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Old 06-08-2019, 10:17 AM   #1
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Which Way - North or South Route And Why

I'm planning on heading out to the 5 NPs in Utah the last week of August or the Tues. after Labor Day. I have a good idea of the things we want to see and the routes out and back. Will be going to Mesa Verde, Monument Valley, North Rim of the GC, as well as other places in addition to the 5 NPs in Utah. We've got 2 months allowed for the trip.

What I need some help with is should I take a southern route (I-40) out and northern route (I-70 or maybe state roads) back or vice versa. Will be departing and returning to Tenn. I've heard the Moab area can be really crowded in Sept and that Zion is crowded most weekends. We try to avoid big crowds as much as possible plus I don't like making reservations very far in advance as we don't always know how long it will take to see the area we're in. We also prefer to stay at campgrounds vs boondocking once we get to a destination. As far as campgrounds go, we don't need anything fancy, just a safe place with FHUs.

Given this, which way would you go taking into consideration good weather and smaller crowds? Also, would you leave before or after Labor Day? If we were to leave before Labor Day, we would want get as far as maybe the Albuquerque or Denver areas before the Labor Day weekend and hunker down for the weekend and then head to our first destination after Labor Day. Please try to explain the reason behind your choice.
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Old 06-08-2019, 01:24 PM   #2
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Hi Kxbronco,
You have the right idea. For the Labor Day stop over you will need reservations. Consider making them now. RVs have been selling like hot cakes the last few years. Getting a place to stay during a holiday weekend could be difficult. Like you said, after Labor Day the crowds will diminish greatly. For me the southern route (I 40) is best that time of year. Things can get cool to cold real fast in the North country very fast after Labor Day.
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Old 06-08-2019, 06:47 PM   #3
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Keep in mind that crossing the Rockies headed east on I-70 will take you up the famous Ike Gauntlet that leads to the Eisenhower Tunnel on the Continental Divide... 11,100 feet elevation! No reason you can't do it... it's good Interstate Highway, but it's a long climb that's hard on the equipment. Keep your eye on the weather too-- as mentioned earlier-- as they get snow early at those elevations. If I were going to do it I would take I-40 out and I-70 back. The climb up to the tunnel doesn't seem as long and tortuous when you're headed east.

If you're going north from Flagstaff to the North Rim, take Highway 89 to the North Rim instead of 89A. The desert views coming down 89A from Jacob Lake are pretty stunning (headed east back towards Lake Powell), but it's a bit of a climb when headed west, there are a few switchbacks and the road is not as wide as Hwy 89. 89 is not as scenic, but it's a better road for RVs and has some passing lanes on the climbs that the people behind you will appreciate. It will make the trip to the North Rim longer, but it ends up in the town of Kanab, which is kind of interesting and has a couple good RV parks. I'll be staying there myself next month on my way north to Idaho.

There's a decent RV park at Lake Powell (Wahweap Marina) though the water level of the lake was very low when we were there last September. We've had a wet year in the southwest this year though, so maybe it's a bit better now. Lake Powell itself is an amazing place, but you have to get out on the water to truly appreciate it. You can't see the best spots from the shore.

North Rim is much nicer after Labor Day. Getting reservations there can be a challenge, but they have a lot of no-shows and you can often get in without reservations if you show up early. I think the North Rim closes for the winter around October 15th.

Zion has a narrow tunnel when you're coming in from the east. I went through it several years ago in my old Winnebago Chief class A, but I'm not sure what the clearance is so be sure to check on it. Zion will probably be pretty crowded before Labor Day. Bryce Canyon is in the area and quite scenic too.

One other thing to think about on the trip home is to take I-25 south out of Denver and head back to I-40. It's a nice stretch of highway once you get south of Colorado Springs-- light traffic from there to Santa Fe-- and a lot more interesting than Eastern Colorado and Kansas on I-70. Sante Fe itself is not a good town for RVs, but since you have a toad there's lots to see. You go over Raton Pass on the border between CO and NM, but it's not too bad at all and there's an RV park right at the top of the pass.
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Old 06-08-2019, 07:07 PM   #4
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Leave AFTER Labor Day & you'll have a better chance of going without reservations.

You could take any secondary road to get to I-25 in Colorado. Then pick up Hwy 160 at Walsenburg, CO and take that west to Mesa Verde NP. You have a steep Wolf Creek Pass going into Pagosa Springs but it's very doable - multiple lanes. Just downshift before even starting down; not in the middle.

Stop at Pagosa Springs for a long relaxing soak after your long drive. Immaculate concrete pools of varying temperatures overlooking the river and town. Pack a small cooler. We spend hours there just going from pool to pool.

Stop in Durango, CO & take the train up to Silverton - gorgeous country. Opt for the bus back to Durango.

Then 160 west to Mesa Verde. No reservations needed. The NP has some electric sites & there are plenty of RV parks outside the park.

