California, Nevada, Utah Road Trip...
Replies: 18 - Last Post: Aug 9, 2013 11:28 AM Last Post By: FlagStuff
Aug 4, 2013 3:25 PM
California, Nevada, Utah Road Trip...Hi all,
I wanted to share with you a trip to california that we are planning - and would love your feedback. We are planning on staying for the full 90 days for visa allocation - but will be going to Hawaii for around 25days at the end.
The main purpose for this trip is to experience California and beauty of the national parks and coastline - we are keen photographers, surfers, generally love being outdoors and are in our mid to late 20's
We really would like to figure out the best time to do this trip in terms of weather/climate...We have 2 options as to when we can go either mid - late September til December or March til June?
We really wanted your advice/opinions on when is better to go and also on the route and places not to miss along the way.
Fly into Los Angeles and pick up a rental car - sleep there for 2 nights to get over jet lag!
Then begin to travel up highway 1 to Santa Barbara and stay for 3 days -
Pismo Beach for 1 night
Santa Cruz for 5 days - also to incorporate Monterey, Big Sur etc...
San Francisco for 7 days, wanting to rent an apartment as this I think will be cheaper? - any must see things in the city?
(the coast line above, we are really excited about exploring, so any tips and places we need to visit would be greatly appreciated)
Leaving San Francisco, we plan on picking up a camper van in order to do the next leg of the journey heading up to Redwood National Park to stay for 2 days
Travel down to Lake Tahoe for 3 days
Yosemite National Park for 4 days - any tips on what campsites are good? and what parts of the park not to miss? Would mid October be to late to go to this park as i've heard snow can fall early and close some roads and also would it be too cold to camp?
Death Valley for 2 nights
Las Vegas for 2 days - I think it would be worth staying in a hotel here as it's a major city rather than camper van?
Zion National Park for 3 days - Also another park I am really interested in exploring and photographing
Bryce Canyon for 2 days - I am unsure of the weather for the time of year I want to go here?
Antelope Canyon for 2 days - Again another place I am really interested in photographing - also really want to get into The Wave, if anyone has any tips?
Grand Canyon for 3 days - will it be to cold here?
Flagstaff for 1 night - to break driving up and sleep!
Palm Springs for 1 day
Then head back to Los Angeles and drop off camper van and pick up rental car...
Heading out of Los Angeles planning on staying in Laguna Beach for 2 weeks in an apartment - to relax and surf :) and explore the southern coast of California.
Then head to Hollywood hills and stay in an apartment for 5 days to experience the hustle and bustle of Hollywood and also be close to the airport to catch a flight to Hawaii.
Please see below the link to the rough route of our trip:
Thanks in advance for any help/advice etc!
Aug 4, 2013 5:33 PM
1You are not allowing enough driving time between some of these sites.
March is good for backpacking down to Phantom Ranch in the Grand Canyon. There may be snow on the rims and maybe some snow flurries, but warmish in the canyon. Part of March or April there will be school Spring Breaks that may cover 2 weeks, before and after Easter -- schools don't all take their breaks at the same time to alleviate crowding at vacation resorts. Havasupai Indian Reservation is nearby the Grand Canyon and has spectacular turquoise waterfalls against red clay soil cliffs. You would need reservations and it is more than 8 miles backpack hike into canyon from parking lot. The Wave had 3 deaths during July 2013, due to 106F degrees heat and getting lost. Only 20 hikers per day, 10 are first-come-first-served to do the hike. Otherwise, permits are by lottery.
There will still be snow in the Sierra Nevada -- Lake Tahoe and Yosemite National Park in March and maybe April. The Tioga Pass Road in Yosemite National Park, on Highway #120, is usually closed due to snow until the end of May. I preferred the campgrounds near Yosemite Falls. There is a free shuttlebus throughout the Valley. You will need to carry snow chains for the car/camper.
Highway #1: Near Stinson Beach, Audubon Canyon Ranch is open on weekends in March and April to see the nesting blue herons and egrets. Visitors are allowed to walk along the paths throughout the Ranch to see wildflowers and wildlife. Nearby is Point Reyes Bird Observatory in Bolinas, where visitors may watch ornithology interns retrieve migrating songbirds from mist nets to identify, band them, log information on them, then release the birds. Bolinas and Point Reyes National Seashore are very scenic for photographers. Mendocino was the backdrop Maine whaling village in the TV series Murder She Wrote It originally was a California whaling village with spectacular views of the ocean cliffs. Jughandle Creek State Park, just north of Mendocino, has stunted trees due to the calcified layer of soil caused by acidic water leached from Labrador tea shrubs. Roses and bog plants with insect-eating plants. Rhododendrons also love the acidic soil. Very pretty in the Spring. Walk through Muir Woods, redwood grove near Stinson Beach. Sausalito -- artsy, watch yachts sailing on the San Francisco Bay under the Golden Gate Bridge.
