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  1. Default Western US September-October


    We are planning a road trip in Western US for mid September - early October (~2.5 weeks), starting and finishing in Los Angeles. I want to hear your opinion and pick up some tips :-)

    Here's a brief outline:
    * Start in LA
    * Drive up to SF through SR-1, visiting Santa Barbara, Hearst Castle, a Big Sur hike and Monterrey on the way (2 nights lodging in SLO + Monterrey)
    * Spend 2-3 days in SF
    * SF to Napa, spend a night there
    * Napa to Lake Tahoe, hike, spend a night - perhaps American River rafting on the way
    * Lake Tahoe to Yosemite through I-395 and then I-120, hike and lodge at Yosemite
    * Yosemite to Las Vegas, through Death Valley (I-190 I think)
    * 4 nights in Las Vegas, a daytrip to Grand Canyon
    * Las Vegas to Joshua Tree, spend a night
    * Joshua Tree to San Diego, two nights there, a daytrip to Tijuana
    * Drive back to LA

    Part of the trip (until Vegas) it's my girlfriend and I only, and I'm the only driver. From Vegas we'll have two drivers. We're looking for a laid-back time and beautiful views, maybe a couple of hikes here and there.

    First off, I'd love to hear your comments about the itinerary, really, anything you might have to say would be valuable.

    Other than that I have a few questions:
    * Lake Tahoe - is it worth it? How cold would it be? South or North shore? Would I be better off just going through Fresno and I-120 from east? How bad is I-120 (the western side) that time of season? I come from a country with absolutely 0 snow, I don't want to chance snow-driving.
    * I'm a bit overwhelmed by Yosemite Park. Where to start? Where to lodge? I'm looking for maybe a 3-4 hour hiking, hopefully some green areas and glaciers would be cool, I'll have plenty of desert in Death Valley. Is Inyo Forest the same thing as Yosemite? Is one day enough?
    * Is I-395 a scenic route? Again, I'd prefer a "green" route rather than one with desert as I'll have that in Death Valley.
    * A car or bus for the daytrip to Grand Canyon?
    * Same for the daytrip in Tijuana
    * My current itinerary puts me in cities (LV, SF, SD) during weekdays. How bad is that? Should I make a big effort to slide it so I can be in cities during weekends?

    Thanks in advance!

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

    Default tweeks

    Welcome to the RTA forum!

    You've done an excellent job with the basic outline of your trip, but there are a couple things you need to consider.

    * Napa to Lake Tahoe, hike, spend a night - perhaps American River rafting on the way
    * Lake Tahoe to Yosemite through I-395 and then I-120, hike and lodge at Yosemite
    * Yosemite to Las Vegas, through Death Valley (I-190 I think)
    First of all, just from a language standpoint the "I" in a highway number stands for Interstate - the network of 4+ lane superhighways that cross cross the US. The other main highways either fall under US highways (like US-395) or State Highways (CA-120), which are usually, but not always, 2 lane highways. In other words, if you start asking people about I-395 in California, you're going to get some funny looks.)

    As far as your transit into/out of Yosemite, the challenge of visiting Lake Tahoe, Yosemite, and Death Valley, is that such a trip requires either backtracking or multiple crossings of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Tioga Pass (CA-120) is the highway through Yosemite that crosses the mountains, and since that's really the most logical way to get from Yosemite to DV, it would make more sense to use one of the other Sierra Passes to cross back from Tahoe to Yosemite. The other alternative would be to do Tioga into Yosemite from Tahoe, then leave Yosemite to the south and go around via the Bakersfield area, but I'd only do that if you were going to also add in Sequoia National Park.

    Your trip does fall at the start of the winter season in the higher elevations, so it is certainly possible that you could encounter a little snow, and its really not something you can easily avoid.

    * A car or bus for the daytrip to Grand Canyon?
    * Same for the daytrip in Tijuana
    My answer to both of these questions is neither.

    For the Grand Canyon, you're looking at 5-6 hours of travel each way from Las Vegas, that means you simply can't do a daytrip and really get to enjoy the massive place that is the Grand Canyon. I'd strongly recommend at least one overnight, either at the Canyon or in Williams AZ. In your case, I would leave Vegas in the afternoon, plan to spend 2 nights in Williams, arriving there one evening, and giving you all of the next day to enjoy and explore the Canyon. Then head back towards Joshua Tree/LA the following day.

