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monkeymanmoi Feb 25th, 2019 01:38 PM

One month Western US (Southern part/June 2020)
I'm lucky to possibly get a whole month off work to take my family on a Western trip from Atlanta in June of 2020. I'm trying to gauge if my plan is too busy and also try and figure out which (all?) of these spots need a year or more booking in advance. I'm pretty good about researching things to death, but this trip seems a bit daunting to me, especially a busy month like June. Four of us traveling with two kids who will be 13 and 10. I'm a fairly frugal person, but willing to punch up the budget for a once-in-a-lifetime trip like this. Seems weird that I've visited all over the Eastern US and Europe 10 times, but never seen anything in Utah. My wife and I did Vegas in 2004 (Grand Canyon/Hoover Dam) and we've both been to Colorado (kids have not).

Hoping to fly to Denver and rent a car (visit friends for a couple of days). Open to using a different city to fly into. Not really wanting too many driving trips of more than four hours.
Drive to Moab > Monument Valley > Page > Bryce > Zion > Grand Canyon (not really sure of the order... but I'm DYING to see Monument Valley)
Then off to Sedona > Joshua Tree > Los Angeles (two/three days) > up 101 to Big Sur/Monterrey (two days) > San Francisco (two/three days) > Napa

And then? No clue! Not interested in Yosemite this trip or other parts up North (unless we had a LOT of extra time to drive back to Denver to return car... seems like a waste of time. If the drop fee is not too bad I'd much prefer that and fly back from San Fran or Sacramento).

I'm very interested in visiting Salt Lake City and parts of New Mexico. Las Vegas would be fun for one night, but it's not a necessity. Lake Tahoe for sure, but also seems like maybe too much.

Does this plan look too busy? I have a very general idea of days in each place, but we aren't the kind of people to stay extended periods of time in one place. Anything I'm leaving out on a route like this we should see? I wish this trip was a go-with-the-flow kind of trip because I hate the idea of visiting Arches, for example, and wanting to stay longer. It is what it is. Also not planning on taking the kids to any amusement parks or anything like that. More of a nature trip for city slickers.

Thanks for any thoughts on this!

emalloy Feb 25th, 2019 07:13 PM

I usually go for a week or ten days, but if you click my name you can scroll down to several TRs from trips to the area.

Then get an old fashioned paper map and highlight the sites you want to see and plan a route to see them in a logical route.

janisj Feb 25th, 2019 08:35 PM

>>And then?<<.

You really don't have time for any 'and then's'. A month sounds like a long time -- but to cover that much territory would eat up every bit of a month and be pretty rushed even then. JUST Joshua Tree (very VERY hot in June) Los Angeles, Big Sur, Monterey, San Francisco and Yosemite would be tough to manage in two full weeks, and you want to do several other states.

You really do need to look into open jaw tickets (in to say Phoenix or Vegas and home from Denver or something like that). The one way rental charges may be higher but to have to return to Denver just to return a rental car would be a waste of your limited time.

With a PHX / DEN itinerary you could do something like GC > Bryce > Zion > Joshua Tree > LA > California mid-Coast > Monterey/Carmel >San Francisco > Yosemite > Tahoe > Salt Lake > Denver . . .

These place are all far apart and you would have a LOT of car time.

Michael Feb 25th, 2019 11:15 PM

This is my trip report of spending three weeks in the Southwest It does start in San Francisco and includes Sequoia National Park; but its main concentration is in eastern Utah, southwestern Colorado and northern New Mexico. It includes some long days of driving just to get to that area, long days that you would have if you insist on seeing major sights in California, such as Yosemite or the coast. I think it would be better to concentrate in a radius whose center is the Four Corners area. You could go as far west as the Grand Canyon, north to Arches and Canyonlands, NE to Mesa Verde, and also visit places like Santa Fe, Taos, and Bandelier national monument. We camped, and I believe that for $300 to $400 dollars at a Target, K-Mart or other similar store carrying sporting goods you could buy the equipment necessary for summer camping and save money; but it assumes that you are campers. Here are some things to see on my proposed itinerary:

If you think that the extra week will give you time to see more, consider Zion, Bryce, the north rim of the Grand Canyon instead of the south rim, and drive by place on your way there from the 4 Corners area. BTW, organizing a round trip from Las Vegas or Albuquerque would save you the cost of a one way drop off on the rental. Get the paper map of Indian Country which pretty much covers the geographical area that I am suggesting you visit.

monkeymanmoi Feb 26th, 2019 12:15 AM

Thank you all. Some good advice to chew on. Definitely want to focus on the Utah/Arizona area. Joshua Tree isn't a must. Heat, yeah. Probably going to be an issue with my kids (complaining a bit). Will dive in deeper and see if San Fran area is even a must on this trip. I think the idea of Vegas as a fly in/out area makes sense.

