Top 5 (California) National Parks

Continuing on my ongoing saga of National Park posts. I’ll be fleshing out my top 5 California Parks (with a few extra stops) that I’ve added to my more local bucket lists. If you have been reading along, you’ll know that national parks have been on my mind recently and with our current political times and a little sister looking to join the ranks of park rangers, it’s been relevant to me. Plus, Nature’s pretty pretty.

1. Sequoia National Park & Kings Canyon National Park

Both of these parks are by Tulare County, California adjacent from each other in the Southern Sierra Nevada Mountains which, if you are having an extended trip, makes it easy to visit features of both parks. Some of these features are shared – there are hikes and beautiful vantage points – but each have remarkable places of their own which made it impossible to feature just one.

In Sequoia, besides the Mount Whitney hike (which I will definitely be training for with my dad in the next year or two), there are 240 known caves including the Crystal Cave. Actually formed from marble stalactites and stalagmites which form textured walls and features. This cave – as well as others – are only available to view on guided tours that you can purchase tickets for at the park. When you are planning your trip, stay flexible by giving yourself enough time just in case anything in either park is sold out for any specific day.

For Kings Canyon, while Roaring River Falls sounds great – I love waterfalls – the pictures of Rae Lakes and the idea of camping and hiking here makes the nature junkie and camera bug in me do a happy dance. Also, the fact that these aren’t far from my sister’s place (at least for now) makes this another big plus!

2. Lassen Volcanic National Park

Like many kids in middle school, I have definitely built many volcanoes in my lifetime out of sand and paper mache, and I’ve studied their structures and the variety of types. Therefore, Lassen Volcanic park, yea, I want to go. Besides volcanic hikes and areas filled with Lava rock from the last eruption, there are areas of geothermic activity (like hot springs), beautiful lakes and waterfalls, and of course a small hike over to Bumpass Hell which has a lifted catwalk that leads you through volcanic vents and mudponds.

3. Pinnacles National Park

Speaking of volcanoes, Pinnacles is ancient volcanic field which means caves. If you look up images of Bear Gulch Cave Trails you will easily see why I want to get up here and as quickly as possible. Of course there are also tons of overlooks that go along with the many trails you can hike. Some of these hike look a bit more treacherous than others – some seriously tiny pathways here – but still so excited to get out there.

4. Point Reyes National Seashore

While most of my listed parks have boasted beaches around lakes, this Marin County park settles along a much bigger body of water. With waterfall after waterfall and beach after beach, plus the beautiful Tomales Bay and Point Reyes Lighthouse, there is so much to explore. And, for those geology nerds out there, Some of these waterfalls are actually ‘Tidefalls’ – waterfalls that fall directly into the ocean – so beaches that also have lovely tidefalls – YES! Welcome to Alamere Falls. Can I say it again for the cheap seats? Yes, Please!

5. Lava Beds National Park

And then back to volcanic- cave strewn loveliness. Located to the southeast of Tulelake, California and the home of over 700 caves, I just want weeks to explore. Many of these caves are names and I definitely suggest researching which ones you can and which you will want to explore.  There is also Petroglyph Point Archaeological Point – the home to one the largest panels of Native American rock art.

*Bonus: Mono Lake

While this is a smaller stop, as soon as I saw the pictures of Mono Lake’s rock formations, I knew it deserved a mention. While the water level has been depleted at times (LA apologizes!), the high salt levels of this lake has made the ecosystem truly unique. The formations you can see in any pictures of the lake are limestone ‘tufas’.

That’s it for me this week and narrowing down this list was seriously a task unto itself so I’m ready to pass it along. If you have a different park or another part of the country I should look through next, drop me a note and I’ll see what I can do.

This is Leave on the Wind, helping you soar.

Top 5 (California) National Parks

Walk in the Sun…



Will Rodgers State Beach, Santa Monica, California. April 2014.

Whether or not one believes that the climate is changing to extremes, I am pretty sure we all agree that summer temperatures are getting a bit crazy. From news stories to magazine articles, this fact seems to be everywhere. I’m a SoCal girl, so I’m pretty much programmed to be all about the sun all the time. However, as temperatures skyrocket and the sunshine beats hard all over the world for longer and longer periods, the plain and simple fact comes down to one fact: sun exposure is way, way up.

But what does this have to do with travel?

Well simply, traveling usually makes people be outside for more than their normal amount, so not only is the sun out more but, as a traveler, you are out in it for a longer period of time.

So, what is the best way to protect yourself?

A few easy steps to add to your daily travel to-dos will save you the worst of what happens when you are over exposed:

First, I don’t care what you are doing, where you are going, or what the weather is like when you get there: WEAR SUNSCREEN! I’m talking everyday. To cover a person’s entire body, you should use approximately a shot glass worth of sunscreen, reapplied every few hours, especially if you have been sweating or are in and out of water. My best advice is to put on your first layer before you even get dressed in the morning, this way you cover everything and it has time to set before you are running out the door.

The sun does not need to be beating down on you 24/7 for you to get burned. More people get burned and with higher intensity when it’s overcast, not necessarily because of higher intensity but the heightened chance that people are not protecting themselves! There are tons of brands, levels of protection, and methods of applications. I like real lotion over sprays; sprays tend to layer over each other and then peel oddly but are easier to apply while lotions take longer and are heavier but have the added bonus of being lotions—they sink into your skin and keep your moisture up.

Wearing sunscreen goes double for your face. Makeup, no matter the amount of SPF it says it has, is not enough coverage for all day wear. There are light sunscreens made specifically for the sensitive skin on people’s faces and they layer very nicely under most foundations. If you are prone to oily skin, I suggest looking for oil free versions and carrying a few napkins in your bag as easily disposable blotting cloths.

Second bit of advice is to wear protective gear, specifically hats and sunglasses. You can’t apply sunscreen to every part of your scalp or your eyes so the best protection is to cover them. This can be really fun when traveling; pick fun styles in neutral colors and you can really amp up your travel wardrobe for both glasses and hats (but we’ll get into that when we talk about packing). Also having light longer layers that can block the sun from direct contact (especially if you have a paler complexion and are easily burned) will help, especially if you have still healing burns. This is also a great time to add the benefit of Aloe Vera; it’ll help heal any burns that you may accidentally acquire and hydrate your skin (fresh is better but not really practical for travel needs)

Third, stay hydrated. This has a bit to do with skin care—full hydration means less chance of your skin drying out—but more to do with overall health. If you aren’t hydrating, you are increasing your chances of getting heat stroke or any number of problems that can seriously screw up your travel plans. I mean, do you really want to miss a few days of travel all because you refused to drink enough water?

I really mean these tips, too. When my mom was traveling in her late teens, early twenties with her best friend, all they packed were shorts, tank tops, and tanning oil. Most of their trip centered on the Sydney coast of Australia which is a really lovely part of the world but also the home to a slowly growing hole in the ozone—not a great addition to sunbathers. As the stories go, the traveling besties sent day after day running around seeing the sights but always ended on a beach or poolside soaking up the lovely rays. Then they spent one day entirely in the sun, just getting a little pink before they had to jump on a bus to their next stop and a concert and festival that awaited them. Half way there a little old lady pointed out that the girls were sunburned and that it was looking pretty bad. That night, the girls poured themselves into bed, miserable with sun poisoning. They not only had to miss a few days of their vacation and the events there because later. Today my mom still has scars and sun spots from a trip she took two decades ago, all of which could have been avoided with proper clothes, skin care, and some of today’s knowledge.

So be safe, until next time,

I’m Leave on the Wind, helping you soar.

Walk in the Sun…