A vacation that starts in Los Angeles and ends in Phoenix explores every physical aspect of the American continent. From the Pacific Ocean islands through the mountainous terrain and past the vast American deserts, this trip is a study in comparison and contrast. Though you can travel the four- and eight-lane highway that is Interstate 10 in a short six hours, to do so is to ignore several parks and other standout sites along the way. An enterprising family finds an intense geological education along the I-10 if only they take the time to look.
The I-10 corridor between Los Angeles and Phoenix is a straight shot from the coast to the mountains and on through the desert. To see the grandeur of the trip, it's a good idea to begin at an actual coastal environment, one that requires a boat to approach.
Channel Islands National Park
Just 66 miles northwest of Los Angeles sit five isolated islands known as the Channel Islands. These islands are so remote that the wildlife here developed separately from that of the mainland. You can access these islands by boat, but once you get there, you can only hike or kayak around them. The islands are a great place to start a trip from Los Angeles to Phoenix; they give you a different perspective with which to compare and contrast what you will find in the desert and mountain areas through which you will travel.
Joshua Tree National Park
The road trip from Los Angeles to Phoenix takes you through the Santa Monica Mountains and into the desert. Taking a side trip of 7 miles off I-10 on Cottonwood Springs Road takes you to Joshua Tree National Park. This park lets you and your family see a unique phenomenon—the Joshua tree—in its natural environment. These unusual trees are a form of yucca and are a testimony to perseverance in a harsh climate. The trees are entirely dependent on winter and spring rains that blanket the area. The area offers hiking trails, rock climbing, and magnificent views of the stark reality of desert wildlife.
Chino Hills State Park
While the sandy beaches on the coastline of Los Angeles have several state parks, the hills above the city have only one. When taking a road trip from Los Angeles to Phoenix, there is a place called Chino Hills State Park that provides magnificent views of the hills and mountains to the east. The park offers hiking trails through a wondrous green area, probably the last you will see on your way to Phoenix. Chino Hills State Park is a little out of the way, but it is well worth the short detour.
Mount San Jacinto State Park
As you travel east on I-10, you will come to Palm Springs. From here, you and your family can take the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway to Mount San Jacinto State Park. The park is a special treat as passengers move from the desert to mountainous heights, where the cool breezes refresh them before they return to their road trip from Los Angeles to Phoenix. The park features hiking trails that circle Mount San Jacinto, which is the second-highest peak in Southern California. Scenic views and abundant wildlife sometimes startle children and adults alike. At the base of the tramway, the state has provided two RV campgrounds where you can rest for the night before continuing on your way.
Buckskin Mountain State Park
After the long drive through the California desert on your Los Angeles to Phoenix RV road trip, there is a spot to stop and enjoy a cool dip before making the long, hot dash to your destination. Buckskin Mountain State Park takes advantage of the reservoir created by Parker Dam. Visitors remark on the incredible views of the mountains that dominate the horizon on both the California and Arizona sides of the park. Boating, swimming, and rafting are encouraged by the state of Arizona. Hiking trails, some easy, some difficult, crisscross the entirety of the 1,677 acres that are reserved by Arizona for visitors and residents to enjoy. The park is a short jaunt north off I-10. It is easily accessible for RV traffic and has plenty of accommodations for RV camping.
Several locations off I-10 are of interest to visitors. Some are places of luxury, some are a curiosity, and others are of historical significance.
Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area
The Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area makes for a great transition from the isolation of the Channel Islands to the pristine environment of the desert. Just northwest of Los Angeles, this area includes everything from the sandy beaches of Malibu to the peaks of mountains, all under a mild Mediterranean climate. A family that visits this setting steps back in time to witness what the space looked like before urban sprawl began dominating the area.
The Salton Sea
There is much more to see at the Salton Sea than the state park and the National Wildlife Refuge. During the 1960s, the area around the Salton Sea was a mecca for Hollywood celebrities as well as hippies. Since that time, the area has dried up economically. Initially, the Salton area was a dried-up lake bed. Then in 1906, the Colorado River burst its bonds and breached the irrigation levees south of Yuma, Arizona. The lake formed and has followed the fate of the previous lake, drying up bit by bit through the years. The Salton Sea is a must-visit for any adventurer. It lies just 33 miles south of I-10 and is easily accessed from Indio, California.
Stopping to observe the largest antiquity ever purchased should be on every family’s road trip itinerary from Los Angeles to Phoenix. That antiquity is the London Bridge. The bridge was purchased by Robert McCullough in 1967 to serve as a tourist attraction to bring business to his new Arizona city, Lake Havasu City. The move worked as the reconstructed London Bridge is the second largest tourist attraction in Arizona, second only to the Grand Canyon. Situated on the east shore of the Colorado River, the bridge is accessed from I-10 via the junction with Highway 95 between Blythe and Ehrenburg. Though the 60-mile detour takes about two hours of your time, you and your family need to visit this landmark.
Kofa National Wildlife Refuge
The Kofa National Wildlife Refuge is another must-stop in Arizona along the I-10 corridor. The refuge is one of the truly wild areas left in the United States. Protected by federal regulations, this area is home to some of the rarest animals remaining that were once prolific. Bobcats, Sonoran pronghorns, and the jackrabbit have their homes here. Kofa is the second-largest federally mandated wilderness area in Arizona. The refuge allows camping for up to 14 days free of charge. You must bring in your own supplies of food and water. The area is a lesson for any visitor on how life perseveres in even the harshest of environments.
The section of I-10 that you travel on a road trip from Los Angeles to Phoenix is nearly devoid of any cities. However, there are plenty of locations to service your RV, especially if you are taking more than the six-hour minimum time to make the transit. The best bet is to stop in Palm Springs before attempting to cross the desert to make sure your waste tanks are empty. Check the RVshare dump site locator for Arizona and the RVshare dump site locator for California to assure yourself of dump station availability along the way. Travelers who want to explore the beauty of the desert can find appropriate campgrounds in the RVshare campground list for Arizona and the RVshare campground list for California.
Riverside, California, is only 55 miles from Los Angeles. It gets its name from its location as the city sits astride the Santa Ana River. With a population of over 300,000, Riverside is the largest city located near the I-10 corridor. Riverside is only 8 miles from the I-10 and is easy to visit along the way for a breather and to refresh and fuel up.
Palm Springs, California
The I-10 corridor runs just north of Palm Springs, California, on its way from Los Angeles to Phoenix. Though the city only sports a population of 44,000, it covers over 94 square miles, which is indicative of its makeup. The city is a retirement community and takes advantage of the available land to sprawl across a large area. Palm Springs is the last town before the long road toward Phoenix. If you are looking to push through the desert without stopping, then Palm Springs is the place to stop for supplies of food, water, and fuel.
The road trip from Los Angeles to Phoenix can take six hours or six days depending on your purpose. To help you along the way, we advise you to take a look here for possible RV rentals in Los Angeles. If you plan to do the trip backward and go from Phoenix to Los Angeles, then see what you can find in the way of RV rentals in Phoenix. No matter the direction you travel on I-10, a Los Angeles to Phoenix road trip is a family vacation that you will remember for a lifetime.