Las Vegas to San Francisco Road Trip

The drive from Las Vegas to San Francisco takes you through awe-inspiring landscapes and nature preserves. There are several national parks between the two urban areas and it’s incredible how much the scenery changes along the journey.

Where to Go

Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area

Begin your road trip at Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. You don’t have to travel far outside of Las Vegas to find desert canyons, painted cliffs, and interesting wildlife. The 13-mile scenic drive features piercing bands of red rock and provides access to exciting hiking paths, cycling routes, and camping spots. As you venture deeper into the Mojave Desert, you’ll notice the Native American petroglyphs decorating the canyon walls. Depending on the time of year, you might find a pristine waterfall amid the desert.

Death Valley National Park

The next stop on your road trip is Death Valley National Park. The lowest elevation point in North America produces a land of extremes that bewilders explorers who cross its boundaries. Summers produce unbearable heat, and winter nights create numbingly cold temperatures on the valley floor. Hiking in Death Valley is not for inexperienced trekkers, but hardy travelers come across incredibly diverse natural features. Zabriskie Point is a photographer’s dream with its vantage of the sunset dipping below the Amargosa Range. Badwater Basin descends nearly 300 ft below sea level and reveals striking salt flats on the valley floor. Admire the craggy walls of Titus Canyon and keep your eyes peeled for petroglyphs and wildlife within the gorge. Telescope Peak is the highest point in the park, and the snow-lined summit gives you uninterrupted views overlooking the horizon. Death Valley’s land of contrasts will also take you to barren lake beds, tumbling waterfalls, and volcanic craters.

Sequoia National Park

Continue on to Sequoia National Park. As you leave the depths of the desert, get ready to be astonished by nature’s skyscrapers. Sequoia National Park’s star attractions are the enormous sequoia trees that tower above the forest. When you stare in awe at the General Sherman Tree, you realize the majesty of the natural world. The sequoia is the largest known living tree anywhere on the planet, and benches around the trunk let you stare high into the treetops. Not all the sequoias are standing, and you can drive right through a fallen tree at the Tunnel Log. Mountaineers can embark on a thrilling climb through the Sierra Nevada Mountains to Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the contiguous United States. If underground adventures are your preference, Crystal Cave displays beautiful calcite formations.

Kings Canyon National Park

Next, your road trip will bring you to Kings Canyon National Park, which sits beside Sequoia National Park and is famous for its rugged granite cliffs. Giant sequoias can be found throughout the park, with the highest concentration located at General Grant Grove. The grove’s namesake tree is the world’s third tallest and over 1,500 years old. Hikers can explore the wilderness by trekking through the Zumwalt Meadows and gazing at the granite canyon walls. The John Muir Trail courses through the Sierra Nevada Mountains and challenges trekkers with intense elevation gain. Other hiking trails let you chase waterfalls such as the Roaring River Falls, and Mist Falls on your way to Paradise Valley.

Yosemite National Park

Continue your journey to Yosemite National Park. One of America’s most cherished national parks, Yosemite is renowned for its plunging waterfalls, granite cliffs, and glacial valleys. The glorious vista of Yosemite Valley from Tunnel View has graced postcards for generations. Ancient sequoia trees dot the landscape, and sharp canyon walls attract daredevils from around the world. Half Dome is the park’s legendary granite rock formation that challenges the hardiest of rock climbers. Adventurers also gravitate to El Capitan for its sheer cliff face that soars upwards of 3,000 ft. Yosemite Falls drops more than 2,400 ft from the cliffside and has inspired civilizations since the Ahwahneechee established their village beneath the falls. There are three sections of Yosemite Falls, and fierce hiking trails give you thrilling vantages of Upper Yosemite Fall, the Middle Cascades, and Lower Yosemite Fall. 

Tahoe National Forest

From Yosemite, make your way over to Tahoe National Forest. Before making the final push towards San Francisco, you’ll admire the crystal-clear waters of North America’s largest alpine lake. The lake straddles the border of California and Nevada and greets visitors with stunning mountain vistas. Hiking, boating, parasailing, and fishing are among the popular summer activities, and it’s a ski resort haven by winter. The surrounding wilderness engulfs the shoreline and stretches along the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Within the forest, you’ll find the legendary Donner Pass that opened the westward path for 19th-century pioneers.

