In the heart of California’s Sierra Nevada mountain range lies Devils Postpile National Park. The park’s main draw are the impressive columns of basalt rock that spire skywards and have fascinated people for generations. The strange structures were formed by the aftermath of an ancient volcanic eruption, when lava streamed down the mountainous slopes and left these crazy columns. Icebergs helped to mold the hexagonal shape.
Point Reyes is the jagged point that juts out into the Pacific, where a depth of wildlife and plant species make this place a haven for nature-lovers. Along the coast, remote bays and wild meadows are home to wild elk and rare plant life. Whale-watching is particularly popular here, and usually takes place in the winter months; the wild blooms come out in the spring. Located at the westernmost tip of Marin County.
Nicknamed “America’s Galapagos,” the Channel Islands National Park is made up of five islands that are scattered along the coast of Santa Barbara. It’s home to over 2,000 species of plants and animals, 150 of which are found only on these islands. Whales and dolphins pass by the islands, and many different types of birds call this place home. Summer brings warm waters and humpback whales and blue whales; autumn is ideal for kayaking and diving.
This steaming, sulphur-infused national park has sputtering sulphur vents, misty hot springs and bubbling pools of mud. The volcanic landscape of the park means plenty of verdurous forests and crystal-clear lakes for visitors to enjoy. You can wander along the many hiking trails or climb up the volcano itself. Lake Helen, at the base of the volcano, is a spectacular spot for viewing the scenery.
Pinnacles National Park consists of craggy rock formations and steep cliffs. The contrasting landscape was created by volcanic activity over 23 million years ago, when a collection of volcanoes erupted and their lava flowed into the rocky formation. The Pinnacles itself is actually made up of two halves and, although visitors are not able to drive through the park, you can hike from one side to the other.
Sequoia and Kings Canyon are two separate national parks, however, they operate as a single unit and one fee allows entrance to both adjacent parks. The towering sequoia forests that soar above the rapid rivers in these parks are super-sized. As the largest trees on the planet, the sequoia are giants that grow alongside a hugely diverse range of plant and animal species. The parks’ subterranean cave networks are also extraordinary, and the glistening crystal caverns are easy to explore.
Rugged mountains, big boulders and arid flats create the strange surroundings of the Joshua Tree National Park. Situated at the point where the heights of the Mojave Desert connect with the lowlands of the Colorado Desert, the Joshua trees that thrive in this area create strange and majestic shapes that appear to change as the sun sets. There is the option to walk the Indian Cove Nature Trail, or to try out rock-climbing at Echo Cove.
Impressive and imperious, the commanding redwood trees tower above everything else as the tallest living thing on earth. Redwood National Park, situated up in the northern coastal region of California, is home to a huge 35 percent of the coastal redwoods left standing on the planet. The park is a haven for wildlife and is home to many intriguing animals, including owls, salmon and sea lions. Trails weave their way through the ferns that carpet the forest floor below the bows of the trees, and open out into the spacious meadows. If you aren’t yet convinced that this place is otherworldly, it was made famous in Star Wars as the location for the Forest Moon of Endor.
Death Valley’s name might sound a little eerie, but the stunning snow-capped mountaintops and desolate deserts make Death Valley an imposing yet magnificent site. In what is possibly one of the most extreme landscapes on the planet, the park’s low-angled winter light, huge rain storms and blossoming spring flowers makes this park really unbelievable. The valley is known to be the hottest and driest place in North America, but the heat attracts steady streams of visitors to its surreal wilderness.
World-famous Yosemite National Park has become the iconic hangout for keen wilderness hikers, who enjoy spending weekends attempting the many trails that crisscross the parks. Well-known by wanderlust seekers, Yosemite is high on many bucket-lists, with people drawn to its dramatic scenery and beautiful wildlife, powerful waterfalls, impressive sequoias and jaw-dropping cliffs. This is the place to come for adventure and serenity in equal helpings. The park is also popular with groups and families who visit all year round – as well as to enjoy skiing opportunities. Many visitors stay in lodges in nearby towns or camp out in the summer months and spend time among the striped, sheer cliffs. The views from up high at Glacier Point are immensely impressive, as are the strange rock structures of Half Dome and Sentinel Rock.