All American Road Trip: Explore the Best of 3 California National Parks Along the Majestic Mountain Loop

Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks make an enchanting destination for an immersive escape in nature within easy reach from San Francisco or Los Angeles. Home to undulating mountains, rugged foothills and those legendary giant trees, these Pacific Coast National Parks showcase nature at its most awe-inspiring—on a seriously grand scale.

When planning a road trip to this enchanting corner of California, be inspired by our four-day itinerary covering the Majestic Mountain Loop which takes you to Yosemite National Park and Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks as well as other incredible natural and urban wonders.

If you’re heading out on a four-wheeled adventure, you can reach Sequoia in about four hours from Los Angeles and five hours from San Francisco. If you choose to fly before picking up a rental car, Fresno Yosemite International Airport (FAT) is the closest and a two-hour drive.

Accommodations at the Wuksachi Lodge in Sequoia National Park, California. Photo Courtesy of S. Rae

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks offer accommodation for all. Whether you’re seeking a refined lodge experience or wooded escape, the handsome stone-and-cedar Wuksachi Lodge sits in the shadow of mighty sequoias, while the Grant Grove Cabins are rustic and serenely private.

DAY 1 – SEQUOIA & KINGS CANYON NATIONAL PARKS

Spend your first day soaking up the majestic sights of your immediate surroundings and checking off those iconic landmarks around California’s southern Sierra Nevada Mountains. Before you arrive, have your maps downloaded and routes planned out as there is little to no cell service inside the parks.

The famous Tunnel Log in the Sequoia National Park, California. Photo Courtesy of Amy the Nurse

Sequoia National Park

Crane your neck and gaze in wonder at the Giant Forest’s hundreds of mighty redwoods and sequoias. Standing tall at 250 feet, these epic trees are the earth’s largest and longest-living trees. Clocking in at almost 275 feet, the legendary General Sherman Tree is the largest living tree in the world and is a spectacular sight. Learn more about Sequoia National Park’s trees at the Giant Forest Museum and don’t forget to drive through the famous log tunnel!

Tour Crystal Cave in Sequoia National Park. Photo Courtesy qJake

Sequoia’s highlights aren’t just outdoors, however. Head deep underground for a tour of the Crystal Cave to find a subterranean chamber dripping with stalactites and stalagmites.

After a morning of fun, there’s an abundance of tasty eateries nearby to have lunch at. Refuel at Lodgepole Café before spending the afternoon getting to know Kings Canyon better which is directly adjacent to Sequoia National Park.

The General Grant Tree also known as “The Nation’s Christmas Tree” is the largest giant sequoia in the General Grant Grove section of Kings Canyon National Park in California. Photo Courtesy of daveynin

Kings Canyon National Park

Comprising three main areas, Grant GroveCedar Grove and the Alpine-esque Zumwalt Meadow, Kings Canyon National Park is a landscape of contrasts. Zumwalt Meadow’s 1.5-mile flat hiking trail is endlessly scenic with towering mountain views, while “The Nation’s Christmas Tree” (the second largest tree in the world) stands proud in Grant Grove.

Want to see the best of both parks without the planning? Sign up for a guided or private sightseeing tour of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. Local experts will take you to lesser-known areas of the parks so you can take in the tranquil beauty while learning something new—all without the crowds.

Before retiring for the evening, savor a dinner of pan-seared ruby-red trout or grass-fed beef at the elegant Peaks Restaurant in the heart of Sequoia National Park.

Fulton Mall in downtown Fresno, California. Photo Courtesy of 1Flatworld

DAY 2 – FRESNO

Just a two hours’ drive away, the vibrant city of Fresno makes a fun day-trip destination, whether you’re a culture vulture couple or vacationing with your family.

Forestiere Underground Gardens in Fresno, California. Photo Courtesy of Wayne Hsieh

Forestiere Underground Gardens

An absolute bucket list hot spot is the mesmerizing Forestiere Underground Gardens, just off State Route 99. Built by one man, Sicilian immigrant Baldassare Forestiere, over the course of 40 years from 1901, this vast network of rooms and tunnels is shrouded with beautiful greenery, lemon trees and vines. It even features a library, grotto and fish pond.

The Kearney Mansion in Fresno, California. Photo Courtesy of Michael

Kearney Mansion

Continue your immersion into Fresno’s compelling past at the historic Kearney Mansion. Built in a French renaissance style, this exquisite estate was owned by agricultural pioneer M. Theo Kearney. Hour-long tours are available where you can learn more about the San Joaquin Valley’s agricultural beginnings.

Fresno Chaffee Zoo in Fresno, California. Photo Courtesy of Michael

Family-Friendly Fun

After a morning soaking up historical culture, why not spend the afternoon having some outdoor fun in Fresno? Kids will love making friends with the monkeys and seeing elephants, lions and tigers at Fresno Chaffee Zoo. Home to over 190 species, this is an exhilarating place to explore wildlife in a well-cared-for environment.

Thrills and spills galore can be had at Island Water Park. Swim in the Tidal Wave pool, zoom down the Bora Bora Racers and blast down the Tsunami slide at top speeds.

The popular Dog House Grill in Fresno, California. Photo Courtesy of David Prasad

Where to Eat in Fresno

When in Fresno, there’s no finer place to dine for a slice of local Americana cuisine than at the Dog House Grill. Serving burgers, BBQ and fully-loaded sandwiches, this lively joint has something for everyone.

