California National Parks 5 week Road Trip

Old Jan 24th, 2020, 02:31 AM
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California National Parks 5 week Road Trip

We have been doing 4-5 week road trips from our home in Chicago with our kids (9 and 15) for the past few years. This summer (mid July to mid August) we are considering driving out to California and we have 35 days. We would try to do the drive out and back with minimum stops (might make a quick stop in Rocky Mountain National Park one way - we've been before but it is a favorite). I am thinking giving us 3-4 days to drive out and 3-4 days to drive back. I think we will have about 25-27 days for California & Crater Lake. I am at the starting point trying to figure out how many days / nights we need in each place. Our focus is the National Parks of California (except Death Valley) and adding in Crater Lake NP. Our kids are pretty good hikers and our son has made it a goal to get to all NP's and as many NP sites as possible. We also want to have some time on the coast (we've been before) for swimming and tide pooling, and maybe some time in San Francisco and LA. The only National Park our kids have been to is Yosemite, but it has been six years. We will stay at hotels and in the park if it is necessary (Yosemite).
Here is a general list of the places we will be stopping - how many nights in each place?:
1. Crater Lake NP
2. Redwood NP (do we try to see some of the southern Oregon Coast?)
3. Lassen Volcano NP
4. San Francisco (do we stop in Mendecino and the coast on the way?)
5. Yosemite NP (do we try to stop in Lake Tahoe before?)
6. Kings Canyon & Sequoia NPs
7. Pinnacles NP
8. Head to Point Lobos State Park and drive down Highway 1 through Big Sur, Visit Elephant Seals
9. Stay in Morro Bay or Pismo Beach
10. Drive to Ventura to visit the Channel Islands NP for the day
11. Visit Los Angeles (we have family and will probably go to Universal for the day)
12. Joshua Tree NP
The only other question is whether we should also stop at Great Basin on the way to Crater Lake (and as I was looking at that - I saw that maybe it would make sense to go Great Basin, Lake Tahoe, Lassen, Crater Lake and then stay be the coast going to San Francisco if we add in Great Basin) (We did Utah and Colorado NP's last summer so we will be skipping those)
Any other suggestions? I always appreciate the suggestions on this site!
Jennifer
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Old Jan 24th, 2020, 07:21 AM
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Let me ask a question: Have you been to, or do you plan to visit, the northern Rocky Mountain and Pacific Northwest national parks as part of this multi-year plan? Because, just my view, including Crater Lake in this itinerary is really a big detour. You could, in some future trip, include Crater Lake, Mount Rainier, North Cascades National Park, Olympic National Park, and Redwoods National Park in a big loop, and you could even include Yellowstone and the other northern Rockies parks (Glacier, Grand Teton, Badlands etc.) in the same trip.

The reason for this suggestion is that while Crater Lake is lovely, it's very isolated and there isn't much around it in terms of accommodations and other activities. While it may look like it's easily reached from the Oregon coast or the northern California coast redwoods, it... isn't.

If you skipped Crater Lake you could allocate those days more profitably with a California-focused plan. I'd also be looking for ways to reduce zigzagging across the state. For example, there are stands of giant sequoias within Yosemite National Park, and (even better) in Calaveras Big Trees State Park, that could justify eliminating Sequoia and Kings Canyon NPs. (It's worth noting that in some cases state parks throughout the west are the equals, or even superior, to national parks in terms of the experience. This is especially the case with the redwoods; the State of California had "cherry picked" the best redwood groves for inclusion in state parks, long before Redwoods NP was created.) For example, there are terrific redwood groves in state parks just north of the Monterey Bay which are easily accessed and visually stunning, possibly saving days on the road.

The southern Oregon coast is indeed stunning, but you're going to be seeing the Big Sur coast, which is visually the equal (if not superior) in terms of scenery, if not as extensive.