Gardyloo Feb 26th, 2019 05:56 AM

A lot depends on individual style, and with this crew, especially how your kids handle long hours in the car, or get-up-and-go daily plans. Do some mental "deconstruction" of a few days - what kind of accommodations would you have, what would both a travel day and, say, a day in or near some red-rock national park look like? Hikes? Long moments staring at some rock formation? Or a rush to get back to the motel's swimming pool? Cereal in the motel's breakfast room or pancakes at some coffee shop? There's no right or wrong answer, but thinking about some days in greater detail than just saying, "Monday, Grand Canyon" might be of benefit.

A couple of general thoughts, first of which is to start south and work north. With a month, and starting in June, you're going to be faced with some climate issues that are inescapable, first of which is that the low desert areas (as opposed to high desert, more on that in a second) are going to heat up to the point that by July they're going to be too hot for much of anything that's not close to the car. Joshua Tree and Death Valley are candidates in this category. "High desert" - areas with a higher base altitude - will get hot a little later, and high altitude areas, like the Grand Canyon and most of the red-rock parks in Utah, will remain relatively temperate much longer. And high altitude non-desert areas, like the Sierras, might even still be a little wintry, or spring-like in June. This has generally been a snowier winter than average in the west (dramatically so in some areas) so the odds are good that it will therefore be a later spring at higher elevations, but of course in these days, who knows? On the other hand, the notorious "June gloom" along the Pacific coast (long days of overcast near the water) seems to be lessening in frequency, but it still would be a good idea to stay away from the coast as long as possible. California Hwy 1 is spectacular along the Big Sur coast, but not if it's invisible due to fog.

I'd look at two loops, with a short flight between. This could save some very long (and not very inspiring) cross-country drives, and the savings on the rental car might well offset the price of the plane tickets. For example, in mid-June a one-way flight from Las Vegas or Denver to San Francisco is around $55 - $65, but might save hundreds in one-way rental car surcharges, especially since you'r probably going to want a largish vehicle (SUV or minivan) to hold your people and stuff.

Imagine one loop starting and ending in Denver, Salt Lake or Las Vegas, that would include the Utah and Arizona destinations, then a short hop to San Francisco for a California loop. For the latter, I'd include a route that includes the Monterey Bay area, which offers numerous activities and alternatives for families, and lends itself to a "base" from which day trips can be made to various sights and activities around the bay. I'd also include the Sierra foothills, in particular the gold rush country along California Hwy 49. This is a tremendous area for families, with numerous picturesque and historic towns, lots of activities ranging from white water rafting to gold panning, visits to places like the Calaveras Big Trees (giant sequoias) or even a day trip into Yosemite Valley to see the waterfalls if nothing else.

Imaginary inland loop -

Imaginary California loop -

Google the places shown on the maps. Just some thoughts, anyway.

tomfuller Feb 26th, 2019 07:00 AM

For the list of areas that you want to visit, either Las Vegas or SLC make the most sense to me. I agree that you won't have much "extra time" at the end of the month.
The rental cars from Las Vegas are somewhat cheaper than anything from California or Utah. Denver is known for high rental car prices as well.
My plan flying into Las Vegas: 1 night Las Vegas then drive to the south rim of Grand Canyon (stop at Hoover Dam on the way), 1 or 2 nights at Grand Canyon before driving to Sedona. From Sedona drive through Monument Valley on the way to Moab. Spend at least 3 days/nights around Moab seeing Arches and at least 1 section of Canyonlands. On the way to Bryce Canyon, see Goblin Valley and a small section of Capitol Reef NP. Be sure to drive Rt. 12 south from Torrey. You should plan on several stops along Rt. 12 to admire the scenery.
Bryce Canyon and Zion complete the "Big 5" in southern Utah. Page is an easy days drive from Zion. Take a boat trip on the lake instead of a raft on the Colorado.
From Page, head north on US 89 all the way to Spanish Fork. Spend a night in either Spanish Fork or Provo instead of SLC. Visit SLC (Temple Square etc.) and then head west on I-80. If the kids insist, let them swim (float) in the Great Salt Lake. be prepared to shower immediately after getting out of the water. Spend the night somewhere in Nevada.
The next days drive will take you through Reno and over the Donner Pass into California. Spend at least 1 day in the Lake Tahoe area before heading to San Francisco.
I always prefer driving the Pacific coast southbound (right turns and having a goal for sunset time).
One of the best things to see in the Monterey area is the Aquarium. Also see the Coast Redwoods at Henry Cowell near Santa Cruz.
Try to spend at least 1 night in the Santa Barbara area and see the zoo and the mission up on the hill.
If you want to skirt LALA land, take I-210 east to get on I-15 north back to Las Vegas. If you really want to see some Joshua trees, you can see them in the Mojave National Preserve . They are not exclusive to Joshua Tree NP. If you did not want to spend your last night in Las Vegas, you could stop in Primm Nevada (exit 1). The Buffalo Bill casino has a roller coaster wrapped around it. Breakfast is good at Miss Ashley's just off the casino floor.