Spend the rest of your day exploring Fresno on foot before returning to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks for dinner at Grant Grove Restaurant in its scenic courtyard.

Arch Rock Entrance to Yosemite National Park on Hwy. 140. Photo Courtesy of Giuseppe Milo

DAY 3 – YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK

You’ve explored Sequoia and Kings Canyon, now it’s time to take in the beauty of Yosemite National Park to wrap up your Majestic Mountain Loop. From your base in Sequoia and Kings Canyon, it’s about a 4.5-hour drive, so rise early to get the most out of your day there.

The Half Dome in Yosemite National Park, California. Photo Courtesy of Victor R. Ruiz

Half Dome

Replete with vertical granite cliff sides, pounding waterfalls and plentiful sequoia, Yosemite takes your breath away. Hike, stroll or climb your way across this striking National Park, with your camera in hand. It’s impossible to miss Half Dome; its distinctive rock formation’s peak elevates 5,000 feet above Yosemite Valley. It’s a strenuous hike to the top and can be accessed by permit only, so we only recommend attempting this if you’re prepared with the right equipment and permit.

Mirror Lake Trail in Yosemite National Park. Photo Courtesy of Allie_Caulfield

Mirror Lake Trail

For a gentler hike, consider the Mirror Lake Trail. With alluring views of Tenaya Canyon, Mount Watkins, Washington Column and Half Dome, the two-mile route follows through meadows and over bridges.

Hiking the Mist Trail in Yosemite National Park. Photo Courtesy of OakleyOriginals

Mist Trail

Spend your afternoon in Yosemite National Park witnessing the wonder of its many waterfalls by following the Mist Trail. This three-mile route follows the Merced River, going to the top of the cascading Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls. Don’t forget your waterproof jacket to protect yourself from all the spray! If you’re lucky you may even spot a rainbow or two.

The Ahwahnee Dining Room in Yosemite National Park. Photo Courtesy of irene.

Where to Eat Near Yosemite National Park

Take lunch in the grand confines of The Ahwahnee Dining Room, just an eight-minute drive away. Lofty 30-foot ceilings and incredible views accompany the menu of comforting classics like chicken pot pie and seafood pasta.

Take a leisurely drive back to your accommodations for a casual dinner at the Cedar Grove Grill. Enjoy a delicious selection of sandwiches and sides while dining outdoors in the restaurant’s courtyard.

DAY 4 – SIERRA NATIONAL FOREST

Bookended by Yosemite National Park at the north and by Kings Canyon National Park at the south, Sierra National Forest is ripe for exploration. Here, jagged mountains gently slope down to placid emerald green lakes while trails weave through woods across this 2,000-square-mile expanse of nature.

Pack a picnic for lunch before you take the two-hour drive from Sequoia and Kings Canyon as there’s little in the way of cafes and restaurants but plenty of places to pitch up and unfurl a picnic blanket.

Bass Lake in the Sierra National Forest, California. Photo Courtesy of Amy Meredith

Freshwater Fishing

Sierra National Forest has an abundance of lakes, creeks, rivers and streams making this area a wonderful spot for fishing. You can obtain an annual California fishing license for $32.80 from local stores. All lakes and reservoirs in the Forest are open year-round for fishing, while freshwater stream fishing on the Sierra National Forest is open from the last weekend in April through November 15.

Key fishing hotspots in Sierra National Forest include Bass LakeHuntington LakeShaver LakeKings River, and Mammoth Pool. Home to 16 species of fish, these fishing locations could see you catching a rainbow trout, bass or kokanee salmon if they’re biting that day.

Hiking

Why not explore Sierra National Forest’s oak-carpeted foothills on a hike? The area has six main trailheads of various lengths. Starting at Huntington Lake, the two-mile Rancheria Falls hike takes a gentle meander past the 150-foot-high falls with plenty of boulders along the way to pause for a snack upon. For a more challenging pursuit, the Nellie Lake hike is a 10-mile round trip that starts in the Kaiser Wilderness, half a mile behind the Upper Billy Creek Campground.

Picnicking

For your picnic lunch, head to one of Sierra National Forest’s many picturesque picnic areas. The main ones are located around the Bass Lake, Mammoth Pool and Merced River recreation areas. Here you will find tables and benches, grills and toilet facilities.

Consider making the most of your waterside lunch location and spending the afternoon indulging in some water sports. From kayaking and water skiing to paddleboarding and whitewater rafting, the opportunities to get wet and wild are endless.

Boating & Paddling

Bass Lake and Mammoth Pool are Sierra National Forest’s main boating and swimming lakes, while the Kings and Merced Rivers are where the whitewater rafting action is at, with the rafting season running from April to July. For all types of boat rentals, including kayaks, pontoons, wake boats and jet skis, visit Bass Lake Boat Rentals.

Round up your afternoon on the water at Sierra National Forest—and your time on the road—by heading back to your Sequoia and Kings Canyon accommodation. Enjoy a freshly-prepared pizza dinner at Wuksachi Pizza Deck washed down with an ice-cold beer.


The Great American Road Trip. Photo from our Original Series Venturing Out: Park 2 Park

Read Next: Discover more than 50 Summer Road Trips throughout the United States.

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