Go Back  FlyerTalk Forums > Destinations > America - USA > West
Reload this Page >

Three-week tour through the West

Three-week tour through the West

Old Feb 23, 17, 4:18 am
  #1  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jun 2013
Location: FRA
Posts: 1,391
Three-week tour through the West

We are in the process of planning our tour through the West for July. Any input or validation of our planned itinerary will be much appreciated.

We'll be traveling with two kids (12 and 10), so all activities will need to be sufficiently entertaining for them, although a few hours at a beach or climbing up some rocks will do. The exchange rate is, unfortunately, horrible at the moment so some cost-benefits analysis will have to be factored into the itinerary.

This is what we've planned so far:

Day 1

Arrive at LAS, pick up the car (mid-size SUV from Hertz), buy some supplies.

Overnight in Pahrump

Day 2

Get up early to be in the Death Valley for sunrise, visit Dante, Zabriskie, Badwater, Furnace Creek.

Overnight in Bishop or Mammoth Lakes

Day 3

Mono Lake, Yosemite, primarily stay on Tioga road, skip the Yosemite Valley as it would add too much to the drive.

Overnight in Bridgeport

Day 4

Bodie, Lake Tahoe

Overnight in South Lake Tahoe

Day 5 and 6

Lake Tahoe, enjoy some downtime

Day 7

Napa Valley

Overnight east of San Francisco

Day 8

San Francisco

Overnight south of San Francisco

Day 9

Carmel, Monterey, Big Sur, 17 Mile Drive

Overnight in Lompoc

Day 10

Continue on the Pacific Coast Highway, Santa Barbara

Overnight in Camarillo

Day 11

Beach, Channel Islands

Overnight in Camarillo

Day 12

Santa Monica, Venice Beach, Beverly Hilly, Holywood, Griffith Observatory

Overnight in LA or Hollywood

Day 13

LA + everything we didn't get done on day 12

Overnight in Palm Springs

Day 14

Slow day at the pool, Joshua Tree National Park

Overnight in Palm Springs

Day 15

Historic Route 66, Seligman, Klingman

Overnight in Flagstaff

Day 16

Flagstaff

Day 17

Grand Canyon, Horseshoe Bend, Antelope Canyon

Overnight in Kanab

Day 18

Bryce Canyon, Zion National Park

Overnight in St. George

Day 19 - 21

Las Vegas

Day 22

Fly back to Germany

Last edited by Alex71; Feb 23, 17 at 5:20 am
Alex71 is offline  
Old Feb 23, 17, 8:42 am
  #2  
Moderator, OneWorld
 
Join Date: Feb 2002
Location: SEA
Programs: RAA RIP; AA ExEXP
Posts: 10,209
How brutal do you want people to be? Do you want us to tinker with your plan or suggest complete makeovers?

Now I don't know you or your family, so maybe I'm completely wrong with this; we obviously can only bring our own experiences to the discussion. But having spent a lifetime in the American West and having visited all the places on your list numerous times, both as a kid and with kids of my own, I'll just say that I think you're in for a world of hurt with the current plan.

Some observations:

- My dad grew up in Death Valley (grandpa was a borax miner) and nobody in my family would consider spending an hour in the valley in July. It's not just because it's insanely hot (it is, they don't call it Death Valley for nothing, y'know) but because you're so limited. The light is poor -flat and with huge amounts of glare (desert sunrises are great but not usually in July, and there's plenty of desert all over the place) and heat haze can quickly make things hard to see. You can spend very little time out of the car - a couple of minutes - and the distances between sights are long and frankly rather boring. Look, you're hitting Joshua Tree later; it's actually a more rewarding short visit desert destination because you can get there in an hour or so from Palm Springs, see a lot from the car or with very short hikes in the early morning or early evening, and return to great accommodations when you're done. Go with that option and save Death Valley for a later trip - combine it with the red rock national parks in Utah and Arizona in the spring or autumn - a much better trip.

