Category Archives: California

Sequoia National Park

Overview

In 1890, Sequoia became the second National Park in the United States in order to protect its famous groves of giant sequoia trees, not to be mistaken for California’s coast redwoods.  The park’s hub in the Giant Forest contains the General Sherman tree, the largest by volume in the world.  Most of the park is in the High Sierra and includes Mount Whitney, the highest point in the contiguous U.S. at 14,505 feet. 

Highlights

General Sherman Tree, Moro Rock, Crystal Cave, Mt. Whitney

Must-Do Activity

The remarkable giant sequoia tree can live over 2,000 years, reach three hundred feet in height, and grow the largest wood volume of any single-stemmed tree on the planet.  They are only found in 75 protected groves scattered throughout California’s Sierra Nevadas.  Bring your whole family to see how many people it takes arms linked to reach around the base of one of these massive trees.  With circumferences reaching over 100 feet, you are going to need a big family! 

Best Trail

Crescent Trail starts near the General Sherman tree, winds up the hill, and then connects with the Trail of the Sequoias, which passes the dense clusters of the Senate and House Groups.  It is especially nice when there is snow on the ground.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Any time of year is great to visit, but the winter is perhaps the prettiest as the snow contrasts nicely with the orange bark of the giant sequoia trees.

Peak Season

Summer due to the high elevation

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/seki/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$35 per vehicle or America The Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

Roads are paved, but steep, winding, and narrow.  The rough Mineral King Road is closed in winter.

Camping

There are several large campgrounds near the Giant Forest, as well as two on the rough road to the remote Mineral King section of the park.  All backcountry camping requires a permit and is on a quota system during the summer.


This design we created to celebrate Mesa Verde National Park is available on a variety of products at Cafe Press and Amazon.

Explore More – Why do park rangers recommend you wrap your car with chicken wire when you visit Mineral King?

Manzanar National Historic Site

Overview

One of the many things that makes this country great is its willingness to remember inglorious moments in its past, such as the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.  Following the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an executive order authorizing the detention of more than 110,000 U.S. citizens of Japanese descent.  Manzanar War Relocation Center was the first of 10 internment camps built throughout the western U.S.  It held about 10,000 citizens (mostly from Los Angeles, California) in 36 blocks of wooden barracks across a one square-mile fenced enclosure. 

Highlights

Museum, film, reconstructed barracks, gardens, memorial

Must-Do Activity

Opened in 2004, the National Park Service visitor center is located inside the former camp auditorium, which now houses an excellent museum.  Self-guided walking and auto tours take visitors to two reconstructed barracks, the camp gardens, and a cemetery with the Manzanar Memorial.

Best Trail

You can walk or drive the 3.2-mile auto tour with 27 interpretive stops.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Located in the camp’s cemetery, the Manzanar Memorial is often swathed in origami paper cranes.

Peak Season

Summer, though temperatures can get hot with little shade.

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/manz/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

Manzanar is located right off Highway 395 west of Death Valley National Park and the dirt roads inside the site are passable by all vehicles.

Camping

Camping is available in Death Valley National Park and dispersed camping is allowed in the scenic Alabama Hills managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

Explore More – How many Japanese-Americans served in the U.S. military during World War II?

Rosie the Riveter / World War II Home Front National Historical Park

Overview

On the east side of the San Francisco Bay, Richmond was chosen by the National Park Service (NPS) in 2000 to commemorate the work of thousands of women and men nationwide who built the machines needed to fight World War II.  By 1945, women made up almost a third of the workforce in the U.S. and about 41% of welders in the Kaiser shipyards here.  The Visitor Education Center offers hands-on exhibits housed in a Ford Assembly Building formerly used to make tanks.  Tours are also offered on the SS Red Oak Victory, a cargo ship built here during the war. 

Highlights

Museum, film, Rosie the Riveter Memorial, SS Red Oak Victory, real-life “Rosies”

Must-Do Activity

The special thing about this park is the incredible opportunity on most Fridays to meet real-life “Rosies” who worked here during the war.  During our visit, we got to hear the stories of two women, Agnes and Marian.  They won’t be around forever, so put this site at the top of your NPS to-do list. 

Best Trail

The paved Bay Trail winds through Richmond and stops at the Rosie the Riveter Memorial in Marina Bay Park.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The poster of a woman in factory work clothes flexing her right bicep is perhaps the most famous image to come out of World War II.  “Rosie the Riveter” was also a popular song on the radio in the 1940s. 

Peak Season

Year round, but especially on Fridays when real-life “Rosies” are at the visitor center.

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/rori/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads paved, but you do have to pass through a guard station to access the Visitor Education Center.

Camping

None

Explore More – At its peak, how many people worked around the clock in the Kaiser shipyards?

