I am trying to plan a trip in December I have about 3-4 weeks in december and I thought it would be nice to take a trip down to Arizona or California or maybe both it will be myself and my 3 year old son we have a 2012 Lance camper so we have enough creature comforts for a long trip. I am looking for any input as far as where we should go and what are must see's. i was thinking the grand canyon (south rim) maybe some beaches in California, The giant redwoods, And route 66, We like to just explore cool stuff I want my son to have fun we really don't care for huge cities, We like national and state parks or even blm campgrounds we don't have a huge budget to spend on really nice places to stay free is even better as you know we don't need full hookups and all that stuff. So if you have any ideas on where we should go and what we should see. I will be driving from the Seattle area so we are just looking for a little nicer weather and new stuff to see. Thanks in advance for any input.
Buy an annual national park pass. It will save you big money if you plan on visiting several national parks.
Here are some recommendations:
1. Monument Valley, AZ
2. Grand Canyon National Park, AZ
3. Apache Trail, AZ
4. Saguaro National Park
5. Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum
6. Old Tucson
7. Tombstone, AZ
8. Bryce Canyon National Park, UT
9. Zion National Park, UT
10. Kodachrome Basin State Park, UT
11. Death Valley, CA
I've written some trip reports on many of these that you might find useful: Travelogue
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With a three year old, I would minimize the driving time and maximize the fooling-around-outside time. When I took my three year old camping (27 years ago!), I asked him what he liked best. His answer: "Sticks and rocks." Very wise words.
Take your rods. If the weather is wet it will be steelhead season on the north coast. Redwood state park in Humboldt county ca. Klamath, Trinity, Mad, Eel and Mattole riveds. The lost coast. Yosemite in winter, Death Valley. Man I could go on and on.
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For a 3 year old, certainly don't do all of these stops. I think that the Merced NWR would be the best. There is an auto tour loop where the birds are up close; it has several spots where you can park and walk a bit. http://www.fws.gov/sanluis/merced_info.htm NWR's usually free entrance, another plus. A minus is that camping is usually not allowed.
On another trip, I very much enjoyed the Turtle Bay Discovery Park in Redding. The sundial bridge is fun and there is a little nature center.
Speaking of which, California's Morro Bay State Park has a wonderful nature center with exhibits a child can touch. The campground at that park is pricely; nearly San Simeon SP (Washburn primitive camp) or Montana de Oro SP are less costly for camping. There is also the San Luis Obispo County's El Chorro Regional Park nearly for camping and a playground.
If you park along the road near Morro Rock, there's a spot where you can almost always see otters (and sometimes their babies) right near the shore; that spot also has a bazillion agressive squirrels which might scare your child, so do be careful. I usually watch the otters from the truck cab.
In December in the higher elevations of Arizona you may very well be in snow and some pretty cold temps. The southern part of AZ at lower elevations will likely be more attractive to you. There’s quite a bit of public land you can boondock on plus the state parks and campgrounds once you know exactly where you’re going. The stretch of old 66 in the west part of the state is interesting, but it’s also north so hard to say what the weather may be like. You’ll just have to watch the weather on your trip and adjust as necessary.
There can be a 10 degree or more difference in afternoon and evening temperatures depending upon where you are in California in December. It can be balmy in the LA area and San Diego while wet and rainy in Eureka. In some ways it mirrors Washington with the weather in Seattle versus that in Spokane.
Beach wise the ones north of Santa Barbara are the cleanest and by far the least crowded. Morro Bay area was already mentioned and there is a lot to do in this area including kayak rentals, elephant seals birthing their pups just north of San Simeon, nature center, and farm country. At Morro harbor in addition to kayaks there are electric powered boats for rent to cruise around in the estuary where you can see otters and birds.
Great maps available if you contact the local visitors' bureau in the areas. Coming down Hwy 101 you can see the elk at Prairie Creek state park (two herds), hit the waterfront in Eureka with the fishing boats, continue down through the redwoods south of Cloverdale, and across the Golden Gate into San Francisco. Lots of fun places for young children at GG Park and the aquarium and further down the coast at Monterey its aquarium with many exhibits designed for 3-5 year olds to explore including a petting pool with de-barbed stingrays. The Del Monte Beach at the wharf in Monterey and in Heritage Harbor are both very safe for a 3-year old to explore and at Monterey Bay kayaks you can rent a kayak.
At Moss Landing about 15 miles north of Monterey along Hwy 1 (north side of Elkhorn Slough) there are places to observe large groups of sea lions and sea otters with the naked eye as well as pelicans and cormorants and harbor seals (good place is the public deck in front of the Sea Harvest restaurant).
For low cost camping you cannot beat the NFS and State Park campgrounds. In CA there are some day use areas where it is free to stay overnight and you only need to be on the road by 9:00 AM the next day. An excellent resource on campgrounds in CA is the one by Tom Steinstra. It is a great book with detailed information and it is organized by area. Nothing else like it.
Sage advice on norther Arizona in December. Flagstaff area for instance routinely gets over 150 inches of snow a year as it is at the 7500 ft. level. The roads in and around the Grand Canyon can often be closed in December so just watch the weather. Once you get south of Sedona and Prescott, the chances of snow are very remote and there are many beautiful places to camp and explore. California is not my cup of tea so rely on some of the other posts for that info.