- I'd also skip Tioga Pass and Tahoe, and substitute the gold rush country along CA Hwy 49. This is a string of marvelous historic towns set in gorgeous country in the Sierra foothills. You can stay outside the park but do a day trip into Yosemite Valley (trying to get accommodations in the national park at this point is hopeless as everything will be booked.) Include a visit to the Calaveras Big Trees State Park on CA Hwy 4 to see giant sequoias - a don't-miss experience for everyone. This has been a very snowy winter in the Sierras, so there should still be good water flow over the Yosemite waterfalls in July, and options for all sorts of active sports in the gold rush country. Visit the museum town of Columbia, California. (Google these places if they're unfamiliar.)

- Highway 1 may or may not be open between Big Sur and San Simeon; last year's fire and this winter's rain have caused landslides that have closed parts of the highway, and full reopening might be delayed.

- Your time budget for both the SF and LA areas is far too congested; you won't have a chance to see the things you've listed in the time you've made available. You should either edit your list or add more days.

- Visit some coast redwood groves on your way to the Monterey peninsula. Look at Big Basin or Henry Cowell state parks just north of Santa Cruz. (Coast redwoods are a different species from giant sequoias: the redwoods are taller, the sequoias wider.) While you're in the area, the big beachfront amusement park in Santa Cruz is a blast.

- Visit the Monterey aquarium, the old Spanish mission in Carmel, and Point Lobos while you're on the Monterey peninsula. I'd skip the 17-mile drive; the scenery is just as good driving south to Big Sur (even if you can't get past it) and paying a bunch of money to some millionaires so you can drive by their golf course is, to me, well...

Here's an outline map reflecting these suggestions: https://goo.gl/maps/ch5MsYKn4fE2

So I guess this falls into the "major makeover" category. Just one person's opinion, of course. I'm sure you'll have a lot of fun regardless of your final choices.

By the way, Lompoc? Camarillo? Oy.
Gardyloo is online now  
Old Feb 23, 17, 9:53 am
  #3  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jun 2013
Location: FRA
Posts: 1,391
Thank you very much, Gardyloo, for all your suggestions. I think we'll definitely drop Tahoe to free up time for the Calaveras Big Trees State Park and gold rush country. Lake Constance is a couple hours by car away from where we live, so Lake Tahoe might be relatively similar.

We'll also work in your suggestions along the coast. Hotels in Monterey, Carmel, and Santa Barbara seem very expensive, therefore our thinking was to spend the nights at some of the less attractive places in-between with more moderate prices, but not necessarily spend a lot of time there during the day.

I'm torn about Death Valley. I understand it will be extremely hot there at that time of year and that is a concern. On the other hand, we will be just coming off a flight with a nine hour time difference, so will likely wake up at 2 am anyway. I was hoping we could be in the Death Vally at sunrise and back out before it got too unbearable. Somehow, it feels like a must-see destination in that part of the world, even if it means spending a lot of time in the car on that day.

So, if we kept Death Valley, we could drive through Yosemite from the Tioga Pass side and exit it on the western side. This would allow us to see Yosemite Valley and position us well to see the Big Trees and gold rush country the next day.
Alex71 is offline  
Old Feb 23, 17, 10:02 am
  #4  
Suspended
 
Join Date: Oct 2006
Location: Atherton, CA
Programs: UA 1K, AA EXP; Owner, Green Bay Packers
Posts: 21,690
I'd suggest you check driving times for each leg. The US is huge compared to Europe, so unless you've driven here before it may be easy to underestimate how long it will take.

Unfortunately, the PCH is closed south of Big Sur due to a bridge that was damaged beyond repair in the recent storms. It will not be open by the time you travel, despite a few optimistic statements.

As you refine your trip, I can suggest more reasonably priced hotels in some places if you wish.

You will have a good time, no matter what. Just don't do so much that you have no time to experience what you've just spent hours driving to see.

Safe Travels,

Doc
Doc Savage is offline  
Old Feb 23, 17, 10:25 am
  #5  
 
Join Date: Jul 2009
Programs: Delta Silver (2019)
Posts: 1,933
I'm exhausted looking at that itinerary!!

