Pacific Northwest National Parks Experience
The following is a generalized itinerary for a full 16 day experience meant to simply give you an idea of the possibilities, and further customizable based on each guests’ priorities:
Day 1 (Prep and Monterey):
Your Pacific Northwest National Parks Experience will begin at the San Francisco International Airport, preferably in the late morning/early afternoon. I will already have the camper, outdoor accessories, and backcountry meals. We will take the first day to do an inventory of what is still needed, and purchase groceries/additional outdoor gear for the group. Once loaded, we will begin the drive to Monterey and enjoy a stunning sunset over the coast. 17 Mile Drive/Pebble Beach is an option, time permitting. After a dinner in Monterey or in the camper, we will drive for approximately one more hour to our first campground in Big Sur.
Day 2 (Big Sur/Pfeiffer Burns and Pinnacles):
We will get going early (this will be a theme), and explore the area between Big Sur and Pfeiffer Burns State Parks. Numerous hiking options are available, combining lush forest and ocean. Highlights include the world-famous Bixby Bridge and the Point Sur Lighthouse.
Just past Limekiln State Park, we will take the winding Nacimiento-Fergusson Rd through the mountains, past Fort Hunter Liggett military base, and on to the Pinnacles. Pinnacles is the first one of our Pacific Northwest national parks and one of the smallest parks on this trip, and our goal will be to experience it within the day.
Arriving no later than 3:30p should give us enough time to do the 5-mile loop, with approximately 1500ft of elevation gain. This loop takes you through the heart of the “pinnacles” for which this park is named. Upon returning from the hike, we will eat dinner in the camper and complete the drive to Lake Kaweah (just outside Sequoia) that evening, setting up camp late (or simply sleeping in the camper).
Day 3 (Sequoia and Kings Canyon):
Now that we’ve warmed up, we begin the Sierras portion of the Pacific Northwest National Parks Experience. Sequoia highlights include the Trail of 100 Giants, General Sherman Tree (largest in world), Moro Rock, and numerous other hikes from family friendly paths to backcountry grinds.
We recommend that families moving slowly spend the day in Sequoia. Kings Canyon lies between Sequoia and Yosemite, and involves a one-hour drive to Kanawyers. Once you arrive, there are numerous STRENUOUS, multi-hour, double digit mile hikes to stunning views of alpine lakes and the Sierras. However, if you don’t want to/don’t have the time to do one of these hikes, there is not much else to do to justify a 2 hour round trip.
Day 4-6 (Yosemite):
Today we wake up EXTRA early, while it’s still dark, for what many consider to be a top highlight on our Pacific Northwest National Parks Epxperience. A short drive into Yosemite and we will stop for coffee at the Tunnel View overlook, taking in the sunrise as it hits El Capitan and runs through the entire valley, back to Half Dome. From there, we will make a direct trip to our campground (Camp 4 or site) and get set.
After a solid brunch, it’s exploring time. Numerous options are available for days 4-6: from driving or hiking to Glacier Point, to hiking the Mist Trail/John Muir Train loop, or Yosemite Falls/Yosemite Point. Numerous easily walkable trails abound, and you can always just take a nap in a field surrounded by some of the most awe-inspiring sights imaginable. Permits to climb Half Dome are first come, first serve, so while there is a possibility we can do it, there is no guarantee that all or any members of the group will be able to summit Half Dome.
Day 7-8 (Lake Tahoe):
Yosemite withdrawal is a real thing, and you may worry that the next place can’t live up what you just saw. Well, Lake Tahoe will help get you through and while technically not one of the Pacific Northwest national parks, it easily could be. A ring of beautiful, hikable mountains surround a pristine lake. Split between California (featuring Emerald Bay) and Nevada (featuring Secret Cove nude beach), we can spend the days driving the loop, hiking, kayaking, or boating.
