Cross country drive: What shouldn't be missed?

I’m going to be driving from Orlando (or Daytona Beach) to Oregon in January. It’s a moving my son across country trip and I don’t have a lot of time, but I’d like to give him at least some memorable moments from the trip. There won’t be time for much sightseeing, but we do have to eat and I love to eat culture and special treats. We’ve already decided a stop in NOLA for poboys and beignets is a must.

Also, although I’ve driven across country a couple of times, I’m taking a new route (southern) to avoid as much bad weather as possible. As unfamiliar with this route, if there’s something I need to be aware of or any suggestions for a better route, I’m all ears. The itinerary is as follows:
[li]From Orlando up I75 to I10 westbound along the gulf coast to New Orleans (spending the night)[/li][li]Then north on I49 through LA to Shreveport to pick up I20 westbound into TX. We’re hoping to stretch this day to make it Amarillo for the night as we want to get through Dallas as quickly as possible. I’ve never been through LA.[/li][li]At Amarillo, we pickup I40 westbound and I’m familiar with this stretch from about 25 years ago. Planning on spending the night in Flagstaff before making the detour to GCNP and then heading into Henderson, NV where I have family and we are spending another night.[/li][li]The last leg from Henderson, I was planning to take through NV heading into CA just north of Reno, to hit I5 north into Oregon. I’m not sure if weather is going to be okay for this but I’d prefer to avoid driving up I5 from SoCal due to traffic and higher expenses. I’ve not driven through this part of NV, though. I’m sure it’s boring, but that doesn’t bother me.[/li][/ol]

I have already promised him that I wouldn’t let him miss at least seeing the Grand Canyon. Although there won’t be much time for exploring (and it’s January, fercryinoutloud!), I figured everyone’s gotta at least stand on the edge of it once in their lives, so worth the detour. He also would like to drive though Vegas and maybe pop into a casino. Though I have zero interest in casinos, I’m fine with that as I’d like to see my cousins, if only for a meal.

Lastly, I was considering Airbnb as opposed to crappy motels for our lodging. If it were summer, I’d camp out but obviously that’s not possible. I’d like to keep lodging inexpensive and Airbnb looked like it had some reasonable options. Anything I should know about it?

First three rules of road trips:

  1. Stay off the Interstates.
  2. Stop at Yard Sales.
  3. Smell the flowers. They are new and different everywhere, and grow wherever there is no asphalt. (might not be a productive time of year, though. but there’s the rule, for other future readers)

You didn’t say how old your son is, but I presume he is adultish?

My general rules.

• use the interstates to get where you’re going quickly
• don’t bother too much with places closer to home or closer to your destination. Once he’s in Oregon, there will be time for Crater Lake or the Columbia River Gorge, etc.
• for the areas you’ll focus on, use the US and state highways. Not many interstate drives are gorgeous, although some are (I-80 over Donner Pass, I-70 through Glenwood Canyon)
• watch the weather, have some route flexibility, and take what the weather allows for on any given day

Your 3 runs, Amarillo to Flagstaff, Flagstaff to Henderson, and to a lesser extent Henderson to Oregon (2nd bullet, above) will be your best sightseeing opportunities. Maximize these days.

Day 2: Your NOLA to Amarillo run is almost a 900 mile day. Short stops can kill your progress — a 5-minute stop can quickly stretch into 20-30. Don’t stop! Recommend you set up a driving rotation, like 3 on, 3 off. For bathroom stops, get in, get out, and get back on the road. I’ve done a few Iron Butt rides (1,000 mles in 24 hrs). Stops will kill your progress. 900 miles ÷ 16 hours driving is 56 MPH overall average speed, including stops. That’s a fast pace. If you end up having a total of 2 hours of stops (easy to do on an 18-hr day), that’s an overall average speed of 65 MPH. This is your Iron Butt day.

Day 2 is doable. Just be ready for that stretch.

Amarillo to Flagstaff: 610 miles
• lots of quirky Old Route 66 sites along the way
• Meteor Crater out of Winslow AZ is pretty cool. Nice visitor center, cool crater. It can be very windy!
• Petrified Forest and Painted Desert are worth a stop.

