Journeying from San Diego to Joshua Tree National Park is moving from one adventure in the sand to another. While the sandy beaches of San Diego are cooled by the breezes of the Pacific Ocean, the sands at Joshua Tree National Park are baked by a harsh sun, and any breeze is hot and devoid of moisture. These are not the only two environments in California. To experience the entirety of California environments, your road trip itinerary from San Diego to Joshua Tree National Park needs to expand to include a series of national and state parks. Such a journey takes you through several cities with incredible delights. It creates a great circle that runs from the coast of California to its mountains and ends in harsh deserts that defeated so many in the past but are now national treasures that must be experienced to be believed.
Channel Islands National Park
Start your San Diego to Joshua Tree National Park RV road trip with an excursion northward along the coast through Los Angeles to Santa Barbara to visit the Channel Islands National Park. The islands are isolated from the mainland by the Santa Barbara Inlet. Their granite tops pop up out of the ocean over a 390-square-mile area. Flora and fauna evolved separately from those occurring on the mainland over millions of years, causing some exciting changes in lifeforms that did not happen elsewhere. The islands were declared a national park to preserve these evolutionary differences for future study by scientists and for the enjoyment of visitors.
Sequoia National Park
From Santa Barbara, travel inland to visit Sequoia National Park and the largest redwoods in existence. The park covers 404,040 acres, all of which are in the higher elevations of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. In this park, redwoods cling to rocks that otherwise are bare. The skies are an intense blue, creating an amazing background that accents the trees, mountains, and hills that stretch from horizon to horizon. Those who visit here discover a new definition for immensity. Hiking amongst the giant tree trunks, people feel dwarfed by their size. Often, families are seen holding hands and stretching out arms as they attempt to measure the circumference of these immense trunks. At night, when the skies are clear, even these trees are dwarfed by the incredible expanse of stars that the darkness reveals.
Kings Canyon National Park
Extending your San Diego to Joshua Tree National Park road trip further north gets you to Kings Canyon National Park. The park covers 461,901 acres of hills, cliffs, and the deep canyon for which it is named. Unlike its neighbor, Sequoia National Park, where the heights are accented, visitors to Kings Canyon focus on the deep valleys. Redwoods grow here and reach for the skies but can’t quite go beyond the tops of the canyon, illustrating its depths. Wildlife thrives here, wandering through the shadows created by the dense canopy and across the rocky tops of the high ridges. Once hikers exit the canyon, they are greeted by incredible views of the surrounding Sierra Nevada Mountains.
Death Valley National Park
Though the mountains of California are incredible, the legendary Death Valley National Park is one of the most spectacular sites you will visit on this road trip from San Diego to Joshua Tree National Park. Sitting 252 feet below sea level, this 3.1-million-acre park displays a harshness so intense that it becomes a standard for beauty. Though a highway bisects the park, there is danger here at every turn. Whether you are looking toward the parched horizon or down toward the desert floor from Dante’s View, the sites sear into the memory, registering as something incredible. There are hiking trails for the adventurous. Make sure to take plenty of water with you when you venture along these trails that skirt craggy cliffs and cross flat floors bereft of life.
Bolsa Chica State Park
As you begin your road trip from San Diego to Joshua Tree National Park by traveling north along the coast of California, stop at Bolsa Chica State Park to spend a night or two. This beachfront park features tidal pools, an estuary, and dunes along a three-mile stretch of the California coast. It is located within easy reach of Los Angeles and all its terrific points of interest, restaurants, and shops. The park and its estuary attract migratory birds to this location, making bird-watching a significant draw.
Castaic Lake State Recreational Area
On your trip inland from the Channel Islands, stop at Castaic Lake State Recreational Area to enjoy some water activities before moving on to the mountains. The recreation area sits close to San Bernardino and is one of the few areas in the Los Angeles region where visitors enjoy freshwater sports. For those wishing to get on the water, boats, kayaks, and canoes are available for rent at the camp store.
Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park
For a restful spot before you reach Sequoia National Park, stop at the Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park. Located about 30 miles north of Bakersfield, CA, this park celebrates the 300 black families who settled in the area in the early 1900s, escaping the sharecropping economy of the South. A museum provides details of these people's lives as they strove to gain acceptance from those around them. While here, you learn about the adventures of Colonel Allensworth, the highest-ranking black soldier in the Union Army during the Civil War who led these brave people across the continent and against incredible forces to find a life of reward in this spot.
Cabrillo National Monument
Cabrillo National Monument sits on the southern tip of the Point Loma Peninsula in San Diego. It commemorates the first landing of a European on the western coast of the United States. The monument includes a park, a lighthouse, and the statue of Cabrillo stepping onto the peninsula in 1542.
While you are staying at Bolsa Chica State Park, take the time to visit nearby Disneyland. This classic theme park still has what it takes to put a smile on children’s faces. For adults, the memories of childhood cross their eyes as they approach Fantasy Land, the Jungle Ride, and the mystical and fun Tiki Room. Coming to this park brings joy to everyone who enters.
Cabot’s Pueblo Museum
Located just outside Joshua Tree National Park, Cabot’s Pueblo Museum consists of an expanded classic pueblo in three stories. The museum houses the relics of desert homesteaders who attempted to conquer the Southern California deserts. It documents the hardships, victories, and eventual defeat of those brave adventurers at small communities like Twentynine Palms and Barstow. It is an appropriate endpoint for your San Diego to Joshua Tree National Park road trip.
While Anaheim is a brief detour from your direct route to Joshua Tree National Park, it is worthwhile. The city is famous for its theme parks, including Disneyland, Knotts Berry Farm, and Universal Studios, amongst others. While you are here, use one of the numerous dump stations to clean your tanks or one provided at one of the many RV campgrounds in the town.
You pass close to San Bernardino on your detour north to see Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. If you stay at Castaic Lake, make sure to drop by the city to enjoy one of their incredible restaurants, like the Cutting Board Restaurant and Bar. While you are here, take advantage of one of San Bernardino’s dump stations. If Castaic Lake State Recreation Area is full, there are several other campgrounds nearby where you can stay.
You pass through Bakersfield on your way to see Sequoia National Park. Stop and enjoy the people in this friendly town at one of the restaurants that often seem near capacity but always have room for another family. You can tell from the people who live here that this community is the agricultural center of Southern California. Take the time to get to know them, and before you leave, clean your tanks at one of the numerous dump stations the community offers. If you like the friendliness, stay awhile at one of the campgrounds surrounding Bakersfield.
When you follow this road trip itinerary from San Diego to Joshua Tree National Park, you will enjoy historic locations and beautiful scenery along the way. If you want to travel in comfort and style, consider an RV rental from RVshare. From large motorhomes to compact campervans, there is a rig that will meet your travel and budget needs. Once you hit the road, you are protected by our renter guarantee and 24/7 roadside assistance. Find the perfect vehicle for your travel needs in San Diego or Joshua Tree National Park.