Plan a summer RV road trip with the family!

RV Road Trip USAIt’s the All-Time Great American Adventure — the RV Road Trip! We took two months in the summer of 2003 to take our then 11 and 14 year old children, as well as our wonderful 100# golden retriever on an 8,500 mile odyssey across the states. It was the most memorable thing we have ever done! We left Atlanta and traveled west across Oklahoma and the panhandle of Texas in order to make our way to the wide open spaces of New Mexico, Utah, Arizona and Nevada. There are some of the most amazing national parks that way – stair-stepping from Bryce and Zion to the Grand! And you can visit them all on one very affordable national park pass. (Click here to read my post about getting a lifetime pass in retirement for only $10!)

Below is an overview of our suggestions for making an RV road trip like ours a reality for your family – including just buying a used RV and reselling it in six months. We did that and it was far cheaper than renting!

Read on >>>

First – if you’re going from place to place, it’s wise to call ahead and make a reservation. As long as you don’t have to pre-pay.

Click here to sign up for Passport America. This will get you in half price at a whole bunch of parks. They will send you a member ID card and a thick book of park locations and info. It’s well worth the $44.

In addition, join the Good Sam Club (also linked to our home page) and sign up for their GPS device. Their GPS system is geared for RVs – and will help you to avoid some very sketchy roads for a 30+ foot RV. They also offer great road protection plans.

Buy a national park pass and go to as many of the national parks as you can (we went to 29 parks on one pass!) We especially loved Bryce, Zion, Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Olympia and Glacier. Lots of learning happens at these parks. I drove my kids nutty by reading all of the historical signs. There is a wonderful State Park called Custer State Park in South Dakota that is fantastic too. If you do go to South Dakota, you surely have to see the great carving at Mt. Rushmore, however, a surprise we thoroughly enjoyed was the Crazy Horse memorial – a rock carving (still in progress) of the Lakota Indian Chief, that can fit the entire Mt. Rushmore carving on his forehead! Both parks offer spectacular laser light shows at night (as does Stone Mountain Park here in Georgia!)

William Clark's carved signature at Pompey's Pillar National Monument, Billings, MT

William Clark’s carved signature at Pompey’s Pillar National Monument, Billings, MT

Another favorite of mine was Pompey’s Pillar (named for Sacagawea’s son) – or anything to do with the Lewis & Clark expedition. In fact, when we stopped at the Three Forks of the Missouri, where Lewis & Clark had trouble deciding which way to go, our dog Skip decided to take a plunge in the tempting, swirling confluence! We all spent a few hysterical minutes chasing him downstream as he fiercely dog-paddled his way out of the vortex.

For supplies while on your RV road trip, I suggest becoming a Sams Club loyalist. There are Sams Wholesale warehouses everywhere. You can plan to stop at them to stock up — get a membership there if you don’t already have one. They also can help out with tires, batteries … alcohol. And Wal-Mart will let you dry camp (no water or electric – just park in the parking lot) for free. Most are pretty safe – especially if you see lots of trucks already parked there. Speaking of trucks – if you have a CB radio or can borrow one, it’s fun to listen to their chatter…it’s how I learned that a “gator in the zipper” means that there is a highway patrolman in the median. Important stuff!

As far as packing for an RV road trip goes — make sure you take all of the essentials for health – and a really good first aid kit. You can be far away from a hospital at times. If someone has severe allergies – take an Epi pen – no matter how much it costs. Also take the necessary tools to fix things on the RV if necessary as well as a big jug of water in case you overheat – or for any reason. (We overheated on a deserted road in Navajo country in Monument Valley. Luckily, we were rescued by a Native American named Jack!)

And as far as driving goes on an RV road trip – almost all roads are fine. Pay attention – sometimes there are signs saying ‘No RVs’ … or at least RVs of a certain length. And watch overhead – lots of bridges are too low and will tear off your AC. Know your height. Exactly.

GPS is well and good, but an actual printed road atlas is VERY helpful. The roads are marked and you can plan your route better – and write all over the thing. Again, we got one at Sams and as a bonus, it had all of their locations printed on the maps.

Find some silly well-known RV road trip stops and trek there – like the Four Corners (a Navajo park where four people can each be in a different state but standing within sight of each other.)

Or that famous corn palace in Iowa. Or Carhenge, the automotive Stonehenge in Nebraska. The kids love this stuff. Get good ideas here >> Roadside America – Guide to Uniquely Odd Tourist Attractions — travel tools and guide to unusual attractions, tourist traps, weird vacations, and road trips.

Of course, anything on Route 66 is fun! The Mother Road: Historic Route 66 >> The oldest website on Route 66 contains all a traveler needs for his trip down old Route 66. This includes detailed turn-by-turn driving instructions. Years later we were in London and found several kiosks along the River Thames that had Route 66 signs for sale. The Brits are fascinated with our famous historic route and were quite impressed to learn that we had traveled it!

