In San Francisco, CA, there are 74 hills that many residents climb each day. In Yosemite National Park, the terrain can be even more intimidating with vertical cliff faces and carved canyons at every turn. The stark differences in geology are due to ancient forces that constructed these two amazing sites. Yosemite is one of many national and state parks in California that seek to preserve natural areas from human development. Interestingly, each of these preserves is in a different stage of natural evolution and showcases the natural processes that formed California. To observe these various stages, follow this road trip itinerary from San Francisco to Yosemite National Park.
Lassen Volcanic National Park
To begin your road trip from San Francisco to Yosemite National Park, take a detour of 217 miles northward to see the Lassen Volcanic National Park. The park includes the most recent volcanic activity in California. Geysers, bubbling mud pits, and massive lava beds greet arriving visitors. Steaming fumaroles still periodically occur, sometimes from the summits of the mountains in the park. At this site, volcanologists work to understand the complex forces that form new lands. Visiting here and engaging in the programs educates visitors on how California came into existence.
Channel Islands National Park
After returning to San Francisco from your visit to Lassen Volcanic National Park, take a 337-mile trip south through San Jose and Salinas to Santa Barbara to visit the Channel Islands National Park. The granite on this chain of islands is much older than that found in Lassen Volcanic National Park. Indeed, the rock was once a part of the mainland of California, but wave action eroded it over millions of years, ever-widening the gulf between the islands and the mainland. Life evolved here separately, creating unique flora and fauna that do not exist elsewhere. By design, these islands are only accessible by boat during daylight hours.
Sequoia National Park
From the Channel Islands National Park, drive inland on the next leg of your San Francisco to Yosemite National Park RV road trip to Glendale, then north through Bakersfield to Sequoia National Park. The park includes the chilly tops of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the valleys below. This mountain range is dormant but was once full of active volcanoes millions of years in the past. Glaciers once covered this area, carving out deep ravines and canyons, eroding granite under their tremendous weight. Today, it is home to the largest trees in the world — the giant sequoias. The lives of these redwoods span over a thousand years as their roots delve into the rocks helping with the erosion process.
Pinnacles National Park
The next leg of your San Francisco to Yosemite National Forest road trip of discovery takes you 145 miles west from Sequoia National Park to Pinnacles National Park. Formed by volcanic action millions of years ago, the area saw considerable glacial action, which carved away most of the granite, leaving several impressive pinnacles. Valleys, canyons, gullies, caves, grasslands, and forests all exist in this park because of erosion. This final national park provides the last key to the formation of Yosemite National Park. From here, drive 132 miles north to officially begin your road trip from San Francisco to Yosemite National Park.
Castle Crags State Park
Located 49 miles from Redding, CA — the gateway to Lassen National Park — sits Castle Crags State Park. The park protects the Castle Crags Rock formation, the surrounding lands, and the section of the Sacramento River that passes through it. Many myths and legends exist about this location, coming down from Native American folklore about giants inside the rock formation. Hiking trails, fishing, and rock climbing are amongst the favorite activities that draw visitors. It is the perfect location to park your RV and explore nearby Lassen Volcanic National Park.
Big Basin Redwoods State Park
When you return from Lassen Volcanic National Park to the vicinity of San Francisco, stop at Big Basin Redwoods State Park to rest before taking off south to see Channel Islands National Park. The park works as an introduction to the breathtaking majesty and power of redwoods. Standing surrounded by the presence of these monolithic trees for the first time is a thrilling experience. The tallest redwoods in this park reach higher than the Statue of Liberty and are alive with wildlife. Trails take you past waterfalls and along incredible cliffs carved out by glacial action.
Henry W. Coe State Park
Located 54 miles north of Pinnacles National Park, Henry W. Coe State Park is the logical place to stop and rest on your return journey to San Francisco after your tour of the national parks to the south. The park covers 87,000 acres of valleys, deep canyons, vertical cliff faces, and high hills. It serves as an introduction to the incredible sights at Yosemite National Park.
While in San Francisco, before leaving the city on your San Francisco to Yosemite National Park RV road trip, visit Lombard Street, "the crookedest street in the world.” Driving down this crazy street takes you past fantastic Victorian homes. It is not only fun; it gives you an idea of the challenges of creating a city on a location with 74 hills.
Buena Vista Museum of Natural History
By the time you reach Bakersfield, CA, you will have visited Lassen Volcanic National Park and Channel Islands National Park. When you stop to visit the Buena Vista Museum of Natural History, you begin to put the pieces of geological events together. Visiting places like this after obtaining hands-on information can help you start assembling the picture of California's creation in your mind.
At the end of your San Francisco to Yosemite National Park road trip, you find several incredible sights. There are vertical cliffs, deep valleys, waterfalls, towering redwoods, and rushing streams. The power of nature is more significant in this park than anywhere else in the world. The park's most intimidating and exciting feature is El Capitan—a 3,590-foot vertical cliff that changes hues with every hour of the day. It is an incredible reminder of the power of nature. Elite rock climbers from around the world come to accept the challenge the cliff provides. Watch as they carefully negotiate an ascent along precarious routes.
Redding is an important gateway to the natural wonders you find in Lassen Volcanic National Park or Crag Castle State Park. The city is filled with intriguing restaurants and shops, making it a great spot to hike between visits to the parks. Here, you can take advantage of the multiple dump stations and campgrounds that surround the area.
During your return to San Francisco from Lassen Volcanic National Park, stop at Stockton, CA. The town has several restaurants with unique cuisines. The atmosphere is always relaxing, and the people are some of the friendliest anywhere. Take the time to visit the Historic Bob Hope Theater and the Children’s Museum of Stockton, where children get a hands-on education about the world around them. Make sure to visit one of the many dump stations available for your use before registering at one of the campgrounds that the city offers.
When you reach Bakersfield, make sure to stop and let the kids have some fun. There are several venues in the town designed for children. One of the best is Camelot Park, where children and adults can blow off some steam playing a game of mini-golf, taking on the baseball in a batting cage, driving a go-kart, or having fun in the arcade. While you are in the city, take advantage of one of its dump stations. To stay awhile and continue enjoying the town, check out the nearby campgrounds.
When you follow this road trip itinerary from San Francisco to Yosemite National Park, you will enjoy historic locations and beautiful scenery along the way. If you want to travel in comfort and style, consider an RV rental from RVshare. From large motorhomes to compact campervans, there is a rig that will meet your travel and budget needs. Once you hit the road, you are protected by our renter guarantee and 24/7 roadside assistance. Find the perfect vehicle for your travel needs in San Francisco or Yosemite National Park.