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Ask the experts: US national parks

Our experts give advice on the best ways to tour the US national parks

Ask the experts: US national parks
USA, California, Valley view at Yosemite National Park. Image: Getty

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QI want to visit the wilds of California, especially Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks and Lake Tahoe. I prefer the freedom of self-catering, but is it possible to visit these widely spaced locations without having to hotel hop? Would an RV be more practical?

TT_IMG_1383-a-copy[5]_HREmma Westman, Visit California: National parks make for a great RV road trip and driving between them is all part of the fun. If you fly into San Francisco, take some time to explore state capital Sacramento and the wild Gold Country en route to Lake Tahoe, as it’s a great starting point for your journey.

At Tahoe, indulge in hiking, biking and kayaking before heading south to majestic Yosemite, where you can stay in the RV park. I’d then suggest a few nights in Mammoth Lakes and Mountain before tackling the world’s largest trees in Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park, as it’s often missed yet boasts some of the state’s most beautiful vistas.

Always see what ranger programmes are on in the parks during your visit as it’s a great way to learn about the area, and if you’re driving up from LA rather than starting north, extend your trip to take in some of California’s other national parks, such as Joshua Tree and Death Valley, to get a real feel for the variety of landscape in the state.

Note that during the holidays and summer months, RV parks get booked up far in advance, and while Yosemite and Sequoia are open all year round, early summer or late autumn are the best times to visit due to some restrictions on this route in the winter months.

If you didn’t want to take an RV, another option is to road trip by car and stay at hostels or camp grounds — you can find a number of options, all with self-catering. visittheusa.com 

julia_buckleyJulia Buckley, regular contributor, National Geographic Traveller: True, RVs were made for trips like this, but personally, I’d avoid them. An RV will drive considerably slower and use more petrol than a car; it’ll also take some adjusting to drive it.

National park accommodation isn’t all dull hotels — you can choose from log cabins and pre-pitched upmarket tents amid breathtaking scenery (the locations are usually superior to the RV parks, too).

I’d advise starting in Tahoe, where you’ll find plenty of self-catering accommodation along the lakefront — Airbnb is my go-to, as the properties rarely invoke minimum stays. From there, drop down to Yosemite’s Housekeeping Camp — its cabins and outdoor cooking facilities are perfect for you. In Sequoia, try the tented cabins of Bearpaw High Sierra Camp, perched 7,800ft up the mountainside overlooking the Great Western Divide.

Swapping the RV for a car could earn you as much as an extra day, so I’d head to Death Valley (though it’s a long drive), and then fly back from Las Vegas, two hours away.

Published in the Jan/Feb 2016 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)