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By Care Willink

We love a good Southern California road trip. But the popular destination does have its own share of tourists. Skip the main attractions and head for these lesser-known hidden gems without the crowds!

Southern California Road Trip Itinerary

To start your Southern California road trip, pick up your campervan at the LA Escape campervan depot and head out to Palm Springs area. Enjoy Joshua Tree National Park. The next day, head over to the Coachella Valley Preserve, where you will find some of the most majestic palm trees and views ever! Next, make the track down to Imperial Sand Dunes. Rent a buggy if you have a chance or just take in the sites. Head to Arizona (3-hour drive) for more exploring or back to the LA (2-hour drive) for more adventures!

Coachella Natural Preserve

Coachella Valley Preserve

McCallum Trail was by far our favorite around. It’s an easy 1.7 mile out and back, flat trail. Much of the trail is lined with a canopy of palm trees providing welcomed shade in a very sunny Coachella Valley. The trail begins on a section of boardwalk under the palms. You then cross a bit of desert with no shade as you make your way to the desert oasis. Simone Pond is surrounded by massive palm trees. There are places to sit and it’s very shaded. We called them the sequoias of the desert! Free parking and entry.

Imperial Sand Dunes California

Imperial Sand Dunes

The vibes of this area are like none other. The rolling sands and the wind was loud, yet there was an eerie sense of stillness. Before getting out we had to soak it in for a bit. Walking along the sands, we could feel our feet only slightly sink in. Each step we began feeling more and more comfortable with this place and our walk picked up speed until we were in a dead sprint with no particular destination.

There is something absolutely exhilarating and freeing about running across a deserted landscape, being able to see forever in every direction and knowing there’s no one but you at that moment in time and space.

Imperial Sand Dunes California

Getting to Imperial Sand Dunes:

Imperial Sand Dunes is about 2 hours east of San Diego and 2 hours south of Palm Springs. We read a lot about the off-roading vehicles, which looks so fun but we had no resources or time to do this. You do not have to have one of these (thankfully) to enjoy the views! If you do have an off-roading vehicle, you just need a permit. You can also camp at this park which looked so fun but you need a permit for this as well. If you have a way to rent a dune buggy or something like it you are up for an amazing experience!

What to expect at Imperial Sand Dunes:

We couldn’t find too much info for it ahead of time, so here ya go: Once you enter the park, there are a few ranger stations. When we went (a Monday afternoon in October) they were not open. Like I mentioned above, there was no one at the park at all for that matter! 

There were outhouse-type bathrooms near the entrance. As we drove in, we read that it was a 5-mile ride in and out. We made it to the end and drove back to our favorite area of sands. There were many places along the way to stop and enjoy the scenery. It’ll take your breath away in a new exhilarating type of way!

Imperial Sand Dunes California

Hope this can help give you outside-the-box ideas for your Southern California road trip. If you want to take a similar trip by campervan, don’t forget to book your campervan in advance. Enjoy!

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