Southern Oregon coast, near Gold Beach



Big Sur coast south of Point Lobos



So what I'd be thinking about is a trip that hits Yosemite and the adjacent Gold Rush country in California, including the sequoias in Yosemite or along CA Hwy 4, then out to the coast. Head south from San Francisco to the Henry Cowell redwoods, then around Monterey Bay to Carmel, Point Lobos, and down to Big Sur and south along CA Hwy 1. After southern California, head to Joshua Tree and then back to Chicago.

Of course this is one person's idea; others will chime in. My main feeling is that there's so much to see and do in California that even with four weeks on the ground you're going to still have to budget your time. I'd also hit the Sierras first, as it seems the forest fire season is getting earlier and earlier every year, and by August you can start to see the flow over the famous Yosemite waterfalls start to lessen. And on the matter of Yosemite, if you don't have accommodation booked right now, you're behind the curve.

Happy planning!
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Old Jan 24th, 2020, 08:06 AM
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I really don't like driving the length of Nebraska (or Kansas). My plan would be to take the Amtrak California Zephyr (leaves Chicago daily about 2PM) to Reno Nevada. Rent a car there for about 21 days.
My suggested order: Yosemite (maybe more water over falls earlier) - Lassen, Crater Lake. Take the north entrance of Crater Lake NP to SR 138 west down along the Umpqua River to Roseburg. Go a few miles north on I-5 and get off on SR 138 west to SR 38 at Elkton. Take SR 38 west to Reedsport. About 5 miles before Reedsport, stop at the Dean's Creek viewing area to see some Roosevelt Elk.
Just north of Reedsport visit the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. They are worth seeing.
From the Oregon Dunes head south on US 101 for Redwood NP. In addition to Redwood NP, you might want to visit the "Trees of Mystery". They do have a chairlift up to a nice viewing area going up through some nice Coast Redwoods.
Mendecino might be a good stop along the coast before going into San Francisco. I'll let others comment on other stops north of San Francisco. Other stops to consider north of San Francisco would be Point Reyes National Seashore and Muir Woods.
My favorite lodging south of San Francisco and north of Monterey is the Pigeon Point Lighthouse HI Hostel.
Ventura is not as pretty as it was before the huge forest fire 2 years ago. Santa Barbara has a nice zoo and the mission on top of the hill.
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Old Jan 24th, 2020, 09:55 AM
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Yosemite is notoriously difficult too book, already full for most of the summer, so you might want to start by figuring out which dates are availabile to you there. Youll have to rework your schedule around which dates you'll be able to find lodging in Yosemite.
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Old Jan 24th, 2020, 11:37 AM
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I would drop Rocky Mountain NP and go straight to Crater Lake NP. From there to the Redwoods NP, cross over to Lassen NP. From Lassen take CA89 to Lake Tahoe and south until you reach US395. At Dog Town, take CA270 to Bodie State Historic Park.


Back to U.S395 until Lee Vining and take CA120W into Yosemite NP. From Yosemite continue to Kings Canyon NP and Sequoia NP. Return to Chicago via the southern route.

If you decide not to drive, fly into Sacramento rent a car and do a kidney shaped (sort of) loop to cover the same territory but going back to Sacramento to fly home.
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Old Jan 24th, 2020, 01:00 PM
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Originally Posted by Michael View Post
I would drop Rocky Mountain NP and go straight to Crater Lake NP. From there to the Redwoods NP, cross over to Lassen NP. From Lassen take CA89 to Lake Tahoe and south until you reach US395. At Dog Town, take CA270 to Bodie State Historic Park.

https://flic.kr/p/8p4D45

Back to U.S395 until Lee Vining and take CA120W into Yosemite NP. From Yosemite continue to Kings Canyon NP and Sequoia NP. Return to Chicago via the southern route.

