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Seeking advice for 1st trip to California Natural Parks

Good afternoon and blessings

We are planning to do a road - camping trip through the parks near California (Dead Valley, Secuoyas, Kings Canyon, Yosemite) for about 10 - 12 days.

It´s our first time we will do something like this, our plan is to rent an small RV, buy everything we need in REI and start this adventure.


I would very much appreciate your advises and possible a 10 - 12 days plan trough this parks to take the most of our adventure, places to visit, places were to camp, where to start and where to finish, what not to miss and what as beginners not to do, trekking paths to do, etc

Also  if you know if these places will be open because Covid



5 Replies

For the latest info with respect to covid, definitely check the park's website.  It will be up to date on closures and other situations.  Each will give you good counsel on what to see and do.

When are you going?  I ask this because a good time to see Death Valley is right now (it will be getting warm there fairly soon, while it is still winter in the Sierra parks.  Of course Sequoia and Yosemite are not nearly as crowded now as they will be in peak season.

You are only planning to visit four of Cal's nine National parks?  Realizing that you have 12 days, seeing nine parks would be a real chore. My fave among the nine is CHANNEL ISLANDS NATIONAL PARK, which is a little tricky to reach (full disclosure, I worked at Channel islands for fifteen years; it was the pinnacle of my NPS career.  It might be that I am a wee bit prejudiced...)

Frankly, I think you are trying too much in a really short time.  Any of these parks  can profitably absorb all of your allotted  time, especially if it has features which appeal to you.  So check out the web pages, and consider tailoring your visits a bit.  See what appeals to you the most.

Depending on what activities, waiting until the last minute to buy everything at REI might not be the best idea.  Get your gear before the trip and have a bit of experience with it before you reach the park.

Be aware that while Cal has reeally fine parks, other states have fine areas too.  Also, there are many state parks and National Monuments which are just as varied and full of wonderful resources as any NP.

I am sure you will have an enjoyable and memorable experience, whatever path you choose.  Rest assured that in any park there will be things you will not see and that will call out to you to return.....

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Thanks a lot for your time answering me. 🙌

Definitely would be the first of many others trips, impossible to see everything in one trip.

Our dates will be Summer, yes is peak season but is when kids can do it with no school interference.

We could extent it to 12 - 15 days also with no problem.

We live in Cancun Mexico, here we cant find anything for camping, so we are buying things and sending them to a friends house in Santa Monica, that way when we arrive we will have everything almost ready.

Would be greatly appreciated a schedule draft, we want contact with nature, and even that there would be many many things to do, see and walk, for us everything is new and would be marvelous.

What would you do in 12 - 15 days ? if some park because whether is not a good idea its ok, would be next time, no rush and yes flow.

I usually tell people when come to this area some advises for first visitors, the idea is experience the most and return another time for more.


Thanks and blessings. 



As an example of what I  recommend to my friends on the riviera Maya 12 days would be :


Day 1 : Arrive to Cancun, stay 2 nights in Cancun the "Punta" area, turquoise water and beautiful landscape, hotel depends $

Day 2 : Cancun live and relax on the beach, no need to take a tour would be another opportunities and closer, at night go out to La Punta area, many options to dinner and party, with to visit Babel at down to have dinner.

Day 3 : Cancun morning - Move to Isla mujeres, using the downtown Ferry, every 15 minutes, , stay at a hotel close to Playa Norte, no need to beach hotel, there are many beach clubs really close, stay 2 nights.

Day 4 : Isla Mujeres, Tour to snorkeling and see whale shark, you will return at 2 pm, stay rest of the day at the beach playa norte, at night go to dinner and drinks at downtown principal street, pick a place you like.

Day 5 : Rent a golf car early and go around the isle, at the other side will be the Aztec only Woman Goodes, that is the first piece of land that touch the sun at morning, worth to see. finishing do check out at 11 - 12 and return to main land, go to Playa del Carmen, rent a car is cheaper that the shuttles. you will arrive at playa del carmen at 4 ( its 1 hour drive ) super safety, pick up a hotel close to 5th avenue, no need to do it with beach, Manu beach clubs, at night enjoy night life in playa del carmen, dinner, party, if you done know where to go, go to Cocobongo.

Day 6 : playa del carmen posible activities, Sky Diving, Theme park Xcaret, Visit Chichent Itza, relax on the beach, when arrive from tour relax on the beach, playa Mamitas best option, dinner out at night possible night life.

Day 7 : move early to Tulum, no need to beach hotel best option AirbNb Area Aldea Zama, check in, and relax at the beach in a beach club ( Los amigos, papaya Playa, Nomade, Ahau ) enjoy the golden hour at down, best days in Tulum Thursday to Saturday, Dinner at the hotel area, make reservation before, best restaurants ( Meze, Arca, hardwood, kitchen table, Rosa negra), depend the day will be the party options.

Day 8 : Go to a cenote, no need to visit many of them if its first time, I would do 2 ojos ( 15 minutes away ) at morning and then Nativus hidden on the hotel zone, then relax on the beach at any of the beach clubs, night same as day before

Day 9 : Early visit Maya Tulum Ruins, then relax at the beach, afternoon visit art gallery of Azulik, then dinner out.

Day 10 : Go to Valladolid ( 1 hour drive ) Visit the grand cenote, no need to stay in Valladolid more than 4 hours downtown, and then to Bacalar to stay there, hotel next to the lagoon definetelly.

Day11 : Bacalar tour on the lagoon of 5 hours, if possible do it private would be no more of 100 usd per boat with 6 people capacity, shoe them my message dont pay more. enjoy the lagoon

Day 12 : Return to cancun, sleep close to airport

Day 13 : Fly back

No need to visit Cozumel unless you want to do scuba diving, you would need 2 nights,

No need to do Holbox, its beautiful but is far away and its Tulum 10 years ago, if you want something really calm and relax its ok, no more than 2-3 nights.

There are ore than 200 cenotes on the area, and many tours visiting many of them, true is if you visit one you are done for the first time.




Start at the website  You'll find answers to the majority of your questions there, and information on other California parks along the way.  Then think about the time of the year.  Summer can be a difficult time (Death Valley heat, Yosemite / Sequoia - KC crowds).  The four you mention are within a days drive of each other, with the Sierra Nevada Mountains creating a north-south barrier.  For 10-12 days you may be able to rent gear from some REI locations rather than buy, but if you're mostly doing day hikes the gear cost should be limited to good shoes / boots, socks, comfortable clothes, etc.  Where are you renting the vehicle from?  The logistics will be driven by where you're renting & dropping off the vehicle rental, and whether you need to return it to the place you picked it up from or, if they have multiple rental locations, do a one way rental.



Base all plans on availability of campsites. if you haven't made reservations yet for the national parks it can be quite difficult to find any place to camp nearby in the middle of summer. Be ready to be flexible.


yes, like @SolaceEasy says, go to and start making you're campground reservations now!

If you make it into lone pine, ca, visit the alabama hills, and the movie museum, and maybe a quick trip up to whitney portal. Also in that area the manzanar  WWII Japanese interment camp memorial/exhibit.

if you make it up towards Reno, try to fit in a visit to the Donnor pass state park/exhibit.

you can camp up at onion valley and day hike up to kearsage pass and get a breath taking view of the sierras from that perpective.

also, from mammoth, you drive/take shuttle up to devil post pile.


REI Member Since 1979