|Parks: 4||Miles: 858||Days: 10||Hours: 14|
This trip spends nights near Death Valley, Sequoia and Yosemite National Parks. Kings Canyon is visited on the way out of Sequoia to the next stop at Yosemite.
Hitting four different National Parks can be quite exhausting for families, but taking 10-12 days to do so should not make your trip feel rushed.
For this trip, we decided to fly into Las Vegas, and out of San Francisco, but this itinerary could easily be reversed. There are National Conservation or Recreation areas next to each city, which will allow you to check off more NPS sites if needed.
We always rent an extended full-size SUV to transport our five-person family on trips like this. While a 10-day car rental can get a bit pricey, there is really no other way to enjoy yourself while also flying to these destinations.
Las Vegas, NV
It’s no secret that using Vegas as an access point for our trips is one of my preferences, and this trip is no different. After the flight in, I would suggest grabbing your rental car, and diving right to the next spot instead of staying the night in Sin City. The next stop is less than 2 hours away.
The next location is 135 miles away (~2 hours).
The trip to our next night’s stay in Beatty, NV takes less than two hours. It passes Red Rock National Conservation Area, so if you have some extra hours to kill, this place is highly recommended by us for a visit.
Death Valley National Park
Death Valley National Park is mostly known for its extreme temperatures and elevation changes. The park features the lowest point in North America and has elevation changes that exceed 8,600 feet. This park’s complex geology offers a sight into bygone eras of lost seas, volcanoes and fault lines.
The park can easily be accessed from the west via the California towns of Lone Pine, Ridgecrest and Olancha. You can stay on the eastern side of the park in either Beatty, NV or Shoshone, CA. We decided to choose Beatty because it was a perfect spot to both visit the National Park and was an easy trip from our flight in via Las Vegas.
If you stay in Beatty, you’ll enter the park via the Daylight Pass Road. This road offers stunning views that seem to change at every turn. Beatty is about a 45 minutes drive to the main Visitor’s Center of the park in Furnace Creek.
From this point, access to many of the popular sights is easy. The lowest point in North America – Badwater Basin – is 17 miles south of the center. Zabriskie Point is 7 miles south of the center, and overlooks eroded badlands from a high vantage point. This is a must-see at either sunrise or sunset!
The one way loop known as the Artists Drive is another must see attraction. The amazing array of colors stemming from the oxidation of various metals on the volcanic rock is a one-of-a-kind sight. The landscape features multiple hues of colors including green, red, yellow, purple, and pink!
The best easy hike in the park is hands-down the one at Derwin Falls. This 2-mile round trip hike starts west of Panamint Springs on Route 190 and takes you past the waterfall and back in about one and a half hours.
The next location is 330 miles away (~5.5 hours).
This is a long 5.5-6 hour drive, and takes you around the southern tip of Sequoia National Forest through Bakersfield, CA at the approximate three-quarters mark.
Sequoia National Park
Three Rivers, CA
Sequoia National Park is home to some of the tallest and oldest trees on Earth. The park also has the tallest peak in the contiguous Unites States: Mount Whitney (14,494 ft)
We decided to stay in the town of Three Rivers, CA, which only about a 7 mile (11 km) or 13-minute drive to the entrance of Sequoia through the Ash Mountain Entrance. There were plenty of Airbnb options in this area, but there are also a handful of hotels and motels in the same vicinity.
The Silver City Resort is within the park, but – again – it fills up fast, and unless you are looking many months into the future, you will have to find other accommodations.
If you still cannot find any space, consider Visalia, CA, which is about 40 minutes south from the park’s entrance.
Many of the most famous attractions within Sequoia NP are located on the General’s Highway. Leave the top of that highway for the car ride out to the next park in a couple days and instead focus on the southern parts of the park.
The Giant Forest Museum and Moro Rock are a couple more must-stops just inside this visitor’s center.
As for hiking in Sequoia NP, the Big Trees Loop (1.2 miles round trip) near the Museum and the Cold Springs Nature Trail are two easy trails that the whole family can enjoy. The Marble Fork Trail (7.4 miles round trip) starts at the Potwisha Campground and winds up a strenuous trail to view the amazing Marble Falls.
The next location is 135 miles away (~3 hours).
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are connected and even share one entrance fee. This allows us to explore both parks via this one stop. Use the General’s Highway to get from Sequoia to Kings Canyon. It takes a little over 2 hours (63 miles) to get from one park to the other. We suggest spending a full day on this road and exploring its numerous stops and attractions.
The full drive up to Yosemite will take about 3 hours if you didn’t stop anywhere, so keep this in mind when you are making stops at Kings Canyon.
Kings Canyon National Park
Honestly, driving the General’s Highway will likely take your full day through the park. However, if you have extra time, enter the park again at the Cedar Grove Visitor Center and head north on route 180 and snake through the 35-mile long Kings Canyon Scenic Byway.
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park is best known for its majestic waterfalls, but within its nearly 1,200 square miles, you can find deep valleys, grand meadows and ancient giant sequoias.
This park is a bit far from any urban areas, so for the best experience while here, stay within the park. You will beat the crowds into the park, be able to stay late, and generally spend less time driving around. Lodging options inside Yosemite National Park are managed by Yosemite Hospitality, and range from simple tent cabins at the High Sierra Camps to deluxe rooms at The Ahwahnee. Reservations are available 366 days in advance and are strongly recommended, especially from spring through fall and during holidays.
If you don’t mind driving – or there is simply nothing available inside the park – staying in Yosemite West, CA or Fish Camp, CA may be a good alternative. There are a cluster of wonderful Airbnbs in the area, but they are about an hour or more away from the park’s main entrance.
El Capitan is the most recognizable feature in Yosemite, but there are plenty of other places to visit and trails to hike that will easily fill multiple days in the area.
The floor of Yosemite Valley offers amazing views of El Capitan, and it’s plunging Bridalveil Falls. There are multiple starting points of trails in the valley as well, including the popular Mist Trail.
Glacier Point is another popular vantage point of the valley via the Four-Mile Trail, which is just under 5 miles one-way.
Another recognizable feature at Yosemite is the Half Dome, which is further into the park, near the Yosemite Valley Visitors Center. This enormous granite dome is only accessible via technical climbers on a 15-mile round trip hike that spans multiple trails. This trail is not for the faint-of-heart and requires a permit from the park to hike.
The next location is 258 miles away (~4 hours).
The flight home is via the San Francisco International Airport. The drive can either follow Route 99 and go through Fresno and Modesto, or take Interstate 5 and US 101 and bisect San Jose.
San Francsico, CA
San Francisco has plenty of options for hotels or Airbnbs to stay in before your flight out. Since we live on the East Coast, we always spend the night before our flights out. This allows us to get home at a decent hour on the same day of the flight.
If you have extra time during your time in San Francisco, you really should check out the Golden Gate Bridge Recreational Area and/or the Fisherman’s Wharf. Both are places that epitomize the city, and you really can’t go wrong with visiting either.