Road Trip 4
California (Northern, Central, & Southern)
YouTube: Adventure Tails
California is my favorite State with its vastly diverse landscape, array of cultures, and delicious cuisine. Here in SoCal you can ride fresh powder before breakfast then catch some off the hook waves for lunch! Outlining this beautiful State in one giant road trip had been on my bucket list for years. I was stoked to take on the challenge in July 2019! We drove 2,843 miles across California and part of Oregon in 16 days. Total cost was around $2,000.
Day 1 – Driving to Hearst San Simeon State Park in Cambria
Our first destination was Hearst San Simeon State Park. It was a treat for me to at last see the beach towns of Ventura, Santa Barbara, and Cambria. All lovely towns with gorgeous landscape. I enjoyed this drive very much. We arrived later than expected and were worn out. Brie cuddled Strawberry and I treated myself to a sautéed onions/mushrooms Gouda grilled cheese sandwich as well as a sautéed tomatoes/garlic Sharp Cheddar grilled cheese sandwich. Yummy!
Day 2 – Driving to WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in Salinas
The second stop on our road trip was Monterey, one of my favorite places in California to visit! We drove north along the 1, past Ragged Point, Big Sur, and Carmel-by-the-sea. This section of the 1 is world famous with views of massive cliffs, endless ocean, giant redwoods, and pretty wildflowers. Unfortunately it was too foggy to see anything! But that’s fine we had fun anyway. We arrived at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in Salinas and snagged lonely campsite #139 atop its own hill. I planted my flag and declared, “We claim this land for Adventure Tails!”
Days 3-4 – Visiting a friend and eating lots of food
We took a morning stroll out on the little trail next to our campsite. The morning fog in the valley below looked like a bowl of whipped cream, making me hungry. It was time for breakfast! I had a great time watching the races every morning at Laguna Seca. We’ll definitely have to come back during their big Nascar events.
Our main purpose in Monterey was to visit a friend and cook a lot of food together. We did just that and probably gained 10 pounds in the process! On our last night the weather turned frigged cold with 15-20mph winds rushing by the tent. I moved our tent to a more open space and parked my car to block some of the wind. The ground was much too hard to stake the tent down. I tossed a bunch of luggage inside instead. We got no sleep that night!
Day 5 – Driving to MacKerricher State Park in Fort Bragg
Onwards, to MacKerricher State Park in Fort Bragg! On the way there I made sure to stop at Swanton Berry Farm in Davenport for THE BEST homemade pies, ciders, shortcakes and more! The menu changes seasonally so I always make sure to taste their latest dishes.
Driving through Half Moon Bay and Pacifica was a delight. I was also excited to go on the Golden Gate Bridge for the first time ever. It’s a loooot bigger in person! We arrived at our campsite in Ft Bragg, ate a yummy meal (bison steak and potatoes), made some new friends at the local dog park, and tucked in for the night.
Day 6 – Exploring Fort Bragg and Mendocino
I like to camp at State and National Parks because the early mornings seem to be all our own. 5-6:00a.m. is always so relaxing!
Finally, it was time to paddle board on Big River in Mendocino! I had been looking forward to this for months. The wonderful people at Catch a Canoe hooked us up and off we went, singing rowing shanties along the way!
After a nap and a snack, we left for famous Glass Beach. It wasn't quite what I expected as over the decades most of the glass has been pilfered by tourists or locals. Much of the remaining glass was sharp and too painful for us to walk on. Regardless, the views were stunning. By far my favorite sunset of the entire trip.
Day 7 – Driving to Mill Creek Campground in Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park
The sun highlights and shapes the world in a fascinating way. When I find an area with beautiful light quality, I like to see how it looks at both sunrise and sunset. We went back to Glass Beach at sunrise for more pictures. I love Brie’s pretty brown eyes in this picture!
First breakfast was a carrot potatoes stew with lots of cheese. Then off we went to Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park! This was my first time traveling along the northern California coast. I loved every second of it!
