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  1. Default CA,AZ,CO,UT,NV in 8 weeks?

    Hello everybody,

    First of all Thank You for all the info I already got from reading through other threads. This board is really great for reading up and checking important DOs and DONTs but now it's time go get my own thread for more detailed input.

    Rough Info

    My GF and I will be flying in from Europe to see the west coast and what (I guess) used to be the wild west.
    We want to have scenic drives, see lots of nature and national parks and do several day hikes. But we'd also mix in some stays in the cities and hope to see some local sights (distilleries, strange museums, ghost town, old mines,...) in smaller towns and other cool spots along the way.
    Currently we're budgeting about 8 weeks from beginning of May (>= 2019) but this can be easily adjusted since we're still in a very early stage.

    The Route:
    Due to inexpensive nonstop flights LA will be our starting point. Also we want to avoid interstates if possible and rather travel on highways or back roads (or an occasional dirt road) to allow for really scenic drives and not miss some cool spots, stops and things to see.
    I'll only list the major stops along the route here to keep it a little shorter. However the actual drive will hopefully go through many national forests, national monuments, conservation areas, etc. along the way.
    LA -> Joshua Tree NP -> Grand Canyon NP South Rim -> Denver -> Rocky Mountain NP -> Arches NP -> Canyonlands NP -> Capitol Reef NP -> Bryce Canyon NP -> Page -> Grand Canyon NP North Rim -> Zion NP -> Las Vegas -> Death Valley NP -> Sequoia NF & NP -> Kings Canyon NP -> Yosemite NP -> Lake Tahoe -> San Francisco -> LA.

    We plan around 1-3 days per NP (Joshua Tree maybe 1, Yosemite most likely 2-3,...) and also add 2-3 nights in the major cities. We'll decide on the exact route basically day by day while on the trip. We just want to make sure we have a premade list of things to see along the route so we don't accidentally miss something great.
    Google Maps puts this trip at around 3200mi so I expect a total drive of ~5500mi which puts us at an average of 100mi/day.

    Lodging/Food:
    We'd be getting a rental in the Suburban/Yukon XL/... class and sleep in the car most of the time. Maybe we'll also get a cheap "good weather tent" for campgrounds.
    Major places to camp will be dispersed camping in national forests (car camping away from the main roads), campgrounds, truck stops/travel centers and maybe the occasional Walmart lot. Also we'll throw in some Motel/AirBnB nights in the cities for a change.
    We'd need an opportunity to shower or hop in a lake ~3x/week (major campgrounds, truck stops,...).
    Also we'll get a cheap cooler for the car so we can go 1-2 days between restaurants/grocery runs. Only snacks, sandwiches, fruits and premade food though, we don't want to cook wile on the road.

    Questions:
    - Many of the national forests along the way will probably only be short hikes, some driving and sleeping. How good does the route align with our 8 weeks estimation?
    - Is May/June the right time for this trip? This would mean GC South Rim early May, RMNP & Utah NP end of May and GC North Rim, Death Valley NP beginning of June. visitor numbers should still be OK and we expect relatively chilly nights at higher elevations (~50s). I'm afraid some mountain passes would still be closed, anybody got some experience here?
    - Any opinion on our lodging plans? We know to avoid rest stops, secluded streets in towns, shady areas and will stay in truck stops, campgrounds, national forests (on back country roads) and maybe the occasional Walmart lot.
    - Do you think shower access or a swimming lake every 2-3 days will work without reservations?
    - Are there any great sights that we forgot along our way? Anything we should definitely see or anything that we should skip?
    - Any other thoughts or opinions on the trip?

    Thank you in advance for your input ;)
    BR
    GPBurdell
    Last edited by GPBurdell; 04-25-2018 at 06:12 AM.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    May 2011
    Location
    Southern California
    Posts
    4,710

    Default

    Welcome to RTA!

