Last March, during my trip to California, we decided to do as much as possible in a very short period of time and ended up visiting three National Parks in three days. Was it the best way to go? Probably not. Am I happy I did it? Absolutely! After all, isn’t traveling all about trying new things and pushing ourselves? The three national parks that we visited are Death Valley, Sequoia and Yosemite, three of the most beautiful and visited national parks in the United States. Although all three are located in the State of California, the total distance between them is of 780 km (490 miles), which makes for a lot of driving — through incredible landscapes of course, but not in the best conditions. The altitude varies a lot — we went from 86 m (282 ft) below sea-level to 1530 m (5000 ft) above sea-level in one day — and the roads are rough. And after all the driving, we didn’t have a lot of time left for visiting, but we made the best of it.
If you are going to be visiting many national parks, check out the “America the Beautiful” pass. For 80 USD per vehicule, you get free entrance to all the national parks for a full year. Since the entrance fee for seven days per park can vary from 25 to 30 USD, it can save you a lot of money. This year, I travelled to Death Valley, Sequoia, Yosemite, Glacier, Yellowstone, Grand Teton and Badlands and saved approximately 100 USD just on entrance fees.
On our first day visiting national parks, we left San Diego in the early morning for Death Valley. After two tanks of gas, we finally made it by mid-afternoon. We were very lucky since the weather, windy, dry and cloudy, allowed us to explore the park even in the afternoon without burning and turning into dust. We got to see Badwater Basin, Golden Canyon and Zabriskie Point, almost run over a coyote and enjoy a picnic while the sun set over the mountains. It was so different from everything else I had ever seen and if I had had the opportunity, I would have stayed for a full week to enjoy the otherworldly atmosphere, go horseback riding in the sand dunes and try not to freak out at the thought of snakes.
The next day, we left our campsite in short shorts and tank tops to go walk in the Mesquite sand dunes before leaving the desert. We drove through canyons and up and down mountains and by 4 pm, we were at Sequoia National Park. Good thing we had no intention of staying long because we also had to drive to Fresno for the night. After entering the park, we went to the information center for a map and to change into jeans. Still in flip-flops, we drove through thick fog up the mountain and when we made it to the summit it had snowed, pretty heavily. We took some pictures with General Sherman and some of the other giant sequoias and walked in a few trails before driving back down through even thicker fog (if that’s possible) and then to Fresno. In this weather, a few hours was enough for me, but I would love to go back on a clear day to see the sequoias in all their glory.
On our last full day in California and third day of national parks, we left Fresno early and drove two hours to Yosemite. Yosemite, out of all three, is the one I was most excited to see and the one that disappointed me the most. Not because it wasn’t as grand or impressive or beautiful as I thought it would be, but because we didn’t really get to see it. You could say I am mostly disappointed because it rained all day, hiding the mountains and waterfalls, but also because I hadn’t planned enough time to properly enjoy it. We still had the chance to do a few hikes and see a silhouette of the mountains through the clouds and fog and we still left that night satisfied that we had tried, proud of what we had accomplished and filled with memories of wonderful scenery.
Now that I look back on this adventure several months later, I can see that it was a little bit crazy and we could have planned the whole thing a lot better. But, if I had to give advise to my old self while she was preparing the trip, I don’t think I would tell her to change anything because I learned a lot during that trip. It will certainly help me make wiser, more informed decisions while planning future vacations.
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