This state is more than just Yosemite.

With 9 National Parks, California has the most of any state in the country. From the hottest place in the US (and possibly on Earth) to snow-covered mountains to gargantuan trees, you’ll feel like you’ve traveled to another planet. 


death valley

Death Valley

At 282 feet below sea level, Badwater Basin is the lowest point in North America.

Sequoia National Park


This was before I had a better camera, we couldn’t even capture the whole tree. 

potato harbor at channel islands national park california

Channel Islands

This place is packed with wildlife and scenery. Just don’t forget to pack your Dramamine.


What are California’s 9 National Parks?  Death Valley, Joshua Tree, Channel Islands, Sequoia, Kings Canyon, Redwood, Yosemite, Pinnacles, and Lassen Volcanic.

How much time do I need to see all 9 parks?  If you plan to do all 9 in one trip, you’ll want to plan for at least 3 weeks, and even that might feel rushed. There is a lot of ground to cover, and there are a ton of picturesque spots you’ll want to stop and see outside of the parks, so allow some flex time if possible. 

What do I need to know about getting in to each of the parks?  It’s really important that you keep up with the latest news and information from the parks. You can follow them on social media, go to each park’s direct website, or download the NPS App. You’ll want to know about things like recent fires in the area, road closures, or timed entry requirements. For example, Yosemite recently started requiring a reservation to enter the park between 6am and 4pm. Not all parks have an entrance fee, but for this trip it makes sense to purchase an annual pass

What about temperatures and packing?  You’ll need to be savvy about packing. Temps can range from highs above 100° in Death Valley to lows in the 40’s further north and towards the coast. 

Did you know?

Scenes from Jurassic Park were filmed in Fern Canyon in Redwood National Park.

Scenes from Star Wars were filmed in multiple locations in Death Valley National Park.

The Map


What you need to know:  We crammed a lot in to this itinerary, trying to see as much as we possibly could in 19 days. Our original itinerary from 2019 did not include Joshua Tree or Channel Islands. We visited those on separate trips. I updated the itinerary below to indicate how you could change up the drive to include both. We also veered in to Oregon for a few days to see the coast and do some whitewater rafting, but if I had to do it again I’d spend more time in some of the CA parks and save OR for another trip. We chose to fly in and out of Reno because we wanted to hike Lake Tahoe, but you could also do this itinerary from Las Vegas or even Los Angeles.

The map above includes hikes, NP visitor centers, picture spots, wineries, hotels, and some restaurant options. Hiking trail recommendations are listed throughout the itinerary below.

A note about us and how we travel: Our goal is to see all of the US National Parks. We love hiking and exploring off the beaten path places. Unfortunately we haven’t mastered the art of camping yet, so we stay in hotels or park lodges. You’ll notice a lot of Hilton properties – we try to stick with one brand to accumulate the points and keep our status, but I won’t recommend a property if it sucked. We’re definitely not foodies, but I included some of our restaurant stops on the itinerary to offer options. Normally we look for something casual and local that has relatively healthy options and a full bar. 


  • Start in Tahoe
  • Head south to Yosemite NP
  • Head south to Death Valley NP
  • Detour to Joshua Tree NP (We visited on separate trip)
  • Head west to Channel Islands NP (We visited on separate trip)
  • Head back north to Sequoia NP
  • Short drive further north to Kings Canyon NP
  • Head west to Pinnacles NP
  • Drive north up the coast to Redwood NP
  • Head back east to Lassen Volcanic NP

Note: Follow this backwards if you want to experience the “crown jewel” last. But Pro Tip: If you’re not going during the off-season, save Yosemite for another time and take advantage of the 8 other (much less trafficked but also amazing) parks. 


DAY 1:

  • Fly in to Reno, Drive to Lake Tahoe – 1 hr drive
  • Pull off at Logan Shoals Vista Point (Lincoln Hwy-50) to catch sunset on the lake
  • Stay 2 nights at The Coachman Hotel – loved it, highly recommend

DAY 2:

DAY 3:

  • Drive from Tahoe to Mammoth Lakes – 2 hr 40 min drive
  • Quick stop at Mono Lake Vista Point, right off 395
  • Failed attempt to hike in Mammoth Lakes area due to snow
  • Pull in to Yosemite via the Tioga Pass entrance, hike Gaylor Peak via Gaylor Lake Trail (2.2 mi, 1,026 ft. elev gain)
  • Stop at Convict Lake, hike quick, easy 2.5 mile loop)
  • Stop in Mammoth Village area, dinner at 53 Kitchen & Cocktails
  • Stay at Juniper Springs Resort

