new RV driver - need info about roads and sites

Discussion in 'Talkback' started by carm, May 10, 2005.

  1. carm

    carm New Member

    We will be driving a 25 foot RV at the end of Sept. and Oct. and plan to visit Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico. We plan to visit the national parks, like Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Mesa Verde, etc. and drive over the rockies. Will we have trouble driving some of these roads? Will the RV campsites be full at this time of year and do I have to make reservations, and if so, how far in advance? Do you recommend joining a club like Passport America or Good Sam? Are there good books someone can recommend about the roads and about RV sites.
  2. dennis1949

    dennis1949 Senior Member

    new RV driver - need info about roads and sites

    I have never been camping out west, but I belong to Good Sam and it pays for itself every year
  3. carm

    carm New Member

    new RV driver - need info about roads and sites

    Why Good Sam instead of Passport America? Passport America seems to offer a 50% discount, while the other offers only a 10% discount. Is it that Passport America does not hae that many campsites in its organization? I have also heard that KOA campgrounds offer discounts, but it seems that it is only 10%.

    What condition are these campsites? I have read that one has to be careful because some are not clean and run-down. How can I find out the condition of them? Does belonging to an organization like Passport America or KOA ensure a certain standard?
  4. Poppa

    Poppa Member

    new RV driver - need info about roads and sites


    From your response I am presuming that you will be most comfortable with the least mountainous route. I am going to suggest 2 routes in and one out. The first has only the mountains at the East Gate of Yellowstone and the second has more challenges. Keep in mind that the scenery is directly proportional to the amount of mountains. More mountains, more great things to see!

    I preface everything by saying that all the roads I suggest here are relatively wide, sparsely traveled (by east coast standards) and have moderate grades and few sharp turns. I'm presuming that you already have the Black Hills section of your trip planned so I won't go into that.

    The least mountainous route from Rapid City is as follows: South out of Rapid City on SD79 to US18. US18 West to Mule Creek Jct. US18/US85 South to Lusk, WY. US20 West to Orin Jct, WY. Go North on I25 (labeled north but the road is actually running east and west here) to Casper, WY. At Casper continue west on US 20 to Shoshone, WY. In Shoshone turn right to continue on US20 to Thermopolis, WY. The road from Shoshone (say "show-show'-nee") goes down through a spectacular canyon. The grade is not steep and the road is wide and curves gentle. In Thermopolis turn left to go west/northwest on WY120 to Cody, WY. In Cody pickup US20 again and go west into Yellowstone. Your first really good grade is the pull up out of Thermopolis. I wouldn't call it mountains but it is a good grade that goes on for a long time. The next challenge is US 20 from Cody to Fishing Bridge in the Park. This is a mountain road but has been widened and straightened in recent years. It is definitely no worse that some of the Smokey Mountain roads back east.

    A more challenging but more scenic route is West on I90 from Rapid City to Buffalo, WY. In Buffalo take US16 to Worland. Be prepared, this is a real mountain road. The road climbs about 5000 ft from Buffalo to the top of Powder River Pass and then drops about 5000 ft to Worland, WY. It is steep on both sides, the west side is the steepest and has the sharpest curves (and is the prettiest). From Worland go to Thermopolis and on to Yellowstone.

    I strongly suggest that you have reservations for your campground in Yellowstone. Go to I might suggest Canyon or Madison Campgrounds. They are both centrally located and minimize travelling to see the sights. If you are most interested in Yellowstone Lake/River things stay in Canyon. If thermal features and wildlife are more interesting to you then go on to Madison. Either way you can day trip in your truck anywhere in the park. The internal park roads are formed in a rough figure 8. The northern loop has places where the road is in poor condition, steep and winding. The Southern Loop roads tend to be much wider, smoother and less winding. All can be negotiated with your rig but you probably won't want to, especially the road from Canyon through Tower to Mammoth.

    I'll take this opportunity to give some advice on mountain driving. I don't believe that your rig will have ANY problems if it is driven appropriately. Pulling grades in a lower gear with higher RPM's (less than redline) at part throttle is less stressful on the engine and transmission than a higher gear and lower RPM's. You won't hurt your engine if you are pulling these grades at 4600 RPM. You might hurt it if you pull for MILES at full throttle and 2000 RPM. This is the reason that Ford recommends that you take the truck out of overdrive while towing. You need to gear down manually to second or first if the grade is steep enough. If you are full throttle or near full throttle and the RPM's are low shift'er down! NEVER let the transmission 'hunt' for the right gear. If it is doing that then shift it down until the grade gets less and it pulls willingly in the next gear.

