California is one of the most impressive states, both in quality and in measure. Because of its vastness, the great sunshine state has a certain diversity of natural beauty and a wide array of national parks and monuments to display it. Whether you are a visitor or a California native, there are countless sites in which to indulge an adventuring spirit! Although the task may seem daunting, we have compiled a list of the top five national parks and monuments that capture the plethora of magnificent settings that make up the state of California.
Afternoon Sun at Pinnacles National Park – Photo by Joe Parks
Pinnacles National Park located an hour and a half southeast of San Jose is the perfect place to be in awe of the nature that exists in California. This national park can offer its visitors a variety of experiences that will surely please any lover of nature and convert any non-admirer of the outdoors, if they even do exist. Rocks and caves both big and small created by an ancient volcanic eruption bring Pinnacles the fame it deserves. Among the attractive sights to be seen is a valley of desert scattered with rock spires, some rising above 6 feet, as well as a mountainous region of expansive trees and giant moss covered rocks. The best aspect is that both sides of this national park can be accessed by car. Also hikes, bikes, and climbs can be attempted at any level of difficulty. Not to mention, a visit at this park can become a game of I-Spy as it is home to the elusive California condor that is currently endangered, but well watched and cultivated by dedicated national park staff. Pinnacles National Park is a place to spot a rare condor and revere the natural beauty of California.
Muir Woods Trail at Muir Woods National Monument – Photo by David Fulmer
Northern California’s natural claim to fame is the majestic and powerful redwood. There seems to be no better place to get a vivid vision of these towering trees than Muir National Monument located less than an hour north of the heart of San Francisco. It is amazing that a short drive can take you from the hustle and bustle of the bay area to the quiet reverence of a national monument as serene as this. The cascading redwoods enclose the wise park visitor in an easily stroll-able environment that highlights the beauty of the woods. It is no wonder that John Muir, after whom the park was named, dedicated his life to protecting beautiful natural scenes such as this. Spending a day wondering at the magnificence of the mighty redwoods at Muir National Park could create in anybody a deep appreciation for the environment.
Santa Cruz Island at Channel Islands National Monument – Photo by Ken Lund
Are you looking to get outdoors? Is your inner pirate calling you to the seas? Then Channel Islands National Park is most definitely worth a trip! Although the island must be visited by boat or plane, the pay off at the end of the ride is high. This national park is unique in that the visitor has the option of five small islands that have a myriad of experiences to be had. The relative distance from the mainland of California allows the opportunity to snorkel or dive in the captivating blue sea. The surrounding waters can also provide whale watching, kayaking, surfing, and tide pooling. Imagine a day of fun oceanic activities that ends in an outdoor picnic as the sun sets on a beautiful view of the Pacific Ocean. Channel Islands National Park comes to you as California’s serene version of a island paradise.
Desert Trail at Joshua Tree National Park – Photo by Scott (Revo_1599)
When thinking of a desert, it is likely that environments such as those shown in Aladdin or the Lion King come to mind. Although Disney represented the African and Middle Eastern deserts, it is often forgotten that parts of Southern California are also classified in this climate zone. The extremes of blistering heat during the day and extraordinary chill during the night have created the amazing spectacle that is Joshua Tree National Park located just over two hours East of Los Angeles. All year round, the famous crooked and craggy Joshua tree can be seen amidst a vast expanse of desert land. There is nothing quite like being able to admire the interesting landscape that extreme weather can create. Alongside spotted architectural evidence from the days when miners and homesteaders roamed the land, brilliant wildflowers can be found in that time of year when spring has sprung. Joshua Tree National Park is perfect for a taste of the beauty of the desert and a piece of history of the early folk of California.
Beautiful Vernal Falls at Yosemite National Park – Photo by David Kovalchek
Sometimes, an extended immersion into nature is the best way to recharge from the chaos that everyday life can create. In this case, Yosemite National Park is the quintessential escape in which to let the outdoors give you everything you need! Located four hours East of San Francisco, Yosemite can provide the freedom to leisurely explore beautiful rivers, waterfalls, and mountain ranges. But, if a high excitement look at nature is what you are seeking, here you can scale the monolith El Capitan, ski to Tempo Dome, or even raft down the Merced River. Yosemite National Park is an experience that can be beneficial for all ages and attention spans with it’s wide array of activities. The beneficial power of nature and the outdoors can be significantly felt at this appropriately famous national park.