USA Travelling tips and recommendations

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 DanDDJ 05 Jul 2024

Hi all,

I'm strongly contemplating going on a solo 3 month tour of the west coast of Canada and the US starting mid September. It will be my first time doing anything of this length or this far away from home.
My rough plan for now is to start in Squamish, and travel southwards with the weather to end up in LA. Going climbing in several spots but also do some trekking, take in a bit of US culture and go to some sporting events as well as visit some friends who live out there etc.

This is all very loose and open to change but I'm reaching out to the UK climbing community to see if anyone could please offer any tips from their experiences to do with travelling or recommended places to visit etc.

In particular I'd like to ask if people have any recommendations for/or additionally to the places mentioned below. Are all motels as minging as they're made out to be on TV? If you've done something similar have you hired or bought a car and what are the pros/cons of each method? Any recommended routes?

My places of interest so far are:
Squamish, Olympic NP, Smith Rock, Lake Tahoe, Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite, Sequoia NP & Red Rocks.
I do realise I may be biting off more than I can chew for all these spots in a 3 month period alongside other things but again, these are all very flexible.

Any and all comments appreciated, many thanks in advance.


 Tony Buckley 05 Jul 2024
In reply to DanDDJ:

As one very quick observation, I'd check when the campsite at Tuolumne Meadows closes at the end of the season.  I was caught out by that one September.


 Dunthemall 06 Jul 2024

It is expected to be a bad fire season in North America, the Canadian Fires did not get put out from 2023. My "Alpine Trip" was aborted, due to too much smoke.

> As one very quick observation, I'd check when the campsite at Tuolumne Meadows closes at the end of the season.  I was caught out by that one September.

That was going to be my comment as well. I tend to stay with the bars/shops in Mammoth Lakes and drive up to the Meadows each day. Also if it is a high smoke season means you can get clear of most of the afternoon smoke.

Sequoia suffers from the smoke even more (and try and find out if there are any controlled burns expected).

Smith Rock has a very short climbing season summer -> winter can be a few weeks. Owens River Gorge is a lower alternative (near Bishop). Then don't forget the Peabodys (if only for a look).

Red Rocks Nevada close for 48 hours after ANY rain. But its only 3 hours drive to Joshua Tree.

 Lankyman 06 Jul 2024
In reply to DanDDJ:

It's many years since I spent several months doing an extended US tour. I got a very good value rail pass and hitched. What surprised me was how early winter arrived in the mountains. I started in the Wind Rivers of Wyoming in September and got a blizzard as I got to my exit trail head. I did a lot of hiking in the desert parks in Utah and Arizona such as Arches, Canyonlands and Grand Canyon when it was cold and much quieter. I still got heavy snow on the north rim of the Grand Canyon but it was t-shirt weather by the river! It was a fantastic few months, I wish I was up to doing it again. Go and have an adventure. It'll be a lifelong memory.

 dominic o 06 Jul 2024
In reply to DanDDJ:

Visiting in autumn (or The Fall ) and taking a north-south itinerary on the west coast is the perfect strategy, though ideally you might want to nudge it forwards a couple of weeks as things get quite cold, quite quickly! 

We did a 90 days Western US trip about 20 years ago, taking in a couple of dozen climbing areas and a similar number of National Parks, albeit starting in the Rockies rather than Canada. We had our kids (10 & 8) so it wasn't wall-to-wall cragging, but it will give you a flavour of some of the best spots at that time of year.

Plenty more detailed posts from more recent trips here:

A few general tips:

- there's tonnes of legitimate free camping options as well as many wonderful and inexpensive National Forest and NP campsites. Take a tent! Yes, all the motels I've stayed in ARE like the movies, and most of them won't be where you want to be anyway. 

- buy an annual National Park pass. It's the best $80 you'll ever spend (and give it to someone else at the end of your trip - it can be used by two different signatories)

- Mountain Project is a brilliant resource for route and area information and for finding partners. 

I hope that helps - PM for any specific beta. Cheers, Dom 

 Dunthemall 06 Jul 2024
In reply to dominic o:

> - buy an annual National Park pass. It's the best $80 you'll ever spend (and give it to someone else at the end of your trip - it can be used by two different signatories)

Its not only NPS but also BLM and USFS, who now also charge for access. Now (2024) only 1 signatory, but still $80 per 12 months from date of purchase. When Yosemite is $35 per week!

