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plbk4 Jul 31st, 2009 10:22 PM

Itinerary help for 4 weeks in USA

My family and I - me, wife, son 17 and daughter 11 – land in LA on 23rd November and depart again on 22nd December. We will spend a couple of days seeing the sights of LA but from there I am looking for advice on an itinerary for the next 4 weeks. Very roughly I have thought of LA, Phoenix, Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, Yellowstone, Seattle and then down the west coast back to LA.
Views on this and alternatives would be greatly appreciated.
Motorhome or hotels? Is this too much driving for 4 weeks? Should we fly back to LA rather than a round trip?
Should we consider something completely different for that time of the year and just fly out of LA to somewhere?
What are people’s views on the best things to see? The places to avoid?
I booked the trip impulsively – the fares were really cheap for the 4 of us (less than $3800 return) and I actually have time for some leave.
Any help appreciated.

janisj Jul 31st, 2009 10:50 PM

What you have in mind would be difficult in the nice weather of spring/summer - and next to impossible in winter. The distances are vast. You don't have time to drive the whole loop LA to LA so flying down from Seattle helps. But one-way car rentals tend to be VERY expensive. On top of that - most agencies don't allow you to put snow chains on rental cars/RVs. Now - we may have a mild late Fall/Winter -- or not. But you won't know which it is until around the time you arrive. Too late to fix things then.

Plus Nov 25-29 are the busiest travel days of the year (it is Thanksgiving weekend)

So you need to decide really -- do you want a mostly snow/mountain/skiing type holiday (Grand Canyon/Utah/Yellowstone etc) plus maybe some time in the Pacific NW. -- or -- a Northern/southern California/Las Vegas/Grand Canyon itinerary.

polly229 Jul 31st, 2009 11:25 PM

Those are some great places but I'll have to leave it to someone who has driven between them to tell you if it's too much driving (I'm guessing it is) and if you'll have any treacherous roads in Nov.-Dec.; have visited all of them more than once except Phoenix and Salt Lake City but since I'm on the east coast, it's been in bits and pieces. But I will comment on some of the places you plan to visit. (I have not done any in the winter but I'm pretty sure you'll be looking at snow at Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, and maybe Salt Lake City and other parts of your proposed route.)

LA to Vegas isn't a bad drive and it's probably not too bad to Grand Canyon from LA either. Grand Canyon is definitely a good stop but not a place I'd spend more than a couple of days in winter. And although I've never been to Phoenix (but love Tucson between Nov. and March) and am therefore not a good judge, I'd spend the rest of my Arizona time in the Sedona area. (I have nearly frozen to death in Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon in April twice, however. Shudder to think about it in Dec.) If I were going from Grand Canyon to Salt Lake City, I'd go through some of the great national parks along the way. (Have done mostly the southwest portion of the state - Zion, Bryce area - but Arches, Moab, others further north in Utah are on my bucket list.) Yellowstone may be the place that's "too far", but it's my husband's and my absolute favorite of all of those you list. I think it's in the ballpark of an 8 hr. drive from Salt Lake. Not being much of a gambler but having been in Vegas about a dozen times related to business, with a few leisure days thrown in, I'm not a big fan of Vegas but think a couple of days of exploring fabulous hotels and seeing a show or two (especially one of the Cirque du Soleils) is well worthwhile. But if you get that far north and have the time, particularly if you don't go to WA, I'd also suggest Death Valley on the way back to CA. It's about a 2 1/2 hr. drive from Vegas and just as I've frozen in northern AZ in spring, I have burned up in Death Valley in spring, so Dec. might be a perfect time to go. I can't think immediately of what we'd do in Salt Lake but fly there, pick up a rental car and drive to some national parks in UT. But we love WA, including Seattle, and are, in fact, headed there in about a month. But that might also be a bit far. Four weeks seems like a lot, but when you try to fit it all in, that will be a lot of ground to cover.

What kinds of things are you interested in? Out-of-doors, cultural? How often are you willing to move? Because we've been in the deep south and haven't driven in snow for 30 years (except Grand Canyon in April), I'd be more likely to go to AZ, NM and "snowproof" places in CA like San Diego, saving N. AZ, Utah, WY for a spring or fall trip. But if I were in your shoes and didn't know when I'd have the opportunity again, I might gamble on the bad weather because you've listed some of my favorite places in the US; and Albuquerque and Tucson and San Diego, though also great, are definitely in my next category down.

utahtea Aug 1st, 2009 12:01 AM

You are not going to find much open in Yellowstone this time of the year. and it looks like you'll be to early for Oversnow Vehicle traveling in the park. I'd skip Yellowstone. The North Rim of the Grand Canyon will be closed due to snow.