If you decide not to drive, fly into Sacramento rent a car and do a kidney shaped (sort of) loop to cover the same territory but going back to Sacramento to fly home.
If you really want to include Great Basin NP in your tour, fly or take the train to Salt Lake City and then go south in a rental car on I-15 to Santaquin to go on US 6 west into Nevada. The HQ is just north of Baker NV. The main roads are dirt. There is a cave to visit if you want.
Plan on returning any rental car where you rented it. If you stay on US 50 all the way across Nevada, you will come out at South Lake Tahoe.
I've driven all the way across the US a couple times. I don't intend to do it again. I'll either fly or take a train if I'm not in a hurry.
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Old Jan 26th, 2020, 12:36 PM
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Great Basin NP has stands of bristlecone pines near its summit.


https://www.nps.gov/grba/planyourvis...cone-pines.htm but access is presently closed due to winter conditions.
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Old Jan 28th, 2020, 11:45 PM
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Sorry for the delay in responding - I got sick after posting.
Gardyloo - We did the Pacific Northwest with stops in Yellowstone on the way out and Glacier on the way home 3 years ago. You were very helpful in planning our trip (we stayed outside Portland on your suggestion to enjoy both the city and the gorge), but you did suggest skipping Crater Lake on that trip because of a lack of time. It was the right call then, but this time I think we need to get there, because we probably won't be back in the area anytime soon. I like the route I lay out below that starts in Lake Tahoe and Lassen and then North to Crater Lake and then back to the coast. It seems like less weaving across the state since we will do some on our trip into California.
We've been to the Sequoia Groves in Yosemite with the kids, and I think we would like to get to Sequoia and Kings Canyon this time.
I am going to cut out the Oregon Coast. We just don't have the time with everything else to see.
I was able to get reservations in Yosemite in a tent cabin. I will keep checking back to see if they have any other cancellations.
Thanks!
Tomfuller - While we don't love driving those long states either, the cost to fly or take the train and rent a car pushes this trip out of our budget. I will out your other suggestions!
Clarkgriswold - I was able to secure something in Yosemite. I have found most National Parks, you can eventually find what you want if you check every day and aren't super picky. Glacier was the hardest, but I eventually got what I wanted there too - one night at a time.
Michael - We did decide to drop RMNP. Not enough time. But we added in Great Basin and will start the loop from there - Lake Tahoe, Lassen, Crater Lake then to the Redwoods. With this change, I don't think Bodie is on the way. I wish it were, because that sounds really cool. Anything similar close to where we are going? We will definitely check out the cave and the Bristlecone Pines in Great Basin!

So I've worked out a general itinerary that I think works for us. I added a night to total three in Crater Lake and took one away from San Francisco since we've been there before. Is Crater Lake the best place for that - or would it be better used in Lake Tahoe or Lassen? I have four nights in the Redwood area traveling down the coast. Does that look good? I also have three nights in LA right now, but my husband thinks we can cut one and just get to LA earlier on the arrival day to spend the day at Venice Beach and then visit family in the evening and then use the full day at Universal. That would give us one more night that could be used anywhere after Yosemite (Central Coast) or on our trip home to slow down a little. Where should I add it? All of the notes are just ideas - we won't necessarily visit all of those places, just gives me reminders about what is around the area. Any other suggestions:Mon, July 13 – Depart Drive 13 hours Fort Morgan, Colorado

Tue, 14 – Drive 5 hours to Grand Junction – Sleep at Jeff’s?

Wed, 15 – Drive 6 hours to Great Basin National Park – Do a hike in the evening

Thu, 16 – Cave Tour in the morning – Drive 7 hours to Lake Tahoe

Fri, 17 – Lake Tahoe

Sat, 18 – Leave early to get to Lassen Volcanic NP – 3.5 hours

Sun, 19 – Lassen Volcanic NP (Burney Falls?)

