5 California National Park RV Trips to Take This Summer and Fall

Aug 3, 2020 | Travel & Destinations

5 California National Park RV Trips to Take This Summer and Fall

California is home to nine national parks. These are some of the top ones for RVers and families to check out this travel season.

By Karen Akpan

Photo: Karen Akpan

From the stark beauty of Joshua Tree to the towering trees of Redwood, California’s national parks make for perfect RV getaway destinations. With so much beauty to be found at your chosen destinations, and on the roads to them, the Golden State is excellent for family road trips—whether you travel in the summer, fall, winter, or spring.

Yosemite National Park

A mom and three children with a view of Yosemite in the background
Photo: Karen Akpan

While Yosemite National Park may be best known for its waterfalls and granite cliffs, your family can also explore deep valleys, sweeping meadows, giant sequoia trees, vast wilderness, and even more natural beauty throughout its 1,200 square miles. The park offers in-park camping, lodging, and vacation rentals along with wilderness hiking permits and more.

Park Highlights

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Yosemite is currently limiting the number of visitors to the park each day. Advance reservations are required (even for those with annual passes)—but if you can get a ticket, this may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience the popular park without the crowds.

About an hour drive from Yosemite Valley, Glacier Point offers some of the best views of the park. It’s accessible by RV from approximately May through October (depending on weather and road conditions), and by cross-country skiing in the winter.   

With more than 750 miles of wilderness trails, there’s arguably no better way to get up close and personal with the park’s many waterfalls and vistas than by foot. Just make sure to acquire a wilderness permit for any excursions longer than a day hike. 

Getting there by RV

The three best gateways to Yosemite are highways 120, 140, and 41. Highway 120 is the most scenic, passing through Jamestown, Sonora, Groveland, and Buck Meadows.

Where to Stay

There is a variety of RV accommodations in and around Yosemite, including both reserved and first-come, first-served campgrounds. Reservations for the national park campgrounds open in one-month blocks, five months in advance on the 15th of each month, and they sell out quickly. Here are a few of our favorites.

Upper Pines

This national park campground is open year-round and has sites that can accommodate rigs up to 35 feet for $26 dollars per night. Pets are allowed. There are bathhouses with drinking water and flushing toilets in the campground, but you will have to head over to Curry Village to take a shower.

Yosemite RV Resort

If you are looking for full hookups and amenities, this resort is located 25 miles from the south entrance of Yosemite National Park. It offers scenic back-in and pull-through sites along with a swimming pool, playground, and WiFi. 

Other great campground options:

  • North Pines, Yosemite National Park
  • Yosemite Creek, Yosemite National Park
  • Yosemite Pines RV Resort, Groveland, California
  • Yosemite Lakes RV Resort, Groveland, California 

Joshua Tree National Park

An RV parked in Joshua Tree National Park, surrounded by Joshua trees
Photo: Karen Akpan

Joshua Tree is home to two distinct desert ecosystems: the Mojave and the Colorado. A wide variety of animals and plants call this area home, and the dry—but not barren—landscape has been sculpted by thousands of years of winds and occasional torrential rains. Families who visit can take advantage of hiking, camping, rock climbing, and ranger programs.

Park Highlights

An excellent way to see the upper, Mojave portion of the park is to drive the scenic 25-mile-long Park Boulevard, which runs between the west entrance and the Twentynine Palms entrance. The road takes you past highlights such as Skull Rock, and you’ll see plenty of Joshua trees and towering rock formations. Driving through the park at sunset makes for an even more special experience. 

Joshua Tree is a paradise for hikers and rock climbers of all experience levels. Since summer temperatures tend to soar into the 100s, attempting long hikes this time of the year is not advised. However, the park has plenty of quick and easy trails that are one mile or less, including the popular Hidden Valley Nature Trail.

Located right where the Mojave portion of the park meets the Colorado portion, the Cholla Cactus Garden is filled with more than a thousand cholla cactuses which in certain lights appear to be glowing. Just be careful not to touch any of the chollas, as they are famous for latching on and being difficult and painful to remove. 

Getting there by RV

Avoid using GPS to plan your route to Joshua Tree National Park, as many of them route vehicles down sandy roads where RVs in particular may get stuck. The National Park Service recommends approaching from Interstate 10 or California Highway 62. The park website has a detailed map with further guidance. 

