I constantly think about our next big road trip. Given the time we just took away from our normal lives to get married and go to Hawaii, as well as job changes and just a lot going on in our lives right now, I really have no idea when our next long road trip will be. But nothing is more “us” than setting out on the road and taking a big adventure, and I spend a lot of time daydreaming about when that will next be.
We plan to repeat our Alaska trip for SURE, but I have also been thinking about other, slightly shorter trips we could do. And lately I have been thinking about how fun it would be to drive from LA to Nashville and back! I’m not sure when we will make this happen, but I wanted to go ahead and plan out the route and do some research on where to stay so that if we suddenly have a couple of weeks free, we can jump on it and go. I decided to share my planning and research legwork here in the hopes that it will be helpful or inspiring to someone looking to drive this route.
I had so much fun planning this all out, so I might continue doing these for different locations! If you have any suggestions, I’d love to hear them!
For this road trip, the theme and “vibe” I was going for is kitschy, route 66 Americana. I planned out a different route there and back so we’d see different things the whole way (like how we did on our Alaska trip). Everything is planned around being dog friendly, and you’ll notice I include the name and number of a local 24-hour emergency vet for each stopping point.
With that explanation out of the way, here’s how I would drive from LA to Nashville and back:
Day 1: LA to Bullhead City, Arizona
Distance: ~5.5 hours (note: might lose an hour due to the time change, depending on the time of year—AZ doesn’t practice daylight savings time like CA does)
Route: pretty much taking I-40 the whole way (and will continue that route basically all the way to Nashville!)
Things to do on the way: On this first day, not a whole lot. The first day will be all about putting some miles between us and LA. We might want to grab our last opportunity for In-n-Out in Barstow, California, and there is one cool photo opp once we get into Arizona that goes along with my theme for the whole road trip:
Near Kingman, Arizona, the Cool Springs Station is a preserved (non-functioning) gas station. It’s a relic of the Route 66 era, and there’s even a little museum about the subculture from that time. I think it would be a fun place to stop and stretch our legs. This station was the inspiration for Radiator Springs in the Disney movie Cars.
Once we get to Bullhead City, I think the best option for the night would be to stay in a dog-friendly Airbnb on the Colorado River. Here are some links and photos of a couple of cool ones that I found in the area. Both are dog friendly.
I just chose photos of the outside because the location seems so pretty, but the inside of both is really cute too!
24-hour vet in the area: North Valley Pet Hospital, 928-768-8387
Day 2: Bullhead City to Holbrook, Arizona
Distance: ~4.5 hours
Route: I-40 the whole way
Things to do along the way: From Bullhead City, we’d pass through Flagstaff on the way to Holbrook, which is a larger (and apparently awesome!) town. We would probably stock up on needed groceries and camping supplies for the night there. Some fun things to do might be to park and walk around the historic railroad district with the dogs, eat (or get takeout) from the Whistle Stop Cafe, in honor of one of our favorite movies (Fried Green Tomatoes—this isn’t the cafe from the book/movie, it just has the same name. Still cute). The New York Times recommends going to Macy’s European Coffee House and Bakery. Having grown up in Europe, I think Grace would love that.
One place along I-40 that looks cool, but unfortunately is not dog friendly, is Meteor Crater. It’s apparently the world’s largest meteor impact site. So if you’re doing this drive and don’t have dogs, I would totally stop and see this!
Sleep: To help even out the overall budget for the trip, and take advantage of the beautiful wide-open skies in the southwest, I would rent a campsite for Holbrook. I found a REALLY cool looking one on Airbnb—it has amazing reviews and apparently some of the best views around of the night sky. And it’s only $15 a night! Here’s a pretty, though blurry, photo from Airbnb:
This site is dry camping, meaning you bring in your own water and the bathroom is open-air, so to speak. We love dry camping and I wrote a whole post about it here.
One word of caution with dogs: Holbrook is remote, and the closest emergency vet I could find is almost 100 miles away back in Flagstaff, Arizona. It’s Kaibab Veterinary Clinic, 928-380-1622.