Mon, 20 – Stop in Burney Falls (45 minutes) & Lava Beds National Monument (1 hour 45 minutes) and Tule Lake NM on the way to Crater Lake NP (2 hours 15 minutes)

Tue, 21 – Crater Lake NP

Wed, 22 – Crater Lake NP

Thu, 23 – Leave early to get to Oregon Caves National Monument (2 hours 45 minutes) Continue to Trinidad (3 hours) or maybe Klamath/Requa and a drive on Howland Hill Rd in Jedidiah Smith? Stout Grove

Fri, 24 – Trinidad – Redwood NP – (Stuff to do while in Redwoods: Tidepooling at Patricks Point State Park, Fern Canyon at Praire Creek Redwoods State Park, Tall Trees Grove, Lady Bird Johnson Grove, Trees of Mystery?)

Sat, 25 – Trinidad

Sun, 26 – Avenue of the Giants overnight at Ferndale or Garberville

Mon, 27 – Drive 2 hours to Mendocino (Tidepools at MacKerricher State Park in Fort Brag)

Tue, 28 – Drive 3 hours to San Francisco, Stop at Point Reyes NM and Duxbury Reef for Tidepooling and possibly Muir Woods & Golden Gate National Recreation Area

Wed, 29 – San Francisco – Reserve Alcatraz, (San Francisco Maritime NM, Presidio NM)

Thu, 30 – Drive 4 hours to Yosemite Valley

Fri, 31 – Yosemite

Sat, August 1 – Kings Canyon Overnight Near Sequoia

Sun, 2 – Sequoia

Mon, 3 – Drive 3.5 hours to Pinnacles NP

Tue, 4 – Pinnacles or drive near Point Lobos (1.25 hour)

Wed, 5 – Start Early Point Lobos (Weston Beach has tide pools) and Big Sur Drive and elephant seals (3 hours total) Overnight in Morro Bay

Thu, 6 – Morro Bay & San Luis Obispo (Tidepools at Hazard Reef at Montana de Oro State Park in Los Osos, North Point Beach or Cayucos Beach in Morro Bay)

Fri, 7 – Drive 1 hour 45 minute to Santa Barbara (Tidepooling at Spyglass Beach at Shell Beach in Pismo Beach)

Sat, 8 – Santa Barbara Overnight – Day Tour to Channel Islands from Ventura (30 minutes from Santa Barbara)

Sun, 9 – Drive 1.5 hours to Los Angeles

Mon, 10 – Venice Beach & Visit Murphy’s

Tue, 11 – Universal Studios

Wed, 12 – Drive 2.5 hours to Joshua Tree NP

Thu, 13 – Drive 3.5 hours to Mesa – Visit Family

Fri, 14 – Drive 6 hours to Chaco Culture NM? Or 6.5 hours to Alburqurque

Sat, 15 & Sun, 16 – Drive 21 Hours Home
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Old Jan 29th, 2020, 12:01 AM
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• Thu, 16 – Cave Tour in the morning – Drive 7 hours to Lake Tahoe
• Sat, 18 – Lassen Volcanic NP – 3.5 hours
• Mon, 20 – Lassen to Burney Falls, Lava Beds National Monument, and Tule Lake NM on the way to Crater Lake NP (2 hours 15 minutes)

All of these drives will take more time than you've allotted.

Most of your other drive times need to be significantly increased too. For example - San Francisco to Curry Village leaving the city in the morning commute will easily be a 5 hour drive

It IS your trip - but this would drive me bat s#it crazy. you will be on the move every day or at most ever two days -- for 33 straight days.
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Old Jan 29th, 2020, 08:04 AM
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Random Comments: I'd suggest that you stay longer in Carmel or one of other nearby towns to perhaps kayak in the bay to enjoy the otters, see Point Lobos, walk the paths from Lovers Point to the Spyglass and listen to the bagpiper... really enjoy the area for a few days and then another day, drive down the coast enjoying the most spectacular scenery, perhaps stopping for lunch or to walk on one of the beaches and end your day seeing the seals and staying in the area.

Shell Beach is not in Santa Barbara... it is just 15 minutes south of San Luis Obispo, so for this day you are making lots of stops in a very short amount of time. I would chose Montana de Oro over Pismo Beach any day. ( Tidepools in Shell Beach are very modest compared to what you will see in Carmel/Pacific Grove.) Lastly, if you haven't been to Venice Beach in awhile, it really isn't where you want to go for a family trip. You may wish to google recent events there.

