Roadtrip Los angeles -> san francisco
Flight from Düsseldorf to Amsterdam and from Amsterdam to Los Angeles. By doing this crazy extra flight from Düsseldorf to Amsterdam we payed only half the price for our ticket! A good start of our trip!
We stayed at the Crowne Plaza Los Angeles Airport, a good location to start our journey and pick up our rental car (Alamo Rent a Car, this was easy, we could choose a car from a hundred or so cars, get in and leave!)
The city of Los Angeles couldn't win our hearts, but we were able to find some fun activities. Perfect to do with children: Universal Studios. A little over budget, but it was a fun day. The film studios themselves are definitely worth a visit, and the park itself... it is just go with the flow and have fun! You don't even have enough time if you got a whole day to get around here. My daughter who was completely entranced by Harry Potter at that time was enchanted by the sets.
Driving around in Los Angeles often comes down to being in traffic jams. A drive through Beverly Hills was disappointing and the Hollywood walk of fame seemed much nicer in the movies than in real life. But we are happy to have seen it all.
The beaches are much more impressive. The famous Santa Monica pier, Malibu, Venice Beach, Long Beach gave us what we expected. A relaxing day full of fun, children could play in the water, beautiful settings all in perfect Bay Watch style! In Malibu we managed to get on to a private beach thanks to the security staff who turned a blind eye to us. We first noticed that talking to Americans is so easy, everyone is very friendly and super social, a big difference with the more distant Belgians.
After three days in Los Angeles we were fully acclimated to the American way of being and adjusted to the hour difference so that we could start our road trip !!
Los Angeles -> Palm Springs, a 200 km drive
Once you manage to get out of the traffic jams of Los Angeles it's a relaxing ride!
We arrived around noon, at the Saguaro Hotel, in the center of Palm Springs. Not a real family hotel as there were a few groups who came to here just to party and became a little noisy after a couple (to many) drinks! But their swimmingpool was the best!
It was around 48°C in Palms springs so we took Palm Springs Aerial Tramway as we hoped it was less hot in the mountains!
This cable car is the largest rotating cable car in the world, rises almost two kilometers and offers a beautiful view of the whole area. The ride only takes 12 minutes, at this time you turn around twice, perfect for enjoying the surroundings! The ride is a bit expensive, but when you go up in the late afternoon you pay only half the price. On top of Mount San Jacinto it was a pleasant 25 ° C, perfect for a hike! We chose a short walk with beautiful views, the desert view trail.
In the center of Palm Springs there are many cozy restaurants and a nice atmosphere, perfect to spend the evening!
Palm Springs -> Grand Canyon, south rim, 660 km, a long day in our car!!
We arrived at Grand Canyon just in time to see a stunning sunset. Grand Canyon was love at first sight for us. We had heard many stories about this mythical place, but the reality was even better...
We stayed here at the Yavapai lodge west, the perfect place! Only a few 100 meters from the canyon, so next morning it was just stepping outside and witness an amazing sunrise...
There are many trails in this area, so it's hard to choose. The Bright Angel Trail leaves not far from our lodge, this trail has quite a few parts that are in the shade and there is water available at various points. So we preferred this one. The height difference between the rim and the river here is 1600m. We only stepped to the first rest point, already a brisk walk, but we were no longer allowed to go further by a park ranger, he thought the hike was too heavy for the children. Our kids thought differently, but he couldn't be persuaded, so we returned. And actually we were lucky, because when we were just came back at the rim it started to thunder heavily, it would have been very unpleasant if we had had this weather during the walk!
We also liked the trail that runs from the visitors center along the canyon. There are very nice viewpoints here such as Hopi point, Mohave point, Pima point, Hermits point. If you don't like walking, you can also take the free bus that the park provides, which has stops at all viewpoints. The advantage that you have when you stay in a lodge in the park itself is that you can do this walk when most tourists are back to their hotels!
In the morning we visited the Desert view point on the east side of the park, with a tower providing a nice view! But all Grand Canyon views are nice so it's hard to chose which one we liked most, our advice is take your time at Grand Canyon, and do some extra's like a horse ride or an helicopter flight, this is all a once in a lifetime expierce, just go for it all!!
In the afternoon we drove to Page, 220 km along the foothills of the Grand Canyon. We made a few stops, this landscape was too breathtaking to just pass by!
