You can find the Travel Vlog of my Road Trip on YouTube!
September 17-20, 2019
4 Days + 4 National Parks + 3 States = Part 1 of my Birthday Road Trip!
To hear about an adventure consisting of: a road trip from Washington through Oregon to California, two awesome parents, a foggy day at Crater Lake, a rainy day at Redwood, a snowy day at Lassen Volcanic, and sunny days at Yosemite -- keep on reading!
An idea came to fruition when some of my family members and I realized that there were four of us that had September birthdays -- two of my aunts, one of my cousins, and myself. That cousin currently resides in California, so we all came up with the idea to visit her in California and spend a weekend in Napa, CA. The weekend that worked with everyone’s availability ended up being my actual birthday weekend, so I then talked my parents into going on a road trip with me instead of flying like everyone else.
My family and I used to drive down to California every summer, so it didn’t take much to convince them to road trip with me. Driving down to California would allow us the freedom to stop at four different National Parks along the way -- 1 in Oregon and 3 in California!
We spent four full days driving down to Yosemite before spending the weekend in Napa for about 2 days. This blog post will be Part 1 of my birthday road trip adventure (to read Part 2 click here!)!
We started our road trip down to California with coffee at Dutch Bros to fuel us for the long drive. With some traffic, it was about a 6.5 hour drive down to our first stop of the trip, Crater Lake National Park. I went ahead and took the first shift of driving, especially since I was familiar with driving down to Oregon from our home in Washington.
During the drive there, we noticed that weather reports were saying that it was too rainy/foggy today, so the chances of us being able to see Crater Lake were very slim. We debated on whether or not we wanted to skip the lake today or still venture towards the east, but decided to drive over for the attempt to see the deepest lake in the United States, and at the very least, to visit the visitor center.
Once we arrived at the park, we were met by a thick layer of fog, making visibility extremely difficult. We navigated through the fog to find the visitor center, but were unfortunately unable to see the lake through the density of the fog. We decided that the experience left us a reason to come back another time!
We then made our way to our first hotel of the trip over in Grants Pass, OR. Not only was Grants Pass along the way to the next National Park of the trip, but the hotel we booked ended up being right across the street from an In N Out Burger (and yes, that was very, very intentional). It’s an Aguilar family tradition to always find an In N Out Burger at some point during a road trip to California!
The evening concluded with stomachs full and plenty of rest, in order to prepare for the long day of driving planned for the next day.
It was about a 3 hour drive to the second National Park of the trip, Redwood National Park, so we left right after breakfast to make the trek towards the Pacific coast. Although a rainy day, the views from the road were stunning! A good majority of the drive was spent on Highway 101, which is known to be a very scenic drive along the coast. We could tell we were getting closer to the park when we noticed that we were leaving the beaches behind, to enter the rainforest filled with trees standing at more than 300 feet tall!
Once we arrived at the park, we had only about an hour to go on a hike if we wished. However, the trails were so rainy/muddy, that we decided to get a head start towards the third National Park instead. If weather conditions were a bit more forgiving, or if we weren’t in a rush, we would’ve tried the Fern Canyon trail. We were told at the visitor center that it was featured in Jurassic Park 2: The Lost World.
Elk is known to graze around the park, especially by the meadows near the visitor center that we stopped at. We kept our eyes peeled as we drove out of the park, and luckily found one buck sitting right by the road before we left!
We had about a 5-hour drive ahead of us to make it to Lassen Volcanic National Park by the afternoon, and it was anything but straight. For the most part, the road followed the windy path that the Trinity River carved so we weaved our way through the mountains to the east side of California. My dad took that driving shift like the rockstar he is! The duration of this drive varied in weather -- at one point we were being drenched in rain, and the next we were met with blue skies!
As we neared Lassen Volcanic National Park, it started to storm. We worried that we were going to experience more fog at Lassen, similar to our experience at Crater Lake. However, our mentality was that since we were already nearby, we might as well stop at the visitor center at the very least too.
With the rain, we decided to go for a small drive instead of any hikes. The fog wasn’t as thick as it was at Crater Lake, so we figured that we might be able to see some of the views despite the rain. These were our thoughts before we left the visitor center, however. Once we started walking back to the car, it started hailing!! It was honestly the funniest thing, and my parents and I couldn’t stop laughing as we ran back to the truck.
Due to the recent update on the weather, we for sure wanted to stay in the car as much as possible as we drove around the park. There were at least a couple of sights that we wanted to try and see that didn’t seem too far away from the road. The first stop was Sulphur Works, which was where we all saw our very first boiling mud pot! Lassen Volcanic National Park is known for its hydrothermal features, such as steam vents and mud pots.