There are many free BLM sites, my favorite climbing/camping areas are  Alabama Hills New Jack City - Box Canyon East. Camp at the base of the routes.

 Dunthemall 06 Jul 2024

Other places Shuteye Ridge just south of Yosemite, great climbing but the guide is very optimistic about driving conditions. The roads are rough (even the 2WD ones) and i looked at the 4WD in awe.

The Needles - Demon Dome i hear is also a great destination.

Holcomb Valley Pinnacles above Big Bear Lake, mostly granite sport climbing.

Tollhouse Rock big (5 pitch) slabby granite face above Fresno.

Warning: Sometime September/October the Sierra will go to full winter, mandatory carrying of chains, etc. Many of the higher crags become inaccesible. Example in October 22 it snowed down to 3000ft. Big Bear Lake campsite closed (my booking cancelled/refunded) and the chain rules started, it took about 2 weeks for the snow to clear.

Post edited at 12:10
 seankenny 06 Jul 2024
In reply to DanDDJ:

Some general pointers:

North America is very big. Squamish to Red Rocks is 1,300 miles. That’s about the same as Sheffield to Valencia. But also not everywhere you want to visit is on a straight line so it’s inevitably a lot more driving that. Driving in the US can, mile for mile, be a lot easier than the U.K., but not always. In my experience modern California is generally pretty crowded - think travelling for hundreds of miles with traffic similar to the M1. Speed limits are lower than here and sneaky cops lay in wait, it’s easy to get a ticket and everyone drives accordingly. All this is worth bearing in mind. 

America is richer than here and consequently it’s quite expensive for visitors from poorer countries. Motels do not offer great value for money, but seem to be ideal spots for engaging in some of life’s seamier activities.

If the menu is all in Spanish then the tacos will be excellent. 

There is a lot of granite climbing, it is fantastic but there’s a bit of a steep learning curve for everyone at first. You could easily spend a week at some destinations getting to grips with the style. However places like Tuolomne or Red Rocks are considerably easier style-wise and you’ll be fine there. 

Everything is bigger in America and the weather is no exception. Hot means really hot, cold means snow, weather systems can sometimes blanket all the crags within 250 miles. Plan out your trip accordingly (Mountain Project and various logbooks are your friend) and be willing to be flexible. 

Aim for something approaching a double set of cams. If you need three or more of a particular size then someone will usually be willing to lend you the kit. America is a technological powerhouse but no one understands double ropes, even where they might be useful. They seem to have weird fashions for things like simultaneous abseils. Arranging climbing blind dates via WhatsApp is hard because everyone still just texts (?!). 

If you go all that way and spend more than one day at Owen’s River Gorge then god help you. Still, the Sierra Eastside had a lot of very good climbing. 

For a slightly tongue in cheek climbing guide to the west coast:,21295.msg387459.html#msg3874...

Note that it’s easy to access The Economist magazine via an app these days

Climbing trips to the US are amongst the best things you can do in our sport. The wide open spaces, the incredible cliffs, and as for the nation itself, remember what American comedian George Carlin said: “When you're born you get a ticket to the freak show. When you're born in America, you get a front row seat.”

Post edited at 14:35
 Dunthemall 06 Jul 2024

Tuolomne: get your head in gear and read the guide carefully, 3 bolts in 50/60m is not always considered "R". Some of the 165ft pitches are over 50m of rope, I have been on at least two!

American rope technique. In the Meadows it is normal to have a leader on a single rope and the second draging a second single rope up for the abseil.

Do some bouldering at The Knobs first to see what its all about.

Driving: Its not all about speed limits, parking facing the wrong way (side) on a road will get you a ticket.

 Offwidth 07 Jul 2024
In reply to DanDDJ:

Hi Dan it's been a while since our festival chats.

Dom's post is spot on and Sean's nearly all is:  there are hostels in some places and we found good value clean independant motels in a few places and haggled (based on a no loss situation as we had a tent):  especially the High Desert in Joshua Tree village... just say Lynn and Steve recommend it. It's nice to get clean once a week.

