California has an amazing selection of National and State parks, and figuring out which ones to visit can be overwhelming. I spent most of my childhood being dragged all over the state viewing the many wonders it had to offer. Some of them are obvious stand outs that I plan on dragging my family to see. I say ‘dragging’ because most kids don’t wake up in the morning and say, ” Hey Mom and Dad, can we drive an enormous amount of miles in a car until my butt falls asleep, and then hike all over a mountain until I am so hungry and thirsty I can eat the bark of a tree!” If that’s your kid, then this post is definitely for you.
My husband was nervous the first time we all went hiking in the forest. It didn’t help that we saw a steaming pile of bear scat a short distance into our hike, but he soon realized how rare that was, and how wonderful the reward of a day’s hike was for our well-being.
The experience will linger with your family their entire life, and at some point they will thank you for the wonderful experience. So strap on a good pair of hiking boots, and go see the great outdoors. Here is just a taste of the National Parks and recreational areas in California.
With 1,200 square miles, it’s hard not to find something for the family to enjoy. Beautiful blooming meadows, breathtaking waterfalls, giant Sequoias, and mountain ranges that go on forever. You can see why this park was protected in 1864. If you are planning to spend the evening, there are a variety of accommodations, but be sure to plan ahead as sites fill up quickly, especially during the busy seasons. You will need a permit if you plan on doing any overnight hiking or camping, and a day hikers permit is required for hiking Half Dome. They only allow 300 hikers per day on Half Dome, and the lottery system determines who can go. They have a preseason lottery in March if you want to have a set schedule while you are there.
There is plenty of lodging and campgrounds to choose from in the park, but if you don’t want to leave your car, that’s okay. Every road through Yosemite is scenic, and there are some popular roads through Yosemite Valley you may want to drive. Make sure to check road conditions before heading out into the area. They’ll let you know about any closures or adverse road conditions.
This scenic shoreline has 150 miles of hiking trails. Visit their trail information guide to see what best suits your family. There are a variety of off-road biking opportunities, paved biking areas, kayaking, whale watching and horseback riding. Rentals are available for bikes, kayaks and horseback riding. There are camping sites available in neighboring areas, or you can make reservations at the only lodging available within the boundaries of the National Seashore, the Point Reyes Hostel. This hostel has accommodations for all ages with shared or private rooms and a LEED Gold-certified addition.
Point Reyes National Seashore has a wonderful selection of beaches; Palomarin and Sculptured Beaches are good for tide-pool adventures, while the remaining beaches have a vast amount of sand for other activities. Although the water may look inviting, it rarely gets above 10°C (50°F). Wetsuits are a must if you are getting into the ocean, but keep in mind there are riptides, sneaker waves and the possibility of hypothermia. If you want to head into the wooded areas, there is backcountry hike-in camping along Drakes Bay and in the Phillip Burton Wilderness.
Tide Charts for beach combing and tide-pooling.
Situated at the crossroads of three great biological areas, the Cascades, Sierra Nevada and the Great Basin, Lassen Volcanic National Park is the only place to see the largest hydrothermal high-velocity steam measuring as hot as 322°F (161°C). If you are planning a trip to this National park, be sure to visit Bumper Hell Trail located at the Southwest entrance of the park. Big Boiler, the largest fumarole in the park will not disappoint.
Spend a day or a vacation exploring miles of trails in the park’s scenic backcountry. During the Summer and Fall you can engage in the many water activities, participate in the ranger-led programs, hike, and horseback ride. In the Winter and Spring seasons, there is skiing, snowshoeing, and other snow related activities available. You can reserve a cabin at Manzanita Lake Camping Cabins or stay overnight at Drakesbad Guest Ranch where you will find many amenities.
Stargazing is extraordinary in Lassen Volcanic National Park. The night skies are free of city lights, giving visitors the opportunity to enjoy the spectacular evening display. The Starry Night ranger-led program and the Lassen Dark Sky Festival are a couple of the activities available at various locations within the park.
