Denver to San Francisco Road Trip

Becky and Craig's RV adventure!

​​​​Key Road trip facts:

  • Route travelled: Denver (Colorado) to San Francisco (California)
  • Number of days: 13, in September 2015
  • Campervan type: Road Bear Class C 27-30
  • Who with: Husband & wife Craig and Becky
  • Ages of those traveling: Craig 44 and Becky 38



Day One: Denver to Carbondale

  • Distance: 260 miles
  • Travel time: approx. 4 hours driving with stops
  • Stayed: Carbondale Crystal Lakes KOA

We picked up our RV at the Denver branch and were eager to get on the road and start our journey. Don’t take the main highway, get off the beaten track and you will be pleasantly surprised. We got to Breckenridge, grabbed lunch at the Brew Bar then took state highway #24 through to Aspen then onto Carbondale. The drive is full of contrasts – forests, winding roads, the Twin Lakes (great photo opp) and then you arrive at Aspen – we promised ourselves a return visit in the winter! We’d shopped at Walmart before setting off which was helpful as we didn’t arrive at the holiday park till after dark so we could easily cook dinner as we had all our supplies!   


Day Two: Carbondale to Moab via Arches National Park

  • Distance: 260 miles
  • Travel time: approx. 4 hours driving with stops
  • Stayed: Moab KOA

We made it to our first national park and it was a beauty – we had a picnic road side alongside the river. Be sure to allow in your budget national park entry fees…Arches costs approx $10 per vehicle for up to 4 adults – its well worth it! There are a number of different areas and rock formations to capture and if you were a keen hiker you could easily lose yourself for a few days! Speaking of rock formations the changing landscapes are vast – around every corner your jaw drops as you take it all in. We noticed drivers on the road were very courteous and surprisingly not so busy – we quickly confirmed travelling in the shoulder season was a great decision!

Day Three: Moab to Monument Valley via small town Bluff

  • Distance: 180 miles
  • Travel time: approx. 3 hours driving with stops
  • Stayed: Gouldings Campground

We woke up to a flat tyre (gulp!) but thankfully back up and running pretty swiftly as help wasn’t too far away…today we experienced the specactular drive into Monument Valley – words can’t describe what that felt like, it truly is an epic sight. Once you’ve done your exploring and the up closer and personal snaps of the iconic left and right hand (be sure to drive down the dirt road on offer as opposed to staying up top near the visitor centre) drive the main road out at sunset and take in the Monument Valley skyline view approx 6pm…you won’t be disappointed!

Day Four: Monument Valley to Jacob Lake via Marble Canyon

  • Distance: 210 miles
  • Travel time: approx. 3.5 hours driving with stops
  • Stayed: Kaibab RV Camper Village Jacob Lake

We got up early after a yummy breakfast of cereal, yoghurt, blueberries and peaches – with 4 mornings down we were well sorted with the RV way of life. It was a bit of a driving day as we were keen to arrive at Jacob Lake, gateway to the North Rim Grand Canyon – this area has no wi-fi and no lake (just saying) but it does have a funky café/diner where you all sit around the bar on stools and order your burger/milkshake! We got to the RV park and feel in love, we were surrounded by pure wilderness, and we saw deer and squirrels within 10 minutes of being there. We had our own fire pit which was super handy and romantic as we built a fire and roasted marshmallows against the black backdrop of the forest wall…it was quite possibly the best night’s sleep of the whole trip!


Day Five: Jacob Lake to St George via Zion National Park

  • Distance: 180 miles
  • Travel time: approx. 3 hours driving with stops
  • Stayed: St George Hurricane KOA

We were up super early (4am) as we wanted to see the sunrise at North Rim. A local had suggested the best viewing spots - Imperial Point and Cape Royal lookouts – we were not disappointed. We will have the memory of being the only ones there with the wind whistling around us as the tamarillo coloured sun appeared to reveal the canyon below and around us. It was pretty breath-taking and goose bumpy! From there we drove on through to Zion National Park which costs $30 to drive through and $15 for the camper to drive through the tunnel. It’s best to park up and use the free shuttle service to take you further into the park and each key spot.


Day Six/Seven: St George to Las Vegas via Hoover Dam

  • Distance: 210 miles
  • Travel time: approx. 3.5 hours driving with stops
  • Stayed: Circus Circus RV Park

After exploring Zion’s Weeping Rock or Hanging Garden and the Court of the Patriarchs with its views of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob Peaks we made our way to the city that never sleeps. We came up with a to-do list while we en-route: watch the Bellagio fountains by day and night, eat at a fancy restaurant, get photos of all the spots we could remember from the Hangover movies, walk the strip a dozen times, visit the Hoover Dam (technically just out of the main area of Las Vegas) and spot someone famous…we managed 6 out of 7. The one thing we didn’t do but wanted to was eat breakfast at Mon Ami Gabi - if the queue and full café was anything to go by it would pay to book well in advance – that’s the thing with Vegas, book the things you know you want to do. 