    To answer your questions: 8 weeks is a nice amount of time to do a loop trip, but you will still feel rushed at times. To do some further planning, make sure that you have a good set of maps or atlas of the US. One thing folks often forget is how big the US really is and how long it takes to cross it. It will also bring out the fact that Grand Canyon to Denver and then back to the Utah parks, is not the best road planning to save mileage and fuel.

    Sleeping in your vehicle, unless you can fully stretch out to sleep, is not a wonderful idea. Your rest just isn't going to be great, especially in a truck stop where there are vehicles coming and going, lights flashing at you, etc. You're better off with the camping idea.

    Shower access every 2-3 days works. Used to do that myself in camping days. Swimming in a lake to get clean, no. Can't shampoo or use soap. Some state parks have shower facilities, some of the national park campgrounds have a centralized place to go with coin or token op'ed showers, and truck stops will set you back about $10 each. In any of those, though, bring shower shoes of some sort.





    Donna

  3. Default

    Hi Donna,

    Thank you for your quick response.
    More detailed planning is definitely necessary. I haven't done any roadtrip in the US yet that was longer than 3 weeks, so I just did a quick extrapolation based on my previous trips to get an idea of the time schedule.

    It will also bring out the fact that Grand Canyon to Denver and then back to the Utah parks, is not the best road planning to save mileage and fuel.
    Yeah, from GCNP to Denver is a long stretch. On this leg we'd go through Canyons of the Ancients NM, San Juan NF, Rio Grande NF, Gunnison NF, Arapaho and Roosevelt NF before hitting Denver (and RMNP). On the way back we'd take the route through Medicine Bow - Rout NF, Grand Mesa NF and McInnis Canyon NCA before getting to Arches NP in Utah. So we wouldn't be making all this way (at least 1300-1500mi) just to get to Denver and back. It's just one way we layed out our route to get the chance to see a lot of CO. But we'll have a look on this part and also play around with routes a bit so see how much driving time it will really be and which sights/parks/towns we want to see.

    Sleeping in your vehicle, unless you can fully stretch out to sleep, is not a wonderful idea.
    That's why we'd go for the Suburban category rental car. Most of the cars we could possible get have ~100in cargo length behind the front row seats, so we should be able to fit some sort of air mattress or sleeping pads. Car camping just seems easier in national forests since pitching a tent isn't always allowed there (if I'm correct). Also depending on how well the car sleeping goes we can always buy a tent for good weather nights on the campgrounds or do some more motel/airbnb nights.

    Shower access every 2-3 days works. Used to do that myself in camping days. Swimming in a lake to get clean, no. Can't shampoo or use soap.
    The no shampoo/soap part is totally clear to us. Swimming (or a sponge bath for that matter) would really just be a way to make it to the next day if no proper shower is available.
    I checked allstays.com for Campgrounds along our route with showers and it really seems as if most of these are actually RV parks or RV resorts and therefore might come with a significant price tag. We'll do some more research on options here.

    BR
    GPBurdell

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    Location
    South of England.
    Posts
    10,928

    Default A few thoughts.

    Hi and welcome to the RTA forums. That's a nice adventure you have to look forward to and Kudos for your planning so far !

    You have picked a nice time of year to travel, away from the peak season and as Spring is moving to summer but you are right, it could be cold at elevation and some passes could still be closed, the Trail ridge road in RMNP and Tioga Pass that crosses the Sierra's are 2 examples but there is just no way of knowing until you are travelling. It's something that can be worked around in any case if need be.

    I'm not so sure sleeping in a vehicle for most of your trip is a good idea but if you get some basic camping gear then you may just be better off camping in the National park campgrounds and using it. Most have a toilet/Shower block and they are very good value ! If you are renting a large vehicle to save on camping fees it's a false economy really. The vehicle will be more expensive than a mid-size sedan in rental and fuel costs as well as the added time and miles of finding back country roads and Walmart's etc. When visiting National parks camp in them, there is nothing like being there amongst it all. Also note that going on the "Occasional dirt road" will almost certainly violate your rental agreement T&C's and would make you responsible for any damage or recovery fees that may occur.

