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Travel in a Rented RV: Road Trip From Los Angeles to Yellowstone (Sequoia, Yosemite, Lake Tahoe)

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After a decades-long career in radio and magazine editing, JS Parker shares her research, insight, and personal experience with others.

A 10-Day RV Camping Road Trip

From LA to Yellowstone in 10 Days, four adults had the time of their lives in a 26 foot RV rented from Cruise America. A fairly frugal holiday, we paid half price for a one-way RV out of Los Angeles, camped in exceedingly reasonable national park campsites, ate many meals prepared in our tiny RV kitchen, and split the cost four ways. And we had a ball.

So, here's a roundup of our tire-tread odyssey in these Western United States: California, Nevada, Idaho, and Montana.

We flew into LA one October afternoon, two couples, one each from Austin and Detroit. Drove a rental car to the big Cruise America lot, took the very enlightening RV operating class, and then anxiously drove away in our newly rented RV for the first time! A little nerve wracking in LA traffic, I might add. But we did it!!

Dockweiler Beach RV Park, Los Angeles

Dockweiler Beach RV Park, Los Angeles

I say "we," but actually we divided the driving up into three groups: 1) those who drove in the city, 2) those who drove around sheer cliffs, and 3) those who drove on the open, flat road (me!).

First Night: Gorgeous Beach

California dreaming, we spent our first night in an RV on the beach in a gorgeous RV beach campground, called Dockweiler, near LAX Los Angeles International Airport (at the end of the runway!) Actually, it was quite wonderful.

Of course, we had a lot to do. Since we had flown in we needed to stock up on groceries. (The rental car came in handy. We parked the RV and drove the car around LA.) To our surprise, the RV was well stocked with pots and pans and tableware. We had brought along our own bedding and towels, measuring cups, a bowl, a couple of sauce pans and cooking implements, but we had expected to go shopping for the rest.

Use Checklists!

If you plan your own trip, you have to be very organized. We used many different resources to plan our trip. RV Vacations for Dummies has great checklists for everything you need to remember. Although a laptop would work (except in the mountains: no Internet or cell phone service), we kept a three-ring binder with sections for each major destination along the way that included:

  • Basic itinerary
  • Expense records
  • Sections for each major destination (for example: Los Angeles, Other California, Nevada, Idaho, Yellowstone)

In turn, each major destination section contained:

  • Reservation details
  • Maps and directions
  • Campsite information
  • List of sites to see, things to do

P.S. I know some experienced RVers just pick up and hit the road, footloose and fancy free, with no plans at all, making decisions as they go. For our first time out, we wanted some things planned.

What to Do About LA

As much as we love traveling to big cities—especially New York and London—this RV trip was definitely NOT about city sights. We were going to rough it (in a luxury RV!) in campgrounds set in some of the greatest wilderness in the world.

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Still, we couldn't pass up the chance to do a quick tour including views of LA from Mulholland Drive, the mansions of Beverly Hills, the Hollywood sign, and most of all, the billion dollar Getty Museum, set like a jewel high in the hills overlooking LA.

After getting the RV stocked and organized, we had a fine dinner and our tour of the city, slumbered under the stars, and awoke to the sound of pounding surf.

Then, after necessary stops at Starbucks and Trader Joe's, off we went, up Interstate 405 to the Getty and then to Sequoia National Park.

National Park Service website

Itinerary

Day 1 - Arrive LA, tour LA, overnight at Dockweiler State Beach RV campground

Day 2 - Leave LA, visit the Getty, camp at Lemon Cove RV Park near Sequoia NP

Day 3 - Sequoia, Lodgepole campground

Day 4 - Arrive Yosemite, Wawona campground

Day 5 - Yosemite, camp at North Pines

Day 6 - Yosemite, Tuolumne Meadows camp

Day 7 - Lake Tahoe, Sugar Pine Point State Park campground

Day 8 - Wells, NV, Angel Lake RV Park

Day 9 - Ketchum, ID, The Meadows RV park

Day 10 - West Yellowstone, MT, Yellowstone Grizzly RV Park

Our Original Shopping List

Fying pan

Tongs

Glass wine stemware (such city dwellers!)

Measuring cups

Saucepan

Dishtowels

Coffee mugs

Mixing bowl

Large spoon

Four plates (we didn't want to use paper)

Knives, forks, teaspoons, soup spoons (getting picky here)

Baking pan (for brownies!)

