We noticed that you're using an unsupported browser. The TripAdvisor website may not display properly.We support the following browsers:
Windows: Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome. Mac: Safari.

South West USA Road Trip in winter

Brisbane, Australia
4 posts
1 review
Save Topic
South West USA Road Trip in winter

Hi,

My wife and our two kids (ages 4 and 6) have a ski holiday with friends in Breckinridge Colorado in early January. We have 12 days of holiday prior to meeting our friends. We are coming from Australia and will be most likely landing in Los Angeles. We were hoping to do a road trip from LA to Breckinridge in that time encompassing the best of the South West National Parks (Grand Canyon, Momument Valley, Moab, Shiprock and others). We are happy to include Las Vegas but would like the trip to mostly be national park related rather that city/culture focussed.

Does anyone have any advice/tips or “must do’s”. Will there be any major road closures along that route? I must also add that, coming from Australia, we have zero snow driving experience.

Thanks in advance.

10 replies to this topic
Bangkok, Thailand
Level Contributor
4,439 posts
823 reviews
Save Reply
1. Re: South West USA Road Trip in winter

Hi,

Please check the forecast at the national parks and cities on the route carefully. US NPS websites are helpful.

You could detour Joshua Tree NP.

We went to Grand Canyon and Las Vegas in December years ago.

The roads were clear by snow plow trucks.

We had bad experience on the way back because of the snow storm.

Newcastle, Australia
Level Contributor
476 posts
149 reviews
Save Reply
2. Re: South West USA Road Trip in winter

We did a Sedona-GCNP-Page-Zion loop last January. We were lucky with the weather, plenty of snow about, just not along our route. We had a plan B just in case the weather turned. I'm sure you will receive sound advice from the regulars. My one major comment is that this is the off season for many towns, so don't expect much to be open in lots of towns, except the bare essentials. I also am unsure if on your route you will require chains - if this is the case I don't think you can use a rental as they don't allow the use of chains. To do so will negate your contract and If something was to happen your car insurance will not cover anything. Be mindful, that some advice that maybe given is only applicable to US drivers.

Lewes, United...
Destination Expert
for Road Trips
Level Contributor
24,617 posts
38 reviews
Save Reply
3. Re: South West USA Road Trip in winter

How are the other skiing friends getting to Breckenridge?

Without a crystal ball to forecast weather, you MUST have a plan B, in my view. Or, keep to areas that are not quite so high so not so likely to have snow.

Shiprock is not a national park, and is away from your route. I would not say it's a top sight, and not worth the extra miles in my own view, unless you have a reason to go there not yet mentioned.

An option to avoid snow, or lessen the snow risk considerably, is to do a loop from LA of more southerly national parks and then fly to Denver to reach Breck. Breck is just off I-70, a major interestate highway, so the route between there and Denver is far more likely to be kept open and cleared of snow that other, less travelled areas.

Revert with more info and we can comment further.

As said, you are not allowed to fit chains to rental cars without voiding the contract, and there can be long term or temporary road closures owing to snow in lots of different places, or mandatory chain fitting to use higher roads that are usable but icy.

SWT

Brisbane, Australia
4 posts
1 review
Save Reply
4. Re: South West USA Road Trip in winter

Thanks for the replies. It sounds like the Rockies are a bit dicey in Winter, even down south. We might look into a loop out of LA and then fly to Denver. Any additional suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Vestal, New York
Destination Expert
for Auburn, Finger Lakes
Level Contributor
10,561 posts
197 reviews
Save Reply
5. Re: South West USA Road Trip in winter

San Diego (great zoo), Death Valley NP and Joshua Tree NP are worth considering.

Long Beach...
Level Contributor
7,026 posts
Save Reply
6. Re: South West USA Road Trip in winter

Maybe start in LA and fly out of Las Vegas or Salt Lake? Visit more of Utah's NPs?

LA > Joshua Tree > GCNP > MOAB > (Capitol Reef?) > Bryce NP? > Zion NP > Las Vegas (day trip to Death Valley?)

Brisbane, Australia
4 posts
1 review
Save Reply
7. Re: South West USA Road Trip in winter

Thanks. That looks like a pretty nice itinerary. Will those road be open in the first week of January?

Lewes, United...
Destination Expert
for Road Trips
Level Contributor
24,617 posts
38 reviews
Save Reply
8. Re: South West USA Road Trip in winter

First, have you ever visited any part of the west side of the USA before?

Given you fly into LA, do you and the rest of the family have any interest in LA area and what it offers, plus visiting any theme parks (Disney is in Anaheim, just up the road)? If so, that would certainly use up a few of those days.

Then do you have any interest in any of the other cities not too far from LA such as San Francisco, San Diego or Las Vegas (the latter being not entirely ideal for kids, but there is stuff there).

It's just my own view, but while the plan suggested in post 6 ticks off some great natural scenic wonders, it's a lot to pack into 12 days with kids so young. Plus, if there is a winter storm, places like Grand Canyon and Bryce Canyon can be affected with very icy roads, or unpassable access roads. You will get your fill of snow in Breckenridge.

In general, the California coast is very scenic. In January, there a some weather risk, cool breezes, rain, fog, etc but not snow or ice, plus coming from Brissie, you may have had your fill of coastline, but it's an option and there's stuff to see and do for the younger ones. None of there would meet the small town USA definition and everything would 'be open for business'! There's currently a road closure on that route between LA and SF, which may still be in place in January, but it's easy enough to detour round and we can come to that if it becomes relevant.

The southern desert national parks, whether Joshua Tree (and the neighbouring preserve area), Death Valley and in Arizona, Saguaro near Tucson are all accessible and except in very exceptional circumstances guaranteed to be snow free. Any of these high desert areas are cool at night (but you'll have ski gear) but they warm up to t-shirt weather by mid day.

Anyway, tell us what you are thinking, and we can revert.

BTW, as a foreign visitor, any car you rent from LAX, it should be possible to get no one way drop fee charge if you return it to any of PHX, LAS, SFO airports if that makes the route easier, and you can easily fly to DEN from any of those airports to meet the friends and head to Breckenridge.

Another thing to consider, if this is relevant, will you be carrying a lot of ski gear, not just suitable clothes? If so you might need to rent a ski box or ski rack with the rental car. Not all rental car sources will have those, but DEN should, and cars picked up there will more likely have winter instead of all weather tyres, providing better grip on icy roads.

SWT

Brisbane, Australia
4 posts
1 review
Save Reply
9. Re: South West USA Road Trip in winter

Thanks for your detailed advice. Sounds like the Californian coast option may be more realistic.

Chapel Hill, North...
Level Contributor
9,351 posts
39 reviews
Save Reply
10. Re: South West USA Road Trip in winter

I got caught in a snowstorm in January on my way to Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon when I was young and stupid in my 20s. Did make it through the storm w/o wrecking and pulled into Flagstaff in the dark and got a hotel successfully. Woke up the next morning to about a foot of snow (30 cm). I asked at the gas station if we could drive up to the Canyon and the clerk looked at me like I had two heads. We turned south and drove to Phoenix instead where it was 70F/21C and lovely with the saguaro catcuses waving at us.

Reply to: South West USA Road Trip in winter
Get notified by e-mail when a reply is posted