Beyond the Golden State’s exciting cities, stunning natural wonders abound. Here’s a round-up of all nine of California’s national parks to give you a virtual breath of fresh air
This spectacular wilderness three hours east of San Francisco has sweeping mountain vistas, valleys and waterfalls, transporting visitors to a time before humans made their mark. Some of the oldest trees on earth soar skywards in ancient sequoia groves and wildlife lovers can spot bears, cougars and coyotes. Summer is busy, spring and autumn bring cooler temperatures and winter offers cross-country skiing.
Despite its foreboding name, Death Valley is full of life, blanketed by wildflowers in spring, and wandered by big horn sheep, mule deer and more. Stretching along the border with Nevada, the park is blessed with landscapes from Mars and scorching summer temperatures to match, meaning visitors need to be prepared. A road trip from L.A is an exciting way to explore, while the park’s resorts and ranches offer cool comforts.
Home to the tallest trees on earth, this stunning network of parks stretches along 40 miles of California’s rugged Pacific coastline, six hours north of San Francisco. Standing over 360 feet tall, coast redwoods are the main attraction, but there are also prairies where Roosevelt elk roam and wild beaches where seals, whales and dolphins splash offshore. Nearby Crescent City and Trinidad offer hotels, with lodges and campgrounds inside the parks.
Taking its name from the fantastical yucca trees that grow in this unique landscape, Joshua Tree is just three hours from Los Angeles, but a world away from the City of Angels. Here, where the Mojave and Colorado deserts meet, the stars really are of the celestial kind. Outdoor types will enjoy hiking, biking and rock climbing, and hotels in nearby cosmopolitan oasis, Palm Springs, provide a stylish base for a desert adventure.
Around four hours north of San Francisco, California’s own Yellowstone is a hotbed of volcanic action, with steaming sulphur pools, spluttering mud pots and boiling springs. Lassen Peak last erupted in 1914 and is now a magnet for hikers, while the park’s crystal-clear lakes can be explored by kayak, canoe or stand-up paddle board. Guests can book cabins or camping spots in the park, or hotels in Redding or Mount Shasta.
Dubbed ‘the Galapagos of North America’ thanks to its endemic plants and plentiful wildlife, these five islands off the Southern California coast are reached by boat from Ventura or Oxnard. It’s the state’s most undeveloped, with no lodgings, stores or restaurants. Action centres around hiking cliff paths, camping, watching sea lions and snorkelling among sea kelp to spy orange garibaldi fish. There’s also a 1932 lighthouse.
The cliffs, craggy spires and caves of this starkly beautiful park were formed by a volcano that erupted 23 million years ago about 200 miles away, before being shifted by the San Andreas Fault. The east entrance is 30 miles south of Hollister and the more remote west one is accessed near the town of Soledad. The park attracts hikers, rock climbers and cavers. Other activities include watching soaring condors, star-gazing and admiring wildflowers.
Sequoia & Kings Canyon
The majestic granite peaks of the High Sierra, giant sequoia groves, glacial valleys and plunging waterfalls make these two adjoining parks a playground for nature lovers. Made for hiking, biking and horse riding, they also boast an impressive cave system to explore and skiing and snowshoeing trails in winter. Four hours from L.A, visitors can stay in one of the parks’ lodges or cabins, or the resorts and inns of Fresno and Visalia.
Jutting out into the Pacific from the Northern California coast, just 30 miles north of San Francisco, this reserve protects more than 1,500 animal and plant species and 80 miles of shoreline. Here, breakers pound remote beaches, wisps of fog wash over coastal hills, and tule elk roam in wild meadows. Visitors can go whale watching (January to mid-April) and more than 45% of North America’s bird species have been spotted at Point Reyes.