California is home to more national parks than any other state, but many are more hidden than you might think. The state’s most famous parks, like Yosemite, Death Valley, Redwoods, and Joshua Tree, tend to take center stage and overshadow the others, but can get pretty crowded at any time of the year. However, with so many national parks in California, as well as state parks, landmarks, and landmarks more amazing than some states’ national parks, who says you can’t experience more than one piece of mother nature? in one trip?
These newer or more isolated parks have towering spiers and pinnacles, volcano skiing, petrified saber-toothed cats, and some of the best snorkeling in the world. One has even been dubbed the Galapagos of North America. And they are conveniently located a few hours drive (or boat!) from Los Angeles, San Francisco or Las Vegas. Avoid the crowds and see for yourself why they call this land the Golden State.
Lassen Volcanic National Park in northeastern California has all four types of volcanoes found on Earth (cinder cones, composite, lava, and shield volcanoes) with 300 active domes. Lassen has a fraction of Yosemite’s visitors, but has many similar landscapes and geothermal sites. You will encounter sulfur vents, fumaroles, mud pots, wildflower meadows, mountain lakes, waterfalls, lava caves and boiling hot springs. Don’t miss the Bumpass Hell Trail to the largest of the eight hydrothermal areas and the easy-to-access Kings Creek Waterfall.
There are 150 miles of trails in the park, 700 flowering plants and 250 vertebrates. Hike Cinder Cone Volcano in the Butte Lake section of the park and you’ll take in stunning 360-degree views of the Painted Dunes and the volcano’s crater. The park’s most famous volcano, Lassen Peak, also offers winter skiing.
The Channel Islands National Park archipelago is only accessible by boat with a limited number of places, making it one of the least visited national parks in California. Island Packers Cruises is the only concessionaire authorized to disembark, so reserve your spot several weeks in advance. The five notable islands include Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara, Santa Rosa, and San Miguel. The closest launch points are Oxnard, near LA (60 minutes) or Ventura (70 minutes).
North America’s nicknamed Galapagos is home to the once-endangered domestic cat-sized island fox, wood jay, and otherworldly fields of flowers. Hike hiking trails with stunning views of the seascape, kayak across the ocean and into sea caves, stargaze without light pollution, and enjoy world-class snorkeling and scuba diving . You can find starfish, sea anemones, and octopuses in the giant kelp forests underwater. Above the water, spot dolphins, killer whales, harbor seals and, depending on the time of year, migrating blue, gray and humpback whales.
Pinnacles of Trona
The Trona Pinnacles National Natural Landmark is a fascinating group of approximately 500 oddly shaped tuff (calcium carbonate) spiers and towers scattered over a 14 square mile area in the California Desert Conservation Area. These mineral outcrops originally formed underwater before appearing randomly in the old lake bed just east of Ridgecrest, California. There are many different shapes and sizes of towers, with the most gigantic pinnacle rising 140 feet above the basin of the dry Searles Lake. The Trona Pinnacles is the most spectacular area of tufa tower formations in North America and has been a designated National Natural Landmark since 1968.
Grover Hot Springs
Grover Hot Springs State Park is about 45 minutes south of Lake Tahoe in Markleeville. Soothe your aching muscles in the park’s scorching water that emerges from underground at a scorching 148 degrees Fahrenheit. Don’t worry, before entering the natural hot spring, the green waters are cooled and channeled to the park’s two concrete mineral pools. Reservations are required to access the pools and must be made at least 48 hours in advance or up to three weeks in advance. It’s $10 per adult and $5 per child (0-16).
pinnacles national park
Climbers and the endangered California condor seem to love the spiers of Pinnacles National Park, located about two hours south of San Francisco. The cliffs were shaped by multiple volcanic eruptions around 23 million years ago, as well as wind and water erosion over millennia. But as old as all that, Pinnacles is California’s newest national park, having gained status in 2013, thanks to President Barack Obama.
A beautiful drive along Highway 101 or California State Route 25 will get you there, passing Big Sur, the coastal town of Carmel-by-the-Sea, and Monterey County wine country. Once there, canyon bottoms full of chaparral pine and oak forests offer over 30 miles of trails. The most popular hike is the High Peaks Loop. For other wildlife fanatics, the easy loop from Balconies Cave to Talus Caves is home to 13 types of bats (including the endangered Townsend’s big-eared bat) and opens onto an incredible view of the pinnacles.
Castle Mountains National Monument straddles the Nevada state line and the Mojave Desert. Covering approximately 21,000 acres, Castle Mountains is home to vast forests of Joshua trees and rare desert grasslands. Seventy-eight miles from Las Vegas, the mountainous region is only accessible by dirt roads, so four-wheel drive is crucial for this bumpy ride. Spring is a gorgeous time to visit, as wildflowers bring vibrant color to the vast desert. During the hot summer months, the landmark’s highest elevations, such as the Mid-Hills and New York Mountains, provide refreshing views.
Just south of the Oregon border, Lava Beds National Monument has a pretty self-explanatory name, but we’ll go over the story anyway. Formed by volcanic eruptions over the past half-million years, the butte-studded high desert boasts more than 800 caves, numerous Native American rock art sites, and incredible topography. At Petroglyph Point, you can see the archaic craftsmanship of Modoc rock. Go caving and see a variety of bat species, including Townsend’s big-eared bats. The most developed caves are located along the 2 mile cave loop near the visitor center, while the less challenging caves to navigate are Mushpot, Sentinel, Valentine, Skull, Merrill, and Big Painted.
red rock canyon
Movie buffs will love seeing the familiar desert cliffs, buttes and rock formations of Red Rock Canyon State Park, where many old Hollywood westerns were filmed. The park’s colorful outcrops have been eroded by wind and water over millennia, leaving behind towering walls striped in red and orange. The 27,000-acre park has short hiking trails to extraordinary tributary canyons, the most popular of which lead to Hagen Canyon and Red Rock Canyon. Look closely at the cliff sediments to see the remains of prehistoric animals such as three-toed horses, saber-toothed cats, and alligator lizards. You can also see petroglyphs of the indigenous Kawaiisu people.
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