I like to plan our trips as much as possible from home. In the past, we have done some trips where we didn’t really plan before departing. It felt like most of our down time was then spent planning the next part of the trip instead of relaxing. While I develop a pretty firm itinerary (i.e. days in each area/things that we don’t want to miss), we are open to changing it based on serendipitous opportunities.
The first decision is usually how long we are able to travel. We look at our scheduled obligations, Karla’s important medical appointment requirements, and when we’re getting together with our families to pick a date range we are able to travel. Then we pick a region based on the amount of time, season of the year, or places we’ve been itching to go. Then we start researching the region, if we’ve never been there. I usually start by looking at a map to see what cities, National Parks, National Forests, State Parks, Museums, etc. are in the region.
For each area we are planning to visit, I come up with a list of possible hikes and activities for that area, but I don’t rigidly pick for each day in advance. Once there, we see how we are feeling and decide what we want to do each day, picking from the list of possible hikes/activities. In that decision making, we include any local recommendations we may pick up or suggestions from other RV’ers we’ve talked to along the trip/at our campground. We almost always have more things we would like to do than time to do them. If we really like an area and feel like there was more exploring we wanted to do, we will earmark it for a future return trip. I try to make a list of things we want to do when we return while it is still fresh in my mind. I’ll pull that list back out for planning a return trip.
Once I have a list of hikes/activities and cities/towns we would like to visit in the region, I divide up the amount of time per location and while using a map, picking the route that seems most efficient.
For planning resources I use a mix of books and internet. Mike prefers to use the internet. I like to have hard copies of hiking guides or print outs from a website for hikes we plan to do, so that we have the information even IF we don’t have internet access. Some of our favorite places have limited/poor internet access once you are there.
Mike also makes fun of me for collecting maps. I have an United States Road Atlas we take on every trip. I also collect the state maps, as these usually have more roads shown than the Atlas. These can usually be picked up free at rest areas, visitor centers. I keep them until I get a newer copy. If you are a AAA club member, you can also get Free Maps and “Tour Books” as one of your benefits. I often just go into our local AAA office, but I think I have ordered them online in the past.
For States we visit frequently, we have either a Benchmark Maps Road and Recreation Atlas or DeLorme Atlas and Gazetteer. These are atlas sized books for a state. They include varying levels of detail and include some hiking trails and 4WD roads. These are very good for smaller roads than you would find on a state map. They also have maps that identify public lands- which is very useful for finding places to boondock.
I also collect National Forest Maps from the United States Forest Service for areas we like to visit frequently. Some of the National Forests also have Motor Vehicle Use Maps (MVUM’s) that can be picked up for free at Forest Service Information/visitor Centers. The MVUM’s show all of the roads/trails in that National Forest and which ones can be driven on during what date ranges. Some Forest Service roads have special closures. These maps (MVUM & Forest Service) also show trailheads for hiking, boating areas, campgrounds, picnic areas, etc. The National Forest Service maps can be purchased from United States Forest Service Map Store or can sometimes be found on Amazon.
The other Maps we use a lot are the National Geographic Trails Illustrated Topographic Maps. These exist for most National Parks and a few State Parks. They list trailheads, hikes, scenic areas, campgrounds, etc.. They can be ordered through National Geographic Trail Illustrated Maps. For hiking or backpacking in areas where trails are not well maintained, a topographic map with greater detail is highly recommended. These can be obtained through the USGS Map Store. You can usually get the more detailed topo maps for handheld GPS units.
Some of the maps listed above (US Forest Service) are available for download and you can print sections of them if you know the specific sections you will be in.