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  1. Default Road Trip First-timer: SF - Yosemite - Death Valley - Grand Canyon

    Hi! It's my first time on RTA and I've been looking for similar road trips to help me with mine, but I guess it's better if I ask for help.

    We are planning for an early December trip. We start in San Francisco and then make our way to Yosemite, Death Valley, and Grand Canyon. I'm from the Philippines and have never been on a road trip in the US, much less during winter. Though, I've heard early winter is an ok time to go. I've outlined my concerns below:

    1. What would be the best route? We will have a week, but we can extend to 8-9 days. We are planning to rent a car. Would it be more efficient to loop back to SF or should we leave the car in LV after our last stop, Grand Canyon? We have to fly back to New Jersey after everything.

    2. How many days should we spend in each stop?

    Day 1 - Leave SF in morning, arrive in Yosemite

    Day 2 - Yosemite

    Day 3 -Yosemite, leave for Death Valley after lunch

    Day 4 - Death Valley

    Day 5 - Leave for Grand Canyon in the morning

    Day 6 - Grand Canyon

    Day 7 - Leave for LV in the morning, back to LV and either spend one night in LV or fly back to NJ at night

    Day 8 - Fly back to NJ (if staying in LV for one night)

    I still need to research more on what we can do at each stop during this time of the year, so my timeline is very rough.

    3. Are there any better areas to visit (or visit along the way)? I've seen threads similar to mine that mention Big Sur, Monterey, Lake Tahoe. If so, would we be able to pass by them with the sched we have or do we need to add more days?

    4. We would like to try camping, but will it be too cold? Should we just stay at lodges/hotels?


    This is all I can think of for now. I'm sure I'll have follow-up questions later, but any extra advice you can give me is welcome. Thank you in advance for all the help! This website is a life-saver, especially for a foreigner (and a city girl!) like me.



  2. #2
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Melbourne, Australia

    Default Snow, altitude and camping.

    Hi, and Welcome to the Great American Roadtrip Forum.

    The first thing which jumped out at me is, in December there is a good chance of Tioga Pass (CA120) being closed by snow for the winter. That means you will need to go around the southern tip of the Sierra Mountains to get to Death Valley.

    You will then go through Las Vegas on your way to the Grand Canyon.

    As for camping, the National Parks you are planning to visit are at great altitude, and can be very cold at night, by December. With the exception of Death Valley, which should be wonderful at that time of the year.

    Do you have some good detailed maps of the south west USA? That will help show you the lay of the land. It will be a great help while you are planning, and it is advisable to have maps when on the road.

    Enjoy the planning.


  3. #3
    Join Date
    May 2011
    Southern California


    Welcome to RTA!

    Day 3 -Yosemite, leave for Death Valley after lunch
    Realize that the only way from Yosemite to Death Valley, in December, is to go around the Sierras on the southern end. This means going one of two routes, the most accessible being CA-99 to CA-58, crossing through Tehachapi, and turning north onto US-395 near Mojave. (CA-178 is also very pretty, but I am hesitant to recommend it for a December trip.)

    In any case, it's a longer trip than a half day -- more like 8 hours, depending on where in the Death Valley area you plan to overnight.


  4. #4


    Welcome to RTA!

    When you leave LV you'll be going over Hoover Dam, But you won't see it unless you get off at highway 172 and take the walk out onto the bridge. It won't take too long, but dress warmly and be prepared for some wind. If time permits, take old route 66 from Kingman to Seligman, or even all the way to Williams.

    You can drive to the South Rim from Williams, but I prefer going over to Flagstaff and up to Cameron to enter through the east gate. That way, you can drive along the rim with about 6 overlooks at which to park. From GC Village west, you must take the shuttle bus, so this is your chance to see the canyon at a leisurely pace. Save the west end for the second day.

    If you're fortunate enough to have a sunset view, stay on after the canyon goes dark, as it will light up again in afterglow about 15 minutes later with fantastic colors. Don't miss it!

  5. Default

    Thanks everyone! I will definitely keep all your advice in mind. I will buy a map as advised, so I can start plotting out the route. :)

    Thanks for the warm welcome to RTA.

  6. Default

    Hi all! I did more research and took all your advice into account, so I've updated my IT:

    Day 1 - Pick-up rental car at SFO in the early am, head for San Simeon via Route 1/Big Sur, take time for stopovers and lunch along the way. Arrive in San Simeon and stay for the night at Silver Surf Motel (Honestly, just the first motel I found on Google. Will have to research more on this.)
    Day 2 - Head for Yosemite Bug, stay at the Yosemite Bug, explore Yosemite a bit
    Day 3 - Explore Yosemite
    Day 4 - Leave for Death Valley in the morning (around Sierras on the southern edge as suggested), stay in Stovepipe Wells or Amargosa Hotel (?)
    Day 5 - Explore Death Valley
    Day 6 - Drive to Grand Canyon, stay at Bright Angel Lodge in GC Village
    Day 7 - Explore Grand Canyon
    Day 8 - Drive to Antelope Canyon, explore a bit, go back to Bright Angel Lodge for the night
    Day 9 - Drive to Las Vegas, maybe explore if a bit if there's time, return car at airport, fly to NJ at night

    When I put in the driving time, I realized it's not feasible to drive to Death Valley, explore it, and then drive to Grand Canyon in only two days because each trip is like 8 hours. I had to add one day, so now it is 9 days in total. If there are more affordable places to stay than the ones I mention, I would be glad to know!

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


    From Antelope Canyon, it would be easier - and certainly more affordable to return to Vegas via Utah rather than doubling back to the Grand Canyon. Page or Kanab would be good places to look to spend the night.

    That route would also have you heading back through Zion National Park (can you add a 10th night?)

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    South of England.

    Default A few things to ponder.

    Panamint springs or Stovepipe wells would be better than Armagosa simply because Armagosa would make a longer drive getting there and then having to double back to sightsee in DV the following day. On day 5 you could possibly exit Death valley and head towards the Grand canyon, perhaps stay in Kingman, giving you a little more time at the canyon if you decide not to double back. Next morning you could take old route 66 through the quirky town of Seligman. I agree that going to Antelope canyon and back to the GC is not the best use of your time, continue towards Zion and back down to Vegas on I-15. As Antelope canyon requires a tour you might consider heading direct to Zion NP and explore the park there. Springdale is a good town to stay. For a more relaxed pace [and if you have booked to go back to GC] you could scrap heading north and visit Monument valley tribal park.

  9. Default

    Thank you everyone! Yes, I'll take your advice about continuing towards Zion instead of going back to GC. But we really wanted to see Antelope Canyon though, so I guess I'll have to research about booking tours. Will also check if my companions are down to add a night to include Zion.

    Monument Valley also looks tempting. Maybe I'm trying too see too much?

  10. #10


    Lodging will keep you warm... it can very cold in the high deserts and mountains during the fall, winter and spring. Regardless of lodging, you will be need to dress warmly visiting from the tropics with thin blood (such as it was for me in moving from Puerto Rico to the USA!).

    There are some more affordable motels south of San Simeon, in Cambria and Morro Bay (Sundown Inn, basic motel, small room but clean and affordable). Regardless of what time you arrive to San Francisco, driving down the coast through Big Sur willl be a LONG day and too rushed to fully enjoy after a long flight. Suggest you spend the night in Monterey and continuing south through Big Sur the following day.

    Have you priced out your rental car since you are picking up and dropping off at two different locations? Often times the daily rates are much higher, a mileage rate is charged and drop off fees are added.

    Useful link for understanding temperatures--click on the "Historic Averages" located below right from the location name.

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