Open the door to lim­it­less ad­ven­tures

Travel Guide to California - - CONTENTS - BY BON­NIE SMETTS

Ex­pect the Un­ex­pected


The night sky over Death Val­ley, above, is as dra­matic as any­place on earth. One of the world’s hottest places in sum­mer, Death Val­ley also con­tains the low­est point in North Amer­ica, and this is just 85 miles from Mount Whit­ney, the con­ti­nen­tal U.S.’S high­est point. After wet win­ters, early spring wild­flower blooms here are usu­ally spec­tac­u­lar. Gaze at the Milky Way un­der Death Val­ley’s inky night sky. Wade with your kids in tide pools alive with sea stars and spiny anemones. Chal­lenge your­self on the Pa­cific Crest Trail. What­ever your pas­sion, Cal­i­for­nia’s 280 state parks and 32 na­tional parks, seashores and mon­u­ments—whose mis­sion is to pro­tect the state’s nat­u­ral and cul­tural trea­sures—are the gate­way to ex­pe­ri­ences as var­ied as the state’s geog­ra­phy.

Yosemite & the Sierra Ne­vada

Yosemite Na­tional Park, with its glacier­sculpted val­ley and gran­ite peaks, is jus­ti­fi­ably one of the world’s nat­u­ral trea­sures. Come in spring when the water­falls thun­der to the val­ley floor. Come in sum­mer when the park is abuzz with vis­i­tors to ex­plore by tram, bike or on foot. Choose a gen­tle half-hour hike or re­serve a spot for the all-day climb of Half Dome. Ju­nior Ranger Walks are pop­u­lar with kids. Back­pack­ers can en­joy the soli­tude of the park’s high coun­try and ex­pert rock climbers have dozens of gran­ite walls to scale. Don’t leave the park with­out stop­ping at Glacier Point with its views of Half Dome and Yosemite Val­ley or at the Mari­posa Grove of gi­ant se­quoias to marvel at its 2,700-year-old Griz­zly Gi­ant.

To see a re­ally big tree—the world’s largest by vol­ume—head south to Se­quoia and Kings Canyon Na­tional Parks and marvel at the weighty Gen­eral Sher­man. While still in the moun­tains, take a trip to Lake Ta­hoe, North Amer­ica’s largest alpine

lake. Along the lake’s west shore, D.L. Bliss, Emer­ald Bay and Sugar Pine Point state parks of­fer camp­ing, hik­ing and white sand beaches. Far­ther north at Lassen Vol­canic Na­tional Park, watch Cal­i­for­nia take shape in the roar­ing fu­maroles, thump­ing mud pots and boil­ing pools.

Gi­ants in the Mist

While the Sier­ras are home to the hefti­est red­woods, the state’s fog-shrouded coastal range from Ore­gon to Big Sur boasts the lofti­est—sev­eral are taller than the Statue of Lib­erty. These rare trees, once logged to near ex­tinc­tion, are now pro­tected within Cal­i­for­nia’s red­wood parks.

At Hum­boldt Red­woods State Park, home to the largest con­tin­u­ous old growth red­wood for­est on earth, drive the 31-mile Av­enue of the Gi­ants and make stops along the way to stroll among the ti­tans. Founders Grove with its ma­jes­tic 346-foot spec­i­men is al­ways a fa­vorite. Visit in spring to see the pink red­wood lilies and pur­ple ca­lypso or­chids in bloom.

Far­ther north and closer to the coast, the Red­wood Na­tional and State Parks is a col­lec­tion of four parks with miles of un­spoiled coast and hik­ing trails. The tallest recorded Coast Red­wood hides here, its lo­ca­tion kept se­cret to pro­tect it. How­ever, you can visit the re­mote Tall Trees Grove if you have a day to spare and want to

nab one of the 50 daily per­mits. But all the parks pro­vide easy ac­cess to mag­nif­i­cent groves as well as pic­nic sites, camp­grounds and trails for hik­ers, cy­clists and horses.

Burn­ing Sands & Del­i­cate Wild­flow­ers

Miles from the coast, Cal­i­for­nia’s deserts are lands of ex­tremes. Vast Death Val­ley Na­tional Park holds the record for the hottest tem­per­a­ture, dri­est cli­mate and low­est el­e­va­tion in North Amer­ica. It is also fa­mous for its ex­plo­sion of wild­flow­ers after win­ter rains. For a bird’s-eye panorama, stop at Dante’s View. On the val­ley floor, walk the Bad­wa­ter Salt Flats or take an af­ter­noon drive to Zabriskie Point to snap the gar­ishly col­ored bad­lands. Trips to Ti­tus Canyon and the Race­track take you deeper into the park’s unique land­scape, but only for those with proper ve­hi­cles and prepa­ra­tion. Fur­nace Creek Camp­ground, one of nine in the park, with sites for RVS, groups and tents, pro­vides a cen­tral lo­ca­tion for ex­plor­ing the park. Be­cause of fa­vor­able weather and tem­per­a­tures, fall to spring is the park’s busiest time.

