RVing the USA: Where to Go and What to Do

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Last Updated on June 10, 2024 by Bonnie

Perhaps the best way to explore the USA is on a good, old-fashioned road trip. But if you really want an adventure, make it an RV road trip. When RVing the USA, you’ll have the opportunity to not just see the country, but immerse yourself in some of its most scenic places.

Unfortunately, you shouldn’t just hop in your RV and start driving. You need to know where you are going, where you will camp, how to handle your RV and more. That’s why we wrote our guidebook, USA RV Adventures.

The book will make your adventure of RVing in the United States a lot easier. USA RV Adventures outlines 25 routes with detailed itineraries including turn-by-turn driving directions, places to explore, restaurants and grocery stores, campgrounds and much more. For new RVers, the book also includes descriptions of the types of RVs, tips on driving an RV and basic information on RV connections. 

USA RV Adventures
I think the moment it was most real for us was finding our book on the shelf in the local Books-A-Millon.

While we made every attempt to make the book as comprehensive and accurate as possible, there are some limitations to a physical book. In this article, we’ll briefly summarize each of the 25 routes included in the book, provide links to articles with additional information and note any corrections or updates we’ve found. 

Note: This article is not a replacement for the book, just a brief introduction, additional commentary and corrections. We feel like this is the perfect companion to our book where you can find links for even more information.

We also invite you to join our Facebook group, USA RV Adventures. In that group, we post route updates, share RV tips, answer questions and help new and experienced RVers connect.

(Disclaimer: When we link to places where you can buy our stuff or places we stayed, we are using special codes that earn us commissions on the sales at no additional cost to you. Please see our Review Policy  for more information.)

West Coast Routes

From California to Alaska, the US Pacific Coast boasts a wide variety of landscapes, natural features and even weather. We have taken a couple of trips to the West Coast (yes, it’s a REALLY long drive from Atlanta!) and are always amazed at the variety of things we find. So, whether you are looking for mountains, valleys, deserts or rainforests, you’ll find a little bit of everything in this part of the country.

California’s Desert Parks

Our Southern California route takes you through Death Valley and Joshua Tree National Parks over the course of 5 days. This is the one route in the book that we have not actually traveled through at all. So, everything covered in the route is completely based on our research.

We hope to visit these parks soon but don’t actually have a plan for it yet. Since the winter months are the best time to be in this area of California, we just don’t have time to get our camper there while we are still working. Perhaps we’ll fly out and rent a camper van or even just do a road trip and stay in hotels. 

Regardless, this is a route that we absolutely loved researching. Everything we have read about Death Valley and Joshua Tree tells us that we will love both of them! The variety of the landscape at Death Valley, in particular, is just astounding. Including a couple of days at Mojave National Preserve just adds to the adventure.

Hopefully, we’ll manage a visit to these parks before we do a second edition of the book! In the meantime, if you have any suggestions for changes or additions to this itinerary, please let us know.

Summer in the Sierra

The next route takes you into the heart of California and one of the country’s most iconic national parks: Yosemite. This 12-day route takes you from Sequoia National Park, over Tioga Pass in Yosemite National Park and up to South Lake Tahoe, on the California-Nevada border.

Timing is key for this route, as Tioga Pass closes in the winter. The exact opening and closing dates vary from year to year. Over the last 10 years, the road has opened as early as May 2 and as late as July 1. Indeed, when we visited in 2017, we had to alter our itinerary as we were supposed to drive Tioga Pass in mid-June. Of course, that was the year the road did not open until July 1! Closing dates are generally late October to mid-November.

The hidden gems that we did not expect to find along this route include the otherworldly tufts formations at Mono Lake and the ghost town at Bodie State Historic Park. It’s finding these small, relatively unknown sites that make RVing the United States a true adventure.

Note: Yosemite NP required timed-entry passes for anyone not camping inside the park for 2020-2022. Reservations were not required in 2023 but will be required again in 2024. Specifically, you will need reservations on weekends in February and from mid-April to late-October. Be sure to check the park’s official website for up-to-date information on Yosemite’s entrance reservation system.

Circle of Discovery

Moving even farther north in California and into southern Oregon, the Circle of Discovery route is one of several routes in the book that we’ve completed almost in its entirety. In fact, the summer we did this route was the summer we submitted our proposal to write this book! So, this route holds a special place in our hearts.

Lassen Peak from Manzanita Lake
Manzanita Lake with Lassen Peak in the distance.

The unique aspect of this route is its diversity. It starts in Lassen Volcanic National Park, where winter snowfall can impact the opening of roads and trails. Be sure to check the park’s website if you are planning an early summer visit to this unique park. 

As you descend in elevation moving west and north of Lassen, the temperatures rise quickly. Indeed, Redding (home of Whiskeytown National Recreation Area) is where we’ve experienced the hottest temperatures of all our travels. Quite simply, we could not keep our camper cooled to 90 degrees! If you’re stopping there in the summer, be prepared for extreme temperatures.

Redding Premier RV Resort
Our campsite in Redding, CA. Note the fans set up on the table to help keep us cool.

