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.

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Top 5 (California) National Parks

That time in Yosemite.

In my last year of college, my family took a quick trip to Yosemite National Park and, in theme with my current national park love, this trip was both amazing and filled with it’s own special brand of hell.

Getting There:

If you son;t see the flames from where you are, beware that this is the problematic part of the trip. To set the scene: my family was driving up to the park from the LA area but I – all by myself – planned to meet them at the hotel within the park  since I was finishing my classes and then heading out for spring break. All in all, I was not worried. I was used to trekking the 7-ish hours home fairly regularly so the 4-is hours it was supposed to take to get to the park was never going to be a problem, even if I was starting out between 3 and 4 o’clock.

Cut to me three and then four hours later, missing a phone charger with 10% battery left in my GPS and limited data. Cut to me half an hour later driving through woods in the dark with no reception and frankly no idea where I was (My GPS at the time was really unreliable even for the portable 2010 edition I think it was).

What I remember most was having to turn around and driving back 15  or 20 minutes to a tiny town praying for reception enough to call my family. No one answered. I waited 10 minutes more and the phone rang. The call was patchy but yes, the hotel was just inside the park. That’s about it.

So I thought, F*** it. Let’s drive and hope for the best. I turned the radio up and scream/sang to whatever was on and drove until I say lights. There it was. And there was my older sister looking into the parking lot from the store.

I got out of the can and when she made it to me, I hugged her tight and sobbed, ‘I’m never driving here alone again’ and then just cried.

Yep, she laughed but also hugged me back and brought me food. In the end, with family at the end of the road, I survived and slept very, very well.

But the view was worth it!

After the – may I call it harrowing? – drive down, I really hoped that I would be able to put it all behind me and relax. Yosemite totally delivered.

It’s been about 5 years since this trip so some of the details are fuzzy but others are not.

First, this whole park is beautiful and I wish we had had a longer time to do and see more – I can only imagine it now after all the rain. Again, we weren’t there for very long – we had to get back home for holy week – but we did some pretty cool stuff while we could.

There are a great variety of hike to do at Yosemite ranging from easy walks to check you balance and watch-your-phobias difficult hikes with a wide range of crowd numbers for you to deal with. Since my family ranges in fitness level and desire to trek up mountains, we planned full and partial group activities.

Together we competed the Bridalveil Falls hike. All together the ‘hike’ is a little over a mile round trip and be prepared for misty glasses and cameras. But while the mist is heavy, it is lovely! It’s a pretty iconic view so have your camera out throughout your walk because pictures are great from all over.

Our other hiking day, the family split. Mom and two sisters headed to Mirror Lake (another iconic space but be careful because it is crowded) but the other half of our group headed up to the Upper Falls and Yosemite Point. While this is a pretty long hike – 9.6 miles round trip – the elevation makes it seem like much longer. I really enjoyed myself and this hike started my fitness push – it kicked my butt more than a little bit. Warning, however: if you are afraid of heights, this hike will push you. About 90% of the way up, my sister (who is afraid of heights) had to stop after harrowing through narrow passages and slick roads and a fairly large crowd of hikers in both directions. She ended up in a little alcove with some snacks encouraging those hikers that passed by, a few joining her for a small break – I like to think she helped a few make it to the top with her kind words.

If you make it to the Upper Falls, you should consider the Point as well as your comfort level with heights and climbing down small areas onto ledges. I had to both think of what I was physically doing and yet, shut my brain off to where I was doing it to get to the point (though it looks narrower than it is.). In the end, we were exhausted and soar but even for Bex who didn’t quite make it, the hike was so worth every aching step.

10/10: Would travel again:

While I will never drive here alone again – I only make those kinds of mistakes once! – revisiting this park is definitely on my bucket list! Maybe I’ll even get Bex – a newly inspire ranger-hopeful – all the way up that mountain. Until next time and the rest of my bucket list:

This is Leave on the Wind, helping you soar.

That time in Yosemite.