4,000 miles, 14 days, 6 national parks, 1 dog and 1 wedding!
We have been planning this road trip since 2019 but just before we were due to leave, Covid hit, so ya, trip cancelled. But then last year my cousin got engaged and planned her wedding in May in Napa so thanks to her we were finally able to take this long overdue trip!
Day 1: Denver, Colorado to St George, Utah
At the beginning of our trip we committed to getting to California as soon as possible so we chose to drive eight hours the first day and that got us to St. George, Utah. We did stop for a short ramen noodle lunch with our Jet Boil at the Eagle Canyon picnic area.
We got to St. George in the evening so ended up grabbing a quick chick fil a dinner in town and then heading to our campsite at Red Cliffs Campground which was beautiful! There were trails around the campsite so we ate our dinner and then did a small hike (Red Reef Trail) before heading to bed to wake up for our next big driving day!
Day 2: St. George, Utah to Ventura, California
The second day we woke up nice and early and started our drive to Joshua Tree National Park. When we got about an hour from the park the drive started getting very cool! We drove through Mojave National Preserve and past Kelso Dunes which looked like it could have been a really cool stop. I think if we hadn't of just gone to Great Sand Dunes and White Sands national parks then I would have wanted to make a stop at Kelso Dunes because they looked very magical in the distance.
We mostly just drove through the national parks on this trip since we were road tripping and we had our dog with us and this one was a great park to drive through. It was just miles and miles of beautiful desert landscape with an occasional place for us to stop and get out to take pictures. We even found a nice place for us to stop and have our favorite ramen noodles picnic lunch in the park!
After Joshua Tree we took the long route to Ventura, California to see the Kill Bill Church but it was a huge let down! I did get one good picture but the experience in general was not worth it. It was pretty far out of the way and it was obscured by construction stuff and signage, so it's not like we could go in or walk around it or anything cool like that.
After that we headed towards Ventura and went out for dinner and then for a walk on the beach before heading to our hotel for the night.
I made the interesting choice to stay at Motel 6 in Ventura and I would NOT recommend it unless hearing drunk people yelling at each other at 1 am is your jam. (I would tell you the ridiculous things that were screamed but they weren't appropriate.) Anyway, maybe opt out.
The next day we woke up early again to go see Channel Islands National Park. Channel Islands isn't accessible by vehicle, you have to take a ferry, but taking a ferry out there for a couple of short hikes didn't seem very worth it so we decided to do kayak tour around the island instead and it was the perfect way to see the park! We dropped the dog off at a rover and then went to get on the ferry to the island.
The ferry itself was a lot cooler than I imagined, we saw whales, dolphins, sea lions, and a sunfish. The ferry was very relaxed and would stop anytime they thought they saw something cool and then explain to us what we were looking at.
Once we got to the island we met up with our group for our Adventure Sea Cave Kayak Tour Around Channel Islands. It was everything I imagined, we were kayaking pretty close to the island and looking at the bright orange fish in the water and then occasionally paddling in to the sea caves!
After we were done Kayaking around the island we picked up our backpacks and went on a short hike to find a good place to eat our picnic lunch. The hike led us up to great views of the island and it was so nice to use our legs again after sitting in the kayak for so long!
The little island foxes that run around are so cute but we were warned they are tiny bandits that will steal your food! I don't know, this one looks like an angel to me.
Once back on the mainland we picked up the dog and headed towards Sequoia & King's Canyon National Parks.
We were originally going to camp at Horse Creek Campground but they cancelled our reservation due to flooding so we ended up booking a site at the KOA in Visalia. When we got to the KOA it was right on a road, with a train going by, and a nearby home was having a loud house party soooooo we bailed and headed toward the campground that had cancelled our reservation and ended up finding a lovely quiet place to sleep out there! Would not suggest the KOA but would highly suggest Horse Creek Campground!
We woke up and got to the park nice and early and had a great time driving around there! The only bummer was that the road to King's Canyon was still closed so we didn't get to see that part of the park. We did see a bear though which kind of makes up for it!
After we were done in the park we headed towards Mariposa which is where we stayed for a three nights to visit Yosemite.
Mariposa was a cute little sleepy town and since we were there Sunday through Tuesday it was even quieter than normal! We stayed at a great place called the River Rock Inn Mariposa and it had such a nice patio which came it really handy because we actually had to work a little bit. It was also great because we were able to get dinners to go and then eat out on the patio and play cribbage!
By this point of the trip I was exhausted. We had done so much! So I crashed at about 7:30 and slept hard for the next twelve hours.
Day 5: Yosemite
We went to Yosemite the next day and drove on every open road we could. There was still a good amount closed because we were so early in the season but the waterfalls were at full force!
We also spent a good amount of time staring up at El Capitan and trying to look for the climbing routes in the movies The Dawn Wall and Free Solo were. Highly suggest seeing both of those movies before visiting Yosemite! It gives you a real appreciation for how big a deal El Capitan really is, they are also just great movies in general.
Once we felt like we had driven around every inch of the park we decided we could come back the next day to do a hike and take the rest of the day to go disc golfing.
We drove to a really pretty disc golf course but our fun was cut short by a rattlesnake chilling right on the path. I nearly walked over it.
After that we decided we didn't need anymore interactions with "danger noodles" and headed back to Mariposa for some good old fashioned, non deadly, patio relaxation!
Day 6: Yosemite
For our last day in Yosemite we decided to do the first half of the Upper Yosemite Falls Trail which was a great choice for us! The first half of the trail takes you to the bottom of the upper falls and past some great views of half dome!
