Thursday 23 May 2013 10:39 UTC
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We're toying with the idea of finishing the holiday we had interrupted halfway through 30 years ago by the untimely death of my FiL... we abandoned our west coast trip at SF and headed back home.
We're thinking of starting off from SF and heading to Yosemite then the Grand Canyon. We'd like to rent an RV to make the most of the great outdoors and want to keep the budget reasonable, so no fancy hotels and the like.
Any forumites want to share experiences of this in this particular area? There are so many names and sights there that I am unsure where to start and how much distance / driving time we should allow so we don't spend all the time on the road. I am aware that even by a direct route to Grand Canyon it's 800 miles.
I'd plump for the RV4 though your missus might prefer side-by-side seating.
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We did a similar route just over 12 months ago, slight differences being we were in a 2-seat Mustang and we finished at Vegas rather than carrying on to the Canyon, going SF - Yosemite - Death Valley - Vegas.
However, a couple of points that should remain relevant:
Most importantly - what time of year are you hoping to go? We were in the first week of November, and the main route over the top through Yosemite had just closed due snow so we were forced to detour south to Fresno, Bakersfield, and this added about 300 miles to that leg of the journey. This road, Tioga Road, route 120, closes November - May or June, if you cannot get through Yosemite here you need to think hard about your route and itinerary, and add in the extra miles as required. That said, we stayed at http://www.stayyosemiteviewlodge.com/ just to the west of the park entrance. Simple facilities, but clean and perfectly adequate. The bits of Yosemite we saw were amazing, and we both vowed to go back in a summer season to explore further. The National Parks Service website http://www.nps.gov/yose/index.htm has everything you will need.
Driving distances are huge, but the freeways are so easy that the miles fall away. We did SF to Yosemite in just under 5 hours, and once off the freeway heading into the Yosemite area there is so much to see that you do not notice the time. I guess it depends on your own outlook on whether the drive can be part of the holiday or something to be got through as quickly as possible?
In SF itself, while Fishermans Wharf is very touristy, it is the starting point for Alcatraz tours, Golden Gate etc. and you can get a tram back into the centre of town and explore from there. We did not collect our car until we were leaving SF to head east, you do not need / want a car in SF.
Death Valley is well worth a stop off, http://www.escapetodeathvalley.com/ again simple and no gimmicks. Take a drive up to Dantes View Peak for a vista back over Badwater Basin below.
What would we do differently? Apart from going in the summer, I would allow longer in Yosemite, one night in Death Valley is fine though. Would I do it again? Definitely, just need to leave it a few years while our newborn grows to the stage she can take the flight!
PM me if you want any more details, happy to talk you through anything else.
It'll all take you longer than you think, so allow plenty of time between waypoints.
I don't know how well you know SF but there are a few places that passing tourists don't bother with, such as the Coit tower where you can get a superb 360 view of SF and the bay.
The best level view of SF is from the car park on the far side (Sausilito) of the bridge.
The tram museum is worth a quick visit too, it is actually the hub of the tram cables with it all in full working order, massive pulley wheels, etc.
At Yosemite, don't miss a trip up to Glacier Point, 3200 feet above the valley floor. (Don't worry, you can drive up there!).
On the road, Bodie is well worth a visit. It is an old mining town (now a ghost town) that is very well preserved and quite fascinating. A bit off the track but well worth a visit.
Death valley has many side valleys that are worth a walk, very interesting and spectacular geology.
Vegas is always worth a day or two - but no more! I find it ridiculous but interesting, like the replica Grand Canal on the second floor of The Venetian!
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Thanks Mark - I'll take a look at these. We did do a bit of SF but it was 30 years ago so time for a few days there as well.
I should have said we were thinking of late spring / early summer. We also want to go to places that are still reasonably cool (if that is possible but with the mountains it's certainly going to be cooler) so Death Valley may not be practical...
It's certainly easy to eat up the miles in the States though I guess the twisting roads in the mountains will mean travelling at the speed of the slowest RV on the road which I expect there will be a fair few - not that I want to spend days behind the wheel either. I have plenty of experience driving large vans and on the 'wrong' side of the road, so that bit doesn't worry me at all. I see for the wuss drivers they even have rear view cctv's now!
Sharpie - yes I recall a Margarita or two at that very spot Coit Tower, though it might be my memory as to the location. I have no real desire to see Las Vegas and have my wallet emptied though it may be part of the outward/return route and therefore unavoidable to at least drive thru'
Things have changed dramatically since you were there last, mainly in the overcrowding of well-known National Parks, and the not insignificant cost of renting an RV.
My own view is that you avoid Grand Canyon altogether. It's very overcrowded and unless you are happy to hike for a few days to get away from the hordes of Japanese tourists, you will not find a spot away from the crowds, the tour buses and the lack of parking. The North Rim might be better, but it's a while since I've been there.
It's also just a big hole in the ground...it's so vast that the eye & brain cannot appreciate it unless you get down in to it. Much better to find smaller, more intimate parks.
Zion, Bryce, Arches, Joshua Tree & Seqouia National Forest are five such, and although in peak season they may also have the hordes, it is a lot easier to get away from them.