I think Days 16, 17 & 18 are also overstuffed. Do you need to visit EACH of those canyons & parks? What about taking an afternoon break in a hotel pool to relax & refresh....
Hoyaheel is online now  
Old Feb 23, 17, 11:54 am
  #6  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jun 2013
Location: FRA
Posts: 1,391
Originally Posted by Doc Savage View Post
I'd suggest you check driving times for each leg. The US is huge compared to Europe, so unless you've driven here before it may be easy to underestimate how long it will take.

Unfortunately, the PCH is closed south of Big Sur due to a bridge that was damaged beyond repair in the recent storms. It will not be open by the time you travel, despite a few optimistic statements.

As you refine your trip, I can suggest more reasonably priced hotels in some places if you wish.
Yep, we did a five-week tour of the U.S., both East Coast and West Coast, 25 years ago after the first year of college. It was a lot of fun, but we totally underestimated the distances. We got to the Grand Canyon after dark and weren't able to see much anymore. Fortunately, now there's Google Maps and it is much easier to estimate the driving times.

I'd be grateful for some hotel recommendations along the coast. We have four days allocated to the stretch between San Francisco and LA. The first stop needs to be just south of San Francisco, the last stop just north of LA/Santa Monica/Venice Beach, as the days will be needed for the cities.

Originally Posted by Hoyaheel View Post
I'm exhausted looking at that itinerary!!

I think Days 16, 17 & 18 are also overstuffed. Do you need to visit EACH of those canyons & parks? What about taking an afternoon break in a hotel pool to relax & refresh....
Day 16 is a slow day in Flagstaff without many activities planned, so will allow us to spend a lot of time at the pool. I'm considering to move that two day stop from Flagstaff to Williams, though, to save 30 minutes of driving both from Palm Springs as well as towards the Grand Canyon.

Day 17 is admittedly busy, but might be unavoidable due to the remoteness of the Grand Canyon. Horseshoe Bend appears to be a great photo op, that we pass by anyway, as we drive north from the Grand Canyon, so will not require too much time. Antelope Canyon gets mixed reviews, some people rave about it, some say it is not as impressive in reality as the pictures suggest. We'll decide spontaneously if we need to drop it based on how we feel.

Day 18 doesn't feel so bad as we will need to drive through Zion anyway as we get back from Bryce. I'm considering to move the stop in St. George to a place between Bryce and Zion, though and to drive straight back to Las Vegas from there.
Alex71 is offline  
Old Feb 23, 17, 11:57 am
  #7  
 
Join Date: Jul 2009
Programs: Delta Silver (2019)
Posts: 1,933
I think the ability/flexibility to decide on the fly if you want to drop a stop is a good thing!!
Hoyaheel is online now  
Old Feb 23, 17, 3:53 pm
  #8  
Moderator, OneWorld
 
Join Date: Feb 2002
Location: SEA
Programs: RAA RIP; AA ExEXP
Posts: 10,209
Originally Posted by Alex71 View Post
Fortunately, now there's Google Maps and it is much easier to estimate the driving times.
I feared this to be the case. I use Google maps extensively, but based on using it on a number of trips in the US and overseas, and having driven many of the roads on your route on several occasions (in some cases, literally dozens) I'll say that Google's time estimates are... I think the technical term is... [email protected] Way too optimistic most of the time.

Why bother with Zion and Bryce if you can't get out of the parking lots because of the time it took you to get there or the time you've planned for the next part of the drive? Covering the itinerary in LA that you've laid out for yourselves is basically impossible unless you're just pulling up to the Santa Monica pier or the corner of Rodeo Drive and Wilshire Blvd. and saying, "Been there done that" then moving back into the crawling traffic.

Believe me, no offense remotely intended, but a road trip with two kids in 2017 has no possible comparison to a trip you took 25 years ago as a college kid. American national parks are now using traffic calming and traffic exclusion policies that weren't even contemplated in central London in the 1990s.

Like I said above, we don't know you or your family's preferences or habits. But maybe try out a couple of thought experiments:

1. Reduce your list of destinations by 1/3 and add those 10 nights in VRBO or AirBnB locations in places where you can take a couple of day trips, rather than breaking camp every night and moving to the next motel located 40 miles from nowhere.

