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Four National Parks, One Road Trip: The Itinerary

We wanted to do a real family vacation — like with all five of us — while our oldest was home on Christmas break. But where to go? None of us have valid passports at the moment. The oldest didn’t want to go to Hawaii and none of the kids wanted a ski vacation. Then, last summer, the oldest started tabulating how many national parks she’d been to, and realized that she’d only been to four of California’s nine parks.

She didn’t have to ask twice. I was on it, planning a thousand-mile road trip that would take us to four of the parks she was missing: Pinnacles, Kings Canyon, Sequoia and Death Valley.

Once I established that it was quite possible to fit in a meaninful visit to all these parks on a weeklong trip, I had to ask myself if it made sense to visit them all in winter. Pinnacles, located 45 miles southeast of Carmel, would definitely be fine. And it turned out January would be the PERFECT time to visit Death Valley, which is way too hot in summer and too crowded Feburary through April due to wildflower season.

But what about Sequoia and Kings Canyon? They’re in the Sierra and I figured they would be covered with snow. But I looked it up, saw they have fun things scheduled in winter like snowshoe tours, and decided to go for it. After all, we’ve been to Yosemite in winter a couple of times and liked it.

Here’s the itinerary I put together:

Day 1: Leave home as early as possible, drive 2 hours to Soledad, Cal., just outside Pinnacles. Check into Motel8 (right next to Motel 6!), crate our dogs in the room, and drive to the Western Pinnacles entrance for a couple hours of hiking before dark.

Day 2: Check out, drive to the Eastern Pinnacles entrance, and since dogs are not allowed on national park trails, either split up or find a fire road to walk. Drive 3.5 hours to Airbnb in Dunlap, just 20 minutes from Kings Canyon. Stop for groceries on the way.

Day 3: Explore Kings Canyon

Day 4: Drive 1.5 hours to explore Sequoia

Day 5: Leave as early as possible and drive 6.5 hours to rental house at Delight’s Hot Springs in Tecopa, California. Stop for groceries on the way.

Day 6: Explore Death Valley

Day 7: More Death Valley

Day 8: Drive 9 hours home.

One thousand, one hundred and seventy nine miles, plus a few hundred extra for back-and-forth between the parks and our lodgings. What do you think of our itinerary? Too ambitious? Insane? Leisurely?

Tomorrow, I’ll share how things started out.