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Old 02-04-2019, 11:02 PM   #1
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California NPs Route

I am looking for a few recommendations for a route through California to visit all or most of their National Parks.
What order is best based on most efficient driving route?
Could be north to south... Or South to North. No real preference.
Maybe even squeeze in Crater Lake?
Somehow get some ocean time in there?
Work in the big cities?

I am looking macro here...and not at the smaller details, like where to stay, or how many nights etc.

Trip would be essentially August of 2020.
About 4.5 weeks total.
Leaving from Rochester, NY.
Four kids, 7-13.
Towing 40' fifth wheel.

August 2018 we did 4.5 weeks and 12 National Parks (Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Kentucky). 6,315.1 miles total

I'm a big planner, so now's the time for me to start planning our 2020 trip!!
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Old 02-04-2019, 11:18 PM   #2
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Congratulations and good luck

O.k. Everything will be planned for you based upon when you are able to get campground reservations. Yosemite, for example is like trying to win the lottery for any reservations. Exactly 6 months prior to the date, the sites are released and families of high speed internet site grabbing ninjas reserve the whole park in seconds. However, there are the first come first serve campgrounds that may or may not have something.

The beaches are California state parks, but the same holds true for the reservations system from big sur down to silver strand state beach. But they are very worth it. Definitely do Pismo beach.

That being said, coming into Yosemite from mono lake/Lee Vining is awesome (or leaving that way I suppose).

Sequoia, kings canyon, Yosemite, Tahoe, crater lake all great. Of course you can forget about Mojave in the summer. The beaches are great, just check they can accommodate a large RV.

I would plan multiple routes, and then adjust according to the campground reservations you are able to make. I hope this is helpful. I’ll have to add more later...until then, you need to start making a list of campgrounds that can accommodate a 40 foot rig, because that will narrow your choices.
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Old 02-05-2019, 02:26 AM   #3
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Knowing how difficult summer reservations in California and Oregon National and State parks are, I would North to South.
That way you'll be hitting the most popular California spots(which are the most difficult to get) later in the summer.
Just realize that getting California public campsites, in the summer, are highly competitive and can be completely gone in minutes.
Be prepared to look at private RV parks.
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Old 02-08-2019, 11:37 AM   #4
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Not sure if you're aware, 4th graders(and those with them) get a free pass to all national parks through the Every Kid in a Park program.
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Old 02-08-2019, 12:43 PM   #5
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Joshua Tree NP in SoCal will be pretty brutal in August. Also, be aware that entering Yosemite from the Mono Lake (high) is a ride that is generally a steep downgrade with a lot of switchbacks and is most definitely not recommended for rigs your size.
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Old 02-08-2019, 01:19 PM   #6
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There are some parks, like Sequoia and Kings Canyon which you really can't (or don't want to) tow into. It's best to camp nearby and either drive without a camper, or take a small tour bus and enjoy the trip. Look for campgrounds within 30 miles and set up a base camp.
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Old 02-08-2019, 01:36 PM   #7
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There are some parks, like Sequoia and Kings Canyon which you really can't (or don't want to) tow into. It's best to camp nearby and either drive without a camper, or take a small tour bus and enjoy the trip. Look for campgrounds within 30 miles and set up a base camp.
Good strategy for all the parks and beaches
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Old 02-08-2019, 02:30 PM   #8
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Thank you for the feedback!
We are aware of the 4th Grader Pass...we used it this past summer for the 12NP's we made it to. And come 2020, we'll have another 4th Grader, so will definitely take advantage of that perk!
I have read a lot over the last few years about California State and National Park's booking very early for campsites...so i will be ready to jump on the reservation once they open up!
We have no problem camping outside of the Park and driving in if need be due to size or availability.

So for a route (rough), how does this look?