DAY 4:

  • Drive from Mammoth to Death Valley National Park – 4 hr drive
  • See quite possibly the coolest thing ever – fighter jets practicing in the canyon near Father Crowley Overlook
  • Stay at The Oasis at Death Valley – a huge splurge if you want to stay inside the park
  • Drive out to Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes for sunset

DAY 5:

  • Wake up insanely early for sunrise at Zabriskie Point (*Pro tip – totally worth it, but the sun doesn’t come over the peak for almost an hour after ‘official sunrise time,’ so we could have slept a bit more!)
  • Drive through park to see Artist’s Palette
  • Drive to Badwater Basin (the lowest elevation point in N. America & location of the hottest temperature ever recorded on Earth at 134° F)
  • Drive from Death Valley to Sequoia National Park – 6 hr 30 min drive (several pull-out picture spots along General’s Hwy)
  • Hike Moro Rock Trail
  • Stay at Wuksachi Lodge – loved it, highly recommend

NOTE: If you want to include Joshua Tree NP and Channel Islands

  • After Death Valley, detour south to Joshua Tree (4 hour drive). You really only need a day/afternoon here, especially if you are visiting in warmer months. We stayed at the Hilton Palm Springs which is about a 50 minute drive from the visitor center. 
  • Head west to Ventura (3 hour drive). You will need to take boat transportation from Ventura to Channel Islands. We stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn in Oxnard, but there are other hotels closer to the Channel Islands visitor center. Pro Tip: Allow an extra day in your itinerary here. If the waters are too choppy they will cancel the ferry (which, of course, happened to us). Thankfully we could adjust the following day and still get to go out to the island! If you get bumped you could make the hour drive to explore the cute Danish town of Solvang.
  • After Channel Islands, head back up to Sequoia NP (4 hour drive).  

DAY 6:

  • In Sequoia NP – Hike Tokopah Falls Trail
  • Drive to Kings Canyon National Park – 45 min drive
  • Hike Little Baldy Trail
  • Hike through Grant Grove
  • Stay at John Muir Lodge, a little more rustic than Wuksachi but still good enough

DAY 7:

DAY 8:

  • Drive from Fresno to Monterey – 2 hr 45 min drive
  • Stop in Pinnacles National Park – wish we would have gotten there earlier it was very hot
  • Hike Bear Gulch area & High Peaks Trail
  • Dinner Lalla Grill Oceanside
  • Stay 2 nights at Hampton Inn Monterey

DAY 9:

  • Drive some of US-1, arguably the most beautiful drive in the U.S.
  • Hike McWay Waterfall Trail
  • Hike Partington Cove Trail
  • Lunch with a view at Nepenthe
  • Run around Pfeiffer Beach looking for purple sand
  • Watch sunset at Carmel Beach

DAY 10:

DAY 11:

  • Drive from Sonoma to Arcata – 4 hr drive
  • Stop in Mendocino, fall in love with it, have lunch at Flow
  • Walk Point Mendocino Trail
  • Find the most amazing winery on the planet that really should be kept a secret (Shhh…)
  • Stay at the Hampton Inn & Suites Arcata 

DAY 12:

  • Drive from Arcata to Gold Beach – 2 hr 40 min
  • Stop in Redwood National Park
  • Hike Coastal Trail and Fern Canyon Loop Trail
  • Stop at Whaleshead Beach (OR)
  • Stop at Samuel H Boardman State Park
  • Stay at (and watch sunset from) the SureStay Plus Hotel by Best Western Gold Beach

DAY 13:

  • Drive from Gold Beach to Yachats – 3 hr 30 min
  • Stop at Newberry Volcanic National Monument (didn’t feel worth the stop)
  • Stop at Haceta Head Lighthouse, Sealion Beach Vantage Point
  • Stop at Thor’s Well
  • Stay at (and watch sunset from) the Fireside Motel

DAY 14:

DAY 15:

DAY 16:

DAY 17:

  • Drive from Medford to Redding 2 hr 30 min
  • Stop in Lassen Volcanic National Park
  • Hike Brokeoff Mountain
  • Stay at the Hampton Inn & Suites Redding

DAY 18:

DAY 19:

  • Fly RNO – DEN-TPA
cali mtn


Highlights from the National Parks, and a couple of our other favorite photos.