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Amazing Views

Tall trees, towering waterfalls and fascinating geological formations provide a scenic backdrop on this winding five-day tour.

Start:Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks
End:Avenue of the Giants
4 - 6Days,10Stops,862Miles
Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks
Tom Hilton/Flickr
Grant Grove Cabin
Durk Talsma/Getty Images
Yosemite National Park
Kodiak Greenwood
Yosemite Valley Lodge
CSondy/Getty Images
Tuolumne Meadows
Ron and Patty Thomas/Getty Images
MONO LAKE TUFA STATE NATURAL RESERVE
Sandy L. Kirkner/Getty Images
Emerald Bay
Michele Falzone/Getty Images
Lassen Volcanic National Park
Peter Hagenouw/Getty Images
Mount Shasta
Michael Schober/Getty Images
Avenue of the Giants
Art Wager/Getty Images
Stop 1

Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks

47050 Generals Highway, Three Rivers

Famous for their giant sequoias, soaring mountains, deep canyons, and roaring rivers, this tandem set of parks have plenty to see, even though they are less well known than Yosemite, roughly 75 miles/120 kilometres north. Within the borders of Sequoia & Kings Canyon are Mount Whitney, the highest point in the contiguous United States at 14,494 feet/4,417 metres, and the Kings River Canyon, one of the deepest canyons in North America. Still, the parks, as well as the adjacent Giant Sequoia National Monument and national forest lands, are most revered for their super-sized sequoias. Thanks to the General Sherman Tree, the world’s largest living thing and its gargantuan neighbours staring at big trees is the most popular activity here. The General Sherman Tree measures 103 feet/31 metres around, and soars 275 feet/84 metres into the blue Sierra sky, and it is still growing. Every year it adds enough wood to make another 60 foot/18 metre tall tree. Still can’t grasp the size? One branch of the General Sherman is so big, almost 7 feet/2 metres in diameter, that it’s larger than most trees east of the Mississippi River.

Not surprisingly, General Sherman attracts a crowd, which is why the park runs free summer shuttle buses to two separate stops, one above and one below this amazing tree. Many visitors get off at the upper stop and walk one way downhill to the lower stop, passing the General Sherman along the way. That is fine for a quick trip, but there is much more to do here. See even more majestic sequoias by hiking on the adjacent Congress Trail, a 2 mile/3 km loop that travels through dozens of sequoias with diameters the size of your front room. The House and Senate groves, two more sequoia clusters near the end of the loop trail, are the most impressive, but another standout is the Washington Tree, which was long considered the world’s second largest tree.

Winter snows significantly limit access in the parks, therefore check the website in advance for details.

To return to Los Angeles, head south for roughly 3½ hours. San Francisco is roughly 4 hours north-west.

Stop 3

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park

Coming from the east, Yosemite unfolds with high-country beauty, a land of granite crags and alpine meadows, the best known being Tuolumne Meadows, with its well marked trails and endless scenery. From its tranquil edges, hiking trails lead in all directions, to the alpine lakes set below the spires of Cathedral and Unicorn Peaks, to a series of roaring waterfalls on the Tuolumne River. The meadow’s small visitor centre, housed in a historic cabin, features exhibits that focus on the area's geology, wild flowers, and wildlife.  Continuing west you'll reach the park’s signature site, Yosemite Valley, where shuttle buses can take you to all the key vistas.

California’s first national park and designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1984, Yosemite attracts 4 million visitors each year, with good reason. Nearly the size of Rhode Island and covering more than 1,100 square miles/284,899 hectares, it features unforgettable natural beauty. Among Yosemite’s many bragging rights, its waterfalls rank high. In the list of the world’s 20 tallest waterfalls, Yosemite Valley scores three spots for Yosemite Falls, Sentinel Fall, and Ribbon Fall. Yosemite Falls holds the undisputed title of the tallest waterfall in North America. It is a challenging hike to the top of the 2,425 foot/729 metre falls, but fortunately there is an impressive view from the base too on an easy and scenic 1 mile/1.6 km loop that should be on everyone’s list. An easy walk to 620 foot/189 metre Bridalveil Falls takes you to an viewpoint below its billowing cascade. A more demanding hike to Vernal and Nevada Falls ascends granite steps to the brink of two massive drops, where you can watch the entire Merced River plunge over the rocky ledge. (Adhere to all safety signs and stay behind all ropes and signs.)

From Yosemite, continue south on the west side of the Sierra, following roads that dip down to the fertile Central Valley, to your last stop at a twin park that protects the world’s largest living things and a wild and rugged alpine canyon. 

 

Stop 5

Tuolumne Meadows

7943 Willow St, Wawona

One of the most photographed regions of Yosemite, Tuolumne Meadows is a wide, grassy expanse bounded by high granite domes and peaks. At an elevation of 8,600 feet/2,600 metres, this pristine meadow extends for more than two miles along the Tuolumne River, making it the largest subalpine meadow in the Sierra Nevada. From its tranquil edges, walking trails lead in all directions to the alpine lakes set below the spires of Cathedral and Unicorn Peaks and to a series of roaring waterfalls on the Tuolumne River. The meadow’s small visitor centre, housed in a historic cabin, features exhibits that focus on the area's geology, wild flowers, and wildlife. Note that access to Tuolumne is limited; roads are generally closed due to snow from mid-November to June.

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Stop 6

MONO LAKE TUFA STATE NATURAL RESERVE

US-395, Lee Vining

At this high desert reserve, on the eastern side of the towering Sierra, ghost-like tufa towers line the edges of a one million year old lake.