Additional stops on this itinerary include Crater Lake National Park in southern Oregon and Redwood National and State Park on the Pacific Coast of California. From the volcanic landscapes of Lassen Volcanic NP and Lava Beds National Monument to the majestic blue water of Crater Lake, the caves at Oregon Caves National Monument and stately Redwood trees, you’ll experience some of the best the West Coast offers along this route.

Washington’s National Parks

In Washington, our 11-day route is another one that we’ve done pretty much in its entirety. We even managed to squeeze in a family cruise out of Seattle in the middle!

Washington’s three national parks: Mount Rainier, Olympic and North Cascades are all very different parks. At Mount Rainier, the mountain dominates the surrounding landscape, though is often hidden by clouds. Olympic NP is home to a variety of landscapes, including the high-elevation area of Hurricane Ridge, the Ho Rainforest and the Pacific coast. North Cascades NP, along with two surrounding National Recreation Areas, is the hidden gem, with far fewer visitors than the other parks.

At Mount Rainier NP, you’ll again need to check the status of park roads, as some do not open until early-mid July. Additionally, Olympic NP restricted access to the Hurricane Ridge area in the summer of 2023 following a fire that destroyed its visitor center. Be sure to check both park’s official website for current information.

New in 2024! Mount Rainier National Park is implementing timed-entry reservations in 2024 for the Paradise Corridor (May 24 – Sept. 2) and the Sunrise Corridor (July 3 – Sept. 2). You’ll need reservations to access these areas between 7:00 am – 3:00 pm for the indicated dates. Check the park’s website for details.

If you have additional time for this route, we suggest flipping to page 494 and looking at Day 16 of the US 2 route. Here, we include a day trip to Stehekin, a remote area of Lake Chelan NRA, that we absolutely loved!

Alaska

If you haven’t been to Alaska, you need to know that it truly is the Last Frontier. We have now visited all 50 states and MANY remote areas of the United States. There really is nothing quite like Alaska. 

Alas, our two visits have only been on a cruise. The first time was our Honeymoon in 2010. We did a northbound cruise from Vancouver to Whittier (Anchorage). From there, we added on a 4-day land cruise with Princess, staying just outside Denali NP and in Talkeetna. Our second visit was a round-trip cruise from Seattle, in which we only visited Southeast Alaska.

Bonnie looking at the Marjorie Glacier in Glacier Bay National Park. Some itineraries skip the park, but we think it is one of the best parts of the cruise.
Bonnie looking at the Marjorie Glacier in Glacier Bay National Park. Some itineraries skip the park, but we think it is one of the best parts of the cruise.

So, while we have been to a few of the stops along this route, we have not done any of it in an RV. That is definitely on our bucket list, though. Actually, we’d love to make the drive to Alaska from the lower 48. Due to our short summers while we are teaching, though, that will likely have to wait until after we retire.

Our itinerary takes you to the state’s only two major cities: Anchorage and Fairbanks. It also stops in the country’s largest National Park, Wrangell-Saint Elias, and at North America’s tallest peak, in Denali National Park. Along the way, you’ll have the opportunity to see glaciers, rivers, wildlife and, likely, not a lot of people.

Denali National Park is nothing short of amazing.
Denali National Park is nothing short of amazing. We look forward to spending more time in Alaska in the future.

RVing in Alaska takes being prepared for anything in a remote area to a whole new level. Truly, you have to be prepared to be completely self-sufficient. That said, most of the stops on our route are very popular and well-traveled. Still, don’t underestimate the self-reliance you need to be prepared for.

Southwest Routes

Despite living in metro Atlanta, we have taken many trips to the American Southwest. We’ve done several road trips, both with the RV and with just our truck in the winter. It’s also fairly easy to fly into Phoenix, Salt Lake City or even Las Vegas and rent a car or camper van to explore a variety of desert landscapes.

If you’re looking for remote areas, the Southwest is where you will find it! There are also a number of places where you can do some boondocking on public lands (see pg. 528).

Utah’s Mighty Five

Anyone who is RVing the United States simply must include Utah on their itinerary at some point. There’s a reason that the five national parks in Utah are known as the “Mighty Five.” They are simply spectacular. And, despite their proximity to each other, quite varied in their landscape. 

Our Mighty Five route takes you from Springdale, home of Zion NP to Moab, where you’ll find both Arches NP and Canyonlands NP. While these parks are spectacular any time of year, we definitely recommend the Spring or Fall when RVing. Summer can even be OK if you are prepared to handle the heat. 

In the winter, even a small amount of snow can cause havoc on the roads. So, unless you have a very flexible itinerary, you could run into issues. Still, we have visited all five parks in the winter (on two separate trips) and it really is a fabulous time of year. We just wouldn’t necessarily recommend it in an RV.

At these five parks, you’ll find a variety of short and long hiking trails. But the scenery itself is the real star. And you’ll find that inside, outside and between the parks. 

Our itinerary also includes a visit to Dead Horse Point State Park, which is relatively small but one of our favorite State Parks.

Update: This route takes you east on Hwy. 9 through the Zion-Mt. Carmel tunnel on Days 2 and 3. Currently, oversized vehicles require traffic control to pass through the tunnel, which costs $15 (good for two trips in the same vehicle within 7 days). Starting in mid-2026, this stretch of highway will be closed to large RVs and buses, due to safety concerns and congestion. Read details of the impending change here.

