Road Trips from San Francisco for Nature

Road Trips from San Francisco for Nature | These road trips from San Francisco are at least one hour away and will feed your wanderlust without having to leave the state. | Lavi was here.

San Francisco is an amazing city to live in and one of the best parts about it is that there is so much beautiful nature only a car ride away. As travel restrictions begin to lift, one of the safest ways to travel is still to keep it local. These road trips from San Francisco are at least one hour away and will feed your wanderlust without having to leave the state.

The approximate driving distances in this post are from the middle of the city but vary depending on where you depart from in or near San Francisco.

Road trips from San Francisco: Driving North

Bodega Bay

Bodega Bay

Driving distance: 1 hour, 15 min

Bodega Bay is a small coastal town that I visited for beach camping and a quick getaway. Hike around Bodega Head during the day and stop for some seafood when you get hungry. For a little more excitement, head inland to Sebastopol to sip some wine before heading back to your campsite or other accommodation.

Latest conditions and updates can be found here.

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Driving distance: 4 hours

Lassen Volcanic National Park is one of the more underrated national parks I’ve ever been to. This is one of the few places where you can see the world’s four types of volcanoes: shield, composite, cinder cone, and plug dome. Lassen has so many different landscapes to enjoy.

Lassen Peak

Venture the 5-mile round trip hike to Lassen Peak or explore the volcanoes and geothermal features, mainly the Sulfur Works mudpot. These features make Lassen Volcanic National Park feel very similar to Yellowstone National Park. 

Latest conditions and updates can be found here.

Lake Tahoe

Driving distance: 3.5-4 hours

In the four years I’ve lived in California, I’ve only visited Lake Tahoe in winter for skiing and snowboarding, but it’s also a haven in summer for outdoor enthusiasts looking to hike, fish, kayak, mountain bike, and more. I probably don’t need to tell you this, but you name it, you can do it in Lake Tahoe when it comes to sports and adventure.

Lake Tahoe

In the winter, I love staying in North Lake Tahoe and skiing or snowboarding at Northstar. Some of my favorite food and drink spots in the area are Old Town Tap in Truckee, Lone Eagle Grille at the Hyatt Lake Tahoe, and Gar Woods Grill & Pier in Carnelian Bay.

Latest conditions updates can be found here.

Road trips from San Francisco: Driving South

Pinnacles National Park

Driving distance: 2 hours

We had to cancel a trip two years ago to Pinnacles National Park because I had meniscus surgery on my knee and I’ve been itching to drive down ever since. The rock formations that beckon hikers are leftovers from a volcano that once stood in the area and has shifted because of the San Andrea Fault. I’d like to hike the 5.4-mile Condor Gulch Trail to High Peaks Trail Loop and also explore some of the easier and shorter hikes in the area. There is one campground in Pinnacles so plan ahead and secure your reservation before you make the drive. 

Latest conditions and updates can be found here.

Big Sur

Bixby Bridge
Bixby Bridge

Driving distance: 2.5 hours

Big Sur is the perfect driving distance from San Francisco for a weekend getaway. The stunning Highway 1 coastline offers views of the famed Bixby Bridge, Pfeiffer Beach, and McWay Falls. Head inland and spend a day hiking up one of the many trails of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. If you hike up long and high enough, you can even see the ocean from up above.

Kirk Creek Campground
Kirk Creek Campground in Big Sur

I recommend camping, especially at Kirk Creek Campground, the most beautiful oceanside campground. But if camping isn’t your thing, Big Sur is also home to stunning resorts. Don’t forget to eat at Nepenthe, the restaurant on the cliff with stunning views of the coast.

Latest conditions and updates can be found here.

Death Valley National Park

Death Valley National Park
Badwater Basin

Driving distance: 7.5 hours

Death Valley National Park is a personal favorite of mine. The drive is long, but it’s mesmerizing to watch the scenery shift from fields of green to the desert. Plan your visit so you’re there while there’s minimal light pollution — Death Valley is one of the best places for stargazing.

From Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America, to Racetrack Playa, you can easily spend 3-4 days exploring the otherworldly sights (full Death Valley Guide post soon to come!).

Latest conditions and updates can be found here.

Joshua Tree National Park

Driving distance: 8 hours

I really can’t believe I haven’t been to Joshua Tree yet, but the drive from San Francisco is a long one: about 8 hours. The desert landscape of the park is about the size of Rhode Island peppered with rocks and Joshua trees, the uniquely shaped tree that the park is named after. All the photos of sunsets in Joshua tree look absolutely beautiful — I’m hoping to capture one for myself soon! Between the 8-9 campgrounds in Joshua Tree, there are about 500 campsites and most are first-come, first-served. 

Latest conditions and updates can be found here.

