2,400+ Miles Through Northern California

I had an epic 9-day trip driving and car camping across northern California with my friend Calley, my Subaru Outback I call Tron and my Canon 6D Mark ii I call Bear. We covered a lot of ground and made multiple stops along the way to see more remarkable landmarks. Our driving days were long, constantly winding up and down through the mountains (do not recommend if you get car sick) but it was all worth it. No driving distance can phase me now. So here's where we went; brace yourself, we did a lot.

Pitstop | Red Rock Canyon

This was a great first stop to stretch the legs and see some cool red rocks you'd almost think you're in Arizona territory.

Red Rock Canyon

Destination - Inyo National Forest

  • We tried off-roading with Tron the best we could being first timers. It was intense!

  • We went to the lovely town of Bishop for food and craft beer at Mountain Rambler Brewery.

  • We did not have a campsite reserved and all the first-come first serve sites were full by 11am. Luckily we were ready to car camp and stayed in the Hikers Overnight parking lot (which was where our main hike, Big Pine Lakes, started).

  • Trekked up into the mountains on a 14 mile hike through the Big Pine Lakes. At 10,000 ft in elevation, the lakes were breathtaking sitting just below mountains with ice cold water from the melted mountain snow.

Off-Roading Inyo National Forest
Big Pine Lakes Trail, Lake 1
Big Pine Lakes Trail, Lake 2
Big Pine Lakes Trail, Lake 3

Destination | Mammoth

  • Made it to Wild Willy's Hot Springs just in time for sunset bathing. Because we were here on a holiday weekend, there were a lot of families. Other weekends it's a more free spirited place (clothing optional), granted we did see one birthday suit man.

  • The springs were off a road not labeled in a type of campground area. We saw some 4-wheel vehicles parked in the unmarked land so we decided to follow suit (easy when car camping). We had 360 views of mountains!

  • Our first National Monument stop on the trip was Devil's Postpile, a crazy natural rock formation. We continued walking further on the trail to see Rainbow Falls.

  • Tip, if you plan to stop at more than one national monument / park, purchase the National Parks year pass. It's only $80 and you get unlimited access (vs. $20 per car entrance, sometimes more depending on the park)

  • Next time I'd stay longer and do mountain biking in the Mammoth mountains.

Devil's Postpile National Monument
Rainbow Falls
Wild Willy's Hot Springs

Pitstop | Natural Bridges Cavern

  • At first, the cave looked like a shallow pool area. But once we got in our donut floats, we realized it was a tunnel cave! It was completely dark in the middle of the cave. I was brave and brought my phone for a flash light (reco to bring head lamps). Definitely a cool experience especially on a hot day. We also floated further down in the small river and "showered." Realized we weren't getting showers in our campsites any time soon so we used our resources!

  • After this, we stopped in a cute town, Sonora, for tacos and beers at Sonory Brewery.

Natural Bridges Cavern
Natural Bridges Cavern
Natural Bridges Cavern

Night Stay | Stanislaus National Park

We could only get one night reserved in Yosemite National Park so we stayed at Cherry Valley Campground which was very close to allow two days / 1 night in Yosemite.

Destination | Yosemite National Park

Right now (July 2020), you cannot go into Yosemite National Park unless you have a campsite reservation (or reservation at the hotel / lodge in the park). Because there was only one campsite open (Upper Pines), the park was not as crowded and we always found parking available at points (we were very grateful!).

  • Washburn and Glacier Point - definitely great spots to drive up and see beautiful Yosemite Valley views. From Glacier Point, we walked to Glacier Curve View point so I could capture iconic pictures of the road curve and Half Dome.

  • Tunnel View - People say to go here either for sunrise or sunset. We tried sunset; brought our chairs, charcuterie, beers and hung out with the best "patio view" imaginable.

  • Merced River - This river throughout the park is gorgeous. On a hot day, would have been nice to stop and sit in the water (adding to my list next time).

  • Our big hike we ventured on was Upper Yosemite Falls. We started at 6:30am to see the sun come up and have more shade cover. This was a hard hike; 7.5 miles round trip but constant incline to the top of the waterfall. You can play in the water and rocks at the very top of the falls which is fun but dangerous, a girl fell in because of the slippery rocks and lost one of her hiking boots! Luckily Calley had backup tennis shoes with and lended her one for the other foot and hike down. Us hikers have to stick together!

