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Request for Road Trip Advice - California, Nevada, Arizona (1 Viewer)


Hi there. I am an Australian planning a trip to America for the first time. I am flying in and out of San Francisco - my main interest is nature based with scenery, wildlife and particularly birds being my key focus. I am trying to plan for my trip at the end of the month (and include the odd bit of non-nature based distraction). I arrive on Boxing Day and have 20 days to play with.

I am seeking some advice on a few fronts.

Firstly, I welcome any feedback on the itinerary i've created and whether I should consider rejuggling somehow - for each location I've tried to list the locations that have captured my interest but don't expect to have time to visit all of these so if there's any you suggest i leave out or are must dos then please share with me. There are an additional 3 places I was keen to go to but do to time constraints I think I will have to miss out on Arcata Marsh, Redwoods NP/SP and Yosemite NP (part of the reason I've chosen to leave them out is due to the amount of time it would take to get there and in the case of Yosemite the possibility of driving in snow).

Secondly, I am contemplating renting a campervan type vehicle (lostcampers have got basic vehicles with a mattress in the back). I realise it is winter in January so I'm not too sure whether i'm being foolish to consider this possibility. I like the flexibility of this option and imagine it will be significantly cheaper than car+hotels though I'm not sure that I will be showering as often as i would like. Has anyone done the campervan thing in winter ?

Finally, I wanted to check whether my current itinerary would require driving in regions that attract a significant chance of snow or the potential for road closures due to storms.

Proposed Itinerary Dec 26 - Jan 14 (20 days)

"San Francisco (3 nights)
Point Reyes
Pescadero Marsh
Rodeo Lagoon
Marin Headlands
Southeast Farallon Island (SF Co.)
Presidio--Battery Godfrey
Lake Merced
Coyote Hills Regional Park
Golden Gate Park"
"Monterey (2 nights)
Elkhorn Slough
Moonglow Dairy
Point Pinos
Andrew Molera SP"
"Las Vegas (2 nights)
Desert NWR--Corn Creek (Field Station)
Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve"
"Grand Canyon/Sedona (3 nights)
Grandon Canyon - South Rim
Watson Lake and Riparian Preserve
Oak Creek Canyon
Cathedral Rock
Red Rock SP
Devil's Bridge Trail"
"Phoenix (2 nights)
Riparian Preserve at Gilbert Water Ranch
Desert Botanical Garden
Boyce Thompson Arboretum SP"
"Palm Springs (3 nights)
Salton Sea
Joshua Tree NP
Anza-Borrego Desert SP
San Jacinto Wildlife Area
Big Morongo Canyon Preserve"
"Tucson area (3 nights)
Sweetwater Wetlands
Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum
Patagonia Lake State Park
Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve
Madera Canyon"
"Los Angeles (2 nights)
Huntington Central Park
Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve
San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary
Sepulveda Basin"

On Day 21 I will drive from Los Angeles to San Francisco to catch flight.

Places I want to see but think I will have to miss out :
Yosemite NP
Aracata Marsh
Redwood NP and SP

Many thanks for your time and thoughts.


Well-known member
G'day, Derek,

It looks like you've done your homework, and you have a fairly ambitious trip planned.

To your specific question about inclement weather: The biggest challenge, travel-wise, is your transit between Monterey and Las Vegas. If you head south, thru Bakersfield, and take 58 to I15, there may be some weather of the Tehachapis, but probably not a huge risk. There is some possibility of snow across Arizona, but it shouldn't be too bad.

If you had intended to cross over the Sierras on I80, then I95 south to 'Vegas, the pass on I80 over Donner Summit can certainly be snowy, and chains or 4X4 with snow tires required, etc.

I think you would want to rearrange a bit-- maybe head to Palm Springs/Anza Borrego before Las Vegas, then head thru Death Valley to Las Vegas. Then into Arizona-- Phoenix then Tucson. This puts you pretty far from SF, of course, but from Tucson, you're pretty far from California no matter how you arrange it. It might be worth considering doing it from California to Arizona, then ditch your rental vehicle and catch a Southwest Airlines flight back to SF for your return. This cuts out LA however, so you'd have to go to LA from Monterey, then head East to Anza Borrego/Salton Sea, etc.

Just looking at the map-- Another way to do your loop is more like you had originally: SF -> Monterey -> 'Vegas -> Grand Canyon -> Phoenix -> Tucson -> (back along near the border on the I8) Salton Sea/Anza Borrego/Palm Springs -> LA -> SF and you're on your way home...

Yosemite is glorious, but in January, it can be cold and damp, and all the high country is closed out due to snow (hopefully, anyway). Redwood/Sequoia NP-- same deal.

I wouldn't say that a camper van is foolish, but it will be freakin' cold in some spots, and you'll need a 4-season sleeping bag for sure. It just depends on how much of a rugged outdoorsman you are.

Anyway, back to question 1: I think you could easily spend 20 days just within California. If it were me, I'd prune a couple of the more far-flung destinations, and leave yourself a bit more time for some of the other spots, and maybe give yourself some flexibility for inclement weather.

Have a great trip!


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