5 California State Parks That are Worth the Drive

Jul 6, 17 by Jorian Goes

5 California State Parks That are Worth the Drive

These California State Parks will Not Disappoint

Summer is a wonderful time to explore the nation’s park system. While Yosemite and Yellowstone are two of the most visited, there are 28 national parks in California alone that you and your family can visit.

Whether you live in the north, central valley or southern California, there are parks nearby that you can enjoy this summer or where you can spend a few days traveling to get to. Here are 5 that are well worth the drive.

If you live in northern California, chances are that you have either visited or at least want to visit this treasure. It is a 78,028 acre preserve in Marin County that has incredible vistas and offers camping, lodging and interactive activities.

Point Reyes National Seashore

The area is full of history dating back to 1579 when Sir Francis Drake landed here. But predating his landing and “discovery,” the Coast Miwok Indians called this area home for several millennia. Artifacts have been found that date back 5000 years. As a visitor, you have the opportunity to choose any of 120 sites where these Native Americans lived. The Point Reyes National Seashore Museum houses many specimens and archaeological items that you can examine as well.

Recreational activities include over 150 miles of hiking trails, campgrounds, biking, kayaking, horse riding and fishing. There are also volunteer activities that you and your family may engage in such as habitat restoration, monitoring harbor seals and repairing trials. There are windswept beaches, salt and freshwater marshes and over 33,000 acres of coastal wilderness.

Check in at the Bear Valley Visitor Center found about a half mile west of Olema, California when arriving to learn about trial closures and other information so that you can fully enjoy your visit. Camping and beach fire permits can be obtained here.

Located in the Sierra Nevada Mountains near Mammoth Lakes, Devils Postpile is considered a geological wonder that was formed from lava flows only about 100,000 years ago, a very short time in geological terms. It is considered a rare but spectacular example of columnar basalt. Glaciers have left their mark in the rocks during several glacial periods, the last being about 15,000 years ago.

Devils Postpile National Monument

Hiking is a major attraction here where you can traverse the Ansel Adams and John Muir wilderness areas, although these lie just outside the park. The Devils Postpile is 0.4 miles to the base and another 15 minute walk up to the top. Minaret Falls is a 1.4 mile hike to the waterfall. From the ranger station, you can reach Rainbow Falls that is a one-way 2.5 mile hike.

You can go wild trout fishing in the San Joaquin River, which is adjacent to the ranger station parking lot or go to nearly Sotcher and Starkweather Lakes.

Other activities include horseback riding and road biking into Reds Meadow. Mountain biking is only permitted near Starkweather Lake on the Starkweather Trail. There are many more mountain biking opportunities at nearby Mammoth Lakes.

If not for John Muir, we might not have many of our national parks or at least in their current pristine state. John Muir is the preeminent conservationist and naturalist of our nation, whose writings and advocacy are responsible for our enjoying Yosemite, Sequoia, Petrified Forest, Kings Canyon, Grand Canyon, and Mt. Ranier national parks.

John Muir National Historic Site

The John Muir National Historic Site is found 30 miles east of San Francisco in Martinez, California. You can learn about the life of John Muir at the visitor center found at 4202 Alhambra Avenue in Martinez. A ranger or docent leads tours at the Strentzel-Muir house beginning at 2:00 pm each day with added tours at 11 a.m. on weekends.

You can also hike the hills of Mt.Wanda and have a picnic at the top. Further, you can enjoy camp fire programs, bird walks and full moon walks.

Located in remote Tulelake, California in the northeastern part of the state, your visit to this area will give you a unique experience. Formed by lava from ancient volcanic eruptions 10,500 to over 60,000 years ago, Lava Beds has some 700 caves formed by the cooling lava. Some are easily accessible by simply walking in but others require ropes and ladders.

Lava Beds National Monument

These caves are home to certain species of bats so each visitor is screened for white nose syndrome, a lethal fungal bat disease, though your chances of contracting this condition is rare. There are more than enough caves to explore for visitors that are categorized as least challenging, moderately challenging and most challenging. The latter will require some crawling and spelunkers will need safety gear.

You can bring headlamps and may want a jacket or sweatshirt as these caves, or tubes, can be cool even in the heat of summer. It is also advised to bring long pants, long sleeve shirts and closed toe shoes in the caves.

In the lava beds themselves, you could see antelope, mule deer, and even bald eagles.

From the urban wilds of Los Angeles to the truly wild areas, Southern Californians have miles of forest land, wild animals and incredible vistas in their backyard. Coyotes and mountain lions still reside in the hills and mountains of the Santa Monica Mountains with over 500 miles of trails including the Backbone Trail. On this popular hike, you can walk 43 of the 67 trail miles with a total elevation gain of 19,000 feet.

If on horseback, you can use the total trail. In summer, expect temperatures in the 90s so water purification tablets are strongly advisable to use for stream water since you likely run dry. There are designated campgrounds on the trail where you can spend the night.

Santa Monica Mountains National Recreational Area

Other activities include day hikes, mountain biking, climbing and wildlife viewing. There is also a sunset stroll in a search for male tarantulas looking for their mates.

Enjoy these natural wonders and others in California this summer and have experiences and memories that you and your family will always treasure.