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Winter road trip on US West Coast

Canberra
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Winter road trip on US West Coast

Hi all

My family (me, husband and 3 teenagers) will be renting an RV for a road trip on the US west coast in January 2012. Having researched TA forums etc, I now have a pretty good idea of the itinerary and time frame needed.

We have three weeks to achieve the following -

Depart San Francisco

Drive down Highway 1 to LA

Continue down to San Diego

Drive inland to Las Vegas

Return to San Fran via Death Valley

My questions are -

. Is it worthwhile driving to the South Rim Grand Canyon from San Diego, or would it be enough to drive directly to Las Vegas and take a helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon West rim?

. My other question is in regard to the weather at this time of year (this may be relevant to my first question also). Will it be too cold to venture east off the coast?

I would be grateful for any advice on my questions or my itinerary.

Wednesbury, UK
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1. Re: Winter road trip on US West Coast

Hi lemon-delicious.

In my view, with the time you have it is definitely worth driving to the Grand Canyon South Rim, in the National Park, rather than taking a heli trip to the inferior West Rim.

As for weather, I've attached a link to the average temp info for GCNP, and obviously, it's going to be cold in the desert at night, quite possible you will see some snow at GCNP.

nps.gov/grca/…CP_JUMP_155163

Wednesbury, UK
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2. Re: Winter road trip on US West Coast

Timed out on edit, meant to add:

On your route back to SF, I assume you will be taking a route to the south of the Sierra Nevada mountains, rather than heading north towards Lake Tahoe? Are your plans to try and take in some of Yosemite and Kings Canyon/ Giant Sequoias, weather and road conditions permitting?

Washington State
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3. Re: Winter road trip on US West Coast

Are you familiar with RVing in the winter? This is not a route I'd recommend for RV travel as there are few good campgrounds in your numerous cities and the route is so long (extra fees for more miles driven.) If you really want to RV, then just stay in the desert southwest. If you want the itinerary you've planned, rent a car and stay in motels. It will be cheaper and easier.

Where to stay tripadvisor.com/Travel-g28926-c151535

Canberra
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4. Re: Winter road trip on US West Coast

Thank you for your replies.

Actually, I do know about the inaccessability of the Sierra Nevada mountains. As such, we thought we would spend the majority of our time on the coast, south from San Francisco (we will be staying in a hotel while there). We do want to pop over to Las Vegas. I thought as a consolation to not driving to the South Rim Grand Canyon and Yosemite, having a look at areas such as Joshua Tree, Mojave Preserve and Death Valley might be the go.

Some RV companies winterize their vehicles, others dont - so was unsure about the conditions in these area in January.

And believe me, my preference would be to stay in 5 star hotels all the way. However, my family are very keen on the RV idea. We live near the Snowy Mountains in Australia and are quite capable drivers in icy conditions. We are also campers and know how to 'tough it'. I admit the idea of unpacking once is extremely appealing. Furthermore, it seems as though motel rooms in the US are mostly double queen size. As we have three teenagers who are not keen on sleepinging in the same bed together, we would need to book two rooms per night, making accommodation pretty expensive.

Would really like advice on interesting routes - particularly from San Diego to Las Vegas. I'm guessing that the route from Las Vegas back to San Fran will be hopefully thru Death Valley, then over to Bakersfield and up the highway.

Cheers

Donna

Washington State
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5. Re: Winter road trip on US West Coast

Hi again Donna

If you're accustomed to winter driving, then go for it! We don't RV, but we are often on mountain roads in the winter and have no problems.

I wouldn't say that the Sierra Nevada mountains are inaccessible. The higher elevations require work to reach, but you can certainly drive to Yosemite Valley in winter; it's only 4,000' elevation. The folks who run the Badger Pass ski resort in the Park depend on open roads. If you camp in the Valley, you can take the bus up to Badger Pass (7200') to ski, snowboard, snowshoe, or cross country ski.

You'll probably want reservations for Death Valley NP as well as Yosemite NP. Both are well worth your time and will be quite different visits. Another place to consider is Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada, about an hour east of Las Vegas. I haven't visited in January, but it's a fabulous park.

Napa, CA
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6. Re: Winter road trip on US West Coast

Booking two rooms is probably still cheaper than buying gas for an RV and paying the campground charges.

RVing in winter is not camping. You have to stay inside and it gets dark at 5pm. You will need chains if going to Yosemite or Sequoia and that's not possible with rentals. Grand Canyon can be very cold too. The Southern California deserts will probably be OK as would Southern Arizona. Same with Death Valley although it's better there in Feb and March.

RVs are really expensive to operate. Calculate the costs very carefully. Good luck on your holiday.

