2 weeks road-trip through California, Arizona & Nevada

A while ago I planned a 2 weeks road trip in USA with my girlfriend. I posted the original plan on Tripadvisor forum and got some useful tips in return.

Here is my summary of that trip divided into 2 parts:

Day 1 – Arrival to Los Angeles

We started our journey on late afternoon at Los Angeles airport, where I met with my girlfriend. She flew to LA from Poland with Lufthansa via Frankfurt, which was the best option for her:

27.07.2013 - 08:15 GDN - 10:00 FRA
27.07.2013 - 14:00 FRA - 16:35 LAX
09-10.08.2013 - 19:00 LAX - 14:50 FRA
10.08.2013 - 18:50 FRA - 20:50 GDN

I was travelling from Seattle. See my flight map for more details.

The beginning of our trip was rather boring – 2h queue at the Dollar car rental. Then another disappointment – I booked a “Jeep Liberty (or similar)” as I wanted to travel in American style 😉 However, at the parking lot at the moment of rental there were no Jeeps. We ended up with Kia Sportage, which wasn’t that bad after all.

Our Ride - KIA Sportage

Our Ride – KIA Sportage

After we finally got the car we went straight to the motel in LA, as it was already late. Nothing too spectacular about that day.

  • Overnight: Regency Inn, 89$/room, our rating: avarage

Day 2 – Travelling to Grand Canyon

After spending a night in LA we were ready to hit the road. On the first day of our road-trip we travelled to Williams, AZ, which is the closest town to the Grand Canyon South Rim. The fastest route is to take highway 15 and then 40 all the way to Williams. However, since we had a plenty of free time that day we decided to do a little detour and drive the famous, historic route 66. We left the highway 40 in Kingman and re-joined it in Seligman, so we drove Route 66 for about 90 miles.

The most interesting part of Route 66 starts around Hackberry, where you can find many artifacts related to that route.

Route 66

Route 66

Highway patrol

Highway patrol

We stayed for a night in Williams, which is a calm town, that was recommended to us by a tripadvisor member. It is very friendly but a bit too touristic for my taste. Plenty of gift shops and restaurants. There was even a gun show at 7PM.

Our hotel in Williams

Our hotel in Williams

Day 3 – The Grand Canyon

We arrived to the Grand Canyon Visitor Center after 10AM and went straight to that big crack at Mather Point. It is truly amazing! No pictures can do the justice, you simply have to see it.

Grand Canyon - view from the Mather Point

Grand Canyon – view from the Mather Point

Depending on your available time there are few options for you to explore the canyon: hiking, bus or car.

  • Hiking
    There are several trails that you can take that lead along the canyon’s edge. For those who have more time and would like to experience the GC more there are trails that lead into the Canyon. They usually require a full day or more.
  • Shuttle
    There are free shuttles available that will take you to all interesting points. On some roads cars are not allowed.
  • Car
    Travelling by car is only allowed in the eastern part, on the Desert View Road.

The detailed map of roads can be found here and will be also given to you at the park entrance. We took the red line shuttle and stopped at most points. If you have limited time you can only see Mohave and Pima points. Others are less spectacular.

Grand Canyon - clouds throwing shadows

Grand Canyon – clouds throwing shadows

At the end we travelled by car to the Desert View. This drive is also worth doing, as the landscape changes a bit.

Grand Canyon - the Desert View

Grand Canyon – the Desert View

After the visit to the Grand Canyon we headed west to Las Vegas. It was a 4-5h drive. On our way, close before LV, we stopped to catch the last attraction of the day – the Hoover Dam. It was already late night when we reached there, so there was nobody there except the military (?) guard who stopped our car and instructed us. Unfortunately you are not allowed to walk on the dam at night, therefore if you are particularly interested in that place you better plan a trip during the day.

Day 4 – Las Vegas

We decided to spend 2 nights in LV, so we could have a full day there, including a fun evening at the Strip. The interesting fact is that hotel rooms we booked there were the cheapest out of all accommodations we visited on our trip while having the highest standard. This is because we stayed at a casino, where its owners lure you with low rooms prices, so you can leave much more money on the casino floors. I must admit their strategy worked on us as well 😉

Welcome to Las Vegas

Welcome to Las Vegas

Anyway, we didn’t find anything interesting to see in the city during the day so we went shopping and spent some time at the pool, charging our batteries for the evening. When the night came we headed to the Strip, to have a walk between casinos that you know from many movies e.g. The Hangover 😉 At night everything looks better. You have volcanos, dancing fountains, small pieces of Europe (Eiffel tower, Venice, Rome, …) and many, many freaks on the street!