Day Eight/Nine: Las Vegas to Ventura (LA)

  • Distance: 330 miles
  • Travel time: approx. 6 hours driving with stops
  • Stayed: Ventura Ranch KOA

With 2 days of bright lights behind us we took off for Los Angeles – the road trip itself is not that interesting but what welcomed us in Ventura where we stayed certainly made the trip all worth it. Ventura Ranch was home for the next couple of days, not only did it have ‘wild’ peacocks walking around, a swimming pool, tipees, deluxe cabins and fire pits it was nestled amongst a backdrop of vines and fruit trees – mostly oranges – it was quiet, sunny and very picturesque. To get our fix of Beverley Hills we spent a day exploring Santa Monica Pier, Venice Beach, Malibu and the streets of the rich and famous. Venice Beach is so colourful and grungy, Malibu a bit more up-market, the pier was great for its playground (we had to ride the ferris wheel) and listening to buskers. After a long day exploring we welcomed a quiet night around our outdoor table sorting and captioning our holiday snaps so we wouldn’t forget any of the places we had experienced so far.


Day Ten/Eleven: Ventura to Pismo Beach

  • Distance: 170 miles
  • Travel time: approx. 3.5 hours driving with stops
  • Stayed: Pismo Beach Coastal RV Village

After packing up the camper and heading through Santa Barbara we were extra excited for a couple of reasons: 1. we had hit the coast (sea views at last!) and 2. we were off to Sunstone Winery, just past a place called Solvang which has a strong Danish influence. At the winery we got to pick our own picnic basket from a range of cheeses, salami’s, breads, olives and oil, washed down with a perfect rose while relaxing in the winery grounds taking some time out to savour the local produce and our surroundings.

Time was pressing on as we had to get to Pismo Beach and check in before 4pm. Once settled in (we were here for two nights) we took a sunset stroll along the beach and had an ice-cream on the pier. This coastal town reminded me of a Whitianga or Apollo Bay – lots of families, surf shops, cafes and bars. We spent our time whale watching off the pier, stand up paddle boarding at Avila Beach with sea lions and pelicans, cycling on some cruiser bikes and feasting on a delicious ‘spaghetti’ dish made from some of the rosemary we nabbed from the winery where it was wildly growing…delicious! 


Day Twelve: Pismo Beach to Big Sur

  • Distance: 170 miles
  • Travel time: approx. 3.5 hours driving with stops
  • Stayed: Riverside Campsite Big Sur

From Pismo to Big Sur we followed the California Highway Coast #1 – it’s pretty windy but sitting high up in the RV meant we had elevated views all the way. Being a Sunday the road was pretty busy with weekend day trippers but we managed to fit in a jam packed afternoon: lunch at Big Sur Inn, a swim in the Big Sur River, the compulsory photos of McWay Falls and the Bixby Bridge, a cocktail at sunset on the deck of Nepenthe and coffee and sweet treats from the Big Sur Bakery to give us fuel for drive on our last day.


Day Thirteen: Big Sur to San Francisco

We said goodbye to our RV after taking out all the food and other supplies we no longer needed – Road Bear have a great system where other campers can use what you leave behind, we were quick to point out to a couple from the UK that they would want our outdoor tablecloth, roasting forks for marshmallows, the garlic infused oil from the winery and the salt & pepper. It was a little sad I have to confess handing back the keys, you really do get quite acquainted after a good couple of weeks on the road together. We would absolutely recommend doing this trip by RV – the people you meet are friendly, the roads are wide and full of courteous drivers and RV parks are not hard to come by. We didn’t travel with kids but everything we did had children written all over it – we have so many memories that we will have for a lifetime!


Road trip highlights:

Where the best view was?

The drive into Monument Valley – you have this massive stretch of long straight road and all that you can see in the distance getting closer and closer is the iconic Monument Valley skyline!

Where you stopped for a picnic?

Arches National Park – next to a lot of red rock and beautiful sunflowers!

Where was your favourite place/town visited and why?

Jacob Lake – remote, redwood pines, gateway to the Grand Canyon North Rim

What was your favourite experience/activity & why?

Sunrise at North Rim Grand Canyon – we were the only people there surrounded by the whistling early morning wind and the break-taking blue/orange night sky wrapping itself around us only to reveal the canyon in all its glory by 6.30am

Top highlights?

  1. Picnic basket at Sunstone vineyard - great courtyard, build your own picnic basket (cheese, olives, meat, oils)
  2. Venice Beach stroll – so crazy, grungy and full of interesting characters, could people watch there all day!
  3. Toasting marshmallows over the campfire at Jacob Lake – wilderness, fresh air, no wi-fi!
  4. Pismo Beach pier stroll at sunset – whale spotting/watching
  5. Zion National Park – the hanging garden area, even though we visited in the rain is was still spectacular
  6. Big Sur in general – the coastline, the views, the parks, Nepenthe at sunset for a cocktail

Best café for coffee?

Bread & Coco for a hazelnut mocha in San Francisco
Favourite pub/restaurant? ​​​
Café Soleil Zion National Park – best Mediterranean pizza for lunch ever!

Did you have a favourite Holiday Park you stayed in and why?

Ventura Ranch KOA – peacocks, beautiful remote setting, great facilities including cabins, teepees, pool, not far from Santa Barbara or a Trader Joes market place!

What would be your top tip for other campervan travellers?

Stock up on supplies as soon as you can – it's a great way to save money with your kitchen with you 24/7 and get yourself marshmallows as all RV parks seem to come with their own fire pit so handy for toasting!

Can you share a recipe from something you cooked in the campervan?

Easy dinner – chicken curry: chickpeas, cauliflower, spices, onion, plain yogurt, chicken served up on a bed of rice

What is your greatest memory of the whole campervan holiday?

The breathtaking scenic splendours and landscapes – realising the USA is such a vast and contrasting land and that there really is no better way to explore and discover than in an RV! That I also need to brush up on my navigating skills!