The California trip explores much of northern California, as well as the Rogue River Valley of southern Oregon. Visit the high elevation parks of Yosemite and Sequoia and the coastal Redwoods. Also, see the volcanic parks of Crater Lake and Lassen.
After a fairly lengthy drive, there will be a slow, steep climb into Sequoia National Park. Visit Giant Forest Museum, Lodgepole Visitor Center, and the world's largest tree, the General Sherman. See the details of the area on the park map >>
Continue on to the Lost Forest and the Grant Grove Village in Kings Canyon National Park. For accommodation, recommend descending back into the valley and staying in the Fresno or Madera area.
Drive into Yosemite National Park. On the entry into the park, you will see El Capitan, one of the most notable formations in the National Park. Yosemite is the featured stop of this loop, so we recommend making two night's accommodations. More than any other location on the trip, accommodations in Yosemite fill up quickly, so we recommend making reservations far ahead of time. You can see a list of accommodations and more information on the park map >>. We recommend a light day in Yosemite, with finding vista points, including looking at Yosemite Falls and the overlook from Glacier Point.
Visit Yosemite National Park
The second day in Yosemite National Park offers a wide variety of activities. For the very brave, we suggest the Half Dome climb, though this is full day activity. For those less inclined, the hike to Vernal Falls is recommended, a 3 mile roundtrip hike taking around 3 hours. Following the hike and lunch, we recommend taking the Tioga Road to the sub-alpine Tuolumne Meadows Visitor Center. Near there, you can see the location of the original Sierra Club. Upon your return, stop off at Olmsted Point for a different view of the Yosemite Valley.
Along the Way
- Lassen Volcanic National Park
This is the longest drive of the trip by far, but much of it along I-5, making the time pass quickly. Sacramento makes a good location to stop for lunch and stock up on supplies for the remainder of the trip.
In Red Bluff, CA, exit onto Hwy 36 towards Lassen Volcanic National Park. In the park, the Summit Lake area has the most impacted region from the volcano eruption in 1914. Strewn among the giant boulders and volcanic ash are some of the largest pine cones you'll ever see. The drive down into Redding is steep, so we recommend leaving well before the sun begins to set.
Driving north from Redding, you will see Mt. Shasta towering in the horizon. This 14,000 foot peak rises from the relatively flat area around it. Upon passing Mt. Shasta, take a the exit in Weed, CA onto Hwy 97 toward Klamath Falls.
The Rim Drive is the ideal way to see the entire park. On the north side of the park, there is the Cleetwood Trail, a one mile descent to the lake surface. A tour boat, the only boat allowed into the lake, leaves from the bottom of the train, but they fill up quickly and you must sign up in person early the morning of the trip. Please note, the hike back up the Cleetwood Trail is very strenuous. Consult the park map >> for further details.
There are very limited accommodations at Crater Lake, so we instead recommend staying in Grants Pass or Medford. We especially enjoyed the historic Wolf Creek Inn >>.
Drive back south on Hwy 199, the Redwood Hwy. If you do stay in Grants Pass or Medford, the drive will be much less than the 4 hours in the overview. As you can see on the park map >>, the area consists of National and State parks. From our view, there is very little difference, so be sure to visit as much as you can. As you enter the Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, take the detour through the Stout Grove. This is a very narrow, gravel road, but the experience is like being around when dinosaurs roamed the earth. There are many pulls off along Hwy 101, and we recommend taking a few hikes back into the lush forest. After a stop off in the Prairie Creek Visitor Center, take a left onto Bald Hills Road. Shortly down the road, there will be a parking area for Lady Bird Johnson Grove. This is one of the most accessible trails in the area, so it is suggested for all visitors to the park.
As with some of the other parks on this trip, the lodging outside of camping is limited in Redwood National Park. As such, we recommend driving 30 minutes south and staying in the Arcata-Eureka area. Be sure to drive back north to some of the county parks and take in a glorious sunset over the Pacific.
The next destination is Napa Valley, CA. While many GPS units will recommend Hwy 101 all the way south, we highly recommend taking Hwy 1 in Leggert towards Fort Bragg. The drive hugs the breathtaking California coast for hundreds of miles. In Jenner, take Hwy 116 across to Hwy 12 and into the Napa Valley area.
Depending on your preference, there are many activities from winery tours, to siteseeing, to spas that you can enjoy. Accommodations in the area tend to be very expensive, so look around at the surrounding areas. If you choose not to have dinner at a winery, we recommend Ubuntu Napa >> for a unique, albeit pricey, experience.
Return to San Francisco and visit some of the attractions you may have missed on Day 1.
Return flight home.
Day 10 is the final day of the loop. Return your rental vehicle and begin the trek home. We hope you truly enjoy the loop experience and have found that you were able to see much more in this one trip than you could have imagined.