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Los Angeles to San Francisco: The Western Route

Los Angeles to San Francisco: Through the Western Sierra Nevada Mountains

If you’re a lover of national parks and mountains, then a Los Angeles to San Francisco road trip through the Sierra Nevada mountains is a bucket list adventure waiting for you.

From wandering among the giant sequoias to exploring glacier-carved domes and peaks to getting sprayed by waterfalls, these Sierra road trip options are the way to explore California on a road trip from Los Angeles! 

Travel Time from Los Angeles to San Francisco via the Sierra Nevadas

There are a few options for traveling through the Sierra Nevada mountains on a Los Angeles to San Francisco road trip.

The Western Route

The western route runs along the west side of the Sierra, and takes twelve hours or 580 miles. This route goes through Sequoia, Kings Canyon, and Yosemite National Parks.

The Eastern Route

The eastern route up the Sierra from Escape Camper Vans in Los Angeles to Escape Camper Vans in San Francisco has two options. If you’re traveling from late summer through fall, you can take the route that crosses back over the Sierra through Tioga Pass in Yosemite National Park. This route takes eleven and a half hours and is 550 miles. If you want to explore the Eastern route, you can view that itinerary here.

If Tioga Pass is closed, commonly from early winter to early summer, you’ll have to cross over the Sierra Nevada mountains near Lake Tahoe. This route also takes eleven and a half hours and is 550 miles.

Best Time of Year for a Sierra Road Trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco

A Los Angeles to San Francisco road trip via the Sierra Nevada mountains is beautiful at any time of year. However, each season offers different experiences. The western and eastern routes through the Sierra are accessible year-round unless snow is too heavy, causing road closures. Depending on what your interests are, it can affect when you choose to travel. 

Summer

Summer is a great time to road trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco, whether you choose the route up the Eastern Sierra or the western route. By summer all roads are generally open. Temperatures are comfortable, and summer brings plenty of sun!

In early summer, there might be snow on trails at high elevations, but that quickly melts as temperatures rise. Of course, summer is the busiest time to road trip throughout California so plan for crowds and start your days early.

Fall

Fall is also a great time to road trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco through the Sierra Nevada mountains. By fall, snow from the previous season has melted, and park roads are open Of course, fall means cooler temperatures which occasionally means an early-season snowstorm that can temporarily close roads.

Fall also brings plenty of changing leaves and fewer crowds than summer. However, traveling in the fall, you risk hitting fire season.

Winter

If you love snow then you should go on a road trip through the Sierra in the winter. It’s the least crowded time of year to travel in California. In winter, it’s important to consider the weather and road conditions. It gets cold with temperatures dropping below freezing and once winter really starts, so does the snow.

Winter is a great time to visit the Sierra if you love skiing or snowboarding however, many park roads become inaccessible. Expect snow on both routes, especially in the Eastern Sierra as this route reaches higher elevations.

Spring

Spring is another great time to travel from Los Angeles to San Francisco up through the Sierra. Temperatures warm and wildflowers begin to bloom. Spring is less crowded than summer and waterfalls roar as snow begins to melt.

Slowly melting snow throughout the spring means roads remain closed at higher elevations. This can impact your trip and which trails you choose to hike.

Preparation for a Los Angeles to San Francisco Road Trip through the Sierra

After choosing whether you want to road trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco via the western or eastern route it’s important to look into some logistics. These are some tips to help your trip run smoothly! 

Yosemite National Park in the Winter

Reserve Campsites in Advance

Spring to fall is a popular time to road trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco which means that campgrounds quickly fill up. Book your campsites as far in advance as possible. Reservations become available up to five months out depending on the campground.

Check the Weather & Road Conditions

Weather is constantly changing in the mountains and with that, so are road conditions. Before you head out, check each national park’s website to see if any road closures are in effect. Check Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park conditions here. Check Yosemite conditions here.

Tioga Pass Road in Yosemite National Park is the most significant road that can affect your route. You don’t have to worry about Tioga Pass if traveling the western route. If you’re traveling the Eastern Route you can only cut over the Sierra through Yosemite when Tioga Pass Road is open, usually from summer to fall. When it’s covered in snow you’ll have to take a longer route back that runs south of Lake Tahoe, usually from winter to early summer.

Download Offline Maps

Driving from Los Angeles to San Francisco via the Sierra Nevada mountains puts you out of cell coverage for several stretches of the trip. Download offline maps before you head out so you can always access directions on your route. Also, pick up a California state road map for backup.

It’s also nice to download offline hiking trails before you head out. AllTrails is a great option for this.

