Loading...

California National Parks Road Trip

Joshua Tree – Death Valley – Sequoia & Kings Canyon – Yosemite – Lake Tahoe – Truckee
Trip Length
12-14 days
Route Distance
1133 mi
Stops
5

California isn’t as large as Alaska, but it boasts exceptionally diverse natural scenery. By visiting Joshua Tree, Sequoia and Kings Canyon, Death Valley, Yosemite, and Tahoe National Forest, you’ll run the “geological gamut,” from bone-dry deserts to misty waterfalls. Nature lovers and photographers will find many jaw-dropping sights on a trip through these treasured California destinations. Luckily for RVers, it’s convenient to drive and stay at or near all five of these parks. Let AdventureGenie help you plan your perfect adventure!

Who Will Love This Trip
Nature enthusiasts of all ages will have a blast on this tour of California’s most iconic national parks. Whether you enjoy kayaking, wildlife, photography, or just soaking in the beautiful scenery, this trip has a little bit of everything! 
Stop 1: Joshua Tree National Park, CA
1-2 day stay
Description - Joshua Tree

As a group of Mormons made their way through the Mojave Desert, they were struck by the odd-shaped Yucca trees in the region (now called Joshua Trees). Apparently, the Mormons were reminded of the Biblical Joshua by this tree, which explains why they named it after him. Today, you can still see plenty of these fascinating trees spread throughout California’s Joshua Tree National Park. Joshua Tree – a desert climate – is full of dramatic desert scenery, massive boulders, hidden oases and, of course, Joshua trees! See for yourself why people often describe their trip to Joshua Tree as a spiritual experience.   You may want to check out the nearby and iconic Palm Springs area, about 45 miles from the park.

Top Things to Do - Joshua Tree

At nearly 800,000 acres, Joshua Tree National Park has plenty of natural and cultural attractions for tourists:

Hidden Valley – despite its name, Hidden Valley is no secret in Joshua Tree National Park. In fact, this area of the park has the most popular one-mile scenic trail. A walk on this mostly flat trail will reward you with some of the most iconic views of this desert’s cacti and boulders.

Keys View – situated atop the Little San Bernardino Mountains, Keys View offers one of the best panoramic views in all of Joshua Tree. Visitors who drive up to this viewpoint can easily make out fantastic sites like Coachella Valley and the San Andreas Fault.

Skull Rock – not far from the Jumbo Rocks Campground, Skull Rock is exactly what it sounds like — a massive rock that looks like a human skull.

Cholla Cactus Garden – there’s no better place to take in the colorful cacti of Joshua Tree than the Cholla Cactus Garden. On this famed walking trail, guests will see cacti of all shapes and sizes.

Joshua Tree National Park, CA Activities
  • Rock Climbing
  • Stargazing
  • Birdwatching
  • Hiking
  • Photography
  • Biking
RV Campgrounds Near Joshua Tree National Park, CA

There are plenty of RV campgrounds inside and outside Joshua Tree National Park. The town of Joshua Tree, California, has the most private campgrounds, while the nearby town of Twenty-Nine Palms is a convenient location if you want to visit the Palm Springs area. Inside the park are eight RV-friendly campgrounds with 500 RV camping sites: Indian Cove, Ryan, Black Rock, Cottonwood, Hidden Valley, Jumbo Rock, Belle and White Tank campgrounds. The park has several non-RV campgrounds as well. Let AdventureGenie help you find the right RV campground to explore Joshua Tree!

Stop 2: Death Valley National Park, CA
1-2 day stay
Description - Death Valley

Death Valley is far more than just an arid stretch of sand – it is graceful and majestic. Near the California-Nevada border, this national park has a wide range of geological wonders, including massive boulders, panoramic mountain views, and endless sand dunes. Elevations range from 300 feet below sea level to 11,000 feet above sea level! Believe it or not, this destination also has oases, colorful wildflowers, and vibrant wildlife. The park is massive – more than 3 million acres – so plan your time wisely. Don’t let this park’s name scare you away – Death Valley will take your breath away! Important Note: In the summer, temperatures in Death Valley can go well above 100 degrees Fahrenheit, so plan accordingly.

