Southern California National Parks Experience Multi Day Itinerary
The following is a generalized itinerary for a full 14 day experience meant to simply give you an idea of the possibilities, and further customizable based on each guests’ priorities:
Day 1 (LA/Malibu):
We will start the Southern California National Parks Experience by flying into either Los Angeles International or Burbank, prep for the coming days, and head towards Malibu. After a little exploring around town, we will have a nice meal, enjoy the sunset, and get a good night’s sleep.
Day 2 (Channel Islands):
pA short drive up the 101 from Malibu, we will board a boat in Ventura that will take us to our first of the Southern California national Parks: Channel Islands. We will have the option of a deep dive into either Santa Cruz or Santa Rosa islands, or a quick trip through both. We will either camp on the island, or take another boat ride back to shore and camp in Los Padres National Forest.
Day 3 (1 to Big Sur):
This is a “journey is the destination” kind of day on the Southern California National Parks Experience. The drive from Los Angeles to Monterey along Hwy 1 is one of the most iconic drives on the planet, filled with coastlines on one side and dramatic cliffs on the other. We will take our time and make numerous stops.
We will camp in Big Sur, and should we arrive early enough, we will begin exploring 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.
Day 4 (Big Sur/Monterey/Pebble Beach):
Additional time can be spent in Big Sur in the morning, and we will begin the drive to Monterey and enjoy a stunning sunset over the coast later in the day. 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 campground near the next stop on our Southern California National Parks Experience: Pinnacles.
Day 5 (Pinnacles):
Pinnacles is both the newest and the smallest of the Southern California national 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 McClure (just outside Yosemite) or Wawona that evening, setting up camp late (or simply sleeping in the camper).
Day 6-8 (Yosemite):
Today we wake up EXTRA early, while it’s still dark, for one of the absolute highlights of the Southern California National Parks Experience: Yosemite. A short drive into the park 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 as a standard part of the Southern California National Parks Experience.
Day 9 (Kings Canyon and Sequoia):
Now that we’ve warmed up, we will continue the Sierras portion of the Southern California 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 10 (Whitney Portal/Manzanar):
We will either drive across Yosemite, or under through Lake Isabella, to get to the eastern Sierras and enter a whole different world on our Southern California National Parks Experience. While the western side was lush and full of some of the biggest trees on earth, the east side much closer to desert. We will start with a somber tour of Manzanar, one of the most well-maintained representations of one of the darkest pieces of American history. Manzanar was one of many internment camps used to house Japanese-American families during World War II.
Following Manzanar, we will climb a few thousand feet back into the Sierras to Whitney Portal. Climbing Mt. Whitney is an option, but is a serious, before sunrise to after sunset hike. If climbing, we will camp in Whitney Portal for an early start. If not climbing, we will explore the Portal area, and enjoy the sunset coming back into the valley.
At just over an hour, we will drive to Death Valley and camp in the backcountry. Depending on cloud cover, this will be an idea time to do have a late night and do astrophotography.
Day 11 (Death Valley):
You may have never thought of Death Valley as a destination, but this is a simply incredible park encompassing over 3,000 square miles, and will almost make you forget that it’s one of the Southern California national parks. Entering from the west, we will explore the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Artist’s Drive, Zabriskie Point/Dante’s View, and numerous other sites throughout the day.
Death Valley will culminate with a visit to Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America and a giant salt flat. Looking out as the sun sets behind the Panamint Range/Telescope Peak, surrounded by hexagons of salt on the ground, we will have one of the most unique photo opportunities of the entire trip.
Day 12 (Joshua Tree):
A very user-friendly park, our next stop on the Southern California National Parks Experience is Joshua Tree, known for its expansive deserts, unique rock formations, and of course, Joshua Trees. Most hikes are well thought out 2-3 mile loops, and most areas of the park offer expansive views. The southern and less visited portion houses a field of baby Cholla cacti, Skull Rock, and unique plant life straight out of The Lion King.
This day can be as intense as we want to make it, but offers a nice opportunity to begin to wind down the trip physically, which still enjoying everything that the Southern California national parks have to offer.
Day 13 (Borrego Springs/Coronado):
Further south, Borrego Springs is a unique little town on the backside of San Diego county. While not technically one of the Southern California national parks, what makes it worth stopping are the very random, very large, metal desert statues scattered around the town. Ranging from sand serpents, to fighting dinosaurs, to giant eagles, you can’t find this anywhere else. After a quick lunch at the Red Ocotillo, we will briefly explore Anza Borrego State Park and then head into the heart of San Diego. The any time prior to dinner and afterwards will be spent on the Coronado beach, and we will have dinner and take in the sunset from the Hotel del Coronado, a National Historic Landmark.
Day 14 (San Diego/LA):
Our final morning on the Southern California National Parks Experience will be spent exploring the city of San Diego. Around lunch we will head north to LA, completing our loop. 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.