Leave the freeway and interstate behind as you climb from the Central Valley and into the glorious national parks of the Sierra Nevada. Along the way, explore the valley’s small towns and natural areas, and the Sierra’s incomparable giant sequoia groves.
Trip Time: 4–6 days
Total Distance: 312mi/502km
Gustine. Hike through rare native grasslands on a 6-mile loop Great Valley Grasslands State Park . Wildflowers abound during spring and bring a fishing pole and try to hook black bass and channel catfish along the San Joaquin River. INFO 209/724-8104; yosemite-gateway.org
Madera (64mi/103km; 1hr15mins). Toast a sweet and surprising side of the Central Valley at Quady Winery , which specializes in dessert wines along the Madera Wine Trail , which winds from the valley into the Sierra foothills. INFO 559/683-4636; yosemitethisyear.com
Fresno (26mi/42km; 47mins). Escape into an urban oasis at Woodward Park . The park’s 300 acres include a bird sanctuary, 5 miles of trails, and lakes and ponds. Visit the Shinzen Japanese Garden , home to an authentic thatched-roof teahouse—one of only two in the U.S. INFO 800/788-0836; playfresno.org
Giant Sequoia National Monument (77mi/123km; 1hr45mins). Climb into the Sierra along State Highway 180, then descend into the amazing underworld of Boyden Cavern , where you’ll see stalactites and stalagmites and a subterranean creek. Family-friendly 45-minute tours are available or challenge yourself on a rappelling adventure.
Cedar Grove Village (21mi/34km; 26mins). Escape into the heart of Kings Canyon National Park along the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway . Continue to the end of the road and the trailhead for the 8-mile roundtrip hike to Mist Falls. Spend the night at nearby Cedar Grove Lodge . INFO 559/688-6894; visitcwc.com/Tulare
Grant Grove Village (30mi/48km; 40 mins). Get your fill of giant sequoias in King Canyon’s Grant Grove . Among the giants is the 3,000-year-old General Grant Tree—dubbed “the nation’s Christmas tree” by President Calvin Coolidge. INFO 559/688-6894; visitcwc.com/Tulare
Giant Forest (34mi/55km; 44mins). Hike through the Giant Forest to see the General Sherman Tree (the world’s largest!), then tour Crystal Cave by candlelight. Relax and dine at the cedar-and-stone Wuksachi Lodge . Or try luxury tent-camping (includes family-style breakfasts and dinners) at Bearpaw High Sierra Camp —it’s worth the 11½-mile hike to get there. INFO 559/688-6894; sequoiavalley.com
Three Rivers (25mi/40km; 59mins). Ride the rapids on a rafting trip with outfitters like Kaweah Whitewater Adventures . Or just go for a sugar rush at Reimer’s Candies & Gifts , where treats include truffles, toffee, and 24 ice cream flavors. INFO 559/561-3300; threerivers.com
Exeter (22mi/36km; 32mins). Visit this classic citrus to see remarkable outdoor murals . Settle in at Monet’s (120 S. E St.; 559/592-9453), a French-style bistro with a wine bar and specialties including crepes, lobster bisque, and lavender cheesecake. INFO 559/592-2919; exeterchamber.com
Visalia (13mi/21km; 20mins). Walk through valley oaks at Kaweah Oaks Preserve . End your road trip at Habit Burger Grill , a retro-favorite. 559/334-0141; visitvisalia.com