Tarquitz/Suicide is a world class venue missing from the posts above, close to LA and is useful backup if weather is worse than normal in the high Sierra (like Joshua Tree.... if it's snowing in the Sierra it will likely be snow or rain in Red Rocks).

Climb Stolen Chimney on Ancient Art, Utah before the top falls off. Pics at bottom of this link:

Dunthermall is right about run-outs but you should be good enough not to worry as the issues with film ratings tend to be much worse for lower grade climbers: we have climbed safe X routes and been terrified on a PG. He might also have meant Dome Rock (which is better than Demon Dome) but Needles next door is world class awesome.  Flying to the US to climb at Owens is nuts but if you are passing it's maybe worth an easy day (and to get your UKC view set for the future).

 racodemisa 07 Jul 2024
In reply to DanDDJ:

Not that far from Squamish (by American standards) you have sport climbing at Skaha.Canadian friends have always said October is a good time for that area..I've also heard index in Washington state  is meant to have superb crack climbing and bouldering.Last year I was in Wyoming a bit far away perhaps but if September  into October is very hot and smoky in the west.I'd really recommend Ten Sleep Canyon and also the Lander area.I climbed at different crags in weather that averaged 28-32 degrees (sometimes considerably hotter).There was plenty of shade and at altitude (2000m-3000m) often giving really pleasant climbing conditions Both places have great climbing communities as well with the rock ranch in Ten Sleep  being probably one of the friendliest campgrounds I've been to for a very long time.Also there are many iconic tourist destinations with opportunities for big walls  mountaineering and hiking in the Tetons Wind river and Big Horn mountains.

In reply to DanDDJ:

As a US resident the only thing I would add/emphasise is that currently the US is really expensive. Expect to pay double the UK price for everything except petrol. 

 Dunthemall 07 Jul 2024

Having (at Easter) done 2 weeks in Jtree, similar to UK prices, except spirits and petrol (gas). Don't bother with duty free.

Car hire, US has different car insurance rules. So xxx will be cheaper than but you won't have any car insurance?

The "alpine crags" are what you go for - Cathedral Peak, Cardinal Pinnacle, The Needles, ... but always have a plan B (&C).

Joshua Tree to Holcombe is 4500ft. Bishop to The Meadows is 4500ft. Loose altitude and going east of the Sierra could save the week.

Oregon has no local tax (when i was last there), so the ticket price is what you pay. Most other states have tax added to the ticket price (sort of like VAT). So REI Portland is cheaper than REI Vegas. 10%?

OP DanDDJ 07 Jul 2024
In reply to dominic o:

Wow Dominic, you're a star. Many thanks for that information. That's way more than I was expecting, very much appreciated.
Great blog too, I've been reading it eagerly for the past hour. Looks like you've had some great adventures with your family. What an experience for you all!

I very well may be in touch with some more questions in time.


 Dunthemall 08 Jul 2024

Keep an eye on the fire reports:-

This seems to cover many states, not just Idaho - has a better interface for california. It has a smoke forecast - example sequoia /kings is probably very unpleasant with the Basin fire.

Post edited at 22:11
 Georgert 09 Jul 2024
In reply to DanDDJ:

Came here just to say you've made a great decision. My partner and I were in the fortunate position of being invited to a wedding in LA last October, so tagged on 2.5 weeks of road tripping (LA > Joshua Tree > Sequoia > Yosemite > San Francisco). Got spanked on almost everything we climbed, but had the time of our lives. Personal highlight being 5 pitches of Yosemite granite all to ourselves, high above a controlled burn in the park below with the Captain watching over us to the left. We loved it so much we've vowed to return as soon as humanly (and financially) possible. 

 wintertree 09 Jul 2024
In reply to DanDDJ:

No west coast road trip is complete without a visit to Umpqua Hot Springs. 

If you avoid problem towns and book the second or third cheapest motel you shouldn’t have a problem.  Cheap, clean, breakfast and WiFi included and affordable laundry facilities.  The more you pay for your room as you go up market, the more expensive all those other things become.  Critically read the trip advisor reviews first; keep in mind some Americans are born to complain but if the reviews are mostly good you’ll be fine.

