3 Spectacular Northern & Central California Park Destinations to Visit this Spring & Early Summer
by Nancy J. Reid and Lisa D. Smith
From big rocks to big trees, wildflowers to wildlife, waterfalls to ocean waves, these three California park destinations have all the ingredients for the ultimate spring and early summer nature fix. Just north of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, the Marin to Sonoma County Nature Trip features the magical Muir Woods Redwood Forest, the dramatic Point Reyes National Seashore that’s home to elephant seals and Tule Elk, tranquil Tomales Bay State Park, and the wildflower laden Annadel State Park in Santa Rosa.
The San Benito County Nature Trip takes you inland, just a couple of hours drive southeast of San Francisco, offering an incredible experience of rock spires, caves and wildflowers in Pinnacles National Park, where you might even see a California Condor. You’ll experience hiking trails, spectacular valley views and stargazing at Fremont Peak State Park in historic San Juan Bautista.
The California Sequoia Country Nature Trip, less than a four hour drive northeast of Los Angeles, showcases magnificent giant sequoia trees in Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks, as well as the Sequoia National Forest and Giant Sequoia National Monument. From hiking to waterfalls and whitewater rafting, to bird watching and soaking up the vibrant colors of lush wildflower rich meadows, there are all kinds of outdoor adventures to experience!
MARIN TO SONOMA COUNTY NATURE TRIP
Experience Redwoods, Elephant Seals, Ocean Waves & Wildflowers in Northern California
Muir Woods National Monument – Follow self-guided trails through the last old-growth coastal redwood forest in the Bay Area, and also visit neighboring Muir Beach. Harboring the world’s tallest living thing, the Coastal Redwood, right down to the brightly colored banana slug along with wildlfowers, ferns and other creatures and plantlife that love a moist, low-lit environment, Muir Woods NM is a splendid redwood retreat for forest lovers. Just 12 miles from the Golden Gate Bridge and neighboring Mt. Tamalpais State Park, Muir Woods and Muir Beach are extremely popular destinations so weekdays are sometimes a better time to visit. Learn more at (415) 388-2595 or www.NPS.gov/muwo.
Point Reyes National Seashore – One of our country’s 10 National Seashores, Point Reyes preserves over 71,000 acres including 32,000 acres of wilderness, and 80 miles of undeveloped coastline. From sandy beaches to craggy seaside cliffs, lush meadows, rolling hillsides and historic farmlands, the landscape provides habitat for a diverse variety of flora and fauna that ranges from Tule Elk to elephant seals, bluebirds to sea hawks, wild iris to majestic oak trees. A haven for birders, over 50% of the bird species found in North America have been sighted at Point Reyes. A respite from city life offering a variety of outdoor activities from hiking to kayaking, Point Reyes National Seashore is just an hour north of San Francisco. Learn more at (415) 464-5100 or www.NPS.gov/pore.
Tomales Bay State Park – Quite the nature haven, Tomales Bay it is nestled within Point Reyes National Seashore, near the town of Inverness and the Tule Elk Preserve. Enjoy a picnic overlooking the bay while watching the birds that range from woodpeckers and hawks, to goldfinches.The park has hiking trails and four beach areas including the popular Heart’s Desire Beach, as well as a virgin grove of Bishop pine. This is a lovely place to relax, enjoy the tranquility and connect with nature.
Learn more at (415) 669-1140 or http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=470
Annadel State Park – Located in Santa Rosa, this park offers miles of trails for hiking, mountain biking, and horse riding. It is wonderful spring and summer wildflower destination, and a great place to enjoy a picnic, birding and wildlife viewing. Park highlights include Lake Ilsanjo, Ledson Marsh and Vista Point, along with an Environmental Learning Visitor Center, interpretive exhibits, programs and guided tours. Learn more at (707) 539-3911 or http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=480
SAN BENITO COUNTY NATURE TRIP
Experience Rock Spires, Night Skies, Wildflowers & Condors in Central California
Pinnacles National Park – Known as ‘The Park on the Move’, Pinnacles is of geological significance, and actually moves about 3-6 centimeters a year! The park boasts a diverse array of habitats that range from spectacular spring wildflowers to oak woodlands and chaparral scrub, caves and rock spires. These habitats are home to over 140 birds species of birds, 49 mammals, 22 reptiles, 8 amphibians, 71 butterflies, 41 dragonflies and damselflies, and more than 400 bee species! Enjoy hiking trails, rock climbing, exploring caves, stargazing, camping and bird watching. Keep your eyes open for a lucky glimpse of a California condor, as this park also manages a release site for captive bred California condors. Learn more at (831) 389-4485 / (831) 389-4486, or www.NPS.gov/pinn.