Large fork

Four bowls

Dishpan

Ice cube trays

Spatula

Four glasses

Cutting board

What We Actually Did

We were planning on shopping at IKEA to provision the RV with the rest of the things we needed but couldn't bring on the airplanes, but the Cruise America "provisioning kit," which normally cost $100, was already on board our RV.

Sequoia National Park: Unspeakable Beauty

I don’t think anyone can really describe what it is like to stand in the mystery and majesty of the giant sequoia trees, the largest trees in the world. John Muir, the pioneering conservationist, said one naturally walked softly and awe-stricken among them. Stand in the forest and close your eyes, you still feel their presence.

You and I are only going to live 100 years, at best, but these beings are up to 3,000 years old. And they don’t die of old age, either; most just fall over. They only grow above 5,000 up to 7,000 feet in only two places on earth—here in California on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and somewhere in China.

Yosemite National Park

If Sequoia trees, then Yosemite rocks!

Grandeur is the word for Yosemite National Park. Majestic rocks, cliffs, and waterfalls are everywhere. Half Dome is the most famous "rock" in the park, near Yosemite Valley, the most frequented part of the park, where we camped one night. In October, many of the famous falls are dry, but if you do a little hiking you can still find them.

We stayed one night at three different campground in Yosemite, each quite different and offering its own starting points for views and trails. North Pines, the relatively populated campground in Yosemite Valley, is full of civilized offerings: hot showers, restaurants, groceries, gear, bar, and coffee shop.

The Truth About RV Camping

Bottom line: It's a ball.

The experience itself is an odd juxtaposition of the extraordinary, almost spiritual aspect of the beauty that surrounds you when you camp in these great national parks, and the very mundane, nitty-gritty details of living camp-style.

For example, water. Turn on the faucet and out it comes, right? In an RV, you have to worry about three kinds of water: fresh, gray, and black. Think about it and you get the idea pretty quickly. The 40-gallon fresh water tank was supposedly potable, but we used it mostly for cooking and cleaning. The 35-gallon grey water tank collected water from the shower, kitchen sink, and bathroom sink. The 30-gal black water tank was from the toilet only.

Every day you have chores that may involve filling up the fresh water tank, and emptying the black and grey water tanks.

The other tanks to keep an eye on are the gas tank and the LP gas tank, which powers the refrigerator and stove. If you use the generator, you incur extra charges and may have to change the oil.

With so little space, we had to be tidy and synchronized. We took turns getting dressed in the morning, alternated chores, and more or less stood up only two at a time.

RV Road Trip: LA to Yellowstone

Camping by Lake Tahoe

We thought we'd seen the most beautiful sites in the world in Sequoia and Yosemite, but Lake Tahoe was simply breathtaking. Surrounded by mountains, forests, and beaches, we all decided we would be happy to return for a long stay at this gorgeous lake, summer or winter.

Sugar Pine Point is a California State Park and campground, one of the most memorable of our trip for sheer loveliness. It has two miles of lakefront and a pristine beach.

The sugar pines are beautiful trees, the tallest of all pines1 (according to the Forest Service), that throw off huge pine cones (up to two feet long!) that you'll see along the sandy trails down to the water edge.

1 Note: Sugar pines, giant sequoias, and coastal redwoods are technically in different classes.

Ketchum and Sun Valley

These two charming Idaho locales drew us for a number of reasons. We needed a break in the loooooooong drive from Lake Tahoe to Yellowstone National Park across the dusty dessert country of Northern Nevada. We headed up into Idaho, a welcome relief of lovely farms and rolling green hills near the Snake River.

The further north we went, the more beautiful until we reached the very charming town of Ketchum, final resting place of Nobel prize winner for literature, Ernest Hemingway, the second reason we came to Ketchum.

Side by side, practically, Ketchem is the town, Sun Valley, the sky resort. Both are beautiful and upscale.

Yellowstone Couldn't Be THAT Great....Oh, yes it is!

On the road again, we stayed overnight just outside the park. Next morning, we excitedly entered Yellowstone National Park, the nation's first and finest, from the west side in Montana.

It wasn't long before we begin to see features that the park is famous for: steaming earth, boiling mud, clear rivers, and herds of buffalo. We stayed four nights in Yellowstone, and it wasn't enough. We want to go back.

Poll on National Parks

© 2011 JSParker

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