If you stay anywhere near a railroad crossing be aware the freight trains sound their horn for them any time of the day or night - earplugs recommended.

If you’re looking at more than just climbing, have a look at state parks and national monuments as well as national parks, you could spend years visiting all the amazing stuff those have to offer and they’re much quieter places by and large.

If you hire a car, be aware of the limitations of the total damage waiver you should probably pay for.  It doesn’t cover driving on rocky dirt tracks in the desert for example….  Get a European model care like a VW.  

Be flexible in your plans, we had to change a lot due to wild fires on our last trip, both because of road closures and because the air was  awful anywhere near them.

OP DanDDJ 09 Jul 2024
In reply to Tony Buckley:

Hiya Tony,
Thanks for that, I just checked and its not open at all this year!! However people on Mountain Project have told me that camping further east is the done thing at the moment so may have avoided a potential headache.



OP DanDDJ 09 Jul 2024
In reply to Offwidth:

Hiya Steve,

Yeah its been a while mate. Hope you and Lynn are well.
Many thanks for your recommendations and advice there mate.

Good to know about some good alternatives if the weather's rough.


OP DanDDJ 09 Jul 2024
In reply to DanDDJ:

Thanks for all the replies and comments everyone. Some great info there for me to dig in to and enjoying the UK Climbing community spirit.
After posting the same thing on Mountain Project I'm leaning more towards actually changing my plans and heading further south to avoid poor weather that late in the year.
The PNW will be there another day still.

If anyone has any experience or advice for buying vs renting a vehicle too then I'd really appreciate it. Renting seems to be reaaaallly expensive and buying seems to be a massive faff. Cant win either way lol.

Many thanks in advance again,


 Tony Buckley 09 Jul 2024
In reply to DanDDJ:

Glad the heads up helped.  Back in the day, we headed over the pass and down east to find another campsite, which I don't recommend until you're done with the area.

It's not at all climbing related, but while we were round there we camped and explored a bit round Death Valley, with which I was very taken.  It's a long way out of the way, though if you're only going to be there once it's worth the trip.


 IainL 09 Jul 2024
In reply to DanDDJ:

Tuolumne campground is closed this year. Tioga Pass cg may be an alternative. 

 Dunthemall 09 Jul 2024

Umpqua Hot Springs. Agreed you can't go to the Sierra without experiencing the outdoor bathing (they are only $5 / day).

But there are free hot springs just east of Mammoth Lakes, details in the local climbing guide. The views (its "high desert") make up for the lack of facilities.

Post edited at 21:00
 Robert Durran 09 Jul 2024
In reply to Tony Buckley:

> It's not at all climbing related, but while we were round there we camped and explored a bit round Death Valley, with which I was very taken.  It's a long way out of the way, though if you're only going to be there once it's worth the trip.

Death Valley is on the way from Tuolumne or Bishop to Red Rocks so easily taken in. An incredible place especially if you explore a bit away from the main road through.

 Dunthemall 09 Jul 2024
In reply to Robert Durran:

> Death Valley is on the way from Tuolumne or Bishop to Red Rocks so easily taken in. An incredible place especially if you explore a bit away from the main road through.

I agree you can't miss Death Valley (i have been camping in Furnace Creek in a snowstorm). Keep an eye on, to see where the flowers are  - Go into Nevada to get fuel, no tax.

Above Bishop. The oldest living thing in the world at - your $80 pass get you in free here as well - Warning its at 10000ft. Closes end Oct (or earlier ...)

Bodie mining town (CA state park) between Reno and Tuolumne. The biggest and best ghost town, in my opinion.

Alabama Hills, the climbing may be nothing special, on the starred routes the rock is usually solid. But the views of Mt Whitney are worth a stop and its BLM (free camping). The Lone Pine film museum has stills from many of the films shot here (i.e. Gladiator) and the locations.

Post edited at 21:35
 Rory Shaw 10 Jul 2024
In reply to DanDDJ:

It's a lot to pack in and it will get cold pretty quickly come September in the hills. Maybe consider a tour of the sw? Needles, High sierras, Yosemite then head to Utah for towers and Indian creek then red rocks Joshua tree?

