“Road trips are overrated,” said no one, ever. If someone did, it’s probably because they were jam-packed into a Kia Rio with pillows shoved in the rear window and duffel bags between their knees. These California road trip tips are brought to you by our friends at Escape Campervan, who help you travel in comfort and style. You can pick up a van rental in San Francisco for this epic road trip, and use code DYRT15 to save 15%!
In 2017, Americans spent over 1.4 billion hours in 417 sites managed by the National Park Service. Those hours came from 331 million Americans who took time out of their busy lives to get back to nature and see the places we’ve long protected as a nation.
If you’re a national park fanatic (like me), you’ve maybe dreamt of linking a series of parks together as an epic road trip. While checking off all 59 parks in one trip isn’t feasible for most of us, this California road trip ticks all the National Parks in the Golden State, and only requires 39 hours in the car while camping in California along the way. Not too shabby. Plus, you can download offline maps and campgrounds before your trip with The Dyrt PRO to find camping without WiFi.
Visit 9 National Parks on this Epic California Road Trip
This trip starts in San Francisco (so you can pick up your unique camper van), and ends in Los Angeles (so you can drop off your unique camper van). Our only recommendation would be to skip the fast route from San Francisco to Redwood National Park, and instead take the scenic drive on Highway 1 along the California Coast.
1. San Francisco to Redwood National Park–312 miles
Giant Sequoia trees, hundreds of years old, stand mightily among the Redwood Forest. Miles of trails sneak beneath the canopy, crawl through prairies, and stretch along the 40 miles of coastline. You can backpack or car camp in these breathtaking woods.
Take a hike: Lady Bird Grove Trail 1.3 miles
Camp here: Elk Prairie Campgrounds
2. Redwood to Lassen Volcanic National Park–235 miles
If you like to geek out on geology, Lassen National Park has lots to offer. Multiple volcanoes are located inside the park boundaries, and to find them, hikers pass by wildflower filled meadows and clear mountain lakes.
Take a hike: Lassen Peak 4.2 miles
Camp here: Lassen Volcanic National Park
3. Lassen to Yosemite National Park–346 miles
One of the West’s most iconic parks, Yosemite is home to massive granite walls, the 217-mile John Muir Trail, and over 700 miles of trails. If you’re looking for a Yosemite day hike, or a full blown backcountry adventure into the heart of the wilderness, it all awaits those who are curious.
Take a hike: Vernal and Nevada Falls via the Mist Trail 6.4 miles
Camp here: Upper Pines Campground
4. Yosemite to Kings Canyon & Sequoia National Park–151 miles
Named after the glacier carved valley running through the park, Kings Canyon National Park is home to multiple 14’ers, alpine meadows, and the second largest tree in the world: General Grant. Visitors can check out Crystal Cave, a marble cavern, by purchasing tickets for a ranger-led tour.
Take a hike: Moro Rock Trail (Sequoia) .4 miles, Mist Falls Trail (Kings Canyon) 8.1 miles
Camp here: Lodgepole Campground
Find free California National Parks campgrounds from your car without WiFi. The Dyrt PRO lets you download maps and campgrounds without cell service. “My alternative to using pro would be to drive back out to cell service.”
6. Sequoia to Pinnacles National Park–210 miles
Bird watchers, rock climbers, and geologists all have something in common: a deep love of Pinnacles National Park. This area, a remnant of multiple Volcanic eruptions, is home to California Condors and chaparral. If you’re lucky, you can even catch a glimpse of a Red Legged Frog on your hike.
Take a hike: High Peaks Condor Gulch Trail 4.6 miles
Camp here: Pinnacles Campground
7. Pinnacles to Death Valley National Park–395 miles
Some of the world’s hottest temperatures have been recorded at this bizarre and almost supernatural place. Here, rocks have a mind of their own, and depending on conditions, a rare “superbloom” can take place. There are loads of hikes in the valley, but hikers should always be careful to pack plenty of water through this desert landscape.
Take a hike: Badwater Basin Salt Flats Trail 1.8 miles
Camp here: Texas Spring Campground
8. Death Valley to Joshua Tree National Park–266 miles
As the meeting place of the Mojave and Colorado desert ecosystems, Joshua Tree contains a fascinating array of different plant and wildlife including the Mojave Mound Cactus and Desert Tortoises. As a Certified Dark Sky Park, campers will want to stay up to the wee hours of the morning to watch the sky come to life.
Take a hike: Ryan Mountain Trail 2.7 miles
Camp here: Jumbo Rocks Campground
9. Joshua Tree to Channel Islands National Park–227 miles
Accessing Channel Islands National Park isn’t cheap, but we guarantee it’s worth it. Chartered ferries take hikers and campers to the islands (you can also come to the islands by private plane, if that’s more your style), where a delicate ocean ecosystem awaits the curious-minded. Many say visiting the Channel Islands is like stepping back in time, with plants and animals preserved here that don’t exist anywhere else in the world.
Take a hike: Potato Harbor Trail 4 miles
Camp here: Santa Cruz Scorpion Campground
Our recommendations are based on providing value to campers across the country. Some articles may contain affiliate links. By purchasing through our articles, you help support this camping magazine.
- Lodgepole Campground
- Pinecrest Camping, Pinecrest, CA
- Bodega Bay Camping, Bodega Bay, CA
- Pfeiffer Big Sur Campground, Big Sur, CA
- Bucks Lake Camping, Bucks Lake, CA
- Lake Oroville Camping, Butte County, CA
- Montana de Oro Camping, Los Osos, CA
- Wright’s Beach Campground, Sonoma Coast State Park, CA
- Borrego Palm Canyon Campground, San Diego County, CA
- China Camp campground, San Rafael, CA