Our California Road Trip and 4 must see views

Mr. Roamer made a beautiful desktop background of our recent California road trip. I look at it and remember.

Oh yeah, I still haven’t told you how it went.

So today lets talk travel & family.

If you haven’t heard. We are moving to Michigan in about 1 year. This caused us to rethink our yearly vacations. We decided to cancel our Michigan trip, in favor of checking out California. It’s funny how that works. We’ve lived here for over 5 years and have only seen a few places. Opting instead to fly out of the state during our time off.

This year was different.

Honestly, I wasn’t going to plan any trips this year. I assumed my time would be better spent figuring out the mammoth 3 month trip for next year ( I have less then 365 day left now).

Thankfully Mr. Roamer insisted we still take a trip.

So I dreamt up an epic 11 day road trip. But, the dream was short lived, as a shift in Jr’s school schedule had him starting 2 weeks earlier. That meant cutting our trip timeline and destinations. 🙁

Still it was very exciting as this was our first road trip as a family of four.

I have done road trips before. I know with kids, you have to be flexible with how much driving and distance will actually happen. Flexibility is invaluable. But, I still made a plan on excel.

A shot of my plan, This isn't exactly what happened. But it still helped me get an idea of what needed to happen.
A shot of my plan, This isn’t exactly what happened. But it still helped me get an idea of what needed to happen.

I wanted a concept of what our trip would look like. I mapped our route on google. Got the estimated mileage and drive time. I used that info to block out time for: eating, driving, and activities. Relying on my #1 tip, I planned driving during my daughters sleep schedule. And guessed arrival times at each planned stop.

I discovered some first-come-first-serve campsites. Which was great since most reserve camps were fully booked months in advance of summer. So instead of creating stress, by having deadlines to be certain places with our stays set in stone. There was stress about perhaps not having a place to stay. That’s the drawback with first-come -first-serve.

What if by the time we get to these places they have all been taken. What if it was a disaster! Wailing kids, driving around in circles hunting for a place, and general misfortune.

Thankfully before our trip I had 2 epiphanies.

  1. I realized, so what if its a disaster. Actually a bad experience would still be useful. Whether we had a happy trip or a miserable one we’d learn a few things.
  2. Turning our trip around.The original trip route hit the closest things first. Then at the farthest point we did a MEGA drive back home. A quick thought led me to switch the direction of the loop. It put our longest drive time, 8-9 hrs at the start of the trip instead of 10 hrs at the end. When we would already be drained from the trip.

Both epiphanies gave me peace!

Wondering what to pack for such an expedition?

Getting ready to unpack for our 1st night of camping Friday
Ready to unpack for our 1st night of camping  on Friday.

If you are thinking about taking a trip soon. Here is what we packed for our family of 4.  We tried to be as zero waste as we could. Since, recently I have been inspired by Bea Johnson’s zero waste mission.

  • Dinning: 4 spoons, 4 forks, 4 knives, 4 plates, 1 bowl (all metal), 1 metal sponge, dish soap, 4 water bottles, 1 little “pot”,  5 gallon jug of water, dish towels? ( no disposables here)
  • Sleeping: 2 sleeping bags, 1 fleece blanket, 2 pillows , 3 “yoga” mats,
  • Shelter:1 4-person tent ( over 10 yrs old), 1 gray tarp, 1 broom
  • Lights: 2 crank lamps, 2 flash lights
  • Hygiene: Bar of soap, contact solution, toothbrushes, toothpaste, baby wipes( not zero waste 🙁  ), Advil, sunblock, bug repellent (purchased for this trip,  only used 1 day), glasses, toilet paper
  •  Entertainment: Books, Library audio books,  swim suits, activity paper pad for Jr (thanks auntie). Car games ( okay you don’t pack those but we don’t do electronics) Jr got to play on my phone once on the last days drive back home.
  • Clothes: Per person – 5 under-wares, 5 socks, 1 pair of sandals + tennis shoes, 1 pants, 1 short, 1 jacket, 1 sweater, 1 hat, 2 long sleeve shirts, 2 short sleeve shirts, 1 pair of pjs. The exception was  Minnie, who had an extra set of clothing.
  • Food: Cooler, 2 blocks of ice in container, 4 protein bars, 2 jars of peanut butter, 1 jar of jelly, 1 loaf of bread, 1 jar of granola, 1 jar of trail mix, apples, oranges, S’more stuff, dry oatmeal, 2 (5 cup) containers of pasta salad.
  • Other: Phones, chargers, battery packs, lighters, matches, hatchet-hammer combo, paper for burning, hiking backpack ( to carry Minnie)

We made it a goal to not eat out too often, but we did still. We also bought some more groceries as well.