 Dave Cundy 10 Jul 2024
In reply to DanDDJ:

Another vote for starting a bit earlier, say mid August. You might only get 6/8 weeks before the first snows arrive.

 seankenny 13:35 Wed
In reply to Dave Cundy:

> Another vote for starting a bit earlier, say mid August. You might only get 6/8 weeks before the first snows arrive.

Mid-Aug is great for the High Sierras (and presumably PNW) but not so good for anywhere lower or further south. I once went around that time and did have to spend a bit of effort avoiding the heat. Yosemite can still be very hot in September to the point of I would almost consider it an October destination nowadays (depends on one’s tolerance for heat). I reckon the OP needs to decide to either a mostly summer trip or a mostly autumn trip, which is annoying as there is so much good climbing and you can’t do it all. 

I’ve not been but I have heard City of Rocks, Idaho, is great. Might be a good spot if the OP decides PNW is his first stop… Will also be good if he wants to see the guns, god and Trump aspect of US culture. 

Post edited at 13:37
 Dave Cundy 15:22 Wed
In reply to seankenny:

Yes, i was thinking start early and high, then go progressively lower as it cools down.

We went to Ciy of Rocks in 2006.  Great place but you need to stock up on food and beer.  The local shop was only open a few days a week.  We left mid September, just as a snow storm arrived.

 Toerag 17:08 Wed
In reply to DanDDJ:

I did a month-long California road trip with my ex in 99.

Car hire for young people could be an issue (see your other thread).

We went in May. Couldn't climb at the Needles due to snow, could only cross the Sierras at the Sonora pass due to snow.

Sequioa forest place was cool. Yosemite was cool. Redrocks wasn't too exciting, and it's a bit of a maze to get to the various sport buttresses, newer guidebooks / apps might be easier. Joshua tree was like Dartmoor in the desert.  We drove from San Fran to the Needles on day 1. Day 2 Needles to J-Tree and did a week there. Went to the beach at La Jolla, only to discover the coldwater Catalina current meant it was going to be foggy, drizzly, and rainy for a month, so nipped across the border to Mexico just to say we'd been, Tijuana was a unpleasant so we turned straight around and went up to Redrocks. Did a couple of days there, then up through Death Valley to an overnight around Bishop, before heading over the Sierra to Yosemite the next day for the rest of the trip.  You could conceivably drive from Death Valley and 40 degrees, over a pass with 12ft of snow either side to end up at the beach the same day

OP DanDDJ 21:09 Wed
In reply to DanDDJ:

Hi all,

Thanks again for the great replies and loads of suggestions coming in.
After looking at what people have said on here and on MP, I’ve booked my flights and decided on a SW ish tour only to stay with the decent weather and leave the PNW until another time.
Unfortunately due to work commitments I can’t make the trip any earlier, I’m already cutting off a chunk of my summer work period as it is.

This is a rough plan of the itinerary:
alongside a stop to visit a friend in San Diego towards the end of the trip and return to San Fran to save some cash on flights and car hire.

This is still flexible and allows for visits to other areas like the Needles if it’s okay for the season.

Again if there’s any more info that people can impart then I’d be keen to hear it. Many thanks for the encouragement and help so far everyone!

Im well psyched!!


 Dunthemall 23:15 Wed

I assume Point Reyes for the Whales, its supposed to be the best, but never had any sucess there

Next point is Lover's Leap? Very unique climbing, somewhere on the web there is a speed climbing video c4 minutes for 3 pitches. The Line 5.9 is nails.

Maybe go the other way: Yosemite, Meadows You will feel the altitude in The Meadows either way. But from the Meadows you could go Bishop, Death Valley NP to Vegas.

FYI: You are driving past VirginRiverGorge (just NE of Vegas), sport climbing off the freeway.

To Indian Creek, Bryce NP, Capitol Reef NP, Canyonlands NP, Arches NP. From Indian Creek, return to Vegas v Monument Valley & Grand Canyon (south) NP,

Depending on date, cars are banned from Zion NP, there is a free shuttle bus.