Where to Stay

If properly equipped for dry camping, there are a number of beautiful campgrounds within the national park that can accommodate RVs. Reservations for many sites can be made up to six months in advance, but be aware that all campgrounds are subject to closure from June through August. There are also several RV campgrounds located within 30 miles of Joshua Tree National Park. These offer hookups and make for excellent home bases for visiting this beautiful national park.

Belle Campground

This small campground is positioned at an elevation of 3,800 feet and is first-come, first-serve. RVers love that there are sites that can accomodate rigs up to 35 feet. You’ll appreciate having an RV bathroom instead of using the pit toilets. But there’s no water, so bring plenty for your stay. 

Palm Springs/Joshua Tree KOA

Every single site at this KOA has full hookups, so this is where to stay when you are not interested in roughing it. Located just 10 miles from Palm Springs and 45 minutes south of Joshua Tree National Park, this campground also has a pool, hot tub, sauna, and fitness room. 

Other great campground options:

  • Black Rock, Joshua Tree National Park
  • Cottonwood Campground, Joshua Tree National Park
  • Shadow Hills RV Resort, Indio, California
  • Desert Springs Spa RV Park, Desert Hot Springs, California 

Redwood National Park

A sign that reads "Redwood National and State Parks" surrounded by greenery
Photo: Karin Hildebrand Lau / Shutterstock

While Redwood National Park is famous for its trees—some of the tallest on Earth—the park also boasts vast prairies, oak woodlands, wild rivers, and almost 40 miles of rugged coastline. Operated jointly by the National Park Service and California State Parks, this park offers a variety of family fun in the great outdoors.

Park Highlights

A hike through Fern Canyon will allow you to marvel at the 30-foot walls covered in ferns and cascading waterfalls—but prepare to get wet navigating through the canyon. 

Take a ranger-led tour of Lady Bird Johnson Grove and learn about the history of logging and redwood conservation. 

Drive the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway through thousands of acres of old-growth redwood groves. On the first Saturday of the month, from November to May, the road is closed to motorized vehicles and cyclists, so pedestrians have the 10-mile stretch of road to themselves. 

Getting there by RV

On the west side, take Highway 101 past scenic spots such as Trinidad, Patrick Point, and Big Lagoon to the south and Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park to the north as you head to the park entrance. On the east side, State Route 96 takes you along the border between the national park and Six Rivers National Forest, offering gorgeous views as you make your way to Redwood. Both roads can be navigated by RV, but make sure you check current conditions posted by the National Park Service as temporary closures are frequent. 

Where to Stay

You’ll find many private and public campgrounds in and around Redwood National and State Parks. Here are a couple of our favorite options.

Jedediah Smith Campground

This rustic retreat offers sites for tents and RVs, but no hookups. There are restrooms with hot showers and a dump station for guests. Located along the Smith River, campers can swim, fish, and hike to Stout Grove, one of the most famous old-growth groves in the Redwoods. 

Crescent City/Redwoods KOA Holiday

Just minutes from downtown Crescent City, this KOA has an old-growth redwood forest on the campground property. It also has full hookups and pull-through sites, plus a camp store, game room, and pancake breakfasts. 

Other great campground options:

  • Elk Prairie Campground, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park
  • Mill Creek Campground, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park
  • Elk Country RV Resort & Campground, Trinidad
  • Emerald Forest Cabins & RV, Trinidad

Sequoia National Park

Three children in front of a large Sequoia tree
Photo: Karen Akpan

A child standing on a wall with a view of Sequoia National Park in the background
Photo: Karen Akpan

Another park known for its towering trees, Sequoia National Park also offers prairies, canyons, amazing views, hiking, and more. Visitors can make a day of it, returning to an outside RV park, or stay at campgrounds inside of the park. 

Park Highlights

While vehicles longer than 22 feet are not advised on parts of the General Highway, you can still access the General Sherman Tree from the north. The tree is the largest in the world by volume, and should be on your list of must-see spots while visiting Sequoia National Park. 

Climbing the 400 steps to the top of Moro Rock is something everyone who is able should do at least once in their lives. Accessing the staircase in an RV can be difficult (and is prohibited during parts of the year), but it can also be reached through a 1.6-mile hike from the Giant Forest Museum. The spectacular views from the top are worth it.  

Don’t miss Kings Canyon National Park, which is right next to Sequoia and deserves to be experienced in its own right. 

Getting there by RV

There are vehicle limits on many park roads, so check the park website before deciding on your route. It is recommended that larger rigs use the northern park entrance in Kings Canyon via State Route 180. 

