Tag Archives: California

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Overview

Lassen Peak is the southernmost volcano in the Cascade Mountain Range that also includes Mount Rainier, Mount Saint Helens, and Mount Hood.  Lassen Peak last erupted from 1914 to 1917, prompting its creation as a National Park.  Access is limited during the long winters, but you can go cross-country skiing and snowmobiling in adjacent Lassen National Forest.

Learn more in our guidebook to the National Parks, A Park to Yourself: Finding Adventure in America’s National Parks (available on Amazon).

Highlights

Bumpass Hell, Lassen Peak Trail, Sulphur Works, Manzanita Lake

Must-Do Activity

Many hikers make it to the 10,457-foot summit of the dormant volcano for fantastic views of Lake Almanor and Mount Shasta.  If you are not up for a 2,000 foot elevation gain, then make sure to take the flatter trail to Bumpass Hell, a colorful collection of geysers, fumaroles, and hot springs that is like a miniature Yellowstone National Park.  June may be a little early to visit after heavy snow years, so aim for late-July or August instead.

Best Trail

In the park’s remote northeast corner, a hike to the well-named Painted Dunes is worth the effort.  From that point you can climb up the shifting trail to the top of the cinder cone for great views of the colorful lava bed, turquoise Butte Lake, and snow-covered Lassen Peak.  Expect to get a lot of jagged cinders in your shoes unless you come prepared.  If you continue your ramble you can hook up with the 2,663-mile long Pacific Crest Trail which cuts through the park.

Instagram-worthy Photo

There is a great view down into Bumpass Hell as you approach it from the trail.  Note the snowbanks lasting into late August.

Peak Season

Late summer

Hours

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

Fees

$30 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

Even if the paved road across the park’s high country is closed in early summer, try making it down the dirt road to Butte Lake (at a lower elevation) in the northeast corner of the park.

Camping

There are seasonal campgrounds within the park, or try finding a dispersed campsite on the dirt roads of surrounding Lassen National Forest.

Related Sites

Lava Beds National Monument (California)

Devils Postpile National Monument (California)

Whiskeytown-Shasta-Trinity National Recreation Area (California)

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

Explore More – More than 400,000 year ago, much of the western half of the National Park was one large composite volcano estimated to have been 11 miles in diameter and how many feet in elevation?

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Pinnacles National Park

Overview

California has nine National Parks, which is more than any other state, including Alaska.  The newest is Pinnacles National Park, upgraded from a National Monument in 2013.  Rising above the agricultural Salinas Valley, it does have quite a long history, going back even before President Theodore Roosevelt officially recognized its significance in 1908.  The park’s West Entrance is accessible from Highway 101 and the East Entrance is closer to Interstate 5 and the Central Valley.  It is actually faster to hike from one side to another, than to drive two hours around. 

Learn more in our guidebook to the National Parks, A Park to Yourself: Finding Adventure in America’s National Parks (available on Amazon).

Highlights

Scenic views, talus caves, rock climbing, endangered California condors

Must-Do Activity

In addition to its striking rock spires, the park is known for talus caves, which are tunnels formed by boulders falling and catching between narrow canyon walls.  Flashlights are necessary to navigate through them, although small gaps in the chaotic ceiling often allow shafts of light through in picturesque fashion.  You might spot a bat flying through the caves, which are seasonally closed for their protection.

Best Trail

Mild temperatures make this a park for hiking in all seasons.  Just be sure to hold onto the chains while navigating the Steep and Narrow section of the steep High Peaks Trail.

Instagram-worthy Photo

While you may not see a bat in the talus caves of Pinnacles National Park, it is likely you will spot the nine-foot wingspan of a California condor slicing the blue sky outside the caves.  This is perhaps the most successful of all release sites for this species teetering on the brink of extinction.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

$30 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

All roads are paved, but there is not a road connecting the East and West Entrances, which are about a two-hour drive apart.

Camping

The West Entrance gate is locked every night as it is day use only, but there is a campground that takes reservations at the East Entrance.  No backcountry camping is allowed.

Related Sites

Yosemite National Park (California)

Channel Islands National Park (California)

Sequoia National Park (California)

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

Explore More – Accessible by a nine-mile roundtrip hike with more than 2,000 feet of elevation gain, how tall is North Chalone Peak?

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Muir Woods National Monument

Overview

Named for passionate preservationist and Bay Area resident John Muir, this old-growth forest of coast redwood trees is a world away from the bustle of the city.  Originally established in 1908, the National Monument is administered by the National Park Service (NPS) as part of Golden Gate National Recreation Area.  It is located just south of Point Reyes National Seashore and here you can also access the coastline at nearby Muir Beach.

Highlights

Coast redwood trees, Redwood Creek Trail, Canopy View Trail, Muir Beach

Must-Do Activity

North of the Golden Gate Bridge, the San Francisco sprawl gives way to a rugged and idyllic landscape.  The twisty drive over the coastal mountains to 554-acre Muir Woods National Monument is part of the adventure.  There is a café and gift shop, plus the NPS operates a small bookstore, but not a museum at the site.  This small park receives an average of one-million visitors per year, so expect the trails to be crowded on weekends and sunny days.

