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Out West – San Francisco, 3 National Parks, Havasu Falls in 13 Days

Guest post by Dina6040

Map tips: each color represents a different day. Click a marker to learn more about the spot, and click the star in the map header to save the entire map under Your Places in Google Maps.

This trip saw us fly into San Francisco and out of Las Vegas. Sandwiched between those two cities, we enjoyed the California Coast, saw 3 national parks, and hiked to Havasu Falls.

Day 1: San Francisco to Santa Cruz

  • Golden Gate Bridge
  • Natural Bridges State Beach

Today was our anniversary!  We enjoyed the morning in San Francisco, watching the sunrise over the San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge.  The morning was perfect.  Afterward, we drove south toward Santa Cruz.  Along the way we stopped at Natural Bridges State Beach which was just beautiful.  Craggy coastline with a perfect arch just offshore.  We loved our time here.  We also loved the Bella Notte Inn which was a great hotel with beautiful rooms.  We ate our first of many authentic Mexican meals on this trip for dinner.  You don’t get Mexican food like that in Pittsburgh and we couldn’t get enough!

Day 2: Down the coast

  • Point Lobos State Natural Reserve
  • Carmel-by-the-Sea
  • Monterrey
  • Big Sur
  • Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

What a day!  We drove down the coast stopping everywhere.  While we did have some serious fog to contend with in the morning, when that cleared up the views were spectacular.  The California coast is stunning – rugged, craggy, moody!  We arrived at the Ragged Point Inn which could not be in a more beautiful location.  This is a fantastic hotel with a restaurant on site.  The views from the property are top notch.  We had a great night’s stay here.

Day 3: Getting to the National Parks

Today we traveled a little further south and saw an amazing seal colony before driving away from the coast to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.  We would have three nights for these nearby parks and we loved our time here!  Beautiful Sierra scenery, history, and indescribably large trees.

Day 4: Sequoia National Park

  • Giant Forest Museum Trailhead
  • General Sherman Tree
  • The Congress Trail
  • Moro Rock Trail
  • Big Stump Grove

We explored Sequoia National Park, taking a few short hikes and photographing the scenery.  The huge, ancient trees are difficult to describe and hard to capture with a camera.  You have to see them in person.  We loved this national park!

Day 5: Kings Canyon National Park

  • Grant Grove Village
  • The General Grant Tree
  • Zumwalt Meadows
  • Cedar Grove

Today we drove the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway all the way to the end.  The scenery along the way was incredible.  We stopped at many overlooks and a few pretty waterfalls.  The road follows the South Fork of the Kings River and is spectacular.  This was a fun, relaxing day for us where we just kind of stopped wherever we want and took in the scenery.

Day 6

We took a long drive down to Foothills Visitor center, enjoying the scenery along the way.  The drives take longer than expected and we just made a day out of seeing parts of the parks we had not yet been to.  We returned to Grant Grove where we had been staying for a final night.  The Sierra scenery is really amazing.  John Muir talked about the range of light and you can really feel it when you’re here.

Day 7: Death Valley National Park

Today we took the LOOOOONG drive to Death Valley National Park.  It takes forever to get here but we did have some amazing scenery including the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes.  We only had 1 night in the park so we really didn’t do this huge park justice.  That being said, we loved what we saw.  It’s no joke that the landscapes here are extreme.  It was very hot even in mid- October.  I would not even consider visiting in the summer time.  We stayed at Panamint Springs “resort” inside the park.  The location is good but the lodging is very, very basic.  We had only decided to come here the night before so this was the only accommodation available inside the park.  We saw coyotes as soon as we entered the park and were treated to one of the best sunsets I’ve ever seen that night.

Day 8: Getting to Peach Springs

  • Zabriskie Point
  • Artists Palette
  • Artists Drive
  • Harmony Borax Works
  • Dantes View
  • Badwater Basin
  • Devils Golf Course

We had an incredible morning in Death Valley before we had to head to Peach Springs, Arizona.  We made quick stops at a lot of places like the old ruined Borax works, Devil’s Golf Course and Artist’s Palette.  The scenery here is almost other-wordly and far more colorful than I anticipated.  Badwater Basin is the driest, lowest point in the US and you can feel the extremes when there.  We loved our time here but had to travel to Peach Springs to stay one night at the Hualapai Lodge before the highlight of the trip – Havasu Falls (which we would hike to the next day).  This would be our second time hiking to Havasu and we were excited!

