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  1. Default Round trip: Los Angeles - 20 days

    Hi all!

    We are a couple from Belgium planning a road trip in September. Our flight departs in Belgium and we arrive in LA around noon on the 3rd. The plane back home leaves in LA the evening of the 23rd, so we have a total of 20 days. We're trying to put together an itinerary, but it's all very overwhelming and every other thing we find out about seems like a "must see", which makes it all the more difficult.

    We are very active people and would like to see a lot of outdoors stuff (i.e. national parks). The parks we definitely want to see are:

    - Bryce Canyon
    - Grand Canyon
    - Dead Valley
    - Zion
    - Yosemite

    We noticed on the U.S. national parks service website that there's a ton more parks all very near each other (i.e. Sequoia, King's Canyon, Mojave, ...). Which of those are a must see? Is there an overview somewhere of how long a visit to each park generally takes? Should we plan more or less of a full day for most of the parks or can some be visited in 2-4 hours (so we could do 2 in 1 day)?

    Another thing I'm struggling with is whether to visit San Fransisco or not. It seems like an interesting city, but it's also quite out of the way of many national parks we would like to see, so it might make us lose 2-3 days?

    So far, we don't really have something set in stone. We will take a tent with us and overnight at campsites as much as possible to cut costs. From what we've read, all the major parks have those available for cheap. If needed we can rent a motel room, but the less dependent we are, the better. So far, our itinerary is:

    day 1: Land in LA, go get rental car. Visit the city a bit, have a good night's rest.
    day 2: Take "Other way to Las Vegas" trip to Vegas. Arrive in Vegas & book a room somewhere (any recommendations?).
    day 3: Sightseeing in Vegas, probably spend another night.
    day 4 - 19: Planning problems! Help :)!
    day 20: Hand in car, fly back home.

    Basically, that's a good 2 weeks we're not sure about where to go. We would really appreciate it if you could give us trips about which parks/locations/villages/... are really worth it and how long visiting them would take. Once we know that, figuring out the order and finding places to spend the night should be easier.

    Thanks a lot!

  2. #2


    Fun fun, from Belgium!
    We're from the Netherlands, but we live in Houston. See my thread posted today, we'll be in the same area at the same time! And also 'camping', although it's an RV. Yosemite is fully booked for all of September, at least for RV's, but certainly worth it to go there. We'll be there only for one day, too bad.
    I don't know about San Francisco either but they say San Francisco is the most beautiful city in the US. So I just want to check it out. And then Highway 1 should be magnificent, so we take it South to LA and we hope to go on a whale watching cruise for a day.

    So I would say go West from LA towards Grand Canyon (south rim), maybe taking route 66. If you have time, go a little further to Monument Valley. If you're there, you can go 'back' to Vegas via the North rim of the Grand Canyon. Go to Las Vegas, Death Valley and Yosemite. This would be a large part of the "Other way to Las Vegas" backward. Then to San Francisco and back to LA.


  3. #3
    Join Date
    May 2011
    Southern California


    Remember that you are going to need TIME to adjust to jet lag. There's a lot of hours difference between Belgium time and Pacific time. Also, you will need some time to adjust to the traffic in Los Angeles. Saturday Sept 3rd is Labor Day weekend, so the traffic isn't going to ease up very much. You may want to hang about in LA until Monday the 5th.

    Then, I think I would go up to Yosemite, over the Tioga Pass and through Death Valley. Pass through Las Vegas then, and head north on I-15 to St George UT where you catch UT 9 over to Zion NP, then you can catch 89 N (I think that's the route number) up to Bryce Canyon. One day in each park is good. From there you can go up to I-80 in Salt Lake City, take it over the pass west to San Francisco, and drop down on CA 1 back to LA (allow 2 days to drive from SF to LA along that route).

    You'd be doing a lot of driving, but I think it's doable.


  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    South of England.

    Default To get you started.

    Hello and welcome to the RTA forums !

    Every National park is 'worth it' in my opinion, that's how they got there status in the first place. Of course many people have there favourites but it's what appeals to you that matters. A popular round trip would look something like this; LA>GC>Bryce canyon [possibly Monument valley]> Zion NP>Las Vegas>Death valley>Yosemite NP>San Fran> Coastal highway/[Big Sur/Cambria etc] back to LA.

    You can spend 2 to 4 hours just driving through a National park and some people are happy to jump out the car, take a picture and move on. At most of them you need a minimum of a full day and even that wouldn't do them much justice. I would plan on at least a day and a half at the Grand canyon, Zion and Yosemite.

    San Fran is a great little city with Alcatraz Island as a major attraction and fits nicely into a loop. What I would suggest is you look around the forums and road trip planning pages and once you have dotted out a rough plan we can help to 'fine tune' it with you. I

  5. Default

    Thanks a lot for the tips! Especially the estimates of 1 day for the small parks and maybe 2 for GC/Zion/Yosemite should help a lot. We're definitely not the kind of people that would be happy just driving though the parks, we want to walk around and see things.

