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  1. Default Loop route through CA, AZ, UT, NV - looking for advice

    Hi! I'm a student from New Zealand doing this loop in late June / early July. I'll be camping on BLM/National Forest land for the most part, and using cheap motels where I have to. If anyone could take a quick look over this itinerary I'd really appreciate it - I'm mainly concerned about nighttime temperatures for camping (I've heard it gets really cold at night in the desert) and whether I'm biting off more than I can chew time-wise. I'd also appreciate suggestions for cool things to see / places to eat along the route.

    Day 1: Arrive LA early morning, spend the day seeing a few things and head to Big Bear Lake in the afternoon

    Day 2: Drive from Big Bear to Sedona, AZ and camp nearby

    Day 3: Drive from Sedona to Grand Canyon, day at GC, camp nearby

    Day 4: Drive from GC to Valley of the Gods, UT via Monument Valley.

    Day 5: Drive to Moab, UT and camp in Canyonlands NP (I have a backcountry permit)

    Day 6: Looooong drive from Canyonlands to near Bryce canyon, via Goblin Valley & UT-12. I'm considering breaking this up into 2 days as it will be a massive drive.

    Day 7: Hiking in Bryce Canyon and then driving to Dixie NF; camping off UT-14.

    Day 8: Drive to Zion NP and spend the day hiking; camp or motel near Springdale

    Day 9: Drive to Great Basin NP and possibly further along the I-50 in Nevada

    Day 10: Drive to Lake Tahoe

    Day 11: Drive to Yosemite

    Day 12: Yosemite

    Days 13-17: Driving across to the Calif. coast and down the PCH.

    As you can see I'll have a few days to spare at the end there, so if there are parts you think are too rushed hopefully I can ease that out a little.

    Thanks for looking!

  2. #2
    Join Date
    May 2011
    Southern California


    Welcome to RTA!

    Your trip looks well planned out. The only flaw I see is in some of your camping thoughts. Bear in mind that many of those campgrounds will be full by 9 am. You may want to have reservations in Big Bear, Springdale, Lake Tahoe, Yosemite, Grand Canyon, and in any state park campground along the California coast. Also, it will depend on WHERE you want to camp in the Sedona area. The area has been very near to a major fire in very recent weeks, so you may want to be more specific so we can help you determine whether the campground you were counting on, is actually open and not smelling like a major campfire.


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

    Default A brisk pace.

    Hello and welcome to the RTA forums !

    That's a nice trip you have planned there ! Although Big Bear lake isn't a long drive you just need to remember that you will be jet lagged after an International flight and your body clock will be out of sync. If you arrive early morning you could be OK, just be aware that trying to do much sight seeing around LA, while the excitement is running through you, could end up with you attempting to drive in an exhausted state. It might just be easier and safer to spend a night in a Motel in LA and start out the following day, refreshed.

    For Zion NP you could check to see if the Watchman campground' has any vacancies. It's an ideal loction in the NP which is also convenient for heading into town at night.

    I would add a day in your trip from Canyonlands to Bryce just to give yourself more time to look around Canyonlands and possibly Arches. You could make your way towards Bryce and stop at Capitol Reef NP, another fantastic place.

    If you wanted to head to San Francisco and then down the coast highway you are really going to need 3-4 days for the trip. Your trip is doable on paper but it's going to be at a quick pace, especially when allowing for time to put up and break camp everyday. It really depends on your style of travel but I would be tempted to slow things a little and perhaps skip Great Basin and Tahoe and dedicate more time to the other areas.

    If you end up visiting 4 or 5 National parks it would make sense to purchase the annual pass for $80 at the first entry station [GC in this case] and save some money.

  4. Default

    Thanks for the replies!

    As far as camping locations go, I was planning on dispersed camping on BLM lands wherever possible - As I understand it this is allowed and free?

    I definitely won't be biting off more than I can chew in LA - probably just a few hours napping on the beach!

    As for skipping Great Basin & Tahoe, these aren't must-do parts of the trip but I'm borrowing the car so it needs to be back in LA at the end - is there a quicker/better way to do this?

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

    Default Car and camp.

    No problem with finishing in LA, instead of going from Zion to Great basin, you would just take a more direct route to Yosemite. This could be done with a trip across Death valley or via Tonopah and US6. As I mentioned, this isn't a 'must do', more an alternative to consider to slow the pace and/or enjoy more time in the canyons with less miles, Arches, Capitol Reef etc.

    I have not done dispersed camping and whereas it is is in some cases free, it can also require permits and can take time to get to your campsite. National parks campgrounds that often have toilet blocks and showers usually run out at about $18 per night.