Day 3: Holbrook to Albuquerque, New Mexico (with a pit stop at the Petrified Forest!)
Distance: ~ 3.5 hours without stops (will lose an hour due to the time change)
Route: I-40 the whole way—the National Park is right off the highway
Part of the appeal of camping in Holbrook is its proximity to the Petrified Forest National Park. The Petrified Forest is filled with colorful petrified wood, petroglyphs, paleontology exhibits, and just lots of beautiful, otherworldly landscapes. And, it is apparently a *truly* pet friendly national park! Those of us who have brought our pets to national parks know that they usually have lots of restrictions. The Petrified Forest welcomes dogs and seems like the perfect stop early in the day on the way to Albuquerque.
Also, for those who like visiting National Parks but don’t love hiking (ahem, Grace), the Petrified Forest seems perfect because it has a lot of very short walks (some less than half a mile).
From there, we would pretty much drive on straight to Albuquerque. The ‘bu (as I have read that locals call it . . . don’t worry I wouldn’t be cool enough to call it that myself in real life) is supposed to be such an awesome city!
I would love to stay in one of these two dog-friendly Bed & Breakfasts in Albuquerque:
Cinnamon Morning looks SO cute and welcoming. It has amazing reviews, their breakfast looks like perfection, and the pet policy is awesome. The grounds of the whole B&B are gated for dogs to run around!
The Mauger Estate is a restored 1800s Queen Anne’s-style residence that has been converted to a B&B. It also looks super dog friendly, and one of the rooms even comes with a dog door, fenced side yard, dog beds, bowls, and treats. The Inn is also walking distance to many dog friendly restaurants.
Both places look amazing, and I think we would have a hard time choosing! It would probably come down to wherever had availability, especially if we were planning the trip on short notice.
Things to do in Albuquerque: I am so excited to visit this city! Here are a few of the cool, dog-friendly things I discovered in my research:
An area called Tingley Beach where dogs are allowed on-leash (for us, sometimes it’s nice to have a pretty place outdoors to bring our dogs but is on leash—it’s a little more relaxing then having to watch them constantly, as much as we love dog parks for other times)
An adorable-looking restaurant called El Pinto, which serves New Mexican cuisine and has a dog friendly patio AND even dog beer!
In general, walking around Old Town Albuquerque looks really fun
The Flying Star Cafe, within walking distance to the Mauger Estate B&B, looks really cute
Also, if you’re a Breaking Bad fan, I think there are some themed tours you can do since the show was based and filmed in Albuquerque.
If possible, I would try to spend a couple of days in Albuquerque on this trip. But just to keep things simple for the itinerary, I’ll plan it as though we’re only spending one night.
Lastly, here’s a 24-hour vet I found online in case of emergency in Albuquerque: Veterinary Emergency and Specialty Centers, 505-884-3433
Day 4: Albuquerque to Oklahoma City
Distance: a bit longer than some of the others, ~7.75 hours, and will lose an hour due to the time change
Route: I-40 the whole way
Things to do along the way: Because this would be one of our longest drives, we’d want to get an early jump on the day and not stop too many places. But here are a few fun things:
Almost 2 hours into the drive, we’d pass by the Blue Hole in Santa Rosa, New Mexico. The Blue Hole is a rock quarry filled with water that is supposed to be very pretty and swimable. Dogs are allowed (just not in the water), so this could be a cute place to take a bathroom break with them.
Amarillo, Texas, will be the halfway point of this drive, and if nearly 8 hours is too far for your trip, you could also split it up and stop here for the night. One cool-looking place to camp near Amarillo is Palo Duro Canyon State Park.
If we were making good time on our drive, I would love to stop and see Palo Duro as well as Cadillac Ranch, where a row of Cadillacs are stuck in the mud and visitors can sign them.
I think it would be so fun to sign our names, similar to how we left our mark in the Signpost Forest in Watson Lake on our Alaska trip. I love the idea of making a tradition of leaving some sign of having “been there” at some point on every big road trip we take.
While we are in Amarillo, I also want to try to find a Donut Stop! We love donuts and we love trying different areas’ favorite donut places (like Tim Horton’s in Canada).
