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  1. Default Fall 2015: 4-5 week road trip through CA, NV, AZ, UT, CO, WY, MT, ID, OR etc..

    Hi everyone! I'll start by giving a heads up: this will be a long post. But i figured the more information I give, the easier it will be for you to help/give input.

    Me (30) and my mom (57) is planning a road trip for fall 2015, flying in and out of SF. The plan is to be away for about 4-5 weeks. The date is flexible depending on what will be best, but we love the fall with all its beautiful colors. Our main goal with this trip is to see beautiful landscape, scenic drives and natural parks (however we are not big hikers).

    We have both been to the US before (we’re from Sweden) and done coastal California, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Bryce Canyon and Grand Canyon. I have also been to Zion NP, Monument Valley and other places in UT/NM. We want to do PCH and Las Vegas again, but won’t need as much time as if we’d never seen it before.

    I probably will be the one driving for most of the trip, with my mother driving shorter distances. Does this plan seem to take on too much for the two of us? And how much should you drive per day / how many days rest between drives. We are from the north of Sweden so we are used to long distance driving (we drive 250 km (155 miles) one way to go to IKEA…).

    The main questions right now, except for the driving part:
    Is this a good plan in general, if not - what should we change?
    Between Ouray and Yellowstone is a big ? for me, what do you suggest?
    I’ve read about Beartooth Highway, but should we do that before Yellowstone instead? Is it ”worth” it?
    Any suggestions for Yellowstone -> Portland? All I’ve found is the Columbia River Gorge, which seems like a must.
    Is it better to skip Crater lake and Lake Tahoe and spend more time on the Oregon coast/Redwood?

    + What should we definitely NOT miss when being in this ”neck of the woods”?

    Would love your input and ideas!

    Plan as of right now:
    27 aug San Francisco
    28 San Francisco – Big Sur (Cambria?)
    29 Big Sur – Santa Barbara
    30 Santa Barbara – Las Vegas
    31 Las Vegas
    1 sept Las Vegas – St George
    2 St George – Torrey (via Scenic Byway 12)
    3 Torrey – Moab
    4 Moab (Arches/Canyonlands NP)
    5 Moab
    6 Moab – Ouray (via Mesa Verde, Durango, Silverton)
    7 Ouray – Denver (?)
    8 Denver / somewhere else
    9 Denver – Lander
    10 Lander – Grand Teton
    11 Grand Teton – Yellowstone
    12 Yellowstone
    13 Yellowstone
    14 Yellowstone – Red Lodge
    15 Red Lodge – Missoula
    16 Missoula – Lewiston
    17 Lewiston – The Dalles
    18 The Dalles – Portland
    19 Portland
    20 Portland – Crater Lake
    21 Crater Lake – Redwood
    22 Redwood National Park
    23 Redwood – Lake Tahoe
    24 Lake Tahoe
    25 Lake Tahoe – San Francisco
    26 San Francisco
    27 San Francisco
    28 San Francisco
    Last edited by Frida; 10-27-2014 at 11:54 AM. Reason: spelling error

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Melbourne, Australia

    Default Looks good.

    Hi, and welcome to the Great American RoadTrip Forum.

    [Wow!! 250km to go to IKEA? Mine is 15km away.... too far!]

    A couple of thoughts jump out at me. The Beartooth Highway is a fantastic drive, no matter which way you do it. The only issue is, the earlier you plan to do it, the less likely it is to be closed.

    If you are into tourist train rides, look at the train from Durango to Silverton. A wonderful little steam train.

    West of Denver, you could check out the short detour over Loveland Pass (US-6), which is particularly colourful in autum when all the Aspen turn golden, Also US-40 through Steamboat Springs to Dinosaur NM.

    East of Portland you have the Columbia River Gorge, which is also a very scenic drive, even though it is an interstate.

    As to whether to choose Crater Lake/Lake Tahoe over the Oregon Coast is a very personal choice. Both are 'worth it', depending on your preference.


  3. #3
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    Joplin MO


    Welcome to RTA!

