Travel in a Rented RV: Road Trip From Los Angeles to Yellowstone (Sequoia, Yosemite, Lake Tahoe)

A 10 Day RV Camping Road Trip

From LA to Yellowstone in 10 Days, 4 adults had the time of their lives in a 26 foot RV rented from Cruise America. A fairly frugal holiday, we paid half price for a one-way RV out of Los Angeles, camped in exceedingly reasonable National Park campsites, ate many meals prepared in our tiny RV kitchen, and split the cost 4 ways. And we had a ball.

So, here's a roundup of our tire-tread odyssey in these Western United States: California, Nevada, Idaho, and Montana.

We flew into LA one October afternoon, 2 couples, one each from Austin and Detroit. Drove a rental car to the big Cruise America lot, took the very enlightening RV operating class, and then anxiously drove away in our newly rented RV for the first time! A little nerve wracking in LA traffic, I might add. But we did it!!

Dockweiler Beach RV Park, Los Angeles
Dockweiler Beach RV Park, Los Angeles | Source

I say "we" but actually we divided the driving up into 3 groups: 1) those who drove in the city, 2) those who drove around sheer cliffs, and 3) those who drove on the open, flat road (me!)

First Night: Gorgeous Beach

California dreaming, we spent our first night in an RV on the beach in a gorgeous RV beach campground, called Dockweiler, near LAX Los Angeles International Airport (at the end of the runway!) Actually, it was quite wonderful.

Of course, we had a lot to do. Since we had flown in we needed to stock up on groceries. (The rental car came in handy. We parked the RV and drove the car around LA.) To our surprise, the RV was well stocked with pots and pans and tableware. We had brought along our own bedding and towels, measuring cups, a bowl, a couple of sauce pans and cooking implements, but we had expected to go shopping for the rest.

Use checklists!

If you plan your own trip, you have to be very organized. We used many different resources to plan our trip. RV Vacations for Dummies (see sidebar) has great checklists for everything you need to remember. Although a laptop would work (except in the mountains: no Internet or cell phone service), we kept a 3-ring binder with sections for each major destination along the way that included:

  • the basic itinerary
  • expense records
  • sections for each major destination; for example: Los Angeles, Other California, Nevada, Idaho, Yellowstone.

In turn, each major destination section contained

  • reservation details
  • maps and directions
  • campsite information
  • list of sites to see, things to do

P.S. I know some experienced RVers just pick up and hit the road, footloose and fancy free, with no plans at all, making decisions as they go. For our first time out, we wanted some things planned.

Our LA "Must See" was the Getty Museum.

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View of LA from the Getty.
View of LA from the Getty.
View of LA from the Getty.

What to Do About LA

As much as we love traveling to big cities—especially New York and London—this RV trip was definitely NOT about city sights. We were going to rough it (in a luxury RV!) in campgrounds set in some of the greatest wilderness in the world.

Still, we couldn't pass up the chance to do a quick tour including views of LA from Mulholland Drive, the mansions of Beverly Hills, the Hollywood sign, and most of all, the billion dollar Getty Museum, set like a jewel high in the hills overlooking LA.

After getting the RV stocked and organized, we had a fine dinner and our tour of the city, slumbered under the stars, and awoke to the sound of pounding surf.

Then, after necessary stops at Starbucks and Trader Joe's, off we went, up Interstate 405 to the Getty and then to Sequoia National Park.

Heading into Sequoia National Park

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  1. Day 1 - Arrive LA, tour LA, overnight at Dockweiler State Beach RV campground
  2. Day 2 - Leave LA, visit the Getty, camp at Lemon Cove RV Park near Sequoia NP
  3. Day 3 - Sequoia, Lodgepole campground
  4. Day 4 - Arrive Yosemite, Wawona campground
  5. Day 5 - Yosemite, camp at North Pines
  6. Day 6 - Yosemite, Tuolumne Meadows camp
  7. Day 7 - Lake Tahoe, Sugar Pine Point State Park campground
  8. Day 8 - Wells, NV, Angel Lake RV Park
  9. Day 9 - Ketchum, ID, The Meadows RV park
  10. Day 10 - West Yellowstone, MT, Yellowstone Grizzly RV Park

Camping Inside Yosemite National Park

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Half Dome
Half Dome
Half Dome | Source

Original shopping list:

