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Driving from San Francisco to Las Vegas - need an SUV?

London, United...
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Driving from San Francisco to Las Vegas - need an SUV?

My wife and I are having a road trip for our honeymoon. The LA - San Fran leg is pretty much sorted but we are going to spend 3 - 4 days driving from San Fran to Las Vegas via Yosemite and Death Valley. We will be travelling in the second week in November and have rented a convertible car for the journey - would an SUV be better? I know the weather is changeable (to say the least!) at this time of year but from what I hear the roads are pretty decent.

Cuenca, Ecuador
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1. Re: Driving from San Francisco to Las Vegas - need an SUV?

Hello, richardb31, and welcome to TripAdvisor and the California forum. May God be very near and real to you as you two begin your marriage and commit your lives to each other!

The second week in November (which I take you to mean November 6 through the 12th) is problematic for Yosemite visitors going over Tioga Pass (California State Route 120). Looking at the historical record here www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/seasonal.htm you would be taking a very large risk of not getting to your next destination (Death Valley National Park) via Tioga Pass and US Route 395 south.

Take this 'dog's advice and leave Yosemite via California State Route 41 south to Fresno, then take California State Route 99 south to Bakersfield. From there, take California State Route 58 to Mojave, where you get to make the decision on going through Ridgecrest and Trona (more scenic and interesting) or do the main road (more boring) to get to Death Valley. Your choice! These are the winter routes into Death Valley National Park from Yosemite National Park. If you take this winter routing, you will do fine with a convertible automobile, though for the Fall/Winter seasons I don't know why I would rent a convertible. A closed car makes more sense, and it doesn't have to be an SUV in my estimation. This is the beginning of our rainy season (the Mojave Desert has two seasons: dry and hot, and cold and rainy).

And yes, you will find that the roads are in good enough repair as to not be overly concerned, though this native Californian and desert "rat" has seen deterioration of the first class road system CalTrans once had when California was truly the Golden State of states. Pretty decent. . . yeah. Some areas of the state that "vote the wrong way" seem to be getting punished via delays in the road repair budgeting process, though. Oh well. Enjoy your travels with us.

Washington State
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2. Re: Driving from San Francisco to Las Vegas - need an SUV?

Do you already have your lodging reservations? You mention 3-4 days, which sounds like your plans are not firmed up. Lodging in Yosemite NP is always popular, and November in Death Valley is a popular cooler month.

When you're in Yosemite, you can ask about the current condition of Tioga Road / Hwy 120. It's possible that it will be open and clear on the day you want to drive and the weather is forecast to be clear for the following day. In that case, drive this most scenic route and stay someplace along Hwy 395 for a night. But if the weather isn't cooperating, use Underdog_SPP's route.

Temecula, CA
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3. Re: Driving from San Francisco to Las Vegas - need an SUV?

Ohhh - the memories! - we spent 2 weeks of our honeymoon on a road trip of the western US national parks - 26 years later - we still reflect fondly on that trip!!

But enough reminiscing! An SUV may be more comfortable, especially since you will be renting a smaller one versus the larger one. The weather tends to start turning cold and I suspect that the top of the convertible will stay up the entire time. The SUV will give you a little more space if you decide to pull aside the road and take a quick break in the woods or along side the road. Couple of times, we pulled into a campground/road side park, made a quick snack from the cooler and just watched the trees and birds live their lives while we started our own together.

If you want to keep snacks/drinks in the backseat - bring along a folding cooler or purchase one here for about $15 to keep things cool. You can use the ice from the hotels/motels you visit to ice things down. We have one that we travel with - even took it to French Polynesia this year - great investment for traveling.

Washington State
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4. Re: Driving from San Francisco to Las Vegas - need an SUV?

Two more comments about Yosemite:

A convertible is a fabulous way to see Yosemite Valley. The speed limit is 25 mph, so you won't have to worry about the wind. Car heaters are pretty strong, so crank it up, put the top down, and make a slow loop. It's lovely. (Of course if it's raining, you may want to re-think this plan!)