Sites to visit: Manzanita Lake, Lassen Peak, Devastated Area, Brokeoff Mountain, Cinder Cone, Bumpass Hell, Devils Kitchen, Boiling Springs Lake, Kings Creek Falls, Butte Lake, Warner Valley, and Juniper Lake
If you ever wondered what it would be like to stand among giants, this is the park to visit. It’s hard to stand next to an amazingly large tree and not be humbled. If their size doesn’t impress you, than maybe the age of the oldest trees of more than 3,000 years might. In the Sequoia National Park, you will find the General Sherman tree, an impressive 274.9 feet tall and the world’s largest living tree. Head over to Kings Canyon and you’ll find Grant Grove and the General Grant Tree, the second largest tree in the world.
Depending on the season you decide to visit, you can enjoy hiking, horseback riding, children’s programs , field seminars, ranger-led walks, rock-climbing, fishing, spelunking, cross-country skiing, sledding, snowshoeing, wildlife watching, and swimming at Hume Lake. Moro Rock, in the Sequoia National Park, is a climb up 400 steep steps to a spectacular view of the Great Western Divide, or head over to Kings Canyon, with a maximum depth of 8,200 feet (2,500 m), and visit Boyden Cavern or Crystal Cave. The John Muir Trail runs through this area before heading up to Mt Whitney, total of 215 miles from the Yosemite starting point.
Like most of the National parks, this park is very busy during the summer months. Be sure to make reservations and get any necessary permits ahead of time. Something to be aware of, bears. Make sure you store your food out of the sight and smell of bears, and throw your trash in bear proof canisters.
There are 14 campgrounds with varying amenities offered throughout the parks. Four lodges are located in the park region, two of which are open year-round.
If Condors, Talus caves, and wildflowers aren’t enough to get you to this park, how about climbing among some crazy spires and rock formations? One of the newest additions to the National parks, this park is on the move, 3-6 centimeters per year. It was originally 195 miles south of it’s current location, and thanks to it’s proximity along the San Andreas Fault, it will continue to move northward.
Trails have volcanic and sedimentary boulders along the way from volcanic activity over 23 millions years ago. The park offers Night Hikes , rock climbing, camping, and bird watching along the 30 miles of hiking trails. The park has two talus caves, Bear Gulch Cave and Balconies Cave. Be sure to check the status of the caves before visiting as they close occasionally for bat roosting. Pinnacles National Park has a large bat population consisting of 14 out of the 23 bat species in California. Three of the species are fruit or nectar feeders, the rest eat insects and arachnids. No blood suckers here, you’ll have to travel to South America for those bats.
The best time to visit Pinnacles National Park is during the cooler winter months and early spring, as extreme temperatures during the summer months are not ideal for young hikers. Regardless the time of year you visit, it is advised to bring lots of water, as the weather is very dry and warm. Rangers recommend that each person consume 1 liter per hour while hiking.
Known as the California’s Lost Coast, a good amount of the trails are beach hiking with several stretches of 1-2 ft. rounded boulders. King Range National Conservation area has 68,000 acres and extends along 35 miles of coastline between the mouth of the Mattole River and Sinkyone Wilderness State Park. Wear sturdy hiking boots and bring your sense of adventure as there are 70 miles of hiking trails through this coastal wilderness.
King Range National Conservation area attracts a wild array of interest from abalone divers to surfers. This is a great place for bird watching with 300 different native and migrating species, and hikers can view sea lions, tide pool creatures, seals and elk. This area is busy during the summer and holiday weekends, so if you are looking for some solitude, try to plan a weekday or spring/fall trip.
This is bear country, so don’t feed any animals while you are there, and make sure to store your food items in the bear canisters when you leave your campsite. This area has ticks and rattlesnakes that you may encounter, so be watchful and make sure you prepare your family.
There are hiking trails for all ages and skill levels. Lost Coast Trail-North is a total of 24.6 miles of mostly level terrain. This King Range hike offers one of the few coastal wilderness hiking experiences in the United States. You can view sea lions, tidepools and spectacular spring wildflowers. This is about a three day hike, and recommended for the older kids.
For the younger family, Chemise Mountain Trail near Wailaki and Nadelos Campground is 1.5 miles and a 800 ft. climb. This is one of the easier hikes in the King Range. You will experience vistas of the coastline and inland mountain ranges from the 2,598 foot summit of Chemise Mountain.
Other Sources: Permits,