Outdoor opportunities are so abundant in the Golden State, it may be hard to know where to start. The following picks are based on personal visits and first-hand experience. They combine the best in outdoor recreation, ease of access, a wide variety of activities, and sheer spectacular-ness (new word I just made up).
Here, in no particular order, are my highly subjective, 100% unscientific picks for 8 Best Outdoor Sites in California:
- Yosemite National Park – central Sierra Nevada.
Almost 1,200 miles of Serious Wow! with high Sierra mountains, deep canyons, soaring Sequoias, spectacular waterfalls, idyllic meadows, and granite behemoths.
Tip: Unless you’re fond of hordes and masses, avoid the valley floor during peak season. Focus on the Tuolumne Meadows and the Tioga Lake area. It’s higher, cooler, and not quite as crammed. Great hiking, picnicking and outdoor opportunities. Roughly six hours north of Los Angeles and about 4 – 5 hours south of the San Francisco/Bay Area.
- Sequoia & Kings Canyon – southern Sierra Nevadas, east of the San Joaquin Valley.
Rugged terrain and deep canyons crochet rushing rivers, majestic mountains and the world’s largest trees. Like the humungous General Grant Tree. Lots of camping, hiking, fishing, and picnicking opportunities. Four lodges operate inside the park. Also a couple old favorites: Hume Lake and Grant Grove. Fresno County, central California.
- June Lake Loop – eastern Sierra Nevadas.
Dubbed the “Switzerland of California,” the loop includes a total of four lakes including Silver Lake and Grant Lake. It has a variety of resorts, campgrounds, and restaurants. Also hiking, climbing, fishing, camping, swimming, water skiing, snowboarding and snow skiing. Surrounded by the Ansel Adams Wilderness, Mono Lake, Yosemite National Park, Bodie, Bishop, Mammoth and Bridgeport. A family favorite since 1973.
Fishing Tip: If you don’t catch anything in the lakes, try Rush Creek. Other tip: Fern Lake. The trail is steep, but this secluded high mountain lake offers one of the best canyon panoramas in the Sierras.
- McGee Creek Pack Station – Eastern Sierras, north of Bishop near Crowley Lake.
An outdoor adventure into the High Sierra backcountry of the John Muir Wilderness where pack mules do all the “heavy lifting.” Fishing, hiking, saddle horses, and all the fresh air your lungs can suck in. What’s not to love? About a 5 – 6 hour drive north of Los Angeles.
- Monterey Peninsula – central California. Includes the cities of Monterey, Carmel, and Pacific Grove.
If you veins bleed saltwater, this is the place. Point Lobos State Natural Reserve has miles of ocean-hugging trails. Don’t miss Seventeen Mile Drive or the touch pools and outdoor tank at the Monterey Bay Aquarium . (Close second: Catalina Island. Resist the harbor-hugging tourist traps at Avalon and head inland for great hiking and spectacular ocean views.)
- Mount San Jacinto State Park, Palm Springs area
At 10,834 feet above sea level, Mount San Jacinto is the second highest mountain range in Southern California. Home to superb granite peaks, subalpine forests, and fern-lined mountain meadows plus two drive-in campgrounds. Also a really cool aerial tram. About a two hour drive from both Los Angeles and San Diego.
Tip: You may not want to visit during the summer, unless you’re melt-proof.
- Big Bear – Southern California
Located at about 7,000 elev. in the San Bernardino Mountains, this locale’s taglines are Small Town, Big Adventure and Live It. Up. They’re not kidding. Hiking, camping, fishing, kayaking, parasailing, rock climbing, mountain biking, horseback riding… About 2 ½ hours from Los Angeles or Orange County and about 3 hours from San Diego.
A mild Mediterranean climate with truckloads of sunshine year-round. Need I say more?
Are you packing yet? What would you add?