Grand Canyon and Painted Desert

Our Grand Canyon Loop begins and ends in Phoenix, though you could adapt and complete the loop from Las Vegas. Of course, the “star” of this loop is Grand Canyon National Park, where you’ll gaze out across the longest canyon in the world. But the rest of the route is just as scenic, only in other ways. 

The sandstone spires of Monument Valley, the double bend of the San Juan River at Goosenecks State Park, the painted desert of Petrified Forest NP and the volcanic landscape at Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument are gems themselves.

Additionally, the Native American history along this route is rich. From the cliff dwellings of Walnut Canyon National Monument to the hogans in the desert of Monument Valley, the historic dwellings are just the tip of the cultural iceberg.

Again, Spring and Fall are the best times of year to travel this route. But, we’ve done portions of it in the summer with our RV. And, honestly, it wasn’t quite as miserably hot as we expected it to be. Some of that is just luck, though. If traveling in the summer, just be sure to carry plenty of water with you because the route does cross some very remote sections. You don’t want to be stuck without being able to keep yourself hydrated.

Nevada and the Extraterrestrial Highway

At only 5 days, this route ties with the California Desert Parks route as the shortest. But, this route also packs a punch of interesting and unexpected sights along its remote path.

The Extraterrestrial Highway
There is not much out on the Extraterrestrial Highway.

The road known as the Extraterrestrial Highway is truly one of the most remote drives you can make in the contiguous US. Be sure to fill up with gas before embarking on this journey. You may even want to carry an extra gas can if you have a small tank. But, its remoteness is its appeal. Just nothing but you and the open road other than a random car here or there. 

At the end of the route, Great Basin National Park awaits your arrival. There, you’ll find a lovely oasis in the desert, complete with thousand-year-old trees, a cave and a (quickly melting) glacier!

Due to its remoteness, this is one of the best areas in the country for viewing the night sky. So, grab your red-light flashlight and binoculars and enjoy the after-dark show.

West Texas

The West Texas and southern New Mexico loop includes sites that we have visited in the winter (on two separate trips) but not with our RV. Still, it is doable as an RV trip in the winter. We just don’t have time to drive out there from Atlanta anytime other than the summer. And this is not a route we would enjoy in the summer – it’s just way too hot in many areas.

A large concentration of stalactites known as the Chandelier.
The Chandelier inside the Big Room.

That said, summer is the best time to see the bat flight at Carlsbad Caverns National Park. And, we know all too well that when you have limited time off work, you just have to use the time you have and make the best of it.

There was a historic flood in 2022 that damaged the Walnut Canyon Desert Drive and several backcountry hiking trails in Carlsbad Caverns NP. The National Park Service expects to have a few of the trails open again by the end of 2024. That said, there is no time estimate for some of the trails and the Walnut Canyon Desert Drive. See the NPS website for updates.

Regardless of when you travel, the loop takes you from the mid-size city of El Paso, TX into New Mexico and the small towns of Carlsbad, Roswell and Alamogordo. Along the way, you can tour America’s largest single cave chamber and enjoy some sand sledding at the world’s largest gypsum dune field.  

For us, the food found along this route is the hidden gem. In El Paso, Chico’s Tacos and Cattleman’s Steak House are must-visits. In Carlsbad, you can grab a beer at Guadalupe Mountain Brewing Co. and in Roswell, be sure to grab some authentic New Mexican cuisine at Martin’s Capitol Cafe.

All along the route, be sure to stay hydrated and wear plenty of sunscreen. And, like much of the Southwest remember that you’ll be driving through some fairly remote areas. Be sure to keep plenty of emergency gear with you at all times.

Best of the Lone Star State

For a more in-depth tour of Texas, the 18-day aptly named Best of the Lone Star State route takes you through some of the state’s most popular destinations. From the desert of Big Bend National Park to camping on the beach at Padre Island National Seashore, the Bluebonnets in Fredericksburg and bison at Caprock Canyons State Park, there really is something for everyone along this route.

Sunrise along the Lost Mine Trail in Big Bend National Park.
Sunrise along the Lost Mine Trail in Big Bend National Park.

Add in Austin’s vibrant music scene, Waco Mammoth National Monument, the San Antonio Riverwalk, Fort Worth’s daily cattle drive and a whole heap of barbecue and you might decide to set up camp for a longer stay.

Seriously, with this nearly 3-week route, you’ll quickly understand just why Texans are so proud of the state they call home. 

Mammoth fossil at the Waco Mammoth National Monument
Mammoth “Q” at Waco Mammoth National Monument

We’ve visited many of these stops throughout the years, though some were before we started blogging. And, since Grant lived in Plano (just north of Dallas) for a few years, he’s toured more of the state than I have. But, we’re always up for another trip to Texas. So, we returned in December 2023 for a nearly two-week Texas road trip. The trip loosely followed the eastern portion of this route but we did not have the RV with us.

Update

Somehow, we completely neglected to include the Texas Hill Country wineries on our itinerary. If you’re into locally produced wine, you’ll have an overwhelming variety to choose from along Hwy 290 between Fredericksburg and Johnson City. The highway is not just dotted but lined with uncountable wineries, most with on-site vineyards.