    For Tijuana, I'd strongly consider leaving that off your agenda altogether right now. There is a major problem of violence in Mexico, especially in border towns like Tijuana where the drug gangs are at war with the police. If you do decide to go, use an extreme amount of caution, but personally, I'd leave it off the list for right now. I'll also note that driving a rental car into mexico will be forbidden, so your only choice would be to park near the border or take the Trolley from SD to the border.

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


    Yosemite really is an amazing place, but with your itinerary the way it is you will have little time there. By the time you have made the trip there from Tahoe and next day to Vegas via Death valley, which is a full day on the road. I would spend at least 2 nights there, perhaps one on the Western side and one to the East, stopping at Lee vining or Bishop on route to Vegas.
    There is a lot to Yosemite, but the main spots will be exploring the Valley floor, taking a drive up to Glacier point [must see views!] and time permitting, a trip to Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoia tree's near the South entrance, followed by the drive over Tioga pass and it's splendid views.

    As Michael suggested, getting the best from a visit to the Grand canyon is more than a day trip, and leaving Vegas a day early and spending a night at the canyon and witnessing a sunset is highly recommended.

    I can't see what difference it would make when you stay in the City's, mid week will be fine.

  4. Default

    Hey guys,

    Thanks a bunch for the tips - it's my second time here and I'm again surprised by the thought and efforts of the regulars for helping out the noobs like me :-)

    Definitely taken the points about cities and weekdays, grand canyon (now planning 2 nights at Williams, AZ and reconsidering Tijuana.

    I do have some follow up questions:
    (1) I'm basically contemplating either going to Lake Tahoe, then drive on the eastern side of Sierra Nevada, going in-and-out of Yosemite through CA-120, or just driving to Yosemite straight from San Francisco (through Modesto and through the eastern side of CA-120), either way continuing back to US-395 through CA-120. The latter would probably save me 1-1.5 days. Is Lake Tahoe worth it? At this time of season? How much of a difficult drive am I in for? We'll probably play this by ear and make a final decision when we're in San Francisco, but I would love to hear your opinion.
    (2) Yosemite. I heard so many things - June Lake, Half Dome, and now Lee Vining, Glacier Point, Mariposa Grove. Given one, or at most two nights, what would be the top priorities? Consider that we're used to desert views given where we hail from, and we would prefer the best view/hike ratio (i.e. minimum walk, maximum view, though we do want *some* walk) :-)
    (3) Inyo Nat'l Forest, Sequoia, Kings Canyon. We are missing (?) all three. Actually, I'm a bit puzzled by where each one (and Yosemite) starts and ends, I might be able to see Inyo on the way on US-395? Should I make a big detour for any of them?
    (4) How scenic/easy road is US-395? I see (thank you, Google Earth!) it's constantly at 6,000-7,000ft elevation. Is that bad? Good? I seriously have no idea.

    Thanks again, I'm really psyched for this trip!

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    South of England.

    Default Needing a map.

    Only you can decide whether or not Tahoe is worth it or not, based upon your time available and at what pace you want to see things. I am biased as Yosemite is one of my [if not the] favorite places I have been to and you can comfortably spend a couple of full days there.

    I would check out the Yosemite nps Website for all details on the areas to visit, but with short walks from the car or shuttle bus you can find splendid views like this one from Glacier point.

    I think you need to purchase a good map of the area and familiarise yourself with the area and terrain, google maps mapping program will give you a good idea, but a paper map when travelling is essential.

    The 395 is a scenic well paved road that won't present you any problems under normal circumstances.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    Joplin MO


    If you need to cut any attractions, Tahoe wouldn't be a great loss. It's not a major attraction with a lot of things to see, it's primarily a mountain resort. People go there to cool off and go boating in the summer, and to go skiing in the winter. They also go for the casinos on the Nevada side.

    If you do go to Tahoe, take US-50 from Sacramento to get there, and I'd recommend you return across the Sierras on CA-88 or CA-4 (considerably slower) to CA-49 to get to Yosemite.

    395 is a very scenic road as it passes along the eastern Sierras, and is generally a very easy road to drive. You can make good time on it.

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