After Amarillo, there are a bunch of cute looking towns that seem like good places to stop if we need a meal or gas in our car:
Tuccumcari (would love to see the Tee Pee Curios shop, full of Southwestern charm and American Indian-made gifts). This would fit right in with my Route 66, Roadside America theme for this trip.
Once we made it to Oklahoma City, I think we would aim for either a dog-friendly hotel or an Airbnb. Here are some good options I’ve found:
Skirvin Hilton Oklahoma City (Dog Friendly)
Having the little patio in this last option would be especially nice with dogs.
24-hour emergency vet in Oklahoma City: Blue Pearl Specialty and Emergency Animal Hospital, 405-749-6989
Day 5: Oklahoma City to Little Rock, Arkansas
Distance: Just under 5 hours
Route: I-40 the whole way
Things to do along the way: I have ALWAYS wanted to see Arkansas. I’ve heard it’s so beautiful and fresh and outdoorsy! So I think I would focus on getting to AR and then see the beautiful great outdoors once we arrive.
One pretty stop might be Pinnacle Mountain State Park. It’s dog friendly, and the trail at the arboretum is short and supposed to be good for dogs.
Along the way, Fort Smith might be a good town to stop for lunch in. I did some research, and AJ’s Oyster House looks awesome (we LOVE oysters), and they have a dog friendly patio.
Once we get to Little Rock, there are SO many awesome-looking dog-friendly things to do. This is another city where I can totally see us staying 2 nights if we had time. I would love to stay at the Rosemont Guest Cottages. It looks gorgeous, and its website even advertises ground-level rooms for older dogs who can’t do stairs! Thankfully, we aren’t there yet with our boys, but I love when places are so thoughtful for their four-legged guests. I think the St. Clair Treetop Cottage would be my pick, with a fireplace, Jacuzzi, and private outdoor dog area. It even comes with a Belgian waffle breakfast, which would be perfect for my Belgian-raised spouse.
While we’re in Little Rock, I would love to go to:
Bark Bar - this place looks SO FUN! It’s like a dog cafe with an indoor-outdoor play area for dogs. A day pass for your dog to play is $5, and you can order coffee or cocktails and sit and hang out. I noticed that you have to upload shot records online first, which I really appreciate.
Crush Wine Bar - looks like a nice place to start an evening out, and it has a dog-friendly patio.
I would love to walk around River Market. Dogs are allowed on leash (and the downtown dog park is nearby). River Market has a Farmer’s Market every Saturday there, and the website says dogs are allowed.
Day 6: Little Rock to NASHVILLE, Tennessee!
Distance: ~ 5 hrs 15 minutes
Route: I-40 basically the whole way
Things to do along the way: the halfway point on this day is Memphis, Tennessee. It might be a nice stop to tire the dogs out at the City of Memphis dog park or the Overton Bark dog park (both have separate areas for large and small dogs). While we’re there, we could get lunch somewhere with a dog-friendly patio. Aldo’s (pizza), Cheffie’s Cafe (salades + sammies), and Lunchbox Eats (their daily lemonades are supposed to be amazing) all look great. I’d also love to check out Muddy’s Bakeshop, which apparently has great coffee (a must for Grace) and baked treats for dogs!
It could also be fun to hit up the Crosstown Concourse, a pet-friendly building with several stores, coffee, etc.
Then once we get to Nashville, I think I’d want to stay at an Airbnb to get more of a local feel and settle in for a few days of exploring. I’ll add links below to some cute options I found.
I would hope to spend at least a few days in Nashville, because there is SO MUCH to do and I’ve wanted to visit for a long time! In researching for this guide, here is a list of places I would love to check out in Nashville:
Crema, a coffee place that I know Grace would love (anytime I’m building a trip for us, good coffee is an important part of it so I can make sure Grace is happy :) ). Crema looks adorable and is supposed to have great avocado toast and a dog friendly patio too!
Avo, a vegan restaurant with a dog-friendly patio that has an unbelievable menu. Dying to try this one!