On Day 9 of this route (page 201), we recommend visiting the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park and State Park & Historic Site. If you can, squeeze in a stop at a winery or two on your way back to Fredericksburg. Or, add a day or two to your visit if you want to explore more in-depth. If you don’t have additional time, there are several tasting rooms in downtown Fredericksburg. You will also find Texas wine served in several of the restaurants.

Grant and Bonnie pose near Sculpture Falls along the Barton Creek Greenbelt.
Selfie on Barton Creek Greenbelt in Austin

In Austin, we recommend hiking the Barton Creek Greenbelt to Twin Falls and Sculpture Falls. This ended up being a great First Day Hike on New Year’s Day 2024, even if the creek and falls were completely dry. Note: the correct address for the trailhead is 3918 S. Mopac Expressway.

Rocky Mountain Routes

As much as we love relaxing on the beach (and cruising), there’s just something about the mountains that we can’t get enough of. Truly, Montana and Wyoming are two of our favorite states. And Colorado is jam-packed with interesting parks and public lands. If you haven’t made it to this part of the world, pick one of these three routes and make it happen!

Best of Montana

Our first “big” summer road trip together, back in 2012, followed much of this route. That wasn’t our first trip out west but it was the first time that we spent more than a month on the road. And it was a great choice! 

Since then, we’ve returned to Montana a few times – one time passing through with our camper (on our way to Washington), once in the winter and, most recently, when we flew to Billings and completed almost this exact loop in a rental car.

A two lane highway in Montana.
Driving the backroads of eastern Montana.

The highlight of this route is none other than Glacier National Park, often referred to as the “crown of the continent” due to its high peaks and majestic landscapes. But, you’ll need to leave your large RV behind to drive Going-to-the-Sun Road, which traverses the park. Due to tight turns and tunnels, vehicles are restricted to no more than 21 feet in length, 10 feet in height and 8 feet in width. Note: Vehicle reservations are required to visit many areas of the park over the summer (late May to mid-September). Check the park’s website for current information.

Other stops along the route include Grant-Kohrs Ranch NHS, one of our favorite small parks, and the Bison Range, which is home to bison and a variety of other mammals. Speaking of wildlife, this loop ends with a drive over Beartooth Pass and through Yellowstone National Park’s Lamar Valley. While this route provides only a small glimpse into America’s first National Park, you can easily connect with the Wild Wyoming route to fully explore Yellowstone.

Note: Be aware of the weather when driving Beartooth Highway. At nearly 11,000 feet, you are very exposed to the weather, including summer thunderstorms. Additionally, It snows there year-round. We had to change our route on September 23, 2023 because Beartooth Pass was closed due to snow. Yes, winter stays late and comes early at elevation!

Corrections 

Pg. 230: Day 7 – Step 4 should be combined with Step 2. You can park at the Many Glacier Hotel to access the Grinnell Lake Trail. You might as well check out the hotel while you are stopped there. For Step 3, drive farther west to the Swiftcurrent Motor Inn to access the trail to Redrock Falls. That is the end of the road, you’ll have to retrace your steps east to return to Hwy 89 and Sun Road.

Pg. 238: Hansen Family Campground is actually west of Chinook. The book mistakenly says it is east of town. Additionally, the town of Havre (23 miles west of Chinook) is a moderately big town with a vibrant downtown area.

Wild Wyoming

If you want to RV through Yellowstone National Park, this is the route for you. But, of course, there is more to Wyoming than just Yellowstone. You’ll also spend a couple of days visiting its southerly neighbor, Grand Teton NP and one of our favorite small towns, Cody. Then soak in the hot springs of Thermopolis before completing the loop.

With only five days in Grand Teton and Yellowstone, you won’t really have time for a thorough visit. Yes, both parks are quite large with many great things to see and do. If you have time to add on more days, you definitely should. But, a few days is better than none, so don’t skip this route just because you don’t have extra time!

And, while we think that the rest of this route is pretty spectacular, there is no doubt that Yellowstone and Grand Teton are the highlights of the loop. So, feel free to reverse the order if you prefer to save the best for last. 

Mt. Moran at sunrise in Grand Teton National Park.
Mt. Moran at sunrise in Grand Teton National Park.

Finally, be sure to consider the weather if traveling in the early or late summer. Snow can fall any time of year at elevation but is a genuine concern even in May or September. 

Colorado National Parks

We have been to nearly every stop included on this route but have not done this as one big loop. I have to say, this is probably one of the best all-around loops, with lots of variety and many highlight-worthy stops!

Having the right travel partner is, perhaps the number one road trip essential.
Selfie in a rented camper van.

The route begins and ends in Denver, which is a great place to rent an RV if you need to. In fact, we did just that in September 2019. On that trip, we just visited Rocky Mountain NP, then headed over to Custer, SD for the Buffalo Roundup.

Of course, Rocky Mountain is a gem of a park but Dinosaur National Monument, on the Colorado-Utah border, has both a stunning landscape and dinosaur fossils! From there, Colorado NM is home to one of the best drives in a national monument, with breathtaking views at every bend. 

