Cross Country Road Trip – New York to Seattle

Driving to Seattle? Are you crazy?

We get to hear that a lot! And yes! We probably are. Here’s another one – Why drive? Flights can’t be THAT expensive! Yes, again! For this particular trip, flight was actually cheaper than driving. But that’s not the point of a road trip, now is it? And besides, we wanted to see all the amazing things along the way. Seattle was just the end point. SO, just like the old (cliche) saying goes – it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey!

The best part of a road trip is the freedom that comes with it! We were able to drive for as long as we wanted, stop wherever we wanted, and book accommodation on the go when we got tired. We had a rough idea of where we wanted to stop along the way. But for the most part, we left everything open to the open roads (ha). The only thing that was certain was we wanted to end up in Seattle to catch our return flight. Flying back? What? Why? Huh? I KNOW, but if we had more time (and money), we would have done a complete road trip, taking a different scenic route. But oh well! Can’t have everything (But can I just?)

Yellowstone is full of pretty trails!

Starting from Rochester NY, you can pretty much take I-90 all the way to Seattle. It’s not the most scenic route, but it’s the fastest, and most direct. If you do have the time though, try to avoid the highways! Take the scenic route, drive on the slow country roads. Explore the true Americana we hear about all the time! There are so many gems of quaint little towns along the way, you won’t be disappointed.

Rochester NY to Seattle WA itinerary

Some specifics from our trip

  • Total number of days – 11 (May 18-28, 2018)
  • Total miles traveled (Rochester, NY to Seattle, WA) – 3506.8 (WHOA!!)
  • Gas and tolls – About $300
  • Hertz Car rental – $700 for a Toyota Yaris
  • Auto insurance from Allianz Global – $100
  • Return flight – $182 each
  • Stay at cheap (possibly sketchy?) hotels – PRICELESS!!
Our little Yaris covered in slush at Yellowstone

Be careful when renting a car for a long road trip. Our Toyota Yaris was not great on gas considering how small and underpowered it was, didn’t have a remote key fob, and had no cruise control. Yes you heard that right. 3506 miles driven with NO CRUISE CONTROL. It’s 2018…I can’t believe they even still make cars without cruise control. But I digress. Check the features of your car before renting. *End Rant*

Where to stop on your Cross Country trip

Chicago

There’s not a whole lot to see up until you get to Chicago. We actually didn’t plan to sightsee in Chicago, but a girl’s gotta eat! So we stopped for some deep dish pizza (when in Rome Chicago). Pequod’s pizza was not too far from I-90 and had great reviews so we went for it. Verdict – I looove New York style pizza!

Deep dish pizza at Pequoids

1880 Town, South Dakota

There are a ton of signs on the highway for 1880 Town, it’s very hard to miss. We had to stop at a nearby gas station anyway, so we decided to check it out. Like the name suggests, it’s a replica of a small town from the 1880s. It’s got barber shops, saloons, town halls – you get the idea. There is also a museum with movie props from the film Dances With Wolves. It was fun and didn’t take too long, but if you are tight on time, it wouldn’t hurt to skip this.

1880 Town
Saloon at 1880 Town

Badlands National Park

When we first entered Badlands, we were awestruck. The rock formations are incredible, and reminded me a little of the Grand Canyon (Well! A very small version of Grand Canyon). The drive through the entire park is very scenic, although the whole scenery does start to feel a bit repetitive. The entire park can be covered in about half a day, but if you plan on hiking at all, plan on staying here the entire day.

Breathtaking views at Badlands National Park

Wall Drug

Just like 1880 Town, there are a bunch (and by bunch, I mean gazillions…starting from hundreds of miles away) of signs for Wall Drug on the highway.  Each sign is unique and by the time you get there, you’ll have no idea what Wall Drug actually is, or sells. You might wonder why would you want to go to a drug store? Well as I’ve alluded to, this place is way more than a drug store. I would describe it as a huge market with lots of gift shops, restaurants, cafes, and guess what else? Drug Stores! Worth a stop if you’ve got the time.

Backyard at Wall Drug

Bear Country USA

This was another one of those unplanned stops, but I am glad we got to visit this park because we ended up having a great time. We drove through the entire park in a couple of hours, and got to see white tigers, elk, bison, and of course, bears!

Cute bear watching the cars pass by!
Enjoying bread for lunch!

Mount Rushmore

Just like a lot of people say, Mount Rushmore is so much smaller than you imagine. Since that is what I expected, I wasn’t surprised or disappointed – just in awe of this marvelous piece of history. Make sure to watch the short movie about the history of the monument, and how it was built. It really puts things in perspective! If you are interested in hiking at all, there are a couple of trails that take you close to the monument.

Mount Rushmore with painted blue skies!

Crazy Horse

Crazy Horse is a monument of a native american Oglala Sioux leader nick-named Ta-sunko-witko, or Crazy Horse in English (What are the chances!). Supposedly Mount Rushmore can fit in the armpit of Crazy Horse, that’s how big Crazy Horse is expected to be. The monument is still in the works, and apparently won’t be finished in my lifetime. There are some tours available that take you on top of the monument where construction is going on, so that’s something to look into if you’re interested.

