National Park of Death Valley
It sounds like a location to avoid, but don’t be put off by the gloomy moniker.
This huge and rocky stretch of east Californian desert is brutally hot most of the year, but visit in winter or early spring (though even in the middle of winter, daytime temperatures may reach 30 degrees Celsius) and you’ll discover a surprisingly lovely and alive environment.
The desert’s vibrant colors frequently astound first-time visitors.
The Timbisha tribe lived here for thousands of years, moving periodically between the valley bottom and more fruitful highlands.
The name Death Valley was given in 1849 by a group of lost California-bound gold rushers, one of whom died while attempting to cross it.
The mythology does not appear to discourage participants in the Badwater Ultramarathon, a 135-mile race over the huge valley conducted in mid-July.
The park offers nine campsites and numerous air-conditioned lodges, including the historic Furnace Creek Inn (doubles start at $365) and the Panamint Springs resort (doubles start at $79, quadruples start at $94).
Top tip: At dawn or sunset, Zabriskie Point is one of the greatest spots to see Death Valley in all its multicolored beauty.
A big parking space is only a short walk away from this widely accessible viewing spot.
Death Valley connects history, accommodation, and the Badwater Ultramarathon.
2. Yosemite national park
Yosemite National Park, 200 miles east of San Francisco, is one of America’s crown jewels, with beautiful glacier-sculpted rock, rich wildlife, and world-class recreational possibilities.
Massive glaciers sculpted Yosemite’s granite paradise approximately three million years ago, when ice covered all but the Sierra Nevada’s highest peaks.
Yosemite Valley is currently recognized for its great hiking, rafting, fishing, and animal viewing, as well as being a destination for big-wall rock climbing.
Yosemite is a year-round attraction that is beautiful but frequently busy in the summer; in the winter, the park changes into a calm snowy wonderland.
There are several park roads and trails are closed or impassable from mid-November to late April, while Yosemite Valley is available all year for snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and backcountry skiing.
Top hints: The towering granite cliffs of Yosemite are too high to see via a vehicle window; this park is best seen on foot.
The one-mile Glacier Point and 112-mile Tuolumne Meadow paths provide short but magnificent walks, or take on the more arduous 7.2-mile hike to the top of Yosemite Falls.
The arduous 14-mile trek to Half Dome necessitates hanging to cables fastened into the rock face, as well as good fortune in the highly sought-after permit lottery.
Yosemite National Park connects reservations, walking, and how to apply for a Half Dome permit.
3. Point Reyes national seashore
California is famed for its gorgeous beaches, but those who prefer seals and isolation to bikini babes and boardwalks can visit Point Reyes National Seashore, located 37 miles north of San Francisco.
The peninsula, which was designated as a wilderness area in 1962 to protect it from residential development, is one of California’s few remaining natural beaches.
The 180-square-mile park is almost shut off from the mainland by Tomales Bay, an extended body of water located in the San Andreas fault zone.
Wildlife, such as raptors and breeding sea birds, find refuge on headlands and coastal cliffs.
A huge herd of tule elk grazes on the peninsula’s northern highlands, a subspecies that previously roamed across California.
Point Reyes is popular all year, but notably from late December to mid-March, when up to 20,000 grey whales migrate by the peninsula on their way from Alaskan feeding grounds to breeding areas off the coast of Baja California, in the longest journey done by any mammal.
4. Joshua Tree national park
The park is called for the strange trees that dot the landscape – really an exceptionally tall type of yucca – but the true stars here are the rock formations: tangled piles of outsize rocks that sparkle with crystals in the southern California sun.
Climbers from all over the globe come to scale these boulders, but you don’t have to be an expert to enjoy scrambling about this pink granite jungle gym.
The park has nine campsites dispersed across it.
Only two campgrounds, Black Rock and Cottonwood, have running water, and none have an RV hookup.
The park is located 125 miles east of Los Angeles, close to the desert oasis of Twenty-nine Palms and Palm Springs, which provide air-conditioned lodging ranging from cheap dives to expensive hotels.
5. Lassen Volcanic national park
Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming is famed for its volcanic features such as geysers, fumaroles, and mud springs, but Lassen Volcanic National Park in northern California has its own version, located 50 miles east of Redding.
Lassen Peak, the world’s biggest volcanic dome, towers over the park at 10,462 feet.
Lassen is one of only two volcanoes in the continental United States to erupt in the twentieth century, the other being Washington’s Mount Saint Helens in 1980.
Following the eruption, which destroyed huge swathes of surrounding country, the Lassen Volcanic National Park was established to preserve the damaged sites for future observation and research.
Visiting the region now, over 100 years later, is a striking lesson in the Earth’s own healing abilities; it still displays enormous scars of solidified lava, but plant and wildlife thrive between the rocks.