I have read that Burger Up has amazing fried pickles, which are one of my favorite foods, and it looks from their website like they have a dog-friendly patio too.
Five Points Pizza is supposed to be great, and that could a good takeout option one night.
Bartaco also sounds sooo yummy, and it’s in a cute area I’d love to check out (12 South), AND it has a dog-friendly patio!
A few more Nashville things (my list is a mile long, but I’ll try to keep it reasonable for the sake of this post): Hewitt Garden and Design Center looks SO dreamy. I’m not sure if it’s dog friendly-if we were actually doing this trip now, I would probably just call to find out. White’s Mercantile looks like such a good general-store type place too, and apparently they welcome dogs! For dog-specific places, I would want to check out Winston Dog (an adorable dog supply store) and Warner, Shelby, and Centennial dog parks.
Lastly, here’s a contact for a 24-hour emergency vet in Nashville: Nashville Veterinary Specialists & Animal Emergency, 615-386-0107.
I’m not sure how long we’d stay in Nashville (I would hope at least a few days), but to avoid confusion, I’m going to start over with Day 1 for the trip back.
The Return Trip
Day 1: Nashville to Paducah, KY
Distance: 2.5 hrs
Route: I-24 West
Why Paducah, you ask? Grace’s parents live there. We couldn’t make a trip to this part of the country without a visit to see them, too. I’ve actually never been to Kentucky so I would love to make this part of the trip.
It’s a short trip so we’d probably just head straight to Paducah without stopping so we could maximize time with Grace’s parents.
24 hour emergency vet in Paducah: West Kentucky Emergency Veterinary Services, 270-554-3111
Day 2: Paducah, KY, to camp near Kansas City, MO
Distance: 5 hrs
Route: I-55 North and I-70 West
Things to do along the way: we’d drive right through St. Louis on the way, so I’d love to check it out. And speaking of I-70, this article has some awesome ideas for things to do all along that highway. I’ve never been to St. Louis, but what I know of it is that it is beloved for its beer, BBQ, and Midwestern friendliness. It would be fun to get a glimpse of the gateway arch, take a walk through Forest Park, and stop for an al fresco lunch at Billy G’s in Kirkwood (it’s dog friendly).
For our sleeping spot for the night, we’d drive to a camping spot in Missouri. I found three awesome-looking ones between St. Louis and Kansas City:
On a long trip like this, I love mixing up camping with staying in Airbnbs and hotels, and the huge variety of gorgeous campsites in this area makes it the perfect place for one of our camping nights! The next day, we’d wake up and drive to Colby, Kansas.
Lastly, here’s the contact for an emergency vet in the area (about 20 miles away): University of Missouri Veterinary-Med Teaching Hospital, 573-882-7821
Day 3: Wooldridge/Booneville, MO, to Colby, KS
Distance: 6 hrs 45 mins
Route: I-70 West
Things to do along the way: there is SO much to do in this stretch! Lonely Planet has a whole page about great things to do along I-70 in Kansas. There’s also just something so romantic and Americana to me about driving the long, flat stretches of road in Kansas with your best travel companion and doggos :) I would love to stop for lunch at Toto’s Tacoz in Wamego, KS, named after the four-legged star of the Wizard of Oz. How cute is that?!
In Colby, the best dog-friendly option I found was the Holiday Inn Express in Colby, KS.
The Colby Animal Clinic has after-hours/emergency services, 785-460-8621.
Day 4: Colby, KS to Breckenridge, CO
Distance: 4 hrs 45 mins
Route: 1-70 West
Things to Do Along the Way: It doesn’t seem like there’s a ton between Colby and Denver (and that’s only about a 3.5 hr drive), so I’d probably just push through those flat stretches and only stop to let the dogs go to the bathroom. But once in Denver, I’d love to stop for lunch at the Watering Bowl! It’s a dog friendly cafe with an outdoor patio and private dog park.
We also have a few friends in Denver so it would be great if we could stop by and see them.
From Denver, it would only be just over another hour to Breckenridge! It looks like such a cute ski/chalet town, even in summer, and I’d love to stay a couple of days and rent one of these Airbnbs (all dog friendly):
So many good options in this area! And the Breckenridge Animal Clinic has emergency and 24 hour services - the emergency line is 970-453-0821.
