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Advice needed for LV to SF with a single stop/night

London, United...
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Advice needed for LV to SF with a single stop/night

Hi,

As part of a bigger road trip, I'm flying in to LV on the 16th May and need to get to SF by the 18th by car.

My initial thought was to leave Las Vegas early morning to head towards Lake Tahoe then the following morning, across to SF but I'm a bit uncertain about how my rental (Hertz Dodge Challenger, so it's hardly a nimble lightweight car!) will take to winding mountainy roads and even more so if there is snow/ice at that time in the highest places of the mountain pass.

I understand that having snow chains is a requirement and I doubt Hertz would let me put them on the car anyway..

So, what are my options if LV->Lake Tahoe->SF is "out of the question"?

San Diego...
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1. Re: Advice needed for LV to SF with a single stop/night

By May, snow and ice are much less likely, but still possible in the mountains. Snow fell in the Sierras on Memorial Day weekend in 2010, if I recall correctly. But in most years, winter-type storms are not common in May. Springtime weather usually prevails. Some mountain roads may still be closed due to accumulated snow, but new snow is not as common in May.

If you want to avoid snow, ice and mountain driving a more sure-fire route would be to drive west from Las Vegas through Barstow to Bakersfield then north to San Francisco. That is almost guaranteed to be a snow-free route most of the year. However it is also a boring, non-scenic route through unremarkable desert and then through the flat, agricultural central valley of California. Bakersfield would be roughly the halfway point.

If Tioga Road (Highway 120) in Yosemite is open, I would recommend you use that to cross the Sierras, leaving Las Vegas and going through Death Valley, Lone Pine, Bishop. Lee Vining, Yosemite, Groveland and on to San Francisco. The overnight stop could be possibly at Mammoth Lakes or June Lake. But that route would require Highway 120 to be open.

Other possible mountain roads to use could be Highway 108, Highway 4 or Highway 88. They may or may not be open, but Highway 88 is supposed to be kept open all year. All of these roads would involve mountain driving with many curves but all would be highly scenic drives, and would probably mean a little shorter of a total drive compared to going up to Lake Tahoe.

One of the top questions at the right of this page ("What is a good route to travel to Yosemite (or to San Francisco) from Las Vegas?") explains these routes. It is best to have more than one possible route planned so that you can adapt your trip to the current conditions at the time of your trip. This makes it harder, of course to choose the right place for your overnight stop and make reservations. But keep in mind that in many cases you can cancel reservations as little as a week in advance, and sometimes as little as 48 hours in advance, with no penalty. Study the cancellation policy of each place you may make reservations at.

London, United...
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2. Re: Advice needed for LV to SF with a single stop/night

Thanks for the reply.

How quickly do weather conditions change in the higher parts of the Sierras from week to week?

The Tioga road seems to be the clear winner in terms of scenic route but not relishing the possible threat of snow, I'm just wary that my boat of a rental car may be a bit unmanageable when conditions get bad, taking into account it's high power, high weight, large size and rear wheel drive.

In this context, when mountain roads are mentioned, what are we talking about, decently sized tarmac'd routes with barriers on the side of the mountain face and a lane for each direction of traffic or single lane death traps with nothing but a long fall if you mess up?

As my plans are quite tight, the last thing I need is to drive up that way but then lose time if I can't get through. Assuming there will be fair amounts of warning in case of closure along the route if I'm on it and further down the way it's decided it gets closed or snow chains are needed?

Washington State
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3. Re: Advice needed for LV to SF with a single stop/night

The roads are highways. Two paved lanes in each direction. Traveled by thousands and thousands every year.

The issue is that Tioga Pass might not be open by mid May. Here is an article about the various routes to cross the Sierra: tripadvisor.com/Travel-g61000-c158581 There is a link for historical data about pass closures.

I think driving up Hwy 395 to Tahoe and then Hwy 50 to I-80 and on into San Francisco would be fine. Some of that drive is described here: tripadvisor.com/Travel-g28926-c182361

The weather forecasts are pretty good. Make a few plans. If a late season storm moves into the Sierra, then don't go at all. But I think the chance is highly unlikely. The Yosemite forum has info about tire chains linked to the Top Questions. Read that info, even if you don't get to visit this National Park.

Will you have already visited the California coast by this point? If not, another route is to drive to Cambria (via Death Valley if you have the time!) and then up Hwy 1. More info on the Top Questions in the upper right of this page.

London, United...
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4. Re: Advice needed for LV to SF with a single stop/night

My plans are fairly set as I have hotels booked, except for these 2 days to get from LV to SF. The monkey wrench in my plan was that Hertz wouldn't allow a one-way rental of the car as the original plan was:

San Francisco (3 nights)

Carmel (1 night)

Santa Barbara (1 night)

Santa Monica (1 night)

Las Vegas (2 nights)

Instead we're flying in 2 days earlier to LV, get a night's sleep then drive the car towards SF with a night's stop somewhere if need be, then continue on the trip from SF as planned.