You may want to choose which beach depending on the weather where you are at that time, any time before 2:00 Pm may be very foggy.

Janisj is being generous in suggesting that the drive from SF to Curry village may take 5 hours in a morning bay area commute. With summer traffic in Yosemite Valley, I'm going to suggest that you may have even longer due to congested roads within the park itself.
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Old Jan 29th, 2020, 08:14 AM
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"Janisj is being generous in suggesting that the drive from SF to Curry village may take 5 hours in a morning bay area commute. With summer traffic in Yosemite Valley, I'm going to suggest that you may have even longer due to congested roads within the park itself."

True -- I was trying to be gentle . But just about every drive time is overly optimistic.
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Old Jan 29th, 2020, 11:34 AM
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Are you camping at Chaco Canyon? Because it's too slow in and out and too remote to fit in on a fly by which is what you seem to be planning. There is no lodging inside or outside the park. Lengthy dirt road access only to the park https://www.nps.gov/chcu/planyourvisit/directions.htm.

I'd rethink the whole box-checking itinerary of every national park and monument and think about how much time you will need to enjoy the famous parks, then build on logical stopovers connecting those longer stops.

Personally I couldn't stand so much day after day driving and would cut the Bay Area, Santa Barbara, Southern California, and Joshua Tree which is really more like a nice state park than a national park Not sure what happens on the Trinidad day, casino?



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Old Jan 29th, 2020, 12:25 PM
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If you have bookings in Yosemite pretty much everything else will have to be built around that, since it's the least likely destination to offer any flexibility.

Re Lassen and Crater Lake, accommodation is a serious issue, as in lack thereof. I certainly wouldn't spend 2+ days at Crater Lake (honestly, it's gorgeous but I personally regard it as a "three hour" national park.) If it was me, I'd transit Lassen then overnight someplace around Klamath Falls, then take the next day to circle Crater Lake and shoot for an overnight around Grants Pass, which would position you well for the drive out to the coast, with a stop at the Oregon Caves (meh) if you must.

Given your affinity for beachcombing, I'd probably add the Crater Lake day(s) to somewhere in the redwoods. For example, you could base in Ferndale and spend a day doing the "Lost Coast loop" - https://goo.gl/maps/BFyeANZGhqxJawqq6 . Or add more time around the Monterey Bay area - whale watching, hit the Beach Boardwalk amusement park in Santa Cruz, visit the Henry Cowell redwoods, etc. Remember that often the state parks in Oregon and California (in Washington too, for that matter) are just as impressive, sometimes more so, than the federal national parks.

I will also echo everybody else and say that I think your time estimates are off - by quite a lot in some cases. You might want to build in some "fudge factor" time, but maybe you already have.
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Old Jan 29th, 2020, 12:51 PM
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I agree with Gardyloo (been doing that a lot today ) that Crater Lake is not a two day sort of place really. A few hours is certainly adequate. And since so many of your other destinations do deserve more time, I like his plan to cut both nights from Crater Lake - visit it en route to the coast and add the extra night you've gained to someplace else. (decide where that should be after you cut/refine the rest of this trek)
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Old Jan 29th, 2020, 02:15 PM
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Originally Posted by janisj View Post
I agree with Gardyloo (been doing that a lot today ) that Crater Lake is not a two day sort of place really. A few hours is certainly adequate. And since so many of your other destinations do deserve more time, I like his plan to cut both nights from Crater Lake - visit it en route to the coast and add the extra night you've gained to someplace else. (decide where that should be after you cut/refine the rest of this trek)
Unless you plan to hike down (and back up) the Cleetwood trail to take the boat out to Wizard Island, 3-5 hours in Crater Lake NP should be enough. If you can't get lodging at the Crater Lake lodge, you might get a room for a night at the Prospect hotel in Prospect OR assuming that you are coming to the park via Medford and Shady Cove.
I think (could be wrong) that you would enjoy the Oregon Dunes more than the Oregon Caves National Monument (Post #3)
From Ventura after a boat trip out to Channel Islands to Los Angeles is certain to be more than 1.5 hours depending on what part of Los Angeles you are headed for.
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Old Jan 29th, 2020, 03:38 PM
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We enjoyed Colorado National Monument near Grand Junction. Don't know if you've already been there. Might be hot in July though.

