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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
I did a similar 3 week birding road trip in may 2014 to Arizona and California. Essentially the areas you are hoping to visit, minus san Francisco and vegas, but visiting sites around the southern sierra Nevada.
In hindsight covering such a large area in that period was not ideal, as it was basically seeing my main bird targets and a few scenic sites then moving quickly on, and involved a lot of driving(c4200 miles I think I did), so if you like to take your time at places, maybe consider cutting out places on the periphery of your itinerary. If not, especially if its likely to be a once in a lifetime opportunity, cram as much in as possible! All areas I visited were stunning parts of the world!
2 nights around Monterey bay is maybe 1 short, I highly recommend driving the highway 1 coast road south from there to LA for the scenery if you were not planning on doing so, and this took me nearly a full day with an early start. I spent an hour or so at Andrew Molera SP on this drive, but didn't see it as somewhere to go out of the way for. Point Lobos a bit north is very scenic and is worth calling in at. Also was not a fan of elkhorn slough reserve, and spent most of my time here on jetty road watching the sea otters! Whale watching trips into Monterey bay are good but not sure what the crossover with the farallon islands will be?
Parts of Yosemite will probably be accessible but you may need to have tyre chains, and I'm not sure what hire companies views on this are. I presume you will be staying near flagstaff to visit the grand canyon? if so this is high elevation and may also be affected by the weather, especially if you plan to leave major roads. Would certainly not like to sleep in the car there as even in may, it was very cold over night and early am! Also in southern Arizona, illegal migrants cross the border(I encountered 1), most obviously will be no problem at all, but not sure I would like to sleep alone in the car down there just in case. Motel 6 is a cheap motel chain found throughout, but some of them the price is reflected in the rooms standards
2 areas I enjoyed for birding that you have not listed were del Puerto canyon/san Antonio valley road east of san jose(half day required at least) and kachina wetlands, just south of flagstaff(2/3 hours plenty)
Are you hoping to see any particular species of bird?


Thanks for your thoughts ! I am starting to think of cutting down to the one state and focusing on California since my flights are already booked into San Francisco. I am not looking for a particular bird or set of birds - very happy to enjoy a variety of them over a range of sites and enjoy the surrounding environment (And other wildlife). I think I will definitely come back to America after exploring the opportunities and diversity of landscapes to be found during my research .. Would prefer to enjoy the upcoming holiday rather than being worn out by it. I appreciate your comments on sleeping in a car and think that I will probably go with motel accommodation - I'd read somewhere else recommending the Motel 6 chain so they are obviously a good budget option. Also, snow chains do not appeal so i think i will plan to return to Flagstaff and Sedona areas at a slightly warmer time of the year. Still thinking of going to Yosemite but perhaps might consider going by coach.

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