The info at the link you've provided (tripadvisor.com/Travel-g28926-c182361/Califo…) is practically what I want to do but a night's stop at somewhere like Lee Vining as a starting point.

My thinking is if the Tioga Pass is closed then plan B of highway 395, highway 50 then I-80 seems as good an option as Google estimates similar distances and driving times compared to taking the pass.

However, my fear is if plan B also fails because of snow/ice on either the 395/50 or I80 and because it's a rental, they won't let me put snow chains on the car meaning I'd need to backtrack and lose a lot of time heading up the I-5N (which I really don't want to do)

Or am I panicking for nothing with regards to the I-80 backup plan??

San Diego...
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5. Re: Advice needed for LV to SF with a single stop/night

Well, if Highway 120 is still closed, then one of the others might be open by that time, such as Highway 108, Highway 4 or Highway 88. They attempt to keep Highway 88 open all year, so the chances are high that you would be able to use that one (Carson Pass Highway). http://byways.org/explore/byways/2291 or https://www.trails.com/tcatalog_trail.aspx… for more information on Highway 88.

The only problem is that it would take much longer. Lee Vining to Yosemite Valley is about 2.5 hours of driving time if Tioga Road (120) is open, but if not and you used Highway 88 to cross the Sierras, it would take about 7 hours of driving time to get from Lee Vining to Yosemite Valley by that route. Highway 88 is still a scenic drive, it will just take up a lot more time to get to Yosemite Valley. Highway 108 or Highway 4 would be similar and would be a little shorter, but they also may or may not be open yet by then.

I think your chances of running into a snow storm in May are actually pretty slim. Snow did fall in May 2008 and May 2010 but it doesn't always snow in May. The issue is that not all the mountain roads will be open yet. So your exact route will have to be determined at the time of your trip. Thus you have to plan 2 or more possible routes, depending on which roads are open.

This can make it hard to make reservations, not knowing exactly which roads you will be driving. You might be safe by making a reservation for one night in Lee Vining and one night in Yosemite Valley, but your route between the 2 may not be certain until the day of your drive. Fortunately at that time of year the days are pretty long, so you will have some time for sightseeing even with the long drive.

Edited: 23 January 2013, 19:14
Washington State
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6. Re: Advice needed for LV to SF with a single stop/night

>> Hertz wouldn't allow a one-way rental of the car <<

I am amazed that Hertz would not allow a one way rental from SF to Las Vegas. Was this with Hertz.co.uk ? Other UK visitors have had good experiences booking with a UK company or a 3rd party broker like CarHire3000 or USRentACar.

Check to see if you can get a one way rental from one of these options and cancel the car you have now. Then fly into SFO and visit Yosemite. Or fly to LAS if you already have the ticket and take an internal flight to SFO to begin your tourism.

It may be too late for these ideas. Sigh.

London, United...
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7. Re: Advice needed for LV to SF with a single stop/night

bw92116: It ever likely that *all* the mountain roads would be closed thus preventing crossing on any of the routes and stopping me from getting to SF?

Also, are there many (any?) places along these mountain routes where there isn't a barrier or something for that extra 'peace of mind.'

Mountain roads I'm kind of okay with but add snow/ice in a powerful rear-wheel drive car and I start to get a bit more nervous..

PacificNWFamily: It's the UK site and they restrict the adrenaline collection cars one-way and it's all pretty much booked apart from the 2nd night's location so not much going back now! The whole thing hinged on getting a nice muscle car to drive the highway 1 route with.

LA
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8. Re: Advice needed for LV to SF with a single stop/night

The target date for Caltrans to open Tioga Pass is for the Memorial Day holiday weekend, which in May 2013 would be to have it open Saturday, May 25 at 10 am.

Napa, CA
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9. Re: Advice needed for LV to SF with a single stop/night

Why do you want a "muscle car" on a winding highway where you can hardly go more than 40 mph and will most likely be stuck behind RVs on the more open stretches?

Don't sweat the LV to SF route. Just don't book that night. When you are in Vegas, you will see the weather forecast and can decide the route you will take. Most likely, the route via Tahoe will be fine. There is plenty of accommodations there and no need to book ahead in the middle of May. Same goes for the southern route if a snow storm does come in.

California
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10. Re: Advice needed for LV to SF with a single stop/night

Caltrans does not have anything to do with 120. That's National Park Service. Caltrans does work on Sonora Pass.

Edited: 23 January 2013, 21:05