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  1. Default Turning a Vegas Weekend into a 3 week Road Trip!? (AZ, NV and CA)

    *Warning – Extra Long Post (Hoping splitting it into parts has helped…)*

    Hi all.

    After lurking in the shadows for a couple of months now, I am finally stepping onto the forum stage. Thank you for a fabulous site! All of the posters here have already provided me with invaluable advice.

    I’m Scandinavian but am joining a group of American friends for a girls’ weekend in Vegas this May. However (given that getting to Vegas takes me 20 hours, two flight connections and nine time-zones) I’m hoping to make more of an adventure out of it, with my friends joining in for different parts.

    The only firm aspects of the trip so far are (i) I/we need to be in Vegas Friday 20th until Sunday 22nd, (ii) I cannot make it to America any earlier than the afternoon of Wednesday 18th, and (iii) one of my friends is based in San Francisco so I will be able to live there for free and use it as a “home base” for travels if desirable.

    At the moment I’m looking at a 2-3 week trip along the following lines.

    Part 1: 2.5 days: PHX to Las Vegas (via Sedona, Grand Canyon South Rim, Route 66 and Hoover Dam?)
    Part 2: 6.5 days: Weekend in Vegas, followed by Death Valley and Los Angeles
    Part 3: 3 days: Driving the up the coast from LA to San Francisco (this will be Memorial Day Weekend…)
    Part 4: 1 week+: With San Francisco as home base… Yosemite, Redwoods, Napa Valley +

    I apologies in advance for this long, slightly rambling, potentially too detailed post and hope that you will take it as a sign that I’ve tried to do my homework and read up on suggestions elsewhere on this forum. (Oh, and that I’m clearly somewhat anal retentive in the planning department…)
    I would love your advice on my current travel plan:

    Part 1: 2.5 days: PHX to Las Vegas (via Sedona, Grand Canyon South Rim, Route 66 and Hoover Dam)

    The non-negotiable stop in this part is the Grand Canyon. I would love to do a hike down to the river but given our time restraints this may be too rushed (?). The plan is to fly into Phoenix to avoid driving the Vegas-GC route twice. Arriving at PHX around four in the afternoon Wednesday (travel Gods permitting), our options are either to drive straight to the Canyon (probably getting there post-sunset but being able to enjoy a full day there the following day) or stop in Sedona on our way north.

    I stumbled across Sedona and Oak Creek Canyon in a travel article and would love to hear if you think it’s worth a visit. Fingers-crossed we would be able to make there for the sunset. If we do stay in Sedona the first night, I imagine it may be tempting to spend the morning there before continuing on? What hikes in Sedona would people recommend? (Cathedral Rock or is that just the ‘tourist solution’?) Is a jeep trip along the lines of what ‘Pink Jeeps’ appear to offer a fun option and time well spent? Or, are there better places to stop for the night on the way up to GC (not forgetting that we will be arriving at PHX rather late)?

    If we stay Wednesday night and possibly Thursday morning in Sedona, is it worth our time to stop in Flagstaff on our way to the South Rim? I know most hotels within the National Park are fully booked by now. How does staying in Tusayan compare to staying by the rim? I definitely want hike below the rim. We are in our late-twenties, work out regularly and are reasonably fit. However, I am worried that even if we drive straight to the Canyon Wednesday night, a full hike to the river (with Thursday night spent camping at the bottom) will leave us exhausted for our drive to and night out in Las Vegas on Friday. Is the experience of hiking to Skeleton Point and back on the South Kaibab (or something similar) even comparable to hiking all the way down?

    At the moment I’m thinking our best option may be getting to the Grand Canyon Thursday midday/early- afternoon and spending the day on the rim enjoying the view. Then Friday, getting up early for the sunrise and doing one of the hikes in the morning before it gets too warm. Being Nordic, I’m not great with heat and I don’t know quite what they mean when they say it gets ‘hot’… Could we just as well do the hike in the afternoon of Thursday? Are there any particular activities beyond Canyon-gazing that you would recommend while we are there? (Our weekend with the girls in Vegas may involve a helicopter tour of the Western rim so we don’t want to spend money on that here.)

    Friday evening we will be meeting up with the rest of the group in Vegas (approximately when is unknown).