Canyonlands NP is perhaps the best, where it is quite easy to find oneself well away from most. Glen Canyon National Recreation Area & Capitol Reef NP are also wonderful.
Yosemite is also similarly affected (as is Yellowstone), with huge traffic jams almost all year round and trouble getting parking.
If you do go, make sure you book your RV "camping" on-line (varies park to park) to ensure you get a space (this depends on time of year, but avoid June-August if possible).
Don't dismiss the State Parks...some are well worth visiting over some of the more popular national ones. Goblin Valley SP in Utah is one example and Valley of Fire SP in Nevada.
If you go to more than two NPs, it is worth getting an Annual Pass at $80, although this will not cover you at SPs.
Another idea, in consideration of the driving times, is to fly to somewhere other than SF. Like Reno, Las Vegas or Phoenix or Denver and start from there. Get a one-way rental too, although it costs more. My own choice would be Denver to Las Vegas, and keep off the freeways, otherwise you miss it all.
If you're planning on going high, make sure your RV has a turbocharged engine:
Our normally aspirated Ford 4 x 4 (new but nothing special) got decidedly asthmatic over 8000ft in Yosemite and crawled slowly up the mountains with an increasingly frustrated/impatient queue of traffic behind us..........
Primum non nocere..
On a flying related note, I recall hiring a C172 (or something of that ilk) down in Sedona - which isn't really that far away from the Grand Canyon. Flying from Sedona was quite an experience for someone used to taking off and landing at normal density altitude UK type airfields. Using lots of leaning on the ground isn't something I've ever had to do before. Plus, the scenery in the Sedona area is great.
My biggest regret about the Grand Canyon was heeding all the signs about not hiking to the river and back in a day. I turned back as the mesa, which is about half way, and found the hike back up no problem at all. I really wish I'd gone all the way. Probably would struggle to do it now.
Another big thumbs up for Death Valley, I was there in the summer and it was very hot, but a dry heat I found I could tolerate. You could almost feel the moisture being sucked out of you though, so lots of water is a must.
Finally, probably not likely to appeal to most here, but the paragliding at Marshall close to San Bernadino is great. I was flying solo most of the time there, but I could recommend a great tandem pilot to anyone interested in trying something a little different. I did one flight with him to familiarise myself with the house thermals etc, and he has a great reputation from a safety perspective. Probably a little off route for your plans, though, George.
I did LA to LA via the list below in September this year, covering a huge area (4 states...) Going through STA Travel (with all accommodation and car hire booked for us), we drove from hotel to hotel each day. Saw a colossal amount, and in staying in 3* or so hotels/ motels it was cheaper than using an RV. Travel time was probably also less, and perhaps more comfy than driving an RV (and Mrs RR wasn't happy driving an RV but a normal car wasn't an issue). Wouldn't recommend it for all - meant driving 3+ hours each day, but saw an awful lot from the car between places. We tended to use the time in the car to research and book over the phone what we were going to do over the next day (got a PAYG US sim card...).
We had no real weather related issues. Death Valley (and some of the other salt plains) were extremely hot. SF was cool. Only real rain was in Bryce Canyon in which we got soaked on a horse back ride.
One place I'd recommend that isn't on the normal trail is San Jacinto State Park. You take a cable car from just North of Palm Springs, (which is a hot desert) up 8500ft into the mountains above where is was cool pine forest and easily hikeable for us people living in Scotland (still a barmy 20degC) with a stunning view of the valley below.
If you want me to mention any more details about any of our legs or places we went to, just say.
Oh - meant to say - if you are planning on getting an RV in San Fran, don't get it until you are leaving San Fran. Car Parking is a nightmare and Public transport is usable. It was the only city we had to pay for separate parking as out hotel didn't have its own car park. Also pick your time to get the RV carefully. One morning we were walking (to a church I think) and there was a queue to pick up a car from Avis around 2 blocks.
The scenery is fabulous, but the distances are deceptively large. I drove it once, many years ago, and have flown it a few times since.
I would love to fly it again, but wouldn't drive it.
Grand Canyon is great from an aeroplane - you can bimble along the bit the tourists don't see, stop off at Grand Canyon airfield and visit the Imaxx, and stay overnight at the rim hotel.
Sedona is one of my favourite places on earth. Book yourself into the hotel by the airfield, and wander about at dusk.
Death Valley, at the right time of year, is interesting. The (non-air conditioned) old hotel is open for a few weeks in spring and autumn and is the place to stay if you have the option. Landing there is fun, with the altimeter going below zero with QNH set.
Yosemite is a delight.
Pick your time of year carefully. Book yourself a room at the hotel on the rim of the canyon (book well ahead!).
Moderatio in omnibus
One thing you haven't mentioned, George, is what you intend to do once you are at these places.
Is it simply a matter of seeing them, hence joining the "tick in the box" brigade, in which case the purchase of an on-line slide-show will suffice , or is it to explore, to experience, to enjoy them and get a greater experience than the run-of-the-mill tourist?
Er, no NOT the tick in the "been there seen it" box types but more keen on the exploring, walking, seeing rather than just travelling...
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