    This looks like an excellent plan, and I don't see any legs that are too long for one day. If you are using Interstate highways, you can drive up to about 550 miles a day without it being too long. On other highways, it would probably be best to keep it under 500.

    A few tips:

    THe best way to get from Santa Barbara to Las Vegas to avoid the horrible LA traffic is this - at Ventura take CA-126 to Santa Clarita. Go south on I-5 one exit to Magic Mountain Parkway. Take this east about 2 miles to Valencia Blvd, turn left, this becomes Soledad Canyon Rd and will take you to the CA-14 freeway. Take this to Palmdale and get off at the Sierra Hwy exit, this becomes the Pearblossom Hwy, bear right at 4 Corners onto CA-138 and take that to CA-18 (you will continue straight, 138 bears right) to I-15.

    You should be able to get farther out of Las Vegas than St. George - I'd at least look at Cedar City instead, than you could take UT-14, UT-148, and UT-143 through Cedar Breaks to Panguitch - where you would take US-89 to UT-12. This would split the 2 days up better.

    If you don't necessarily want to go to Denver itself, why not go up through Rocky Mountain National Park over Trail Ridge Road? You would get there from Ouray by taking US-550 to US-50 to Poncha Springs, then US-285 to US-24 to Leadville, CO-91 to I-70 to CO-9 to Kremmling, US-40 to US-34 to the park. There is some lodging in Granby and Grand Lake.

    To get to the Tetons from there, come out of the park on US-34 to Loveland, then take I-25 to Cheyenne, I-80 to Rock Springs, US-191/189 to Jackson. Loveland to Jackson is just barely drivable in 1 day and you are going to want to spend some time in RMNP, so you should try to make it to Cheyenne that night.

    Lewiston to Portland is an easy day's drive if you need to make up a day. You may want to do this because you are a bit tight between Portland, Crater Lake, the Redwoods, and Lake Tahoe. You also should not miss the Avenue of the Giants, this is in Humboldt Redwoods State Park off US-101.

    To get to Tahoe from US-101, take CA-20 over the mountains through Yuba City to I-80 to Truckee, then either CA-89 or CA-267 to the lake. To get back to SFO, take US-50 to Sacramento then I-80. It is a long day from the Redwoods to Tahoe, you should stop for the night somewhere in between.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    May 2011
    Southern California


    I will definitely agree with much of the above, especially regarding the Beartooth Highway. It is breathtakingly gorgeous. However, you may have to keep a change of plans in mind. The Pass has been known to close for a few hours or a few days in order to clear the snow, and by mid-Sept., that's more and more likely to happen. It's up at 10,000 ft elevation. However, worst case scenario may mean that you leave Yellowstone through Mammoth Hot Springs and Gardiner, instead of the NE entrance at Cooke City. Beartooth Pass/Highway officially closed Oct. 14th this year.

    The other thing to keep in mind is that by Sep 15, much of Yellowstone has shut down. The park itself is open, however, many services have closed. So when planning this trip, the earlier you can go, the better.


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

    Default Alternative thoughts.

    You have a lovely trip planned although I think you are rushing in places from Moab to the Tetons section. You really need the best part of a day to visit Mesa Verde and take the tours to the remains. You would be better off just staying in Cortez or Durango and the next day take time on the 'Million Dollar Highway' [US550] to enjoy the towns of Silverton and Ouray. Heading out to RMNP is a good option but it adds drive time for little time from the vehicle. To cut down on the driving and enjoy more time from the car you could enjoy places on a shorter route to the Tetons from the Ouray area, such as Black canyon of the Gunnison near Montrose, Colorado National Monument near Fruita and then head to the Tetons by way of Dinosaur NM and Flaming Gorge Res.

    You haven't mentioned Yosemite NP, which being among my favourites is a huge 'miss' in my opinion and an option I would consider over Tahoe.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Melbourne, Australia

    Default So much to see/do along whichever route you choose.