2. Make this an all-California holiday (even if flying in and out of LV.) The sojourn into Arizona and Utah is going to be hot, crowded and far too hasty to mean much after three weeks of nonstop motoring. Why not find a nice VRBO or AirBnB someplace in southern California for a few days? Give yourselves and the kids some beach time, time to eat burritos or ride bikes along the Hermosa Strand, go to the movies at the Chinese or the Egyptian theaters, visit the La Brea tar pits or a Dodgers game, see the San Diego zoo or visit Olvera Street and the old LA pueblo, visit "Little Bal" - Balboa Island in Newport Bay...

Just sayin'.

A couple of other things.

Death Valley. Okay, if you can't miss DV (especially if you can be convinced to postpone the Utah/Arizona loop) then do this: transit Death Valley as early as possible. Staying in Pahrump is fine (surreal after a day flying from Germany) but if you're really wiped, just stay in LV and leave a little earlier.

Visit Zabriskie Point and Badwater, drive a ways up Artists Drive, but then bug out of the park long before noon, preferably by 10 or 11 AM. Get as far north as you can on US 395 - Bishop, Mammoth or Lee Vining.

The next day, cross the Sierras on CA Hwy 4, which will take you right past the Calaveras Big Trees and deposit you in the pretty little town of Murphys. Hwy 4 is quite slow going (twisty and steep in bits) but very scenic. Spend the night in Murphys, Angel's Camp, or Columbia. Spend the next day in the gold country - all along Hwy 49 plus some side roads to almost-ghost towns like Volcano. My bet is that you and your kids will love this area - scenic but with things to do, old buildings to explore, etc. Note this is an up-and-coming wine area, so maybe some adult time visiting a winery or two wouldn't be out of the question.

A side trip into Yosemite Valley and back out is possible; it's a good 5+ hour round trip from Murphys or vicinity, and there will be a hell of a lot of people there. You've got a lot of terrific scenery on this trip; maybe Yosemite could be postponed. From the gold country it's out to the coast for the southbound portion of the trip.

As for lodging around Monterey, the whole Monterey Bay area is easily accessible from one end to another. Monterey and Carmel are quite pricey; Santa Cruz, Seaside and Salinas are all probably cheaper places with reasonable access to the ocean and sights.
Gardyloo is online now  
Old Feb 23, 17, 8:20 pm
  #9  
FlyerTalk Evangelist
 
Join Date: Jun 2005
Posts: 31,439
I don't believe this trip is feasible.

Check the Google drive times--that's the minimum you can do it in, straight through driving, no traffic issues, no road work. Alone, light traffic times I would figure to do pretty close to Google's numbers. A group, especially with kids, during travel season--no way. You also have to watch where the route takes you--you can lose a lot of time if you go through a city during rush hour. Also, if you're on a highway rather than a freeway beware of even small towns. Google doesn't allow for stoplights.

Also, look at the mileage rules for your rental car. Most of them would ding you pretty heavily for this trip.
Loren Pechtel is offline  
Old Feb 23, 17, 9:46 pm
  #10  
 
Join Date: Nov 2008
Location: CLT > CAE > IND > ATL > PDX > CLT
Posts: 2,701
I'll agree. I've been to almost all of those places and am a really active, fast traveler, but that's a ton of driving and different things to do. When do you plan to eat? Get out of the car? Like day 18, two amazing places but no way would I do both in one day.

If it were me, I would pick 3, 4 at the most cities and use them as home base. Say you did 4 nights in SF.. no changing hotels, spend a day in the city, drive out to one attraction one day, another the next. As you travel, you may find more things you want to see in the area. Plus, these are really big cities.

Just a thought.
MissJ is online now  
Old Feb 24, 17, 12:54 am
  #11  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jun 2013
Location: FRA
Posts: 1,391
Ok, thanks again to everyone. I understand that we need to take out driving time and allow for longer, multi-night stops. Total driving time at the moment according to Google Maps is 42 hours, which might even be understating it.

