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Western USA road trip - advice please!

Western USA road trip - advice please!

Old Feb 5, 16, 7:50 pm
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Western USA road trip - advice please!

Mods, please move this if I have posted in the wrong place.

I am planning a 3-4 week road trip in the western USA this November and would greatly appreciate some advice from those in the know. I am based in Europe and the only thing that is set in stone is that I leave IAH on December 4. I can arrive in the States pretty much any time in November.

I have worked out a list of "must-do's" and a list of "maybes", i.e. things I would like to fit in if I have time, or they are not too far out of the way. I don't mind long distance driving, but I want to relax at times too and have a few chill-out days at each major destination.

"Must-do's" include:

Highway 1 from LA to San Francisco - would like to take a few days over this and chill a bit on the way.

San Francisco - a city I have always wanted to see. Definitely a few days.

Yosemite - done a little research (but not nearly enough).

Las Vegas - probably not somewhere I would want to hang around, but I would be interested to see it, just for one night.

Grand Canyon - I simply have to see it. Not negotiable.

"Maybes" include:

San Diego and a day trip across the border (never been to Mexico)
Phoenix and surrounding area (heard good things from friends)
Meteor impact crater (worth a couple of hours detour between Vegas and Phoenix?)

I am not too bothered about all the touristy stuff in LA. I'm not into theme parks or celeb-spotting, but I would take a look at the city if I happened to be passing.

So far, the best I have come up with is a horseshoe shaped route, something like:
Fly into San Diego, then drive to LA area - Monterey - San Francisco - Yosemite - Las Vegas - Grand Canyon - Phoenix, then fly to Houston for my flight out.

This seems to involve around 1700 miles of driving, in maybe 8 or 9 days at the wheel. Do you guys feel that this is a realistic itinerary to do in my timeframe? Is there anything obvious that I'm missing? Is it worth extending the trip and driving the 1200 miles to Houston, or would you just fly from Phoenix?

For the record, I'm a 38yo male and I will be doing the trip solo. I would like a good mix of cities, scenery and chill-out time. I am very used to long distance driving and don't mind knocking out 600 miles in a day once or twice if I have to, but I would rather limit it to 200-300 miles most days.

I would appreciate any advice you guys can offer.
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Old Feb 5, 16, 8:53 pm
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I seem to think Seat2A might have the answer for you. His recent trip report had a map of all the places he's driven and it's a ton. He's also into getting off the highway from what I can tell...
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Old Feb 5, 16, 10:42 pm
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Originally Posted by farbster View Post
I seem to think Seat2A might have the answer for you. His recent trip report had a map of all the places he's driven and it's a ton. He's also into getting off the highway from what I can tell...
Thanks for the pointer. I'll take a look.
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Old Feb 5, 16, 11:10 pm
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If you're thinking of doing a one way car rental, you'll often get a better 'fleet repositioning' rate by ending in Arizona than by starting there because car companies are trying to move cars into the state that time of year.
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Old Feb 5, 16, 11:59 pm
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Originally Posted by beachmouse View Post
If you're thinking of doing a one way car rental, you'll often get a better 'fleet repositioning' rate by ending in Arizona than by starting there because car companies are trying to move cars into the state that time of year.
Many thanks for this. This is the kind of thing I was planning, pick up the car somewhere in California and turn it in somewhere in Arizona, probably Phoenix. Do I need to do anything special to get one of these repositioning rates?
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Old Feb 6, 16, 12:16 am
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Don't miss Yosemite! Too many people go to the States and ignore the best parts =) If i was you, I'd find a way to swing by Zion and Bryce Canyon as well.
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Old Feb 6, 16, 2:17 am
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Originally Posted by earlyriser View Post
Don't miss Yosemite! Too many people go to the States and ignore the best parts =) If i was you, I'd find a way to swing by Zion and Bryce Canyon as well.
Wow! I just looked those up and they both look amazing! Also not much of a detour. I can see this trip turning into a bit of an epic! Thanks for the tip. Just one thing - what are driving conditions in these areas likely to be like in November?
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Old Feb 6, 16, 7:26 am
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Regarding your "day trip across the border" from San Diego:

1. Don't plan on driving. Driving a U.S.-registered car in Mexico has its own set of issues and is against the rules of most rental companies.

2. Don't expect to see Mexico. Tijuana is a theme park with cheap (by U.S. standards) pharmacies.

Unless you just want to add Mexico to your country list, skip this part. Use the extra day to see Marin County, the redwoods, or the California wine country north of San Francisco.