Fremont State Park – Located in San Juan Bautista, this beautiful 162 acre park encompasses the summit of 3,169-foot Fremont Peak in the Gabilan Range, and is known for its awesome views of Monterey Bay, San Benito Valley, Salinas Valley, and the Santa Lucia Mountains. The park’s pine and oak woodlands are an ideal habitat for numerous birds and mammals. Along with hiking and biking trails, there are camping and picnic facilities, plus, an astronomical observatory with a 30-inch telescope which is open for public programs. Learn more at (831) 623-4255 or http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=564.
San Juan Bautista – Known as “The City of History,” San Juan Bautista is located on the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail in San Benito County, near the city of Hollister and about a 45 minute drive to the eastern entrance of Pinnacles National Park. Surrounded by organic farms and vineyards, this charming historic village is home to the San Juan Bautista State Historic Park and the Old Mission San Juan Bautista, where plant lovers can enjoy historic gardens and beautiful roses. A site on the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail, the San Juan Bautista de Anza Trail is a 5.3 mile trail that features spring wildflowers and lovely views. Learn more at (831) 637-5315 or www.DiscoverSanBenitoCounty.com.
SEQUOIA COUNTRY NATURE TRIP
Experience Giant Sequoias, Waterfalls, Wildlife & Wildflowers in Tulare County
Kings Canyon National Park – Located in the southern Sierra Nevada region, and spanning 461,901 acres, the park is made up of mostly wilderness, forests and spectacular canyons, with Kings Canyon itself being one of the deepest canyons in the United States. The park is known for being home to the General Grant Grove of giant sequoia trees, the famous General Grant Tree, and the Redwood Mountain Grove which is the largest remaining natural grove of giant sequoias in the world. Starting in late spring or early summer, you can enjoy babbling brooks and waterfalls offset by towering granite cliffs, as well as lush meadows and glacial canyons. Learn more at (559) 565-334 or www.NPS.gov/seki.
Sequoia National Park – One of the first parks in the country, Sequoia NP is famous for its giant sequoia trees and black bears. Visit the General Sherman Tree (the largest living organism and tree in the world), climb Moro Rock, take in spectacular views of Mt. Whitney (the highest mountain in the contiguous 48 states), and hike through glacial canyons, lush meadows thick with wildflowers, and explore oak woodlands. The scenery is spectacular, offering a rich diversity of bird, plant and wildlife. Covering 404,064 acres, there are hundreds of streams, ponds, rivers, creeks and lakes, and over 200 marble caverns to explore. Crescent Meadow and Big Trees Trail offer wonderful spring and early summer wildflower, bird and wildlife viewing. Tokopah Falls Trail is a wonderful 1.7 mile spring hike along the north bank of the Marble Fork of the Kaweah River, leading to the 1,200-foot cascading waterfall. Learn more at (559) 565-334 or www.NPS.gov/seki.
Sequoia National Forest & Giant Sequoia National Monument – Featuring 33 groves of giant sequoia trees, the Sequoia National Forest is home to the biggest concentration of giant sequoia groves. These groves are protected within the Giant Sequoia National Monument, which encompasses over 353,000 acres of diverse landscape, including two wild and scenic rivers, lakes, and six wilderness areas. Along with the magnificent giant sequoias, the area boasts lush forest meadows and a myriad of plant, bird and animal species. There are limestone caverns to explore and granite domes and spires to see, along with archaeological sites. The activities are endless and include hiking and camping, mountain biking, horse riding, bird and wildlife watching, and spring whitewater rafting. Learn more at (559) 784-1500 or www.FS.USDA.gov/sequoia.