Highway #116 from the mouth of the Russian River at Highway #1 -- follow it inland past Guerneville (artsy community), redwood grove, Forestville, Sebastopol (artsy, dairies, Gravenstein apple orchards). Take Highway #12 back west through Bodega (Hitchcock's Birds ) and Bodega Bay on Highway #1. Next south is Point Reyes Station (farming village near George Lucas' Skywalker Ranch Studio on Lucas Valley Road). Access roads to Point Reyes National Seashore.
If you wish to see Sonoma County and Napa County wineries -- drive Highway #12 east through Santa Rosa.
There are many State Campgrounds along Highway #1, in Northern California south through Big Sur. There are also campgrounds south of Laguna Beach to San Diego. You may wish to keep the camper. There is extra cost to return a vehicle to another agency hundreds of miles from where you originally rented it.
Edited by: trekker502
Aug 4, 2013 5:51 PM
Aug 4, 2013 8:49 PM
Aug 5, 2013 2:10 AM
4I can ensure you we are not trolls! We are genuine travellers who really would appreciate your help and advice...
Our budget is roughly $16k at a stretch between both of us... this will include flights etc... naturally we would like to try and save as much money as possible! This has been a trip that we have wanted to do for a long time - we both got made redundant so we have the time and some funds to be able to do this. Do you think it is to ambitious?
trekker502 thank you for all your information - it's great.
ianw705 - yes correct... :)
Thanks again in advance for all your advice.
Aug 5, 2013 2:28 AM
Aug 5, 2013 3:33 AM
Aug 5, 2013 5:23 AM
7Fair enough ... and bring your wetsuits with you.
Can I suggest you use Excel - and list every night from arrival to departure for Hawaii, and put down where you plan to sleep each night ... it's a good exercise and focuses your planning efforts very well.
I agree with trekker - and her assessment that some of your timing between well-spaced national parks is insufficient, and in contrast, some of the time allocations in the first week or two seem to be over-generous. So you need to do some balancing.
In terms of timing, there are good reasons to travel in both April and September, and it is hard to come down firmly for either option.
Aug 5, 2013 8:58 AM
8mmmmm, Ok, I'll bite again, what the heck. Let's say 2000 for the flight for both of you, that leave 14k for 90 days which is 155 bucks a day for 2 people. That's a very tight budget for the states and you want to rent 2 cars, a camper van for 25 days, a 2 week apt. in Laguna and a 5 day apt. in Hollywood before you go to Hawaii for 25 days, am I close? Yes, too ambitious is a good way to put it.
You might get by for 90 days at 155 p/day if you stay on the mainland and are very frugal, cheap rent a car and a combination of tent camping and Motel 6 lodging or just travel for 60 days and the 233 p/day will be a good budget. I would drop Hawaii.
Aug 5, 2013 9:38 AM
9The rainy season in California runs roughly October-May. Significant rain is rare until mid-November, and is unlikely after early May. The rainiest months are Dec-Feb. That is also the coldest time of year.
It's not like monsoon rains, where it rains every day at 4 PM or something. It is a series of individual storms, where it rains constantly for a day or two, then is clear for a day or two--or a week or two. There can be back-to-back-to-back storms where there is continuous rain for several days
As you go from south to north, it rains more and the rainy season is longer, so, for instance, San Francisco averages more rain than Los Angeles; Redwood National Park is wetter than SF. .
In terms of your visit, a lot depends on what you want to do. If it's skiing or other snow sports, then you want to be there before March. If you are interested in whitewater rafting, then it's May & June. That's also the time for the peak waterfall slow in Yosemite.
The road through Yosemite over the mountains is usually closed from mid-November to late May. You can see the historical open & close dates here
Chart of temperatures in Yosemite Valley
The plural of anecdote is not data.
Aug 5, 2013 9:40 AM
10So, if I read this correctly, it looks like the general outline of your trip, as it is now, approximately looks like:
2.5 weeks - arrive LA, travel up coast to San Fran with lengthy stops
3.5 weeks - large driving loop up to Redwoods, Lake Tahoe, Yosemite, back through Utah and Grand Canyon to LA
2.5 weeks around LA
3.5 weeks Hawaii
It is pretty clear to me, even given your interest in the coast and surfing, that you've given far too much weight to the cities and coastline, and not nearly enough to your long trip through the mountains and deserts. I also agree with the comments above, you're not really accounting for driving between the stops on your national Park tour - these places are in many cases a half-day, or full-days drive from each other. It all adds up to lots and lots leisurely time in the coastal cities, punctuated by a long but somewhat hurried road trip in the middle. I'd consider, just for starters, shaving some time off your time on the beach and city, and adding at least a week to your National Parks loop. You won't notice any rush in San Fransisco or LA, where you have plenty of time, but you will notice a marked improvement in your road trip - you'll be able to see more places, and make better use of each visit. I think you should re-structure this in a general, big picture way, and then revisit the details.
As far as the time of year, October is far and away the best time of year to tour the parks of Arizona and Utah. April is fine as a decent second-best, but October is really superior. Early autumn is also a really nice time of year on the California coast. If you get through the coast and Yosemite early enough in October, you shouldn't have any trouble with snow or extreme cold (certainly not in Yosemite Valley).
