I’m having mixed feelings about the end of the school year (yes, my kid is STILL in school). On one hand, I’m looking forward to the easy-going mornings without the drop-off line frustrations (seriously, why can’t people just PULL UP to the front of the line?), no after-school activity shuffling, and stress-free evenings without the homework that, quite frankly, I don’t even understand (Make a 10 to solve? What the…?). On the other hand, it’s a bit difficult to keep the house clean, the fridge stocked and a peaceful environment when ALL the kids are home. While I think that kids should deal with boredom on their own, I know that they’d prefer to lounge in front of the TV rather than thinking of something creative to do. Honestly, it’s easier for me to have them watch TV but I know it doesn’t do much for their growing brain. This is the main reason why we always plan some kind of family vacation.
Usually by this time I’d have vacation plans set. This past February I was on recreation.gov, trying to reserve a spot in Yosemite National Park. I logged into my account, selected a reservation and the moment it hit 7am, I hit the button to reserve my spot only to find out that it was already booked. I didn’t stand a chance against the expert National Park enthusiast. The record snowpack had delayed a lot of the campsite openings so there were only a limited number of sites to select from. Since then, I was mentally preparing a trip, yet had nothing solid to plan. I thought that maybe we can get a first-come, first-served campsite if we go mid-week and early in the morning… maybe we can camp in the area around Yosemite and drive in for a day… maybe we can get a group site and split a reservation somewhere.
I was in a state of wanderlust while researching the possibilities. Part of me wanted to have a plan. The other part of me just wanted to take two weeks without reservations anywhere and drive wherever we feel like (much like our very first family road trip). But still, there are places that I know that I want to see like the giant redwoods, the Oregon coast, and the Eastern Sierras. I found myself going back to the same sites, researching where to go and where to stay. Below are my go-to sites when planning a road trip.
Google Maps – maps.google.com
This one is a no-brainer. Google Maps tops my list and probably is the most important tool for road tripping. I use it to search for campsites and plan routes and detours while on the road. I love that you can search for a place to visit, see user-submitted photos of the area and click-through to campsite or lodging reservations. The satellite tool proves to be useful when you want to see geographic features (like if you’re going on a mountainous route that will take for-ev-er). You can also create your own maps and routes and save them if you have a Google account.
National Parks Service – nps.gov
Most use the NPS site for info on major National Parks. However, if you do a search by state, you can find lesser-known National Monuments and National Parks that are worth visiting. It would be nice to tour the less-congested parks (ahem, Yosemite) and enjoy the beauty of nature without all the crowds. One place that I found interest in is Lava Beds National Monument in Northern California. This national monument is scattered with lava tubes for adventurers interested in geology and all levels of caving. There’s also info on park updates which is helpful to schedule your trips in case of road or campsite closures.
CampSitePhotos.com – campsitephotos.com
Most online reservation systems will show you the layout of a campground but usually don’t provide details on the site itself – like how close you are to your neighbors, how many trees are by your site, where the fire ring is located, etc. CampsitePhotos.com takes the guessing out of your reservation with photos of every site within a campground. They have a repository of most public and private campgrounds including those in the National Park system, BLM and State Parks.
Atlas Obscura – atlasobscura.com
For those who like to go off-the-beaten-path, Atlas Obscura is the site for you. This website claims to be the “definitive guide to the world’s wondrous and curious places.” The site is contributor-driven featuring oddities like a 47-year old burger in Alberta, Canada to hidden gems like concrete slides in a San Francisco Park. I always find that you learn a lot about a town based on what they choose to honor.
Roadside America – roadsideamerica.com
Roadside America takes you back to the era when the interstate system was first introduced and cities clamored to become destinations by some kitschy attraction like the restaurant shaped like a longhorn skull to cities that claim to have the world’s largest chairs. I’ve used this website extensively on our 5100 Mile Road Trip looking for sites along Route 66 and finding interesting places to stop for a break.
Federal Recreation Reservations – recreation.gov
Recreation.gov is tied into the National Parks system and other federal lands. This site allows you to make reservations for camping, lodging, tours, and other activities. They also offer permits for wilderness camping, rock climbing and more. Recreation.gov site offers you the security of having a place to stay or reservations for activities.
Reserve America – reserveamerica.gov
Similar to Recreation.gov, Reserve America allows you to make reservations at State Parks, Regional Parks as well as other campgrounds. They also offer hunting and fishing permits for those areas. Reserve America has a great mapping system that pinpoints what you can reserve through their site as well as county, private, and federal properties — they even have markers for KOAs!
RECOMMENDED RESOURCES FROM READERS:
Unforgettable Road Trips in America
Erica J. and her daughter, Nicole, from Portland, Oregon recommended Unforgettable Road Trips in America (a resource from TitleMax). They, too, were searching for road trip options and came across this site. The site lists resources and information on popular road trip routes. There are a few broken / outdated links but you can plug in the route name in your favorite search engine and find plenty of info to get you started.
So what did we decide to do? We know where we want to go and how much time we have. We have no plans, just resources. It’s going to be much like our first road trip — an adventure. That’s what makes for great memories.
What are your go-to resources when planning a road trip? Comment below, and I might just add your suggestions!