    If you are borrowing a car, it's important for you and the owner both to check in detail what your insurance covers and who's liable for what. In the USA the law is different to a lot of countries and the owner can be held responsible for the actions of the driver as I understand it. In the event of an accident where a serious injury to a third party occured, lawsuits and what-not could ruin a person without the correct insurance. I'm sure someone more familiar with this might chime in with greater detail, but it's meant as a 'heads up' to the pitfalls of borrowing someone elses car.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    May 2011
    Southern California


    As far as camping locations go, I was planning on dispersed camping on BLM lands wherever possible - As I understand it this is allowed and free?
    Camping on BLM lands is often permitted, but not always. You'd have to contact the local agency each time to get their permit, find out their rules, etc. Often, you'd be asked to camp more than 300 feet from a roadway (or thereabouts), or more than that. This summer, "no campfires" is probably going to be the rule rather than the exception, in the states of CA, AZ and UT. Yes, most of the time it is free.

    National forests and national parks are far more picky about dispersed camping. It's also done by permit. With national parks, the most common dispersed campers are overnight trail hikers. National forests have those, but also driving down logging and forest roads. On the latter, always ask at the Ranger Office or Visitor Center, regarding the condition of the road. If you are borrowing a car, the owner may not appreciate the abuse that some logging and forest roads will give that car. (Your tailbone might not, either, to be honest.)

    National park campgrounds -- $18 to $25 per night.
    National forest campgrounds -- $10 to $20 per night.
    State park campgrounds, California -- $30 to $35 per night.
    State park campgrounds, Other -- $15 to $30 per night.


  7. #7
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Melbourne, Australia

    Default Off the beaten path onto public lands.

    I'd second Dave recommendation to set out on the second day. Spend your day in LA, and head out on the next morning. Remember, if you head out of LA after spending time in LA and a nap, you will be heading out when millions of others are on their way home. You have absolutely no idea how long it can take to get out of that 'mess'tropolis (there's nothing like it in NZ)..... and that on the wrong side of the road. (I well recall my first time.)

    Here is a site which might answer a lot of your questions regarding dispersed, or even organized camping, on BLM lands. It is possible, and I know many who do it frequently, but you will find that mostly you will be a fair drive from your stated goals. Not that that is a bad thing, often you stumble on sights others never see.

    Check out Kodachrome Basin SP camp ground. It is less than 20 miles from Bryce and a few miles south of Cannonville at the start of the Cottonwood Canyon Road. You might like to check that out the road and Grosvenor's Arch as well. See the ranger in Cannonville. It is an unmade road through a most spectacular and colourful canyon. A few sandy patches, but they did not worry me. I drove it in a 15-year-old Toyota Camry, back in 2007. 47 miles and about three hours. But I would not attempt it without speaking with the ranger first. Then report to the ranger at Big Water, before heading off to Zion.


  8. Default

    Weird, I thought I posted a reply earlier... anyway.

    I'm getting into LA in the early morning (around 7am) and was planning to leave around 3-4pm, would the traffic still be terrible then?

    I've been looking at and I there are free/BLM spots close(ish) to most of the spots I want to visit - I don't mind driving for a little while to find a nice spot and some solitude. Do any of you have experience with this site?

    Thanks for the Kodachrome/Cottonwood recommendations Lifey - sounds like the sort of thing I'm looking for!

    Dave - my friend assures me all is OK as far as insurance goes, and we're close enough that it's understood I'll pay for any excess, damages etc. Thanks for the tip about the alternate route - I do quite like the idea of driving the I-50 through Nevada though... Perhaps I'll see if I'm feeling the same way after my first week in the desert!

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    Joplin MO


    The traffic will be terrible at 3-4 pm, that's the beginning of the afternoon/evening rush hour.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Green County, Wisconsin


    Quote Originally Posted by poregan View Post
    I've been looking at and I there are free/BLM spots close(ish) to most of the spots I want to visit - I don't mind driving for a little while to find a nice spot and some solitude. Do any of you have experience with this site?
    It's not a bad site, but one that you do need to take with a grain of salt. When it comes to dispersed camping, these aren't actually campsites, just spots people have used to set up camp. They may or may not actually be following the rules of the National Forest/BLM unit, or their may be restrictions that they do not include. Basically, any site you find on that website, you should double check and find out the rules before planning to use it. i.e., generally speaking you need to set up camp a certain distance away from a road.

    Another thing you need to keep in mind is that many, if not most, of the dispersed camping sites you are finding are located off of forest service roads. These roads are generally not paved, and only minimally maintained. If you were renting a car, you'd likely be violating the terms of your rental contract by using them. Because these are very slow going roads, a site that might look pretty close could take a long time to get to.

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