An Epic Denver to Sequoia Road Trip
Planning a Denver to California road trip? There’s plenty to see along the way. If you’ve got 10 days, here’s a suggested road trip itinerary that takes you through multiple National Parks, a few awesome hikes, and easy driving between stops.
Day 1: Drive from Denver to Moab (5 hours, 30 minutes | 355 miles)
It’s a straight shot on Interstate 70 from Denver to the Moab area, and when you get there, you’ll have plenty of options between Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park. Either Delicate Arch (Arches) or Corona Arch (Canyonlands) are great places to catch the sunrise. Corona Arch will be busier, as it’s less of a hike.
Delicate Arch is a much longer hike and you’ll need a flashlight to get there in time for first light. Either one is fantastic, but Delicate Arch is more spectacular and iconic.
Day 2: Sunrise in Moab; Explore Arches/Canyonlands
After your morning hike in Moab, either take the day to explore either Canyonlands or Arches National Park. There’s more than enough to spend a few days there, but even a windshield tour of Arches is pretty impressive.
Underrated and nearby, especially if you choose Canyonlands: Dead Horse Point State Park – epic views without much hiking.
Day 3: Journey into Escalante – Leg 1 – Goblin Valley State Park (1 hour, 37 minutes | 101 miles)
Goblin Valley is a great scenic drive and a good morning spot. Have a picnic among the hoodoos! If you stop here, Devil’s Garden may be redundant, so either pick one or the other. But there’s no rule that says you can’t hit up both!
Day 3: Journey into Escalante – Leg 2 – Lower Calf Creek Falls (2 hours, 26 minutes | 111 miles)
Lower Calf Creek Falls is a great hiking spot with some incredible views and a great payoff at the end, a huge waterfall and natural swimming pool. The trek isn’t easy, as it’s about 90-120 minutes each way through beach sand with a moderate incline on the way in. However, the juice is worth the squeeze!
Day 3: Journey into Escalante – Leg 3 – Devil’s Garden (46 minutes | 25 miles)
Devil’s Garden is undersubscribed, and likely for good reason. It’s down a long dirt road in the middle of nowhere. If rain is in the forecast, skip this one, as the dirt road is tough, and can become impassible. Also, while you don’t need a high clearance vehicle (we’ve done the drive in a sedan), it’s probably not a bad idea. It’s also a bumpy ride. But the payoff is spectacular.
Day 3: Journey into Escalante – Leg 4 – Bryce Canyon National Park (1 hour 27 minutes | 66 miles)
If you hit all three spots, that’s a lot of driving. If it’s summertime, you can catch a late sunset at Bryce. In the wintertime, not so much.
Day 4: Explore Bryce, and head for Zion at Sunset (1 hour 48 minutes | 84 miles)
Zion National Park is only a few hours from Bryce, and there’s no shortage of places to stay around one of America’s most popular National Parks. It won’t be cheap, but there are plenty of spots in both Springdale and Hurricane. If you don’t mind driving further, you may find better deals in Kanab.
Day 5: Walk the Narrows, and Talk To Angels in Zion
Zion is splendid year round, whether you catch a blanket of snow in January, or you take in the sun in July. But you’ll want to be prepared in either scenario. You’ll want water shoes for the Narrows, and if you attempt Angels Landing, beware that it’s not for the faint of heart, or those afraid of heights. While 80 percent of Angel’s Landing is still an accomplishment that provides a pretty awesome view at the main plateau, to get to the top, you’ll need to climb on chains bolted into the rock, and be very careful. A wrong step could be fatal.
Day 6: Vegas and the Valley (2 hours 40 minutes | 165 miles)
It’s hard to imagine anyone would make this trip without stopping in Las Vegas, but the real question is, will you make the detour to the Valley of Fire State Park? It’s about an extra hour out of the way, but since it’s just under three hours from Zion to Vegas, it’s probably a no brainer. Everyone knows about Red Rock Canyon, which is just west of Vegas, but Valley of Fire is far less trafficked and honestly, much more amazing.
If you’ve only got time for a quick hike, check out the Fire Wave trail at Valley of Fire. It’s 30-45 minutes tops and the payoff at the end blows away anything you’ll see at Red Rock Canyon.
Day 7: Drive Into Death Valley (2 hours | 120 miles)
There’s two major routes to Death Valley from Vegas; the southern route (Route 190) is a little more direct and leads you right to Zabriske Point, while the Northern route (Route 95) takes you through some awesome ghost towns (Beatty and Rhyolite) in Western Nevada.
If you’re just looking to pass through, take the southern route. If you’ve got more time, and want to make a day of it, take the northern approach.
When you’ve seen enough in Death Valley, exit the park on 190 West near Panamint Springs, and head on toward Route 395, where you’ll find more populated areas and places to eat, drink and stay near Owens Lake and Lone Pine.
Worth noting: If you want to cut the next day’s journey in half, Bakersfield, CA is a good stopping point, about 2.5 hours southwest of Onlancha, where 395 and 190 intersect near the Cosco Range.
Bonus: If you’re a U2 fan, the famous Joshua Tree is off Route 190, about a half mile into the desert.
Day 8: Loop Around the Forest, Set up Shop in Visalia (4 hours 7 minutes | 226 miles)
The home stretch is here. To get to Sequoia, you’ll have to loop around the southern tip of the mountains and forest, and then head back north on the west side. And once you do that, you’ve still got more driving ahead of you. The move is probably to set up shop for the night in either Visalia or Tulare, then head into the mountains the following day. While it looks close on the map, when you head for the park itself, you’ll be on winding roads hugging the edge of the mountain, a white-knuckle drive for sure. You’ll want to be refreshed, awake and alert for this kind of driving.
Day 9: Explore Sequoia and Kings Canyon
Sequoia is a fairly famous National Park, but don’t sleep on neighboring Kings Canyon either. They’re both scenic and you can easily hit them in the same day. As we mentioned before, the driving in both parks is intense; you’ll be sharing narrow mountain roads at high and rapidly changing elevations.
Also, remember that you’re in black bear country when you visit the High Sierras. Make sure you’re “bear aware” while visiting these parks!
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