly, consider that driving out to the Rockies from NY is going to be 2 hard days of driving each direction, possibly more like 3 days depending on your endurance. Along with the gas costs for the extra miles be sure to factor in the depreciation on your car for the whole trip as well as the value of your time. Even if car rental rates are high I don't see how driving the whole way could make sense for a solo traveler.
If I didn't have a deadline I'd would have done it and just taken my time about it, using the occasion to visit POIs in states on my way to the region. I've driven out as far as Arkansas before, but this is roughly twice the distance. Just not doable. Maybe someday when I don't have a job that places time constraints on me.

I was exploring airfare and it seems no matter what city I pick to land out the fare is pretty much the same ($200 one way).

I'm wondering if I should join a car rental reward program to save money or if I should just try my luck with Priceline. I've had great success with it in getting awesome hotel rooms before, but I never tried using it to get a car rental.
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Old Jun 24, 11, 3:23 pm   #9
 
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Originally Posted by Lincoln View Post
If I didn't have a deadline I'd would have done it and just taken my time about it, using the occasion to visit POIs in states on my way to the region. I've driven out as far as Arkansas before, but this is roughly twice the distance. Just not doable. Maybe someday when I don't have a job that places time constraints on me.

I was exploring airfare and it seems no matter what city I pick to land out the fare is pretty much the same ($200 one way).

I'm wondering if I should join a car rental reward program to save money or if I should just try my luck with Priceline. I've had great success with it in getting awesome hotel rooms before, but I never tried using it to get a car rental.
Make sure to check car rental prices from non-airport locations. For Avis in DEN, for example, the 1900 Broadway location is usually 25-40% cheaper than the airport location. You can take a $12 skyride RTD bus from the airport that drops you off within walking distance of the 1900 Broadway location.
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Old Jun 24, 11, 3:58 pm   #10
 
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Originally Posted by dccarroll View Post
Make sure to check car rental prices from non-airport locations. For Avis in DEN, for example, the 1900 Broadway location is usually 25-40% cheaper than the airport location. You can take a $12 skyride RTD bus from the airport that drops you off within walking distance of the 1900 Broadway location.
Wow, you're not kidding. I punched in the Broadway address and the prices were almost half what the airport prices were. Have you used this Avis location before? I've only used them once but it was a good experience, where they cut the rental price by more than half even though it was a purchasing error on my part. Saved me $600 dollars then.

I've been exploring possible AAA package deals to save on a rental but I haven't seen any notable differences in savings so far.
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Old Jun 24, 11, 10:38 pm   #11
 
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Did you plan on going to Yellowstone at all? If so, I highly suggest driving from Red Lodge, MT to the Cooke City, WY and entering there. The drive takes you up over a HUGE mountain pass, something over 11,000 feet. We did it last summer. You truly feel like you are on top of the world.
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Old Jun 26, 11, 1:45 am   #12
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I agree with the folks that suggested US 285 for the drive in Colorado. Sand Dunes NP is close to the route that you are taking. I have been there in the spring and thought it was great. I am not sure how it would be in the fall.
Canyon de Chelly in Arizona was a place that I went to one time and was glad I drove over there to see it. It may take you only 1/2 a day from your planned route.
Once you make your stop at the Grand Canyon you might think about back tracking a little bit to the east and then going north and seeing Arches NP near Moab, UT. You could make your way to SLC from there.
In Wyoming I would suggest (depending on weather but it probably will not be a problem in October) going to Yellowstone NP and then driving Cody-Worland-Buffalo. That will take you over the Big Horn Mountains and the scenery should be great that time of year. It would beat the drive of going clear down to Casper and then back north (this drive will mostly be flat prairie and become a little monontonous).
I think you have a great trip planned and should be able to do it in the time frame that you are thinking.
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Old Jun 26, 11, 10:26 am   #13
 