Paris

Paris

Venice

Venice

Be sure to go their fresh, because the incredible heat and overwhelming crowds will drain you! You can always get some rest at casino facilities, but this can be costly if you get drawn by the game 😉

Day 5 – The Death Valley

On our second morning in LV we woke up very early (which was a bit hard after the intense evening) and hit the road again. Plan for the day – the Death Valley. According to Wikipedia it’s the lowest, hottest and driest area in North America. In order to get there we drove a couple of hours through the desert. Be sure to fuel up your car in Las Vegas, as there are very little towns on the road and the gas is getting more and more expensive the closer you get to the valley. The fuel price is reaching its peak around $5.5/gallon in the valley itself, which is nearly twice as expensive as in Vegas.

The Death Valley - Dante's View

The Death Valley – Dante’s View

The first stop on our way was the “Dante`s View” with a spectacular view on the entire valley. You can safely reach it by car, so you don’t have to hike in high temperatures. Another place worth stopping further down towards the bottom of the valley is the “Zabriskie Point”. You will see there rocks in fantastic shapes and forms. From now on each view point will offer a different experience. This is what actually made the DV the most interesting place of the entire trip for me.

The Death Valley - Zabriskie Point

The Death Valley – Zabriskie Point

Our next stop was the Furnace Creek Visitor Center where we relaxed for a while and bought the park entrance ticket. From there we drove to the Bad Water Basin, which is the lowest point in the valley. It was actually the hottest too – our car showed there 124°F (51°C). With absolutely no shadow it wasn’t a place where you’d like to walk around outside of the air conditioned car for too long.

Salty highway in Bad Water

Salty highway in Bad Water

On our way there we did a short detour (unpaved road) to the “Devil’s Golf Coarse” and on our way back we drove through the Artists Palette.

Detour - off the paved road

Detour – off the paved road

Artist Palette

Artist Palette

We left the Death Valley through the western route, following highway 190. On our way we passed the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes and the Mosaic Canyon (we did not have enough time to get in). One of the most interesting views is actually close to the park border, where you drive between 2 small lakes. We stopped their and watched fighter jet aircrafts flying very low and practicing their maneuvers. It was like a free air-show – very impressive!

The Death Vallye - where fighter jets fly low

The Death Vallye – where fighter jets fly low

After we left the Death Valley we spent the night in a tiny town called Olancha, right by the highway 395.

Day 6 – Road 395 to Yosemite

On day 6 we left Olancha and followed the highway 395 in the north direction. Our goal for the day was to reach the Yosemite National Park (YNP). We drove via the Tioga Pass and arrived to YNP from the east.

Our plan was to rent a tent and 2 sleeping bags because we did not have any camping equipment. Unfortunately they don’t rent tents there, just sleeping bags (weird). Since you are not allowed to sleep under the open sky (bears and cold I believe being the main reason) we started looking for other type of accommodation. Luckily for us we found a tent lodge in the Curry Village. I was surprised they have free tents because I was warned they are usually totally sold out throughout the entire summer.

Curry Village - our tent and the brown bear-box where we have to keep all our food and cosmetics

Curry Village – our tent and the brown bear-box where we have to keep all our food and cosmetics

Having the accommodation secured we went on our first hike to the Yosemite Fall. It is supposed to be the highest waterfall in the Northern America. The problem was that there was no water at this time of year so we couldn’t really admire its beauty. Next we took the shuttle to the Happy Isle and hiked to the Mirror Lake. There was still some water in it and I was delighted to have a refreshing swim 🙂

Our day ended with a spectacular sunset lightening up the Half Dome and other mountains surrounding the Yosemite Valley and reflecting in the Merced River.

Sunset in Yosemitee Valley

Sunset in Yosemitee Valley

Day 7 – Yosemite continued

After a cold night in the tent cabin (we should have rented those sleeping bags after all ;)) we went for another hike, this time longer. Since I wanted to see a waterfall we took the Mist Trail to the Vernal Fall.

The Vernal Fall

The Vernal Fall

From there I continued the hike till I reached the Nevada Fall. All views on that trail are really amazing! I went down from the other side of the river, following the John Muir trail.

River above the Vernal Fall

River above the Vernal Fall

View at the Nevada Fall from the John Muir trail

View at the Nevada Fall from the John Muir trail

After we returned to the valley we had a quick lunch and hit the road again. We left the YNP via the same route we arrived and drove to our next stop – South Lake Tahoe.

READ PART II: Days 8 to 13 >>

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