This is what it’s going to look like..
…and this where they were at as of 5/22/18

Some guidelines for Grand Teton & Yellowstone

Do you ever feel FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) when traveling to a new place? Well, Grand Teton & Yellowstone are so big, I definitely felt a little of that as I didn’t want to miss out on anything. So I kept on looking and looking for things to do, and came across this app called GypSy. OMG – Life Saver! Keep in mind that there is no cell service in either of the parks, so say goodbye to google maps, and hello to GypSy! This app includes turn-by-turn navigation (you must download the offline maps ahead of time) plus a guided tour narrated by a park ranger. The app will give you information on the upcoming attractions, depending on the direction you’re traveling. It also gives suggestions on which attractions are a must see, and which ones can be skipped if you have time constraints. We found some hidden gems across both the parks thanks to this app. FOMO = poof.

Another thing to note is that it is very important to book accommodation in advance for both of these parks, especially in summers when there are crazy number of tourists. Most hotels/lodges only provide pay-by-the-hour wifi, even in the lobby. So if you like to live on the edge like us, and decide to stay one extra night, you pretty much have to go door to door to see if there is any availability (Fun times!).

OK! Let’s now get into the specifics!

Grand Teton National Park

Grand Teton is highly underestimated in my opinion . I sure am guilty of that.  I only wanted to do a drive through Grand Teton to get to Yellowstone (Just like most other people, which I found out later). I didn’t want to “waste” a day at Grand Teton when I could be at Yellowstone. My opinion quickly changed – we stopped so many times for pictures even before we entered the park, I knew it wasn’t going to be a waste (I mean, just look at the pictures!)

A dirt road leading up to stunning views of the Tetons! So glad GypSy recommended this to us!

It took us an entire day just to drive through the park with (a lot of) quick stops for pictures. The only hike we did was Lakeshore trail in the Colter Bay area. It’s a relatively short and easy trail, with rewarding views of the lake and the Tetons in the back. The hike is roughly over 2 miles, but if you end up missing a turn, it can be quite long (Yup!)

An important thing to note here is that the Tetons are not visible on a cloudy/rainy day, which will most definitely ruin your Grand Teton experience. So if you have the choice, plan on going on a sunny day to fully appreciate it. In short, what I am really trying to say here is, don’t just plan one day for Grand Teton!

View of the Tetons from Jackson Lodge. A must stop!

Yellowstone National Park

While we all know that the beauty of Yellowstone is second to none, I couldn’t help but compare Yellowstone to Iceland. You’re probably thinking “Her obsession with Iceland continues”. Well! Sorry, not sorry! The two places just have so much in common –  hot springs, gysers, bubbling mud pits, smell of sulfur (eww), not to mention the spectacular landscape. We also got to learn that Yellowstone and Iceland have most of the gysers in the world. You’d think we’d be gyser’ed (is that a word?) out by now, but New Zealand – I am looking at you!

Even with all these similarities, I can’t say that one place is better than the other. But that said, there are a few things I preferred about Yellowstone – the hot springs at Yellowstone are located in the middle of woods, surrounded by tall green trees, which makes the whole scenery stunning. While in Iceland, most of them are located in an empty, open field, which is more visually unappealing.

Mammoth Hot Spring area at Yellowstone!

Yellowstone really does feel like a place from out of this world. Every turn you take is more beautiful than the one before. One day is definitely not enough to see the best of Yellowstone. Heck one week is not enough to see the best of Yellowstone. But if that’s all you have, I highly recommend going to the Old Faithful area. This is one of the busiest areas of Yellowstone, so be prepared to walk a lot as parking can be a real challenge during peak seasons.

I think this was at the Old Faithful Area!

Also, to get the best views of Grand Prismatic Spring, consider going to the viewing platform that provides top views of the spring. It’s a long 5 mile hike to get to the platform, but oh so rewarding! It was extremely windy the day we went, and with the steam oozing from the spring, we barely got to see anything from up close.

Both Yellowstone and Grand Teton have amazing opportunities to spot wildlife in their wilderness. We saw this cutest bear family at Yellowstone!  Make sure to bring a zoom lens to capture wildlife.
Old Faithful Inn – A must visit!

Drive from Yellowstone to Seattle

This is not an attraction on it’s own, but this drive is easily one of the best drives in the country. If interested, simply exit Yellowstone on the north side from Gardiner MT, and drive towards Spokane WA. It literally feels like you are in a portrait of some untouched part of the world. You are the only car on the road for miles and miles, and will be surrounded by wide open stunning landscape with lush green mountains. We have done a lot of road trips all around, and this is one of our favorites for sure. Be prepared if you do end up going there though – the area is very remote with no cell service, and no rest stops for miles.

Just a little outside of Yellowstone!

Olympic National Park

Olympic National Park was a recommendation from god knows how many people. We were told that some of the rain forests inside of the park looked like they were right out of a Jurassic Park movie, which we found to be so true! We went to Quinault Rain Forest which really exceeded our expectations. We spent a few hours hiking the Quinault Nature Trail, and got to see gigantic trees covered in moss like we’ve never seen before. We couldn’t go to Hoh Rain Forest which apparently is the most famous one. The only part I didn’t like about Olympic Park was the drive – driving through slow, winding, sometimes unpaved mountain roads got old real quick. But the reward was so worth it in the end – so no complaints!

And this is not even the widest tree at Olympic National Park.

Until next time,

Esha

 

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