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

map RV california road trip
California RV itinerary map


Road trip summary

Day 1 : Los Angeles 

Los Angeles skyline
Los Angeles

The adventure begins in Los Angeles. But before taking possession of your rental RV, spend some time exploring the city.

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.

Sunset on the beach and Santa Monica Pier
Santa Monica

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!

 

Day 2 : Sequoia  (330 km / 3:30)

RV in front of the entrance to Sequoia Park
First stop of the road trip: Sequoia National Park

Let your 10-day California RV road trip begin: the great outdoors awaits you as you set a course for Sequoia National Park!

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.

Moro Rock at sunset
Moro Rock

:footprints: emoji 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.

:footprints: emoji MORO ROCK

  • 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.

Shuttle service:

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 

The largest sequoia in the park
General Sherman

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!

Crystal Cave in Sequoia National Park
Crystal Cave

:footprints: emoji CONGRESS TRAIL 

  • 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.

 

Day 4 : Yosemite  (268 km / 3:30)

Boardwalk in Yosemite National Park
Easy trail to Yosemite Falls

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

Waterfall in Yosemite National Park
Yosemite Falls

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 

Iconic view of Yosemite Valley
Tunnel View

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.

:footprints: emoji 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.

:footprints: emoji Yosemite Falls Trail 

  • Distance: 11.6 kilometres (round-trip) 
  • Time: 6 to 8 hrs.
  • Elevation gain: 823 m 
  • Level: Difficult
View of Half Dome at sunset, Yosemite National Park
Glacier Point

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. 

:exclamation: emoji 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.

Closure of Glacier Point Road in 2022: The road will be closed to traffic in 2022. The only access to Glacier Point will be via the Four Mile, Panorama and Pohono trails, which are challenging hikes.

 

Day 6 : San Francisco  (326 km / 4:02)

Downtown San Francisco skyscrapers at sunset
San Francisco from Coit Tower

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.

Iconic San Francisco bridge at sunset
Golden Gate, a must-see on your California road trip

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 

San Francisco cable cars
Cable Cars

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. 

San Francisco's colourful Victorian houses
Painted Ladies

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)

Monterey Marina
Monterey

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.

rocky outcrop on the Pacific coast at sunset
Lone Cypress

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.

 

Day 9 : Santa Barbara  (383 km / 3:56)

Highway 1 bridge, California
Bixby Bridge offers one of the best views of your California tour

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.
     
Sunset on Santa Monica beach
Santa Barbara

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)

Motorhome on Highway 1
End your 10-day California road trip with a drive along magnificent Highway 1

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?

 

 

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.

 

Karolane Lessard

An enthusiast of both our vibrant cities & great oudoors, my life revolves around travel & adventure. It's a no brainer that I have to share the wonders & secrets of my neck of the woods with other travelling souls. Enjoy the journey!

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