From Cortez, CO take 160 south west to Kayenta, AZ then north a short distance on 163 to Monument Valley.

Then backtrack on 163 to 160 west to Tuba City, AZ then north on AZ89 to 89A and west to Jacob Lake, AZ. You'll have a steep climb but good road. At Jacob Lake go to North Rim of Grand Canyon.

From Jacob Lake again go the short distance to Fredonia, AZ and pick up AZ389 becoming UT59 taking you to UT9. Go east to Zion. RV parks in Springdale or W/E & dump station at Watchman campground.

From Zion you could exit via the steep climb/tunnels on east Hwy 9 through Zion to Hwy 89 north. OR..... Head west on Hwy 9 to I-15. Go north to UT 20 east taking you to 89. Go south on 89 to Hwy 12 east taking you to Bryce NP.

From Bryce take Hwy 12 east to Torrey, UT and Capitol Reef NP. Then I-70 east to UT 191 south to Arches NP. Then I-70 east to wherever.


There's nothing wrong with driving secondary highways - you'll see more of the countryside - IF you have the time. We did it all the time.

The only reservation I'd recommend is Zion, Capitol Reef & Arches - IF you want to stay in the parks themselves. Outside the parks you'll find a spot.


Each national park has an excellent web site giving campground information, road information, special alerts and things to do. Check each one out.


Here is Mesa Verde's to get you started: https://www.nps.gov/meve/index.htm
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Old 06-08-2019, 08:07 PM   #5
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I did a similar trip last fall for 3 months. I left mid August. On way out I went the North route to visit Badlands NP and the Black Hills Area. Was in Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area for Labor Day weekend. All 5 NPs were very busy in September and many campgrounds were full. I had made advanced reservations and was glad I had. After completing Utah (and drop down to North Rim) I went via Monument Valley to Albuquerque for the Balloon Festival then Santa Fe after that before heading eastward.
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Old 06-09-2019, 06:00 AM   #6
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We are heading back east to AL now after a similar trip. We went west on I-40 and stopped at Hot Springs NP and Oklahoma City on the way, both of which were interesting. The North Rim was still closed (opened May 15). We didn't have reservations for anything until we started heading back east. We went the southern route because it was still quite cold and a lot of snow on the upper elevations.

The Utah parks were crowded even though it was early in the season and still getting occasional days when the high was in the 40s. Bryce was first-come, first served so get there early, unhook your Fit, and drive around until you see someone leaving and grab the spot. There was a lot of turnover, but it fills back up just as fast.

The campgrounds at the other nat. parks are pretty small and are probably already booked for September. Even the BLM land and National Forest sites were pretty full when we were there, although we were able to get a spot by getting there early in the day. The private CGs outside the parks usually seemed to have a space for a night or two.

For Arches, the traffic into Arches and back into Moab was very heavy. If we were going again, we would try to stay at Dead Horse Point State Park and see that park plus Canyonlands and Arches from there. Canyonlands is huge and felt a lot less crowded.

Have fun!
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Old 06-09-2019, 06:29 AM   #7
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Follow the warm weather. I would start in the north since it will be cooling off there first at that time of year and work my way south and then back east where it will be warmer.


Be mindful of Sturgis S.D. and bike week. Every campground for miles will be packed.
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Old 06-09-2019, 08:18 AM   #8
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Thanks for all the input so far. It's very helpful and much appreciated.

GaryKD, I'm leaning towards returning on the southern route to minimize colder weather issues that may occur as we get into Oct.

CamJam1, thanks for your input on the driveabilty of some of the roads and campgrounds.

twogypsies, thank you (again) for your detailed routes and things to do/see. Would you consider planning, in detail, my entire 2 mos trip? I think you would cover the bases very well and lots of people would be very appreciative. I'm sure you could even make a few bucks off it.

mricet1005, I'd love to catch the ballon festival, but I don't think the timing is going to work out this trip. We actually had reservations for last year, but had to cancel.

tacksondeck, I'll have to check out Dead Horse Point State Park.

Pepper2, that's what I've been thinking as far as the weather goes. Not sure how Sturgis comes into play as I don't think it's that close to the northern route (I-70ish) but I will check it out.
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Old 06-09-2019, 09:03 AM   #9
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I'd take 40 first. 40 is, for the most part, the highway that replaced Rt66. Get a book and you can find many interesting sections of the old road. Almost all of the green signs that say Business 40 take you through towns on the old rout 66. You will also get to the typical Desert part of the country sooner.

Take 70 on the way back for the astounding mountain views and the high pass.

I sometimes get off of 40 at Albuquerque and go north through Durango and Montrose then out 50 to 70 west but very important to note, these roads are not for the faint of heart. Don't do it unless you are comfortable on twisty narrow 2 lane roads. The sights are amazing.
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Old 06-09-2019, 12:29 PM   #10
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Originally Posted by Kxbronco View Post
twogypsies, thank you (again) for your detailed routes and things to do/see. Would you consider planning, in detail, my entire 2 mos trip? I think you would cover the bases very well and lots of people would be very appreciative. I'm sure you could even make a few bucks off it.