    With all those National parks be sure to purchase the Annual pass at the first park you visit as it will save you money.

    Some great drives are to be enjoyed in the West, US550 (Million dollar Highway) between Durango and Montrose CO, UT scenic 12 between Capital Reef and Bryce canyon, Mt Carmel highway into Zion and if open The Trail Ridge road and Tioga Pass in RMNP and Yosemite plus many, many more.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Location
    Green County, Wisconsin
    Posts
    13,248

    Default

    I will express some similar concerns, particularly with your planned sleeping arraignments.

    I rarely think it's a great idea to plan to sleep in a rental car/van/suv. People find a way to make it work, I guess, but there are a number of issues. One, you'll never know exactly what make/model you're going to get until you show up at the rental counter, and some models are much better than others for sleeping - some don't have seats that fold flat or have other obstructions that make it difficult to even lay down some kind of mattress. That's on top of the fact that cars just aren't designed to be sleeping cabins, so you've got issue with a lack of insulation and ventilation. I guess if I was going to do this, I'd actually pick a mini-van over a large SUV, as that's likely to have more floor space available and an easier to configure cabin than an SUV, but again, even there, you're at the mercy of what model you get an how easy it is to fold/move seats etc.

    Car camping just seems easier in national forests since pitching a tent isn't always allowed there (if I'm correct).
    Actually, if anything you've got that backwards. Dispersed camping, which you mentioned specifically involves tent camping away from forest roads - you're typically required to be a certain distance away from a maintained road. Finding safe and legal places to sleep in a parked car in the middle of the forest could be a bit of an issue - just parking on a remote road isn't the safest idea (while you might not see many other cars, other cars won't be expecting to see you either!), and as Dave mentioned, if you're really getting into remote roads, you could be violating a rental agreement.

    Campgrounds along our route with showers and it really seems as if most of these are actually RV parks or RV resorts and therefore might come with a significant price tag.
    I rarely find it difficult to find public campgrounds with showers - especially if you look at state parks. Many public campgrounds without showers will also have information on where you can buy a shower nearby (For example, camping at Rocky Mountain NP I was told about a nearby laundromat that had pay showers, and Canyonlands had a whole list of places in Moab for showers). Of course, many times pay showers end up costing nearly as much as some campgrounds with showers, which is why sometimes it can be a false economy to save money by avoiding campgrounds.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    May 2011
    Location
    Southern California
    Posts
    4,710

    Default

    Tent camping can be done at national forests easily. They are usually among the least expensive campgrounds. AAMOF, most of our tenting was done at NF campsites! Usually, you are "renting" the space to put your car and your tent, and all the things you need, plus access to a water spigot (have a container/bucket) and some sort of toilet facilities. (Most of the time in NF campgrounds, the toilets are vault/pit toilets, not flush varieties.) If you have a bucket, some soap and other things like washcloths and towels, you can take a "spit bath" (as my mom used to call them) or at least wash down.

    Something else I've done in the past, with regards to camping and showers: Every 3 nights or so, we'd stay in either a private campground with shower facilities, or get a motel room (if in an area where they were less expensive. This also helps with the "I need a break from sleeping on the ground/on an uncomfortable vehicle seat or floor" issue.

    Dispersed camping is usually meant for the hiker/backpackers. Usually, it requires a permit that can be gotten at the local ranger station, who will give you the where's, how's and when's.


    Donna

  7. #7

    Default

    Spot on comments regarding the uncertainty of makes and models of vehicles -- many or most do not have seats that collapse into the floor, SUVs and MiniVans alike, although many MiniVans will have one set of seats that "submerge." For overall road comfort many of the minivans are preferable (easier getting in and out, being able to stow camping equipment in the rear and other items in the middle, smoother ride, probably better gas mileage).

