I opened my eyes to a crisp morning, with soft sounds of a creek nearby and birds and wildlife slowly coming to life as I sat up and unzipped my tent to greet the morning.
I’d been on many adventures over the years, from swimming with manta rays in Hawai’i to parasailing in the hills of Colombia, but this was something special. This road trip was a dream come true, and when it was over it easily became my most memorable adventure.
Planning our dream road trip
The adventure started before the road trip of course, as I slowly started piecing together the route down the west coast, buying an atlas and a book on the national parks. I realized if we broke it up into two weeks, my husband and I could easily loop around the national parks as well as wine country in both Oregon and Northern California.
We started planning months in advance – researching campsites and wineries, where to stop for groceries and showers, planning out the route. This was going to be epic – knocking out places we had dreamed about visiting for years: The Redwoods, Yosemite, Sequoia, and Napa Valley, plus some new places we were dying to see like Lake Tahoe and the mountain roller coaster, and the rocky Oregon coast.
As the trip grew closer, however, so did the wildfires in California. What’s adventure without a plot twist, right?
So we recalibrated and pushed the trip out, planning to travel the loop in the opposite direction and leaving later in hopes of giving nature time to run its course.
Since the government banned controlled burning in the 1850’s and populations and strain on water sources have grown, California has steadily become known for its wildfire seasons and we always knew that having a back up plan would likely be necessary.
The Epic Road Trip Begins
We started the drive by heading to a McMenamins – an Oregon and Washington family-owned chain of hotels and pubs that are known for being in rehabilitated historic locations.
As chance would have it, we ended up doing 4 wine tastings in Oregon’s cool and sunny Willamette Valley, by the end of it my husband was tired of wine but I was overjoyed, finding stories on the vineyards that translated into the bottles of reds and whites. Was this road trip I had been planning for more than 6 months really happening?
As we headed down highway 101 along the Oregon coast, news of the Dixie fire which burned almost 80% of Lassen National Park was breaking out, and Lake Tahoe was on the verge of being evacuated.
I quickly, for the third time, started planning a new route on our loop back to Seattle, canceling reservations and researching new ones. We were already on our way and there was no stopping us now.
The Redwoods were next on our stop and my first stamp in the National Parks passport. We always make an effort to stop at the visitor’s center for helpful maps and insider information to the parks.
Hiking through the trails along these giants was an incredible dream come true. I stood at the base of one, imagining this was the same view that John Muir – a famous conservationist and champion of the National Parks, once held.
Making Our Way Down The Coast
As we made our way along, to San Francisco and Napa Valley, I continued to think to myself “I can’t believe this is really happening.
I planned it all out on paper and now we’re actually doing everything!”
We visited the Golden Gate Bridge – a National Recreation area, and sipped wine in a castle.
Watching the sunset on the California Coast never gets old.
We Arrive in Yosemite
The epitome of this trip of course was getting to finally see Yosemite National Park in person, and it did not disappoint.
We entered the park and drove to the valley through Tunnel View, and I will never forget being greeted by the giant granite goliaths of El Capitán and Half Dome.
In fact, we returned to this spot to hike up to Artist Point and catch the alpenglow reflecting bright red and orange on the cliffs as the sun set behind the park.
We spent our days renting bikes and exploring the valley floor; buying prints in the Ansel Adams gallery and marveling at the views he photographed decades earlier, still as moving as they were back then.
We even spotted a few rock climbers, their headlamps glowing against the walls like stars in the night.
We had to cancel our visits to Mammoth Lakes and Lake Tahoe, but we still had a few more National Parks to visit so we continued on the road, stopping and camping and exploring along the way.
Then, one morning in Sequoia National Park, I zipped open my tent to greet the morning…
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