This would be the perfect time to visit Death Valley National Park, California. Just make sure to avoid the four day Thanksgiving holiday weekend which will be Nov. 26st to Nov. 29th.

Other parks to consider are Zion National Park and Bryce National Park in southern Utah. You might find snow at Bryce but that just makes it more beautiful.

Yosemite National Park in California, but Tioga Pass will be closed. Yosemite Valley will be open unless they get a bad snow storm. Winter is a good time of the year for the California Coast.

You could probably get good rates on renting an RV during this off season time. Just be aware that you could run into snow at this time of the year. Watch the weather when you are here. Even in a car, most rental agencies don't allow use of snow chains, yet you need to carry them when in Yosemite in the winter months. If you drive from Salt Lake city though Nevada to California, just be aware that Nevada can get a lot of snow and the mountain passes of California can close during snow storms.


SocialIQof0 Aug 1st, 2009 07:25 AM

I've been to all the places you've mentioned - but I have to agree with the others that it may be difficult if not impossible to get some of the places you want to go - just because of weather.
That being said - I don't know where you're from - so you may be very use to driving in snow, etc. and feel comfortable with it! But others said some places like Yellowstone, may be mostly closed so you should be sure to look at each of the parks you've mentioned (I am certain they are all online) and make sure they'll be open to do the things you want. Otherwise you'd be doing a lot of driving for nothing.
Assuming you cut out the Arizona, Utah, Nevada, Yellowston part due to weather - I would suggest considering just doing an up and back trip from LA to Seattle.
My cousin can make the drive from LA straight up I5 to Seattle in less than 24 hours. You obviously you don't have to be in such a rush.
As such, there are several sights and large national parks along that route. You'd need to double check what is open, but it's one idea.
The other would be to take Highway 1/101 Which basically would take you all the way up along the pacific coast. I am not sure how this would be at this time of year. But it is a gorgeous drive other time sof year and takes you near or through a lot great towns. You could then drive back on 1-5.
This has been a strange year for weather so it is really difficult to predict what it would be like.

Gardyloo Aug 1st, 2009 08:12 AM

From your other posts I gather home is in N. Queensland, so presumably you're no stranger to big distances.

That said, the problem with touring into the mountains/desert east and northeast of LA is altitude. The Grand Canyon, Bryce, Zion, Yellowstone et al national parks are all at high altitude (2000m - 2500m) in most cases, so combined with winter you'd have nothing but snow and ice once you leave Las Vegas behind. Plus, days are so short that you'd spend most of your time inside hotels or the RV in the dark.

Which is not to say winter touring to these places is impossible; in fact the "red rocks" national parks are gorgeous with some snow on the ridges. But red rocks you've got in Oz.

Some alternate ideas come to mind. First, four weeks is indeed a long time, so I'd look at subdividing it into a couple of modules, maybe even 3.

You can certainly spend a week or two exploring the California coast - from San Diego to San Francisco, even beyond up to the Redwoods. The coastline is very beautiful (think Great Ocean Road x 2) between LA and SF.

You might also think about a week's cruise to Mexico out of LA or San Diego. Cruise prices are surprisingly cheap on a per diem basis as they're all inclusive; usually if you add hotel/food/car hire costs for a week and compare it to a cruise you'll find the cruise comes out cheaper.

If you wanted a real experience, you might even find a 2-week cruise departing from the west coast that sails through the Panama Canal and ends up in Florida, from which flights back to California are plentiful. (Or the reverse is equally feasible.)

Another idea would be to make it a two-coast trip. Start in California, then fly to the east coast and look around there. It will be cold but not desperately so in NY City or Washington DC, but both are great cities to visit in the late autumn/early winter. Or you could fly to Florida, or New Orleans and spend a few days in the sun.

Two things to keep in mind. First, Nov. 26th (Thurs.) is Thanksgiving Day, and the day before and the weekend following are the heaviest travel days of the year in the US. You'll want to book someplace pronto for that timeframe, and plan on a fabulous traditional meal (albeit at a restaurant) for that Thursday.

Second, the price of flights jumps sharply as Christmas approaches (same as in Oz) so plan accordingly for the week you leave.