Top Things to Do - Death Valley

Death Valley has dozens of fantastic attractions, but here are a few of the most notable:

Artist’s Drive – this 9-mile scenic drive offers colorful vistas. The highlight is the vibrant Artists Palette. There are strict length limits of 25 feet due to the steep and windy paved roads.

Zabriskie Point – this overlook is near the Furnace Creek Visitor Center and offers panoramic views of the badlands below. Sunrises here are dramatic.

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes – thanks to their easy accessibility, the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes are one of the most visited areas of this park. These mesmerizing dunes offer fantastic photo ops as well as opportunities for sandboarding.

Badwater Basin – at over 280 feet below sea level, Badwater Basin holds the record as the lowest point in the U.S. Depending on when you visit, you may be able to capture stunning images of reflections on this basin’s salty water.

Dante’s View – perched on the Black Mountains, Dante’s View is one of the top-rated lookout points in Death Valley. Sunrise and sunsets are two of the best and most dramatic times to visit.

The Racetrack – the Racetrack refers to a dry lakebed in Death Valley that contains legendary “racing” rocks. Scientists believe that the mystery of these often-large rocks moving is caused by an unusual combination of rain and wind moving them. The road to The Racetrack is rough and requires a 4-wheel drive vehicle.

Death Valley National Park, CA Activities
  • Sandboarding
  • Hiking
  • Stargazing
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Camping
  • Backcountry Driving
  • Backpacking
RV Campgrounds Near Death Valley National Park, CA

Death Valley has many campgrounds both inside and near the park area, including the popular Furnace Creek Campground. There are three privately owned RV parks inside the park. The nine campgrounds operated by NPS are on a first come, first serve basis, except for Furnace Creek campground which allows reservations. Let AdventureGenie help you find the perfect campground to explore Death Valley.

Stop 3: Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks, CA
2 day stay
Description - Sequoia & Kings Canyon

The U.S. government created Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks in 1890 and 1940, respectively, and they now see more than 1.2 million visitors a year despite their combined size of less than 2,000 acres. First inhabited by the Monache tribe, Sequoia and Kings Canyon are best known for their awe-inspiring giant sequoia trees as well as majestic granite canyons, tranquil meadows, birds, wildlife, and spectacular vistas of the Sierra Nevada mountains. The parks are separate entities but are jointly managed; you can take the Generals Highway through both parks. Sequoia has more sequoia tree groves while Kings Canyon has more dramatic canyons. As you’ll soon discover, these parks are a feast for the senses.

Top Things to Do - Sequoia & Kings Canyon

There are tons of things to see and do in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, but here are a few of the top draws:

Generals Highway – this scenic drive (with speed limits of 10 mph in many places) takes visitors through both parks. The views are stunning but only for those who like steep, narrow, windy mountain driving. There are plenty of scenic overlooks to rest both yourself and your brakes. The park strongly recommends using the Big Stump entrance off Highway 180 for larger vehicles and urges extreme caution for vehicles over 22 feet (vehicles over 40 feet are prohibited so check with the National Park Service for the most accurate information). The highway is named after two of the most famous giant sequoias – General Grant and General Sherman.

Giant Forest – true to its name, the Giant Forest contains a ton of giant sequoia trees. While every tree in this area has a remarkable story to tell, the General Sherman steals the show as the largest tree on earth. Don’t forget to stop by the nearby Giant Forest Museum to better appreciate this popular region of the park.

Moro Rock Trail – this short but challenging hike is well worth it for the fabulous views. This famous lookout point boasts pristine 360-degree views of the surrounding mountain scenery. Nearby the Big Trees Trail has lots of giant sequoias. Morro Rock is family-friendly and wheelchair accessible.

Crystal Cave – discovered in 1918 by a few park rangers, the Crystal Cave offers a glimpse into the underbelly of Sequoia and Kings Canyon. This marble cave dazzles viewers with its centuries-old formations. Guided tours are required to see the cave and it requires a few miles of walking to get to and through the cave.

