California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah road trip in Autumn
Replies: 9 - Last Post: Nov 11, 2012 12:11 PM Last Post By: duffydj
Nov 9, 2012 8:51 AM
California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah road trip in AutumnHi there and thank you in advance for all the tips you're about to give me. If you're kind enough to give me some (: I know it´s still a long way to the trip, but we like to give ourselves plenty of time to plan it well.
So, me and a few friends (4 in total) are planning a trip to California at the end of September or early October. We are on a budget and we have two weeks. We are planning to arrive say on the 4th October 2013 and leaving at the end of the day on 19th October 2013.
So, we'll have roughly 15 days to explore the region. From reading through this forum I have compiled a preliminary route, with two options. Our interests are more into the countryside, nature, landscapes rather than cities, but we don't want to miss the best bits of SF, LV and LA.
We're planning on two options:
Option 1: Start and finish by car in Las Vegas
Option 2: Start and finish by car in San Francisco
I have few questions though, some perhaps more usual, some less.
I'll start with the typical
1 - Based on the time that I have available, is my itinerary reasonable enough or is too much for 15 days? If not, what you'll remove or what will you add?
2 - We're planning on camping, except in the cities. Is the weather still reasonable to camp in early October, particularly in Yosemite and the Canyon?
3 - Because we're into photography we'd like to have some tips around the best scenarios. For instance in Canyon is it better at sunrise or sunset? Is there some odd spots rather than the massive touristic ones such as the Grand Canyon skywalk?
4 - Do you recommend any particular company to buy liability insurance or should we buy it directly from the rental car company, if they have it?
So far, our preliminary route options looks like this:
Option Las Vegas
1. Arrive (las vegas- 20:00), sleeping in las vegas
2. Leave Las vegas for Grand Canyon south rim via Hoover Dam, sleep in Grand Canyon
3. Grand Canyon south rim, Painted desert, sleep in the area
4. Vermillion Cliffs, Lake Powell, sleep in the area
5. Grand Staircase National Monument, Bryce NP, sleeping in the area
6. Bryce and/or Zion NP, sleeping in the area
379 km (days 4 & 5)
7. Zion NP, sleeping in Las Vegas
8. Death valley and sleep on the way to yosemite, around mammoth lakes
9. Yosemite - drive via Mono lake, Mammoth lakes, sleep outside yosemite
10. Yosemite (in the NP) sleeping in Yosemite
11. Yosemite (in the NP) sleeping in Yosemite
12. San Francisco, sleeping in SF
13. Visit San Francisco, sleep san francisco
14. Drive south and stop along Big Sur, sleeping here
15. Drive to LA, visit Hollywood, beach, etc, sleeping in LA
16. Drive to Las vegas and catch the late flight back to our countries
44 hrs 22 mins / 3476.91 kilometers
Option San Francisco
1. Arrive (SF - 20:00), sleeping in SF
2. San Francisco, sleeping in SF
3. Drive to Yosemite, sleeping in Yosemite
4. Yosemite (in the NP) sleeping in Yosemite
5. Yosemite (in the NP) sleeping in Yosemite
6. Yosemite - drive via Mono lake, Mammoth lakes, sleep somewhere on the way to Death valley
7. Death valley and sleep in Vegas
8. Leave Las vegas for Grand Canyon south rim via Hoover Dam, sleep in Grand Canyon
9. Grand Canyon south rim, Painted desert, sleep in the area
10. Vermillion Cliffs, Lake Powell, sleep in the area
11. Grand Staircase National Monument, Bryce NP, sleeping in the area
12. Bryce and/or Zion NP, sleeping in the area
379 km (days 10 & 11)
13. Zion NP, sleeping in Las Vegas
14. Drive to LA, visit Hollywood, beach, etc, sleeping in LA
15. Drive north and stop along the way, stopping perhaps around Big Sur, sleeping here
16. Drive and arrive early in San Francisco, visit San Francisco and catch the late flight back to our countries
44 hrs 13 mins / 34469.39 kilometers
Nov 9, 2012 10:14 AM
First, I'd go with the xSF option. It means you can avoid having a car there. (Pick one up as you leave, drop off when you return).
I see no reason to go to xLA if you're not really going to spend much time there. It's out of the way, traffic-choked, and sprawling. All of these add up to eat time that could be spent elsewhere.
While it's unlikely while you're there, be aware that the Tioga Pass Road closes in winter. An early storm could close it (at least temporarily) as well.
Many people seem to think there's more to xLake Powell than there is for a trip this quick. You're likely going to look at the lake, then quickly move on.
You can save yourself some driving time by visiting the north rim instead, if you're there by the 15th (after which the services close).
You don't really have time for xGrand Staircase-Escalante.
Along the coast, consider overnights in xMonterey and xSan Luis Obispo. The latter especially if it's a Thursday night.
It can get quite cold for camping, especially at higher elevations (e.g. xBryce and xTuolumne Meadows). If you're prepared, you can still do it.
Some foreign brokers or foreign version websites of the rental company may include insurance in your rental costs. Consider those.