My final thought is to go on the classic American road trip. I would fly someplace fun for Thanksgiving (I'd pick New Orleans, but you could also fly to Memphis, which will be chilly but not cold at that time) then hire a car and drive back to LA. Stay on the southern tier; stop in Austin, San Antonio, maybe the Carlsbad Caverns, Santa Fe (high elevation but lovely.) Play it by ear as you pass Flagstaff and if the weather allows, detour up to the Grand Canyon south rim, then hit Las Vegas and end up in LA. You'd have plenty of time for this, the one-way car rental will be higher than a return one but not that punishing, and you'd see a helluva lot in the time frame.

Otis_B_Driftwood Aug 1st, 2009 08:14 AM

At that time of year, I'd stick to the Southwest. You could run into some ugly weather up in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Wyoming, and northern Utah. Also, the days are really short then. I'd not want to be RVing all around the west. Stay in motels.

As others have said, you will be arriving just before the busy Thanksgiving Weekend. You might want to stay put in LA for that first weekend and then head up the coast to SF the next week. Then drive over to Yosemite and then work your way around the Sierra to Death Valley and then Las Vegas. I would do this part of the trip first because you will have a better chance of finding good weather in California during the first part of December than later in the trip.

After Northern California and Vegas, you could go to the Grand Canyon and then venture into the warmer climate of Central and Southern Arizona. Phoenx and Tucson have a lot to offer and there are a number of interesting National Parks and Monuments in this part of the Southwest. You could spend easily 10 days or more down there.

After Arizona, head back to Southern California and see San Diego and Orange County. There are also interesting places to visit in the California Desert such Palm Springs, Anza-Borrego, Joshua Tree and so on. You could spend easily a couple of weeks down there and still not see everything.

One nice thing about traveling at that time is that it is not a particularly busy time for tourist travel. You will have many of the sights and attractions pretty much to yourselves, at least compared to other times of the year.

Orcas Aug 1st, 2009 08:15 AM

Here's another idea. How about sticking with the west coast? The weather is hard to predict. The coast doesn't get snow often. It gets foggy and overcast as you go into Oregon, but the weather could be good. You could shape your itinerary as you go, depending on the weather. Getting hotels that time of year should not be a problem. I think an RV would just drag you down.

You could have a great time driving up route one to San Francisco. It is one of the most scenic drives in the world. Visit the redwoods along the way. Then, continue up I-5 into Oregon. I-5 gets snowy but is usually open. Visit Ashland, home of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. They have some plays in the winter. Cut across to the Oregon coast. It may be socked in, but it could be gorgious. Drive up through the little coastal towns, seeing the sites. Go visit Portland for a few days. If the weather is okay, go to the Columbia River Gorge and drive around Mt. Hood. If you like to ski, go to Mt. Bachelor on the east side of the Cascades and stay at the Inn at the Seventh Mountain. Return to I-5 and drive to Seattle. Leave your days fairly open due to weather. If you have time, go to Vancouver. Then drive back down the coast to LA.

Orcas Aug 1st, 2009 08:18 AM

Just a comment re the weather. The west coast of CA should be pretty good weather. Going into Oregon and Washington, it may be overcast but it usually does not freeze, as the ocean moderates up to the Cascade mountains. East of the Cascades, it is high and cold.

nanabee Aug 1st, 2009 08:49 AM

I would arrive arrive in Seattle in the first part of the trip to avoid the bad weather that you'd have in Dec.
You could start out in Seattle then Portland as Orcas has described.
I would then continue to drive down to California along the coast (you'd see the Redwoods, San Francisco, Monterey Bay, Santa Barbara) and spend some time in LA. This would take you into the 3-4 week of your vacation and Dec. in southern Calif has good weather. You could then drive over to Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon. These areas are popular in Dec because the weather is usually warm during the day and cooler in the evening.

dbdurand Aug 1st, 2009 09:09 AM

I'm pretty much with Otis B. Driftwood. Unless you (the OP) tell us otherwise, we have to assume you have a good reason to fly into L.A. So I suggest you get out a map, and with L.A. at the center, draw a circle with a radius of about a day's drive. You will find it will encompass all the locales mentioned by Otis, and then some, and you can figure out an itinerary that includes those that are of interest to you. You don't have to come back to your hub (L.A.) in between, but you could if it helps in expediting travel to the destinations you choose. BTW, you'll notice that Catalina Island is inside your circle. The Grand Canyon is not, so you can't go there, without special permission.