  • Frying pan
  • Saucepan
  • Large spoon
  • Large fork
  • Spatula
  • Tongs
  • Dishtowels
  • 4 plates (we didn't want to use paper)
  • 4 bowls
  • 4 Glasses
  • Glass wine stemware (such city dwellers!)
  • Coffee mugs
  • Knives, forks, teaspoons, soup spoons (getting picky here)
  • Dishpan
  • Cutting board
  • Measuring cups
  • Mixing bowl
  • Baking pan (for brownies!)
  • Ice cube trays

What we actually did:

We were planning on shopping at IKEA to provision the RV with the rest of the things we needed but couldn't bring on the airplanes, but the Cruise America "provisioning kit" which normally cost $100, was already on board our RV.

Staying inside Sequoia National Park

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Sequoia National Park - Unspeakable Beauty

I don’t think anyone can really describe what it is like to stand in the mystery and majesty of the giant sequoia trees, the largest trees in the world. John Muir, the pioneering conservationist, said one naturally walked softly and awe stricken among them. Stand in the forest and close your eyes, you still feel their presence.

You and I are only going to live a 100 years, at best, but these beings are up to 3,000 years old. And they don’t die of old age, either; most just fall over. They only grow above 5,000 up to 7,000 feet in only 2 places on earth—here in California on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and somewhere in China.

Yosemite National Park

If Sequoia trees, then Yosemite rocks!

Grandeur is the word for Yosemite National Park. Majestic rocks, cliffs, and waterfalls are everywhere. Half Dome is the most famous "rock" in the park, near Yosemite Valley, the most frequented part of the park, where we camped one night. In October, many of the famous falls are dry, but if you do a little hiking you can still find them.

We stayed one night at 3 different campground in Yosemite, each quite different and offering its own starting points for views and trails. North Pines, the relatively populated campground in Yosemite Valley, is full of civilized offerings: hot showers, restaurants, groceries, gear, bar, and coffee shop.

Inside the RV

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Lunch in the RV.
Lunch in the RV.
Lunch in the RV.

The Truth About RV Camping

Bottom line: It's a ball.

The experience itself is an odd juxtaposition of the extraordinary, almost spiritual aspect of the beauty that surrounds you when you camp in these great national parks, and the very mundane, nitty-gritty details of living camp-style.

For example, water. Turn on the faucet and out it comes, right? In an RV, you have to worry about 3 kinds of water: fresh, gray, and black. Think about it and you get the idea pretty quickly. The 40-gallon fresh water tank was supposedly potable, but we used it mostly for cooking and cleaning. The 35-gallon grey water tank collected water from the shower, kitchen sink, and bathroom sink. The 30-gal black water tank was from the toilet only.

Every day you have chores that may involve filling up the fresh water tank, and emptying the black and grey water tanks.

The other tanks to keep an eye on are the gas tank and the LP gas tank which powers the refrigerator and stove. If you use the generator, you incur extra charges and may have to change the oil.

With so little space, we had to be tidy and synchronized. We took turns getting dressed in the morning, alternated chores, and more or less stood up only 2 at a time.

RV Road Trip: LA to Yellowstone

show route and directions
A markerLos Angeles California -
Dockweiler State Beach RV campground
[get directions]

Fabulous! Make reservations FAR in advance.

B markerSequoia National Park, CA -
Lodgepole Rd, Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park, Woodlake-Three Rivers, CA, USA
[get directions]

C markerYosemite National Park, CA -
North Pines Campground, Yosemite National Park, CA 95389, USA
[get directions]

The most social camp in Yosemite. Restaurants, groceries, hot showers.

D markerLake Tahoe, CA -
Sugar Pine Point State Park, South Lake Tahoe, CA, USA
[get directions]

The loveliest campground.

E marker Wells, NV -
Wells, NV, USA
[get directions]

Out in the middle of nowhere. Still, it has its own kind of beauty.

F markerKetchum, ID -
Ketchum, ID, USA
[get directions]

Gorgeous green and wooded Idaho.

G markerWest Yellowstone, MT -
West Yellowstone, Mt 59758, USA
[get directions]

West entrance to the greatest National Park of all!

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Camping by Lake Tahoe

We thought we'd seen the most beautiful sites in the world in Sequoia and Yosemite, but Lake Tahoe was simply breathtaking. Surrounded by mountains, forests, and beaches, we all decided we would be happy to return for a long stay at this gorgeous lake, summer or winter.

