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Advice for a winter road trip in western USA

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Advice for a winter road trip in western USA

Hello all,

Me and my wife are planning a road trip that will last roughly three weeks in December this year (we want to be back home for Christmas). We have a Toyota Rav4 to complete this trip in. Our budget is around $3500, but this is adjustable for sure. We wish to visit a good few national parks and also explore some cities. I have a rough plan (as follows), but I am worried about it being winter and whether or not some of these places we have planned to see are a bit of a waste because of the weather conditions. I know that, for example, parts of Yellowstone and Glacier will be closed due to the conditions. Please do help me with any amendments that would make this trip more worthwhile.

So far, the plan is:

2 nights LA

1 night Big Sur

1 nightRedwoods

2 nights Portland

2 nights Vancouver

1 night Coeur d'Alene

1 night Glacier NP

2 nights Yellowstone NP

1 night Salt Lake City

2 nights Flagstaff

2 nights Phoenix

and then back to LA and fly home

Thank you very much for taking the time to read this, and I hope that you can help me with this itinerary.

Kind regards,

Adam

16 replies to this topic
Washington State
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for Yosemite National Park
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1. Re: Advice for a winter road trip in western USA

Hi Adam

>>We wish to visit a good few national parks and also explore some cities.<<

What is it that you like to do on vacation? Is the goal to spend as much time in the car as possible? (Actually some folks like that!) Or do you want to get out of the car to enjoy any particular destination?

For my travel style, this is a horrible itinerary. I like to get outside in destinations, even in winter. I don't like to spend hours sitting in a car. And I'm not incredibly fond of nature-centered destinations when it gets dark by 4:30 pm. But this is not my trip. It's your trip.

What is important to you?

Daylight hours: www.SunriseSunset.com

Spery, Iowa
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2. Re: Advice for a winter road trip in western USA

Planning 1 day for any location takes 2 nights. You don't have any flexibility built into this for winter conditions, possibly holding up for a day or days until it is safe to travel.

For the YNP portion: Glacier to YNP takes a day to drive, in normal conditions. You have short daylight hours in December.

You can stay in Gardiner (Mammoth hotel closed this winter) and drive the north road. The rest of the park is closed to wheeled traffic. The roads open to snowmobiles and snow coaches, weather and conditions permitting, December 15. Until then, you will not be able to take a tour into OF or Canyon from West Yellowstone (no access to the north road) or Gardiner. https:/…visiting-yellowstone-in-winter.htm

Spery, Iowa
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3. Re: Advice for a winter road trip in western USA

I also think you need to up your budget.

Baltimore
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4. Re: Advice for a winter road trip in western USA

Glacier and Yellowstone are absolutely closed in winter.

Yosemite, in California, is generally open from either of two western entrances but for temp closures during blizzards. Hopefully, California route 1 will reopen, as scheduled, in September and you can, if you wish, drive up from LA to San Francisco.

I'm not the one to discourage your wanting to tour the mountain west in winter. It's a potential adventure. But be advised, you must be prepared. Things vary, season to season; sometimes we have dry Decembers. Generally, we would expect a couple big storms over a three week period in December. They could be disruptive wind and rain storms along the coast and significant snow events inland.

Traveling in that area, in winter, should only be done by people with some prep and experience driving in snow. To do it, you should be prepared to follow weather forecasts and be willing to change your routes or schedules and be comfortable laying over somewhere or another as you wait out a storm.

Between storms, the drive from Vancouver, through Coeur d'Alene, to Salt Lake and down to the Grand Canyon, right in the middle of winter, could be fascinating. I love driving in the mountain west in winter. But it is a thing to be done with great prep and lots of flexibility.

Baltimore
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5. Re: Advice for a winter road trip in western USA

I am wrong saying Yellowstone is closed in winter. Most of it is closed to wheeled vehicles. The north entrance is open and you can get to Mammoth Hot Springs. Not sure it's worth it. You'd then have to backtrack and that isn't very far into the park.

Salt Lake City, Utah
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for Salt Lake City, Lake Powell
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6. Re: Advice for a winter road trip in western USA

Portland will be dreary and dark in December. Glacier will be closed. Only one road will be open in YNP. Winter storms, in the form of snow, can impact travel from Portland all the way to Flagstaff. Well, actually around Portland and further north, winter storms can be in the form of freezing rain that make the roads icy and dangerous.

My suggestion for this trip is that you look at a route that focuses on southern destinations. Consider going to Zion NP (Springdale Utah), Page Arizona (Antelope Canyon tour/Horseshoe Bend), Monument Valley National Monument, South Rim Grand Canyon and Sedona Arizona. Add San Diego and Palm Springs to the California leg.

Renton, WA
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7. Re: Advice for a winter road trip in western USA

Following up on SFCityGuy, we visited Yellowstone in winter and the only transportation is by skimobile or snowcoaches (with driver/tour guide).

Grenoble, France
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8. Re: Advice for a winter road trip in western USA

Adapt your road trip to the season... Unless you're an avid snowshoe hiker or skier, with experience in the backcountry, I don't really see the point of your trip. What you should do in winter is Utah, Arizona, the deserts of California... Winter is the right season for places like Death Valley, Joshua Tree... And some parks of Utah/Arizona are beautiful in the snow : Bryce Canyon, Grand Canyon... In Arizona Petrified Forest and Saguaro National Park would also be very nice in winter. I've never been to New Mexico but there must be great places to visit in winter as well, like White Sands NM.

Edited: 15 June 2018, 23:04
Lewes, United...
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for Road Trips
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9. Re: Advice for a winter road trip in western USA

Where are you from?

Lots of good advice above, which you need to heed. Budget certainly very low.

You're trip is already super fast paced and has no contingency for bad weather and poor driving conditions, and is at a time of year when daylight is short. You cannot sightsee in the dark, BTW, except perhaps Christmas lights in some cities.

SWT

Baltimore
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10. Re: Advice for a winter road trip in western USA

Clearly, Nicholas is giving good advice for a winter road tripper who wants to avoid the worst winter weather. I've been guessing the OP is not that tripper.

I, for example, love snow and winter driving and exploring the Rocky Mountain west in winter. It can be done, but with advice and caution. The OP, or any winter driver in the mountains needs to watch for changes in weather, which may set in quickly, and either be very good at driving on snow or good at watching for dry roads.

It means preparing to weather over unexpectedly if a storm sets in.

For the right traveler, there are great rewards. The mountains are beautiful in snow, especially fresh snow. Pick the right place, getting weathered in for a few nights can be a great party. Should you match your trip with a full moon, if the sky clears, the mountains - and valleys - snow covered and sparkling in moonlight are magic.

This coming December's full moon is December 22. It will be wonderful a few nights in advance.

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