Day 5: Breckenridge, CO, to Moab, UT
Distance: 4 hrs 45 mins
Route: 1-70 West most of the way, with a slight southern route on the 191 at the end
Things to Do Along the Way: Soon into this day’s drive, we’ll pass by Vail, which I’ve always heard about and would love to stop by to see. A little more off the beaten path, I also think it would be beautiful to make a very slight detour to see Minturn, a tiny town on Highway 24 South (a designated scenic byway). Mango’s Mountain Grill, right nearby in Red Cliff, CO, is supposed to be amazing and has a cute rooftop patio where we could bring the dogs.
Another town that looks cute along the way is Glenwood Springs, CO. Glenwood Canyon looks gorgeous, and all the trails there are dog friendly except for Hanging Lake Trail.
After that, we’ll pass by the Colorado National Monument, which looks stunning. Dogs aren’t allowed on the trails, but there’s a Rim Rock drive that looks well worth the detour.
From there we would arrive at our destination for the night: Moab, UT! I’ve been wanting to go to Moab for a while. I’ve been to Utah a few times, including once with Grace (on the way to Alaska), and it’s such a breathtaking state.
There are a bunch of seriously tempting options of where to stay in Moab with a dog—I think we would have a hard time choosing! Here are two of my favorites: one, a more traditional hotel, and the other, a glamping situation.
This hotel looks so charming and Western—and the perfect jumping off point to explore Moab. Five of the rooms on the property are pet friendly.
A very cool alternative to staying in a hotel would be Under Canvas Moab, which offers beautiful safari tents and allows pups of all sizes for only $25 a night.
Moab is probably most famous for being situated right beside Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park. However, neither of those parks are very pet friendly. But there is beautiful scenery in the area that you can bring your dog to—I found this awesome blog post highlighting the option of hiking to Corona Arch instead of Arches! Looking at photos, it seems well worth a visit and for someone like me who hasn’t been to Arches, I probably wouldn’t know what I was missing. Plus, Corona Arch has the benefit of being apparently a lot less crowded than the national parks.
In Moab, Mill Creek Animal Hospital offers 24-hour emergency veterinary care: 435-260-9989.
Day 6: Moab, UT, to St. George, UT
Distance: ~ 5.5 hrs
Route: I-70 West and I-15 South
Things to Do Along the Way: Today will be all about snaking through the wide state of Utah. Our last stop before home, St. George, is somewhere we’ve stayed before! We camped there for the very first night of our road trip to Alaska in 2017. So, it seems very fitting for it to be the last night of our (hypothetical, for now) LA to Nashville trip.
One awesome-looking place between Moab and St. George is Mystic Hot Springs. It’s a cute little hippie town (the town is called Monroe, UT), and it has these amazing hot spring soaking tubs. Dogs are allowed, just not in the tubs.
Other than the hot springs, I think we would just try to get to our destination as early as possible. Because last time we stayed in St. George, we didn’t get to explore beautiful Snow Canyon State Park as much as I would have liked, I think I would just want to spend some time seeing the red rock formations. Here are some pictures I took the last time we stayed at Snow Canyon:
Southwest Animal Emergency Hospital is a 24-hour vet in St. George: 435-673-3191.
Day 7: St. George HOME to LA!
Distance: about 6 hours
Route: I-15 the whole way
Things to do along the way: I covered this stretch of travel in my Los Angeles to Montana blog post when we were doing the Alaska trip! Some of the highlights are that you go through Las Vegas and pass the Seven Magic Mountains outdoor art installation. I think at this point, we’d be ready to power through to home. But it’s a nice drive.
After what is likely my longest blog post ever - this is the END! I spent many, many hours researching for this post and I hope it’s helpful to someone. Travel research is a hobby of mine, and I also love that if and when Grace and I decide we have time to jump in the car and drive to Nashville, I’ve already done a lot of the legwork.
I hope to do more of these types of posts in the future, both to serve as inspiration for others and to feed my own road trip dreams.