    If we have the time, is it worth it to follow the old Route 66 from Seligman (via Peach Springs and Hackberry) to Kingman?

    I know very little about the Hoover Dam. Is there anything besides the actual dam worth stopping for there?

    Also, how horrible should we expect Friday afternoon/evening traffic into Las Vegas to be?

    (Phew… Part 1 question overload is over. I promise the rest will be shorter.)

    Part 2: 6.5 days: Las Vegas – Death Valley – Los Angeles

    What can I say, it’s Vegas. This part of the trip is a six-persons-planning-effort so I’m not worried about it, although I will of course be grateful for any tips/advise you would like to share (especially any good or bad Vegas-Grand Canyon heli-tour experiences). However, after the weekend of sin my list of companions becomes a little uncertain…

    DEATH VALLEY, ALT. 1: Assuming my friends are able to join me, the plan is to drive from Vegas to Death Valley (taking the scenic Old Spanish Trail) Sunday afternoon/evening. I’m hoping to spend two nights at Furnace Creek Ranch so that there is a full day of uninterrupted exploring. Any advice on what trails/drives are “musts” would be appreciated.

    The drive from Death Valley to LA is the part I’m a little apprehensive about as it is the longest drive. The plan is to drive west out of Death Valley and through Mojave and enter LA on I-5. Is this drive best just over and done with or are there stops along the way (ghost towns, scenic parts, etc) that people would recommend?

    DEATH VALLEY, ALT. 2: If my friends are unable to join me for this part of the trip, I am still very keen on seeing Death Valley. I have tried unsuccessfully to find information about companies that offer trips to the National Park that would accommodate for overnight stay. Do any of you know of any companies that do this as I am not sure I want to do this drive on my own…? (Even if I would drive from Death Valley back to Vegas and take a flight or bus to LA.)

    I initially wasn’t too keen on LA but I have now decided this is a potentially once in a life time opportunity to see a world city. The plan is to spend two, at most three, nights here. If anyone has any strong opinions on things to see or avoid here, I’d be happy to hear them.

    Part 3: 3 days: Pacific Coast Highway

    There are hundreds of posts about this route on here so I won’t ask you to repeat all of your advice. My only question is this: We will potentially be driving this route over Memorial weekend – how bad of an idea is that? I would love to be ‘flexible’ on this part of the route but we will undoubtedly have to pre-book all accommodation if going this weekend. The current plan is to spend a night in Cambria and a night in Big Sur. However, this is in no way fixed and all advice would be much appreciated.

    How does driving north on the PCH compare to driving south? (It may be that we can juggle days and routes around and spend time in San Francisco before flying out of California from LA. Thus, avoiding Memorial Day Weekend and driving down the coast rather than up.)

    I guess that makes it two questions on this part.

    Part 4: 1 week+: San Francisco and around.

    I will be staying with a friend here so am planning on some down time to allow me to explore the city at a leisurely pace. I want to see the redwoods and visit Yosemite, as well as potentially seeing some of the wine areas. I’m open for any advice you may have.

    My apologies for the extreme length of this post, if you seriously think it is too long and that I would be better off posting the different parts as separate posts, let me know.

    Thanks for taking the time to read. Any advice is much appreciated!

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

    Default details

    Welcome to the RTA Forum!

    Details are good. I won't respond to everything in one post, but a few things that stand out to me.

    First, I would recommend you not try to get to the Grand Canyon on the day you arrive, and I actually would recommend against even trying to make it as far as Sedona. If your flight arrives at 4, it is going to be 6 (heart of rush hour) by the time you get through customs and pick up your car, throw in the long flight and many hours of time change - your body is going to think that it is the middle of the night, so you'll really be best off staying right in Phx and resting up a bit before starting out on the road.

    Tusayan is basically the next best thing to staying on the rim - you're only a couple minute drive outside the park, but of course you pay for it. Expect to be paying $100+ per night for nearly every room.

    I've never hiked all the way to the bottom of the Canyon (and remember you need two days and a backcountry permit if you do decide to do that), but my last visit there I did hike down about a mile and a half I think. It is certainly an experience I'd recommend - just remember to bring water and that it is a hike where the second half (back up) is much more difficult than the first! The number of people I saw hiking in loafers and carrying bottles of Coke was kind of scary!