Day 9 (Mt. Lassen/Mt. Shasta, Crater Lake):
Volcano time! We will continue the Pacific Northwest National Parks Experience with a warmup hike in Lassen. This is a small park and we should be able to explore it in 1-2 hours, unless you want to climb Lassen, which is an option but will take longer. From Lassen, we will do a “drive-by” of Mt. Shasta, hitting the scenic viewpoints on the way to Crater Lake. All three are volcanoes, and Crater Lake is a caldera filled with water, with a large “island” protruding on the east side. We will drive the Crater Lake loop, take in sunset, eat dinner, and head north.
Leaving Crater Lake, we will proceed on the Pacific Northwest National Parks Experience to Bend, OR, were we will stay in a motel to shower/recharge/use Wi-Fi etc.
Day 10 (Mt. Hood, Columbia River Gorge):
If we’re going to climb a mountain, Mt. Hood would be the way to go. Mt. Hood is not technically one of the Pacific Northwest national parks but offers tons of reasonable hikes to get us warmed up. We will then spend the afternoon along the Columbia River Gorge on the Oregon/Washington boarder. Neither are technically Pacific Northwest National Parks, but numerous state parks offer unique hikes in this hidden gem. We will camp in the Hood River Valley.
Day 11 (Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Rainier):
Today’s all about power. We’ll start at Mt. St. Helens, which was over 9600ft prior to its eruption in 1980, and now stands at over 8300ft. Hiking Mt. St. Helens is by permit only, and involves a 12 mile out and back hike with +/- 6000 feet of elevation. Permits are issued early in the hiking season and must be purchased through a park operated lottery. Climb or not, the surrounding area is full of lakes, wildflowers, forest, and even the “Ape Caves” lava tubes to explore.
After Mt. St. Helens, we’ll head to the King Kong of Pacific Northwest National Parks: Mr. Rainier. Rainier is an “alpha among alphas”, standing out impressively even when surrounded by Mt. Baker, Adams, St. Helens, etc. We will visit and watch sunset from Paradise, and weather permitting, do astrophotography after dinner.
Mt. Rainier is a technical climb, meaning it crosses shifting glacier crevasses, and should only be attempted by experienced climbers on a rope team. Rainier is a popular “warm up” for people getting ready to climb Everest. Frankly, climbing Rainier is beyond the scope of what we offer, though I would work diligently to find a local guide should this be a “bucket list” item for you.
Day 12-13 (North Cascades/Mt. Baker):
Days 12-13 take us into the North Cascades portion of the Pacific Northwest National Parks Experience, depending on road openings. Many years the route to Mt. Baker is not open until late July and can be closed again as soon as September due to snow. Numerous hiking opportunities exist in one of the lushest areas in the country.
Should weather not permit a visit, we can extend our Pacific Northwest National Parks Experience to include Vancouver, BC or adding additional time to other locations.
Day 14 (Olympic):
Olympic National Park is one of the most diverse places on the planet. Starting on Hurricane Ridge, with a view of Mt. Olympus, we will move from Alpine to Sub Alpine to Forest to Rainforest to Beach, all within 50 miles. A hike up the Hoh Rainforest will cap the day as we begin to move south, back towards San Francisco.
Day 15 (Redwoods):
The first part of the day will be spent driving down the very unique Washington/Oregon coasts, full of lighthouses and rock formations. Once we move into Northern California, it’s back to some of the biggest trees you’ll ever see. We’ll drive the “Avenue of Giants”, and apply for permits to hike the 4 mile “Tall Trees Grove”. Permit or not, there are numerous hiking options to let you really experience the scale of these massive redwoods.
Day 16 (San Francisco):
The last day on our Pacific Northwest National Parks Experience is about getting back to San Francisco, while driving along the scenic 101. There will be no “official” stops, but there are numerous state parks, lighthouses, and even “Glass Beach”, which make for good places to stretch and grab a snack. Upon returning to San Francisco, we will check into a hotel near the airport, clean up, and cap the trip with a nice group dinner. At that point, I will wish you the best and leave your group to travel to the airport the next day.