Most of the books come with pretty good maps, don't they? I mean, the Atlas of Middle Earth is excellent, but to follow the story, it's fairly easy with the maps in the books.
I understand what you are saying, mim, and sometimes I skim a bit (usually without realizing it). It's something in Tolkien's style that people debate about--some people think he writes boring prose, and some people love it. Personally, I love his style, especially in the Hobbit when he's being a little less serious. Think of the passages where he describes the terrain as those movie shots where they pan across the people walking (like the FotR shots of the fellowship)--they show that time still passes pretty slowly when you are walking across a country. I mean, it would have been pretty boring if he'd just said "they left Bree and walked for days, finally arriving at Weathertop" or something like that... ;)