Edited: 2:35 am, November 02, 2011
Wednesbury, UK
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7. Re: Winter road trip on US West Coast

Hi Donna.

If you decide to head for GCNP then it would make sense to do that directly from San Diego rather than via Vegas and pick up Vegas on the way back to SF.

That route could take in, Palm Springs, Joshua Tree NP, Parker Strip, Parker Dam, Oatman, maybe even Sedona with a detour if you have the time?

Won't make any comment on the RV discussion as my only experience is being frustratedly stuck behind them on mountain routes! ; )

Canberra
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8. Re: Winter road trip on US West Coast

Thank you all for your replies.

PacificNW - thanks for the optomistic kick... we are going for it!! Would love to hit the slopes (we are all skiers/boarders), that would be a bonus!

However, we are being conservative in our ambitions. Not including GC and Yosemite at this stage - may change if global warming kicks in and those areas are unseasonably mild! I know it is very unpopular on TA, but a flight over the canyon will be our compromise ;(

Fortunately, we are not restricted (to a degree) by budget. It is the experience that is our main priority. If we arrive at a destination that is too cold for the Rv, we will find a hotel (thinking LV might be the most likely candidate). Checking in and out of hotels is a pain - particularly with 3 kids. Therefore we've decided to take a punt on the RV. Will let you know how we go :)

Any advice on routes?

Cheers

Donna

Wednesbury, UK
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9. Re: Winter road trip on US West Coast

You could still take the route suggested from SD to GCNP, but after Oatman, when you get to Kingman on the I40, turn north on the US93, perhaps visit the Hoover dam and enter Vegas from the southeast through Boulder City and Henderson.

For a place to stray in LV, Circus Circus has an RV park, it would not be my choice of Hotel/Casino, but at least its in walking distance (well, sort of if your fit!!) of the main strip area.

Oregon Coast
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10. Re: Winter road trip on US West Coast

Hello lemon-delicious, I am a long time RVer.

I like your attitude and you sound very logical and well informed. I think you'll be fine. A couple of notes about RVing in the winter, especially regarding your route.

Motorhomes go decently well in the snow driven with a light foot. They do not do well in icy conditions and can be quite dangerous. Putting chains on is a real pain because of the dual wheels in the rear. (We've done it once and never again!) Your rental company will most likely not allow it anyway.

So keep your route flexible if possible and don't be put out if you must make changes.

Are you taking some form of internet access with you? That would be best so you can keep an eye on road and weather conditions. If not, ask at your RV parks if they will look up weather and road conditions for you. Most RV park hosts are quite friendly and willing to help out however they can.

It will depend upon your rental company whether or not your unit has been winterized. If not, be sure they know you may be camping in very cold temperatures and they will help you with learning how to prevent your water lines from freezing. That is priority #1 when cold weather camping!

If you hit cold weather, you may want to buy a small electric heater to supplement the furnace. Motorhomes are not insulated as well as a house and do get cold. Do stay in RV parks with at least 30 amp electric service.

You do not have to "stay inside" all the time, but be aware that it won't be warm in some of the places you are intending to visit.

You will average something around 8-10 miles per gallon. So balancing that against an extra hotel room each night might work out okay. Gas prices vary but figure around $3.70 per gallon.

In Las Vegas, you might look at Sam's Town RV Resort. It is out of town but there is a free shuttle to the strip. I have been in the KOA (Circus Circus) and it is right on the strip, noisy and overpriced, in my opinion, but very convenient.

With teenagers, don't miss the Fremont Street Experience :-) Here are some other family ideas. Teens cannot stay on the gambling floors but they can pass through.

tripadvisor.com/Travel-g45963-s410/Las-Vegas…

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To help you locate RV parks, here are some very useful websites and information:

http://www.rv-clubs.us/rv_campgrounds.html

http://www.rvparkhunter.com/page2.asp

http://www.rvparkreviews.com/index.html (all RV park reviews – excellent website)

http://camp-california.com/

http://www.koa.com

++ Woodall's "Campground Directory" and Trailer Life "RV Parks & Campgrounds Directory" (Far West or Western edition) are both extremely useful reference books available through www.amazon.com or www.barnesandnoble.com , as well as www.amazon.uk.co . They are also available at any Camping World store.

The Grand Canyon has an RV park at the south rim; it's called Trailer Village. It has *full* hookups and the free park shuttle stops at the entrance to it.

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Hotels do allow RVs to park in their lots if you are staying there, but if you decide to stay in a hotel for a night or two, be sure to let them know the length of your unit. Some hotels have pinchy little lots and you may not fit in!