Just before you enter Page you pass the Horseshoe Bend, not difficult to find with all the cars and buses that are there, it is easy to see that this place has something to offer! The Horseshoe Bend itself is a horseshoe-shaped meander of the Colorado River. It is a kilometer walk from the parking to the viewpoint. In the summer months it is very hot here and there is no shade! We were especially amazed by how close people got to the edge to take the perfect photo or selfie! There is no entrance fee here, so no reason not to stop!
In the evening we arrived at Page, a small inconspicuous town. We stayed in the Page Boy Motel, very basic, neat with swimming pool, which is always a hit for the children when the temperatures are around 40 °C!
When you visit Page you usually come with one goal: to visit the Antelope Canyon. Even if the name doesn't mean anything to you, the photos are used everywhere and will sure ring a bell. Microsoft has long used the images as a standard screen saver, and there is no nature or travel book where you will not find them. There are two options: the Upper and the Lower Antelope Canyon. We chose the Lower Antelope Canyon, because you can visit it without a guide, there is only a guide who will bring you to the entrance (and then follow you the entire hike, take over your camera and take cozy family photos for you and at the end requires a small contribution :)). The canyon is 400 meters long and wonderfully cool. After a flashflood in 1997 as a result of a storm, many safety measures were taken and you can leave the canyon at various points via stepladders if necessary. The whole canyon has beautiful photo opportunities, this is just an hour of fun and taking pictures! The visitors are only allowed to enter by small numbers, so you have space at all time and it doesn't feel crowded.
In the afternoon we drove to Kayenta to our next hotel, the Wetherill Inn, a 160 km drive
Visit to Monument Valley. This is probably the most photographed desert landscape in America with its signature red color. The unique rock formations surrounded by a huge plain have been the setting for at least dozens of films. This park lies partly in Arizona and the northern part is part of the state of Utah.
There used to be several rocks in this area. Since most of this is made of softer rock, these were worn away millions of years ago. This left only the hard rocks that can still be seen today. These rocks are also called 'mesa'. A typical feature of this is that the bottom is wide and the top is flat. As the erosion process continues, this causes these mesas to wear away more and more.
Monument Valley is located on the territory managed by the Javajo Indians, tourism is the main source of income for them.
At the visitor center you have a beautiful view of the entire park, the center itself is also worth a visit. You can choose to do an organized tour or explore the park with your own car. The roads are unpaved, but we did not experience any problems with our rental car here. You also have a bit more freedom if you use your own car!
In the late afternoon we drove to Moab, a 270 km drive. Along the way we came across some nice places like the Mexican Hat Rock, a nice picnic place where hardly anyone stops!
We stayed in the River Canyon Lodge, a great hotel and great location to explore Canyonlands National Park and Arches National Park!
Arches National Park
Located in the southeastern part of the state Utah, Arches National Park has only one entrance on the south of the park, located approximately 6 miles from Moab.
The main features of this national park are stone arches, pointed feet and various natural formations. The colors change according to the sun in the sky. The park owes its name to the fact that it has the most natural rock arches in the world in its territory, more than 2000 in total! There is a paved road through the park, but to reach the arches you often have to walk.
Arches National Park has one road with a length of 29 km with two short side roads. You can enter the park with your own car. The visitors center is located directly at the entrance of the park, about 1500m further you reach the first viewpoint where you have a beautiful view of the town of Moab and the Moab Canyon.
The first trail you will encounter is the Park Avenue trail, which we did because of the impressive towering rock walls on both sides. You will walk up to a large monolith called the Courthouse Towers and then return to the starting point. Because it was way too hot we changed this trail a bit: Bart dropped off Ruben and me at the Courthouse Towers and we walked to the starting point, where Bart and Lore met us and walked back to the Courthouse Towers where we picked them up with the car.
Other trails we found worth doing:
Balanced Rock: a walk of half a kilometer. This rock that balances on a pedestal is very impressive. It has a weight of 3,000,000 kg and the total height is 39 meters. You can also see this rock from the road, but the closer to it the more impressive it gets!
Windows Section: This is an important concentration of arches and other shapes. They have names like Double Arch, Cove Arch, North Window and South Window. You can see the arches up close and even walk underneath, the trail is about 1.6 km
Delicate Arch: the park's most famous arch and also the symbol of the state of Utah. This arch is, among other things, on car license plates. From the parking place at Wolfe Ranch, a 2.4km walking path leads to the arch. The way there is a lot of climbing and when we were there the temperature was around 40 °C, so this was tough! But the arch itself makes it all worthwhile!