monkeymanmoi Feb 26th, 2019 11:59 PM

I love these replies. Thank you for taking the time to respond. After reading what Michael said above I am now thinking about maybe doing a round trip Denver (Estes) to New Mexico to Arizona to Utah (then back to Denver). This would be a much more leisurely trip I would think (?). Heat in New Mexico could be an issue, but I read staying north helps. The direction of travel is something to consider. My concern would be that lodging in Grand Canyon/Utah would be further into the month of June and maybe harder to acquire if went through New Mexico first. I am not sure this matters. As for kids (and us) needing down time, I'm sure I would add a day or two to certain spots (Sedona) to get in some relaxing. I've been to California a few times before and actually like the idea of trading that state for New Mexico. Save California for a family trip another time. I could also drop this trip down to three weeks by doing this. Four might be overkill with my budget and kids getting a huge dose of nature/trails (for me, it's a dream!). I'll check car rental prices and see how bad the differences are between each city I'm considering flying into.

Michael Feb 27th, 2019 09:18 AM

After this trip, if you discover that you would like to take more trips visiting western nature, you might want to try out camping in your area with rented equipment a few times to see if you and the family would enjoy it. For summer car camping (the car next to the campsite, no fancy equipment is necessary. Or again, purchase it at your point of arrival and donate it to a Goodwill at the end of the trip.

emalloy Feb 27th, 2019 09:52 AM

As for lodging in Grand Canyon, if you are not sure when you will be there, take the phone number for both of the sites (one for Bright Angel lodge/cabins,Maswick, Tunderbird, Kachina and elTovar and one for Yavapai) and when time gets close, call every day as people make reservations way in advance and cancel as they find they can't make the trip. At the same time, make a reservation that can be cancelled near the park, in Tusayan (a bit south) or at Cameron Trading post (a bit east).

Just generally, try not to drive on the smaller roads after dark to avoid deer, elk, antelope, etc. that use those too, always have water in the car and fill your gas tank when it gets to half as some areas stations are very far apart.

rvvagbond Feb 27th, 2019 02:52 PM

There is a series of four books that visit what is known as the Grand Circle.
The include hiking and driving tours
The majority of southern Utah and northers Arizona parks are covered.
Since you research trips ,and you now have time, I suggest looking at these
Amazon allows you to 'look inside' free for about 5%+ of the book
They are offered as e-book and print.

On a far less detailed level (i.e. macro), Fodors offers a fine tour book as well.

Fodor's Utah: with Zion, Bryce Canyon, Arches, Capitol Reef & Canyonlands National Parks (Travel Guide)

sylvia3 Feb 27th, 2019 03:57 PM

On the way back to Denver, think of visiting Goblin Valley in Utah; also, if you go north through Moab, the back road 127 (back to I70) is gorgeous. Finish off your loop by driving Colorado National Monument from Fruita to Grand Junction, then on to Denver International Airport ☺

5alive Feb 27th, 2019 11:39 PM

You are getting great advice. I think your new plan is more do-able than two loops or including California in a super-large loop.

However, I wouldn't exactly call it leisurely just yet. I think you need to do a day by day, and chart out where you will sleep each night and the number of miles between each destination. It still might be more miles of driving than you'd like. Also, unless you like moving lodgings every single night, I would highlight all the non-travel days (that you're not moving destinations). Do you feel it's a good balance? If you are happy with how it lays out, then you've got a plan. If you're not, post them here in a very straight forward, day 1-21 and ask people what you might change or delete.

By the way, you can save your own maps on Google, but real paper maps are also helpful for a visual.

Fodor's also has a book on all of the national parks that is really helpful too. Maps of each park, descriptions of the highlights. For each park, it has both lodgings in the park, and near the park.

monkeymanmoi Feb 28th, 2019 05:41 AM

We aren't campers, but it sure does sound like fun. Considered the RV thing, but June just sounds like a really bad time of the year to wing it (or even reserve RV spots). I want to give my young kids a huge dose of the West so that they can appreciate the beauty and variety of this country. I'm in my early 50's and can't believe I've waited this long myself. My wife laughs at me because I can sit down and watch YouTube videos of these national parks and feel like I shouldn't have been raised on the East coast! I have a feeling after I retire that I will be visiting some of these places again during less busier times of the year. Anyway, I didn't expect so much great information after my rambling first post.