Sugar Pine Point is a California State Park and campground, one of the most memorable of our trip for sheer loveliness. It has 2 miles of lakefront and a pristine beach.

The sugar pines are beautiful trees, the tallest of all pines1 (according to the Forest Service), that throw off huge pine cones (up to 2 feet long!) that you'll see along the sandy trails down to the water edge.

1 Note: Sugar pines, giant sequoias, and coastal redwoods are technically in different classes.

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Charming Ketchum, IdahoCharming KetchumCharming Ketchum.Pretty campground in Ketchum.Ernest Hemingway memorial in Sun Valley near Ketchum.
Charming Ketchum, Idaho
Charming Ketchum, Idaho | Source
Charming Ketchum
Charming Ketchum
Charming Ketchum.
Charming Ketchum.
Pretty campground in Ketchum.
Pretty campground in Ketchum.
Ernest Hemingway memorial in Sun Valley near Ketchum.
Ernest Hemingway memorial in Sun Valley near Ketchum.

The Earth Steams, the Soil Boils Yellowstone National Park

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Ketchum and Sun Valley

These two charming Idaho locales drew us for a number of reasons. We needed a break in the loooooooong drive from Lake Tahoe to Yellowstone National Park across the dusty dessert country of Northern Nevada. We headed up into Idaho, a welcome relief of lovely farms and rolling green hills near the Snake River.

The further north we went, the more beautiful until we reached the very charming town of Ketchum, final resting place of Nobel prize winner for literature, Ernest Hemingway, the second reason we came to Ketchum.

Side by side, practically, Ketchem is the town, Sun Valley, the sky resort. Both are beautiful and upscale.

Yellowstone Couldn't Be THAT Great....Oh, yes it is!

On the road again, we stayed overnight just outside the park. Next morning, we excitedly entered Yellowstone National Park, the nation's first and finest, from the west side in Montana.

It wasn't long before we begin to see features that the park is famous for: steaming earth, boiling mud, clear rivers, and herds of buffalo. We stayed 4 nights in Yellowstone, and it wasn't enough. We want to go back.

Poll on National Parks

Which one is your favorite National Park?

  • Sequoia
  • Yosemite
  • Yellowstone
  • Other - Please tell us in your comments
See results without voting

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Comments 32 comments

Phil Plasma profile image

Phil Plasma 5 years ago from Montreal, Quebec

That looks awesome! I dream of RV vacations like this but really think I'll have to settle for an Aliner.

JSParker profile image

JSParker 5 years ago from Detroit, Michigan Author

Hi Phil, Actually I've had my eye on a Aliner for quite a while, as an RV to own rather than rent. Sure, it's smaller, has less conveniences, but it's also much more economical, easier to travel with, and closer to maintenance free. Happy travels!

point2make profile image

point2make 5 years ago

What a great hub. I have often thought about doing an extended RV trip. Your hub is certainly motivation to get going.Thanks again and ......see you on the road!!!!

Simone Smith profile image

Simone Smith 5 years ago from San Francisco

When I was a child, I used to have dreams of someday owning an RV and traveling all around America. You've just rekindled those dreams with this beautiful Hub! Your RV traveling advice is great, and each place you describe (some of which I have visited, others which are still on my to-see list) are all awesome. Thanks for reminding me of something very important I must go out and do!

JSParker profile image

JSParker 5 years ago from Detroit, Michigan Author

point2make - I finally got my chance to take the trip I'd always wanted to make when I lost my job! Sounds like a negative, but actually in the long run, it was not. For one thing, I might never have taken this trip. Please don't wait too long. Follow your dreams. And yes! I'll see you on the road!!!!

Simone, what a delightful recollection you've shared here. I'm delighted that my hub would have this effect! Every writer dreams that her writing will make such a difference. I do think there is something a bit vagabond in the American psyche that makes us restless, make us want to hit the road! Being a student of literature, Steinbeck's "Travels With Charlie" was always a stimulus for me. (I even re-read it on the trip!) Yes, yes do recall and fulfill your dreams!! My very best regards.

akirchner profile image

akirchner 5 years ago from Central Oregon

Thanks for the virtual road trip - I've always wanted to do that but I need a bigga RV for my hubby and my 3 mals - and of course my computer....maybe if I win the lotto! Great hub and fantastic subject. Congrats on being in the contest! Good luck!!