Going to the Sun Road, Glacier NP

Going to the Sun Road, Glacier NP

A few more of our very favorite drives include the road from Monument Valley to Bryce Canyon (95 up to 24 west to 62 and 89 – beautiful!). The road up California into Oregon – Route 101. It’s curvy – but sooo beautiful! The road across Washington State – Route 90 and Route 2 out of Spokane are stunning. This is a good route to Glacier National park — where you can rent a car (unless you tow one) and drive through the park entirely on the 53 mile long “Going to the Sun Road” – the most beautiful drive ever!

Speaking of driving a car – we did not tow a car – but found that if we called ahead – in places we thought we needed one, Enterprise car rental would come to where we were and take us to their office to rent the car and take us back to our RV when we returned the car. Handy! But many of the parks have nice RV parks nearby (it’s very hard to get a spot in a national park) – that have shuttles that take you to the national park. Bryce and Zion both have nice RV parks nearby that do this. No need for a car there. The only place really hard to rent a car was San Francisco.

Favorite RV Parks we stayed at include:

Petaluma, CA KOA [San Francisco North] where we enjoyed the rural beauty of the place, yet hitched a ride on a day tour bus that took us to the city of San Francisco for urban fun!

Gig Harbor RV resort near Seattle – we stayed here a week we loved it so much.

Near Glacier there’s a nice KOA park called West Glacier (which BTW – you should get a KOA membership too….)

This is a great one near Zion — Zion River Resort RV Park right on the Virgin River, with shuttles to Zion National Park. Just outside of Zion National Park the RV resort offers full hookups, tent camping, cabins, and teepees.

And this one is very fun (and very big) near Bryce – the well-known and loved, Ruby’s Inn RV Park & Campground. Ruby’s Inn at Bryce Canyon National Park is the perfect base for your exploration of scenic southern Utah.

Thors Hammer in Bryce Canyon

Thor’s Hammer in Bryce Canyon

Bryce and Zion are close together so it’s easy to do both of these national parks. They are both excellent for hiking with Zion offering a hike actually IN the river! Then it’s really easy to get to the north rim of the Grand Canyon which is woodsy and great for hiking – and a bit of a drive to the south rim (the famous panoramic canyon views are here).

There’s also Yellowstone in northwest Wyoming – with Old Faithful — a great national park. My favorite park is still Yosemite, as well as the drive west on 120 past Mono Lake to Yosemite in California. Head north from there to see the giant sequoyas and redwoods. Skipping around – the arch in St Louis is fun – as is the Hoover Dam (there’s an elevator that takes you deep underground to see the turbines, etc – fascinating!)

That’s about it for an overview — if you have questions as you get closer – feel free to email me! [And for those reading this who have taken epic trips of your own, leave a comment below — and share more suggestions!]

I hope anyone who desires it is able to take an RV road trip — it really is a wonderful, bonding, memorable, inspiring, life-changing thing to do!!

Best regards and happy RVing! You won’t regret a minute.

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Showing 2 comments
  • terry

    This is a trip we are thinking about so I was pleased to run across your post! We have a pull behind, but we want a class a or c to drive the trip. I’m curious as to how you decided on an rv to purchase, and then sell.. I’m assuming it was used? What criteria did you use to determine it’s road worthiness? ( biggest nightmore breaking down in the middle of nowhere!). thanks!!

    • Sue

      Good questions! First, we had a wish list for an RV – it had to accommodate all 4 of us plus our dog – and it had to be in our budget – which at $20,000 was pretty dang low! But alas! Someone traded in a wonderful 1991 Pace Arrow – and it was for sale for $19,500 at the dealership! Game on! The rig had been well cared-for but we had it tuned up and spruced up and put in a great stereo. It had twin beds in the back so the kids stayed back there and we used the convertible sofa. There were days we hitched up early, left the kids sleeping in the back and got an hour or two of travel in before they even woke up! Roadworthiness is another animal – stay away from county or local roads on the maps. And watch for signs as there are many places out west where a sign will warn you that RVs over a certain length are not allowed. One particular stretch of road on the way to Yosemite was debatable to us – and as we sat on the side of the little traveled road, eating lunch, another RV came along, having just completed the route from west to east. They assured us it was reliable and we could make it. So off we went – and what a treat that beautiful drive was! In this day and age, I think far too many people rely on their GPS device. Use maps. Look for interesting routes. And ask people how the roads are. RVers are the most friendly, chatty people – and they love to swap stories. So get in the campground early and find some friends! Enjoy your trip! You WON’T regret it!!

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