I am becoming rather notorious for planning trips that exhaust people. I want to see everything possible, and often times I don’t have much time to spend. So I plan whirlwind trips that are a blast for people who don’t like rest (or people who have minimal vacation time and still want to see the world).
This trip to California was no exception. It took us on an exciting road trip where we got to experience diverse landscapes and some of the most famous national parks. So here is how we saw 6 Californian National Parks in 6 days (so you can do it too).
Day 1: Travel and Joshua Tree National Park
On this first day the five of us headed to the Detroit Airport (I am based out of Toledo, Ohio, so typically Detroit is where all my trips start) and flew out to LA at 9:00 am. The time difference really worked in our favor here, and we landed at 10:57 am Californian time. We rented a glorious mini van from Fox Rent a Car (didn’t have any issues with this company and they shuttled us from the airport to get the van). Once we got our van we headed straight to Joshua Tree National Park, which is 2.5 hours away from the airport.
We entered through the West entrance and got out of the car at every chance we could get. We visited the hidden valley, the jumbo rocks, skull rock and spent sunset at the cholla cactus garden.
Once it was nice and dark, we drove towards Mojave, which was 2.5 hours away and where our first motel was located.
*This entire trip we stayed only at Motel 6’s because we all wanted the trip to be as cheap as possible. Seeing as we only used the rooms to sleep, I have no complaints. But if you want to do this same trip and you don’t want to stay at super cheap places, just book a more fancy place in the cities that we stayed at. The cities we stayed at were picked to even out the driving time at night and in the morning to allow for the most amount of time in the parks.
Day 2: Death Valley National Park
We left our motel at 6 am and drove 2 hours to get to the west entrance of Death Valley National Park. Now this park is HUGE, so obviously we couldn’t see all of it in one day, but we did get to see all the highlights I wanted to see.
We hiked to Darwin Falls, visited the sand dunes, drove through the Artist’s Palette, spent time at Badwater Basin (eat the salt), and then enjoyed sunset at Zabriskie Point.
This was a long driving night, we had 3 hours until Bakersfield which is where our next motel was at.
Day 3: Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park
We left Bakersfield around 6 am and headed to Sequoia National Park. We entered through the Ash Mountain entrance and got to see all of the highlights that I wanted to see. We visited the giant forest, General Sherman, General Grant, drove under a tree bridge and hiked up Moro Rock.
After visiting 6 national parks so quickly, its hard to figure out which is my favorite. All of the parks were amazing and so different from each other. But if I HAD to pick, Sequoia might be my favorite. Possibly. I have always dreamt of seeing these massive trees in person and it was just so great to finally look up at them in real life rather than just a picture.
Kings Canyon National Park is located directly next to Sequoia National Park, and at this point we couldn’t spend too much time in Kings Canyon, but we did visit two waterfalls (Roaring River Falls and Grizzly Falls) and drove a little bit on the scenic byway. Once the sun set we headed to the city of Merced, 2 hours away.
Day 4: Yosemite National Park
Ah yes. One of the most well-known parks. Going in the fall time has it positives and negatives… the biggest positive is that it wasn’t crawling with people, but the biggest negative was that the water level was so low that some of the waterfalls were just a tiny spittle crawling down a cliff. Either way, this park is obviously a must see.
We entered through the El Portal Road entrance and drove to the valley. The main hike I planned for us to do was the hike to Vernal Falls. If you have more time and enjoy hiking, there is another waterfall past Vernal Falls called Nevada Falls. I wanted to hike to this other waterfall, but that would be the majority of our time in the park and since we only had one day I opted for a shorter hike.
After our hike we drove around checking out the sights. Make sure to go to Glacier Point overlook. This is, by far, one of the most breathtaking viewpoints in the park.
Another hike I wish I had more time for would be hiking up Half Dome. This is about a 15 mile hike that includes cables that you use to climb up the back of that gorgeous rounded rock (gives me flashbacks to Kjeragbolten in Norway). It is long, difficult, dangerous and technical. So its my favorite kind of hike 😉
Maybe one day I’ll return to Yosemite just for that hike.
After sunset, we drove 3 hours to Bakersfield and spent the night in the same Motel 6 that we stayed at on day 2.
Day 5: Channel Islands National Park
This is a park that I admit, I had never heard of until I started researching this California trip. I am so glad I found out about it because it was the perfect way to end our trip!
We woke up in Bakersfield and drove 2 hours to Ventura. We had a 10 am ferry booked to go to the islands. Channel Islands National Park includes 5 islands off the coast of California. Santa Cruz island has the most options because it is the most visited island, and is the island that we picked. We took a ferry using the company Island Packers straight to Santa Cruz Island. This company is pretty great because they have multiple options for different boat tours, check out their website to see everything they offer. During the ferry ride they will also stop if any wildlife is seen along the way (we saw a pod of common dolphins on the way home), which is an extra thrill.
A big reason why I wanted to go to these islands was to find the Island Fox. These petite foxes almost went extinct completely, but with recovery efforts from local zoos and removal of golden eagles (they ate the foxes) and introductions of bald eagles (they eat fish, not foxes), these foxes have made a huge comeback and can now be seen stealing food from campers. Each of the 6 islands that have the Island fox has their own specific subspecies, so they are a lot like Darwin’s finches. Within the first couple minutes of being on Santa Cruz, we saw our first fox. And continued to see foxes through out our hike.
Besides hiking and camping, there is not much else to do on the Channel Islands (which makes this place awesome). Each island is a little wilderness that only rangers and campers live on. We hiked to Potato Harbor, about a 5 mile round trip hike. We could hear sea lions down in Potato Harbor and saw an occasional one swimming carefree down in the water.
Channel Islands is relatively close to LA and is worth a day trip if you’re into hiking, and want to get away from the busyness of LA.
We stayed the night right there in Ventura. We watched the sun set at the beach and then headed back to our Motel.
Day 6: Traveling home
We drove from Ventura to the airport in 1.5 hours and headed out of California around 11:00 am. Whenever I look back on this trip, I am always in awe of how much we accomplished. But it just proves that a lack of vacation time shouldn’t stop you from seeing as much as humanely possible.
So seeing 6 national parks in 6 days is very possible! However, if you like sleep or relaxing, this trip would not be for you.
Hope this inspires some of you to get out there and get exploring 🙂
Till next time!