Hello! I’m planning a cross country trip soon and have been looking into boondocking and places to camp. I found your site and have been reading it the past few days. Awesome to say the least.
I’m traveling from the Philadelphia area of Pennsylvania to Denver and then on to Los Angeles. Everything in between is fair game. I’ve done quite a bit of research but the potential number of destinations is mind blowing. I’m wondering if you had any guidance? Some places along the way to camp and spend a night or three?
I’m trying to keep my expenditures to a minimum but I also want to have a memorable, dare I say life changing experience. At 30 this may well be the last time I can pull off an unencumbered cross country expedition.
I appreciate any help and apologize if I’m being presumptuous in my communication. I would buy a photo but money is tight…part of the reason for my voyage to sunnier climes.
Thanks for the email, JB. Always nice to hear from people hitting the road in search of a life-changing experience. The truth is, I don’t even plan my own road trips these days. I just go. Each morning I look at my Adventure Atlas and decide where I’m going to go that day. A lot of days, I don’t go anywhere. I seldom know where I’ll sleep each night, but something always seems to work out. After nine years on the road, my camp-radar (“campdar”) is finely honed and I’m totally comfortable not having any real plan for days, weeks and months at a time.
I’m not going to plan your road trip for you, but I’ll give you some must see suggestions along your route:
• The New River Gorge in southern West Virginia is one of the greatest natural playgrounds in the country, boasting world-class climbing, mountain biking, rafting, kayaking, hiking and BASE jumping, not to mention one of the coolest small towns in America: Fayetteville.
• Big Basin Prairie Preserve near Ashland, Kansas. Don’t believe what anybody says about the Midwest: the Great Plains are absolutely beautiful.
• Crested Butte, Colorado- I spent all last summer exploring mountains and mountain towns in Colorado and this place was my favorite, both for the backcountry and the town itself.
• Southern Utah- Pick a few parks out of a hat and get to know them on your own two feet. I’ve been exploring Utah every spring for years and the wonders never cease. I’m not sure when you’ll be traveling but keep in mind that summers are HOT! Spring, fall and winter are the best times to explore the desert. Summers are for mountains: check out the Henry’s, Uintas and Cedar Breaks.
• The Grand Canyon- If I’m pressed to pick one favorite place, I usually say the Grand Canyon. All the superlatives in the world pale in comparison.
• The La Brea Tar Pits in LA. I haven’t been here yet but I’ve written a few stories on the tar pits and it’s at the top of my must see list next time I’m in LA.
The first step to planning any road trip, be it a leisurely weekend loop around your home state or a cross-country epic is to buy a National Geographic Adventure Atlas. Accept no substitutes and never leave home without it!
The Adventure Atlas is a road tripper’s dream: easy to read, virtually indestructible and chock full of information about what to see and do off America’s beaten paths. In addition to charting the best scenic routes (always take the scenic route!) the Adventure Atlas has detailed National Park maps and marks trails, campgrounds, stop-worthy roadside attractions like the National Coonhound Cemetery in Cherokee, Alabama and quirky museums like the Prairie Windmill Museum in Shattuck, Oklahoma.
Once you have your Atlas, sit down with a highlighter, pick a state or a region and start marking all the places you’d like to see someday. All those little red squares marking geologic wonders, historical spots, famous residences, geographical oddities, museums and attractions are sure to whet your appetite for the open road. (Just now I highlighted the site of the first US Train Robbery in Adair, Iowa and Legend Rocks Petroglyph Site near Hamilton Dome, Wyoming, for future road tripping reference).
Also take note of the thousands of state parks, state forests, recreation and scenic areas, BLM lands, National Forests, National Monuments, and National Parks marked in green. Roads through these areas are usually jaw-droppingly scenic and they’re also great places to stop for picnics, hiking and camping (look for the little green tents!).
Now, with your highlighter, start connecting your dots using as many of the scenic routes and back roads as possible and voila: a killer road trip route! Of course, where you’ll go and how far you’ll drive will depend on how much time and money you have to spend on the road. If at all possible, aim to drive no more than 4 hours a day and plan on making several stops every day. Remember: on a proper road trip you should spend almost as much time out of the car as behind the wheel!
For more tips on planning your own life-changing trip, check out my previous road trip posts:
And if you really want to experience a Blonde Coyote road trip, abide by the Rules of the Road Trip. Best of luck and happy trails!