My friend and I are renting a car and leaving Monday for a 12-day roadtrip. We are definitely on a budget and are ready to do some winter car camping and Couchsurfing along the way. Our main goal is to reach the desert without needing tire chains and get the most bang (re: scenery) for our buck. Wishful thinking is making it to AZ, though I don't think it'd be possible/enjoyable. We would like to avoid cities except for San Francisco and Portland and check out Sequoia/Kings Canyon, Death Valley, and/or the Mojave; weather is looking pretty clear so far, but does anyone who has visited these parks in the winter have any advice for this time of year? Any preference for one park over the other (ie: Death Valley over Mojave)? Lastly, we would consider camping in National Forests for convenience/budgeting.
Route thus far:
1: Seattle, WA to Eugene, OR (US-101)
2: Eugene, OR to Redwoods National Park (US-101), stay at campground or in Arcata/Eureka
3: Redwood National Park hiking
4: Arcata/Eureka to Sequoia (I-5 and CA-99)
5-6: Sequoia & Kings Canyon camping
7: Kings Canyon to Death Valley/Mojave
8-9: Death Valley/Mojave camping
10: Back to SF
11: SF to PDX (I-5)
12: PDX back to Seattle (I-5)
Another idea is to haul as far south as we can (ie: Day 1 SEA-SF (I-5), 2 SF-Mojave) and gradually make our way north (US-101 SF-PDX-SEA). I've been on 101 from SF to Arcata and realize it may be way too much of a windy drive to go from SF to PDX in one day, so we may swing over to I-5 if necessary.
We haven't really planned out a route within the National Parks/Preserves and are probably going to play it by ear based on how conditions change. Again, advice on winter destinations would be helpful, though the number of roads/campgrounds actually open also limits where we can go.
Thanks in advance for your help.