And I do hafta say that 2 days in L.A. is ridiculously short.

Note to Otis. Have you spent a night at the Opera recently?

nytraveler Aug 1st, 2009 09:19 AM

If you're not used to driving in snow I wouldn't even take a car into the mountains - never mind an RV.

Unless you're focused on a skiing holiday - which doesn't sound like what you want I would focus on areas that won't by snowy yet - LA and the entire CA coast, Vegas and Grand Canyon (assuming weather cooperates) - and either farther north along the cost or into warmer areas of the SW.

Definitely plan on a one-way rental - and be sure to sign up for a second driver - since thast is way too much territory for just one person to do.

mrkindallas Aug 1st, 2009 09:33 AM

A month is a lot of time giving you a lot of options. I agree with creating two or three different trip modules. Depending on budget and interests, there are any number of things you could do and you could make each module completely different.

For example, you could fly into LA and head south toward San Diego, then drive/fly to Vegas and stay a couple of nights. Fly from Vegas to just about anywhere. I'd choose someplace with a lot of culture and interests (New York City in its Christmas glory, Washington DC, or New Orleans for a more moderate climate (depending on the age of your children, this might not be the best choice)). Then maybe head for a snow destination. My choice would be to fly to Calgary (in Canada) and drive to the Banff and Lake Louise area and spend some time in the Canadian Rockies (beautiful). Drive back to Calgary and, depending on how much time you've spent in each of your stops so far, either fly straight back to LA for your flight home, or fly to Seattle, Portland, or San Francisco and take your time driving south to LA. This is definitely not the most budget friendly trip as you are looking at one-way car rentals, several flights, and some expensive destinations, but worth it if it does fit your budget.

polly229 Aug 1st, 2009 06:56 PM

Looks like more savvy winter travelers (or residents) confirmed my fears about the northern part of your itinerary. (I'm so naive that when I read "road closed in winter" on a map, I figure it doesn't apply to me since I'm going in May; then am shocked when I later discover that the road doesn't open till June or even July.) We've thought about going to Yellowstone in the winter but never checked the particulars and didn't realize that the winter activities don't start till later.

If I were heading south, I'd go to San Diego for a few days (but think twice about going to Tijuana since crime against tourists seems to be a problem currently), then head to Tucson (Organ Pipe National Park, Saguaro, maybe a day to Tombstone and Bisbee), then on to New Mexico, maybe to Carlsbad and up to Albuquerque (and Santa Fe if snow isn't a problem), back to Flagstaff/Sedona (Walnut Canyon, Wupatki, Montezuma's Castle), then to the south rim of the canyon, and on to Las Vegas. Then through Death Valley and to Sequoia and Yosemite, up to San Francisco, and return to Los Angeles along the coast on Rt. 1. You could easily spend the entire time doing just that if you stop for even a few of the things to see/do on the way.

If you really want to get farther north and don't mind taking chances on snow, you could make some time for that by cutting out New Mexico and going from Tucson to Flagstaff/Sedona via Phoenix. (I've only been on the coast of Queensland, haven't see Aussie red rocks, so maybe Sedona wouldn't hold much charm for you, but the Indian ruins in that part of AZ are fascinating and quite varied.) From San Francisco I'd go through Oregon to Seattle, taking time to appreciate Oregon, which is an amazingly beautiful state. If you want to drive along the coast up there, I'd recommend the Oregon coast rather than the Washington coast. And if the weather is good, a drive along the Columbia River in Oregon as far as The Dalles, then back across the river and return west on the WA side, could be done in a day.

If I were going to fly somewhere, I might consider going back to LA to return the car (which is usually cheaper than dropping off elsewhere, sometimes MUCH cheaper), then flying out of LA. You'll have more non-stop flights to choose from and probably better fares. I live in Orlando and have never paid more than $300 to get to LA but have often had a hard time getting flights for less than $300 to Vegas or Seattle or San Francisco; so certainly if you take the suggestion of flying to FL to warm up after some cold weather, LA is probably your best bet. That said, two years ago we flew to LA, picked up a car, drove up the coast to San Francisco, then flew out of Oakland, for $250 airfare and only $10 more for the car than LA to LA. So you have to check all options.

cferrb Aug 1st, 2009 07:46 PM

What kind of stuff do your children like to do, and do they like to do the same kind of things? Are they pretty compliant if you decide to do something they are not interested in? My younger child gets cranky if she's cooped up in the car for too long. Have you driven in the U.S. before? I think we drive on the "wrong side" in comparison to Australia.

rednikki Aug 3rd, 2009 01:38 PM

I'll second (or possibly third) the recommendation for the California coast. I used to live in LA. I now live in Monterey. (I'll admit upfront that I'm biased in that I work for the local Convention and Visitors Bureau - but I moved here and took the job because it is SO AWESOME here!)

