yeh thats wot we were looking at, you have to pay a young drivers supplement which add near enought 20% to the total cost of hiring the car...I dont mind too much doing all the driving. I am used to doing long driving trips. people have said about getting a flight from san fran to las vegas which i think defies the object of going around america because you would miss all the stuff in between. I am more than happy to drive. what are the roads like between san fran and las vegas? I am having visions of the horror movies you see were people break down and are never seen again LOL. Do you have any idea on when the sun rises and sets around may time of year
Also can I ask when your driving through death valley and petrified forest and painted desert...do you actually drive through them or do you park up and look around on foot
No, you actually drive through them (Death Valley is actually about 112 miles long and 15 miles wide; The Painted Desert--actually part of the Petrified Forest National Park--is much smaller, but is still about 11 miles long by 9 miles wide).
Because of their relative sizes--and the number of monuments, there is much more to see and explore in Death Valley.
However, because most people visit in the summer (when Death Valley is about the hottest spot on the planet), people usually spend only a little bit longer in Death Valley than in the Painted Desert/Petrified Forest National Park.
Between SF and LV via the national parks mean there's no direct route (i.e. you enter a national park, you go back out before hitting the road again). The roads were fine for us and if you're concerned, stick to the main driving routes and avoid dirt roads (we were travelling in summer - june/july). Not sure about the latest SatNav map, but we found occasionally, our SatNav did not contain parts of where we drove, which were kinda weird, but as we also have some driving direction guides and Google Maps, it wasn't too difficult and soon after we were on someplace recognised by the SatNav again.
Yosemite : windy roads at Yosemite so be careful there. Use this guide from NPS to help plan your route. (The same website will also have info for other sites that you plan to visit, so it's a webpage worth bookmarking). Do check for conditions (in case of snow etc). Note some route/pass may not (yet) be opened in May (e.g. Tioga Pass, which links to Death Valley). Wikitravel has a good guide on Yosemite too.
Death Valley : there are good paved roads but some roads leading to points of interest are dirt roads and rough to manouever. We skipped those. Official site to Death Valley contains plenty of practical guides.
The most important thing is to keep your car fuelled up at all time. And before you start the trip, find a large supermarket like CostCo or Safeway, and stock up on bottled waters. Buy some small bottles that you can carry, and large bottles so you can refill the smaller ones. (If you're fruit people like me, buy some fruits too - put in cooler bag since the weather can render the fruits dead very quickly, they're not always easy to find and when you do, in smaller shops, they cost a small bomb.) It's handy too to have some cereal bars for snacking.
No idea re the sunrise/sunset time since they changes, but the park should be able to provide info. E.g. when we were at Grand Canyon in June, sunset was near 7.00pm and sunrise was just after 5.00am, and we got the info from the park pamphlet (well, more like a light edition of a small newspaper) at the park entrance.
Talking about Grand Canyon, this is the only place I attempted the sunrise/sunset watch thing - my friends were wimps and opted to sleep in, wrap up well. It is some 8000 feet above sea level so while the day may be too warm, without the sun, it gets rather cold. We arrived in from Phoenix where it was superwarm in time for sunset, and I felt like I was losing my toes and fingers since I was in a tank top, a skirt, and a pair of sandals! I learned then to wrap up for early morning which was dark and colder in comparison to sunset (I saw people at the viewpoint with duvet!!).
And speaking of parks, since you're hitting quite a few of them, you could consider getting an annual pass at $80. Otherwise, I've just had a quick check - Yosemite is $20, Death Valley is $20, Grand Canyon is $25 etc which will all adds up. Downside, if you lose the pass, you won't be able to get a replacement and have to get a new one.
As I've mentioned previously, getting accommodation just outside of the national parks are usually cheaper than getting one inside. You won't get the views but I guess that's the pay-off.