After that, you’ll make your way past Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP to Mesa Verde NP, home to a bevy of cliff dwellings and a Native American history that is difficult to beat. Continuing east, you’ll end up at Great Sand Dunes NP, home of the tallest sand dunes in North America. If sand isn’t your thing, you’re not alone. I’ll admit… we barely made it to the dunes ourselves. But there’s much more to this park, so don’t worry!

The fun isn’t over yet, though. As you return to Denver, you’ll stop at Garden of the Gods, a local park where you’ll find a cornucopia of red rock formations. 

Seriously, every stop on this route is just thrilling. In fact, the one update I’d make to this 15-day route is to add an extra couple of days, especially around Mesa Verde NP. When we visited (the summer after finishing the book), we stayed in Cortez, which was a cute little town. There, we found one of our favorite local breweries, WildEdge Brewing Collective. We visited twice in two days. The only reason we didn’t return is because we ran out of days!

Note: Pay attention to the routing from Montrose to Durango. Our routing avoids the Million Dollar Highway due to hairpin turns, narrow lanes and steep drop-offs. The road is open to RVs, though, and many people love the drive. Of course, just as many are terrified of it. Read more on page 276 and take the route that works for you.

Plains and Great Lakes Routes

Don’t be fooled by the phrase “flyover states,” the American Plains are every bit as scenic as the beaches of Florida and mountains of Montana. Just in a different way. You are missing out if you haven’t driven across the Plains.

And, the Great Lakes offer the best of the beaches without the heat and humidity of the south – or the sharks!

Best of the Dakotas

We often say that if we could live in the Black Hills of South Dakota, we would. But first, we need to wrap up our Georgia teaching career and earn that pension! But, we did spend three weeks in the Black Hills in the summer of 2020 and, despite some closures due to the initial COVID-19 wave, we never ran out of things to do. So, with only 11 days total for the entire route, we’ve certainly selected just the highlights. We urge you to add additional time if you can.

Another scenic view along the ATV trails in the Black Hills.
Just a really cool view in along the backroads of the Black Hills.

Fun fact: This was the first route we wrote for the book.

The route begins in Rapid City and heads east to the small town of Wall and Badlands NP. While the park is the highlight, you’ll certainly want to spend a few hours checking out the curiosity that is Wall Drug. It really is just an iconic store that you have to experience to believe.

With the natural wonder of Badlands NP and the historic significance of Minuteman Missile NHS, you’ll pack a wide variety of experiences into the first few days of this route!

From there, continue to Medora, ND and Theodore Roosevelt NP. This is the perfect place to slow down, and learn a little about the man who had a heavy hand in shaping the National Park Service and the preservation of public lands in the United States.

A stop at Devils Tower NM, the country’s first National Monument, is just one more highlight before you make your way to Custer, SD and the iconic Black Hills. Here, nature is your playground as you explore Custer State Park, gaze at Mount Rushmore and explore the two worlds (above and below ground) at Wind Cave National Park.

Best of the Plains

When you live in Georgia and your favorite places to visit are on the western half of the country, you find yourself driving across the Plains… a lot. Throughout our various trips, we have discovered many hidden gems, which are included in this route.

Admittedly, much of this route includes stops at historically significant places. We know that doesn’t interest everyone, especially if you are traveling with kids. But, you’ll also have the opportunity to tour a few art museums, float down a scenic river and walk beside the wagon ruts of the Oregon Trail.

And that’s exactly why we included this route. If you’re like us and are truly driving across the country to get to your “destination,” this route will help you to find a few interesting things along the way. And for those interested in diving into the history, we wanted to highlight some of the best places to do that.

Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

We loved touring the Upper Peninsula as part of an extended Great Lakes RV Trip. This route concentrates on the highlights, including all three national lakeshores, a day trip to the car-free Mackinac Island and a couple of state parks. The best part of this route is that you generally don’t have to worry too much about early or late-season snow and you’ll typically find mild summer temperatures. Of course, no one can predict the weather so I make no guarantees!

For us, this was just about the perfect RV trip. You don’t have to navigate your way around any large cities (at least not on the official route) and you’re never too far from civilization. You get just the right balance of nature and small-town charm. 

Our biggest tip for this route (if you are not traveling with pets) is to allow for an RV-free extension to Isle Royale National Park (page 334). When we did this trip, we parked the camper in Copper Harbor and spent a night at the lodge on this island park in the middle of Lake Superior. It really is a fantastic park that offers amazing scenery, several hiking trails and the opportunity to see moose and wolves. 

Moose near Rock Harbor Lodge at Isle Royale National Park.
Moose near Rock Harbor Lodge at Isle Royale National Park.

Before we did this trip, many people had told us we would love the Upper Peninsula. They weren’t wrong.

Northeast and Mid-Atlantic Routes

While New England and the greater northeast portion of the United States aren’t necessarily the most RV-friendly parts of the country, there are still some great routes in this area. In fact, our first summer trip with our camper was to upstate New York and New England in 2016. Since distances are much closer than out west, you can pack a lot more into a little time. 

New England

Ahhh, New England in the fall. Yes, those fall colors are something to behold. Alas, we did this trip in the summer so we haven’t experienced the phenomenal leaf-peeping ourselves. But we’ll make it there one day. The main thing to remember is that predicting when the leaves will hit their peak color is difficult. And, many campgrounds, restaurants and shops are not open year-round. If you’re doing this trip in the fall, we’re sending you best wishes that you can manage to plan everything for just the right time!

