Wheels Not Wings: Must-Do Road Trips From San Francisco
In a time when road trips have replaced jet-set vacations to far-flung locations, San Francisco makes a great starting-off point for several epic destinations. Here, three road trips we have on our radar, all easy to access from Northern California.
Lake Tahoe, California
3 hours 20 minutes from San Francisco (190 miles)
Known for its beaches in the summer and ski resorts in the winter, Lake Tahoe is remarkable to visit all year-round. Take note: Locals often refer to North and South Lake Tahoe as two separate areas. As we approach the snowier months, both locations offer endless winter adventures with a combined 15 ski resorts. Have you ever skied or snowboarded in two places at once? Heavenly Mountain Resort in South Tahoe provides the unique experience of two states in one day. Start the day hitting the slopes in California and then make your way over state lines into Nevada. Take a day off from the hill to rent snowmobiles from Zephyr Cove Snowmobiling for a backcountry adventure. Take a relaxed ride on groomed trails with the Scenic Lakeview Tour, or, for off-trail, hill climbing, and powder riding, choose the Ultimate Experience Tour, where you can fully customize your two-hour adventure. If you want to bring your four-legged friends, stay at the Basecamp Hotel, a dog- (and kid-) friendly hotel located in South Lake Tahoe.
Lassen Volcanic National Park, California
3 hours 45 minutes from San Francisco: (236 miles)
The Lassen Volcanic National Park is one of the less-visited National Parks in California, which is precisely why you should go. With few visitors (517,000 last year compared to Yosemite's 4.4 million), Lassen is one of the prettiest, most underrated parks in the state. The Park is a geology enthusiast's dream—it's one of the few areas in the world where you can find all four types of volcanoes—plug dome, shield, cinder cone, and composite— in one place. To see all four, we recommend starting with a day of hiking to the top of Lassen Peak, the world's largest plug dome volcano, standing 10,457 feet high with spectacular views of the Park. If you plan to summit, come prepared: It can get frigid up at the top, and you will find a few feet of snow even at the height of summer. After seeing the world's largest plug dome volcano, find your way to Cinder Cone, the Park's youngest cinder cone volcano formed only 350 years ago. While beautiful during the day, the Cinder Cone trail is a popular night hike during the full moon. Start your ascent at sunset to watch the full moon rise and enjoy the stillness of nature under the stars. Next, we have the ancient Mount Harkness, a shield volcano that began forming approximately 600,00 years ago. A prominent visitor destination on Mount Harkness is the historic Fire Lookout. Visitors can hike 1.9 miles through red fir forest and up the ancient shield volcano to access the lookout and it's panoramic views. On a clear day, you can see as far as Nevada to the east, the Coast Range to the west, and Three Sisters to the north. Last but not least, spend a spring day in the snow at Brokeoff Mountain, the remnant of Lassen's only composite volcano. Backcountry skiers can hike up Brokeoff Mountain until they find the perfect drop zone and enjoy the fresh powder. After a long day of adventures, cozy up by the fire in this luxury cabin, for rent on airbnb near Lassen Volcanic National Park.
Death Valley National Park, California
7 hours and 9 minutes from San Francisco (458 miles)
Despite its sinister name, Death Valley National Park is a California must-see. Straddling the California-Nevada border, the 3.3 million acre park includes salt-flats, dunes, badlands, valleys, canyons, and mountains. Open year-round, the diverse environment allows for an array of activities including hiking, mountain biking, trail running and horseback riding . Set your alarm clock early to watch the sunrise at Zabriskie Point—one of the most photographed parts of Death Valley. After you get the perfect shot, grab your hiking boots and traverse across the lowest point in North America, Badwater Basin—located 282-feet below sea level. October through April, you can camp at Furnace Creek Campground, but after that, we recommend staying at The Inn at Death Valley—a private resort looking out on the valley towards the Panamint Mountains—for a more luxurious (and year-round) experience.
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