Mrs. Menagerie profile image

Mrs. Menagerie 5 years ago from The Zoo

Whoa! What an awesome hub...and you are leading everyone right to me here in Southwest Montana! If I may, Id love to add a few ideas once you're here... Awesome and UP!

paulgc 5 years ago

Hello JSParker,

Really liked your photographs, some absolute jems in there.

voted up and awesome.

Treasuresofheaven profile image

Treasuresofheaven 5 years ago from Michigan

Taking a RV Trip sounds like so much fun. This is a great share. I enjoyed this "virtual trip," as others have stated....would love to take an RV Trip myself. Great job a, and the Trees in Sequoia National Park are incredible!!! Awesome!!

JSParker profile image

JSParker 5 years ago from Detroit, Michigan Author

Hi akirchner - Thanks so much for the comment. I'm with you, if I did it again with 3 other people, a little more room would be sooo nice. The problem is, that means you have to drive around that much more of an unwieldy beast.

I liked your calling the hub "a virtual trip". There's a different quality to that than just saying it's a descriptive hub. I will strive in the future to create another "virtual trip". I think that will make it more interesting. Thanks for the creative interpretation.

I like your win the lotto idea, too. :D Best wishes.

Mrs. Menagerie - your link didn't quite get me there. Are you referencing your hub "Camping With Kids in Bear Country"? I will make a note to read it. Thanks so much for your votes!!

Hey paulgc, coming from you, with your visual talent, the compliments on my photos really mean a lot. Taking a trip like we did, those photos are real treasures. Thank you so much for your votes!

Treasuresofheaven, what a pleasure to have you visit one of my hubs again. I hope you get a chance to take an RV trip someday. Those trees - whether it's the giant sequoia in Sequoia and Yosemite National Park or the coastal redwoods north of San Francisco...they are worth a trip in and of themseves. Thank you so much for your delightful words.

Mrs. Menagerie profile image

Mrs. Menagerie 5 years ago from The Zoo

Oh whoopsie, I meant this one about Gallatin National Forest...

Sorry 'bout that!

JSParker profile image

JSParker 5 years ago from Detroit, Michigan Author

Ah, got it. Will check it out. Thanks, Mrs. Menagerie.

akirchner profile image

akirchner 5 years ago from Central Oregon

You were great and thought you had a chance at second place as it was a great hub! There are/were so many great hubs this contest it is really hard to see anyone "lose" but you still won in my book! Great hub!!

JSParker profile image

JSParker 5 years ago from Detroit, Michigan Author

Thanks akirchner! I am really happy that I was selected to be in the contest and received 25 votes and won $25! Thanks for stopping by to comment. I appreciate it.

Danette Watt profile image

Danette Watt 5 years ago from Illinois

It sounds like a wonderful trip although, like you, I don't think I could drive on anything but wide open roads! Your pictures are gorgeous and I really like how you laid out this hub with the photos, info and maps. Very nice.

JSParker profile image

JSParker 5 years ago from Detroit, Michigan Author

Dear Danette - your comments are a delight for this writer to read. This hub was the first one I ever wrote and I worked especially hard on it. It also was about a trip that was a life long dream come true, so it is close to my heart. Your thoughtful words bring me a real sense of satisfaction that sometimes comes with sharing experiences. Thank you.

Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 4 years ago from Houston, Texas

What a marvelous trip...and sharing it with friends or relatives (the 4 of you) undoubtedly made it even more special. I couldn't choose just one national park in your poll as my favorite as they are all so different and each one special in its own way. Have been to each of those and have written hubs about the experiences there. Traveling in an RV would be so much fun!!! A dream come true! Thanks for telling us about your fun experiences...and yes, I would volunteer to do the driving on flat open roads. :)

Voted up, useful, interesting and will share with my followers.

Levertis Steele profile image

Levertis Steele 4 years ago from Southern Clime

Awesome! There was a time when I thought that National Geographic would be my only mode of travel, using my imagination, of course. Interestingly, some of the trips I had always wanted to make occurred after a disappointment in my life that led to a plan to do something wonderful with family or friends. No regrets!