If Red Rocks is too hot - Mt Charlston

If Joshua Tree is too hot - Big Bear Lake (Holcomb)

Between Red Rocks and Joshua Tree you are driving past New Jack City (south of Barstow), sport climbing, BLM so free camping, but with tables, fire pits, steel gazebos (for sun or rain).

Have a great time

Post edited at 23:23
 Darron 00:23 Thu
In reply to DanDDJ:

Don’t hire a car direct. In the US everyone has personal third party insurance with their cars. The local car hire companies will assume you have this, which you do not. Book via a euro agent and it will be included in the hire price.

NEVER travel in the US without cast iron insurance.

Have a good trip!

 Dunthemall 18:24 Thu
In reply to Darron:

Agreed, made the same point further up.

 Dunthemall 18:39 Thu

USA Grading:-

Does not apply to the newer crags, but definately true in Yosemite, Lover's Leap, Jtree, ...  on the trad routes, especially cracks.

In the YDS (TDS) scheme at one time 5.9 was the hardest grade (6.0 = A0). So there is grade squash on some 5.9 (and some 5.8)

The Line Lover's Leap and Illusion Dweller Joshua Tree are two examples I know of

Illusion Dweller is 5.10b, but the 5.8/5.9 crack in the first half is where Brits fail. The 5.10b roof, at the top, seems relatively easy.

The Line could get E2/E3 at Millstone or I was having a very bad day.

Also take care with 5.7+, 5.8+, 5.9+. i.e. 5.7+ is not between 5.7 & 5.8. Example Mental Physics at JT. It is UK 4b/4c on every move, so sustained 5.7. The 5.8+/5.9+ I have done have all had offwidth sections (Friend 6 terrain), like Aladdinsane (E1 5a).

Example: The Yellow Spur (5.9) The 5.8 grooved arete pitch seemed desperate. (I am sure it was 5.9 in the guide we had) The 5.10a alternative to the traverse at the top was much easier.

Post edited at 18:48
 Offwidth 08:30 Fri
In reply to Dunthemall:

I always found the US cracks in the SW region generally reasonable (5.9~ 5a/5b and 5.8 5a/4c) and the slabs at least a full UK tech grade harder but most of my climbing has been on gritstone. Red Rocks is the place to go for slightly friendly trad grading.

Nothing on the Mountain Project voting or comments indicates The Line is a sandbag so it may have been you... I can't comment as although there are quite a few brilliant climbs I've done at Lovers Leap that route always had a queue after I'd warmed up enough to consider it.

 Dunthemall 12:49 Fri
In reply to Offwidth:

You are probably right, i am a slab climber, so long jamming cracks are always hard and slabs "easy".

> Red Rocks is the place to go for slightly friendly trad grading.


Post edited at 12:53
OP DanDDJ 17:34 Fri
In reply to Dunthemall:

Hey Dunthemall. Many thanks for all your help with the trip planning. You've put some great info on here for me. As mentioned in one of my other posts, I've now booked my trip. The linked itinerary is a little off actually, not sure why but I've corrected it below with a screenshot.

Yeah I've heard there's a bit to be desired with the grading system compared to the UK. The cracks especially. I generally OS between E2 and E4 on a good day and was recently on a crack climbing trip to Cadarese so I'm hoping that I have some tekkers in hand for this trip.

OP DanDDJ 17:40 Fri
In reply to DanDDJ:

My trip itinerary link was a little off after inspection, not sure what went wrong there but Here's an updated version screeshot below if anyone is interested.

 Dunthemall 08:19 Sat
In reply to DanDDJ:

No problem. Over 20 years climbing in the Sierra/Rockies I have seen all the weather changes. Several times going from 20C to -10C in a day. The good news is that many of these climbing areas are desert (or high desert). Snow does not melt it disappears to dry roads/rock.

Have been in Bishop it snowed overnight, the snow melted and then froze to ice on the road (about 1" with 5" snow on top). After a slow breakfast the road was dry. Same this Easter, was driving back to JT past NewJack, there was 6" of snow on the road, but an hour later it was dry.

When I was in Moab there was a shop doing cam sets (10+) rental, by the week. Pagan Mountaineering say "We offer climbing (free, aid, safety, rescue and rentals), backpacking, camping, hydration, and trail running gear." - Might be worth giving them a call.

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