We skipped the Canyonlands National Park, just didn't have time enough!
Drove from Moab to Bryce Canyon, 428 km, passing Capiton Reef National Park and taking Scenic Byway 12
We arrived at Bryce View Lodge in the evening. Kids jumped into the swimmingpool after sitting a long day in the car.
We were not sure what to expect from Bryce Canyon. It is not really a canyon, but more a series of naturally formed amphitheatres, in which countless very irregularly shaped rock formations in all kinds of shades are found. We've never seen anything like this!! It's like a fairy tale!
The park has only one entrance on the north side and one road runs from north to south through the park. The distance from the entrance to the most southern point is only 18 miles. There are a few shorter side roads to the viewpoints.
In the evening we went to watch the sunset in the park, but unfortunately it was cloudy, but even without the play of light and shadow, this park was beautiful!
The next day we had more luck, the sun was shining, it was not to hot, so perfect weather for a hike!
We started at Sunset Point, there are a number of trails who start here, you can pick one or just go with the flow!
Some tips for visiting Bryce Canyon:
- All viewpoints are on the same side of the road. It is therefore more convenient if you first drive all the way to the end of the park, and only stop at the viewpoints on the way back, you can always park on the right side of the road
- The most beautiful part of Bryce Canyon is at the very front (the Bryce Amphitheater), if you are short on time you should only visit this part
- Trailers are only allowed to enter the park when using the campground, and may also go no further than Sunset Campground
- The viewpoints are beautiful, but we think the best way to experience the park is to descent into the Canyon itself
In the afternoon we drove to Saint George passing Zion National Park. So we had just the afternoon in this park.
The road that runs through Zion National Park can't be driven by your own car due to the crowds. You have to use the free shuttle buses and after all the 'to crowdy' warnings we read we thought the crowds were not too bad afterall. You can park your car at the Visitor Center, just past the south entrance or in the town of Springdale when there is no more space at the Visitor Center. But we had no problem finding a place. The bus stops at eight places in the park, you can get on and off wherever you want and as often as you want. So here it is just choose a trail and ride to it by bus and don't forget to enjoy the view along the way! We chose the last stop 'temple of Sinawava', a series of fantastic walks start here and we chose the Riverside Walk, because here you can walk through the gorge yourself and step through the river, which was pleasant given the high temperature. Unfortunately we were not the only ones with this idea, this was really the most hustle and bustle trail we have seen on our entire America trip. But nature was breathtaking!
We arrived in Saint George late in the evening, and stayed in Best Western Plus Abbey Inn
We drove from Saint George to Las Vegas, 198 km
What to say about Las Vegas ... it's busy, it's hot, and you must have seen it!
We stayed at the Tropicana hotel, perfect for the kids with all the pools, but every Las Vegas hotel has an extra to offer, so you probably can't go wrong here. In the evening a walk along 'The Strip' is worthwhile: casinos, hotels and more casinos. You can actually enter all the hotels and enjoy the spectacle, our children thought 'Excalibur' which is a kind of medieval castle and New York with a spectacular rollercoaster were really great.
Glad we could leave noisy Las Vegas behind us. Early in the morning we were already on our way to Death Valley National Park. A 379 km drive, passing mysterieus area 51.
Summer is not the best time to visit Death Valley. We have seen this park mainly from our car, and occasionally out of the car to quickly look up the cooling of the air conditioning again. When we were there it was 49°C. Besides desert, the park also includes salt flats, rock formations, canyons, sand dunes and mountains. The name dates back to 1849 when impatient new settlers, in the intoxication of the gold rush, thought they could cut the road to California . Instead of following guides, they ventured into this desert, where they lost wagon, livestock and their belongings and arrived in California much later, some people did not survive the adventure, and people soon spoke of Death Valley.
Just before entering the valley you will come across a small unpaved 5 km side road, Dante's View Road. This leads to a viewpoint at an altitude of more than 1600m. The last part of the road is very steep and has a number of hairpin bends, this part is not accessible for vehicles longer than 7.62m. For us Dante's view was the most beautiful viewpoint of the park, where you have a view over the beautiful salt plains, and see the the place named Badwater deep below you.
