A 9-day/600-mile road trip covering National Parks of Southern California – including Death Valley, Joshua Tree and the Channel Islands. Travelers included our family with 3 kids ages 9-15. Enjoyed hiking over sand dunes, watching Joshua Tree sunsets, and sea-kayaking. Stayed in a variety of accommodations. Month of travel: April.
Day 1 – Travel Day
Flight to Las Vegas / Rent car + buy groceries / Drive to Death Valley National Park (2 hours) / Visit Zabriskie Point and Artist’s Palette (scenic drive) / Check into The Oasis at Death Valley (2 nights)
Day 2 – Death Valley National Park
Day 3/4/5 – Joshua Tree National Park
Drive to Joshua Tree National Park via Mojave desert (4 hours) / Check into AirBnB (3 nights)
Day 6 – Santa Monica Pier + Venice Beach
Drive to outskirts of Los Angeles (2.5 hours), stop at Cabazon Dinosaurs / Lunch and walk around Santa Monica Pier / Bike along Venice Beach
Drive to Oxnard via Pacific Coast Highway (1 hour) / Check into AirBnB (3 nights) / Late dinner at Moqueca Restaurant
Day 7 – Oxnard + Ventura
Relax and explore the beach in Oxnard / Shop at Ventura Harbor Village
Day 8 – Channel Islands National Park
Island Packers ferry to Santa Cruz Island (45 min) / Hike Cavern Point Loop / Picnic lunch / Discovery Sea Cave Kayak with Santa Barbara Adventure Company (2 hours) / Return ferry to Ventura (45 mins)
Day 9 – Travel Day
Drive to LAX / fly home
Desert Weather. If you hate heat and crowds, April is a perfect time to do this trip. I cannot imagine attempting some of these hikes in the blazing sun and heat of midday. Almost all of Death Valley and Joshua Tree had no shade whatsoever. Keep in mind, early April is plenty hot for these two parks. Because of the dry heat, make sure you are well-prepared with tons of water if you are outside and active for long stretches.
Park Facilities. All of these parks are particularly desolate with minimal facilities, compared to other national parks I have visited. Death Valley has lodging, a visitor’s center and some facilities in the Furnace Creek and Stovepipe Wells areas, but not much anywhere else. Joshua Tree and Channel Islands have no restaurants, visitor centers or shelters other than bathrooms so make sure to bring everything you need with you.
Navigation. You will not be able to rely on WiFi or cell service for navigation in any of these parks. Make sure to stop by the visitor centers for park maps and research trail information before you go. Death Valley has a particularly well-organized website with great information about what to do and how to get around the park.
Desert Landscape. The muted desert landscape is beautiful and varies greatly from park to park! The drive through the Mojave desert from Death Valley to Joshua Tree was amazing, with places to get out and explore like the Kelso Dunes and the Mojave Lava Tube (we missed this). Make sure to plan accordingly.
Other Activities. Our family prefers hiking (and it’s free!), but every park we visited had opportunities for other adventures (usually at a price) if you want to vary your activities. We booked a sea kayaking tour on Santa Cruz island, for example. Death Valley has a golf course (!) and jeep rentals for backcountry exploring; Joshua Tree has opportunities for horseback riding, mountain biking and night photography tours.