Flagstaff to Henderson: this is a great day; only 235 miles straight-line distance
• Sedona AZ! Beautiful. Sedona is at 4,300’ so snow and ice can be a factor.
• Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument is surreal. If you haven’t been in a lava field before, you feel as if you’re on the moon.
• Approach GCNP by going north on US-89 past Sunset Crater to Cameron AZ. The shops there have fine Navajo works and is interesting even to just browse.
• The approach from Cameron to along the south rim offers several places to stop. Find some good ones ahead of time. Search on the lookouts along AZ-64, like Moran Point (as an example), to know which ones to stop at. There are many.
• Skip GC Village. Just drive on past it.
• Allow time for a stop at Hoover Dam. Park at the west end of the bridge, at the Mike O’Callaghan - Pat Tillman Memorial, and walk across the bridge if the weather isn’t too cold and windy. Or at least part way onto the bridge. Nice view of Hoover Dam and Lake Mead.
• Stop on the dam and walk across it.
• Valley of Fire State Park, 60 miles NE of Henderson, is beautiful in the summertime. Not sure about in January.
• Be sure to see the Las Vegas Strip at night. Lights! See the Bellagio fountains. Take your picture at the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign. Even at night you can get a good picture of you.

Henderson to Oregon: at least 775 miles; possibly 900 if snow and you have to go through Bakersfield. Here is where weather can have a real impact. Watch the weather in the mountains. The Sierra Nevada storms can really dump snow. It’s best to carry a set of chains.
• If the weather is good, go through Death Valley. See some DVNP sites.
• Take US-395 north along the eastern Sierra Nevada.
• Mono Lake at Lee Vining has an interesting visitors center.
• If you’re doing US-395 and the weather is still good, try the Kingsbury Grade road (NV-207) into South Lake Tahoe. Beautiful lake and mountains.
• If it’s a bad weather day, from Henderson take I-15 down to Barstow, and CA-58 across to Mojave and then over Tehachapi Pass. You can get some snow over that pass, but it’s usually not bad. Then it’s CA-99 or I-5 north to Oregon.
• If you do take I-5, Shasta Dam was the last dam built by Hoover Dam’s chief engineer, Frank Crowe. Crowe retired in nearby Redding CA, where he passed away in 1946.

Check the weather daily. Even Albuquerque and Flagstaff can get appreciable snow. Be prepared to take I-10 instead.

Now, on your drive back…
• Crater Lake NP? Depends on where you are in OR.
• Park City UT?
• Kansas City MO?
• Independence MO — the Harry Truman Presidential Library and Museum
• St. Louis MO — bald eagle viewing program at Pere Marquette State Park
• Elvis in Memphis?
• Atlanta: Jimmy Carter’s Presidential Library, Martin Luther King National Historic Site (I cried when I was there), CNN Studio Tour

Check the weather!

How long do you have, how old is your son?

If you at all have time to get to Mount Zion National Park, a few hours north of Flagstaff, it’s among the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. Las Vegas? Meh, not for me, but obviously others like it.

I would add to what LHoD said, what sort of stuff interests you and your son? Also, what part of OR?
Hmmm January, yeah, wouldn’t recommend the northwesterly route up through Colorado, Wyoming and Idaho. (during the summer, this is the much better route, much more visually interesting) There’s a good chance of being snowed in in Wyoming and Wyoming is a sucky place to be stuck when you’re just trying to pass through.

Orlando, hmmm, do you have much or any experience with winter driving in northern latitudes? If not, I’d really recommend keeping to a southerly route through GA, AL, LA, TX, NM, AZ and CA to get to OR. NOLA is worth a stop, other than that, IME there wasn’t really much of interest in any of the other states on that route, other than the fact it took a full day and a half just to drive across the panhandle of TX, The Grand Canyon in AZ I suppose

Do you like spicy food? If you haven’t tried them, you must have some New Mexico green chiles. You could stop at the original Sadie’s on 4th Street in Albuquerque.

The other Sadie’s locations are supposed to be very good as well, but I can’t personally vouch for them. And there are plenty of other good New Mexican restaurants in town.

He’s 27. And I like your rules, but they aren’t going to work for this trip since I have to get back to work.

I have requested six days off and want to make the trip in 5 days, with the sixth as a spare in case we have to deviate from plan. It’s not a vacation, but a relocation. We’re in a pickup truck with a kayak in the back and a few boxes. Last time I was driving a 22 footer towing a car hauler, but it was summer. We will switch off driving to maximize our highway time.