Muir Woods National Monument

Finally, you’ll come to Muir Woods National Monument, just north of San Francisco. Muir Woods is home to coastal redwood forests that tower above the Pacific Ocean. Walking amongst nature’s giants gives you a sense of solitude that’s hard to match elsewhere. The redwoods nestled inside the forest are thousands of years old and inspired conservationists upon first discovery. Peaceful trails coursing through Cathedral and Bohemian Grove provide enchanting views of coastal redwoods, Douglas-fir, and other large trees of the old-growth forest. Many of the hiking paths are paved or on boardwalks to make them accessible for all skill levels.

When to Go

Selecting the best time for this road trip can get a little tricky due to the incredible diversity of environments you encounter. Spring is a fantastic time to visit Death Valley due to more suitable temperatures and desert wildflowers, but the weather can be unpredictable in Sequoia. Crowds can be unbearable at Yosemite during the summer, and spring or fall provide better alternatives. Some parts of Kings Canyon remain closed well into April, and the weather during fall is sublime. While you can surely complete this road trip anytime between mid-April to October, spring and fall will likely give you the best combination of lighter crowds and comfortable temperatures.

Points of Interest in Sequoia National Park

There are endless natural wonders to explore in Sequoia National Park, from its namesake ancient sequoia trees to foothills, canyons, and rivers. If you’re not sure where to start your trip in Sequoia National Park and the adjacent Kings Canyon National Park, here are a few of the main points of interest. 

Giant Forest

This vast grove of ancient sequoia trees is an absolute must-see on any visit to Sequoia National Park. Home to more than 8,000 sequoias, the Giant Forest holds the most sequoias in the entire park. You’ll feel dwarfed by the sheer magnitude of these enormous trees. 

General Sherman Tree

The General Sherman Tree is the world’s largest tree by volume. You may have to wait in line to take a photo with this magnificent tree, but even at a distance there’s no denying the General Sherman Tree’s greatness. The tree is accessible via a short half-mile hike. 

Tokopah Falls

The most impressive waterfalls in Sequoia National Park, the Tokopah Falls are certainly worth a visit. At 1,200 feet tall, these falls are composed of a network of smaller falls. The hike to Tokopah Falls guides you along the Marble Fork of the Kaweah River and is just over 4 miles round trip. 

Crystal Cave

You’ll be astonished by Sequoia National Park’s incredible Crystal Cave. This underground marble cavern is filled with fascinating rock formations characterized by colorful natural minerals. Take a tour of Crystal Cave to learn about its age-old history.

Tunnel Log 

Pass through Tunnel Log, a tunnel carved into an enormous 2,000 year old tree. The tree fell naturally across the road in 1937, and the park has since created a tunnel large enough to fit a  car to allow visitors to pass through. This unique sight cannot be experienced anywhere else!

Moro Rock

Head up to Moro Rock for breathtaking views over Sequoia National Park and the Great Western Divide. This rigorous hike or climb is certainly worth it for the rewarding panoramic vistas at the top.

Crescent Meadow

The gorgeous Crescent Meadow is a peaceful natural respite in the heart of Sequoia National Park. Get here via the Crescent Meadow Loop, which is a 1.8 mile hike that shows off a number of the park’s finest highlights. If you’re visiting in the summer, you’ll catch a beautiful natural display of wildflowers here as well.

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Staying Safe at Sequoia National Park

This beautiful national park is home to ancient sequoia trees and mountainous terrain. If you’re planning a visit to Sequoia National Park and the neighboring Kings Canyon National Park, you’ll want to take the necessary safety precautions. 

Weather

You may experience ozone and other air pollutants during your visit, as unhealthy air quality can be common in this area. Be sure to check the Air Quality Index before you go. 

Weather in Sequoia National Park can be unpredictable and change quickly without warning. Beware of lightning which can be deadly. Avoid wide open areas, water, and tall trees in case of a storm.

Wildlife

Make sure to watch where you step and look out for rattlesnakes while in the park. Frequently check yourself for ticks during and after your visit to Sequoia National Park.

You might encounter cougars while in the park. If you do, don’t run away; make eye contact and spread your arms wide to make yourself appear bigger and stand your ground. You’re also likely to see black bears in the park. Be sure to keep a safe distance and never get between a mother bear and her cub. It is imperative that you do not feed the animals in Sequoia National Park. Safely store your food and scented items in bear bags or secure it in your car. 

Poison oak poses a significant safety threat in Sequoia National Park, so be aware of what it looks like and avoid touching it at all costs. If you do come in contact with poison oak, avoid touching your face and wash your clothes and the affected areas right away.

Other Concerns

Roads in the park are steep and winding, so be sure to drive slowly and pass with caution. Never drink water directly from streams or lakes without treating it properly first to avoid serious illness. 