I will sit down and try to map out a daily intinerary and see if it makes sense. I have actually Googled trip times between sites. I read that you should add 30% to your time due to traffic and stopping to look at things.
Does anyone have any thoughts about going through New Mexico or through Utah first on a loop from Denver? I want to spend a couple of days in Estes Park. One thing to consider is that I had a HORRIBLE experience with altitude sickness a year ago in Breckenridge. I didn't acclimate and went straight up to the top 24 hours after arrival in Denver, but still was dying at 9600 feet in Breck. I see that Taos and Sante Fe are in the 7000 foot range, but Carlsbad and White Sands are lower.

emalloy Feb 28th, 2019 06:25 AM

When you get a map or a mapping program, I'm going to suggest an order to help with the altitude sickness and include most of what you want to see:

Denver > Santa Fe (while there head an hour west to Bandelier National Monument) > either White Sands or Carlsbad > Grand Canyon > Page > Zion > Bryce > Monument Valley > Moab > Mesa Verde > Rocky Mt. NP (enter from the west) > Denver

This puts RMNP at the end of the trip after you have been at altitude for a while. Bryce and Mesa Verde are also pretty high too. I'll look for a picture of Bandelier, I think the kids would have fun there and it is a nice contrast to Mesa Verde.

Ages ago another poster put this map with routes and distances for much of your trip:

Southern Utah Map - OhioHick's Travel Tips

sylvia3 Feb 28th, 2019 06:33 AM

Denver southwest to Black Canyon of the Gunnison, to Mesa Verde, then Canyons of the Ancients to Hovenweep, to Monument Valley (stay at the View in a view room), west to South Rim Grand Canyon, then back into Utah for Zion, Bryce, Escalante Steps, Capitol Reef, etc. Over to Goblin, back up for Canyonlands and Arches NPs (then take gorgeous127 to I70 with a cruise through Colorado National Monument) to Denver. .You could add northwest New Mexico (fabulous archaeological sites, volcanic landscapes, etc.) after Mesa Verde and before Monument Valley.
Get the free tourism maps and brochures and info from all these states now, and don't forget to brush up on your basic geology!

tomfuller Feb 28th, 2019 06:39 AM

Good idea about plotting the trip on a big paper map. Using the loop I plotted, just skip the trip across Nevada to the west coast and go east from SLC to Glenwood Springs. Glenwood Springs has the world's largest hot spring fed swimming pool. It also has a cavern and a really great biking/walking trail along the Colorado River. From there hit Rocky Mt. NP and Denver.
Head south from Denver (I-25) to visit Santa Fe and Albuquerque.
If you have an interest in the old Rt. 66, drive the length of Central Avenue in Albuquerque. At the east end of ABQ you can ride a gondola up to the top of Sandia Peak and walk back down. West of town is the zoo and arboretum and an area to see petroglyphs.
On the way west from ABQ you can visit the meteor crater in Arizona. You can also see a statue of Glen Frey "standing on a corner" in Winslow Arizona.
I still think that Las Vegas or SLC are better choices to fly into than Denver.
If you do choose Denver you can take the Amtrak California Zephyr west to either Glenwood Springs or maybe Grand Junction. The train leaves Denver about 8AM (when on time) and is in Grand Junction before sundown. The scenery in the Glenwood Canyon is fantastic from the train but not so much when you are driving through it.
There is a good bus service between Glenwood Springs and Aspen (and Maroon Bells).

emalloy Feb 28th, 2019 06:47 AM

I found a couple of photos of Bandelier: They somehow smushed together, the top one ends at the horizontal line, the bottom one is farther along on the path.

rvvagbond Feb 28th, 2019 02:21 PM

I noticed that the Grand Circle books identifed above did not have a path to obtaining those books
at Amazon - books, search for Zion to Escalante, Utah
Using "look inside; page four has a list of those books
I used them extensively and will again this spring - if snow melts allows any touring off a road
The melt will be a problem
For family hiking WOW Utah Canyonland Country is well written


StantonHyde Feb 28th, 2019 06:38 PM

If you click on my user name, you will find trip reports with kids for all of the national parks in Utah, plus Mesa Verde, and some other Utah areas as well.

monkeymanmoi Mar 1st, 2019 12:09 AM

Okay, grand circle for sure. The NM sites look very interesting. Thanks everyone. Just an FYI, I might not get an intinerary listed here for awhile. Working out an entirely different trip for this year at the moment, but will dig deeper here over time. I just know that some of the things we want to do require a year advance planning. I've been given some great info!

sylvia3 Mar 1st, 2019 05:54 AM

Good luck planning! I would also suggest joining various hotel/motel reward programs, and checking out various VRBO options early on. (But I'd still recommend staying at The View in Monument Valley!)

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