(I should add that I'm not anti-Mexico in general. I've been there several times, will probably be there again next month, and have family in Oaxaca.)
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Old Feb 6, 16, 7:28 am
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Shall keep a tab on this thread and look up Seat2A TR as I am planning to do a similar trip Sep/Oct on a motorcycle

OF
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Old Feb 6, 16, 8:24 am
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This should be moved to the USA forum in "destinations," but meanwhile a few comments...

For travel in November/December, you're going to have to pay attention to elevation. Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, Bryce and Zion are all at high altitude, where winter comes early. Snow and ice is always possible, and of course short daylight will also be a factor if you're planning to drive long distances.

If the Grand Canyon is an absolute "must," then I would put it first in order to have the best chance of decent conditions. I would make Yosemite a "maybe," and frankly would suggest skipping it altogether. It's located well off your route, and securing accommodations in Yosemite can be difficult around your time, as many people want to spend the Thanksgiving holiday (24 Nov. this year) around Yosemite.

I'd start in Las Vegas, which is also a great place to overcome jetlag if you're arriving from overseas, as it's a 24 hour city. I'd drive to the Grand Canyon, then Phoenix via Sedona. Then I'd head to Palm Springs and Joshua Tree National Park, an ideal destination at that time of year. From there it's out to the coast then north. Visit Santa Barbara with its Spanish mission, the Big Sur coast (Hwy 1) including Point Lobos State Park (beautiful coastline, lots of wildlife) and stopping at the Henry Cowell or Big Basin redwoods (awesome) before ending the trip in San Francisco.

Here's a suggested itinerary - https://goo.gl/maps/wuBmZJThoHT2
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Old Feb 6, 16, 10:05 am
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For rental cars, I'm in the camp that feels like there really isn't a huge difference between the majors. My usual pattern is to just use Expedia to get comparison on rates, pick one I can live with and do reservation-only. (not prepaid) Then every week or so or when an airline or hotel chain sends you a discount code, do another price check.

Keep doing this up until departure time and make a new reservation if you find what seems like a good price. The rental car company's rental management system is constantly changing pricing based on what they think demand will be. Last year, my sister got caught up in a Delta IRROPS situation and ended up spending $17 to rent a sports car to get her from her diversion point in Nashville to Florida because Avis apparently needed the car down here and she essentially only paid the airport location taxes & fees for the reservation.
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Old Feb 6, 16, 4:35 pm
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I take road trips around the Western US fairly frequently myself and I've helped many friends plan them, as well. My top three pieces of advice are:

1. Check driving distances on a map and be reasonable about how much driving you're committing yourself to. You seem to be doing well at this already.

2. Continuing in the vein of #1, consider how much time you will be driving versus how much time you'll have for activities at each of the places you visit. Again, you seem to be doing well in this regard already.

3. Consider the impact that weather could have on your plans. As Gardyloo pointed out, some of the parks you wish to visit are at higher elevations. By November there could be snow closures and dangerous conditions. This is not a reason to avoid these places-- just a consideration to include in your planning.

Check out the threads in the USA West forum for more ideas. (Mods, I recommend this thread be moved there.)
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Old Feb 6, 16, 8:44 pm
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Thanks for your advice guys. It definitely sounds like Tijuana is off my list. It does not sound like my kind of place at all. I think Mexico can wait for another trip. The National Parks and scenic places are the main point of the trip, as well as some time in San Francisco, so I am now seriously considering skipping anything south of LA, in favour of spending more time on my must-see list. Thanks for the point about the Thanksgiving holiday. I hadn't thought of that and I'm going to have to carefully consider where I'm gping to be at that time. As regards winter conditions at altitude, does this lead to many road closures? And should I consider the type of vehicle I rent? I am an experienced driver and have driven in 20 or so countries in all types of terrain, so I don't mind challenging conditions, but I'm not really planning on doing any off-roading on this trip. Thanks also for the tips on car rentals. It would be great if I could manage to pick up a repositioning deal. I have done many one-way rentals in the past but never in the right place at the right time.
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Old Feb 6, 16, 8:53 pm
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Gardyloo, thanks for the route suggestion. I hadn't thought of doing the route in reverse, but it could be a consideration. However I do really want to see Yosemite and the other National Parks.
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Old Feb 7, 16, 9:50 am
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Originally Posted by The_Bouncer View Post
Gardyloo, thanks for the route suggestion. I hadn't thought of doing the route in reverse, but it could be a consideration. However I do really want to see Yosemite and the other National Parks.
Which parks are on your list? I only saw you name two, Yosemite and Grand Canyon. Gardyloo suggested Joshua Tree, Zion, and Bryce and a few state parks in California. I think these are all great places, btw, and I could add several more to your list. Chief among them would be Death Valley, as you'll be visiting at one of the times of the year when the desert is pleasant.
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