    Quote Originally Posted by glc View Post
    ..., why not go up through Rocky Mountain National Park over Trail Ridge Road?
    The Trail Ridge Road is another of these spectacular drives in the mountains. Very worhwhile.... however, check at the last minute if that road is open. My first four attempts which were all in the summer months, were foiled by blizzards. I finally got to drive it on my fifth attempt. Rising to an altitude of over 12000 ft, this road can be closed at any time of the year by blizzards and snow.

    If/When you do get to drive it, be aware, it does take time. The speed limits are not necessarily slow, but you will want to stop at all the view points, most of which are breathtaking and offer wonderful photo opportunities.

    Quote Originally Posted by Southwest Dave View Post
    ... Colorado National Monument near Fruita and then head to the Tetons by way of Dinosaur NM and Flaming Gorge Res.
    US-191 through Flaming Gorge will then take you to the Tetons NP via Pinedale and the Hobach Canyon. Be sure to read the historical roadside information. Pinedale is a lovely small town with boutique eating places and an area of many scenic drives.

    Should you opt for the route on I-80 to Lander, be sure to check out the Snowy Range Scenic Byway through the Medicine Bow NF from Laramie to Saratoga, and then visit the Hobo Hot Springs. At Rawlins take US-287 north to Lander. this will take you through a unique landscape of the Great Divide Basin.

    Such a beautiful part of the continent.


  7. Default

    Thank you all so much for your very helpful feedback! I love all the detailed "road advice" and can't wait for my road map to arrive. So far I've used an online tool to plan the trip.

    It also feels good that this idea of mine seems doable and that you all seem to like it. I will probably go over the details a hundred times more, and I am already adding some days to Utah. I really love it there and wouldn't want to rush things.

    Also great to know about parts of Yellowstone closing in mid-september, and the Beartooth highway not always being open. I read a trip report, I think from you Dave?, where you made a day trip there while at Yellowstone and this seems like it might be a good idea for us. I will also look in to perhaps leaving earlier so we will arrive in Yellowstone in the beginning of September instead.

    As for Yosemite, I will work on convincing my mother that we should go there instead of Lake Tahoe. For some reasons she has her mind set on Tahoe, but I'm sure I will be able to convince her :)

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    Joplin MO


    You can take a quick trip around Lake Tahoe and still go to Yosemite. You would simply leave via the southeast and get to US-395, then go in from Lee Vining on CA-120 over Tioga Pass.

  9. Default

    So I've tried to change some things to the plan, however nothing is at all set in stone and we haven't booked any flights etc so the dates could/might change. But here's what I've come up with taking some of your suggestions in to consideration. But it's SO difficult trying to plan the best route, puh.

    20 aug San Francisco
    21 San Francisco – Big Sur
    21 Big Sur – Santa Barbara
    23 Santa Barbara – Las Vegas
    24 Las Vegas
    25 Las Vegas – Panguitch
    26 Panguitch – Torrey (via Scenic Byway 12)
    27 Torrey – Moab
    28 Moab (Arches/Canyonlands NP)
    29 Moab
    30 Moab – Durango
    31 Durango – Ouray (via Mesa Verde, Durango, Silverton)
    1 Ouray – Pinedale
    2 Pinedale – Grand Teton
    3 Grand Teton
    4 Grand Teton – Yellowstone
    5 Yellowstone
    6 Yellowstone
    7 Yellowstone
    8 Yellowstone – Missoula
    9 Missoula – Lewiston
    10 Lewiston – Portland (via Columbia River Gorge)
    11 Portland
    12 Portland – Oregon coast somewhere
    13 Oregon coast – Mendocino (via Redwood NP och Av of Giants)
    14 Mendocino – Yosemite
    15 Yosemite
    16 Yosemite
    17 Yosemite – San Francisco
    18 San Francisco
    19 San Francisco
    20 San Francisco

    Might add some days somewhere, but this way we would make it to Yellowstone before it closes.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    South of England.

    Default Just great choices.

    But it's SO difficult trying to plan the best route, puh.
    That's because there is no 'best route', just lots of great options, but your trip planning is coming along well !

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