Tokopah Falls Trail – An easy three-mile round trip hike allows you to view the Tokopah Falls, complemented by spectacular granite rocks. At 1,200 feet, this waterfall is the longest in Sequoia and Kings Canyon.

Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks, CA Activities
  • Hiking
  • Biking
  • Wildlife Watching
  • Horseback Riding
  • Rock Climbing
  • Fishing
RV Campgrounds Near Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks, CA

Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks operate 14 campgrounds (no hook-ups but limited generator use allowed in some). Check vehicle length restrictions for roads required for any in-park campground you select. There are many private campgrounds outside the western entrances to both parks near the towns of Hume, Three Rivers and Badger, California. Book park sites early since they fill-up quickly. Let AdventureGenie help you find the perfect place to stay!

Stop 4: Yosemite National Park, CA
2-3 day stay
Description - Yosemite

Yosemite holds a special place in America’s heart and history. It receives more than 3 million visitors a year. Famed naturalist John Muir and President Theodore Roosevelt were instrumental in its designation as a National Park in 1890. Everything is on a grand scale in Yosemite. With its towering granite cliffs, thundering waterfalls, pristine lakes, and massive sequoias, Yosemite (with 748,000 acres) is considered one of America’s most dramatic and iconic National Parks. Its famed Half Dome can’t be missed. Whether you stick to the central Yosemite Valley or venture further afield, you’ll find powerful, peaceful, and pristine views. Note: From May-September, reservations are required to enter Yosemite.

Top Things to Do - Yosemite

Yosemite Valley has all the “must-see” sites in Yosemite National Park, but there are many other attractions well worth a trip. 

Yosemite Valley – almost all of Yosemite’s most iconic sites are within the centrally located Yosemite Valley. Here you’ll see granite formations like El Capitan and Half Dome as well as Yosemite Falls. One of the top areas to take in the majesty is Tunnel View. Be aware that Yosemite Valley can be incredibly crowded in the peak summer months.

Mariposa Grove – with at least 500 sequoias, Mariposa Grove is the best place in Yosemite National Park to see these massive trees, whether you want a leisurely scenic walk or a more strenuous hike.

Tenaya Lake – anyone interested in watersports must plan a stop at Tenaya Lake during their Yosemite vacation. This picturesque lake is the largest in Yosemite and offers a “boatload” of activities in the summer, including canoeing, swimming, and picnicking.

Tuolumne Meadows – the elevated Tuolumne Meadows is one of the most serene areas in Yosemite National Park. This alpine meadow area has many wildlife viewing opportunities, hiking trails, and rock-climbing opportunities.

Learn Yosemite History – check out the Pioneer Yosemite History Center, Yosemite Valley Visitor Center, and in Mariposa, the California State Mining and Minerals Museum. You may also want to check out the Ansel Adams Gallery(https://www.anseladams.com), Yosemite Museum, and the historic Wawona and Ahwahnee Hotels.

Yosemite National Park, CA Activities
  • Fishing
  • Kayaking, Canoeing & Paddling
  • Rock Climbing
  • Stargazing
  • Winter Activities
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Photography
RV Campgrounds Near Yosemite National Park, CA

There are 10 campgrounds in the park (none with hook-ups) that can accommodate RVs, most with length restrictions (which are different for motorhomes and travel trailers). These spots fill up many months in advance. The easiest entrance to Yosemite (there are five in total) from Death Valley is the Tioga Pass Entrance. Nearby town Lee Vining has many private and public land campgrounds, as do all the other four entrances. Let AdventureGenie help you find the best campground for your trip to Yosemite!

Stop 5: Lake Tahoe Area, CA & NV
3-5 day stay
Description - Lake Tahoe

Near the famed cobalt blue Lake Tahoe with its iconic hikes, casinos and gold rush towns, the Tahoe National Forest contains many of the Sierra Nevada’s most spectacular sites. From the peaks of the Sierra Buttes to the clear waters of Boca Reservoir, this stunning park has plenty of attractions to help you reconnect with Mother Nature. Plus, thanks to Tahoe National Forest’s convenient location, it’s easy to explore nearby attractions in Lake Tahoe (the largest alpine lake in North America) and cities like Truckee and South Lake Tahoe, CA. There is no better place to relax at the end of your California RV trip than the Tahoe area.