Nov 9, 2012 10:30 AM
2I think your itinerary would be too busy for most people, but not everyone.
Avoid the Grand Canyon "West Rim", Skywalk, etc. - just go to South (or North) Rim. Hopi Point is the classic South Rim sunset view, for good reason, but almost any South Rim point is good. I particularly like Lipan and Pima. On North Rim, Cape Royal is especially good for sunrises, all three major points (Royal, Imperial, Bright Angel) are good for sunsets. North Rim might save you a little driving, if you are going to Bryce and Zion.
Grand Staircase is mostly (not entirely) a hikers' park. Given your schedule, I wouldn't go out of my way to see the Painted Desert (you do pass through a somewhat subdued corner heading from South Rim up toward Lake Powell).
Don't be surprised by sunrise temperatures at or a little below freezing at Bryce in early October. As cold as -10C at sunrise would be very unlikely, but has happened a few times. Generally speaking, sunrise temperatures at Grand Canyon would be about 4C milder at sunrise than at Bryce.
Campsites are reservable at Yosemite, Grand Canyon, and Zion. You may want to reserve - the California experts can tell you how vital it is to reserve Valley campsites well ahead in October in Yosemite (it is vital in the summer to try to do so at the very hour reservations open).
Nov 9, 2012 11:22 AM
3Regarding Yosemite reservations:
Reservations for indoor lodging inside the park (including the tent cabins at Curry Village) opens 366 in advance. If you're planning a visit for next October, you can and should reserve today.
Reservations for camping inside the park open up 4-5 months in advance. Find the exact date here, and make your reservations on the very day they open up.
Nov 10, 2012 6:28 AM
4Hi guys and many thanks for the replies so far.
I have to confess that I was more leaned towards the option Las Vegas, because my though was: arriving in the evening would make a good timing to visit Las Vegas at night and then depart to Grand Canyon the day after, but your strategy of San Francisco also makes sense.
But we have to buy 4 tickets to and from the airport. No sure if that saves money compared with renting a car immediately in the airport.
Regarding LA, I'm not keen and the way that I see I could save time would be (in the option Las Vegas) take in the inbound fight to the US to Las Vegas and departing from LA. But would have to figure out how to get a good fare and also the rental drop fee.
So, Lake Powell is just a quick visit and that's it?
Regarding Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, it looks amazing, but i´s huge, I just realised. Nearly 1.9 Million Acres!
Do you think there´s a way to just venture into one of the viewing points and then move one? I understand there´s no way we would have time to explore by foot…
If I drop Zion or Bryce will I have time to explore a bit of the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument?
Or dropping Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument and go to Monument Valley?
I was keen to camping everywhere, except in the cities. What do you mean by cold? (:
Thanks for your tips regarding sunset and sunrise spots. Very useful!
I had a look at some of the points, it looked like the Desert view is where you can check the Colorado river flowing trough the Canyon? Or is there a better point to view this and what time of the day is better?
And is there a place where you can get to bottom of the Grand Canyon? I don´t mean driving, I believe that would be impossible (:
So you would advise against camping in Bryce in October? But warm enough for Yosemite and Zion?
I´ve checked the lodges at Yosemite, but they´re quite expensive…I guess I will go with camping (:
Nov 10, 2012 7:11 AM
5There is a hostel not far from the entrance ot Yosemite Yosemtie Bug
Nov 10, 2012 7:22 AM
6Try carhire3000 for your car rental. They rent from the majors and will include all the insurance needed and can often get one way dropoff fees waived. They get good reviews over on Trip Advisor from folks from the UK and elsewhere.
You want at least two nights on Highway 1 and if you truly only have one night, then you need to stay further south, like Cambria. However I think you will kick yourself if you choose to do only one night and have to drive by a lot of places you would otherwise like to stop at and maybe hike.
Nov 10, 2012 12:22 PM
Lake Powell is vast, with more miles of shoreline than the west coast of the US. But virtually none of it is accessible without a boat. So yes, if you're just driving by there is not much to see or do immediately at the lake. There is a good camground at Waheap Marina though. Many people stop at Page to visit Antelope Canyon or Horseshoe Bend view of the Colorado River
Well, it's not really that kind of park. There are many scenic views to be had from the roads that cut through it, mainly highway 12, the Burr Trail and Cottonwood Canyon Road. Only Cottonwood Canyon Road is really convenient for your route, and that road is a gravel road that is only suitable for passenger cars if conditions are dry. The visitor center in Cannonville will have the latest road conditions and information on several very nice short hikes in the area. Also a stop at the old Paria Townsite movie set is worthwhile, just off Hwy 89 - incredibly colorful rock formations there.
I wouldn't do that if you haven't been to Bryce or Zion before.
That's up to you. If you have a day or two to do stuff, I'd certainly prefer GSNM. If just a drive by...well, MV is still a long way to detour, I'd personally probably check something out at GSNM, but it's not such a clear-cut decision.
So you would advise against camping in Bryce in October? But warm enough for Yosemite and Zion?