Thanks for sharing some of America's finest--such magnificence! I voted up and clicked positives. I will share.

JSParker profile image

JSParker 4 years ago from Detroit, Michigan Author

Dear Peggy, what a wonderful comment from you. Thank you! You have made my day. Truly I get excited all over again whenever I start thinking about and looking at photos from that wonderful trip. I still marvel, too, as you said, at how different each of those beautiful parks is. And there are still so many I haven't seen. I think Glacier National Park would be on the top of my list of parks to visit that I haven' seen yet. My best wishes to you.

JSParker profile image

JSParker 4 years ago from Detroit, Michigan Author

Hi Levertis, welcome and thank you so much for visiting my hub and for your positive votes! Actually, National Geographic is a pretty good idea for some places we will never see. Also, you make an interesting point about trips after disappointments. My 30-day RV dream trip actually came about a few months after I lost my job! I would never have been able to take 30 days off otherwise. And now I'm happily retired and we just returned from an 11-day trip to China.

Didge profile image

Didge 4 years ago from Southern England

Impressive hub JSParker! Nice post.

JSParker profile image

JSParker 4 years ago from Detroit, Michigan Author

Thanks for reading, Didge.

carol7777 profile image

carol7777 4 years ago from Arizona

Thought I would read this. We used to own a motorhome. You can travel with ease, but you have to like this way of traveling. Very good hub with lots of lovely photos.

JSParker profile image

JSParker 4 years ago from Detroit, Michigan Author

The second leg of the trip described in this hub was from Yellowstone to the Tetons to Mt. Rushmore and on to Lake Michigan, for a grand total of 30 days on the road. And I still want to take another RV trip.

Thanks for reading!

worldtravelexpert profile image

worldtravelexpert 3 years ago from London, UK

For somebody who has never been to the United States I'm going to use this Hub as an itinerary for a future trip! Thanks for being so informative and for sharing some great photos too.

JSParker profile image

JSParker 3 years ago from Detroit, Michigan Author

Dear worldtravelexpert, wow I like your tag line! Just what I aspire to be, a world traveller. (Sorry for this long-in-coming response, by the way!)

Thank you for your comment. If I were asked to advise someone traveling to the U.S. for the first time, I'd be hard pressed how to go about it. I guess I would first narrow it down to choices between cities (New York? San Francisco? Chicago? How different they are!) and nature (the National Parks, but there are so many!) We've travelled this country a great deal, but there is still so much we haven't seen. And it is hard to describe a single trip that would capture the country as a whole.

We want to take a 3 to 4 week trip to Europe this year that includes Amsterdam, Milan, and the Greek Isles. There are so many choices!

worldtravelexpert profile image

worldtravelexpert 3 years ago from London, UK

Because America is so big I guess you're spoiled for choice, just like in Europe. Can't wait to go to the US one day and do a Thelma and Louise inspired road trip!

JSParker profile image

JSParker 3 years ago from Detroit, Michigan Author

Wheeee! Haha! What a way to go! My sister and I say if we ever get too old to enjoy life, we'll fly off the edge of the Grand Canyon just like they did...although I'm not sure where you actually can get that close to the edge in a car. And of course the movie ends before they hit ground...

I hope you get to take that road trip, too. So much to see, so much to do!

Copper Man profile image

Copper Man 3 years ago from Alaska

Reading an article like this sure makes you want to get out and about. One thing about renting an RV, you can select the size according to your planned trip: small for a weekender, large for an extended trip.

Jatinder Joshi profile image

Jatinder Joshi 3 years ago from Whitby, Ontario, Canada

I dream of doing a RV trip sometime soon and this hub has made the desire even stronger. Thank you for sharing some practical aspects of RV holidays.

JSParker profile image

JSParker 3 years ago from Detroit, Michigan Author

Cooper Man, I'd still like to take another trip. In fact, I go shopping now and then online looking at different sized RVs. It's such an adventure. Thanks for stopping by.

Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 2 years ago from USA

Wow, you sure packed a lot of sightseeing into your 10 day trip! Loved the very organized way you went about planning your trip as well as r lovely photographs and useful tips. As a veteran full time RVer, I sometimes forget how much we had to learn in the beginning. Renting an RV and driving it on a vacation is a real challenge if you aren't prepared, and you've addressed the challenges well. Glad you had such a great experience, and thanks for sharing it!

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