One of the great parts about California is the number of trails to hike throughout the state. It is mind boggling the number of trails to choose from. As such, you want to prioritize certain places over others. Here are the top locations you will not want to miss.
Yosemite – John Muir’s Home Away from Home
If you were to prioritize one place to visit above all others in California, it would be Yosemite. It sits on the Western slopes of the Sierra Nevada. Forged in the last Ice Age from massive glaciers, Yosemite features jaw-dropping cliffs and out crops seen today. It possesses environments such as oak, chaparral, and sparse alpine high country.
The first place you will want to stop at on your entrance into Yosemite will be the Tunnel View Spot on state route 41. It gives you the most scenic initial view of the Yosemite Valley. El Capitan is on the left. Half Dome on the right and Bridalveil Falls is just beneath it.
President Theodore Roosevelt described Yosemite Valley as a “great Solumn Cathedral.” He was right. If you look around you while on the floor, you will be awestruck by the sheer rock faces, tall sequoias, and majestic water ways. Throughout the Valley, you will see the Merced River wind through. Depending on the time of year, it widens or narrows with the snowfall of the year.
Bridalveil Falls is one of the feeders of the Merced River. While peaking in May, the falls is open year round. If you want to increase your chances to marriage, inhale the mists and love will surely follow. 188 meters in height, the falls come crashing down the cliff face. The water contributes to the erosion of the rock.
John Muir, the guardian of Yosemite, once said that everyone needs “beauty as well as bread.” Take the Mist Trail and you will realize how right he was. As you head up the hike, you will follow the Merced River as it makes its tumble down the mountain side. While along this trail, you will find the John Muir trail, another scenic path.
If you want a holistic view of the valley, hike up to Glacier point. It will provide you with a majestic view of the valley. Heading further up the trail, you will stop at Washburn Point. If you do not have much time, both sites can be accessed by road.
Yosemite Village provides an overview of the Valley’s history as well as gifts for friends and family. The park is busiest from March to October, so plan accordingly. Bikes provide a unique way to explore. There is also a free bus service to take around the valley.
On your way out, you will want to stop at Valley View to get a last glimpse of the valley. After that, you can head up the scenic Tioga Road. Along the way, you can pull over at Olmsted point. Keep in mind that the road is closed from October to May. Heading up further, you can stop at Tuolumne Meadow, possessing even more trails. Following that, you will find Lembert Dome.
John Muir described Yosemite as a place that is “far easier to feel than explain,” making it a high priority trip for all campers and hikers.
Joshua Tree National Park – It’s a Hot One
Joshua Tree National Park is located in the Mojave Desert, home of, you guessed it, the Joshua Tree. The first pioneers to visit it were the Mormons. When they saw it, they were reminded of the biblical hero Joshua, so they named it after him. Despite being called a tree, it is actually a fruit bearing member of lily family.
This park combines two ecosystems, the Mojave and Colorado Deserts. Despite what many think when it comes to deserts, these actually have grasses, making it perfect for high ground ranching. Bill Keys was one of those first ranchers to the area. He came there in 1910. Filing under the Homestead Act, he was able to get a piece of land for himself. Man made sites to visit include the Wonderland Ranch, Wall street Mill, and the Keys Desert Queens Ranch.
You are probably not visiting the park for the man made sites. One of the natural places to visit is Skull Rock. Forged by the winds of the desert, this outcrop looks like, big surprise, a human skull. Dotted throughout the park are granite outcrops, providing rock climbers with a great workout. Another place is the Oasis of Mara. This water spot serves as a year round attractant of birds to drink from. You will be sure to spot the iconic road runner as well as hummingbirds.
While a hot place to visit, Joshua Tree National Park will give you a wholesome pioneer experience.
Sequoia National Park – Where the Ancients Live
Located near the southern end of the Sierra Nevada, Sequoia National Park is one of California’s best well-kept secrets. It is one of the many homes of the mighty sequoia. Standing next to these trees is like standing next to an NBA player, looking at a picture of them does not do them any justice.
Visible throughout most of the park, Mt. Whitney is another site to behold here. At over 14,000 ft, it is the tallest mountain in America, a truly breathtaking mountain. If you are into mountaineering, this mountain is perfect for a two-day trip.
Sequoia National Park also boasts General Sherman, a 2,000 years old massive sequoia. It is the largest living thing on Earth. Because of their size, virtually nothing kills them. Nothing can be made out of them, as they shatter when they fall. Another sequoia to see is the Giant Tunnel Log. When it fell in the 1800s, instead of moving it, the lumberjacks carved a tunnel through it.
Another site to see here is Crystal Cave. The cave system contains over eighty caves, perfect for spelunking (not recommended). It showcases beautiful stalactites. These rocks are most often formed from limestone drips. Stare in awestruck wonder of this cave. Additionally, there is Moro Rock to be seen. It is a granite dome rock formation. From the top of it, you get a spectacular view of most of the park.
Sequoia National Park is surely a spectacular destination to visit.
Big Sur – the Coastal Refuge
Big Sur is a wonderful spot to visit in California. It possesses many trees, including redwoods, conifers, sycamores, oaks, alders, cottonwoods, maples, and willows. Wild life to be seen include squirrels, raccoon, deer, birds, and many more, making Big Sur a great place to visit.
If taking highway 1, you will see Bixby bridge, an excellent place to get a scenic view of the coast and surrounding area. Nearby, there is McWay Falls, an 80 ft waterfall that flows year round. Step under it and get a quick shower. North of Big Sur, you will also find Point Lobos, a quaint spot to spend afternoon. Along the coast, if you’re lucky, you will find sea otters and crabs.
Inside of Big Sur, one of the top trails is the Ewoldsen. It has redwood groves, rocky streams, and ocean vistas. Additionally, there is the Pfeiffer Falls trail. While a short one, it more than makes up for it in majestic scenery. After a long day, there is the Tassajara Hot Springs to visit. If you’re looking for tranquility and peace, this will be sure to do the trick.
Big Sur is certainly a wondrous place.
Lassen Volcanic National Park – It’s about to Get Steamy
Located 55 miles from Redding, California along highway 89, Lassen National Park boasts the largest plug dome volcano in the world. Its last eruptions occurred between 1914-1921. If it were to erupt again, it would come as no surprise, making it one of the most likely volcano in the cascades to erupt. If you want to find out the history, the Loomis Museum describes the park’s past and its volcanoes.
Nearby, you can find the Manzanita lake, which features catch and release fishing as well as kayaking. Spend the night in one of their cabins or camp outside. Nearby, there is the Kings Creek Falls, where you can see a majestic crash of water on top of rocks.
In regard to trails, there is the Devastated area trail, where you can learn about the eruption as you hike. The signature trail to see is the Bumpass Hell Trail. It is a hydro thermal area, featuring turquoise hot springs and boiling pools. There you can find the Big Boiler, the world’s hottest non erupting volcano. Sulfur works is nearby, a very neat, bubbling hydro thermal area. And there is, of course, the Lassen peak trail, 5 miles round trip.
Lassen Volcanic National Park is an underrated national park where you can learn about volcanism.
Making the Right Choice
All of these options each present their own unique sites and advantages. They all guarantee a magical, jaw dropping experience. Whether you want to hike a volcano or take a short walk by a stream. You will find a park that resonates with you. Thank you so much and I hope you make it a great day!
While you are still here, be sure to check out my review on the Teton Sports Scout 3400. If you are going to be spending any length of time in a national park, you will need a solid backpack to help you out.