Regarding your specific questions:
Las Vegas for 2 days - I think it would be worth staying in a hotel here as it's a major city rather than camper van?
You're mixing "days" and "nights", which makes it hard to figure out exactly how much time you're talking about. But regardless, although Death Valley will still be uncomfortably warm during the afternoon in October, it is absolutely worth a drive-through, and prehaps an early-morning or late evening hike. You defintely want to stay in a hotel in Vegas. Americans generally do not camp in or very near major cities - camping is viewed as a way to experience nature, not as a low-cost lodging alternative. So the "campground" options near large cities are generally either non-existant, inconvenient, and/or less than desireable.
Antelope Canyon has two sections, each of which is accessible only by short guided tours. This won't even fill one whole day. Antelope is very well marketed and advertised, but it is far from the only, or the best, slot canyon in the region. If you want to do it, fine - but don't give over too much time to it, and consider spending your time persuing other slot canyons where you can explore and photograph at your leisure, rather than being rushed through as part of the herd.
I am simiarly lukewarm on The Wave. The Wave really is something to see, but I don't consider it more interesting than any one of a dozen other spectacular locations in the region. Go ahead and try to get a permit, maybe even make an effort to get a walk-in permit if you want. But don't plan your whole trip around it. For one example, from the very same trailhead as the Wave, you can hike into upper Bucksking Gulch, a superb slot canyon hike with no tours or permit hassles to contend with.
Generally, I'd add time and restructure your trip so that you can lengthen the Utah loop to include the Moab area - Arches and Canyonlands are not to be missed, especiaclly for people with your interests, and I can't imagine it is not worth the tradeoff of a few days in a condo in LA.
I, and others on this board, will have many more specific suggestions for how to make the best use of your time on your tour through the parks, but I'm going to hold off until the next iteration of the itinerary to see what we're working with.
Edited by: FlagStuff
Aug 5, 2013 8:50 PM
Aug 5, 2013 9:26 PM
12Your itinerary looks good. It can be rainy in either spring or fall, it's somewhat hard to guess in advance. If you're going in the fall, I'd go north to south, in the spring, vice versa. It's considerably more rainy around San Francisco than in L.A. basin. You cannot camp in Bryce in those seasons, it's too cold. And you'll want the south rim of the Grand Canyon, as the north rim is either closed or too cold. At the Grand Canyon, I recommend staying at the larger Motel 6 in Williams, AZ, it's a short drive from the Grand Canyon--or trying to get a room at Bright Angel Lodge, right on the rim, but it sells out far in advance so check now and see about getting a reservation. You might want to check out Canyon de Chelly, it's a reasonable distance from your Arizona destinations and it's really cool. You must hire a Navajo guide to take you in there, but that's part of the adventure. I would check out the chain of Hostelling International HI hostels that go up and down the coast of California, even if you dont' want a dorm room, they all have private rooms, too, and then you have a nice kitchen to cook in. I recommend the HI Fisherman's Wharf hostel which I've stayed in, it's a gorgeous location with a view of the Golden Gate Bridge. They have a sister hostel also over the bridge at the Marin Headlands. As to ending your trip in Laguna, I would say that two weeks in Laguna would best be enjoyed at the end of spring, when it will be warmer, though the weather can be quite freaky and you can get warm weather in December, too. Christmas in Southern California can be pretty trippy with a lot of holiday lighting. I also would suggest Joshua Tree National Park, particularly the area called the "Wonderland of Rocks" and "Indian Cove" as great places to camp and photograph. If you camp, you have to bring your own water and reservations are strongly advised. Good luck!
Aug 5, 2013 11:24 PM
Aug 5, 2013 11:34 PM
14I don't make a habit of pointedly correcting others' posts...but...
One campground at Bryce is open all year. nighttime temps are indeed getting quite cold by the end of October, although with a campervan and good sleeping bags it is certainly doable - it is up to the OP to decide what is "too cold" for camping. Bryce Climate Data
The entrance station and all the lodges and restaurants close on October 15 (or thereabouts), The park is still technically open until sometime in November when the staff packs up and leaves, although you may enter the park and use the campground even after the park officially closes... until the highway closes for the winter (the first major snow, usually in November or December).
This is craziness. There are a dozen other hotels and several large campgrounds, both inside the park and just outside the park entrance, that you should consider before deciding to stay an hour away in Williams. not to mention unlimited National Forest land surrounding the park where you can camp in the campervan for free if you so choose. For a three-day visit to the south rim, you should stay as close to the rim as possible, preferably inside the park. in October or November, this will not be a problem.
Canyon de Chelly is about a 4-hour drive from the South Rim. I suppose this is reasonable, more or less, in the big picture. I do recommend including it, but only if you manage to make the larger loop I suggested. Otherwise, I wouldn't say it is worth the 8-hour roundtrip detour. there is one hike you can do without a guide, it is short but very good. I do recommend hiring a guide to take you into more remote sections of the canyon, if you have money for that sort of thing.
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