Road Trip - What's not to miss in NW Arizona and Calif. Parks?
January 17, 2014 3:08 PM   Subscribe

I'm in Arizona and want to travel from Phoenix to Joshua Tree Nat'l. Park and then on to other places in Calif., and not miss anything fantastic nearby. I'll visit LA and its museums (and my family) and want to spend time camping in National Parks - Channel Islands, Lassen Volcanic, Kings Canyon, Joshua Tree, Yosemite, Sequoia, Redwood, Pinnacles. I've visited Calif. and spent time in San Francisco and LA, as well as the Long Valley. In AZ, Petrified Forest, & Grand Canyon.

It's way too broad a question, I know. I love literature, great bookstores, natural wonders, 1/2 day hikes, and I'm a hippie and will visit Sedona and other places of great beauty/ spiritual lore/ laidback-ness. I'm car-camping with a small dog, which complicates national park visits a bit, but we'll manage. I think I want to go from AZ to Calif., LA, north no farther than SF, and back to AZ to the Grand Canyon. I can take a month or so. If I should skip a park, that would be good to know. I expect to be in California again, so I don't feel like I have to pack everything into 1 trip.

Home base right now is Denver. I'll visit Colorado places with family. Probably will not make it to southern AZ. I'm on the road already, so time frame is January - February. Alternate route suggestions welcome. I don't want to spend every hour driving, though it's a large section of country.

Threads I've seen - and - and. Also, mefi-mail me if you want me to attempt meetups.
posted by theora55 to Travel & Transportation around California (15 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I have limited bandwidth and power for devices, but will check in tomorrow.
posted by theora55 at 3:08 PM on January 17, 2014

I just got back from a quick trip to the Phoenix area (sorry to miss you!) and I went to two destinations that I was really surprised by how much I was into.

- Musical Instrument Museum - hear and see the instruments of every country and then get to mess around and play a bunch of them and learn about the history of Women in rock! Expensive. Worth it.
- Desert Botanical Gardens - there is a Dale Chihuly exhibit there now, interesting glasswork in natural settings. A lot of neat hikes (not sure if dogs are okay but I suspect not, sorry) and a way to learn a lot about the natural flora/fauna there. Also a little pricey. Also worth it.
posted by jessamyn at 3:14 PM on January 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

I was going to recommend the Mountain Home State Demonstration Forest in California for a place to see the Sequoias where dogs are ok (I was just camping there this past summer, and it's amazing!), but then I saw you were going in January and February, and I'm pretty sure most of the mountainy places are going to be really cold. In Phoenix though, we have loads of great hiking. The most popular is Camelback Mountain, right in the middle of downtown Phoenix. There are two summit trails; dogs are allowed on one of them. We've also got the South Mountain Preserve, which is the largest municipal park in the country and has loads of trails. There's also Papago Park, which has several trails and connects to the Dreamy Draw area, but your dog won't be allowed on the Papago Peak summit trail (he's fine on most of the other ones, though). Make sure you take more water than you think you're going to need; it gets warm here in the daytime (even in winter) and it's obviously dry.

Oh! And on your way north, you should totally visit the Lava River Cave just outside Flagstaff. You might need to hike a bit to get to it if the roads are closed, but the cave itself has a consistent temperature and is open year-round.
posted by Weeping_angel at 3:57 PM on January 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

PS: All Phoenix municipal parks are free!
posted by Weeping_angel at 4:01 PM on January 17, 2014

Death Valley, reputation aside, is very beautiful, and now is a time of year where you could actually walk around for more than 15 minutes without having to hop back into the car.

Downsides: It is a little bit out of the way in terms of a straight shot to Joshua Tree (although it fits well if you're going to Yosemite too), and it does take a bit more planning (it's really big, and there's few facilities past the entrances, so you need to have ample water/food/gasoline/blankets if you're camping.)
posted by kagredon at 4:08 PM on January 17, 2014

If you are not adverse to going a bit south (less than two hours) to Tucson, try the world renown Arizona Sonora Desert Museum. They are much much more than a zoo. Emphasis has always been on education and conservation. Also Saguaro National Park will be gorgeous this time of year (any time of year really but now you wont explode into flames when you leave the car, as you would in the summer). If you have never seen a forrest of Saguaro cactus before I HIGHLY reccomend. The area where these plants are able to grow is just a tiny bit of desert in the Southwest. They exist no where else. Truly magnificent especially at night against the stars! Also in the Tucson area, try (this would not need a long visit, maybe 20 mins or so if you are pressed for time but would be well worth the look) the mission San Xavier del Bac (The White Dove Of The Desert).

I could go on and on (my heart lives in the Sonoran dessert) but it is a little out of the way you said you wanted to travel. You wouldn't regret a trip to Tuscon though, I promise!
posted by WalkerWestridge at 4:26 PM on January 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Pinnacles is fabulous and this is a great time of year to visit (assuming we don't have more uncharacteristic hot weather). The park has two entrances, and you can't drive through, you have to drive around. The west entrance is more dramatic, but I liked the hiking from the eastern entrance better (not that the west side stuff is bad, because it's not).

Lassen is out this trip if you don't want to go north of SF - it's a good four-hour drive.
posted by rtha at 4:34 PM on January 17, 2014

Best answer: I'd nix Channel Islands. No dogs allowed.
posted by nacho fries at 4:35 PM on January 17, 2014

Best answer: Pinnacles doesn't allow dogs on trails, only on-leash in the campsite and carpark. Most California state parks are unfriendly to dogs, unfortunately, #$@#$.
posted by anadem at 4:41 PM on January 17, 2014

Best answer: Kings Canyon/Sequoia The road to Kings Canyon proper is closed in winter. Grant Grove is nominally part of Kings Canyon, you can see that. The General's highway that connects Grant Grove to Sequoia is closed in winter.

I suggest choosing between either Giant Forest (Sequoia) or Grant Grove.
posted by notned at 4:48 PM on January 17, 2014

Papago Park is dog-friendly, and the natural rock formations are unique and striking. If you walk up to Hunt's Tomb you can look down into the African Veldt section of the Phoenix Zoo. Giraffes!
In LA, the Getty Museum is worth a few hours, if you can find a dog-sitter. Lots of fun with a small group.
posted by aquanaut at 4:48 PM on January 17, 2014

Living Desert in Palm Desert.
posted by notned at 4:52 PM on January 17, 2014

...And when I said Papago Park (complete with correct link) I really meant Piestewa Peak. (Although Papago is nice, too!)
posted by Weeping_angel at 6:02 PM on January 17, 2014

See my recent answer.
posted by melissasaurus at 7:52 PM on January 17, 2014

Make sure to get a date shake or just some dates around Indio, CA. There are a variety of places to accomplish this, googling will work.

Salvation Mountain has always been on my list, near the Salton Sea.

I know you said no farther north than SF, which I think is wise use of time, but I have hippie friends who make regular pilgrimmages to Harbin Hot Springs. Maybe for another trip.

I have loved camping at Big Basin, dogs allowed on-leash but not on trails, sadly. Near Santa Cruz.
posted by dahliachewswell at 10:48 AM on January 19, 2014

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