The ultimate California RV road trip
A California RV road trip means ocean and mountains, discovering desert landscapes, walking through forests that are home to the biggest trees in the world.
It's a chance to sleep in the most beautiful parks in the American West without missing out on the iconic cities of the California Coast.
Make yourself comfortable, put on your favourite Bob Dylan music, and get ready to take notes: here is a detailed 10-day itinerary for the ultimate California RV road trip.
Map of California RV road trip
Road trip summary
Day 1 : Los Angeles
Just be careful not to overdo it on your first day.
Firstly, because after your long trip, you'll probably appreciate a rest.
Secondly, as the L.A. public transit system isn't particularly efficient, I suggest you focus on an area located close to your accommodation and to the pick-up point for your RV, which will be the next day. That way you will avoid spending too much time in transit.
Why not soak up the eclectic and somewhat eccentric ambiance of Santa Monica and Venice Beach? You can easily walk between these two iconic Los Angeles neighbourhoods.
If you're not too tired, be sure to catch the sunset over the Pacific Ocean.
What a great way to start your California trip!
I just love the change of scenery as we leave the urban jungle of Los Angeles behind for the desert landscapes of the classic American road trips that have stirred our imaginations since childhood!
It's time to embrace "California road trip" mode, hair blowing in the wind and music blasting!
After a 3.5-hour drive, you find yourself in the heart of the Sierra Nevada, in a spectacular park where you will discover some of the largest living organisms on the planet.
Begin with the Giant Forest Museum, an interesting starting point where you will learn more about the park's history and giant sequoias.
From there, don't miss the Big Trees Trail, an easy 2.4 km hike. Allow an hour to complete the loop around a lush meadow where you will see many sequoias.
BIG TREES TRAIL
- Distance: 2.4 km round-trip
- Time: 1 hour
- Level: Easy
At the end of the day, head to Moro Rock for a spectacular view of the Sierra Nevada. Moro Rock is a bald granite dome with a carved 400-step staircase leading to the top, where you will enjoy breathtaking panoramas of the surrounding 4,000-metre peaks.
You can also save this little climb for the following morning. I did it at dawn, and I promise you that the light of the rising sun, the serenity of the moment (and my thermos of coffee) are among my fondest memories.
- Distance: 1.8 km round-trip / 400 steps to climb
- Time: 1 hour
- Level: Intermediate
Please note that this section is not accessible for RVs over 22 feet.
Restrictions for RVs over 22 feet
Because of the steep and winding mountain roads, if your RV is over 22 long, you will not be allowed to use the south entrance to Sequoia Park near the Foothills Visitor Center.
From late May until early September, you can take the Sequoia Shuttle on Highway 198, from Visalia and Three Rivers to Giant Forest Museum in the heart of the park.
- A round-trip ticket costs about $20 per person, including the park entry fee and unlimited access to the shuttle service within the park.
- Reserve online at least 24 hours in advance.
- You will need to stay at a campground outside the park.
If you are travelling at a time when the shuttle service is not in operation, you must use the north entrance on Highway 180, and will not be able to drive further south than Giant Forest Museum.
There is a free shuttle service inside the park with buses that stop at the Visitor Centers and the park's major attractions.
1- Giant Forest
2- Moro Rock / Crescent Meadow
3- Lodgepole / Wuksachi
4- General Sherman Tree Trails
Visit the website for more details on shuttle routes and schedules.
Day 3 : Sequoia
Today, spend the day exploring this magnificent park.
Start with a visit to the General Sherman Tree, which is at the top of our list of things to see in Sequoia National Park.
This more than 2,200-year-old tree is the largest living organism on Earth. You will be amazed by its 84-metre height and imposing 31-metre girth.
A short 800-metre round-trip trail leads to the tree, an easy hike that is very popular with families. You will need a wide-angle lens to capture a worthy photo to remember it by!
Next, continue on to Congress trail, which begins near the General Sherman Tree.
This easy 3.2-km loop leads through the heart of the spectacular forest, allowing you to capture the essence of a giant sequoia grove. You will certainly feel very small, surrounded by all these incredible natural giants!
- Distance: 3.2 km round-trip
- Time: 1 hour
- Level: Easy
Now, how about exploring the underground world of Sequoia National Park? I highly recommend the 45-minute guided tour of Crystal Cave, a majestic marble cavern containing magnificent formations and rare minerals.
A California road trip would not be complete without a visit to Yosemite, one of the most spectacular parks in the American West.
And as luck would have it, it's your destination for Day 4 of your tour!
Located in the Sierra Nevada mountains, Yosemite is the third largest park in all of California, covering 3,079 km2, and was the first area of land to be protected by the U.S. government.
Boasting rich biodiversity, massive granite cliffs, powerful waterfalls and giant sequoias, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is sure to be one of the highlights of your California road trip.
Start your visit with Yosemite Valley, home to the park's most spectacular waterfalls.
An easy 30-minute round-trip walk leading to the base of Yosemite Falls offers picture-perfect scenery.
This series of three falls together form the third highest waterfall in North America, with a height of 739 metres; it is also one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the western US.
The spectacle is most dramatic in spring, when the falls are fed by the melting snow and glaciers of the Sierra Nevada.
It's a beautiful sight!