Don't miss 'Zabriskie Point', a viewpoint where you can witness that the landscape takes on all kinds of shapes and colors.
Other interesting places are the impressive sand dunes of Stovepipe Wells, Furnace Creek with the visitor center, Devil's Golf Course, a large area of salt chunks and salt pillars up to 30 cm high, formed by the evaporation of the surface water.
Badwater is also worth a stop. This is the lowest point in the US, this place is 86 meters below sea level. In warm weather it is not recommended to walk on the salt flats, but this did not seem to stop people when we were there. There are small puddles of standing water, the smell of this puddles has given this place its name.
The exit of the park is a beautiful road into the mountains. We stayed the night in the Best Western Plus Fontier Motel in Lone Pine.
We drove from Lone Pine to Exter, 322 km. Passing beautiful Lake Isabella. In the late afternoon we arrived at the Best Western Exeter Inn all ready to explore Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon
But what would be a relaxing evening at the motel suddenly turned out differently. After Sequoia np we would drive towards Yosemite and stay in a motel in Mariposa. However, the area was badly affected by forest fires at the time and we were informed that all of Mariposa had been evacuated and a number of access roads to Yosemite np had also been closed.... so what to do next... after a few stressy moments we decided to book a hotel in San Francisco instead and skip Yosemite...
Visit to Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon
Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Park are two contiguous national parks managed as one park. They are both about the same size (1700 km²) and located in the central part of California. The highest mountain in the USA is located here (Mount Whitney, 4416m), but there are also the famous redwood trees and deep ravines. In the Sequoia np there are beautiful granite peaks, deep gorges, lakes and rivers. You can spend days here, but we didn't had that much time, so we chose some spots to visit.
Moro Rock: after climbing 400 steps carved into the rock you have a panoramic view over the park and the canyons. I have felt here that I am a bit afraid of heights, towards the top the path becomes very narrow and you have a deep abyss on both sides!
General Sherman Tree: one of the most famous attractions in the park. This is the largest tree in the world in volume. It is 83.8 m high, 11.1 m in diameter and 2300 to 2700 years old. It's a short walk from the parking to this tree. And ... everyone who enters the park does this walk! So put aside the idea of a quiet walk in the forest, it's busy here !!
There are several beautiful viewpoints along the road in the northwest of the park. Make sure to stop at the Kings Canyon Overlook for a view of the gorge and wilderness of the High Sierra. At Redwood Mountain Overlook you will see the largest redwood forest in the world, The Redwood Mountain Grove. Along the road in the more northerly part of the park, Grizzly Falls (just before the parking entrance), Canyon View and Roaring River Falls are great places to stop.
And further it is just driving through the park and enjoying, short walks start everywhere, you see redwoods all the time and the narrower the road you take the quieter it gets, the same with the walks, if these are a bit longer you are usually alone!
And meanwhile ... we followed the situation with the wildfires in Yosemite closely. The motel in Mariposa was able to confirm that they would certainly be closed to the public as they housed the firefighters ...
Now we had to decide: are we going to drive to San Francisco or is there still a possibility that we can drive via Yosemite? After some more calls we received confirmation that the access road via Fresno was open. So change the plans: we drive to San Francisco, through Yosemite, then maybe our visit is only a few hours, but maybe this is our only chance to ever visit this park!
We entered the park via the south entrance. The Mariposa Grove was closed, as were all campsites. It was also quite foggy, we felt the smoke as we breathed. As we approached Yosemite Valley the smoke diminished, and after the tunnel leading to the Valley we had a breathtaking view of the entire valley ... Only this view made the detour we made more than worth it!
In summer it can be so busy here that the valley is closed, this was not the case because of the forest fires, it was remarkably quiet and pleasant here.
In the valley itself you can use free shuttle buses. There are two routes, the Yosemite Valley Shuttle and the El Capitan Shuttle. The buses run from 7am to 10pm.
A little bit of information about the park itself. Yosemite National Park is the most famous national park in the country. It is located 250 km east of San Francisco in the middle of the Sierra Nevada. It has been a national park since 1890 and has grown over the years to its current size of 3080km². The altitude varies from 600m to 3400m. The park has been a World Heritage Site since 1984. This park is visited by more than 3.5 million (!!) visitors every year. The scenery is spectacular: there are granite rock formations, breathtaking waterfalls, lakes, snow-covered rocks and redwoods.