The most amazing part! We managed without actually owning any camping gear. We borrowed a bunch of stuff: Cooler, tent, sleeping bags, yoga mats, library audio books. So don’t let lack of gear stop you from going on a camping adventure.  Want to plan a trip in California? I used this site to help me find destinations.

QuickTrip stats

2016 California road trip route
2016 California road trip route
  • Trip length : 5 nights about 6 days
  • Thursday 8/18- Tuesday  8/23
  • Visiting: Yosemite, Bumpass hell, Burney falls, Mount Shasta
  • Drive time: 27 hrs total round trip
  • About 1,500 miles
  • Estimated cost: $200 gas, $400 place to stay =$600

The Trip in pictures

Thursday,12:30 pm started the road trip with the longest drive. We stopped at 11 pm in Williams, Ca and slept in a Ramada off exit 577. The mosquitoes attracted by the bright lights gave us our 1st bites of the trip. Our longest break during the long drive was dinner at Denny’s.

Friday, We woke up early, had breakfast at the hotel. Then kept driving.

A random exit , because Mr. Roamer wanted to get a look at the lake.
Our 1st little hike at a random stop, because Mr. Roamer wanted to get a look at the lake. Friday morning exit 694.
Friday , Our 1st stop was to see Mt. Shasta and set up camp close by. We had some change of plans and ended up in a different camp ground. Right on Lake Siskiyou with this breathtaking view
Friday , Our 1st scheduled stop was to see Mt. Shasta and set up camp close by.  We ended up swimming in the lake next to this breathtaking view of Mt. Shasta
Family, cooling off in the lake
Family, cooling off in the lake

It was not the original plan but we ended up at a camp ground right on Lake Siskiyou. We ate a late lunch of pasta salad from home. Then with the high 90’s weather we traded a hike for splashing in the lake. I made pb&j with fruit for dinner, while our kids made friends with the neighbor’s kids. The day ended with Minnie having her first S’more, and she didn’t even like it.

mmm....yumm...eh.... I don't like it.
mmm….yumm…eh…. I don’t like it. Can I just have marshmallow?

Saturday. We had fruit, nuts and granola for breakfast packed up quickly and got back on the road.

We took a small walk to Lower McCloud falls

We stopped 1st at lower McCloud falls. Then we got lost looking for Burney, but we finally found her. Even in the end of summer we were amazed to see how thunderously Burney falls was flowing.

A top view of Burney falls
Traveling wallet, roamer, Burney falls
Burney falls towering over people at the bottom of the picture. This waterfall was magnificent.

We hiked down to the base of the falls and it was very cool to feel the temperature drop as we descended. The mist rising from the falls created a curtain of cold air that caused us to don our sweaters. Even with the cold, the kids and Mr. Roamers wanted to dip their feet in the ice cold water.

Very very cold water even in late summer.
Very very cold water even in late summer.

After our hike we had pasta salad for lunch. We then drove past our next hike and headed to Southwest campsite, right next to the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor center, to secure a spot. This camp ground was very small with only 20 sites, so I wanted to secure a spot first.  It was the right move, there were only 2 sites left open when we arrived.

After lunch we went to Bumpass Hell
Bumpass Hell as we got closer we noticed the wonderful rotten eggs smell

After we set up camp, we drove the 6 miles back to the start of the hike.

Mr. Roamer: Even though I fancy myself in moderately decent shape (bicycle commuting), I struggled the roughly 1 mile ascent carrying Minnie Roamer (over 35 lbs) in the beginning.  She decided to take a nap and we used the hiking backpack to continue.  The elevation of 8,000 ft packs a punch if you’re not accustomed. It added to the difficulty of the hike.