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Originally Posted by k_malm View Post
Did you plan on going to Yellowstone at all? If so, I highly suggest driving from Red Lodge, MT to the Cooke City, WY and entering there. The drive takes you up over a HUGE mountain pass, something over 11,000 feet. We did it last summer. You truly feel like you are on top of the world.
I'll be going to Yellowstone, Montana isn't part of the loop, so instead I'd be coming in from the south (this is assuming I start the loop going south of Denver instead of north.) I was told the drive on US-89 to Jackson and through Teton National Park was spectacular as well, although glad you mentioned this because I hadn't realized the map shows me turning towards South Dakota BEFORE I reached Yellowstone (I've since updated.) Not sure I'd want to drive TOO far up in elevation as I do get a little nervous when I'm driving my car and see planes flying PAST me.

Quote:
Originally Posted by MXS View Post
In Wyoming I would suggest (depending on weather but it probably will not be a problem in October) going to Yellowstone NP and then driving Cody-Worland-Buffalo. That will take you over the Big Horn Mountains and the scenery should be great that time of year. It would beat the drive of going clear down to Casper and then back north (this drive will mostly be flat prairie and become a little monotonous).
I think you have a great trip planned and should be able to do it in the time frame that you are thinking.
Looks like Canyon de Chelly may be doable, I'd definitely like to see that if you enjoyed the visit. Thanks for pointing that out about Wyoming, I could see from the terrain that it was going to be a flat drive (I've driven through Mississippi and that was about as monotonous as you could get.) I hadn't realized I wasn't going up far enough to visit Yellowstone (and Old Faithful) so I pushed the itinerary further up north so I'll pass through Big Horn as you suggested.

There's two options from there though: taking Route 16 or Route 14. Does Route 14 offer anything compelling am I better off driving south and passing through Worland to Route 16?
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Old Jun 27, 11, 12:46 am   #14
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I would suggest taking highway 16. This is a more gradual climb up and down the mountain. You are able to travel at a faster speed and there are not as many "switchbacks".
When checking on a map program it says that it takes less time to go on hwy 14 but I do not think that is the case because the road has a lot of curves.

Both routes have great scenery.

Watch out for deer, elk, antelope while driving. This is especially true early in the morning and at night.

I had been assuming that you would be traveling south west first and then heading north. If you are flexible you might want to fly into Denver spend a day or two there and check out the weather forcast. If it looks nice maybe start your trip north to South Dakota and then come around to Yellowstone and then head south.

It sounds like you will hit a lot of National Parks - if you do not have one get the NP pass.

$$ saving tip. If you do not have a lot of hotel points - try some of the mom and pop motels to save some money. Some of them in SD, WY, CO, UT are not to bad and can be inexpensive. It has been three years since I travelled in that area but I can remember seeing signs for motels between $30-$60. Of course ask them to see the rooms first to make sure they are clean.
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Old Jun 28, 11, 10:48 am   #15
 
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Originally Posted by MXS View Post
I would suggest taking highway 16. This is a more gradual climb up and down the mountain. You are able to travel at a faster speed and there are not as many "switchbacks".
When checking on a map program it says that it takes less time to go on hwy 14 but I do not think that is the case because the road has a lot of curves.

Both routes have great scenery.

Watch out for deer, elk, antelope while driving. This is especially true early in the morning and at night.

I had been assuming that you would be traveling south west first and then heading north. If you are flexible you might want to fly into Denver spend a day or two there and check out the weather forcast. If it looks nice maybe start your trip north to South Dakota and then come around to Yellowstone and then head south.

It sounds like you will hit a lot of National Parks - if you do not have one get the NP pass.

$$ saving tip. If you do not have a lot of hotel points - try some of the mom and pop motels to save some money. Some of them in SD, WY, CO, UT are not to bad and can be inexpensive. It has been three years since I travelled in that area but I can remember seeing signs for motels between $30-$60. Of course ask them to see the rooms first to make sure they are clean.
I have a national access pass due to being deaf, so I'll be able to get into all the national parks for free. Thanks for the Route 16 suggestion too, I've since updated the itinerary to pass through Worland and Buffalo on the way to Mt Rushmore.
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