Re stopping or drive through, that's really up to yourself. That's why when I gave you the suggested itinerary, I put in at least a full day at a place - that's for exploration if you want to. Otherwise, you could drive past, stop to take a few pictures, and drive on. But I think that beats the purpose of a roadtrip. It's like, uh (sorry, terrible stereotype alert), Asian tourists that zip through 15 countries in 20 days kind of thing. Many of these national parks, you could easily spend 3-4 days, if not more. Especially if you're an outdoor enthusiast. My friends and I did do short stops for some walk around etc. But there are times when you will feel you've seen too much that they're beginning to look the same. And the road in between places can be a long long stretch with not much on either side of the road. If you're parked somewhere, make sure no valuables are visibles and stuff everything in the boot.
Well, you actually can take California State Highway 127 to California State Highway 190 to US Highway 395 as a shortcut to Yosemite if you are travelling during the summer--but lil lil is correct that you can't do this during the winter months (since the road over the pass will be closed then--meaning you have to go clear around to the west side of Yosemite via major roads then).
Also, there is a shortcut from Las Vegas through Pahrump, Nevada that will get you straight to California State Highway 190 and into the park without going through Baker, California (where you would get on California State Highway 127).
There is no "shortcut" for the Petrified Forest/Painted Desert. Just get there on I-40 and then go in and out on the main road (which is only about 6 miles long each way--12 miles long total).
Here's a thread where vegasmike posted something interesting (post #3)
Hmmm I just saw what Calcruzer wrote, who is right that most part it's drive through and all. But there are still short trails that you can take by foot and that's what I meant by doing short stops. It's all up to you to decide.
Ps: I just had a look at the suggested itinerary again and realised I made a wee mistake on Yosemite - there should be another day to it, therefore shifting everything thereafter by a day. I mustn't have paid sufficient attention when I drew that up, as my mind was focusing on the time it takes to get to Death Valley and therefore sufficient time should be taken to arrive at Death Valley before night, yet maximising time at Yosemite where possible, therefore not leave Yosemite until afternoon-ish. Otherwise everything suggested have a morning leaving time.
I emphasise that's just a suggestion. You should tweak as you wish, spend more time somewhere, less somewhere else, to fit in more if you plan to do a lot of drive through rather than spending some time locally with short walks etc. Afterall, I missed out on Antelope Canyon when I drew up that itinerary...
I think thats the plan. were gonna make a rough itinery of were we are going to travel but am sure there are going to be extra things we want to see and maybe want to spend a bit of extra time in a certain place. I think San fran and LA are the 2 places we are least concerned about spending too much time in because we can also go back there as a city holiday. Its the places we will need a car to get to that we are more interested in seeing this time.
As you were saying about some roads being closed in May, Would it be more advisable to travel later on in the year, June early July? We are flexible on travel dates, I have just read its better to go before summer.
Well, you nearly don't need a car in SF, that's for sure, so the days that you're sightseeing in the city, you can leave the car renting until you're ready to leave SF. Besides, driving up and down the hilly parts of the city is not easy for someone unfamiliar with it. It does come in handy when you're heading to the Golden Gate Bridge to the Marin County side though. You can walk there but it'll be a pretty long walk as Presideo is a huge park. And you'll need to come back, and there's no public transport/taxi that you can readily take from the Marin County side of the bridge. LA is huge and to get around, you should have a car.
May/June is usually a good time to travel, ahead of peak season of July/August. If you're flexible with your travelling date, June would be a good time in my opinion, but there's still no guarantee that the Tioga Pass will be open since it's weather dependent. In any case, there are other routes you can take, just maybe a little longer but you'll get there (after taking in extra scenary), so I won't worry too much for that alone.
ah right thats not a worry then. So would you recommend we leave hiring a car until we are ready to leave san francisco? would save a bit of money aswell that way. By a long walk to the golgen gate side how far do you mean?
Yeah, save a couple of days of rental money. Instead, walk SF and try out the cable car
Walking, errrm, guestimating 4-5 miles each way? The bridge itself is already 1.7 miles (2.8km-ish), and if you're walking from Marina Boulevard, it'll total about 4 miles, but if you're walking all the way from Fisherman's Wharf, then you're looking at about 5.5 miles-ish.