The drive to Lee Vining at Mono Lake takes about five hours without traffic slowdowns. I usually camp an hour or so after that in the Inyo National Forest. While one can spend weeks exploring the canyons and desert ecosystems around Mono Lake, I’m often passing though on my way to the Grand Canyon and Southern Utah. It also depends on weather; we’re lucky to have Death Valley for early spring blooms and warm camping while the high desert melts.
It’s a long drive to the Grand Canyon, about 14 hours if you go through Barstow. Don’t do it in one drive, just my preference; and don’t go through Barstow unless you’re hitting the Mojave in the springtime (watch out for wind!). But then six hours a day driving is the maximum for me, after that, yuck!. So I’m a lightweight. Fortunately, there’s awesome camping every 5 or 6 hours, with only 1 hour of Interstate Freeway! Just head east on 580 from Oakland.
This will lead to some mapping once I get my act together.. but here’s a sketch of five hour drives with awesome camping areas at each end. The order is heading east from Oakland:
- Mono Lake, CA (this is the get away drive… getting outa the city!)
- Caliente, NV (Extraterrestrial Highway rt 375, this area is the most empty and quiet)
- Boulder, UT or Grand Canyon North Rim
- Bears Ears, UT
- Hovenweep Nat. Mon. CO,UT
- Flagstaff, AZ