I wish we could go to Zion, and I even looked at a route that would take us there, but I think a trip to Zion is better delayed until summer when we have dedicated time off. We our outdoorsy people who take annual backpacking trips. We venture further out every year and I’m sure eventually Zion will be on the agenda. He’ll have to settle with that giant hole 1.5 hours north of Flagstaff. I’m not into Vegas either, but the boy wants to see it, I have family there, and it’s on the way, so…

Unfortunately, I haven’t spent enough time with my adult son to really gauge his interests, but he seems a lot like a younger version of myself. Though he’s expressed an interest in seeing Vegas, he also wants to see the Grand Canyon. We used to hike a lot when he was younger, so I think he’ll appreciate natural environments, but he’s also interested in oddities, like me. He probably wouldn’t be as interested in museums as I am, but I think he likes to eat interesting food. He suggested NOLA and I couldn’t be happier about that. He said he wants to see the desert and I told him you’ll get that in spades driving through NV. Like I said, there’s not a lot of time, so I’m really hoping to discover something that I might regret having missed due to proximity, ease of visiting, and high level of interest. Hoover Dam might just be one of those that I haven’t thought of. I would love to see Big Bend, but I just don’t see how it’s possible on my limited time-frame.

As for Oregon, there’ll be no sightseeing since that is home and we can do that at our leisure. Even Northern CA is probably going to be a see-it-through-the-window, plan-on-coming-back part. We’re in southern Oregon not far from Crater Lake.

I have no plans on taking a more northern route in January. I’ve driven through Wyoming when we moved out here several years ago and I didn’t want to drive a moving truck towing a car through the CO Rockies. I liked it and I can’t wait to see more of Wyoming. It was windy and cold when we slept in our car on the trailer at a rest stop, but I thought Wyoming country, even that part was lovely and interesting. I can’t wait to go back and get to see the prettier part. As far as driving cross country across boring vistas, I don’t think you can surpass the TX panhandle and Oklahoma (even Kansas was more interesting). I expect the stretch between Dallas and Amarillo is going to be mind-numbing.

Friend Brown Eyed Girl:

Getting through Dallas “quickly” is problematic. On our last trip, we got to Dallas from the North about 3.00pm. It was bumper to bumper traffic, at about 15 mph, for the next two and a half hours just to get through to the south end and continue on to Houston. If you can detour around Dallas, you might make better time.

Between Vegas and Reno: Eddie World in Beatty has all kind of nuts and candy, and decent price on gas.

Best gas price in Tonopah is at Giggle Springs, kinda in the middle of town, on your right as you head north.

There are 3 good short-cuts to get you to Reno. I’ll pass em along if you want. You’re gonna go pretty much right past my place later that day!

If you have time when you’re in the Reno area, a side trip up to Lake Tahoe would be worth it.

You didn’t specify which route you plan for Vegas to Reno. Weather permitting, through Death Valley and up 395 along the eastern Sierra counts as “not to be missed.” As Bullitt said, however, watch the weather. Sierra highways can be completely impassible during & shortly after a winter storm.

As a recent immigrant to Ashland, I can vouch for southern Oregon being a great place. A warm welcome to Brown Eyed Son!

I’m in southern Oregon but it sounds like you won’t have much time here this go around so I can’t help much. I’m sure you’ve give the driving conditions much thought, but do be aware of just how wet it will be here. The weather on the west side of the Cascades will be wet and mild in lower elevations, so you shouldn’t have too much trouble with snow or ice. Do make sure you have fresh, new windshield wiper blades! Even during the middle of the day it’s often dark and overcast and with a heavy rain driving is dangerous enough as it is. Unless you have a canopy on your pickup make sure you have a heavy-duty tarp over the contents in the bed. The Siskiyou Summit is the high point on I5 on the CA-OR border and if you run into snow, it’ll likely be there While it almost never closes there is often a requirement to carry tire chains. If you’re driving a pickup in January chains would be a good idea to have in the back anyway. My totally unrequested advice here is to get a set of decent tire chains, make sure you know how to install them (practice doing it in your driveway or somewhere), and carry them and some spare wiper blades behind the seat. If there’s any hint of bad weather stick the interstate as much as possible.