We continued up the mountain a little further, and as we kept climbing the rain/hail mix turned into snow! We didn’t want to drive up too much farther with the snow picking up, but we were able to make it to Emerald Lake. All the fresh falling snow made for a beautiful sight to see!
To play it safe, we made our way back down to the visitor center. Although our adventure was short at Lassen Volcanic, it was such a cool experience seeing something new! We were told that winters come early, and leave late at Lassen, so even though it was only September, it actually wasn’t too surprising that it started to snow. (It was just surprising to us! Haha.)
Our second hotel of the trip was over at Sacramento, CA, which was another 3 hours (Day 2 was a LOT of driving… lol). Upon arriving in the city, the weather started to clear and we were met with bluer skies that even created an epic sunset. We spent the evening munching on another Aguilar family road trip tradition - Rubio’s Coastal Grill for their yummy fish tacos! We wanted to get plenty of rest for more driving the next day!
Day 3 was probably the highlight of the entire trip (pre-Napa) so far. This would be because it featured one of my Top 3 Favorite National Parks - Yosemite! Lucas and I visited Yosemite for the first time earlier in May of this year, but it was way too rainy/foggy to see any of the rock formations. Luckily this time around, the weather predictions reported sun and blue skies!
With overflowing excitement, my parents and I woke up before the sun did to make the 3-hour drive to Yosemite (fueled by a Starbucks run of course!). My dad wanted to take this shift as well, which ended up working out because the drive was so scenic - I kept wanting to capture a ton of footage for the vlog!
After passing farmland, lakes, and mountains - we arrived at Yosemite by 9am. The plan was to hang out with my parents and tour them around the big sites in the Valley before meeting up with my good friend/Lucas’ cousin Meghan (you may know her from my previous San Francisco vlog in May 2019!) to go hiking!
If it’s possible to have a favorite, I think my favorite formation is El Capitan, followed by Half Dome as a close second. I do think, however, that my opinion may change once I can cross off my Bucketlist that I hiked up to the top of Half Dome one day. We did a short hike through the Valley Loop Trail to enjoy the views that El Capitan has to offer, followed by joining a group of people grouped together to watch rock-climbers trekking up El Capitan! A couple of tourists from San Diego even offered to let my parents and I take a peek through their binoculars to watch them for a few minutes.
Most of the waterfalls weren’t running as strongly by September. The best time to see them would be the beginning of the summer. Because it was raining so hard back in May when I was last in Yosemite, I was luckily able to see the waterfalls at full blast. Fortunately, my parents weren’t too heartbroken that they couldn’t witness them this time around, because they still enjoyed the sunny views regardless.
By the afternoon, Meghan drove to meet up with me, while my parents went off to eat. Meghan and I wanted to do at least one hike together while I was in the area, so we decided on the Mist Trail that led us to Vernal Fall. It was about 3 miles round-trip to Vernal Fall, but since we walked from Curry Village, it added a little extra to the mile count. We started at about 4,000 feet and climbed around 1,000 feet in elevation to the top of the waterfall.
Although it was a pretty crowded hike, the weather was perfect. Some of the waterfall was still flowing as well - it even created a rainbow when we were there! We made it to the top with a bit of time to spare, so we hung out and had some snacks by the riverside.
Once the sun started to set, we made our way back down the mountain to the car. Sunsets in Yosemite just hit differently, so we wanted to catch the view from Tunnel View. The pink and orange light hitting off the formations were truly breath-taking!
Our hotel for the third night was in Mariposa, which was about an hour away from the park. Upon arriving into town, we worked up an appetite so we picked up some pizza from Pizza Factory before she dropped me off at the hotel.
We spent the morning of Day 4 adventuring to Yosemite one last time before going to Napa, CA to meet up with my cousins and aunts. We only had just enough time to drive up to Glacier Point to witness an epic view of Half Dome. It made for about a 2-hour drive from Mariposa, but waking up early was SO SO worth it! If you’re hesitant in making time to see it for yourself, don’t hesitate because the view is one-of-a-kind!
Annnd that's a wrap!
I am so so happy that my parents are awesome enough to accompany me on a road trip down to Napa, CA versus conveniently flying down for a shorter amount of days. Luckily for me, road trips are always preferred for the Aguilar family!
Although I would’ve loved to spend more time at each park, the weather didn’t give us much to work with haha. Regardless, I hope to visit these parks again at some point in the future, but for now, I’m glad we got to experience these glimpses of them! Stoked that we got to cross off THREE new National Parks and got to re-visit one!
Next stop -- NAPA, CALIFORNIA for my birthday in Part 2! :)
Cheers to road trips, National Parks, and incredible parents!
Storytelling by Gen
Travel diaries from explorations and adventures.