    I'll try and put together a rough planning and get back here for some fine tuning tips. You've been a great help so far!

  6. Default

    So, I've been some time tinkering with possible trips, locations to visit, etc. What I've got right now is quite busy schedule, but it should just fit. Are there any things you guys would recommend we skip or do instead?

    The itinerary as it stands now can be found below. I tried adding expected times to the driving parts. Most of the days are planned to start only at 10 AM, which means that in reality, we can easily squeeze in an extra 2-3 hours by getting up earlier.

    When driving somewhere at the end of the day, I tried to plan so that we don't arrive any later than 18h30. We will try to sleep in a tent most of the time. I'm not quite sure what the latest accepted time is to arrive at a camping, could this be later or should we arrive earlier? I guess when sleeping in a motel we can arrive later?

    • September 3: Flight to Los Angeles
    • September 4:
      • Hang around Venice Beach, maybe visit something in the city
      • Recover from jetlag
    • September 5: Pick up car & drive to Grand Canyon
    • September 6:
      • Visit Grand Canyon (8h)
      • Drive to Page (3h)
    • September 7:
      • Visit Antelope Canyon (5h)
      • Drive to Monument Valley (2h30)
      • Maybe checkout Monument Valley a bit (At night?)
    • September 8:
      • Drive through Monument Valley (2h)
      • Drive on Moki Dugway towards Natural Bridges (2h)
      • Visit Natural Bridges (3h)
      • Drive to Moab (2h30)
    • September 9:
      • Drive to Arches National Park (1h)
      • Visit Arches National Park (7h)
      • Drive back to Moab (1h)
    • September 10:
      • Drive to Canyonlands (3h)
      • Visit Canyonlands
    • September 11: Visit Canyonlands
    • September 12:
      • Drive to Capitol Reef (5h30)
      • Visit Capitol Reef
    • September 13:
      • Drive to Bryce Canyon (3h)
      • Visit Bryce Canyon
    • September 14:
      • Visit Bryce Canyon in the morning
      • Drive to Zion (2h)
      • Visit Zion
    • September 15: Visit Zion
    • September 16:
      • Visit Zion in the morning
      • Drive to Las Vegas (3h)
      • Check out Las Vegas
    • September 17: Visit Las Vegas (Should we skip this?)
    • September 18:
      • Drive to Death Valley (3h30)
      • Visit Death Valley (1h30)
      • Drive to Kernville (4h30)
    • September 19:
      • Visit Sequoia National Park (5h)
      • Drive to Yosemite (5h30)
    • September 20: Visit Yosemite
    • September 21:
      • Drive to San Francisco (4h)
      • Check out San Francisco
    • September 22:
      • Check out San Francisco (6h)
      • Drive to Cambria (4h30)
    • September 23:
      • Drive to Los Angeles (5h)
      • Take plane home

  7. #7
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Green County, Wisconsin

    Default hour by hour errors

    A few things stand out with your planning.

    First, trying to plan things down to the hour is typically too specific to ever work in the real world, especially when it comes to the visiting attractions element. Its good to give yourself an estimate, but just keep in mind that things will change and will take longer. You've also already got several days where you are already thinking it will take more time than you'd have available if you really are having days where you are on the road at 10 and off the road at 6:30 (8.5 hours total)

    As far as how late you can set up camp, that depends basically on 3 things: The availability of campsites, the policies of the campgrounds, and your own tastes. In september, camping should be easier to find than during the peak season, but first come first serve sites could potentially fill up before 6:30 pm. Most campgrounds have some sort of quiet hours policy, but that's not usually a factor until 9 or 10 pm, which will be well after dark in your case. The other factor is your own tastes and how much daylight you like to have when setting up. (roughly speaking you'll be looking at a sunset of around 7-730 in september.)

    As far as the specifics, the one thing that really stands out as a question mark is Canyonlands. The park is huge and consists of 3 main areas, although only 2 have any visitor services: Needles and Islands in the Sky. If you are planning to visit Needles, then you should do that before you get to Moab, as the roads to get there are quiet a ways south (and on your way from Bridges). If you are going to Island in the Sky, then that would make sense after Moab, but it only takes about 45 minutes to get there from Moab not 3 hours. (Also Arches really is only a few minutes from Moab, although it could take an hour to drive back from the far end of the park.) You could certainly do both sections too, just break them up as appropriate.

    The other issue is Sequoia. Trying to go from Kernville to Yosemite via Sequoia NP would be a very long day, and really would take more time than you've given yourself. I suspect you've looked at the Sequoia National Forest or National Monument in making this plan, since it is a good 3+ hour drive from Kernville to Sequoia. I'd also think about skipping Kernville/Sequoia and just head up US-395 so you can include Tioga Pass into Yosemite as part of your plan. You can still see Sequoia trees in the Mariposa Grove of Yosemite.

