Solo Female 8-day Sierra Nevada Road Trip
Feat. Yosemite, Hot Springs & Alabama Hills
By Kate Shearer | April 5, 2022
If hiking in Yosemite National Park, soaking in mountainside hot springs and camping in the dreamy Alabama Hills sound good to you, you’ll love this epic 8 day road trip across the Sierras.
Day 1. Oceanside ⟶ Yosemite National Park
Pick up your VanCraft campervan early in the morning in sunny Oceanside and set off for Yosemite National Park. It’s a solid 6 hr drive, but if you keep pit stops short and sweet, you’ll arrive at Yosemite in perfect time to see it bathed in afternoon light. Take in the world famous vistas as you drive through the park at Golden Hour, on the way to your campsite.
Upper Pines Campground is your best bet for Fall camping within the National Park, as many of Yosemite’s other campgrounds close for the season. Book a site ahead of time on Recreation.gov as availability is limited (although spots pop up daily due to cancellations if you’re stuck!).
Settle into your campsite, build a fire and enjoy your first night in your cute and cozy camper. You’ve done the hard work of getting here, now it’s time to get excited for the adventures that lie ahead.
Day 2. Yosemite National Park
After a peaceful night’s sleep in your VanCraft campervan, wake up surrounded by the majestic cliff faces and towering pine trees of Yosemite Valley. Today is about getting out and exploring the park, so take your pick of endless outdoor activities, including rock-climbing, hiking, fishing and biking.
If hiking is your thing, use the AllTrails app to find a hike to suit your preferences. I found a long, hard, uphill hike for my introduction to Yosemite and wasn’t disappointed, the views and terrain were breathtaking in a way I’d ever experienced before. I also encountered a bear on the trail, so this is a PSA to bring your bear spray, especially if you are hiking solo!
In the evening, relax and cook dinner at your campsite, or check out one of the places to eat and drink within Yosemite. Bar1899 and the pizza deck are popular spots near Upper Pines campground. Whatever you choose, you earnt a beer 🙂
Day 3. Yosemite National Park
With a second full day in Yosemite, you get to really slow down, disconnect and take in the beauty all around you. Whether you choose to do more outdoor adventure activities, or simply relax and breathe in the fresh mountain air, being off the grid in nature is amazing for the soul, and there is no better place to enjoy it than in Yosemite.
I recommend making a campfire in the evening and doing some star-gazing, before climbing into your campervan to catch up on some reading.
Day 4. Yosemite National Park ⟶ Travertine Hot Springs
Rise and shine, it’s time to get back on the road and find some hot springs! As the Sierra Nevada mountain pass roads close due to snow during Fall, I suggest checking if your intended route is open using the CalTrans website, to avoid many extra hours of driving.
After a stunning drive over the thickly wooded, snow-capped Sierras, you’ll arrive at Travertine Hot Springs. Scout around to find a pool you like the look of – there are hidden gems tucked around the perimeter of the area! Once you find one you like, jump in! Nudity is permitted in these hot springs, so don’t worry if you forgot your bathers.
Watching the sunset over the Sierras from your private hot spring pool is a surreal experience that you’ll never forget. When you’re eventually done soaking, head back to your VanCraft van and find your camp spot for the night. There are many free camping sites along the road to the hot springs, which I found via the Dyrt. Once you arrive, rinse off with the solar rooftop shower, then get inside your camper and get cozy for the evening.
Day 5. Travertine Hot Springs ⟶ Buckeye Hot Springs ⟶ Mono Lake ⟶ Wild Willy’s Hot Springs
Get ready for a day of hot spring-jumping. Start with an early morning dip in Travertine, or take off for your next stop, only 20 minutes away, Buckeye Hot Springs. You’ll find a couple of small mountainside pools with great views on your way down to the main pool, which sits right beside an icy river, and has a hot waterfall pouring into it. The large pool at the base of the waterfall was my favorite due to its hotter temperature. You can take your time soaking here and chatting with the friendly locals and visitors who come through.
The next stop is Mono Lake, which is the perfect place to stop for lunch and take a walk to observe the crazy rock formations that look like they’re from another planet. Hot local tip – If you have time, check out the gold-mining ghost town of Bodie on your way through, abandoned and perfectly preserved in the 40s. I didn’t have time on this trip, but will check it out next time.
Another short drive lands you at Wild Willy’s Hot Springs. These hot springs were much busier than Travertine and Buckeye at the time of my visit. If you’re looking for a quieter spot, you might try at Whitmore Tub and Crab Cooker Hot Springs, only a few minutes drive away. I was content to have a soak and drink in the main pool at Wild Willy’s, admiring the stunning landscape all around.
When you’re done, set up camp on the BLM land nearby, the perfect spot to take a shower, make some food and chill for the night, with incredible views of the snow-capped Sierras.
Day 6. Wild Willy’s Hot Springs ⟶ Alabama Hills
Say a fond farewell to the hot springs and jump back in the driver’s seat, heading for the famed Alabama Hills. If you need supplies like groceries or firewood, Bishop is a sweet place to stop and grab a coffee for the road.
Once you reach Lone Pine, take a right and head towards the mountains, where you’ll soon reach the expansive BLM area where free-camping is allowed. Take your time exploring the many trails, nooks and pull outs to find your perfect spot. There are endless cute sites to choose from. I lucked out and found a remote spot with killer views and large boulders providing shelter from the wind.
Spend some time hiking, biking, bouldering or climbing near your campsite, then settle in to watch the sunset, cook dinner and relax for the evening. There is limited cell service in the area, so be prepared to disconnect from the outside world and appreciate the old-school camping experience.
Day 7. Alabama Hills
Make sure you wake up in time to catch the sunrise here – it’ll be worth it. The way the first light hits the snow-capped mountains is out of this world. Now you’re up, relax and enjoy breakfast with a view. Eating breakfast in the warm morning sun, while snow-capped mountains tower before you is such a unique experience.
Once you’re done at camp, leave some bulky items behind to ‘save’ your spot, while you take off to explore for the day. Hike part of Mt Whitney, take a drive to see Movie Road, the backdrop for 300+ famous films including Star Trek, or check out the historic town of Lone Pine including the Museum of Western Film History.
Head back to your site early enough to take a shower and catch the sunset, before settling in for your final night in your little home on wheels.
Day 8. Alabama Hills ⟶ VanCraft Oceanside
Wake up for another epic sunrise, then prepare for your drive back to Oceanside.
If you’re not in a rush, try extending your trip a little by adding some more awesome stops on your way home. Some places I’d like to add would be a night or two in Death Valley, including Saline Valley Hot Springs within the National Park, Trona Pinnacles, Remington Hot Springs on the Kern River or Joshua Tree National Park.
Once you reach Oceanside, it’s time to part ways with your VanCraft campervan. And if you’re anything like me, it’s also time to start planning your next road trip 🙂