Road Trip Tips

Texas State Line 2010

Today marks the 10 year anniversary of my first big road trip. I packed up everything I owned in my tiny Toyota Yaris and with my best friend by my side embarked on the trek of a lifetime. We traveled west to east across the country and ended a 15-day trip, with over 18 states under our belt, and 5552 miles on our tires. Something so momentous to me that I ended up tattooing that number on my body. Since then I have done a second cross country trip and countless other road trips. There is something so fun about exploring new areas of the United States and spending time in the car while doing it. From all my experiences I have come up with some great rules to live by for taking a road trip.  

Don’t over plan. If you have specific places you would like to go that is great. However, do not plan every moment. Leave room to relax, room to stop at fun things on the side of the road, room to slow down. I hate putting a time frame on when you need to officially get somewhere, it adds so much stress to your journey.

Finding great places to stop. As much as I hate the idea of over planning its not a bad idea to do a little research of places you are heading. Keep in mind places like trip advisor list the most POPULAR places. Although they might be fun they also might be packed. There might be something else as equally amazing if not better in the area that is not as busy (and/or cheaper). I love using Atlas Obscura. Just plug in a city you are going to or use their map option to look up weird places in a set area. I have found some of my best road trip stops on there. Including this fun tree:

Another great place to find places to stop is the road signs! I have enjoyed some very unique and often overlooked places by reading the “attraction” signs on the side of the highway. Including this fun little bridge in Oregon. The official shortest, and claimed oldest, covered bridge in the state.

Packing. I strongly believe that over packing is better than under packing. You have a whole car! (normally unless you are moving in which case all your stuff is with you anyways). Do not be afraid to throw in that extra sweater, or comfy pillow, or heck a tent just in case the wind blows you to a campground. There’s nothing worse to having to spend hard earned road trip money on something you could have packed and own at home or miss an experience because an item is not with you to make it happen.

Snacks. I am a big believer in a cooler. I did not always have it and now that it’s a staple road trip item of mine I don’t know how I lived without it. Easy to bring cold drinks, cheese, sandwiches to keep your expenses low and allow you to picnic wherever you want! Plus, a giant bag of snacks! You don’t always want to stop when you get the munchies. I also love finding hidden gem rest stops or viewpoints to have a snack and stretch my legs.

Navigation. Try not to rely on your GPS for the whole trip. If you have a basic destination to head towards, a state or a city, just point yourself in the right direction turn off the maps and enjoy the trek. Sometimes you miss the journey if you are focusing on following a line on your GPS. I will say I have carried a paper map of the US in the back of my car for years and never used it. Its never a bad idea to have a backup if you get lost but technology has come a long way.

Overnight Accommodations. First up, decide whether you want your overnight accommodations to be a place to rest your head or part of your experience. If you are just looking for a place to rest your head sticking to the old faithful’s (motel 6, Super 8) is not a wrong way to go. One interjection is that if you find yourself in a smaller town some of the “inns” and “motels” you might normally overlook as seedy can often be such gems. Same price as a brand name but run by families with so much more character. Either way do not be expecting ritzy quality. You are literally paying for a bed and a roof.

If you are looking for more of an experience, I’ve found great options through airbnb and hip camp. Know your budget and know that the “price per night” isn’t always the final cost so make sure you know what you are paying for before booking. On airbnb I love finding fun unique places to stay like tiny houses or hidden cabins. Hip camp gives great one of a kind alternatives to your normal overnight stay. Besides for campsites and RV parking they also offer off grid living, yurts, and overall great glamping experiences.Cost/expenses. More often then not I am on a budget for my road trip. I cannot drop hundreds on food and everything else you can find on the road. As mentioned above two great money savers are bringing snacks and avoiding highly popular attractions for cheaper (equally awesome) ones. If you know you are going to be frequenting specific attractions like National Parks, investigate getting an all-inclusive pass. More money up front but a saver in the end. Also look for attractions that give AAA discounts. Even better, find the free attractions! So many hiking spots or fun stops are 100% free. Another way is to adjust your overnight accommodations. Do not be afraid to utilize car camping at free spots or cheaper camp sites to spread out your budget.  

Fuel. I have two rules for your gas tank. If you are on the main highway start looking for a gas station as soon as your tank hits ¼. If you are anywhere off the main drag start looking for a gas station as soon as your tank hits ½. You might feel that is over exaggerating the need. However, I would rather stop more and feel confident that I can get where I am going, then miss out on great stretches of road stressing over finding a gas station. Or worse, running out of gas on some back highway.