We neared Leggett, California and unexpectedly came upon a large sign mentioning a drive-thru tree in our area. I was ecstatic, this was something I've always wanted to see! So of course we pulled over at the Chandelier Tree for lunch, got a T-shirt, and took some pictures.
Day 8 – Exploring Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park
My campsite was isolated (no cell service) and right smack dab in the middle of the forest. Just how I like it!
Wild animals were roaming about the night before. Something BIG walked by my tent around midnight! The stink of it was incredible and literally woke me up from a dead tired sleep. I can only assume it was a mountain lion or bear! In the morning I found large tufts of fur leading up to the bear proof food locker, where I kept all our food. That was my first low-key, close up encounter with a large wild animal and I didn't even know it at the time! Brie snored through the whole night without a care in the world...
Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park has some of the tallest Redwood trees in the world and is a must see in Northern California. We explored Howland Hill Hill Rd, Walker Rd, and Smith River.
Day 9 – Driving to Castle Crags State Park in Castella
On our way to Castle Crags, we looped north through Grant's Pass, Oregon. I wish we had time to explore the Oregon Caves National Monument, see Crater Lake National Park, or visit Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. Maybe next time!
All my life I've been told how majestic Mt. Shasta is, the fifth highest "fourteener" in California with an elevation of 14,179 feet. It did not disappoint. Five minutes after crossing back into California I noticed a distant snow covered mountaintop towering above the flat plane. I was in awe at its beauty. Brie didn't care and was happily snorting and snoozing away, as per usual. I'm going to have to summit Mt. Shasta sometime!
Castle Crags was DRY and HOT at 103 degrees. We set up quickly, explored only a little, and went to bed early.
Day 10 – Driving to Scotts Flat Lake in Nevada City, California
Before sunrise we drove up to Vista Point at Castle Crags. Near the upper parking lot there is a small hike to a picnic area with excellent views of both Castle Crags and Mt. Shasta. Brie made friends with the rangers and got tons of belly rubs.
Instead of driving completely around California through the northeastern side, I chose to drive south through Yuba County to visit family/friends. We plan on exploring Modoc and Lassen National Forest on another road trip.
Scotts Flat Lake Campground is lovely! If I had known it was this relaxing, I would have spent an extra day here. We were right next to the water and fell asleep listening to the gentle waves lapping on the shore......Then some kids started yelling silly things at each other from across the lake and the entire campground erupted into shouts and laughter. It was hilarious! We had a great time :)
Day 11 – Driving to New Shady Rest Campground in Mammoth Lakes
Though our stay at Scotts Flat Lake was short, I had specifically chosen this area for its sunrise photography potential, which ended up being breathtaking. By far my favorite sunrise photo of all time! Brie of course helped by guarding my gear and reminding me that breakfast time was drawing nigh.
On our way to Mammoth, we stopped for a quick minute at Donner Lake Vista Point to stretch our legs.
Mammoth Lakes was the most anticipated destination on this giant road trip. It is home to multiple lakes in the basin and over 100 lakes in the mountains nearby. I was SO excited! We pitched our tent at New Shady Rest Campground, met up with the fam bam, and cooked up a killer steak dinner!
Day 12 – Exploring Mammoth Lakes
It was time once again for one of my favorite activities: paddle boarding! The guys at Lake Mary Marina were super awesome in helping us get set up. This was hands down the best paddle boarding view of my life. It was amazing!
Back to the campsite again for lunch then a snooze. We were dog tired at this point and wanted to take it easy the rest of the day. The weather had other plans! All of a sudden we were caught in a thunderstorm being pelted with hail! We shelted undergo the gazebo while Brie snoozed contentedly away in her bed in the car.
Afterwards we scouted photo spots at Twin Falls Overlook and Horseshoe Lake to come back to later. Towards evening we drove along the Mammoth Scenic Loop searching for wildlife and saw deer, foxes, and badgers.