World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument

Overview

The WWII Valor in the Pacific National Monument was created in 2008, composed of three sites in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands, California’s Tule Lake Segregation Center National Historic Landmark, and five sites around Honolulu, Hawaii’s Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, much better known as Pearl Harbor.  It was there that on December 7, 1941, a surprise attack on the U.S. Navy fleet led the country to formally enter World War II.

Highlights

U.S.S. Arizona Memorial, museum at Pearl Harbor, U.S.S. Missouri tours

Must-Do Activity

At Pearl Harbor there is a free museum run by the National Park Service and you can pick up free tickets to ferry to the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial, which was dedicated in 1962.  You will be hard pressed to find a more tasteful and solemn war memorial than this one.  Tickets can also be purchased to tour the nearby U.S.S. Missouri battleship and U.S.S. Bowfin submarine. 

Best Trail

Call or stop by the visitor centers for Lava Beds National Monument or Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge to learn more about accessing the ruins of Tule Lake Segregation Center National Historic Landmark near the California-Oregon border.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The wreckage of the U.S.S. Arizona battleship serves as the graves for 1,102 sailors and Marines who were on board when it sunk, and it still leaks black “tears” of oil that leave a rainbow sheen on the water’s surface. 

Peak Season

Year round, especially on and around December 7.

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/valr/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

Free entry to the museum and free timed tickets for the ferry to the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial available to the first 1,300 people each day or by reservation.  Tickets can also be purchased to tour the nearby U.S.S. Missouri battleship and U.S.S. Bowfin submarine.

Road Conditions

All roads paved, though parking is limited at the Pearl Harbor site.

Camping

There is camping available around Tule Lake in Lava Beds National Monument and Modoc National Forest.  Private and county campgrounds can be found on Oahu Island outside the city of Honolulu.

Explore More – What significant event took place upon the deck of the U.S.S. Missouri battleship on September 2, 1945?

Death Valley National Park

Overview

Death Valley is our favorite of the 9 National Parks in California.  Ghost towns and abandoned mills abound throughout its 3.4-million acres, including Leadfield on the one-way dirt road through Titus Canyon.  Most of the attractions are found in and around the historic Furnace Creek Inn: watch sunrise at Zabriskie Point or sunset at 5,475-foot Dantes View; hike through gorgeous Golden Canyon or under Natural Bridge; drive to the ironic Devils Golf Course or the colorful Artists Drive; and walk into Badwater Basin, which at -282 feet below-sea-level is the lowest point in North America, even more impressive since it sits directly beneath 11,049-foot Telescope Peak. 

Highlights

Badwater Basin, Zabriskie Point, Golden Canyon Trail, Devils Golf Course, Artists Drive, Salt Creek Interpretive Trail, Titus Canyon, Telescope Peak, sand dunes

Must-Do Activity

Death Valley averages less than 2 inches of precipitation annually, yet less than 10,000 years ago Badwater Basin was the bottom of a massive inland lake, the remnants of which be found along Salt Creek Interpretive Trail.  Here tiny desert pupfish survive in the salty, hot water. The related and endangered Devils Hole pupfish can be seen at a disconnected part of Death Valley National Park surrounded by Nevada’s Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge.

Best Trail

There are great trails throughout this park, but we prefer walking wherever we want on the many sand dunes.  The best are the Panamint Dunes; tucked on a mountain slope they require a three mile hike to reach.   That means when you drop your sleeping bag on top you will likely have the place to yourself.  More centrally located are the popular Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes.  In the northern section of the park the steep Eureka Dunes have a free primitive campground at their base.

Instagram-worthy Photo

A dry, flat lakebed in the northwestern corner of the park provides a racetrack for rocks of all shapes and sizes.  High winds and ice crystals are the key to their movement, which is clearly shown in their wake.  Do not let the 26 mile dirt road stop you from visiting this spectacular site.  It is passable by most vehicles when the road is dry (we drove our mini-van there)and when the Racetrack is wet you should refrain from walking on it anyway. 

Peak Season

Spring and fall, with summer’s being incredibly hot except at the highest elevations.  However, it can snow just about any month of the year.

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/deva/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$30 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

The main roads are paved, but to really enjoy the park you should drive a high-clearance vehicle (rental 4x4s are available near Furnace Creek).  As of December 2018, Scotty’s Castle is still inaccessible due to flood damage on the road.

Camping

There are campgrounds, but a unique aspect of this National Park is that you can disperse camp for free along many of its dirt roads.  Backcountry camping is also free and does not require a permit.


This design we created to celebrate Death Valley National Park is available on a variety of products at Cafe Press and Amazon.

Explore More – What is the connection between Death Valley, 20 Mule Team Borax, and Stephen Mather (who in 1916 became the first Director of the National Park Service)?

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WONDON WAS HERE …TWICE …THRICE …FORCE? …FIF!