Road trips from San Francisco: Driving East

Mt. Diablo State Park

Mt. Diablo State Park

Driving distance: 1.5 hours

Mt. Diablo is perfect for a long day hike that doesn’t require a far drive from San Francisco. There are a number of trails of various levels of difficulty, making it great for all hikers. If you don’t want to hike to the summit, you can drive up most of the way to just below the Upper Parking Lot and walk the last 10 minutes to the summit. On a clear day, you can see all the way to San Francisco!

Latest conditions and updates can be found here.

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park

Driving distance: 3.5 hours

If you live in the Bay Area, I hope you’ve been to Yosemite already. Half Dome, El Capitan, Tunnel View, Glacier Point — I don’t even know where to begin. I’ve already outlined some of the best things to do in Yosemite in winter, but in spring or summer, Yosemite is a whole different playground.

Yosemite National Park
View from the Clouds Rest summit

If you’re in the mood for a long and sometimes grueling 14.5-mile hike, Clouds Rest is for you. The views are absolutely worth it and this is still to date one of the more difficult hikes I’ve completed. If you want to see waterfalls, you’ll have numerous beautiful falls to choose from between Vernal, Nevada, Horsetail, Bridalveil, Sentinel — and those are just the more popular falls.  

Latest conditions and updates can be found here.

Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks

Kings Canyon National Park
Kings Canyon

Driving distance: 4-4.5 hours

If you have 3-4 days, you should visit both Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks in one trip. The towering giant sequoia trees will make you feel tiny and help you see the world in a new perspective. In fact, five of the ten largest trees in the world are in Sequoia’s Giant Forest.

Sequoia National Park

Among the famous giants, gaze up at General Sherman Tree in Sequoia and General Grant Tree in Kings Canyon. The drive through Kings River Canyon is like being inside a panoramic painting — these two parks can’t be skipped.

Latest conditions and updates can be found here.

Short Road trips from San Francisco

If you want to stay even closer to home, these road trips from San Francisco are about an hour or less away:

Muir Woods

Muir Woods

Driving distance: 36 minutes

Muir Woods is usually on to to-do list when friends visit from out of town. It’s an easy walk on a boardwalk and asphalt trail that can take a few hours if you want to leisurely spend some time. The coast redwood trees aren’t as tall as the sequoias in Sequoia National Park, but the walk is a great escape from the city.

Latest conditions and updates can be found here and reserve your parking spot here (it’s required to reserve your parking and take the shuttle now).

Point Reyes National Seashore

Cypress Tree Tunnel

Driving distance: 1 hour

Point Reyes is so close to San Francisco and always a fun trip. My engagement photos were even taken there! From January to March, Point Reyes is one of the best places to watch whales migrate. The coastal hikes are easy and scenic and don’t forget to make a stop at the Cypress Tree Tunnel for a unique photo. 

Latest conditions and updates can be found here.


Don’t forget to check what’s open before you leave home on a road trip, including campgrounds, visitor’s centers, bathroom facilities, etc. Need some packing guidance? Check out my hiking and camping packing list — I’m constantly updating it with new recommended equipment!

14 Comments

  1. Linn
    July 11, 2020 / 9:12 am

    Wow there are som many insanely beautiful places to get to! I would definitely want to get to more than one of those:) Thanks for sharing, I’ll save it for future reference!

  2. July 11, 2020 / 9:33 am

    wow there are so many cool places to visit from san fran! this is epic! they all look pretty amazing

  3. July 11, 2020 / 9:40 am

    Your photos are so beautiful! I added these to my bucket list for when I get back out to CA.

  4. July 11, 2020 / 10:47 am

    Ooh, I’ve done seven of these so far, and I think my next stop will be Mt. Diablo. I love Northern California for the amount of great road trips there are in (almost) every direction!

  5. July 11, 2020 / 11:38 am

    I’ve never visited CA but these places look amazing! The bucket list keeps expanding

  6. July 11, 2020 / 11:47 am

    It has been too long since I’ve been in California. You have some great suggestions for road-trips. Love your pictures too!

  7. deventuretime
    July 11, 2020 / 11:53 am

    This road trip looks so incredible! I’m amazed at how different the scenery was at so many parts of your trip!

  8. July 11, 2020 / 12:00 pm

    Absolutely love all of these ideas! You’re definitely inspiring me to do a road trip/hiking adventure out west! Love the photos 🙂

  9. July 11, 2020 / 12:09 pm

    Gorgeous photography!

  10. July 11, 2020 / 12:40 pm

    This is such a great post! I will save it for the future. Can’t wait to explore one day 🙂

  11. July 11, 2020 / 1:08 pm

    These are great trip ideas – I had not idea this stuff was so accessible from SF!

  12. Lindley
    July 11, 2020 / 4:11 pm

    Gorgeous photos!!!!

  13. July 11, 2020 / 7:52 pm

    Looks like an epic journey. Beautiful photos. Definitely in my bucket list.

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