Along this route, we loved touring the various covered bridges, sampling the cheese and maple syrup at Sugarbush Farm, driving the epic Kancamagus Highway and experiencing the wild weather atop Mount Washington. Seriously, it gets some of the most extreme weather in the world, so be prepared for just about anything. 

There are many things we haven’t done along this route, though, including a stop at Ben & Jerry’s (I have to admit that the Flavor Graveyard is intriguing), driving through Smuggler’s Notch and walking along the Flume Gorge Trail below the towering granite walls.

Yep, we definitely need to add another trip to New England to our plans.

Coastal Maine

Since both Grant and I grew up in the south, we tend to expect white sandy beaches when we’re at the coast. In Maine, you’ll generally find the exact opposite – a rocky and rugged coastline. It may not be the same but it’s still scenic.

Acadia National Park
Acadia’s rocky coastline along Park Loop Road.

Our 9-day route takes you up the coast, visiting several small towns and lighthouses as you make your way to Acadia National Park in Bar Harbor. Along the way, you can explore the history of the area, nosh on more lobster than you can imagine and, of course, tour countless lighthouses. 

In Acadia NP, be sure to get vehicle reservations for Cadillac Mountain (late May through late October), which is popular at sunrise but great any time of day. We also recommend reservations for the Jordan Pond House, the iconic teahouse where you simply must have a popover.

Upstate New York

While we wouldn’t recommend trying to RV in or near New York City, the rest of the state is a great place to explore with an RV. Just be careful of any road labeled a “parkway.” These roads are off-limits to all RVs, including camper vans. Don’t worry, though, we made note of these on our route and avoided them on our turn-by-turn routing, unless otherwise noted.

The route starts in Hyde Park, which we absolutely loved. It’s a nice town where you’ll find the Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt, a very formal house that he shared with his mother. Nearby, Eleanor Roosevelt’s cottage is a stark contrast that, for us, felt just like visiting our grandparent’s houses. 

For the foodies, be sure to grab a meal at the Culinary Institute of America, even if it is just a quick lunch at one of the cafes. 

From there, you’ll continue north to the Adirondacks, a weird mix of public and private land that offers a wide variety of outdoor and indoor adventures. One stop we missed in our travels was the Olympic complex, where you’ll find a museum and the Cliffside Coaster, which follows the bobsled track. Yes, we’ll definitely be doing that when we return!

Dusk in the Adirondacks.
Dusk in the Adirondacks.

The route ends at none other than Niagara Falls, the iconic international waterfall that boasts the highest flow of any waterfall in the world. 

Southern Routes

The three southern routes take you through some of the region’s most notable features: the water-based national parks of South Florida, along the spine of the Appalachian Mountains and on a journey for your senses from Music City to the Big Easy. 

Blue Ridge Parkway

In 2022, the Blue Ridge Parkway topped the list as the most visited National Park Service site with more than 15.7 million visitors (out of 387 parks that collect data). Our route starts at its southern terminus in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which itself was the most visited “National Park” with just under 13 million visitors. 

Cades Cove at Great Smoky Mountains NP.
Cades Cove is one of our favorite places in Great Smoky Mountains NP.

Why are these parks so popular? A lot has to do with their location, making them easy for millions of people to access with just a short drive. Additionally, US Highway 441 runs through the heart of the park, linking Gatlinburg, TN and Cherokee, NC. But, of course, both are incredibly scenic with a plethora of hiking trails and historic sites. Indeed, the two days that our route spends at Great Smoky Mountains NP is just long enough to get a taste of the park. 

You can argue that any RV trip is more about the journey than the destination. But that is certainly the case with this route since it takes its name from a Parkway! All along the 469-mile Blue Ridge Parkway, you’ll have stunning views out over the Appalachian Mountains. 

On the northern end, Shenandoah National Park isn’t quite as popular (it hosted just under 1.5 million visitors in 2022). That is due to a smaller size (there is only one main road, Skyline Drive), fewer entrance gates and limited access when snow closes the road in the winter. This doesn’t mean that this park is any less spectacular, though. 

As we discuss on page 404, there are 26 tunnels along the Blue Ridge Parkway, plus a few along Skyline Drive in Shenandoah NP. Large RVs will have difficulty traveling the full length of the route. Be sure to have a tow/towed vehicle or a small RV/camper van if you want to experience all this route has to offer.

Update

The Luray KOA Holiday (page 417) is now Spacious Skies Shenandoah Views. We had the pleasure of staying here when we visited the area in the summer of 2023. If you are looking for a private campground outside the park, we highly recommend this one. It was our first experience at a Spacious Skies property and it was a great one!

We stayed in site 39, which is, hands down, the best campsite we’ve ever been in.

A Deluxe Pergola campsite at Spacious Skies Shenandoah Views.
Our campsite at Spacious Skies Shenandoah Valley

They also have a variety of cabins and yurts, along with tent sites. And the amenities are incredible! You might want to book and extra day or two just to enjoy the campground!

If you enjoy whiskey, be sure to visit the Copper Fox distillery in Sperryville, VA (just east of Luray). The whiskey is fantastic and the tasting room is one of the coolest we’ve visited!