Fuel Up

Stretches of both the eastern and western routes that explore the Sierra have remote stretches. Fill up your tank before entering a national park and as frequently as possible. Try to refill your tank before it’s halfway empty.

Bring a Rechargeable Battery Pack

You’re going to want to charge your electronics while traveling. You can only charge your devices in the van while the Escape Camper Vans are running so it’s nice to have a rechargeable battery pack to keep your devices going, especially at night.

Pack Layers

From the coastal cities to the high mountains, temperature varies drastically. In the mountains, the temperature changes from day to night and can vary by 30 degrees. Layers of clothing are the best way to dress to stay comfortable while exploring.

Always pack a rain/wind shell, a puffy jacket, and a thin base layer. If visiting in the cooler months pack a fleece layer too.

Purchase an America the Beautiful Pass

This Sierra road trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco passes through many national parks. Each national park costs $30 – $35 per vehicle to enter for up to a week. Save money by purchasing an America the Beautiful National Parks Pass for $80. This pass covers the entrance fee into all US national parks, monuments, and recreation areas.

Purchase the pass at the entrance kiosk of the first park you visit or as an extra accessory from Escape Camper Vans.

Understand Bear Country Regulations

All of the Sierra Nevada mountains lay in Bear Country. Proper food storage is essential to reduce the risk of bears’ interactions with humans. All campgrounds in the Sierra have bear lockers where you must store your food at night. Never leave any food unattended whether it’s daytime or nighttime.

Understand Altitude

When visiting the Sierra Nevada mountains on your Los Angeles to San Francisco road trip you’ll be traveling from sea level to 7000+ feet in elevation. The Eastern Sierra route reaches over 8,000 feet at points. It’s common to feel mild symptoms of altitude such as shortness of breath, a headache, dizziness, and difficulty sleeping.

When heading to these higher altitude destinations from sea level, give yourself time to acclimate. If you plan to hike, spend at least a day or two getting used to the altitude first.

Obey Campfire Restrictions

Campfire regulations are often in place throughout the Sierra Nevada because the risk of wildfires is so high. All visitors must obey all campfire restrictions when in place—failing to do so results in large fines and potential jail time.

Regulations are posted on the entrance board of every campground and are strictly enforced by rangers.

Reservations

Yosemite National Park requires reservations to enter the park throughout certain periods of the summer and other busy times throughout the year. Check online for the most up-to-date information about when reservations are required.

Explore the Sierra Nevada Mountains Today!

Western Sierra Route Road Trip Stops

The western Sierra route on a Los Angeles to San Francisco road trip is the perfect option for any national park lover. You’ll explore three national parks along the way while walking among giant sequoias, standing under massive waterfalls, and hiking under the high peaks of the Sierra.

Days 1 & 2: Sequoia National Park

Home to some of the largest trees in the world, Sequoia National Park is a bucket list destination for all outdoor lovers. Sequoia National Park is a three-and-a-half-hour drive from Los Angeles. Spend your first two days of your Los Angeles to San Francisco road trip exploring these awe-inspiring forests.

Mom and children at the drive through tree in Sequoia National Park on a trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco

Things To Do in Sequoia National Park

General Sherman Tree

The General Sherman Tree is a Giant sequoia. It’s the largest tree in the world in terms of cubic volume. General Sherman stands 275 feet tall and its circumference at ground level is 102 feet. You can’t miss this tree on your trip.

You can visit General Sherman on a short hike from the General Sherman Tree Trail via a 1.2-mile round-trip hike. Handicap access to the tree is available from a parking lot off Generals Highway.

Moro Rock

For spectacular views of High Sierra peaks to the west, the Central Valley to the east, and the national forests to the south hike up Moro Rock. It’s a large granite dome offering spectacular 360 views. While the hike to the top isn’t very long it’s only accessible up a steep set of 350 stairs. The trail has railings but it’s an exposed hike.

Tunnel Log

An iconic photo opportunity in Sequoia National Park is the Tunnel Log. This giant sequoia fell across the park road back in 1937 and rather than removing it a tunnel was carved through it so visitors can drive through!

**Unfortunately Escape Campervans are a bit tall to drive through the 8-foot tunnel but you can drive around the tunnel and still walk through or snap a photo of other cars passing under.

Camping in Sequoia National Park

Lodgepole Campground

Lodgepole Campground is a 214-site reservation-only campground in Sequoia National Park. It’s open from late April to late November, weather permitting. Campsites have potable water and flushing toilets. There’s a camp store nearby.

