a VirtualTourist member from Houston
This may seem like a naive question, but I'm just about to buy a new SUV, and one of my retirement ambitions is to travel through the U.S. visiting the National Parks. How important is it for me to buy a 4WD vehicle with this plan in mind? I live in Houston, TX and it is proving difficult to find 4WD vehicles to even test drive. I also have second question I understand that dogs are not allowed in areas of the Parks where vehicles cannot travel, have any of you taken your dogs with you when when you traveled to the parks and what were your experiences? Any advice will be greatly appreciated.
You can visit http://www.nps.gov/ and if need be send an email to the National Park people. You're from Houston so you're used to those flood gages - but when we visited BB some years back we quickly realized what those things were for - whew! we left just in time!
So, I would post a question in the "contact" link regarding pets.
For Big Bend, you only need a 4x4 if you want to visit the really isolated spots. There are a couple of roads in the south part of the park that are 4x4 roads, but almost all roads are paved, with the exception of Maverick Road on the west side of the park, which is gravel but suitable for cars.
IIRC, most national parks do not allow pets on most hiking trails, the exception being some of the short, paved ones usually near the visitors' centers.
Thank you both so much for the advice. Really appreciate your input.
For Yosemite, Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Glacier, and Shenandoah, no 4 wheel drive required. I don't even think there are isolated parts you could get to if you had it in those parks. In Olympic NP in WA I've traveled on gravel roads, but 4WD wasn't necessary. If you are worriend about snow up north, good tires are more imporatnt than 4WD, IMHO.
My friends often travel around the parks with dogs - it's very restrictive. My opinion is that I wouldn't bring the dog along, as either you or the dog would miss out on a lot.
If you plan on visiting such parks as Zion, Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, etc, during the winter season, (October thru March), the 4WD would almost be a necessity. Since there aren't a lot of 4WD vehicles for sale in south Texas, the easiest scenario would be to travel to such parks in warmer weather, and concentrate on the more southern parks during winter. Gary
The other disadvantage of travelling to the parks I mentioned above in the winter, (plus many others), is that portions of these parks actually are inaccessible during wintertime, and activities at the parks are curtailed. A good example of this is the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. The road into that area is CLOSED from October until late April, sometimes, later. Gary
Thanks to everyone for the wonderful advice. I've traveled through parks in India and Africa, but am an absolute novice to U.S. National Parks. I probably will rent cabins outside of the parks so that I can travel with my dog and go into the parks on my own for exploration and day hikes. As I plan to be away for long periods, I can't afford to kennel my dog at home, nor would I want to. So in another post I guess I'll be asking advice on cabins that might allow me to bring along a 105 lb very well behaved dog to stay (I travel with a crate which I could, if necessary, use when I'm out).
There are several national parks where at certain times of the year 4WD is probably a good idea specifically, Rocky Mountain (the road goes over 13,000 feet elevation in several places) NP and Zion NP, Yellowstone, even the north rim of the grand canyon. If I might suggest looking at a Volvo as most have 4WD packages standard and they have several models that are SUV like. You should not have a problem finding them in Houston. We really like ours. About dogs......several of the parks treat dogs like pollution or worse. Zion even charged us for her to ride through the park but she wasn't allowed out of the car. Most parks don't let them in or make them go on a leash or worse let you only go in so far with a dog on a leash. It made us feel bad to leave our dog in the car wwhile we saw some good stuff. Painted Desert NP let us take her all over on the leash. She liked that a lot.
We also travel to many National Parks. As for general access for them I don't believe you'll need 4X4. We have front wheel drive, which goes most everywhere in most driving conditions. I think in almost all cases front wheel drive will serve you fine. Most of the roads in the parks are either paved or well maintained gravel. My personal opinion is that the cost of gas and maintenance and insurance on a 4X4 does not outweigh simple planning.
Being a former Houstonite, I understand your concern with regard to terrain and weather, since the Beltway 8 flyovers are the highest road for miles around :)
Thanks to everyone for the great advice on both questions. In researching the dog question I was directed to the Pet Friendly Travel site petfriendlytravel.com/?page=... which gives some useful advice for folks traveling with pets. Virtual Tourist is such a wonderful resource and has helped me countless times in my travel preparations.