South Florida and the Keys

Our most southerly route takes you through the best of South Florida’s national parks and even a couple of state parks. From the river of grass that is the Florida Everglades to the island park of Dry Tortugas, you’ll find a wide variety of water-based activities along this route.

The Anhinga Trail is a must-do at Everglades National Park.
The boardwalk at the Anhinga Trail at Everglades National Park.

Bring your earplugs for an airboat ride in Everglades National Park, your snorkel for a visit to Biscayne National Park, your sunglasses for a drive along the Overseas Highway through the Florida Keys and your sunscreen for a day of exploring at Dry Tortugas National Park.

And, of course, you can’t miss sunset at Mallory Square in Key West, where you’ll find a variety of entertainment leading up to the natural show of the sun slowly descending below the horizon. 

Our one-way route takes 10 days to make your way from Naples, on the Gulf Coast of South Florida to Key West. If you’ve got the time, you could easily make a season of it, though. And, yes, you should be prepared to “fight” the snowbirds for reservations! Plan early if you want top pick of places to camp and be prepared to pay top dollar for the best campsites.

Natchez Trace Music Tour

We call this route a “music tour” but it really is a tour for all of your senses. Not only is the music some of the best in the South, but you’ll also find some of the best tastes of the region. And, the sights of the vibrant cities and the sun setting over the Mississippi River won’t disappoint either.

Another amazing sunset on the Mississippi in Memphis.
Another amazing sunset on the Mississippi in Memphis.

Starting in Nashville, the capital of country music, you’ll make your way to Memphis, the home of the Blues and the birthplace of Rock n Roll, before ending in New Orleans, the center of Jazz. Truly, you’ll have your pick of some of the best music venues and street performers anywhere in the country.

For history buffs, the drive along the Natchez Trace provides ample opportunity to get out, stretch your legs and learn a little about the Native American footpath that later became a popular route for settlers, traders and soldiers. Even if you aren’t a history buff, you’re sure to enjoy the laid-back, scenic drive away from the hustle and bustle of the big city.

And this is one route where we’ll encourage you to eat out just about every opportunity you get. Yes, we might be biased since we were both born and raised in the South. But the dishes you’ll find in this region are seriously some that shouldn’t be skipped. In particular, be sure to try Nashville hot chicken, Memphis BBQ, beignets, a muffuletta sandwich and some gumbo in New Orleans. 

Cross-Country Routes

If you are truly RVing in the United States, you’ll certainly want to consider one of the true cross-country routes. These three routes span multiple regions and take anywhere from 17-33 days. These are the routes that truly elicit a journey rather than a vacation. Of course, if you don’t have time for an entire route, you could always break off just a small chunk at one time.

Pulling our camper over Powder River Pass in Wyoming
Pulling our camper over Powder River Pass in Wyoming.

Many of the stops along these routes are included in other routes but there are few additional stops as well. If you’ve got the time, you can easily extend your trip by linking with other nearby routes. 

US 1

The US 1 route takes you down the east coast of the United States, from Bar Harbor, ME to Key West, FL over the course of nearly a month. In this direction, we suggest you start in mid-late summer. Of course, you could also do the route in reverse, in which case, we’d recommend starting in late spring or early summer.

A wild horse in Assateague Island National Seashore
One of the wild horses at Assateague Island

Notable stops along this route that aren’t found anywhere else include the Jersey Shore, Assateague Island National Seashore, the Outer Banks of North Carolina, Savannah, GA and Disney World in Orlando, FL.

Of note, this route takes you around New York City. We did our best to provide detailed driving directions to avoid RV-restricted roads and the heart of NYC but you should definitely check current conditions as things do change. Additionally, our route takes you through the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel in Virginia. You can route around the bay if you prefer.

Cape Hatteras Light
Cape Hatteras Light

In the Outer Banks, we avoided Ocracoke Island, since you can only access it via a ferry and campgrounds are limited. Honestly, though, it is one of our favorite islands in the Outer Banks. If you can add a day or two there, we highly recommend it!

Finally, reservations at Fort Wilderness Resort at Walt Disney World can sometimes be difficult to get, especially for extended stays. Make reservations early, especially if your itinerary is not flexible or you want to stay for additional days.

US 2

We call the US 2 route “the road less traveled” because it takes you through a rather remote stretch of the country. And, it’s not a route that most folks would think of on their own. But, there really are some interesting stops along the way.

US Highway 2 in Montana
US 2

The route begins in Mackinaw City, MI and stretches across the Upper Peninsula. It then darts north to Voyageurs National Park, which is not included on any other routes. From there, you’ll drive across North Dakota to the northern unit of Theodore Roosevelt NP. The last few stops include Glacier NP, and a drive across Washington to Seattle. 

Rainy Lake Grand Tour
Aboard the boat on the tour of Rainy Lake at Voyageurs NP.

We actually drove part of this route when we visited Montana in September 2023. It’s true that there really isn’t much on this stretch of US 2 in northern Montana, which is exactly what we loved about it. It really is just you and the open road.

Grand Loop

As we say in the introduction for this route in the book, if you could only pick one route, this is the one to do. This is THE epic RV trip across the best of the West. As written, the route takes 33 days to visit almost all of the natural wonders of the western United States. Almost every stop on this route is included elsewhere, giving you plenty of opportunity to extend your trip if you have the time. 