Day 13 – Exploring Mammoth Lakes
At around 2:00a.m. my Dad woke me up to go stargazing. The night sky at 7,800 ft is much more vibrant and entrancing to someone like me who lives at sea level amidst a constant fog. Unfortunately the incoming clouds were obscuring the view so we went back to bed.
Except I couldn't sleep. I kept hearing noises. It sounded like a *rustle rustle thump... rustle rustle THUMP...* as if something was coming closer and closer to my tent. My heart began to race! Was it a bear? The rangers had told us that bear activity was high. I looked over at Brie. She was snoozing away so maybe I was just hearing things.
*RUSTLE RUSTLE THUMP… RUSTLE RUSTLE THUMP…*
Ok, there was DEFINITELY something out there! I reeeaaaallllly wanted to look but didn’t want to scare the animal by suddenly popping out of my tent in the dark. Nevertheless I reached for the rainfly. My hand was shaking uncontrollably with fear and excitement as I unzipped and lifted the rainfly. Nothing but black. I shined a light. Still nothing. I looked on the other side of my tent. Nothing. With a sigh of relief I lay back down to sleep, laughing at how silly I was being.
Suddenly the roar of a bear ripped through the campground! I shot up straight as an arrow, eyes wide. I again lifted the rainfly but it was still too dark to see anything! Brie continued to snore. I reluctantly gave up and tried to go back to sleep.
Come morning we left at 8:00a.m. to see if we could spot that bear and more wildlife along Mammoth Scenic Loop. Unfortunately we didn’t see anything. When we got back to our campsite at 9:00a.m., our neighbors told us that we had just missed a BIG bear walk straight through our campsite. It must have been the one I heard! We never did see that big bear.
The remainder of the day was devoted to photography. We rode a pet friendly, scenic gondola ride with Panorama Gondola to the summit of Mt. Mammoth at 11,503 ft. We were greeted with fantastic views of Sierra National Forest, Inyo National Forest, and even some of Yosemite National Park. We met a lovely group of tourists from England and chatted for a time. Brie got lots of belly rubs and treatos!
In the evening, more bear drama prevailed at our campsite! A cub was running through the campground tearing up coolers and tents. We were told it was the big one's cub, which I'm sure was also nearby. Always put all food and anything with a scent (deodorant, toothpaste, chap stick, etc.) inside the bear proof locker. Coolers and water bottles should be placed inside the locker as well since bears recognize these items as being sources of food and will tear up tents/cars to get in!
Day 15 – Driving to Lone Pine Campground in Lone Pine
Brie and I ended our stay at Mammoth Lakes with a short hike to McLeod Lake from Horseshoe Lake. She got to run around, pick up lots of sticks, and swim in the lake. She swam out to a large piece of driftwood, thinking it was a little stick. She wanted to bring it to me. Silly dog, that tree is waaaay too big for you! Eventually Brie gave up and found a little stick.
I wish we had more time at Mammoth Lakes to explore the Devil's Postpile or go on any of the other trails. Mammoth Lakes is a wonderful dog friendly area with so much to do. But we had already done a great deal and still had miles to go.
Driving south to Lone Pine Campground gave us stunning views of some of the highest “fourteener” mountains in California on our right, such as Mt. Whitney, and glimpses of the hottest place in the world on our left, Death Valley National Park. This would foreshadow our next trips to Death Valley and Mt. Whitney!
We camped at Lone Pine Campground near Mt. Whitney, the tallest mountain in the contiguous United States at an elevation of 14,505 ft. Brie and I ate, napped, went on a small hike, ate, and napped some more. I had hoped to climb Mt. Langley with Brie since a large portion of it is dog friendly, but we were exhausted at this point in our trip.
Day 16 - Driving home, final thoughts
We saw everything I hoped to see: coast side cliffs, volcanic mountains, wild animals, beautiful sunsets and sunrises, and so much more of this wonderful land that God made. We also were able to go hiking, paddle boarding, gondola riding, and exploring across California. It was an epic road trip!
YouTube: Adventure Tails