Joshua Tree National Park is a desert gem located in the high desert of Southeastern California. Named after its most prominent resident, the Joshua Tree (which isn't actually a tree), this park has a stark desert landscape bridging the Mojave and Colorado deserts. The dry, rocky environment is ideal for activities like hiking, rock climbing, star gazing, and 4x4 driving. The history of the park as a homesteading and mining area also makes it a great place to get out and explore the many historical sites within the park. In fact, one of the most popular activities in the park is the Keys Ranch Guided Walking Tour. This ranger-led program is a reservations-only tour of the Keys Ranch homestead which provides outstanding insight into how the early settlers in the region lived. This tour sells out weeks in advance so make sure you make your reservations early.
The trip from Joshua Tree National Park to Napa Valley traverses nearly all of Southern California and can be done in an extended weekend. This is one of the most variable regions in the US. Within a few hundred miles you can experience desert flats, steep mountain passes, coastal fog, significant temperature swings, high winds, remote rural areas, and dense urban highways with exceptionally high traffic volume.
The primary route from Joshua Tree to Napa includes picking up Interstate 10 in Palm Springs and heading through Los Angeles. From San Bernardino, you have two primary route choices. Interstate 210 travels through Pasadena to Interstate 5 in Santa Clarita. Interstate 5 takes you over the mountains, a section known as “The Grapevine” because it winds through the mountains like a grapevine and then exits the mountains into the San Joaquin Valley at the town of Grapevine. This route involves significant urban traffic through Pasadena and Santa Clarita and the Grapevine is long, steep and considered a fairly difficult drive for larger vehicles.
The alternative route is to take Interstate 215 to Interstate 15 out of San Bernardino. This is a fairly steep climb as well, but much shorter than the Grapevine and you avoid many miles of urban travel through Pasadena. Once up the mountain, pick up Route 395 to Route 58. 58 will take you to Bakersfield where you can pick up Route 99 or Interstate 5. Route 99 is the preferred route as it will take you closer to the points of interest outlined here.
The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway is one of the most visited attractions in the Palm Springs area, and for good reason. This is the world’s largest rotating aerial tram which takes riders over two and a half miles right up the jagged face of Mt. San Jacinto. It takes about 10 minutes to reach the upper station and during the trip the cab of the tram constantly rotates, giving all the riders breathtaking views of the Chino Canyon and surrounding areas below. From the top station you can pick up another tram down, or better yet visit one of the two restaurants which offer excellent dining options with breathtaking views.
You can also pick up the hiking trail system which provides over 50 miles of trails throughout the Mt. San Jacinto State Park. One of the trails is the 5.5 mile San Jacinto Peak trail which will take you up to the actual mountain peak which is the second highest point in Southern California.
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are two parks directly adjoining each other in the southern Sierra mountains of Southern California. Sequoia National Park is the more famous of the two because of the large groves of Giant Sequoia Trees within the park from which it derives its name. There are two primary entrances to the park. The southern entrance is on route 198 east of Three Rivers, California. This is a more scenic entrance but should be avoided if you have a larger vehicle like an RV that is greater than 22 ft in length.
The Generals Highway climbs from the valley into the higher mountain regions through a steep series of switchbacks which cannot be navigated by larger vehicles. If you have to leave your RV back at the campground and take your road or tow vehicle instead, this route provides stunning views. It also provides a stark contrast: as you clear the peak of the mountain you quickly transition from a rocky desert-like landscape to a lush dense forest lined with massive Sequoia trees.
The must-see attraction along the highway is the General Sherman Tree. This is listed as the largest living organism on Earth. There are two large parking areas available with trails leading back to the tree. The walk from the main parking area is short and heavily traveled. The trip to the tree is downhill and very easy. The trip back is uphill so it's a little more difficult but still pretty easy if you take your time.
The North Entrance is on Route 180. It is more RV-friendly and also acts as the entrance to Kings Canyon. Kings Canyon's main attraction is hiking and solitude. There are miles of remote hiking and backpacking trails available and visitors can spend days or weeks exploring the backcountry here.
Visalia – Sequoia National Park KOA in Visalia makes a great base camp to visit these parks.
Yosemite National Park is a must-visit in our national park system. It is one of the most visited parks in the system and for good reason. The scenery here is truly stunning. While the park is very large and there are lots of things to see and do here, most people associate the park with the Yosemite Valley section of the park. This is where you will find the famous Tunnel View, Half Dome, El Capitan, Taft Point, Yosemite Falls, and many other landmarks.
The valley is arranged on a loop road which is mostly one way. Also on that road is Yosemite Village which houses the lodge, concession areas, post office, visitor's center, and a movie theater. Free shuttle buses leave from here to drive the loop road. This will be the easiest way to visit the many landmarks within the valley.
Yosemite Pines RV Resort and Family Lodging is a good choice for a base camp here. It is located on the main road into the valley near Groveland, providing a great place to stay that is convenient to the park.
Lodi, California is a great town to visit on your way to Napa. This area is known as the Zinfandel Capital of the World, making it a great place to start a journey through the wine-producing regions of Central California. The downtown area features early 1900's architecture and has shopping, restaurants, wineries, and the outstanding Lodi Beer Company microbrewery.
Flag City RV Resort makes a stop to visit Lodi easy. This outstanding RV park is located just off the I-5 exit at RT 12. The park is secure, easy to get into and has many great amenities. Once you're settled into the park head east about a mile down Route 12 and you'll find the outstanding Michael David Winery. This a great place to start your Lodi or California Wine Country tour. Here you can grab a bottle or glass of one of their many fine estate wines, order some great food and enjoy it while relaxing in the beautifully landscaped areas outside.
Napa is the heart of the Napa valley wine region. The downtown area features amazing early American architecture with a boardwalk along the Napa River which bisects the town. This is a great walking town with numerous restaurants, wineries and art venues that can satisfy the senses of any visitor.
There are two great places to set up camp with your RV in the area. The Napa Valley Expo RV Park is located right in town. The main downtown area is a short 10 – 12 block walk from the campground and an even shorter bus ride on their public transportation system. For a quieter option, consider the Skyline Wilderness Park. This county park is located three miles from the heart of downtown Napa, but has the classic feeling of the rural Napa Valley. In addition to RV parking, this park also has 25 miles of hiking trails and a beautiful memorial garden area.