Where to Stay

There are several campgrounds within the park itself that accommodate RVs, and even more campgrounds outside the park. Although most of the park campgrounds are normally first-come, first-serve, all camping is currently by reservation only due to COVID-19. Sites can be reserved up to three months in advance.

Lodgepole Campground

This popular campground in the national park has sites that can accomodate rigs up to 42 feet in length. There is a dump station, water station, and flushing toilets available. The free Sequoia Shuttle to Giant Forest stops right in the campground (though shuttles are currently not operating due to COVID-19). Nearby Lodgepole Village offers showers, laundry, a deli, a market, and a gift shop.

Sequoia RV Ranch

Only eight miles from the entrance to Sequoia National Park, this campground has spacious, big rig-friendly sites with full hookups along Kaweah Lake. There’s a swimming hole and fishing on site. 

Other great campgrounds:

  • Potwisha Campground, Sequoia National Park
  • Azalea Campground, Sequoia National Park
  • Lemon Cove Village RV Park, Lemon Cove, California 

Death Valley National Park

A mother and three children in Death Valley National Park, surrounded by sand dunes
Photo: Karen Akpan

The name might sound intimidating, but Death Valley is a wonderful place to go RVing with the family. This massive, below sea level basin is a study in extremes. Constant drought and record summer heat create almost barren areas that are contrasted by fields of wildflowers after rare rains. Towering peaks are covered in snow, while oases teem with life seeking a respite from the heat and dryness. Visitors can enjoy short walks, and many driving tours. The extreme heat of the area makes driving tours the norm and is the recommended way to see the park.

Park highlights

One of most exciting aspects of Death Valley is how the landscape keeps shifting—from sand dunes to salt flats to geological oddities. Hop onto Artists Drive to see an example of the latter. The 9-mile drive winds through multicolored hills that look like they’ve been painted with a giant brush. Star Wars fans might recognize the area from A New Hope

The Devils Golf Course may sound like a respite from the harsher features of the park, but don’t expect to find anything resembling an actual golf course here—this massive field of eroded rock salt is a far cry from manicured lawns, but well worth a viewing from the parking lot. Listen carefully and you may hear the popping sounds of salt crystals expanding and contracting. 

If you feel like venturing slightly off the beaten path, Ubehebe Crater is yet another of the park’s geological wonders. The 600-foot-deep volcanic crater can be viewed from the top, but you can also hike to its bottom or around its rim for a more up-close experience. 

Getting there by RV

It’s important to plan your route to Death Valley National Park in advance as GPS is largely unreliable in remote locations and is likely to guide RVers to dead ends or closed roads. Cell service is not available in most parts of this park—another reason to dust off the old road atlas. The National Park Service offers detailed directions on its website. Many roads in Death Valley date back to the 1930s and are surprisingly narrow. Navigate slowly and carefully. 

October through April are the popular camping months in Death Valley National Park, and you will find one reservable campground as well as a handful that are first-come, first-serve. You probably won’t want to camp in Death Valley National Park during the summer months due to the heat, but there are a few campgrounds that remain open and all are first-come, first-serve. Remember that temperatures can remain above 100 degrees Fahrenheit even after midnight, so being well prepared for the elements is a necessity.  

Where to Stay

Furnace Creek

This is the only campground in Death Valley that offers full hookups. Furnace Creek offers 18 reservable sites with 50-amp electric service, sewer, and water. These sites can be reserved up to six months in advance and tend to get snapped up quickly. Everyone wants to run their RV AC in Death Valley.

Stovepipe Wells RV Park

Stovepipe Wells Village has 14 full hookup sites located next to the general store, available to reserve in advance. An additional 190 sites without hookups are first-come, first-serve. All campers have access to the hotel pool and WiFi. They can also enjoy a meal at the restaurant or a drink at the saloon. 

Other great campgrounds:

  • Sunset Campground
  • Mahogany Flats Campground
  • The Ranch at Death Valley
  • Panamint Springs Resort

Whether you want to explore the lush wilderness of Redwood or tour the scorched beauty of Death Valley, these five California national parks are perfect summer vacation destinations for RVers. With access to campsites in most of the parks and a variety of options outside of them, you’ll be sure to find the perfect place to park your home on wheels and explore the natural beauty of California.

CaliforniaCampgroundsCampingFamilyNational ParksRoad Trips

Karen Akpan

Karen is a mom, wife, entrepreneur and travel enthusiast, who has traveled to over 30 countries with her family. She is also the founder of Black Kids Do Travel, an organization and community of over 22,000 families created to inspire and encourage families of color to travel, bring about diversity, as well as bridge the gap.

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