The Mo­jave Na­tional Pre­serve is fa­mous for its singing sand dunes and seven-mil­lion-year-old vol­canic cin­der cones. Joshua Tree Na­tional Park, a fa­vorite with rock climbers, moun­tain bik­ers and bird­ers, is home to the gan­gly tree that gives the park its name. While both have spring wild­flower dis­plays, Anza-bor­rego Desert State Park is leg­endary. Its flow­ers are usu­ally the first to burst into color—catch­ing the park’s cac­tus bloom is the prize.

To the Beach

A visit to Cal­i­for­nia is in­com­plete with­out spend­ing time on the beach, but not all of them are the iconic white sandy kind. You will find black sand at Sinky­one Wilder­ness State Park on the north coast. At the Men­do­cino Head­lands State Park, bun­dle up and en­joy a beach walk with a view of the Vic­to­rian vil­lage.

Closer to San Fran­cisco, the sweep­ing arc of Point Reyes Na­tional Seashore is home to a dozen beaches, with drive-up Drakes Beach and hike-in Li­man­tour as fa­vorites. Make your way to park head­lands in early spring to view the gray whale mi­gra­tion. Edg­ing the en­trance to San Fran­cisco Bay,

the beaches and cliff trails of the Golden Gate Na­tional Recre­ation Area are the gate­ways to ur­ban ad­ven­tures and his­toric sights such as Al­ca­traz Is­land.

Con­tin­u­ing down the coast to Santa Cruz and Mon­terey, surf­ing spots al­ter­nate with quiet coves that are home to sea ot­ters and seals. Be­hold the thou­sands of Monarch but­ter­flies that win­ter at Nat­u­ral Bridges State Beach. In Carmel, whose beauty has been long fa­vored by plein air artists, Point Lo­bos State Nat­u­ral Re­serve is a must-visit for ev­ery­one. Big Sur’s Ju­lia Pfeif­fer Burns State Park of­fers stun­ning views of the rugged coast from its cliff-side trails. Ac­cess to Pfeif­fer Beach, a day beach, is just south of the Big Sur Ranger Sta­tion.

At mid coast, rocky cliffs fi­nally give way to warm wa­ter and Cal­i­for­nia’s fa­mous end­less flat beaches. Movie buffs can camp at Mal­ibu Creek State Park where M*A*S*H and Planet of the Apes were filmed. And then there’s Hunt­ing­ton Beach, a.k.a. Surf City USA. Hunt­ing­ton State Beach’s soft sand, safe swim­ming and good surf­ing make it the Cal­i­for­nia clas­sic.

Rocks to Cas­tles

Cal­i­for­nia is more than its geog­ra­phy. Liv­ing his­tory pro­grams bring the past to life in many parks. At Rail­town 1897 His­toric State Park, ride the vin­tage trains that of­ten ap­pear in films, tele­vi­sion pro­duc­tions and com­mer­cials. At In­dian Grind­ing Rock State His­toric Park, visit a re­con­structed vil­lage with a cer­e­mo­nial round­house and pre­sen­ta­tions by descen­dants of the Mi­woks. The 21 mis­sions founded by the Span­ish along El Camino Real, or the King’s High­way, pre­serve the ar­rival of non-na­tives to Cal­i­for­nia. Old Town San Diego State His­toric Park, with its re­stored plaza and adobes, cap­tures the pe­riod when San Diego grew from a Mex­i­can pueblo into an Amer­i­can town. And then there’s gold fever. Pan for gold at Mar­shall Gold Discovery State His­toric Park where the min­eral was first dis­cov­ered. Visu­al­ize a miner’s life at Bodie State His­toric Park, an in­tact ghost town from the era.

No place re­flects Cal­i­for­nia’s big dream­ers bet­ter than the Hearst San Simeon State His­tor­i­cal Mon­u­ment, a tes­ta­ment to pub­lisher Wil­liam Ran­dolph Hearst and ar­chi­tect Ju­lia Mor­gan. Tour the 115-room cas­tle and imag­ine the pres­i­dents, pub­lish­ing lu­mi­nar­ies and Hol­ly­wood stars who gath­ered there. Also at mid state, climbers and bird­ers will not be dis­ap­pointed at Pin­na­cles, Cal­i­for­nia’s new­est na­tional park.

What­ever kind of ex­pe­ri­ence you seek, from a city adventure to a high coun­try trek, Cal­i­for­nia’s parks have a sur­prise in store for you.

ROO­SEVELT ELK graze in a field in Prairie Creek Red­woods State Park, Hum­boldt County, left; gi­ant coast red­wood trees at Red­wood Na­tional Park, Hum­boldt County, be­low.

POINT REYES LIGHT­HOUSE at Point Reyes Na­tional Seashore, op­po­site top; desert flow­ers in Anza-bor­rego State Park, op­po­site bot­tom; tak­ing a day hike in Yosemite Na­tional Park, above; El Cap­i­tan and the Merced River, Yosemite Na­tional Park, above left.

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