The route begins and ends in Las Vegas, which is a great place to rent an RV. Honestly, though, this route is almost too long to be worth doing in a rental. But, if that’s what works for you, go for it!

With stops at the Grand Canyon, all five Utah parks, Rocky Mountain NP, the Black Hills, Yellowstone NP, Mount Rainier NP, Crater Lake NP and Yosemite NP and more, you’ll truly see a wide variety of simply amazing sights.

Yes, this trip is the one that will make all your friends at home jealous.

Final Thoughts on RVing the USA with USA RV Adventures

When we first learned that Moon Guides was soliciting proposals for this book, I thought we’d be crazy for even considering submitting a proposal. But we did. And then we wrote the book. Now, USA RV Adventures is on the shelves and available to purchase!

Yes, it was a lot of work. I mean a lot of work. It seemed like we did nothing but write for months on end. We had to work while traveling and even had to not travel at times to be able to get it done. 

Bonnie sits at a table outside working on a laptop.
Editing our book on the balcony of our casita at The Boulders Resort.

But we are so happy that we wrote this book. We learned a lot while researching. Yes, we included a lot of places that we’d already been. But we still had to do some research to make sure we got all the details right. We also researched new ideas and areas we hadn’t traveled to. And added those places to our “to-do” list! 

Truly, there isn’t a single stop along any of these routes that we don’t want to visit (if we haven’t been already). In fact, we’ve used our own book on several of our recent trips.

Sale
Moon USA RV Adventures: 25 Epic Routes (Travel Guide)
  • Sinclair, Bonnie (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 560 Pages – 02/28/2023 (Publication Date) – Moon Travel (Publisher)

Mostly, we are glad that we did the hard work for you. We know first-hand how difficult it is to plan RV travel. It isn’t like planning a simple road trip in a car or truck, especially if you are traveling with a pet. But it is so great to sleep in your own bed, take your leftovers home and actually eat a home-cooked meal while traveling.

We hope that the book makes your RV trips easier. If there’s anything that we can change or add for future editions, please let us know. You can reach us through our Facebook group (USA RV Adventures), leave a comment below, connect with us on Instagram, Twitter or LinkedIn or email us.

We invite you to join our Facebook group, USA RV Adventures. This group is for experienced, newbie and wannabe RVers to discuss RV destinations, itineraries and camping/travel tips.


Travel Resources
What do you use to find a flight?

We use Skyscanner to find deals on flights. Skyscanner has a great interface and compares tons of airlines for the best pricing and routing. That said, it does not always have every airline and some airlines will have better deals on their website. Still, Skyscanner is a great place to start.
Click here to search for a flight.

What do you use to find a hotel?

We typically stay at Hilton properties, so we use the Hilton website. You can find good Hilton Honors discounts or AAA discounts for a hotel there. We make great use of our free night certificates from our Hilton Honors American Express.
Click here to book a Hilton property.

If there are no Hilton properties available, we use TripAdvisor to read reviews and book the hotel. We find we can get the best price that way.
Click here to search for a hotel.

We recently partnered with Stay22 to add interactive maps to each of our destination posts. This will allow you to see a plethora of hotels and vacation rentals all in one responsive map of the area.

What if I need more space than I can get at a hotel?

We use Vrbo for the times when we have rented a cabin for a weekend getaway, like this cabin in Townsend, TN, or needed to rent a house for a large family vacation. We had a great experience with them in terms of refunding deposits when COVID hit and will continue to use them.
Click here to search for a vacation rental.

Who do you use for rental cars?

As a general rule, we book with Hertz for rental cars. We have had nothing but good experiences with them. Plus, we really like unlimited mileage and not worrying about crossing state lines. We have even rented from Hertz overseas in both Slovenia and Croatia.
Click here to book a rental car.

How about booking a cruise?

We have found some amazing prices for booking a cruise through Cruise Direct. We have saved a lot of money on our cruises compared to what we found elsewhere, making a last-minute Bahamas cruise even cheaper.
Click here to book a cruise.

What if I want to rent an RV?

We highly recommend Outdoorsy for RV rentals. We rented a camper van for a week to visit Rocky Mountain National Park for the elk rut and Custer State Park for the Buffalo Round-Up and had a blast. The program was easy to use and we really enjoyed the freedom of having a camper van for that trip.
Click here to rent an RV.

What do you use for booking tours?

We don’t often book tours. Typically, we like to do stuff on our own. That said, there are some experiences you can’t have any other way. So, when we do want to book a tour, we always check Viator first.
Click here to book a tour.

Do you use anything to get discounts on the road?

We make extensive use of both Good Sam and AAA on the road. Good Sam is normally regarded as a discount card for RVers at campgrounds and Camping World but anyone can use the 5 cents off a gallon at the pump at both Pilot and Flying J.
Click here to get a Good Sam membership.
We have had AAA as long as we have been married and it has more than paid for itself in discounts at hotels, aside from the peace of mind of having roadside assistance. Add in paper maps and the ability to get an international driver’s license and it is more than worth it for any traveler out there.
Click here to get a AAA membership.

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