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Safety- Sequoia & Kings Canyon

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Places to Visit After Sequoia National Park

Situated in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, Sequoia National Park is renowned for its giant sequoia trees and fascinating rock formations. After your visit to Sequoia National Park, you have several options for where to go next. 

  • Kings Canyon National Park – Kings Canyon National Park is adjacent to Sequoia National Park, making it the natural next stop on your journey. Characterized by massive sequoia trees, vast canyons flanked by granite cliffs, and a variety of wildlife, you won’t want to miss out on Kings Canyon!
  • Yosemite National Park – Just a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Sequoia National Park lies Yosemite. Here you’ll have the opportunity to see more ancient sequoia trees, massive cliff faces, and unique rock formations while you take in spectacular views.
  • Mount Whitney – The tallest mountain in the continental United States, Mount Whitney is truly a sight to behold. Situated on the border of Sequoia National Park and Inyo National Forest, Mount Whitney makes for an exciting several day hike if you’re up for it.
  • Death Valley National Park – Not far from Sequoia National Park lies Death Valley. With some of the hottest temperatures in the world and the lowest point in America, you’ll love exploring the unique desert landscape. This park is brimming with sand dunes, salt flats, canyons, and more. 
  • Los Angeles – Just three-and-a-half hours outside of Sequoia National Park, Los Angeles is a logical next stop to continue your trip. Explore Hollywood, visit Universal Studios, go to the beach, dine at high-end restaurants, and enjoy all that LA has to offer.
  • Big Sur – Situated northwest of Sequoia National Park, Big Sur lies along California’s central coast. Defined by the rugged Santa Lucia Mountains and the vast Pacific Ocean, this beautiful stretch is home to a variety of state parks to explore.

Watching Wildlife in Sequoia National Park

Located in the southern Sierra Nevada mountains just east of Visalia, California is the Sequoia National Park. Established in 1890 to protect the 404,064 acres of forest that are contained within the park, many people don’t realize this national park is home to the highest point in the contiguous United States: Mount Whitney. The mount rises 14,505-feet above sea level.

Sequoia National Park is situated south of Kings Canyon National Park, and both are managed by the National Park Service.

The park is named for the giant sequoia trees that litter the land. The oldest tree on earth, the General Sherman Tree, can be viewed within the park. The tree is located in the Giant Forest, which contains five of the ten largest trees in the entire world. The parks giant forests are considered part of the old-growth forests that are shared by both of the parks. Thanks to their early conservation efforts, the parks preserved a landscape that resemble what it looked like before the European settlers arrived.

Of all of the magnificent trees in the park, there are also some amazing wildlife viewing opportunities available at your fingertips. The most high-profile mammal in the park is the black bear, which has learned to adapt and thrive. In order to avoid domesticating the bear, refrain from feeing the black bears during your time there.

As you move down into the foothills of the park, you can find lowland mammals, like the fox, bobcat, skunk, woodrat, gopher, and quail. As you move into denser parts of the forest you can catch mule deer, black bears, mountain lions, birds, and chipmunks frolicking among the ancient trees.

The Sequoia National Park’s Top Animals

  • Coyotes
  • Badgers
  • Black bears
  • Bighorn sheep
  • Deer
  • Foxes
  • Cougars
  • Woodpeckers
  • Turtles
  • Owls
  • Snakes
  • Wolverines
  • Beavers
  • Frogs
  • Muskrats
    • The muskrat is a medium-sized semiaquatic rodent that is found in wetlands over a variety of climates. These water rodents are often referred to as “rats” since they are able to adapt to a variety of food sources and climates.

Viewing Locations

Tokopah Valley Trail: Down in the valley, check out foothill animals like bobcats, squirrels, chipmunks, beavers, and so forth. Look for muskrats in ponds, pools, and river ways as you make your way through the park.
Moro Rock Trail: A great spot to find rock-dwelling animals like bighorn sheep and mountain goats.
Black Rock Pass Loop: This pass is great for catching a glimpse of bighorn sheep and mountain goats as they prance from rock to rock.
Crescent Meadow Trail: You can catch everything from black bears to owls and deer on this hike.
Log Meadow Loop: Also part of the Crescent Meadow Trail, this loop is another catch-all option for those looking to get in as much wildlife viewing as possible.

When Should You Go?

The best time of year to visit this park is from the beginning of June through the end of September. The park is open 24-7, however, the cold winds, snowy conditions, and icy rain storms can make it unsafe to navigate the park starting at the end of October. If you are experienced with hiking and exploring in the wintertime, then the park can be rewarding and filled with less visitors. Animals can generally be seen in the park year round. Catch migratory animals and birds passing through during the spring and fall months.

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