Crater Lake NP
Redwood NP
Lassen Volcanic NP
Lake Tahoe
Yosemite NP
Pinnacles NP
Kings Canyon NP
Sequoia NP
Venture CA (for Channel Islands NP)
Joshua Tree NP

This is a VERY early draft of a route. So I know it will change and shrink, etc.
I'm having a hard time looking at this route on the map, and not adding stops at the big cites, like San Francisco, LA, San Diego, etc.
So I am sure I will tweak a little.
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Old 02-08-2019, 03:19 PM   #9
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The Jedediah Smith Ca state park is probably more scenic than the Redwood NP. You will want to run down The Avenue of the Giants on your way south. If you like fish and get to San Diego I can recommend a great (quick) place for lunch.
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Old 02-08-2019, 09:04 PM   #10
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Good strategy for all the parks and beaches
Just wanted to add that many beaches are good for RVs, and your campsite is literally a parking lot spot, like silver strand, Carlsbad, doheny, Huntington Beach, Ventura and point mugu. However, size can be an issue at some places. For example, point mugu has. 30 foot limit.
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Old 02-08-2019, 09:18 PM   #11
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Originally Posted by mekkerlc View Post
Thank you for the feedback!
We are aware of the 4th Grader Pass...we used it this past summer for the 12NP's we made it to. And come 2020, we'll have another 4th Grader, so will definitely take advantage of that perk!
I have read a lot over the last few years about California State and National Park's booking very early for campsites...so i will be ready to jump on the reservation once they open up!
We have no problem camping outside of the Park and driving in if need be due to size or availability.

So for a route (rough), how does this look?

Crater Lake NP
Redwood NP
Lassen Volcanic NP
Lake Tahoe
Yosemite NP
Pinnacles NP
Kings Canyon NP
Sequoia NP
Venture CA (for Channel Islands NP)
Joshua Tree NP

This is a VERY early draft of a route. So I know it will change and shrink, etc.
I'm having a hard time looking at this route on the map, and not adding stops at the big cites, like San Francisco, LA, San Diego, etc.
So I am sure I will tweak a little.
Based upon your rig size, here are some San Diego/orange county suggestions. Campland on the bay, paradise RV park in Oceanside, silver strand state beach in Coronado, Bolsa Chica in Huntington Beach, San elijo state beach...good luck!
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Old 02-08-2019, 10:07 PM   #12
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Just wanted to add that many beaches are good for RVs, and your campsite is literally a parking lot spot, like silver strand, Carlsbad, doheny, Huntington Beach, Ventura and point mugu. However, size can be an issue at some places. For example, point mugu has. 30 foot limit.
Point Mugu has two campgrounds. Only one has sites big enough for RVs over 25', Thornehill Broome. The Sycamore Canyon campground has much smaller sites and can be tignt.
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Old 02-08-2019, 10:23 PM   #13
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There are some parks, like Sequoia and Kings Canyon which you really can't (or don't want to) tow into. It's best to camp nearby and either drive without a camper, or take a small tour bus and enjoy the trip. Look for campgrounds within 30 miles and set up a base camp.
We have reservations in Kings Canyon for June but our trailer is 25'. Should not be an issue for us at all.
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Old 02-11-2019, 10:53 AM   #14
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Originally Posted by mekkerlc View Post
Thank you for the feedback!
We are aware of the 4th Grader Pass...we used it this past summer for the 12NP's we made it to. And come 2020, we'll have another 4th Grader, so will definitely take advantage of that perk!
I have read a lot over the last few years about California State and National Park's booking very early for campsites...so i will be ready to jump on the reservation once they open up!
We have no problem camping outside of the Park and driving in if need be due to size or availability.

So for a route (rough), how does this look?

Crater Lake NP
Redwood NP
Lassen Volcanic NP
Lake Tahoe
Yosemite NP
Pinnacles NP
Kings Canyon NP
Sequoia NP
Venture CA (for Channel Islands NP)
Joshua Tree NP

This is a VERY early draft of a route. So I know it will change and shrink, etc.
I'm having a hard time looking at this route on the map, and not adding stops at the big cites, like San Francisco, LA, San Diego, etc.
So I am sure I will tweak a little.
I would consider switching Sequoia/ kings canyon and pinnacles. You could come straight across the 46 to Paso and day trip to pinnacles (1.5 hour drive). Pinnacles is split in half and there is different stuff in each side.