    On the down hill side your truck and trailer brakes are inadequate to keep you at a safe speed on the LONG, STEEP grades. The gasoline engine in your truck however is an excellent brake for this purpose. Manually shift the transmission to a lower gear until you find the one that holds you at a safe speed with minimal or no braking. If you must brake (this will get pot shots from some who prefer another technique) apply the brake with just enough pedal pressure to hold your speed or reduce it for corners. Avoid heavy braking if possible.

    I presume that the automatic transmission in my 32' motorhome is too stupid to know when to shift so I ALWAYS shift manually. By being the brain for my transmission I avoid situations where the engine, transmission or brakes are overstressed. It is twice as heavy as your rig and has 1/3 bigger engine. It has NO problems on any of these roads. You and your truck won't either if you do it right! ;-)

    Unless you have some reason to go to Idaho I would suggest that you avoid I80 in Wyoming. This road traverses a high rolling plain. It has endless 3-4% up and down grades. The wind always blows! Truck traffic comprises 75-80% of the volume and the trucks run 90+ MPH on the downhill sides of these grades and 30-70 on the uphill sides. With your rig you will be continually passing slow trucks going up and being past by 90 MPH juggernauts on the way down. You haven't fully lived until you have had an 83K lb eighteen wheeler pass you at 90 MPH while you are going 60!! ;-(

    I suggest that you exit Yellowstone south to the Tetons. Spend some time there if you can. Leave the Teton NP going east on US26. This is a mountain road but by now you will be experienced ;-). It is not nearly as entertaining (steep, winding) as US16 from Buffalo to Worland. Take US26 to Shoshone and US 20 on to Casper. From Casper find your way home. Either back the way you came or south to Cheyenne and east on I80 or on south to Denver and east on I70. I70 East to St. Louis is OK, I have no opinion on I80 in Nebraska.
  5. Kirk

    Kirk Senior Member

    new RV driver - need info about roads and sites

    POPPA has given a pretty good answer, and this former Wyo. resident would wonder if he might just live there?

    I do disagree about the speeds on I-80, although the trucks do move pretty quickly, we had no issues with them at all when we traveled that way last spring. And last summer we found that the roads in Yellowstone Park are being improved and you may find some construction it is needed. Most of that construction should be over by the time you get there.

    You do need to realize that it is a rare year that Yellowstone Park does not see some snow before the end of Sept. and I doubt that there has ever been an October with no snow. We were just west of Yellowstone last summer and when we left to go south on Oct. 10, we had been snowed on four times. That does not mean that it is too late to visit, just realize that things will be slowed down, some will be closed and you may have some snow. If it snows, it will melt in a day or two most of the time. Once Labor Day has passed, you probably will not need reservations in the park, but it would not hurt. The fall is a beautiful time of year and you will get to see the elk in full rut which is well worth the trip.

    Drive carefully and enjoy your visit!
  6. Kirk

    Kirk Senior Member

    new RV driver - need info about roads and sites

    I forgot part of it. Good Sam parks are everywhere and you will likely find enough use of the 10% discount to recoup the cost of membership. Passport America is a 50% group, but there are not nearly as many of them and they will not usually be as close to the road or to major attractions. I am a member of Passport America and as a fulltimer we always get our money's worth. But when you do vacation travel you may find it useful but the GS is much more likely to be where you wish to stay.
  7. hertig

    hertig Senior Member

    new RV driver - need info about roads and sites

    Let's look at the math. Passport America is 50% off, so if we assume you save on average $9 a night, it would take as many as 5 nights to break even. 10% is not a huge discount; lets assume you save as much as $2.50 per night. I don't know how much Good Sam membership is (and there are other benefits), but it could take 15 nights or more to break even.

    Not every place you want to be will have a member campground, of course. From Arizona to Illinois, I found Passport America campgrounds within a mile or 3 of the freeway 3 nights out of 4. I could have made it 4 out of 4 if I was willing to drive an extra hour that day or deviate from the highway for 10 to 15 miles. Perhaps fewer P.A. campgrounds in the popular areas, but I haven't verified that. SouthWest US seems to have more coverage than central US.

    I have no idea how many campgrounds would honor the Good Sam discount. I think Good Sam campgrounds have some degree of oversight on their quality, which could be useful. Passport America campgounds can be less then great, but I've never been at one which was not adequate for an overnight stay, and the one time I stayed for several days in one, it was very nice.

    There are sure a lot of KOA campgrounds, but their prices tend to be so high that even with their 10% off they would often be higher than other campgrounds without any discount. Other discount options to keep in mind are AAA (who provide 'CampBooks' free to their members) and AARP. Probably some others I'm not aware of.

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