Best Trail

There are only six miles of trails in the National Monument, but they connect with the extensive system in surrounding Mount Tamalpais State Park.  It is often foggy and always shady beneath these massive trees, so it is best to dress in layers.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The coast redwoods growing here are more than 250 feet tall, so hike up the aptly named Canopy View Trail to get a birds-eye view.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

$15 per person or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

The winding access road is steep and narrow, so RVs over 35 feet in length are prohibited.

Camping

There are walk-in tent campsites at Mount Tamalpais State Park and backcountry campsites (permit required) at Point Reyes National Seashore.

Related Sites

John Muir National Historic Site (California)

Redwood National and State Parks (California)

Golden Gate National Recreation Area (California)

Explore More – Coast redwood is the tallest species in the world, requiring coastal fog to stay hydrated; how far inland do the trees naturally occur?

Channel Islands National Park

Overview

Off the coast of Ventura, California a rugged archipelago is protected as Channel Islands National Park.  There is an airplane landing strip on Santa Rosa Island, but most visitors arrive to the five accessible islands by ferry.  Often referred to as the “Galapagos Islands of California,” the biodiverse kelp beds are popular with scuba divers and the sea caves attract kayakers.

Learn more in our guidebook to the National Parks, A Park to Yourself: Finding Adventure in America’s National Parks (available on Amazon).

Highlights

Anacapa Island, Inspiration Point, Arch Rock, wildlife

Must-Do Activity

Most visitors arrive by boat, with the majority taking a day trip to tiny Anacapa Island, which you can walk all the way around in about an hour.  The ferry ride is exciting in and of itself with gray whale watching, a close swing by Arch Rock, and an unforgettable landing at a dock where it is far too rough to tie up.  If you want the chance to see an amazing sunset and sunrise, you have to overnight on one of the five islands (see Camping below). 

Best Trail

On Anacapa Island, a 1.5-mile loop trail leads around the perimeter and accesses iconic Inspiration Point.  There are many miles of trails on Santa Barbara, Santa Rosa, San Miguel, and Santa Cruz Islands (and all have designated campsites).

Instagram-worthy Photo

From atop Anacapa Island’s steep cliffs, we watched swimming sea lions warm their flippers in the air and flying brown pelicans catch thermals below where we stood. 

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

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

Fees

There is no entry fee, but reservations are required for all overnight camping ($15 per night) and ferry prices vary by island.

Road Conditions

No roads

Camping

A few years ago, we stayed at the tiny backcountry campground (with no water available) on Anacapa Island in early April when the giant coreopsis flowers were completing their spectacular blooming period.  It was a noisy night since the island is a rookery for thousands of western gulls, plus the lighthouse’s foghorn rumbles out a warning four times per minute.

Related Sites

Point Reyes National Seashore (California)

Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area (California)

Cabrillo National Monument (California)

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

Explore More – The largest in the archipelago, Santa Cruz Island is 62,000 acres and 76% owned by which non-profit organization?

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

Joshua Tree National Park

Overview

This National Park in southern California is named for a tall yucca plant that grows there in large numbers, but it also contains many other interesting desert life forms and neat rock formations.  In the less-developed southern portion of the park, be sure to stop at the palm trees at Cottonwood Spring, Cholla Cactus Garden, and Ocotillo Patch to learn more about how these unique plants have adapted to survive the harsh desert conditions. 

Learn more in our guidebook to the 62 National Parks, A Park to Yourself: Finding Adventure in America’s National Parks (available on Amazon).

Highlights

Jumbo Rocks, Keys View, Arch Rock, Cottonwood Spring, rock climbing

Must-Do Activity

Due to its proximity to Los Angeles, the park gets very busy on Easter weekend (in addition to Thanksgiving weekend).  Campgrounds, like scenic Jumbo Rocks, fill up early.  Other than rock climbing opportunities, the biggest attraction is the myriad of colorful wildflowers that bloom in the spring (including the Joshua trees).

Best Trail

There are many fun hiking options located throughout the park (which are detailed in our guidebook).  At White Tank Campground you can pick up the Arch Rock Nature Trail, which forms a short loop that passes an interesting arch.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Chuckwallas are huge lizards that can grow up to 18 inches long and are related to iguanas.  Chuckwallas can inflate themselves as a defense mechanism so that predators cannot remove them from narrow cracks in the rock. 

Peak Season

Spring and fall

Hours

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

Fees

$30 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

All major roads are paved, but there are many dirt roads to explore with the right vehicle.

Camping

There are numerous NPS campgrounds located throughout the park, and some take reservations.  The scenic Jumbo Rocks Campground is popular with rock climbers.

Related Sites

Death Valley National Park (California)

Mojave National Preserve (California)

Castle Mountains National Monument (California)

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

Explore More – How tall can Joshua trees grow?

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.