Learn about the natural and human history of the Mono Basin at the interpretive centre, just off US 395 north of Lee Vining and Tioga Pass (the only route into Yosemite from this side of the mountains). The decking offers dramatic views—Sierra peaks to the west, brushwood dotted desert to the east as well as the lake itself and tiny Wizard Island, a nesting site for Western gulls and other sea birds. Bird walks are offered at 8 am on Fridays and Sundays, from mid-May through to the beginning of September. The visitor centre is closed from December to March.

Explore Lee Vining Creek riverine habitat, blanketed with obsidian and pumice or walk the South Tufa Area for close-up views of the tufa towers formed by the interaction of freshwater springs flowing into the ultra-alkaline lake that’s 2½ times as salty as the ocean. Naturalists lead free walks in the South Tufa Area three times daily from late June until Labor Day (the Monday after the first weekend in September). Guided paddles are also offered through Caldera Kayak.

Stop 7

Emerald Bay

1901 Airport Rd, South Lake Tahoe

Look down on the astounding Emerald Bay and you can see why Mark Twain dubbed Lake Tahoe 'the fairest picture the whole earth affords'. While the main lake is as blue as a topaz, a colour created by Tahoe’s remarkable clarity and depth, this somewhat shallower bay on the lake’s west shore takes on a startling and beautiful blue-green, made all the more striking by the perfect dot of tiny Fannette Island—the only islet in Lake Tahoe—right in the middle of the bay. Pull off Highway 89 and park near Inspiration Point to get one of the best views of the inlet, 600 feet/180 metres above Lake Tahoe. See if you can spot the ruins of a tiny stone teahouse perched on top of the island. The teahouse, and the 38-room Scandinavian-style stone castle known as Vikingsholm that’s built on the nearby shore, were constructed by Lora Knight, an extraordinary woman who married into extreme wealth and then used her money to educate young people who could otherwise not afford it. Learn about her and tour her richly detailed, hand-built home, a replica of a 9th-century Scandinavian castle, on tours offered throughout the summer—it’s definitely worth the walk down from the car park.

Stop 8

Lassen Volcanic National Park

21800 Lassen Peak Hwy, Mineral

Steaming sulphur vents, splattering mud pots and boiling springs, these lively features at Lassen Volcanic National Park prove that our planet is a living entity. Start at the outstanding Kohm Ya-mah-nee Visitor Center, then head out to explore some of the park’s remarkable and safely accessible features, such as the geothermal site Bumpass Hell (open seasonally, check website for details). An easy, well-marked trail travels past roaring fumaroles and hissing vents (the 3-mile round trip is worth the effort). Along the way, a short spur trail leads to a stunning panorama of peaks, actually the remnants of a massive volcano called Mount Tehama, which exploded some 500,000 years ago. The park’s signature volcano Lassen Peak, last blew its top in May 1914. Today, things have settled down, and trails and viewing points let you safely see and learn about volcanic activity. In the park’s southern reaches, you’ll find two easy-to-reach waterfalls: 50-foot/15-metre-high Kings Creek Falls which can be accessed by a downhill walk through a verdant meadow and then a descent down a rocky staircase alongside Kings Creek. Mill Creek Falls plunges 75 feet/23 metres over a moss-covered cliff (to see it, walk 1.5 miles from Southwest Campground).

Stop 9

Mount Shasta

Mt Shasta

If skies are clear, this perennially snowcapped peak will dominate your view, a behemoth rising from the flat valley floor, topping out at a staggering 14,179 feet/4,322 metres high. While some mountains climb gradually, this one rises from surrounding flatlands in such perfect, cone-shaped majesty that it seems unreal. (Famed naturalist John Muir wrote his 'blood turned to wine' when he first caught sight of the Fuji-esque peak.) Summiting the mountain is for the hardiest of climbers; ask about guide services at The Fifth Season outdoor shop in the town of Mt Shasta, on the mountain’s western side.

You don’t have to bag the peak to enjoy this alpine paradise. Easy paths loop through wild flower filled meadows and into cool forests. A mellow two mile path, along the McCloud River on the mountain’s south side, leads to a trio of beautiful waterfalls—though Middle Falls stands out. You can camp, explore caverns, and fly fish too. In most winters, there’s skiing at local Mt Shasta Ski Park, on the mountain’s western slope.

Stop 10

Avenue of the Giants

Avenue of the Giants, Myers Flat

A drive down the 50-kilometre-long Avenue of the Giants is a guaranteed jaw-dropper. The narrow road snakes along one of California’s most beautiful greenbelts, a prehistoric forest featuring 2,000-plus-year-old trees. Children love to squeeze through the privately-operated Shrine Drive-Thru Tree, and there are plenty of short walks that are perfect for little legs. Call in at the Humboldt Redwoods State Park Visitor Center for a map and a ranger will help you to choose a few groves to explore along the way. Favourites include the Immortal Tree, which has weathered floods and a lightning strike, and Founders Grove Nature Trail, where you can wrap your arms around a 325-foot/99-metre-tall giant.

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Road Trip Snapshot

Find out more about the amazing locations featured in this road trip. Ready to plan your trip? Print the itinerary or map your adventure to get started.

Stop 1Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks
47050 Generals Highway, Three Rivers
Stop 3Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park
Stop 5Tuolumne Meadows
7943 Willow St, Wawona
Stop 6MONO LAKE TUFA STATE NATURAL RESERVE
US-395, Lee Vining
Stop 7Emerald Bay
1901 Airport Rd, South Lake Tahoe
Stop 8Lassen Volcanic National Park
21800 Lassen Peak Hwy, Mineral
Stop 9Mount Shasta
Mt Shasta
Stop 10Avenue of the Giants
Avenue of the Giants, Myers Flat

Car & RV Hire

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