California is home to nine national parks – more than any other state in the U.S. – and each park is unique. Many people incorrectly assume that Death Valley and Joshua Tree are interchangeable, or that visiting Sequoia and Kings Canyon is like visiting The Redwoods.
This itinerary is going to show you how to visit six of California’s national parks in one epic road trip – Death Valley, Sequoia and Kings Canyon, Yosemite, Lassen Volcanic, and The Redwood National and State Parks.
I highly recommend visiting there other three parks – Joshua Tree, Pinnacles, and the Channel Islands – as their own road trip.
Here’s your 2-Week California National Parks road trip itinerary!
3 Nights in Death Valley National Park
Death Valley is about a two-hour drive from Las Vegas. So if you’re flying and renting a car for this road trip, Las Vegas is the closest airport. Try to arrive in Vegas as early as possible so you can do some activities in the park this first day.
On your drive into Death Valley, turn off Highway 190 onto Furnace Creek Wash Road for a scenic drive that includes these must-visit sites:
Zabriskie Point – a short paved walk to a beautiful overlook.
Twenty Mule Team Canyon – an unpaved loop road.
Dante’s View – a short walk to the best panoramic views of Death Valley.
Death Valley is an International Dark Sky Park. This park has the darkest skies in the United States, and if you time it right (with the moon phase and time of night), you can see the Milky Way with the naked eye. So if you’re up for it, I recommend doing a self-guided or ranger-led night sky viewing.
On day two, head out in the morning to the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes.
Pro tips for hiking these dunes: everything is further away than it looks. So pace yourself and keep careful track of your time. The trek back will always take longer than the trek out.
Then head back to The Oasis At Death Valley to eat, rest, cool off, and swim.
About an hour before sunset, head back out into the park to the Artist’s Drive and Palette, a paved loop suitable for all cars. The famous rock formations on this drive are most beautiful at sunset.
End your day at Badwater Basin, a salt flat that’s the lowest point in North America. This basin is like an otherworldly planet at dusk and night.
On your third day, take a Farabee Jeep Tour to Racetrack.
3 Nights In Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks
On your fourth day, get an early start on the six-hour drive to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. Head straight for General Sherman (the largest living organism on Earth) and the Congress Trail. Then check into your accommodation.
When I visited these side-by-side national parks, I stayed at Sequoia High Sierra Camp – a hike-in glamping site that’s the perfect blend of luxury and rustic living. Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks have a variety of accommodation options – tent sites, RV parks, lodges, motels, log cabins.
As with all U.S. National Parks, I highly recommend staying inside the park. This will save you driving time, lets you start your day earlier and end later, and often the in-park lodging has exclusive benefits or access to the park.
For your fifth and sixth days, here are my top activity recommendations. I’ve provided a range of options, so please pick and choose based on your comfort level.
Hike through Rowell Meadow (moderate)
Drive the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway
Hike Mitchell Peak (difficult, but worth it)
Hike the General Grant Tree Trail, which includes the Fallen Monarch (moderate)
3 Nights in Yosemite National Park
On your seventh day of this road trip, you’re going to make the four-hour drive to Yosemite National Park. Head straight into the park and do the Glacier Point Road scenic drive. This is a paved road suitable for all vehicles and RVs, though part of the road is restricted to vehicles under 30 feet long.
Stops you’ll want to make on this scenic drive are Tunnel View Overlook (the most famous photo spot in the park); take in the views from Glacier Point and Washburn Point; hike to Taft Point and Sentinel Dome (easy-moderate).
You can visit the Taft Point and Sentinel Dome viewpoints as a loop, or go out and back to one or both of them.
Then head to your accommodation for the night. When I was here, I stayed at AutoCamp Yosemite in a luxury airstream. This glamping site has several housing options, and it’s only about a 25-minute drive from the park entrance.
Day 8 – Explore Yosemite Valley. This is where you’ll get those iconic views of El Capitan, Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, and Bridalveil Falls. You’ll want to bike, drive, or take the shuttle around the Valley Loop.
Things to do in the valley are: hike to Yosemite Falls (easy; make sure you go to both the Falls and the Falls overlook); stop at the Valley View and Cook’s Meadow viewpoints; hike to Vernal and Nevada Falls (strenuous but worth it).
Day 9 – Drive Tioga Road. This scenic drive is North of Yosemite Valley, and the road goes from one end of the park to the other.
My favorite scenic stops on Tioga Road are Olmsted Point, Tenaya Lake (the pull-off on the West end of the lake has the best views), the Tuolumne Meadows pull-offs on the East side of the meadows, and the Tioga Pass.
2 Nights in Lassen Volcanic National Park
On day 10 of your road trip, you’ll drive six hours to Lassen Volcanic National Park, which has been called “The West’s most beautiful, least visited wonderland.”
You’ll want to time your arrival at Lassen Volcanic so that you can hike the Manzanita Lake Trail and watch the sunset from this lake. This trail is 1.5 miles round trip and takes 1-2 hours.
Then you’ll check into your accommodation for the night. This park has several lodging options, and even though this park is relatively off-the-beaten-path, I still recommend booking in-park accommodation ahead of time.
For your eleventh day of this road trip, drive the 30-mile Lassen Volcanic National Park Highway. Pack out your lunch and plan to spend the whole day stopping at different hikes and viewpoints on this road.
Highlights include Sulphur Works, Bumpass Hell Overlook, Lassen Peak Parking Viewpoint, Kings Creek Meadow Scenic Pull-out, North Summit Lake Loop Trail, Hat Creek, Devastated Area, and Chaos Crags and Jumbles Scenic Pull-out.
2 Nights in The Redwood National and State Parks.
On day 12, make the four and a half-hour drive to the Redwood National and State Parks. You’ll want to take CA-36 W so that you come to US 101 south of Fortuna. This route will let you drive the Avenue of the Giants.
The Avenue of the Giants is most famous for being the filming site for the Forest Moon of Endor in Star Wars Return of the Jedi. This is a flat, paved road suitable for all cars, RVs, and trailers. Make sure one of your stops on this scenic drive is the Rockefeller Loop.
Then head to your accommodation for the night. If you want to camp or park your RV, I recommend staying at a campsite inside one of the state parks. If you want a hotel, lodge, or B&B, then I recommend the town of Trinidad.
Day 13 – In the morning and early afternoon, drive either the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway or the Coastal Drive Loop and hike one of two of the easy loop or out-and-back trails off these roads.
Then hike Fern Canyon (pictured), my favorite hike in the Redwood National and State Parks. This canyon was a filming site for The Lost World: Jurassic Park, and the trail does give you a sense of going back in time to when the world was wilder.
I took a wrong turn on the Fern Canyon trail that ended up being one of my most spectacular misadventures. So you can read my Instagram post about my wrong-turn adventure to either avoid or recreate what I did.
Then time your day to watch the sunset at Wedding Rock.
On your final day of this road trip, you have a couple of options for getting back home or going on to your next destination. Your airport options are the regional airport of Arcata-Eureka or driving south to Sacramento or San Francisco.
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