    Finally, you need to factor much more time for the coast. SF to Cambria via the coast is a very full day all by itself, not the 4 hours you've got planned, and trying to spend 6 hours in SF before hitting the road simply won't give you nearly enough time to make this drive. Cambria to LA is also a full day drive via the coast, and if you need to catch a flight that day, you could have a problem.

  8. Default

    Thanks a lot for the tips! I've been going over the itinerary and made a few changes as per your remarks.

    What I changed is:

    A. The days concerning Canyonlands:
    • Sep 8:
      • Drive over Moki Dugway (2h)
      • Drive around Natural Bridges National Monument (3h)
      • Drive to Canyonlands (The Needles) (2h30)
    • Sep 9: Canyonlands (The Needles)
    • Sep 10:
      • Drive to Arches National Park (2h)
      • Visit Arches National Park (5h30)
      • Drive to Canyonlands (Island in the Sky) (1h30)
    • Sep 11: Canyonlands (Island in the Sky)

    B. The days concerning Yosemite & San Francisco:
    • Sep 18 :
      • Drive to Death Valley (3h30)
      • See Death Valley (1h30)
      • Drive to Bishop (4h)
    • Sep 19:
      • Maybe do some bouldering in Bishop (2h max)
      • Drive to Yosemite over Tioga Pass (3h)
      • Visit Yosemite (5h)
    • Sep 20:
      • Visit Yosemite (10h)
      • Drive to San Francisco (4h)
    • Sep 21: Check out San Fracisco

    C. My girlfriend wanted some extra non-park stuff. Do you think this is doable? I know it will be a very busy day.

    • Sep 14:
      • Bryce Canyon at early morning (2h30 max)
      • Drive to Wahweap Marina (3h)
      • Lake Power water fun (4h)
      • Drive to Zion (2h30 - arrive around 22h)

    Also, I have a question concerning the drive back from SF to LA over highway 1. I've done some extra research and can't find anything about this taking 2 days. A coworker spend the last 6 months in SF and is telling me that SF to LA is possible in 1 day. Why do you think we won't make it from San Francisco to Los Angeles over Cambria in 2 days? Due to the rescheduling with Yosemite, we will have a full day in San Francisco and thus will be ready to leave for Cambria as early as necessary, we got a full 2 days to get from SF to LA, nothing else planned.

    We plan to leave early in the morning in Cambria, it's about 240 miles to LA, which according to route planners should be doable in 4 hours. We want to be at LAX at 15h the latest (plane leaves at 17h45), so if we leave at 9 in Cambria that should give us a good 6 hours to get there. Do you think that is not feasible? We're not quite sure how much time to plan for handing in the car & getting from the car rental service to the LAX "main" building.

    Thanks a lot for all the tips so far!

  9. #9
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Green County, Wisconsin


    SF to LA can easily be done in one day - if you stick to the freeways. Via I-5 its a drive that can be done in 7-8 hours, give or take traffic in SF and LA. It can also be done in one day by US-101, which is a freeway for much of the distance, but it takes a few hours more than I-5.

    The problem is that you are talking about going via Cambria, which implies you are going via the Coast. The Pacific Coast Highway (CA-1) is one of the most scenic highways in the world, but it is very slow going, and sees quite a bit of traffic. A good rule of thumb is that the coast takes about twice as long as the freeway, which is true here as the SF-LA trip is about 14-16 hours of driving via the coast (not including the many sightseeing opportunities). I've never seen any reliable source ever suggest you could make that full drive in one day.

    As far as getting from Cambria to LAX, you're not doing that in 4 hours via any route. Again, if you are using computer programs, they don't reflex traffic and other slow downs that will always add more time to your travels, and even they suggest 4.5 hours. If you've got 6 hours, Then you're getting on US-101 and just going. I wouldn't plan to do any sightseeing at all, until you are in the neighborhood of LAX. Los Angeles traffic is constant, and the 405 is among the worst of them. That could easily add an hour or more to your travel time.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Melbourne, Australia

    Default It may not work.

    Your coworker is of course, quite right. SF to LA can be done in one day, a very long day. But that is flying down the interstate at speeds which will not give you time to see anything more than black bitumen with a white line on it.

    As Michael said, SF to LA via CA1, is two long days. And hope that you do not strike any hold ups (such as an accident up ahead). Even leaving Cambria at 9am (to me early is 6 or 7am), you could be pushing to make it to LAX in time for your flight. Less than three hours is simply not enough leeway to cover any unexpected holdups or emergencies, let alone your optimistic timing.

    Sometimes it has taken me hours from the Hollywood area to LAX. Then you need to drop off your rental car, settle the account, and wait for the shuttle to take you to the airport. (The rental places are not right at the airport.) Then queue at check-in, at security, etc., and you might find that the flight will be off without you.

    I would reschedule those last days.


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