If you have a cooler in your car (whether it's a convertible, SUV, or anything else), be sure the cooler is completely out of sight during the day. You cannot leave it on the back seat when you are away from your car. If you don't have room in your trunk, put it in a convenient bear locker at the trailheads. But don't leave any food in sight. And don't leave any smellable, cooler, food, water bottle, garbage, ... anything in your car overnight.

Car comment: you do know that not all SUVs are 4WD or AWD, right? Some folks think that by renting an SUV, they will be guaranteed a 4 Wheel Drive vehicle. This is not true.

London, United...
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5. Re: Driving from San Francisco to Las Vegas - need an SUV?

Thanks for all your comments - we're doing the pacific highway as well on the trip so we'll probably just get a convertible for the whole trip. We'll probably just see what the forecast is like close to the time and make a decision then. If you were limited to 1 - 2 days in Yosemite, where would you visit?

Washington State
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6. Re: Driving from San Francisco to Las Vegas - need an SUV?

Pop over to the Yosemite forum page: tripadvisor.com/ShowForum-g61000-i315 Read the Trip Reports in the Top Questions and the Itineraries, both in the upper right. Read the relevant threads. Then repost over there. Be sure to let folks know when you're traveling, your travel style, where you're staying, and who is in the travel group.

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7. Re: Driving from San Francisco to Las Vegas - need an SUV?

A convertible is NOT a great way to see Yosemite Valley, or anywhere else on your trip in November or December. An SUV is not necessary, either, and won't help if Tioga Pass is closed.

You will not likely be able to cross Tioga Pass (the eastern entrance to Yosemite) because the road will likely be closed by snow. You would need to carry chains to be able to visit the vally, anyway.

November is when the winter storms are really starting to come in. You need to be prepared for rain, short dark days, possible snow storms.

Edited: 21 September 2011, 17:12
Oregon Coast
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8. Re: Driving from San Francisco to Las Vegas - need an SUV?

>> A convertible is NOT a great way to see Yosemite Valley, or anywhere else on your trip in November or December.<<

Sorry, must disagree with that statement!

The OP -- that's you, richardb31 and welcome to the forums :-) -- is from London. It's cold there. And damp. They are used to cold and damp.

Early November weather in many places they are going can be lovely. To those used to a hot dry climate, it probably feels very cool. But to somebody from a much cooler climate, it may feel just fine.

As PNWFamily said, a convertible in Yosemite is just about the perfect vehicle to see the full grandeur. When we were there I dearly missed mine, but it's hard to pull a 5th wheel with one, LOL ;-)

Nothing like a brisk fall day, cruising through lovely countryside with the top down . . . if it's too cool, put the heater on full blast and you can still enjoy the fresh air! I will say that for a long journey, you'll very likely get tired of the wind, so you'll have the top up for much of your freeway travel. Also, have your wife bring or buy a cap, hat or scarf for her hair. Even short hair gets tangled in the wind.

Washington State
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9. Re: Driving from San Francisco to Las Vegas - need an SUV?

>>A convertible is NOT a great way to see Yosemite Valley<< I disagree. It may not be a great way for *you* to see Yosemite Valley, but it's a terrific way for some folks to see it.

One winter, our big ole' convertible was the family ski car. It had a huge trunk to fit all the skis and was pretty warm in the front. The top stayed up most of the time, but Mom loved to put the top down for the drive back down from Badger Pass. And whenever she drove it up to Yosemite NP from the California central valley, she always put the top down. Blast the heater and take off. Those were the days!

Dad still has the convertible, and we took it out to a wildlife refuge for birdwatching a few years ago in December. Driving the loop around the refuge in that car with the top down made for some excellent viewing. We saw cranes, geese, an owl, coots, and lots more. That was another excellent winter day in a convertible.

Uden, The...
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10. Re: Driving from San Francisco to Las Vegas - need an SUV?

You even can drive a convertible in Death Valley that time of year. Question is how light do you travel on your honeymoon (congrats...). We are renting big SUV's for our travels and its packed to the roof so a convertible will be nothing for us. You really have to travel light...

Tet