Day 5 : Yosemite
10 days in California go by quickly: you're already halfway through your road trip!
This morning, go back to the Yosemite Valley sector and stop at Tunnel View, one of the must beautiful panoramas in the American West. You will have a magnificent view of Bridalveil Falls, Half Dome and El Capitan.
For an easy hike, I suggest Mirror Lake Trail. In spring and early summer, the water level is at its highest and the lake offers beautiful reflections of the surrounding cliffs. Along the trail, interpretive signage presents the cultural history of the region.
Mirror Lake Trail
- Distance: 3.2 kilometres (round-trip)
- Time: 1 hour
- Elevation gain: None
- Level: Easy
The more athletic may wish to tackle the Yosemite Falls Trail, which leads to the top of the tallest waterfall in North America, plunging 739 metres into the valley below.
Yosemite Falls Trail
- Distance: 11.6 kilometres (round-trip)
- Time: 6 to 8 hrs.
- Elevation gain: 823 m
- Level: Difficult
At the end of the day, head for Glacier Point, the most spectacular viewpoint in the park. You will have an unobstructed view of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome and Yosemite Falls.
Please note that RVs longer than 30 feet are not allowed on Glacier Point Road.
If this applies to you, you will have to take the Glacier Point Tour bus ($) or one of two hiking trails, the Four Mile Trail (difficult, 6 hrs. round-trip) or the Panorama Trail (less steep, 10 hrs. return-trip).
Ask at the Visitor Center when you arrive in order to plan your visit to best suit your desires and your RV.
Day 6 : San Francisco (326 km / 4:02)
Your California road trip continues with a visit to San Francisco, widely considered to be one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
48 hours in San Francisco is enough to see the best of what the city has to offer, but you will need to be organized and efficient in getting around: don't hesitate to refer to our article “Visit San Francisco in 2 days”.
How about starting with a great view of the city? Make your way to Telegraph Hill neighbourhood, where the top of the 65-metre Coit Tower offers spectacular panoramic views.
End your day with the emblem of San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge. You can either walk or cycle across the 2.6 km bridge (there are several bicycle rental companies nearby). If you cross on foot, you can take the bus back into the city (don't forget to check the bus schedule).
For an unforgettable experience, cross the bridge at sunset.
Day 7 : San Francisco
When I visit a big city, I love to get up very early to soak in the morning atmosphere. You can experience scenes of everyday life that you won't see later when the city is bustling with life in the middle of the afternoon.
For example, the morning is the best time to hop on a cable car and rub shoulders with the locals who use it every day to get to work.
Today's program includes:
- A visit to Chinatown, the oldest in North America.
- Alamo Square with its Painted Ladies, a famous row of colourful Victorian houses.
- A quick look at Maxime Leforestier's Blue House at 3841 18th Street.
- Lombard Street in the Russian Hill neighbourhood, known for its 8 tight hairpin turns between Hyde Street and Leavenworth Street. It's a must-see San Francisco photo spot.
- Fisherman’s Wharf, a very touristy spot but fun to visit. Go to Pier 39 to see the famous sea lions.
At the end of the day, treat yourself to a memorable experience with a nighttime tour of Alcatraz, the most mysterious and famous prison in the world. Be sure to book your tour well in advance.
Day 8 : Monterey (127 km / 1:26)
Today, head for Monterey along Highway 1, one of the most beautiful scenic roads in the American West.
You will drive for miles along the coast, enjoying magnificent views of the Pacific Ocean.
Monterey is a pleasant town with a charming fishing port atmosphere.
Take a walk along historic Fisherman's Wharf, an integral part of Monterey's history located close to the spot where the first European explorers came ashore almost four centuries ago. Today it is home to many tourist attractions and gift shops.
If you're still in the mood for driving, you might enjoy 17-Mile Drive, a private, paid scenic route that winds through the heart of the cypress forest and passes through one of California's most exclusive neighbourhoods.
There are some lovely photo stops along the way such as Cypress Point and the Lone Cypress, a famous 250-year-old cypress tree clinging atop its rocky perch overlooking the ocean.
On the road again!
Your California road trip is coming to an end, but it's safe to say you're ending on a high note with the most scenic stretch of Highway 1.
You'll be making several stops today. Some of the must-sees include:
- Bixby Bridge, an icon of the Pacific Coast Highway. Stop on the north side for the best photos.
- Pfeiffer Beach (only if your RV is less than 30 feet long). This is one of the most beautiful beaches in California, known for its massive natural rock arch.
- Nepenthe Cafe for a lunch break with a stunning ocean view.
- McWay Falls in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. The short McWay Falls Waterfall Overlook Trail leads to an observation deck with a view of the falls.
Aim to reach Santa Barbara in the middle of the afternoon so you can spend some time on its white sandy beach.
A sunset stroll along East Beach will make for a memorable last evening.
Day 10 : Los Angeles (190 km / 2:03)
10 days in California go by awfully fast!
Get up early to leave Santa Barbara and reach L.A. in time to return your RV, generally before 11 a.m.
It's time to leave the Golden State with lasting memories and a burning desire to come back soon... Why not take a longer Western US road trip next time?
$861 / adult
This concludes the best 10-day California road trip.
If you have any questions or comments about this trip, feel free to add them in the comments section below.