Top Things to Do - Lake Tahoe

Whether you stay in Tahoe National Forest proper or go exploring nearby areas, there are plenty of ways to have a fantastic time in this California park: 

Drive Lake Tahoe – spend a day driving the 72 miles around or along Lake Tahoe’s shoreline. The contrast between this massive glacier lake (considered by many to be the most beautiful lake in the U.S.) and its lakefront mansions, shops, dining venues, hotels and casinos makes for an interesting day trip. There are plenty of water opportunities to explore the lake – boat tours, paddleboarding, scuba diving, fishing, kayaking, water skiing, jet skiing, swimming, etc.

Sand Harbor State Park – this popular Nevada State Park on the shores of Lake Tahoe is wonderful for families and beach goers with its gentle sandy beaches, swimming spots, boat launch and facilities. There are no camping facilities. In the summer at its lakeside outdoor amphitheater, Sand Harbor hosts the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival with many professional performances each week – usually a Shakespeare comedy, the Reno Philharmonic and other pop concerts and musicals. The performances are family friendly and magical.

Boca Reservoir – this reservoir in Tahoe National Forest is great for all types of water recreation, including personal motorized watercraft of all kinds. Fishing, swimming, kayaking, and windsurfing are popular here.

Emerald Bay State Park – located near South Lake Tahoe, Emerald Bay State Park is internationally famous for its imposing Vikingsholm castle and emerald-green water. You can reach this park on land or by boat.

Donner State Park – just a 1.5-mile drive from Tahoe National Forest, Donner State Park is an alpine park that offers many recreational activities like fishing, swimming, hiking, and water skiing. This park also has the historic Pioneer Monument and Emigrant Trail Museum, which memorializes the famed Donner Party – a California bound pioneer group in 1846 who were trapped for the winter by an early blizzard at this site. Most of the group perished during the winter and some historians believe they resorted to cannibalism to survive.

Placer Big Trees Grove – If you’re searching for more “sequoia selfies,” Tahoe National Forest’s Placer Big Trees Grove is the place to be. While the sequoias here aren’t as well-known as those in Sequoia & Kings Canyon, they have the honor of being the most northern sequoia grove in California.

Lake Tahoe Area, CA & NV Activities
  • Photography
  • Fishing
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Water Sports
  • Winter Sports
  • Hiking
  • Biking
  • Rock Climbing
  • Picnicking
RV Campgrounds Near Lake Tahoe Area, CA & NV

Tahoe National Forest, Truckee, and all the many areas around Lake Tahoe have plenty of public and private campgrounds. Figure out where you want to spend your time and find a campground nearby. Let AdventureGenie help you find the perfect place to camp to enjoy Lake Tahoe.

Like this GenieTrip? Pressing “Take This Trip” will input this into our Trip Planner so you can start planning!
California National Parks Road Trip
Joshua Tree – Death Valley – Sequoia & Kings Canyon – Yosemite – Lake Tahoe – Truckee
Length
12-14 days
Distance
1133 mi
Stops
5

California isn’t as large as Alaska, but it boasts exceptionally diverse natural scenery. By visiting Joshua Tree, Sequoia and Kings Canyon, Death Valley, Yosemite, and Tahoe National Forest, you’ll run the “geological gamut,” from bone-dry deserts to misty waterfalls. Nature lovers and photographers will find many jaw-dropping sights on a trip through these treasured California destinations. Luckily for RVers, it’s convenient to drive and stay at or near all five of these parks. Let AdventureGenie help you plan your perfect adventure!

Who Will Love This Trip

Nature enthusiasts of all ages will have a blast on this tour of California’s most iconic national parks. Whether you enjoy kayaking, wildlife, photography, or just soaking in the beautiful scenery, this trip has a little bit of everything! 
Top