    On routing, from Grand Canyon South Rim, I would recommend the scenic route via Monument Valley on the way to Mesa Verde National Park (NP) and then pointing to Denver via 1) Ouray and Gunnison or 2) Great Sand Dunes NP. A slight detour route on the way to Mesa Verde via Monument Valley, after Mexican Hat, would be taking the Rt 261 to the Moki Dugway--a destination could be Natural Bridges National Monument. Then resume tripping to Mesa Verde.

    From Rocky Mtn NP to Arches, the Colorado National Monument outside of Grand Junction, CO, is worthwhile stopping at.

    On your Capitol Reef to Bryce Canyon leg I hope you are planning to travel via Rt. 12 through the Escalante region. Beautiful vistas and more.

    Another small tweak on your routing from Bryce Canyon would be driving to Page, AZ via Kanab on US 89. Camping is available near Lake Powell, in the Wahweap National Recreation Area (showers included). Then south from Page on US 89 to US 89A to the Grand Canyon North Rim. And then it is off to Zion NP.

    Off-season in May/June doesn't really mean off-season at the national parks. North Rim (showers/laundry near campground for a fee) fills up far in advance. Mesa Verde has a huge campground (shower included in price, laundry for additional fee). Speaking of showers/swimming: ice melt makes the water in lakes, ponds, streams very, very cold!). Having to make camping reservations in advance will necessitate some structure in your trip plan so at least consider making advance reservations for some key locations. For example, Arches is popular in the shoulder months because the summer is very hot.

    Also consider altitude in your "warmth planning." The North Rim and Bryce Canyon are high altitude locations as is Mesa Verde. South Rim is a couple of thousand feet lower so a little bit warmer. Over night lows at many of these locations can be in the 40s and below. Study national park/forest area historical weather data. Many of the national park websites provide information. A useful weather aid is: http://www.intellicast.com/Local/History.aspx?month=5, and look for the Historical Averages, for the closest town or park.

    Lastly, when it comes to USA cities, especially Los Angeles, you will want to plan around morning and evening rush hours, for departing or arriving. The Google Maps traffic function can be useful in real-time and also in planning (the traffic bar at the bottom has Live and Typical, and a slide bar for time of day and day of the week). Rush hour in LA is sort of 6am-930am, 230pm-730pm.

    Have a great trip and planning for it!

  8. #8
    Join Date
    May 2011
    Location
    Southern California
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    4,710

    Default

    Rush hour in LA is sort of 6am-930am, 230pm-730pm.
    Chuckled at this. It's been my experience that rush hour in LA is from 6 am to 8 pm. Period. Especially in certain areas! (Junctions of 5/405, 405/101, 210 in Santa Anita, 15/10, 15/215 on both ends.) And, btw, it doesn't seem to matter what day of the week, though Saturdays and Sundays seems to start a little later (7 am) and end a little sooner (7 pm).




    Donna

  9. #9

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by DonnaR57 View Post
    Chuckled at this. It's been my experience that rush hour in LA is from 6 am to 8 pm. Period. Especially in certain areas! (Junctions of 5/405, 405/101, 210 in Santa Anita, 15/10, 15/215 on both ends.) And, btw, it doesn't seem to matter what day of the week, though Saturdays and Sundays seems to start a little later (7 am) and end a little sooner (7 pm).

    Donna
    I chuckle, too, except for when I want to cry. Sometimes I think rush hour is 4am to 11pm, because you have morning rush, coffee rush, lunch rush, afternoon break lunch, happy hour rush, evening rush, dinner rush, party time rush... A functioning Google Maps with live traffic and a co-navigator can come in handy.

    Saturday mornings at 6am from Orange County to LAX is usually a clean drive ;)

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Jan 1998
    Location
    Las Vegas, Nevada
    Posts
    10,101

    Default Just gotta be mellow and poke along with the rest of us.

    I use the toll roads in Orange County whenever I can. It's worth it to have room to zoom along. And I agree with Donna, the roads in Southern California are rush-hour-intensive for about 20 hours every single day. There is no sweet period when you can drive for more than about 5 minutes at highway speeds.

    Just gotta be mellow and poke along with the rest of us.

    Mark

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