California boasts a wealth of natural parks that are sure to stun hikers. From the towering trees at Sequoia National Park to the bubbling pits ar Lassen Volcanic National Park, the state's parks are some of the most unique in the country.
The vertical rock formations of El Capitan and the Half Dome are sure to tempt zealous climbers. However, miles of stunning trails suit visitors of all skill levels. The Cathedral Lakes trail, for example, passes both beautiful lakes and peaks and is of moderate difficulty. Visitor numbers peak at this park in spring, thanks to melting snow caps that create dramatic waterfalls.
Follow the aptly named Big Trees Trail, which departs from the Giant Forest Museum and unfolds for just over a mile. Crescent Meadow will take you around two hours to complete and is most breathtaking in the spring, when the wildflowers bloom. Don't miss out on Tokopah Falls, a longer trek that runs along the Kaweah River, for some 3.5 miles.
Follow the paths in Kings Canyon to discover an emerald city of sublime sequoias and redwoods. Big Stump Trail is ideal for beginners, while Big Baldy Ridge Trail climbs to a lofty 8,000 feet. Sunny meadows and cool forests await exploration via the Giant Forest and Lodgepole Day Hike trails.
Geologists take note: Lassen is the only place in the world where you can find all four kinds of volcano. Hikers will encounter phenomena such as mud pots and bubbling hot springs within this volatile environment.
Kids will love exploring the boulders strewn throughout Joshua Tree National Park and watching the seals bask at Ano Nuevo State Park. Remember to take your camera for photographic keepsakes of your California national park vacation for years to come!
For hikers on little legs, the best trail to follow in Joshua Tree is Hidden Valley. The mile-long path weaves through a playground of boulders, past picnic facilities. The Barker Dam, another trail sure to appeal to your family, offers a wider variety of scenery along a slightly longer loop trail.
You'll feel you've visited the surface of the moon when you and your family explore the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes of Death Valley National Park. Don't be put off by the name, kids are thrilled by the sight of vertiginous spires of rock salt at the Devil's Golf Course. Meanwhile, the Badwater Salt Flats, adorned with naturally occurring geometric designs, look like something a Surrealist might dream up.
Admire sea lions and elephant seals on the shores of the Ano Nuevo State Reserve. The park combines dunes with grassland and coast, so your family can play, explore, and picnic in blissful surroundings, and even catch sight of some elephant seals.
Anyone with a pet will know the value of pet-friendly national parks – nothing beats exploring nature with your furry friend. Check out California's selection:
Redwoods pierce the skies at this shady emerald glen. The Cross-Marin Trail wends its way through them for some five miles, and leashed dogs are allowed to sniff out its secrets. Close by, the Point Reyes National Seashore is also open to canine companions: visit Kehoe, Limantour, and Great Beach for some swimming. Dogs are permitted at the beaches, so long as they are leashed.
Head to Kneebone Beach, which is dog-friendly, and the Independence Trail. Historic mining ditches offer views of the river, and visitors are even welcome to pan for gold along the shore. You might not find an ingot, but at least the setting sun casts everything in an aureate light.
Your furry friends are also welcome to cavort on the sea-splashed sands of Garrapata State Park. The stretch of golden sand unfurls for two miles, offering you plenty of room for a game of fetch and some swimming and snorkeling in the water. Whereas dogs are not permitted on the trails, they'll likely prefer the beachfront, anyway.