Day 9: Hiking to Havasupai

  • Hualapai Hilltop
  • Supai
  • Havasu Falls

We met my sister and her husband and my husband’s uncle at the Lodge last night and they accompanied us to Havasu Falls.  We really enjoyed the lodge and got a good night’s sleep.  The lodge is the nearest accommodation to the trail head and it is about an hour’s drive down Indian Route 18 to the Hualapai Hilltop where the trail head begins the hike to the village and waterfalls.  It is strictly necessary to have permits to enter this area and they sell out almost immediately.  We secured our permits the previous February.  The hike is no joke and there are no services at the Hilltop or along the route to the Hilltop.  Make sure you have enough water, camping supplies, and whatever else you’ll need.  We started the hike down and made it to the village where you check in for your camping reservation.  From the village, you still have another about two miles of hiking over sandy ground.  There is a cafe in the village where we had lunch and then were on our way.  We carried enough food with us for the next 3 night’s stay but there is a spring at the campground to fill up your water.  The hike is beautiful throughout but when you first see the blue waters it is such an amazing feeling!  We set up camp and waded in the waters around Havasu Falls before making dinner and getting some sleep!

Day 10: Waterfalls

  • Havasu Falls
  • Mooney Falls
  • Fifty Foot Falls
  • Little Navajo Falls

Today, we started out by making the descent to the base of Mooney Falls.  This is a little tricky and scary as you have to climb down soaking wet ladders bolted to the cliff face!  The campground is situated on both sides of the creek between Havasu and Mooney Falls.  After splashing around and photographing Mooney from the bottom we climbed back up and enjoyed the creek and Havasu Falls some more.  There are plenty of places to soak or swim and the views are non- stop.  There are really photogenic little crooked bridges across the creek and you can explore as much as you want.  We also retraced our steps a bit and went up the hill to Little Navajo and Fifty Foot Falls.  The canyon is a bit more open and wide here and it’s a fantastic spot to sit in the waters.  Little Navajo is a favorite of mine.

Day 11: More waterfalls

  • Mooney Falls
  • Beaver Falls
  • Havasu Falls

We had been to Havasu Falls almost exactly a year before this but on that trip, we did not make it to Beaver Falls.  It is a bit of a hike to Beaver but well worth it!  The hike requires some route finding and oftentimes you are wading down the creek.  The canyon views are spectacular throughout and we enjoyed getting there almost as much as the waterfall at the end!  Beaver Falls is really large and has a nice, deep swimming area in front of it.  We had a great time here and spent most of the day hiking to and from this area.  Back at camp, we sat in front of Havasu again for some unmatched scenery on our final evening in the canyon.  We got some fry bread from the stand and made our final camping dinner.  The campground is in a kind of narrow spot of the canyon so there are walls on two sides of you.  It makes it get dark pretty early so we got a good night sleep with plans to hike out the next morning.

Day 12: Getting to Las Vegas

Today we had the long, dusty, dry, hot hike to the top.  The hard part – the steep switchbacks where you drag yourself out of the canyon come in the last two miles of the hike.  This means the first eight miles of the hike isn’t too difficult but you are pretty tired by time the climb begins.  We paid to have mules carry our bags out which is a lifesaver.  When we got to the top we were relieved and happy!  After that we headed to the bright lights of Las Vegas where we had a room booked at the Luxor.

Day 13: Las Vegas

Vegas is not our thing.  We have been here before a couple of times as a convenient place to fly to get to Utah’s national parks.  That’s all it’s good for for me!  For whatever reason we decided to give it another shot and spend the day here.  We walked around the strip and went to Old Vegas for the Mob Museum.  It’s a good museum and we enjoyed it.  We spent the night at the Luxor again and would fly home tomorrow afternoon.

Final thoughts

Havasu Falls is incredible. This was our second visit in two years and we hope to return again one day! The California coastal scenery was fantastic and so different from the east coast beaches we are more used to. Death Valley, Kings Canyon, and Sequoia were amazing national parks and it was the first time either of us had been there. We had a fantastic vacation!!

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