California Road Trip in April

I apologise for the non cyclin related post but I know quite a number of people using the forum are based in California and the adjacent states and I wonder if you can offer any advice / opinion.

My wife and I are planning to travel with our (by then) 7 month old for a road trip in April this year. We thought we’d make the most of what will probably be our longest time off together.

We don’t have any flexibility if dates so it has to be April which, I appreciate, might not be the ideal month for travelling in California. We’re planning lots of stops and short day hikes.

We have a few weeks and plan to fly into and out of San Francisco and travel in a loop. We’ll have a hire car, probably an SUV but unlikely to be 4wd.

Our rough idea is…
San Francisco
Travelling down the Pacific coast to LA
Joshua Tree NP
Death Valley NP

From here we’re a bit unsure.

We’d love to head up highway 395 to Mammoth Lakes, then Lake Tahoe, then heading to Yosemite and back to San Francisco. However, we’re a bit worried about the possibility of snow in April particularly heading up towards Mammoth Lakes, Tahoe and over the Sierra Nevadas. We’ll be in a hire car and probably without winter tyres or snow chains.

As an alternative we thought we could travel from Death Valley to Sequoia NP, Kings Canyon NP then Yosemite. This way we wouldn’t have to cross over the Sierra Nevadas wouldn’t be travelling on such high roads.

I’d be incredibly grateful for any thoughts or even any other suggestions of places to visit.

Thanks in advance.


What would you hope to do in the Mammoth Lake / Tahoe area? Much of the 395 drive along the Sierras is spectacular, and I love Tahoe/Mammoth (family has a cabin in Tahoe area), but Kings Canyon + Sequoia + Yosemite are arguably a more impressive string of sights, especially if you’ve never seen them before, and you’ll have access to Central Valley cities for hotels and supplies (which might make life easier with a 7mo old).


Thanks for the reply, that’s really helpful.

We don’t have any firm plans for any of the stops. We just want to make the most of our time there and visit some of the spectacular parks.

Are the roads via Sequoia and Kings Canyon likely to be free of snow at that time of year? I appreciate you haven’t got a crystal ball.

Any other suggestions of places to see / visit?


and remote. However it is a spectacular drive and some of the most challenging bike climbs in the USA.

I agree with Kings Canyon / Sequoia / Yosemite traveling up Highway 99 on the return. The road situation in those National Parks will somewhat depend on the amount of snow received between now and late March. Right now this is a rainy winter, although some storms have been warm and higher snow levels.

April is usually pretty easy for driving in the mountains. However the lightly traveled smaller roads at higher elevations (National Parks and state highways) are usually closed after first snowfall, and don’t reopen until May/June in years with a lot of snow.

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Agree with all this. April will probably be fine, though one or two of those parks off 99 may have areas that are closed. We’re getting an absolute ton of rain at the moment and some roads / bridges may be washed out in the parks… that may take into the early summer to fix, once the snow thaws.


The waterfalls at Yosemite should be absolutely amazing! Back in 2015 we took the first bus up to Glacier Point, it was March 30th I believe. It wasn’t a big snow year. We walked down to the valley on the Panorama Trail and the falls were impressive.

This is what Yosemite’s Half Dome / Nevada Falls / High Country looks like in a drought winter, on March 30th:

and Upper/Lower Yosemite Falls:

Based on the rain so far, I think/hope there will be a lot more snow this year. And more powerful waterfalls.

@R_H in my humble opinion, Yosemite Valley is even more spectacular than driving down the coast. We go back every couple of years, even the shorter hikes like Lower Yosemite Falls and Vernal Falls are incredible.


The one major issue I see with your plan is that April is likely going to be quite warm at Joshua Tree and Death Valley. Not sure what you’re used to, but it could very likely be 90F at Joshua Tree and at Scotty’s Castle (April can be 70F or 90F…), and the lower elevations of Death Valley are much higher chances of being warm. Still cool at night, though, so you could potentially just plan on doing stuff in the early morning and be ok. Just wanted to bring this to your attention.

I agree with everyone else commenting that Sequoia/Kings Canyon/Yosemite are really spectacular, probably a better choice than the drive up the 395. You will likely need to check back a little closer to your travel dates to determine if roads are still open.


Thanks again for the replies.

I suppose the uncertainty about conditions makes us a bit anxious. We’re particularly keen on visiting the national parks and given the time of year we’re a bit worried the weather/conditions will curtail things.

April should be great in Joshua Tree actually. I went there in mid April 2021 and the weather was basically perfect. Warm enough to wear shorts during day hikes and only a light jacket needed if you hike up to the higher points where wind became a factor. At the time my group had a 1 year old FWIW - carried on hikes by his mom.

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Yup, pack shorts, it’s California. Eight years ago we wore shorts in Yosemite on March 30th.

