The interstate highway I-15 will take you from the greater Los Angeles area to Las Vegas pretty quickly without much excitement and a few possible traffic jams. Highways are great for traveling quickly but you don’t really see all that much. If you have a little bit more time and want to cross a few mountain ranges, drive through the wide open desert, visit a few interesting places, briefly drive on Route 66 and drive trough a national park and national preserve, this road trip report will show the way.
I lived in Orange County for almost 2 years and finding great roads to explore the area by car and motorbike was my favorite pass-time. The vehicle for this road trip was a 2013 Dodge Challenger SXT which is reviewed in great detail here: link
This map shows the complete route. Total distance is 360 miles and Google Maps shows a driving time of 6 h 38 min. So technically, you could do this in one day but you’ll miss many great things along the way. For this trip, I took two days and spent the night in the Palm Desert / Palm Springs area.
This is the part from SJ Capistrano to Lake Elsinore, Hemet and Palm Desert.
The route starts at the interchange of the I-5 and highway 74 in San Juan Capistrano. This is about an hour south of Los Angeles and probably about an hour north of San Diego. The beginning of highway 74 quickly takes you into the Cleveland National Forest, a mountainous area with great curvy roads that beg for some sporty driving or riding.
This road can be pretty busy and you’re often stuck behind a slower moving vehicle. Opportunities for overtaking are very limited so most of the time you just have to take it slow and enjoy the scenery. I was told Sunday early mornings are the best time whhen you want to test the limits of your car or motor bike.
When you get near Lake Elsinore, there are a few turnouts where you have a magnificent view over the lake and surrounding areas.
The road from Lake Elsinore to Hemet is not very exciting but not too bad either. You can either follow the route as shown on the map or follow highway 74 through Perris.
A few miles from Hemet, you’ll be at the base of another mountain range. I have driven this road quite a few times and it often is not as busy as the previous part. Great roads for more fun driving or riding and enjoying some great views.
You actually climb pretty rapidly here to about 4500 ft. I have been on this same road in winter and it can pretty cold with snowy and slippery roads. After the Mountain Center, the area is fairly flat until you reach the descent into the Palm Desert area.
Before you drive down into the desert again, there is a turnout and parking area with an amazing view. You can see the road snaking through the mountains and the anticipation to jump back in your car is very tempting. But it is good to take it slow and enjoy the view first.
Continue with part 2: Palm Springs to Kelso