Bumpass hell was a 3 mile hike round trip to the hydro-thermal volcanic pits. It was amazing even with the rotten egg smell.

Night 3 was extremely windy. Almost everything left on the campsite table ended up on the ground by morning.  Fortunately, the little ones slept right on through. I turned out to be the light sleeper on this trip. Between the noises and having to re-adjust my kids into the sleeping bag, I was constantly waking up.

Sunday, was our second longest drive, getting us right outside Yosemite, our last stop. We passed the time by listening to Charlie and the Chocolate factory and playing I spy. We make it a point not to rely on electronics and neither of our kids “own ipads.” We stopped in Sacramento for lunch, ate at Applebees because we had a gift card from last Christmas, then forgot to use it. D’oh.

We made it to our only pre-booked stop and found our campsite was down a flight of stairs. That was not going to work because we needed to leave early to try and secure a spot in Yosemite’s only walk in site.  So we decided to sleep in the car. It was hot!!!! 4 bodies in 1 car equals muy malo. And our worst night sleep.

Camp 4 is joke we saw some people lose their spot becuse they went to get kids out of the car and in that moment the ranger passed out place cards.
Camp 4 is no joke we saw some people lose their spot because they went to get kids out of the car and in that moment the ranger passed out place cards. Yikes!

Monday: We got on the road and snacked on granola bards for breakfast. Even though we arrive around 7 am there was already a line at Camp 4. But YAY! we got a spot. Phew!

We were exhausted by this part of the trip. If you don’t know the Yosemite falls by this time of year are all dried up. So we were really happy we got to experience Burney falls. We spent most of this stay hoping on and off the complimentary bus – which the kids really enjoyed- to visit the little museums. I failed at taking pictures of any of the places but we learned some history and looked at very old photographs.

Panorama of Yosemite Valley 

This stop also stressed me out the most because I had read the National park service site and knew about all the negative diseases you could get. What made it worse was that they are transmitted by rodents and Holy COW at camp 4 there were so many of those little suckers running around and burrows everywhere. Trying to tell the kids to leave the squirrels alone was a challenge when those things wanted to come right up to us.  (Its been long enough now for me to say we came out without having contracted anything! YAY! )

View from Yosemite valley
View from Yosemite valley, half dome

Tuesday was the drive back. The last day was suppose to be a nice slow drive home. With maybe a few stops along the way getting home late at night. But Mr. Roamer (and the kids) were ready to be done and so we took minimal breaks and made it home early .

last look of Yosemite valley. Hey look I'm wearing my blogger picture.
Last look of Yosemite valley. Hey look I’m wearing a blogger shirt.

At first I was peeved by the fast pace but in the end I was happy. We had plenty of time to unpack and enjoyed the luxury of a shower. Relaxing with a no fuss dinner of left overs. Then getting back to our nightly bed time routine.

When I got home I also realized we didn’t take any pictures of our campsites and set ups 🙁

Thankfully the trip was great!

What did all this fun cost us?


We actually spent a lot more then planned on food. But spent a lot less on accommodations so it all balance itself out. The total cost actually came in right around my trip plan estimate.

Final tips

  • Be flexible, try flipping your route around
  • Borrow, borrow, and borrow some more
  • You don’t need tons of batteries, everyone will survive without electronics.
  • Being zero waste will save you some packing space. By not having to pack a bag of disposable dishes and forks.


Final thoughts

Though over a month has passed  my daughter Minnie and son Jr are still frequently asking. When are we going camping again? Now that is a win.  : )  It really does fill me with joy to know it made such an impression on them. Traveling is 100% still possible with a family.

Are you from California? Have you had a chance to explore our states natural jewels? If not I highly recommend it. Don’t forget to check out our 4 stops Mt. Shasta, Burney Falls, Bumpass Hell, & Yosemite valley. I hope you had fun and I look forward to sharing with you all about our mammoth trip next year.

Want to vacation more tell me where do you live and if you checked out your local beauties.  Or do your travels usually take you out of your own town and country?

The Roamer traveling wallet

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