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Not sure if it’s been said, but you will not be able to cross from the eastern sierra to Yosemite in April. Tioga Pass usually opens in May/June and with the amount of snow we are receiving I bet it will be more like June this year.

also please keep in mind that April is a little early for waterfalls to be honest.

checkout this channel in youtube. will probably be a great reference for you since they travel with kids

if You want to visit Yosemite you’ll hve to approach it from the Central Valley, hwy 120 or hwy 41 if you want to go from Fresno. Fresno has the advantage that you can do Sequoia and Yosemite. IF you need to skip a park, skip Sequoia.


Joshua Tree is at about 2700 ft, which is a little higher than Tucson, AZ where I used to live (~2500 ft). In Tucson, April could be 70F or it could be 90F. I distinctly remember one April where it alternated weekends - 70F, 90F, 70F, 90F. It was wild. My statement about Joshua Tree potentially being warm was based on my experience in Tucson. I’ve also been to Zion at the beginning of April. Freezing cold at night, 85-90F during the day. I just think it’s good for someone who isn’t used to the desert to be aware of these possibilities. Morning stuff is great. Just expect it to potentially be warm in the afternoon.

Death Valley is far more likely to be in the 90s during the day.

They are both really amazing places. Super neat to see, great opportunity to check them out.

This whole trip sounds awesome but a LOT of driving. If you’re driving down Hwy 1 on your way south, Hearst Castle may be a good side stop. Cambria is a pretty town.

California offers a LOT to see and do. You’ll be able to put together a really great trip, no matter what you do!

I’m a big fan of Yosemite - I go camping there almost every year (June) and never get tired of it. Having also been there in the winter, it is a completely different experience. Almost everything is closed, including virtually all of the dining. In April Tioga pass will be closed (so no entering from the East side), and so will Glacier point (not sure if the road work is even done.)
Not sure where April will fit in vs summer, and while still amazing it is a different experience in winter. That said, since you will have a little on with you, you likely wouldn’t be doing big hikes anyway, and there is a lot to see from the car or short/easy walks in the valley that should all be accessible in April.

Not on March 30, 2015! We took the first bus of the season and the kids/myself hiked down wearing shorts and wife in capri pants.

But that was a fairly dry winter…

I’ve camped in a tent, on snow, in late December during a full moon. El Capitan and Half Done at midnight is a sight to see.

Yosemite is incredible all seasons but even better in the off season!

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I will be trying to figure out if there will be a bikes only day on Glacier point this spring - that on fresh roads would be amazing. Either way I’m looking forward to riding it again (likely a weekday in June camping trip.)
I have never made it down there for bikes only day, but Yosemite does it for Glacier point and Toulomne pass, and I heard that it is also done at Crate Lake.

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The central coast is awesome in April. The hills are green, there are wildflowers.

Whale city bakery in Davenport for Ollalieberry croissants, or vegan chocolate muffin. In the mornings they are all still warm.

Santa Cruz is a bit quirky. But we have good coffee shops (Verve and 11th hour) and beaches. Oh, and brussel sprouts, lol. The local strawberries are off the hook. There’s a good Saturday farmers market on the west side, right across from Santa Cruz Bikes HQ.

Point Lobos state park in Carmel is really pretty, easy hiking.

Big Sur is awesome, but the hikes can get a bit rugged for toting a newborn. But there are some amazing, fairly accessible beaches, even one with purple sand and tons of starfish and other critters.

Then south of Big Sur are elephant seals hanging out close to highway one in Cambria.

Santa Barbara area - This might be a good year for the wildflower explosion at the Carrizo plain, and April can be a prime time to go.

I would skip LA to save some driving and aggravation and parking fees. :slight_smile:

Death valley has some high elevation and it can be quite cold, actually! But it’s easy to descend down to the warmer sections. Hopefully you have a good vehicle for dirt roads, because there are a lot out there. Some 2WD, but also a lot of gnarly jeep roads. Definitely do your research on that.

Some roads in to Kings Canyon don’t open until May, but some open earlier.

395 (eastern sierra) should be passable. But Tioga pass (through Yosemite) might be closed then still. but you can go north through reno to lake tahoe, then head south to Yosemite Valley. This might be too much driving though.

Fingers crossed for good weather for you in the mountains!


Pack for 4 seasons, actually!

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I agree with a lot of Julie’s recommendations about the central coast. The coastline around Mendocino is breathtaking. I recommend bringing or renting a gravel bike and riding through the forests. Here’s more resources if you have any plans to cycle:

If you’re into wine and beer, I’d add Russian River then a quick day trip South to Healdsburg.

I’m from LA and unless you’re planning on sticking around for several days and have a knowledgeable friend in the area, I wouldn’t even bother spending a lot of time here. It’s very spread out and really requires time to find the gems of this city. But if you insist, seek out the immigrant communities like Little Ethiopia, Koreatown, San Gabriel Valley (massive Chinese population), or peruse the taco trucks in Highland Park. You could even drive to Orange County for Little Saigon. Yes, there’s lots of fancy stuff in LA, but it’s not going to be that memorable.