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  1. Default Southwest USA road trip- Santa Fe to LA

    Hi there

    Firstly I’d just like to thank you for providing such a wealth of knowledge for inexperienced visitors to the US like me!!

    My wife, 7 year-old son and I have decided to take advantage of some cheap travel deals and fly out from Australia for a 17 day road trip around Southwest USA in June. I’ve got some business to do in Santa Fe first, but then we plan on hiring a car and driving to LA. We want to take in as much of the extraordinarily beautiful country you have in that region as well as any quirky Americana we can along the way.

    Our itinerary is as follows:
    Day 1 Santa Fe – Grand Canyon (sth rim)
    Day 2 Grand Canyon - walking
    Day 3 Grand Canyon (sth rim) – Monument Valley (View Hotel and Jeep tour)
    Day 4 Monument Valley – Grand Canyon (North Rim)
    Day 5 Grand Canyon (North Rim) – Vegas
    Day 6 Vegas – Death Valley (Amagosa Opera House and Hotel)
    Day 7 Death Valley – Kernville??
    Day 8 Kernville – Sequioa National Park (Three Rivers)
    Day 9 Three Rivers – Kings Canyon (Cedar Grove Lodge)
    Day 10 Kings Canyon – Yosemite (Curry Village)
    Day 11 Yosemite – walking
    Day 12 Yosemite – San Francisco
    Day 13 San Francisco
    Day 14 San Francisco
    Day 15 San Francisco – Big Sur (San Simeon?)
    Day 16 Big Sur- LA (Venice Beach)
    Day 17 LA (Venice Beach)

    I have a few questions about the route:
    Day 7/8: We would like to do a scenic drive from Death Valley to Sequoia National Park. I have read about the Sherman Pass road J41, but am I right in thinking that taking this road would be too long a drive from Death Valley to SQNP in one day? If we did take this route and decided to break it up, where would we overnight? Another option I see is taking the 178 to Lake Isabella and staying in Kernville, before heading up to SQNP, but I really can't figure out the best option.
    Day 12: can somebody suggest a scenic route from Yosemite - San Francisco?
    Day 15: Would San Simeon be a sensible place to break up the journey travelling between SF and LA?

    I sure would appreciate any advice or suggestions that you could give us, or any particulars that you might recommend along the way.
    Thanks again for your help

  2. #2
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Green County, Wisconsin

    Default workable options

    Welcome to the RTA Forum!

    Taking Sherman Pass to get from Death Valley to Sequoia would probably be a bit much for one day, but since you are giving yourself 2 days for this stretch, that would certainly be an option worth considering. You could still go back down to Kernville to spend the night, or you could continue through the Sequoia National Monument. I'm not sure how many lodging options there are in this area around say Johnsondale or Springville, but at the worst case, you could continue down into the Central Valley and stop in Porterville for the night. That would set you up for a very easy drive to the National Park the next day.

    Another option would be to completely rework this part and take Tioga Pass, going from Death Valley to Yosemite, and then double back south to Kings Canyon and Sequoia. Its not as direct, but its an amazing enough drive to consider.

    Keep in mind with either of these options, both Sherman Pass and Tioga Pass sometimes don't open until June, so you'll want to make sure that either of those options are actually a possibility. If they aren't, then taking CA-178 would be your best bet.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    South of England.

    Default Win, Win !


    With the options you have it's impossible to go wrong really, each one is amazing in it's own right. We really enjoyed driving up the Kern river highway from Kernville through Sequoia NM up through Johnsondale and Cedar slope. It was very scenic, peaceful and you will pass a quiet grove of Sequoia trees called "the Trial of 100 giants" which is great for a gentle stroll through the giant trees.

    A couple of other points; If you get an early start from the North rim try and find a few hours [or a night would be better] to visit Zion NP it's amazing. If you are planning on using I-15 to Vegas it's on route.

    The Amagosa Opera house is on the Vegas side of Death Valley and probably not an ideal location. To explore DV you will end up coming back on yourselves and then having to cross it again the following day. Stovepipe wells would be a more convenient location which is nearer the West side of the park. It's nice to see a desert sunset but you could get to Kernville the same day as another option to you.
    [making time for Zion ?]

    As you are visiting 4 National parks [5 with Zion included] the NP's annual pass to all parks for $80 will probably be cheaper than the individual fees for the 4 [def for the 5] parks. Check it out, you can purchase it at the entrance gate of the first park you visit.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    Joplin MO


    San Simeon or Cambria would be a very sensible overnight option. Try to allot time for a Hearst Castle tour.

    Time permitting - here's a couple scenic routes from Yosemite to SF:

    1. Take CA-49 north to US-50, go through Sacramento and pick up I-80.
    2. (Not as scenic but faster) Take CA-140 to Merced, CA-59 to CA-152, CA-152 over Pacheco Pass to US-101 to SF.

  5. Default

    Thanks everyone for your help.

    You've got me thinking now about the Tioga Pass option as this road sounds really beautiful. If we go that way then we'll be heading up there from Death Valley on June 15th. Is it usually open by then?

    Would you recommend staying at Lee Vining and crossing the pass the next day or trying to get into Tuolumne Meadows in the one hit?

    After a couple of days in Yosemite, we would then think about head down to King's Canyon and Sequioa for a night or two. It's a bit of backtracking to get back up to San Francisco that way, what do you think?

    Are there any particular places worth stopping at between SQNP and San Francisco, keeping in mind we'll be taking Highway 1 back down from SF to LA later?

  6. #6


    If you take the opening dates for Tioga Pass for the past 10 years you have a seven out of ten chance of it being open on the 15 June 09.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    South of England.

    Default A good chance.

    The odds are in your favour and it is indeed a spectacular drive as well as the most direct from Death valley to Yosemite.
    As for where to stay, that will depend on what time you get to Lee vining. You certainly won't want to be hurried over Tioga as there are plenty of stop off points with great views.
    You will need a day to visit Sequoia or Kings canyon in a relaxed manner but 2days would be better to visit both.

  8. Default

    How long would it take to drive from Lee Vining to Tuolumne Meadows Lodge?

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    Joplin MO


    The lodge is *scheduled* to open on June 12 this year - but that is always subject to change.

    The lodge is only 20 miles from Lee Vining, but it's a slow road. I would allow at least an hour, you have a park entrance station to go through.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Nov 2005
    The Great Midwest, Illinois to be precise

    Default Talking Quirky, Talking 66

    If you're looking for the quiky stuff, take Route 66. One alignment of the Mother Road goes through Santa Fe, and it would be a good way to get to the Grand Canyon, passing by the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest.

    Williams is called the Gateway to the Grand Canyon.

    Route 66 runs alongside I-40 so it's easy-off, easy-on.

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