The park has three entrances to the west, one to the south and one to the east. The temperature in the summer is pleasant in this park. In the other seasons it is possible that roads are closed.
We parked on a parking spot near Yosemite Valley Lodge. When we saw the lodge, an overnight stay seemed a very attractive option here. So I just went to the reception and the answer we got was 'of course there is still room here, many tourists canceled their stay because of the forest fires', this was too good to be true! So we booked immediately! Suddenly everything was very relaxed and we could quietly see which trail we would do.
We visited Yosemite Village and the Visitor Center. You can take short walks through the valley, past the Yosemite Falls. This is the highest waterfall in North America. The water here falls 739m down into the valley, actually reaching the bottom of the valley in three stages.
Unfortunately we did not visit Glacier Point. Our time was too limited for this, but if you have more time, don't skip this!
Time to go to San Francisco! A 269 km drive. We stayed for three nights at the Holiday Inn San Francisco- Civic Center. San Francisco is an expensive city to stay, maybe Airbnb is a better option here.
In the afternoon we did the Mist Trail. Took the bus to the start point. Why this one? This is Yosemite's signature hike. While many of Yosemite's trails are popular due to having a single spectacular destination, the Mist Trail has fabulous views scattered all along it, beginning at the bridge overlook, progressing to two unforgettable waterfalls that fall a combined total of more than 900 feet (270 meters).
It soon became clear to us where the name Mist Trail comes from. At the first waterfall you walk so close that you continuously walk in the mist and we were soaked when we arrived at the top of the waterfall.
San Francisco is located on a headland that separates the Pacific Ocean from San Francisco Bay. The hills on which this city is built are characteristic, 43 in total. It is a beautiful city with beautiful Victorian houses, beautiful parks, large museums and an extensive cultural life. The atmosphere in the city also makes a visit worthwhile. We were quickly convinced!
It is recommended to explore the city by car first. For example, you can follow the 49 Mile Scenic drive, which is well indicated by blue-white signs with a seagull on it. The route starts at Fisherman's Warf in the northeastern part of the city.
We also had to pull on our sweaters here for the first time, it was still a pleasant 20 ° C, but that was a lot cooler than the temperatures we were used to. We have also taken a pass for public transport, you can easily get around the city, and with this pass you can also take the famous 'cable cars'. Tip: get on an intermediate stop and not a final stop, it will save you hours of waiting time !!
The Golden Gate Bridge is a suspension bridge spanning the Golden Gate strait of the same name that connects the San Francisco Peninsula to the north. The bridge is suspended from cables of approximately 1m diameter. The name comes from the former golddiggers who arrived in the harbor. There are a number of viewpoints where you can take beautiful photos of the bridge. We have opted for a boat trip, so you can sail under the bridge. You will also come past the legendary Alcatraz. If you want to visit this island you have to book tickets months in advance at www.alcatrazcruises.com. We hadn't done that, so too bad !!
Every night we spent in the Fisherman's Wharf area. Lots of good restaurants and nice cafes, difficult to choose, so we tried different ones every night. This district is an arrival and departure point for two of the three remaining cable car routes. You also have a nice view over San Francisco Bay, the Golden Gate Bridge and the city skyline. There is plenty to do on pier 39, a winner for the children! You can see the sea lions on the platforms, there are street artists, attractions, shops and restaurants, in short, the atmosphere is great!
Some other places not to miss:
- Chinatown, this is the largest Chinese community after New York. The entrance is clearly marked by an entrance gate. We especially noticed how neat and cozy it was here! This part of the city has been the setting for many films.
- Golden Gate Park, a huge park of 4.1 km², it is one of the most visited parks in the US, there is also a large natural science museum and a botanical garden
- Lombard Street: the most winding street in the world, very popular for tourists to drive through, so you are certainly not alone here!
- Painted Ladies: these are the Victorian houses that are painted in 3 or more colors, they instantly make you happy!
Unfortunately, San Francisco was the end of our trip. But there was another good ending: flying home for the first time with an Airbus A380!
Take a National Park annual pass if you are planning to visit 3 of more parks, it saves you al lot of money! You can use it at every park except Monument Valley.
Like ice cream? Take one at the vistorscenter of the national parks, the scoops are huge!
Take more time than we did, maybe three months instead of three weeks will give you enough time
Don't forget to activate your credit card if you come from Europe!