I didn't feel like I needed hiking poles (which I think may have been necessary for the second half of this hike) and it was 1,000 feet elevation gain instead of 2,500. A 2,500 elevation hike tends to exhaust me for the next 24 hours and I didn't want to commit that kind of time to this hike. It was definitely still a strenuous hike with lots of switch backs and elevation gain but I had been working out pretty hard for this moment (so many squats) so it was cool to see how much stronger I had gotten!
Day 7: Yosemite to Big Sur
The next day we were back on the road after a much needed reprieve from driving and headed for Pinnacles National Park .
I don't think Pinnacles is a very good driving park, I think you really need to be willing to get out and hike. There are however two entrances so maybe the other entrance had more to see from the road, we went in the east entrance I think.
After Pinnacles we continued on to Monterey where we immediately found a great lunch spot for a Clam Chowder Bread Bowl at Sea Harvest! This place was super tasty, had a nice dog friendly patio and the bowl was plenty for us two to share!
When we were done eating I wanted ice cream, obviously. So we walked down to the Ghirardelli on the ocean, got ourselves a sweet treat and then walked along the ocean looking for sea otters. We didn't really see any up close though (I think we saw some in the distance) and for some reason I really thought we would!
Once we were done walking around in Monterey we started the drive through Big Sur to Kirk Creek Campground for the night. This was one of the drives I was most looking forward to because of how great everyone says it is and it did not disappoint! There were about a million pull offs and of course we got to the see the famous Bixby Bridge. (I think I mostly wanted to see it because it was in the opening of the Big Little Lies tv show!)
We got to our campground and had our ramen noodle dinner (of course), took a short hike down to the small beach, and then relaxed with our amazing views of the sunset and played a game of cribbage while tiny bunnies nibbled grass around us.
Kirk Creek Campground is probably the best campsite I will ever stay at and was well worth the effort to get a campsite! The only negative was that there was a TON of poison oak so after our hike we put those clothes away and didn't wear them the rest of the trip, luckily we didn't get a rash or anything!
These campsites book up nearly immediately after they are available so to get one of the best ones the theory would be that you would know which campsites have the best views (find that out on CampsitePhotos) and then you would book your site right when they became available. I didn't know to do that so I arrived late to the game and instead checked their website everyday until our day opened up and then booked it! We got very lucky because the only one available had great views.
Day 8: Monterey Bay
The next morning we decided we wanted to A. find an otter and B. go disc golfing (we like disc golfing if you can't tell). So we headed up to Santa Cruz for our disc golfing adventure.
Afterwards we headed back towards Monterey (because that is where we were staying that night) and stopped in Moss Landing because the internet said that could be a good place to see otters and we ended up seeing one really close up!
My cell phone pictures don't really do him justice (we didn't feel like bringing to nice camera on this trip) but trust me when I saw he was amazing! We spent probably about 10 minutes watching him crack open his clams and then dive back down for more over and over again. There were also lots of seals and sea lions hanging out so overall it was just a great animal adventure for us.
With our two goals for the day achieved we headed back to Monterey, checked into our hotel, Casa Munras, took a short walk to the pier and then settled in for the night.
Day 9: Monterey to Napa
We headed out early that next morning to have lunch with a friend in Cupertino and then continued heading up to Napa for a wedding welcome party at Barnett Vineyards. Barnett was beautiful and the wine amazing, I would absolutely go back there.
Next we went and grabbed the tastiest burger at Gott's Roadside and then headed back to the hotel to hang out with family.
While in Napa we stayed at an awesome motel, El Bonita, and I would definitely stay there again. It had a great lawn area with tables and a fire pit for hanging out and relaxing and was very well priced.
Day 10: Napa
The next day we got breakfast at the yummy Gillwood's, then went disc golfing again and then hung out (worked a little). Once my brother got in town we headed to lunch at Pizzeria Tra Vigne and it was so delicious! Then it was time to get ready for more wedding events.
The rehearsal dinner was at Bottega and I would absolutely go back to dinner there if given the opportunity, so good!
Day 11: Napa
We went back to Gilwood's the next morning and then relaxed and worked until we needed to get ready for the wedding and the amazing reception held at Merryvale Vineyards .
Day 12: Napa to Medford, Oregon
At this point we were pretty ready to get home so decided we would head up a little further north and then start heading back.
We drove up to Redwood National Park and spent some time driving around there. Redwood was different than I imagined because it is a National Park and then two state parks, not one massive park. The best views we had were driving on the Newton B Drury Scenic Byway, I thought that was a can't miss drive!
Then we kept heading up north for a short hike to Secret Beach which was a little muddy but so pretty!
Then we headed toward Medford via another beautiful drive, Redwood Highway!
We got to Candlewood Suites in Medford and then went to bed early for a big driving day the next day!
Day 13: Medford, Oregon to Salt Lake City, Utah
We work up early the next day and tried to see Crater Lake National Park but it had snowed the night before and they hadn't finished clearing the roads so the last 3 miles to Rim Village was closed which was a huge bummer for us! At least we know we tried.
Then it was really time to head back to Denver with one last stop in Salt Lake to break up the trip.
Day 14: Salt Lake City, Utah to Denver, Colorado
Made the last leg back to Denver with no unnecessary stops because we were ready to be home!!!
There is still so much to see in California so we will probably have to go back someday...but for now we are tired!
Best non-obvious things we packed for our two week road trip!
These delicious muffins were the best road trip breakfast when we couldn't find anything!