    Jumping to the end, I see a big problem with using SF as a home base to see everything you want to see. Nearly all of those places are really just too far away to do as daytrips. Yosemite is 4-5 hours each way from SF, and the Redwoods are basically a full day drive north of SF.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    Joplin MO


    I would definitely drive down the coast from SF to LA for 2 reasons - avoid Memorial Day weekend, and driving south the scenic pullouts will be on your side of the road.

    Now, there are 2 ways to approach the DV-LA segment.

    1. Go out the east or south side and take CA-127 to Baker, then Kelbaker Road through the preserve, past I-40, and into Amboy. Than take Amboy Road to 29 Palms. You have 2 choices from there - take CA-62 west to I-10, or go through Joshua Tree to I-10. This is a lot nicer than just taking I-15 all the way into LA.

    2. Go out the west side to US-395. Take that south to I-15 - or take CA-14 to I-5. Or - take CA-178 through Lake Isabella to Bakersfield, CA-99 to I-5.

  4. Default

    Thanks for your replies!

    Michael, your comment on Phoenix rush hour is a good one.

    Admittedly, I'm not too keen on waking up in an airport hotel on my first day and since my friend from New York would be doing the potential drive from the airport, my jet-lag would not be causing traffic hazards. Even so, you have a point.

    I've found a local Phoenix forum and am trying to get some details on what kind of traffic to expect. Regardless, a contingency plan involving a night in Phoenix should be made.

    Regarding Canyon hiking; Will sturdy trainers be sufficient if only doing a half-day hike? (I'd prefer not having to drag my hiking boots with me.)

    Glc, your comment on driving down the coast is noted! If we do this, the solution may be to fly from LAS to SFO after visiting Death Valley.

    If we decide to drive from DV to LA, what are the different highlights of the two routes you listed?

  5. Default

    Oh, and Michael, any trip from San Francisco to Yosemite will (as you said) obviously have to involve one or two nights stay in Yosemite.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    South of England.

    Default Thoughts.

    I agree with Michael, in that you should get rested on arrival. Even without the need to drive, the whole jet lag/ body clock thing could put you out of 'whack' for a few day's if you don't give it the time to adjust. If you got to a Motel by 6 or 7pm and had a meal and relaxed with a drink before turning in for the night your mind will most likely be ready to get up early and hit the road before the morning rush hour becomes an issue. By heading to Sedona and then having an evening meal and unwinding you most likely won't get to bed until close to Midnight, but there is a very good chance that with your body clock out, [and the excitement] you will still wake early and that can leave you feeling pretty exhausted all next day. That's my experience anyway after a long haul flight, but we are all different I guess.

    To get to the Grand canyon I would head North from Flagstaff on 89 and head head West on 64 through the East kiosk along Desert view drive. The drive has many viewpoints, the first being of wide open views of the Colorado river from the Old Watchtower and you should allow some time for the drive as it is a big part of the South rim experience. This takes you to the village area where you can take the easy rim trail walk and stroll while you enjoy the views. If you can find [and afford] lodgings in the park I would book them and maximize your limited time here. From the village you can hop on and off the free shuttle bus at the various viewpoints to Hermits rest and do some light walking. Leave GC by the South kiosk and through Tusayan and you have completed a loop of the South rim. It only gets really hot if you hike down into the canyon, the rim is at high elevation and cooler. With your limited time, the easy rim trails and views from them might be your best bet in my opinion.

    I would 100% recommend an overnight stay [or 2] in Yosemite, this is one of the gems of the National park system and worth a visit.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    Joplin MO


    I think I'd recommend you rearrange your various segments - the first one from PHX to LV is fine. From there, I think I'd go to DV, then to Yosemite and SF, then down the coast to LA. You could either finish your trip there and fly out of LAX, or drive back to PHX and fly out of there.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    South of England.

    Default Death valley to Yosemite.

    If it is possible to rearrange the order in which you visit places there as glc mentioned above, you will have to keep your route options open between Death valley and Yosemite. The popular, and most scenic choice [in my opinion] is to travel across the Sierra Nevada on CA120, the Tioga pass. This usually opens to traffic after snow plowing of the road is completed, which is usually between Mid May and end of June which coincides with your travel dates. It's not a big problem, but if still closed you would have to head around the Southern end of the Sierra's via Bakersfield.

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