In week two of my Jucy Wheels Out West tour, I traded beaches for forest, sunshine for snow and the Pacific Coast Highway for Route 66. Yes, this week I stretched from Napa Valley, California, down the Sierra Nevada, hitting Yosemite, Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks, through Nevada, all the way to the Grand Canyon in Arizona.
In one week I racked up over one thousand miles and while all the long drives, curvy roads and harsh driving conditions were worth it to watch the last hours of sun light up the Grand Canyon, this was not an easy journey.
As mentioned, my week started in Napa Valley, where the struggle began. Ric and I arrived in wine country very late and the RV Park we planned to spend the night (RV Expo Center) didn’t accept vehicles without toilets. We ended up in a hotel, because we were just too exhausted to keep looking around, if only we would have searched a few miles forward we would have found Skyline Wilderness Park one of the very best campgrounds I’ve visited yet.
The night’s drama didn’t matter though, as we woke up the next day with a full list of vineyards to visit in Napa Valley, but we also left room for a few surprises along the way. We started the day driving 45 minutes out to our furthest point in the Valley, Chateau Montelena. I must admit, I was a bit disappointed in the downtown Napa area, as most of what I saw was made up of highways and strip malls, but venturing further out, these things gave way to two lane highways lined with California Oak Trees, nothing on the horizon but vineyards and forest. On the way to Chateau Monetelena, we stopped at one of three “old faithful” geysers in the world.
From Montelena, we visited Castello di Amorosa to tour a real Medieval castle in Napa Valley. The castle even has a torture chamber. After the castle we made our way to Darioush, which has its own royal influence. The “cellar door” here is based off the Apadana Palace constructed by King Darius during the Persian Empire. The wines at both vineyards were even better than the scenery, if you can imagine.
It’s a good thing we had a day of relaxation in wine country, because the next four days included very heavy driving.
I think I bit off more than I could chew with this trip. Four national parks and three states in four days, if you’d have told me I would have accomplished this last week, I would have said you were dreaming.
From Napa, we made a three-hour journey to Yosemite Pines RV Resort, which is located about 2o-miles outside Yosemite National Park. While the scenery up to about two hours after Napa wasn’t that impressive, the last bit of our journey as well as the entire drive through the park was incredible. We even saw a coyote on the way in.
Massive rock formations, towering trees and the highest waterfall in North America? You can’t help but be impressed by Yosemite National Park. Here we played in the snow, went photo mad at certain lookout points and hiked to Yosemite Falls, the tallest waterfall in North America. We spent a good four hours in the park, which costs $20 per vehicle to enter. (This fee, as well as all other entrance fees mentioned in this piece allows visitors to stay or come in and out of the specific park for up to seven days.)
It’s extremely important to look into road conditions at Yosemite and all national state parks during the winter. Expect several road closures during the winter months, so either go with it or plan ahead.
We planned ahead and just stuck to the Western side of the Sierra Nevada, doing a loop through Yosemite then making our way south to Lakeridge Campground, about ten miles outside of Kings Canyon National Park. It’s at least a three hour drive from Yosemite to Kings Canyon.
The following day I woke up and hit the road to find out just how unforgiving roadways near the Sierra Nevada can be.
We entered Kings Canyon from the Highway 180 entrance and drove through the park to connecting Sequoia National Park then exited much further south to continue our journey onwards. Since these two parks have a road through them that covers quite a bit of ground I would plan to go through the park in one go, then continue your journey onwards, instead of backtracking through the park to stay at the same place you spent the previous night.
The drive from Lakeridge to the entrance of Kings Canyon was winding and at one point so foggy, I could only see 10-15 feet ahead. Once the clouds disappeared, we found ourselves on top of them looking out to mountain points peaking through.
Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks cost one fee of $20 to enter both. Along the way we saw the Big Stump, General Sherman Tree and ended up in the middle of a serious snowball fight. I’m not sure how we did it, but we missed the General Grant Tree. Everything happens for a reason though and missing that tree meant catching a wild bobcat hunting for prey near Hospital Rock.
Any drive through this park, must be at a cruise. Otherwise you will go nuts. At around 3 p.m. we started to wonder where we would spend the night. We made it our goal to get to the Mojave Desert, which is three hours south. Even if I wanted to rush it, I couldn’t. The roads in Sequoia National Park wind, bend and wrap around, all with a massive drop to one side. This is not a place to speed.
But things could have been worse. We made a quick stop at Jerky This to buy 1/2 a pound of teriyaki beef jerky (obviously) and the owner of the shop was astonished that we actually made it through the park without snow chains. You really must look into weather conditions and park regulations when planning a visit to these places in the winter. We were very lucky everything worked out in our favor.
The road woes didn’t end there.
A bit of traffic, rain, winding roads, were nothing compared to what I experienced on Highway 58 in the Mojave Desert. Everything was perfect and then…white.
Thick fog to the point where all I could see was white and maybe two of the yellow lines that separate lanes ahead. I would hit traffic, then all the cars would disappear, so I would to speed up and all of a sudden-boom-red brake lights in front of me. No idea how far they were away, but I would slam on my breaks just the same. I came very close to just pulling over on this major highway and waiting for something to change.
I only mention all these things, so people interested in road tripping this area know how unforgiving the weather and the roads out here can be. I was warned before my trip, but I didn’t give my plans a second guess. I want to say I would have planned it differently, but to be where I am as I write this post, I’m not sure I would.
After a night at Sierra Trails RV Park in the Mojave Desert, we headed further east through Las Vegas to Lake Mead National Recreation Area, where we spent the night. I thought nothing could top the sights in Big Sur, but I have to admit the scenery starting in Lake Mead wowed me just as much. Large red-and-purple-colored cliffs that look like they’ve been chipped away at by the gods, a sculpture in progress.
The next day we made one last long-haul drive out to Grand Canyon, stopping at the Hoover Dam along the way. You will be amazed at what human beings are capable of after seeing Hoover Dam in person. It’s huge! We drove over it and even walked on the Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge in front of it, where I actually felt myself getting sick the vertigo is that bad and I’m not even afraid of heights.
Now we thought the journey to the Grand Canyon would only take two hours from Lake Mead as we had our GPS set to Gran Canyon West. Turns out the journey is four hours at the least to reach Grand Canyon South, the National Park entrance that is open all year. I felt a bit defeated when I my GPS announced that I’d reached Grand Canyon West and all I saw was sand and bushes.
But I couldn’t feel bad for a second, because I was driving along America’s world famous Route 66 and only two hours away from seeing the Grand Canyon, which is in my opinion, America’s most sought after attraction.
Open roads, straight highways and pretty remarkable scenery along the way made the trip fly by. We made it to Mather Lookout Point to watch the sun light up the red in the Grand Canyon from the opposite direction. Tomorrow, we’ll see the sun rise just behind that same spot.
No matter how hard or long the drive, you can’t have a single complaint seeing things like this.
Thanks to Jucy Rentals USA for sponsoring my trip out West. Visit their website to start planning your own US road trip. Use the code “BobbiUSA” to receive 10% off your booking. Follow my trip right here on Heels and Wheels, as well as on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
As always, all opinions are my own.