The weather here in December is GREAT - 60s Fahrenheit during the day and 40s at night (so 17 during the day and 7 at night Celsius), and sometimes even warmer. What most visitors don't know is that the warmest period for the coastal region from Carmel to north of San Francisco is September through October, and it really stays nice throughout the year.

You can easily take a week to drive up from Los Angeles to San Francisco and stay in a different town every night (Ventura and/or Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Paso Robles and San Simeon/Hearst Castle, Big Sur, Carmel/Monterey, Santa Cruz, Half Moon Bay). In many of those places, you may want to spend even more time. Big Sur has all the natural beauty you'd hope to see in Yellowstone, and it's a great time of year to see it. There's also a lot of beautiful things to see north of San Francisco, as well. And the Bay Area on its own is an easy place to spend a week in.

You could, conceivably, do one northern loop through California, and another eastern loop from LA south to San Diego and then out to Las Vegas. I'm not as familiar with the Southwest, but obviously my fellow board members up above are!

stpetereb Aug 3rd, 2009 03:40 PM

Come East - the best weather at that time of the year is in FL.

Sandygm Aug 3rd, 2009 08:51 PM

Wow - I was looking for advice for our trip, also from Queensland to LA for 4 weeks this year, leaving on 24th Nov. and coming back at the same time as Peter, traveling with my husband and two 17 year-old sons, also wanting to go to SLC and Idaho (visiting friends), and thinking about visiting the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, and..... not sure! Also keen to see as much as possible by driving.
So this has been helpful, thank you :)
Coming from Oz, we are not looking for sunny weather, but on the contrary are keen to see and play in the snow (hoping to do that in Idaho, at least). But also wondering how best to spend our time other than that? A week in New York? Wondering about driving up to Cape Cod? Martha's Vineyard? (These are just names to us, but they sound nice :) Or to drive north from LA to see the coastal drive and the giant redwood trees?
(My husband and I visited a couple of years ago and drove across country from NY to the west - saw Niagra Falls and the Grand Canyon then, and loved them, so thought to show them to the children, but wondered if we should be seeing something else instead??)
What are the best things to do in the States???
(Should note that we are not interested in Las Vegas...)
Would appreciate any further help - thank you for everything so far!
Peter - I hope you and your family have a great holiday! :)

cferrb Aug 4th, 2009 08:46 AM

Sandygm, you might want to look at It's the national parks website, and will give you info on the national parks around Idaho, specifically Glacier, Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. They are all wonderful, but may not be quite as wonderful in late November/early December. However, they will be quite empty, and if you're already in Idaho, I would say that at least one, if not all of them are worth a trip. Just be prepared to bring your long underwear and lots of camera memory. If you look for threads on each of those national parks you'll get plenty of information.

The California coast is beautiful, and LA and San Francisco are both lots of fun in different ways. You'll probably get decent weather in LA. Do plan to stop at Hearst Castle in San Simeon on your way up the coast. It's an easy stop and relatively inexpensive (you can order tickets ahead of time on the California State Parks website and then pick them up at the window).

If you are going to NYC (which may be tough to do between Thanksgiving and New Year, I think it's really full of tourists then, but I may be wrong), then I heartily recommend getting to Washington, DC as well. It's a short train trip, and you don't really need a car in either city. If you do go to Washington, visit Mount Vernon, the home of George Washington. It's lovely, historical and also gives a sense of the place of slaves in this country. Your boys will probably love the Spy Museum.

I have a 13yo and a 17 yo. In both NYC and Washington DC you might want to consider giving your boys a fair amount of space to see what they want to see on their own rather than traveling lock-step. Both cities have amazing museums, but your sons might be less interested in some of them than you are.

VACullens Aug 4th, 2009 12:38 PM

If you decide to combine the East & West coasts for your trip, there are fabulous $25 bus fares from the center of Manhattan (Port Authority) right to the middle of Washington, DC. Much cheaper than a train. If you want museums (they're free), DC is the place to visit. Maybe it's possible to cross-country ski in Yellowstone National Park during your visit? Being out with buffalo is something the kids would never forget.

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