Potwisha Campground

Potwisha is a 42-site campground located in the foothills of Sequoia National Park at 2,100 feet. It’s hot and dry here during the summer but it’s a great campground in the winter because, at a lower elevation, it generally remains snow-free. Potwisha Campground is open year-round and has potable water and bathrooms.

Restaurants in Sequoia National Park

The Peaks Restaurant at Wuksachi Lodge

64740 Wuksachi Way, Sequoia National Park, 93262

The Peaks Restaurant at Wuksachi Lodge is the finest dining in Sequoia National Park. Choose from delicious dishes from seafood to grass-fed burgers. Enjoy breakfast, lunch, dinner, or cocktails here. The Peaks Restaurant is usually open year-round except this winter from January 7 – March 14, 2024.

Lodgepole Deli, Market & Snack Bar

Sequoia National Park, 63204 Lodgepole Rd, Pk, CA 93262

The Lodgepole Cafe has a variety of options for breakfast, lunch, and dinner along with vegan and gluten-free options. It’s open seasonally from mid-April to mid-October.

Day 3: Kings Canyon National Park

Kings Canyon National Park is located at the north border of Sequoia National Park. So it’s pretty easy to spend your third day exploring Kings Canyon National Park. From the High Sierra peaks to more sequoia groves, there’s plenty to explore here.

Mom and daughter in Kings Canyon, the perfect detour on a Los Angeles to San Francisco road trip.

Things To Do in Kings Canyon National Park

Panoramic Point Overlook

Look out over hundreds of miles of Kings Canyon National Park at Panoramic Point Overlook. It’s near the Kings Canyon Visitor Center and is a perfect stretch break or picnic spot.

Kings Canyon Scenic Byway

The Kings Canyon Scenic Byway is the best way to view the stunning sites of Kings Canyon National Park by vehicle. The byway starts at Dunlap at the northwest part of the park and runs 50 miles to Roads End. Kings Canyon Scenic Byway is only open when clear of snow usually from late spring to early summer through late fall.

General Grant Tree

The General Grant Tree is the second-largest tree in the world in terms of cubic volume, and the largest tree in Kings Canyon National Park. It stands 267 feet tall and is around 3,000 years old. The walk to General Grant Tree is via a paved loop only a third of a mile long. It’s a shorter and easier walk than to the General Sherman Tree in Sequoia National Park.

Giant Forest Museum

If you want to learn more about the giant sequoias and the surrounding environment then stop by the Giant Forest Museum. Talk to a ranger or take a self-guided interpretive trail that starts from the museum.

Camping in Kings Canyon National Park

Azalea Campground

Azalea Campground is a year-round campground with 110 sites in Kings Canyon National Park. The campground has water and flushing toilets. Reservations are required in the winter from mid-May to November and become available 4 months in advance. 20 campsites remain open in the winter and are first-come, first-served. It’s cold and snowy in the winter.

Sunset Campground

Sunset Campground is a reservation-only campground located near Grant Grove Village in Kings Canyon National Park. It has 158 sites and is open when clear of snow, usually from late May to early September. Sunset Campground has water and flushing toilets.

Restaurants in Kings Canyon National Park

Grant Grove Restaurant & Courtyard

83923 CA-180, Hume, CA 93628

Grant Grove Restaurant & Courtyard is the best dining option for variety in Kings Canyon National Park. The menu includes locally sourced and sustainable ingredients serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Sit down for indoor dining or go to the walk-up window to grab something quick to go.

Days 4 – 6: Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park is one of the most popular national parks in the US making it a must-visit on your Los Angeles to San Francisco road trip! From tall granite domes to walls carved out by glaciers leaving behind a deep valley, the scenery here is striking.

Yosemite falls near San Francisco

Things To Do in Yosemite National Park

Tunnel View

Tunnel View is the most iconic viewpoint in Yosemite National Park. Sitting just above the valley floor you’ll have breathtaking views of El Capitan, Half Dome, Bridalveil Falls, Clouds Rest, and more. Tunnel View is accessible by car on your way into the valley and can’t be missed!

Yosemite Falls

Yosemite Falls is the tallest waterfall in North America dropping 2,425 feet. The falls are separated into Upper and Lower Falls. The walk to Lower Yosemite Falls is a paved, easy trail. The hike to the top of Upper Yosemite Falls takes a few hours and gains over 3,000 feet in elevation making it challenging. Hiking to the center of the falls is a great moderate hike option.

Bridalveil Falls

Bridalveil Falls is the first waterfall you’ll see when entering Yosemite Valley and drops 617 feet. Bridalveil Falls is visible from many viewpoints as you drive around the valley and is also accessible via a short trail to the base of the falls.