  • I'll be back here soon enough to climb the half dome. More beautiful Yosemite pictures to come!

Glacier Point in Yosemite
Colombia Rock views on Upper Yosemite Falls Trail
Glacier Point Curve Viewpoint
Glacier Point Curve Viewpoint

Destination | South Lake Tahoe

  • We got here late because our Yosemite morning hike took longer than expected. Originally thought we'd take a dip in the lake but the water was so cold! Instead, we went to South Lake Brewery and ate South Lake Pizza.

  • Camped in Emerald State Park. Our first and only campsite with shower facilities! Emerald State Park has gorgeous lake views. The best moment was watching sunrise.

Pitstop | Lassen Volcanic National Park

Wish you could see Dinasours? Me too! This place made us feel like we could have though. We hiked to Bumpass Hell seeing multiple volcanic formations, hot springs (not ones you'd want to swim in unless you want your skin to boil) and a smell ok to never experience again.

Bumpass Hell, Lassen Volcanic National Park
Bumpass Hell, Lassen Volcanic National Park

Pitstop | McArthur-Burney Falls

Some say this is the most spectacular falls in California. Definitely worth the stop and easy to get to.

McArther Burney Falls

Destination | Redwoods

There are 6 National Parks to see Redwood trees. We explored Prairie Creek Redwoods National Park based on the trails / sites we wanted to see.

  • The Big Tree - Glad we did this stop first because the hike was super short and "The Big Tree" had a built wooden platform around it seemed unnecessary to me.

  • Lady Bird Johnson Grove - This was a lovely loop hike to get easily immersed in Redwood trees. Trees so big we could hug, walk inside and even through!

  • Fern Canyon - If you like ferns, walking through this river with ferns cascading all along both sides was unreal.

  • Patrick's Point State Park - This was a fun State Park to see the northern coast rocky beach and cliffs. We walked down to Agate Beach too.

  • Trinidad - Took a drive to Trinidad for lunch at Seaside which was fabulous. A cute fishing town.

  • Stayed at Elk Prairie Campground. Our campsite (#5) was in the prairie vs. the woods which was cool because Elk would come close around us. We woke up with an Elk eating right next to us!

Lady Bird Johnson Grove, Redwoods
Fern Canyon
Elk Prairie Campground
Elk Prairie Campground, Prairie Creek Redwoods

Driving South Pitstops

We had multiple pitstops south bound continuously driving through Redwoods and the mountains.

  • Avenue of the Giants scenic road - Take this route for a bit to drive right through more Redwoods alongside the road.

  • Chandelier Tree in Drive Thru Tree Park - If you want to drive through a Redwood stop here! Only $10 per car. We got here early in the morning and it didn't have a big crowd.

  • Glass Beach - Some pretty colorful rocks on this beach and fun tide pools to look at water creatures.

  • Roederer Winery - a Lovely Champagne vineyard with beautiful views. There were so many wineries along this road!

  • Wilson Winery - Calley's last name is Wilson so we had to stop here! Beautiful patio with vineyard views.

  • Original plan was to stay a night in SF but we weren't ready for city life and continued driving to Monterey, California. We parked next to a public park alongside the street. This was our first time street car camping. Not sure if it was legal but hey, we woke up to a lovely sunrise over the ocean.

Chandelier Tree, Drive Thru Tree Park
Glass Beach
Glass Beach
Sunrise Monterey, California

Driving along Hwy 1

  • We drove the whole way down Hwy 1 returning to Manhattan Beach. Happy I can check this off my list!

  • Bixby Bridge in Big Sur - Had to stop at this iconic bridge that has been used in movies/advertising promoting sunny California.

  • Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery - Elephant seals are unreal!

  • Morro Bay - Stopped here for brunch at Dorn's that has the best view of Morro Rock on their patio.

Bixby Bridge, Big Sur
Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery
Hwy 1

I hope this inspires you to plan your next road trip! This trip has inspired me to continue exploring the beautiful country we live in.

here's to seeking limitless adventures,

Trina Severson

Big Pine Lakes Trail, Inyo National Forest