I'm going to pass on that!

Friends have been after me to publish my 300+ pages of campgrounds we've used and those that were recommended to us. In it I give all pertinent details including site #'s we've stayed and the best sites in the campgrounds.
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Old 06-09-2019, 03:00 PM   #11
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Sorry, I misunderstood your itenerary. I thought you would be visiting Yellowstone and of course that would lead you toward Mt. Rushmore. Oops...
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Old 06-09-2019, 04:03 PM   #12
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Sorry, I misunderstood your itenerary. I thought you would be visiting Yellowstone and of course that would lead you toward Mt. Rushmore. Oops...
No problem Pepper2. I checked google maps and now know that it really isn't that far away. I think it was about 365 miles or so from Denver.
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Old 06-09-2019, 04:10 PM   #13
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I'm going to pass on that!

Friends have been after me to publish my 300+ pages of campgrounds we've used and those that were recommended to us. In it I give all pertinent details including site #'s we've stayed and the best sites in the campgrounds.
I bet they have! I really do appreciate your input and will be using it during my trip. As of now, I think I'm going out the northern route via St. Louis. Will probably take hwy 36 (I think that's what is) that parallels I-70 based on busskipper's suggestion to Denver and then find a place to hunker down for the Labor Day weekend and try to roll into the Moab area right after Labor Day.
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Old 06-09-2019, 09:22 PM   #14
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Originally Posted by Kxbronco View Post
I'm planning on heading out to the 5 NPs in Utah the last week of August or the Tues. after Labor Day. I have a good idea of the things we want to see and the routes out and back. Will be going to Mesa Verde, Monument Valley, North Rim of the GC, as well as other places in addition to the 5 NPs in Utah. We've got 2 months allowed for the trip.

What I need some help with is should I take a southern route (I-40) out and northern route (I-70 or maybe state roads) back or vice versa. Will be departing and returning to Tenn. I've heard the Moab area can be really crowded in Sept and that Zion is crowded most weekends. We try to avoid big crowds as much as possible plus I don't like making reservations very far in advance as we don't always know how long it will take to see the area we're in. We also prefer to stay at campgrounds vs boondocking once we get to a destination. As far as campgrounds go, we don't need anything fancy, just a safe place with FHUs.

Given this, which way would you go taking into consideration good weather and smaller crowds? Also, would you leave before or after Labor Day? If we were to leave before Labor Day, we would want get as far as maybe the Albuquerque or Denver areas before the Labor Day weekend and hunker down for the weekend and then head to our first destination after Labor Day. Please try to explain the reason behind your choice.
Two Gypsies gave you some good Info along with others - BUT - August and September in Utah is still Too HOT.

SO if I were you I'd look at doing the Month of September in Colorado - Arriving after Labor Day - Less Crowded - Kids in school - weather just Better - coming out on RT 36 from Hannibal this will put you in Golden - Possibly Clear Creek CampGround - allowing drives to Estes - Peak to Peak Highway - possibly Denver, Boulder and Golden to test the Home Crafted Beers (Coors in Golden if your palate is more like mine) - then out Route 6 to Idaho Springs catching I-70 to take you into the Rockies - then RT 91 to Leadville - so now we should be getting into the second or third week of September - aspen will turn and you will see why you stayed in Cooler Colorado - https://lynn.smugmug.com/Travel/Colo...pens/i-tsVRkXg - Depending on the elevation you will have up to two Weeks with the Aspen Gold.

Leadville - RT 24 - Camp Hale - Red CLiff - Turquoise Lake - Twin Lakes - Independence Pass - Buena Vista - Collegiates - Browns Canyon NM - Salida - then on to Gunnison - Crested Butte - Montrose - Ridgway - Ouray - Silverton - Telluride - Monument Rock on RT 145 as you head towards Mesa Verde to start your Utah part of the Trip.

Few of the spots you will try to Catch in Utah - Monument Valley - Goosenecks - Moab - info on Moab - https://www.rv.net/forum/index.cfm/f...d/29448394.cfm - Capital Reef - Goblins SP - RT 12 - Bryce Canyon then on to Zion - coming out with the North Rim and Page just before they close up in November. Left out a lot of the State Parks - Kodachrome and Escalante come to mind

Leaving Page and heading out - Catch Canyon de Chelly and Window Rock.............. think I've covered a little more than you were originally planning.

But with this timeLine - I added 30 or so days - gives you some Colorado in it's Best Month - Utah when it starts to Slow Down/Cool Down - and fewer people meaning More fun.

I-40 could work going Home.

Sorry I'm not a CG guy only remember a few but in this time frame you should be good - weather will be cooler so Boondocking every now and then is not too Bad.

Best of Luck,
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