El Cap Meadows

El Capitan is the largest granite monolith in the world rising over 3,000 feet above the valley floor. Aside from the impressive sheer granite wall, this is also a world-class climbing destination. From El Cap Meadows you can take in the beauty of Yosemite Valley while watching climbers, so small they look like ants, as they ascend the steep walls of El Cap.

Vernal Falls & Nevada Falls

Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls are two waterfalls that flow into the Merced, accessible from the valley via the Mist Trail. Expect to get wet as you hike the Mist Trail.

You can hike to the base of Vernal Falls via a paved path, although some parts of this section are still steep. You can turn around there or continue to ascend steep blocky steps to the middle of the two falls or to the top of Nevada Falls. Reaching the top of the waterfalls is very steep and slippery, but well worth the views

Tioga Pass Road

Tioga Pass Road is in the high country of Yosemite. The highest point, Tioga Pass, reaches 9,943 feet. Along the road, the scenery changes dramatically showcasing different geological features than Yosemite Valley.

Tioga Pass Road is only accessible when open and clear of snow. The road usually opens between late May and early July and closes sometime in November most years.

Glacier Point

Glacier Point Road offers panoramic views of Yosemite National Park. From Glacier Point, you can see up to a third of Yosemite from the valley floor up to the high domes and previously glaciated peaks.

Glacier Point gets its name because glaciers used to cover the landscape up to this point so you’ll take a walk back in geologic history when visiting this renowned viewpoint.

Camping in Yosemite National Park

Upper, Lower, & North Pines Campgrounds

Upper, Lower, and North Pines Campgrounds are three campgrounds all next to each other in Yosemite Valley. They offer the best camping location in the park meaning they book up early. Reservations are released 5 months in advance on the 15th of the month.

Campgrounds have potable water and flushing toilets. All three campgrounds are located a short walk from Curry Village where there are restaurants, gift shops, and showers. Upper Pines Campground is open year-round. Lower and North Pines are open from mid-April through September.

Wawona Campground

Wawona Campground is located in the southwest part of Yosemite off Highway 41. It’s one of the first campgrounds you’ll reach when entering the park from Kings Canyon National Park. Wawona Campground is open year-round and has potable water and flushing toilets. The campground is located near the Wawona Visitor Center and market.

Hodgdon Meadow Campground

Hodgdon Meadow Campground is located off Highway 120 near the northeast entrance into Yosemite National Park. It’s open year-round, has potable water, and flushing toilets. The drive from Hodgdon Meadow Campground to Yosemite Valley is about forty minutes.

Restaurants in Yosemite National Park

Curry Village Pizza Patio & Bar

9010 Curry Village Dr, Yosemite Village, CA 95389

There’s nothing better than pizza and a beer after a long day of hiking. Head to Curry Village Pizza Patio and Bar for just that. Pizzas are BIG here so you’re sure to leave full. If pizza isn’t your thing there is a large dining hall next door with a variety of meal options.

Ahwahnee Dining Room & Bar

1 Ahwahnee Drive, Yosemite Valley, CA 95389

The Ahwahnee Dining Room and Bar offers the most upscale dining experience in Yosemite National Park. Look out at stunning views of Half Dome while dining here for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Reservations are highly recommended for dinner. Dress is casual for breakfast and lunch but dinner has a business casual dress code.

Base Camp Eatery

9006 Yosemite Lodge Dr, Yosemite Valley, CA 95389

Base Camp Eatery is a casual dining establishment next to Yosemite Valley Lodge. Choose from burgers and pizza to salads and “home-style” dinners. Base Camp Eatery is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Woman sitting by fire next to an Escape Camper Van.

Why Rent a Camper Van for a Los Angeles to San Francisco Road Trip via the Sierras?

There are so many places to explore throughout the Sierra from Los Angeles to San Francisco. Because of this, you’ll want to travel comfortably. So choose an Escape Camper Van for your home on wheels. Camper vans are easy to drive, mobile, and compact. There are even a bunch of extra accessories you can purchase to upgrade your experience!

A camper van is far better than renting an RV because with a campervan you don’t need electric or sewer hookups or RV-specific campsites. And on those windy roads through the mountains, it’s not very fun driving a massive RV up tiny narrow roads.

Reserve with Escape Campervans for your Los Angeles to San Francisco Road Trip through the Sierras

If you’re going to be road-tripping for a week, then you want to be comfortable, and an Escape Camper van offers just that. With a convenient Escape Camper van pick-up location in Los Angeles and a drop-off location in San Francisco, this road trip is just waiting to happen.

So book your flight, reserve your camper, and pack your bags because you’re about to head out on the California road trip of a lifetime.

Book Your California Getaway!

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