Then south to Ventura on the 101. The Ventura koa is no where near the beach FYI. To see the channel islands, you are going to have to take a boat. Island Packers is the boat I have taken. Highly recommend a guided kayak trip.

For Joshua tree in the summer, don't stay any where without hookups. It can easily push 115 out there. Dessert hot springs has some full hookup sites. There is also a place called Joshua tree lake. I didn't think it was very scenic when I stayed there. If you were going to drop 1 stop, this is the one I would. I love the park, just not in the summer.
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Old 02-11-2019, 03:57 PM   #15
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I would consider switching Sequoia/ kings canyon and pinnacles. You could come straight across the 46 to Paso and day trip to pinnacles (1.5 hour drive). Pinnacles is split in half and there is different stuff in each side.

Then south to Ventura on the 101. The Ventura koa is no where near the beach FYI. To see the channel islands, you are going to have to take a boat. Island Packers is the boat I have taken. Highly recommend a guided kayak trip.

For Joshua tree in the summer, don't stay any where without hookups. It can easily push 115 out there. Dessert hot springs has some full hookup sites. There is also a place called Joshua tree lake. I didn't think it was very scenic when I stayed there. If you were going to drop 1 stop, this is the one I would. I love the park, just not in the summer.
This is so helpful, thank you!
Moving Pinnacles to after Sequoia makes sense now that I look closer at the map.
And once I start putting a timeline together, I'll get a better idea if I have to cut anything out.

Is there a good base camp to hit up both Kings Canyon and Sequoia?
(or any other 'base camp' type place to explore more of our list or the state?)
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Old 02-11-2019, 11:19 PM   #16
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Check out lava beds national monument. Your kids are the perfect age exploring lava tubes. Visit their website for more info.
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Old 02-12-2019, 01:27 PM   #17
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I would avoid Pinnacles and Joshua Tree in the summer. Just brutal heat and really not enough to do when that hot.
Me, I would go to Lake Tahoe and spend at least a week there.
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Old 02-18-2019, 04:02 PM   #18
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My first stab at routing:

https://binged.it/2SYWVnh

(Yes, I'll be going through at minimum 10-variations of this route)

I'm hoping to find a place to stay to hit both Kings Canyon and Sequoia.

I'll likely have to cut out Crater Lake, Lake Tahoe, San Diego, Death Valley, and Las Vegas to stay within my ~32 days.
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Old 02-18-2019, 04:20 PM   #19
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Couple things,

There is a pretty decent KOA in Visalia and then take a local shuttle service to Sequoia.

But if you are traveling all the way out west, the one stop you would not want to miss is Yosemite. We've been to most all you've mentioned and Yellowstone, Grand Canyon and others, Yosemite it the most fabulous NP in our opinion. When you stand below El capitan and look straight up >3000 ft of granite, or go up to look down into the valley from Glacier point, nothing compares to it. Get to Yosemite in late May or early June when the water falls are roaring down into the valley!
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Old 02-18-2019, 07:24 PM   #20
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Originally Posted by mekkerlc View Post
My first stab at routing:

https://binged.it/2SYWVnh

(Yes, I'll be going through at minimum 10-variations of this route)

I'm hoping to find a place to stay to hit both Kings Canyon and Sequoia.

I'll likely have to cut out Crater Lake, Lake Tahoe, San Diego, Death Valley, and Las Vegas to stay within my ~32 days.
For Sequoia and Kings stay in a town called Three Rivers. It's about 20 minutes outside the entrance to Sequoia and there's at least 2 campgrounds there. Be advised it's hot hot hot during the summer months. August and September being the hottest. From there you can take 198 west to the coast putting you into Paso Robles. 198 puts you into 101 but do not. I repeat do not take that. Take 198 to 41 south which is just east of Hanford and 41 south drops you onto 46 west. From Three Rivers to Paso is 3.5 hrs. Paso to Pismo Beach is another 30 to 45 minutes. There is CG to stay at in Paso and a few in Pismo but you better book early
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