The stretch between LAS and San Francisco seems ok now and we can drop Yosemite / Tioga Pass Road in favor of Route 4, which will reduce the driving time further. https://goo.gl/maps/NTtpPUFCXHT2

San Francisco to LA with all the interesting places in-between seems a must https://goo.gl/maps/z8oeav2wC6y

This then leaves the last part with Palm Springs, Joshua Tree, Flagstaff, Historic Route 66, the Grand Canyon, Bryce and Zion open for debate. Driving time for this would be 19 hours. https://goo.gl/maps/wTecksvSr9E2

It might be too hot to enjoy these places and the drive might be too long. Going straight from Palm Springs to Las Vegas would take out 13 hours of driving.
Alex71 is offline  
Old Feb 24, 17, 8:19 am
  #12  
Moderator, OneWorld
 
Join Date: Feb 2002
Location: SEA
Programs: RAA RIP; AA ExEXP
Posts: 10,209
You can pick up a short but meaningful part of Rt. 66 (called the "National Trails Hwy") via Amboy on the drive between Palm Springs and Las Vegas. https://goo.gl/maps/ZZHLcBmPZAD2

Including the Grand Canyon and/or Bryce/Zion is probably going to blow your accommodation budget in addition to confronting a lot of people. There's very limited hotel capacity in these areas and it's heavily booked in the summer. Staying in the likes of Flagstaff or St. George isn't likely to help all that much but will be very time consuming in terms of access. Lineups of cars waiting to get into national parks is commonplace these days.

I think the road hours saved by skipping these destinations is more like 20. Remember these are "wheels turning" hours at the speed limit. A couple of trucks or RVs poking along can make a big difference, and stops for photos, food, nature breaks etc. can turn a 5-hour drive into an 8-hour day.
Gardyloo is online now  
Old Feb 24, 17, 7:57 pm
  #13  
FlyerTalk Evangelist
 
Join Date: Feb 2003
Location: Denver, CO, USA
Programs: Proud Charter Member of the OUM
Posts: 20,914
1) Get a full size SUV, not a midsize. You'll likely need it for the air conditioning power.

2) July in Death Valley is insane. Not even Nevadans go there in July. If you must, drive straight through the Hell that it will be and actually spend some time in Yosemite, the most beautiful national park in the world. (Skip Yosemite? Skip Yosemite?????)

3) Parhump is about as uninteresting a town in Nevada as you get.

4) You realize that you're starting your Grand Canyon day in Flagstaff, on the South Rim, and ending your day in Kanab, all the way around on the North Rim side? I don't care what Google Maps says, that's six hours of driving...and you end up in a town that can only be described as more boring than Parhump. (Consider Page, AZ for overnight if you must make this traverse.)

Vacations are supposed to be vacations, not Griswold journeys where you have exactly 90 seconds at each stop to say "been there!"
DenverBrian is offline  
Old Feb 24, 17, 8:03 pm
  #14  
FlyerTalk Evangelist
 
Join Date: Feb 2003
Location: Denver, CO, USA
Programs: Proud Charter Member of the OUM
Posts: 20,914
Originally Posted by Loren Pechtel View Post
Also, look at the mileage rules for your rental car. Most of them would ding you pretty heavily for this trip.
On this one issue, I disagree. Almost all rental car companies have unlimited mileage these days.
DenverBrian is offline  
Old Feb 25, 17, 9:49 am
  #15  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jun 2013
Location: FRA
Posts: 1,391
Ok, thanks, everyone, the decision has been made, we cut out that loop through Arizona and Utah. We had already cut Lake Tahoe earlier. The total driving time is much more manageable now and we were able to fit many two or three-day stops into the itinerary, which will allow us to explore and experience the places we are visiting.

The car comes with a complete package, BTW, that includes all insurance and unlimited mileage, so this would not have been the issue. It's always better to book rental cars from Europe to avoid discussions on what's included and what's needed.

We also added three nights in Laguna Beach to allow for some more beach time and a possible day trip to San Diego.
Alex71 is offline  

Thread Tools
Search this Thread