There’s a million things to do around here but most are outdoor related activities and would take some time. Lots of hiking, fishing, and general outdoor recreation around here. The coast offers a lot of fun opportunities in itself. If this will be his homebase and you’ll be making the occasional trip back here to visit, I agree with putting them off until you have more time. Crater Lake, for instance, should be appreciated over two or three days, preferably in the summer. There’s more people, but more of the park is accessible as well.

One recommendation I would wholeheartedly suggest is to pick up a case or three of our local wine. The Willamette, Umpqua, and Rogue Valleys are quickly making a name for themselves as top-notch wine producing regions with some outstanding vineyards. One of our local vineyards has some incredible varieties; their Baco Noir is superb. I’m not much a wine snob, but a bottle of wine makes a great gift. Additionally they’re a treat that lasts throughout the year and can be a wonderful memento of your trip, one that doesn’t take long to procure.

Feel free to ask about anything more specific. I live near Roseburg and have lived in this are my whole life.

This is the local wine I was mentioning; it even got a write-up in Forbes.

Bullitt, where do I start? THANK YOU for such a comprehensive reply! You really hit the nail on the head!

#1 and #2 are a given. Stops for sightseeing pretty much ends within 500 miles of home. I expect by that time, I’ll be wanting to get home stat. I’ve no doubt he’ll do some of his own exploring in our own beautiful backyard (for me, about 150 mile radius of home).
As to #3, I’ve been over Donner Pass (in the summertime). It’s an alternate I’ve got my eye on. I have no experience with the NoCal route between Reno and I5; I usually prefer to avoid I-5, but it may be better in January to stick to the interstates vs. state routes this far north. I have options to jump on I-5:
[li]in Southern CA, which is the least of my desires[/li][li]at I-80 over Donner Pass, which closes from time to time,[/li][li]at Redding via SR-44/SR-299 (I have no idea how feasible this will be in January, or[/li][li]at Mt. Shasta via SR-89 (again, it’s gorgeous in summer, but what about January?)[/li][/ul]
I figure the weather is going to determine and I expect it’s possible I’ll be buying chains somewhere along the way. He’s having work done to the truck before the trip, so we’ll be riding on new tires, struts and bearings.

Excellent advice. I am a leg stretcher. I just need to be out of the car after a few hours, so this is going to be a very hard day, but I need to put some miles behind us quickly. The hard part starts the night before making sure we aren’t out late in NOLA, then hitting Cafe Du Monde early enough for beignets & coffee.

Ooh, this is good. We’ll have to choose one: between Petrified Forest/Painted Desert and Meteor Crater. Think interesting for about 1/2 hour, but then you are compelled to leave. How about food along the way. Anything worth stopping for? Think unique, cultural and delicious. The previous trip is no stops, so it’ll be cold cut sandwiches, sausage/cheese, fruit and nuts/crackers out of the cooler day. I’m bringing a backpacking stove to heat water/soup on the road to minimize stops and eliminate fast food. Or should we wait until Flagstaff and eat a decent dinner there?

This is interesting. This could be a short day with few stops or a long day with several. Initially, I’d considered heading up to the rim via 180 from Flagstaff and coming out via 64 back to I-40. It seemed the shortest route. I didn’t anticipate spending a great deal of time at the rim, though. Just a stop and look kinda thing. I don’t know if we’ve got time for all of those things, but Hoover Dam seems like a great stop as well. By the time we get to Henderson, we’ll probably be too tired to spend any time on the strip but all the things you mention I’m certain he would enjoy. Valley of Fire will have to wait for another trip.

Really don’t want to drive I-5 all the way through CA if I can avoid it, although if the weather dictates, there it is. I grew up in SoCal, so familiar with that. Haven’t done the full I-5 slog through CA though. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve got options which are driving through NV up to Reno (never done it), or driving up the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada up 395 through Carson City (only driven parts of it). If we got up 395, I may consider shooting over to Tahoe for a looksee. I’ve been there (in summer), he hasn’t. If possible I was hoping to cross over near Mt. Shasta. From there, the only pass to worry about is Siskiyou Summit at the Oregon border, but that rarely closes. Then we’re practically home. If we come out to I-5 at Redding or Sacramento, we can see Shasta Dam, which I hadn’t thought of.