I'd keep the two nights at Lassen if you're hikers.

Crater lake depends on whether you plan to do the boat ride. If so, I'd stay 2 nights so you have one full day. I'd take the third night and add it elsewhere. I'm not clear what the 2 hours 15 minutes is in reference to but it's over 4 hours from the northern side of Lassen to Crater Lake. Add another hour if you're staying on the southern side.

Pinnacles will be very hot in August and the trails are mostly exposed. Plan to hike early. There's only a campground within the park. Nearest town with motels is Hollister about 45 minutes away. Given the time of year, I might skip it and move on to the Monterey Peninsula.

Joshua Tree is another location that will be very hot in August.
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Old Jan 30th, 2020, 01:19 PM
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If you cross Utah on US 50 to get to the Great Basin national Park, you might want to stop in Delta which has a museum (closed when we were there) dedicated to the Topaz Internment Camp which was located about ten miles out of Delta.


Last edited by Michael; Jan 30th, 2020 at 01:44 PM.
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Old Feb 3rd, 2020, 01:19 PM
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Janisj - I will make sure to give some padding to the drive times. We are from Chicago, so we know traffic, but California traffic can definitely be worse (especially LA).

Lynni - We are going to add a night near Carmel like you suggested and take one away from LA. We have been to Carmel before, but we did enjoy that area! I did know Shell Beach was in Pismo, but thought we could see it on the way to Santa Barbara. My husband also said the same thing about the tideools in that area, so we will probably skip Shell Beach and focus on better tide pools. It's been about 7 years since we've been to California, could you expand about Venice Beach. I did google and found some stuff about the homeless. Is there more dangerous stuff? We always liked Venice because of the beach with the fun shops to stop at and the street performers, but if it has really changed we will rethink stopping there. We would only be stopping there during the day, not staying the night near there. We will probably stay closer to Universal.

Tom_mn - We are going to cut Chaco Canyon. I didn't realize how poor the road from the South was. We will try to do it in the future from the North since it seems like the road is better that way and we will allow more time for it. The Trinidad day is just more of the redwood area (I just put all my notes in one area on the day before). We don't do Casinos

Tomfuller - I will look at those options! I think Oregon Dunes might be too far out of our way, although it looks amazing!

Michael - I will check out that museum! Thanks!

Gardyloo - We still have some flexibility in Yosemite because there is still availability, so we could make changes right now. I will take your suggestion about Crater Lake and just do a night at the entrance area and a night as we leave and just spend one day in the park. Please see my question below!

Patty - We were at Colorado National Monument last summer! It was great but crazy hot! We are stopping back in Grand Junction because we have family there. Please see my question below.

So I am debating adding the extra night (that I had in Crater Lake) into Lassen Volcanic NP. I can find a cabin outside the park in Mineral. Do you think 3 nights and two full days is good or excessive? Or should I add that into the Redwoods area (we currently have 4 nights there divided between a couple locations).

Thank you so much for the suggestions!
Jennifer
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Old Feb 3rd, 2020, 02:22 PM
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Myself, I'd add that night somewhere in the gold rush country between Yosemite and the north. Maybe stay at the St. George Hotel in Volcano?



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Old Feb 3rd, 2020, 02:34 PM
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Lassen NP is among my least favorite National Parks. If you drop a night at Crater Lake, I would add the "extra" night somewhere on the Oregon or northern California coast.
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