You will likely encounter overnight lows below freezing at Bryce in October, and almost as likely at GC south rim also. Having lived and camped in the general area for more than a decade, I've experienced many wonderful warm sunny autumn days with pleasant cool nights...I've also been snowed on in October. The former is more typical, but you can't be unprepared for the latter.
You get the best view of the Colorado River from Desert View and Lipan Point, but many others have partial views all the way down to the river. All the viewpoints are spectacular, regardless of how well you can see the river. All viewpoints are better in the morning and evening, when the low sun angle and warm lighting accentuates the canyon's relief and color.
There are no fewer than 6 major trails that go to the River from the South Rim. Every one, even the highly engineered and well maintained "corridor" trails (Bright Angel and South Kaibab) presents a a very long and difficult day hike, really something that only very avid hikers should consider.
FWIW, there actually are two places where you can drive either all the way, or very nearly all the way, to the Colorado River within the Grand Canyon, but both are in remote areas of the western part of the Park, and not suitable for rental cars.
Nov 10, 2012 9:51 PM
8Either route is absurd. All the more since you call yourself photographers. There is a very real truth you are failing to appreciate: The harder you try to 'see all the must see places' the LESS you will see. Be sure to pick a car you all like - most of your memories will be of driving....
Drop at least half the destinations. This will allow more than a few hours to get out of the bleeping car and immerse yourself in the scenery. If you do that, you might actually manage to make some interesting images. There is no 'correct' answer to your Grand Canyon question - why don't you stay for a few days and find out for yourself?
Lake Powell in a few hours, sure, why not! There's an overlook a few miles west of town. Drive a mile or two to the site, jump out and take a few potshots. That's it, you're done! On to the next check list item! (Never mind that you could EASILY spend the entire 14 days exploring the amazing variety of spectacular scenery located within 50 miles of Lake Powell. Instead, you will get in the car and piss away half a day hurrying off to see the Next Big Thing.)
Two weeks sorta, BARELY enough for something like SF - Yosemite - 395 (Bodie, Mono Lake, June/Convict/* lakes, Bristlecone Pine Forest, Devil's Postpile, Alabama Hills, ETC....) - a day or two in DV (DV alone is worth a week if you're willing to take short day hikes to photogenic destinations) - and then back to SF, perhaps via Lake Isabella. Even that is rushed; to add a huge chunk of freaking Utah is a joke.
Or take 14 days and do a quick-and-dirty redrock loop from Vegas to N. Az and S. UT. Again, there are hundreds of worthy destinations that can be visited without driving halfway across the bloody state and back.
Nov 11, 2012 12:11 PM
9Hi guys and thanks again for your time and patience to reply.
Having looked at your suggestions and my initial route I decided already to drop both Escalante and Bryce. Not because they're not worth it, but because I don´t have the time, so I would prefer to spend more time in other places and spend less time on the road.
Yes, it will still be a lot for the time frame, but unfortunately (like most of us) I don´t have more time for this trips. And yes, I'm a photographer, but I also like to shut down the camera and see, even if for a brief moment. When the memory card is full I still have my memory (:
Thanks also to geo_nerd for giving hard but serious advice. Yeah, sometimes we want to see more than we can.
I've included a stop in San Luis Obispo, more time at Zion NP and in LA. I've managed to reduce from the initial 3,400 km to roughly 2,600km. It gives around 170km a day, but for most of the days I won't be driving at all or only minor distances.
In some places I realise there's (such as Death valley) there's not much time, but I have to drive by, so I will sneak it and that's it.
My itinerary now looks like this:
2 nights in Las Vegas
1 night in LA
2 nights in San Francisco
3 nights in Yosemite
2 nights Big Sur
2 nights in Zion
1 night in Death Valley
2 nights Grand Canyon area
1 - Arrive (las vegas- 20:00), sleeping in las vegas
2 -Leave Las vegas for Grand Canyon South rim via Hoover Dam, (Hopi Point, Lipan, Pima) sleep in the Grand Canyon area
3 -Drive to Vermillion Cliffs, Lake Powell, sleep in the area
4 -Drive to Zion NP, sleeping in the area
5 - Zion NP, sleeping in the area
6 -Zion NP, drive to Las Vegas, sleeping in Las Vegas
7- Drive to Death valley and sleep on the way, perhaps in Bishop
8- Drive to Mammoth lakes, Mono lake, sleeping in Yosemite
9 -Yosemite (in the NP) sleeping in Yosemite
10 -Yosemite (in the NP) sleeping in Yosemite
11 - Drive to San Francisco, visit San Francisco, Alcatraz, sleeping in SF
12 -Visit San Francisco, sleep san francisco
13 -Drive south and stop along Big Sur, sleeping here
14 -Drive south and stop along Big Sur, sleeping in San Luis Obispo
15 - Drive to LA, visit Hollywood, beach, etc, sleeping in LA
16 - Visit LA and catch the late flight back to our countries
Be sure to pick a car you all like - most of your memories will be of driving....
Cool joke (:
Las VegasBook now
(3 star Hotel)
From US$99.00 per night
Las VegasBook now
(3 star Hotel)
From US$89.00 per night
San FranciscoBook now
(3 star Hotel)
From US$225.91 per night