Check the weather. Every day. I’ve downloaded Waze for road conditions. Got it! There won’t be a drive back. He’s moving here! Yippee!!!

Again thank you so much for all the details!

Ha! I know, that’s what I hear from my TX friends. That’s what the “as possible” was about. I’m not going into Dallas, but around it on the 635 bypass, which if it’s like any big city with suburbs is kinda like through it. I thought I’d like to stop somewhere for a special Dallas only treat, but ugh, I just don’t think I want to fight traffic so probably just going to look at getting through it without stops… as traffic permits, of course.

Can anyone tell me if it would be advisable to hop off of the interstate at Tyler and bypass Dallas SR-69 through Mineola to SR-380 at Greenville west to Decatur and SR-287 north to Amarillo?

Barringer Crater

This is just a couple miles off the I-40 between Winslow and Flagstaff …

1] I checked a “Truth in Mapping” site and they give the mileage between Orlando and Portland as 3000 miles … that’s 750 miles per day for four days … that’s ambitious, I admire your courage, better tell your boss you might be a few days late getting back …

2] Las Vegas to Reno … on US-395 … in January … bring a mess of extra blankets, a week’s worth of food, ten gallons of extra gasoline … that’s snow country especially when you’re above 7,000 feet elevation around Lee Vining … let the CHP know your driving that stretch so if you don’t arrive in Reno, they’ll know to send out a rescue team … Lancia mentioned Siskiyou Summit, but that’s only a problem if you can get across Donner Summit … seriously, I-80/I-84 are good freeways, well maintained and heavily traveled … so unless you’ve a ton of experience driving on ice and snow there in Florida, I’d stay away from the Nevada backcountry in winter … you can get into deadly trouble really damn quick up against the Sierra’s … and it could be days before help can get to you …

3] Bring rain gear … it rains every day all day long in Western Oregon …

That’s good info. I create spreadsheets of my travels with estimated fuel stops. Using Gas Buddy I found fuel in Hawthorne is pricey. Hadn’t checked Beatty since it was so much closer to Henderson. I see at least one station listed is much cheaper. Giggle Springs isn’t listed.

I’d love to get your shortcuts! The shorter the trip at that point, the better! I’ll wave as I go by!

We are practically neighbors! Mayhaps, a meetup sometime? How recent? I’ve been in the Rogue Valley for five years now. Absolutely love it! I’ll pass along your welcome and I hope BES loves it here as much as we do. Sadly, he’s a surfer and not loving the fact that he’ll be so far away from the waves, nor that if he does want to surf it’ll require a full suit. Maybe snowboarding and mountain biking will be enough.

Wiper blades, YES!!! I thought of that yesterday with all the work he’s having done to his truck I need to remind him to ensure his wiper blades are in top shape. If not, it’s a cheap fix. We may need chains even sooner than Siskiyou Summit. I can probably pick them up in AZ.

I guess I should have been more specific that he’s moving to be closer to me here (FINALLY!) and hopefully next year my parents will be here too. It’s taken me this long to convince everyone that they need to come to me because I’m not going anywhere at this point. I think I should point out that too many people may actually be moving here (and I sincerely apologize to lifers), but I’m granting special dispensation to close relatives. How long do I have to be here to call myself an Oregonian?

I know people in Roseburg! I haven’t spent any time there; normally, I’m just passing through on I-5, but I’ve done some training in Umpqua NF and I keep telling myself I need to get up in that area more often. My dad wants to visit the Wildlife Safari. We meant to get up there this past season to pick blueberries, but it was a just so busy. There are just so many places to recreate around here, it seems like my To See list in never-ending. My Have Seen list is getting longer though. :wink:

Decent two-lane highways; 89 will be closed over Lassen Peak, but that’s the “scenic route” you don’t want to take anyway. 44 from Susanville to 89 to McCloud should be a viable route; 299 would be backtracking. If there’s been a recent storm, chain controls will likely be up on these routes longer than on Donner.

California Highway Information.

Driving the full length of the San Joaquin and Sacramento Valleys on I-5 would indeed be mind-numbing …

You don’t HAVE to drive through Dallas, nor Houston. There are plenty of perfectly nice roads across Texas, High speed limits, good quality roads, generally not excessive traffic. Almost no traffic at all west of Abilene.