Staying Safe. There are a few quick tips I follow for safety.

  1.  Whether you are traveling by yourself or with a friend never underestimate the way a place makes you feel. If you do not get the right vibes from someplace, do not stop. There are plenty of other amazing things out there to experience.
  2. Always make sure someone knows your itinerary. You do not need to check in at every stop just make sure someone knows your general route, i.e. what towns you are expected to stop in for the night.
  3. Take all your bags into the hotel each night. As a rule, do not leave anything in the car you don’t want taken. It might be a drag, but as someone who used to work in the rental car industry, I cannot tell you how many peoples trips were ruined by someone breaking in a window and stealing their stuff.

Hopefully, you find these tips helpful and if you would like any extra advise or have any more questions for your upcoming road trip feel free to email me! (over on my contact page).

Happy [road trip] roaming!

Trail Talk: Hedge Creek Falls

Location: Hedge Creek Falls (Dunsmuir, CA)

Difficulty: Easy

Distance: Less than a mile round trip, out and back trail. About a quarter mile to the falls.

Elevation: Roughly 200 feet. (My Suunto watch recorded 150 but other sites listed 200).

Cost: FREE

Parking: There is a long, undefined lot directly across from the park.

Directions: This trail can be reached from either direction on I-5. Take the exit for Siskiyou Ave.

From the north: After the exit pass under the freeway and turn right onto Dunsmuir Ave.

From the south: After taking the exit take two rights.

It will be a quick right onto the small road and the parking is directly on the right. When I went I missed the turn, but was able to adjust quickly using the parking lot of a business (Castle Rock Water) directly past the correct street for a quick U-Turn. Dunsmuir Ave is also named Mott Rd.

Preparation:

  • Sunscreen. It is pretty covered with tree’s, but sunscreen is always a good idea.
  • Water. There is a water fountain at the top.
  • Shoes/Clothes. If you are going when its warmer, I would recommend a sandal/shorts combo so you can enjoy dipping into the pool below the falls. I did the whole trail in flip flops without a problem.
  • Bathroom. There was one porta potty at the top of the parking. I didn’t use it and am not sure what its condition is. I would not recommend counting on this stop to be your bathroom breath.

Experience:

Once parked I head across the street to the little park. There is a small grassy area with a few picnic tables, a gazebo with benches, and a fun water fountain. As I was starting the trail a family was settling in for a picnic lunch. The trail head is directly past the gazebo. The trail for the most part is clear, there is a small stream that appears to be routed under the trail and a few rockslides to step over. There was also a decent amount of poison oak off the trail but again the trail itself was clear. At the first switchback you are able to see the small but mighty falls and after a few more minutes you will already be to its base.

Hedge Creek Falls: For a short clip of me walking behind the falls scroll to the bottom!

The base of the falls is really special. There are a lot of larger rocks surrounding it for a nice area to spread out and enjoy. The water form the falls also pools into a great little shallow swimming hole before continuing along the creek. Be aware the whole area is pretty small and would get crowded quickly. If you are looking for a great place of water to enjoy for an extended period of time this might not be the most enjoyable. My favorite part is that there is a small cave carved out behind the falls and the trail takes you around and behind Hedge Creek Falls. Its such a unique view.

If you continue past the falls there is a bench which will allow you to admire the scene from afar. Continue down the trail that parallels Hatch Creek to a nice sized observation deck. From the deck you get a good view of Mount Shasta and the Sacramento river. She just peeked through the trees and below the clouds for me on this day.

Mount Shasta from Hedge Creek Falls Trail Overlooking Sacramento River

At this point the trail sharply turns back into an additional switch back that will take you down to the banks of the Sacramento river. Along this path is also great views of some mini falls and waterslides from Hedge Creek. At the Sacramento river I had read there was a swimming hole and a good shallow area. The water was a bit high when I went and I wasn’t able to clearly see where this spot would be but I would assume later in the season it would be a great place.

View of the Sacramento River from the end of the trail.

All in all I had a great time. With its short length and easy access from the highway it’s a great spot to stop if you are just passing through. Better than a random rest stop to stretch your legs and refresh before continuing through the mountains. I used it as just that on a long road trip starting in Monterey, CA and ending for the night in Medford, OR.

Happy Roaming!

Walking behind Hedge Creek Falls