California State Parks Worth Visiting

Updated on November 15, 2017
Kenna McHugh profile image

Kenna loves to travel and share cool places to visit so others can have a wonderful, if not better, time than she did.


D.L. Bliss State Park

D.L. Bliss State Park rests in the splendor of the mountain formations on the east side of the central Sierra crest—over 6,200 feet in the Sierra Nevada mountain range. From the high points of land like Rubicon Point, visitors can view more than one hundred feet down deep into the waters of Lake Tahoe. It's breathtaking.

Campgrounds remain closed in the winter and are open from the end of May to mid-September (weather permitting). With Emerald Bay State Park, D.L. Bliss holds 20 primitive camping sites, which are reachable only by boat. There are 268 family campsites with nearby restrooms and hot showers without hookups. There is a 50 people group campground available. The beach is only a walking distance from the campgrounds. Scuba diving is welcomed in the underwater park, which is clearly marked.

I really enjoyed the Balancing Rock Nature Trail because it is self-guided with 19 markers numbered and easy to see. My family and I learned how the animals, plants, and soils sustain each other. A main attraction on the trail is the Balancing Rock, weighing 130 tons as it balances on a slim stone foundation. My youngest thought it was super cool.

Josh Sorenson
Josh Sorenson

El Capitan State Beach

Located along the coastline, El Capitan State Beach is lined with tall groves visible from the highway. The crowded beach offers a beach walk, picnic grounds, hiking, surfing, and camping. The coastal live oaks along with willows and sycamores edge El Capitan Creek. Such a flourishing coastal woods with plenty of wildlife to share the area with band-tailed pigeons, scrub jays, flickers, raccoons, western gray squirrels, and mule deer. Seabirds consist of scoters, grebes, gulls, loons, and terns.

El Captain Campgrounds are open all year long with family sites numbering at 132. Every site offers a fire ring or stove, picnic table with restrooms and hot showers a short distance away. Some family sites allow only RVs while some provide accommodation for trailers and recreational vehicles capable of 42 feet span. Five Group Campsites offer accommodations for 40-100 people. They overlook the ocean at the marine terrace.

As my family entered the park, we noticed that the El Captain Hike and Bike Campsites are available, but they are clearly marked with those who intend to strictly hike and bike. The area offers barbecues, tables, restrooms, and hot showers.

We took a hike on the nature trail that is self-guided and winds all the way through the woodlands on El Capitan Point. Another hike, which we didn’t take, is the Bill Wallace Trail, named after the former Santa Barbara County supervisor and coastal advocate. It winds all through the area covering over ten miles of lush views on a 1000-foot elevation increase.

If you like to surf or watch surfers, which my family does, you appreciate viewing the surfers. There were many out at El Capitan State Beach when we watched. We were told that the conditions fluctuate as the weather changes. During the cooler seasons (fall and winter), known for low tides, the advance surfers enjoy the seamless swells from the west or west-southwest.

Indian Canyons

Indian Canyons is comprised of four different canyons, each canyon distinct in its beauty, greens, and trails. When my family arrived at the canyons, we were introduced to strict guidelines of behavior such as no smoking, no fires, no loud music, no dogs, and no bicycles or motorized vehicles on the trails. All the rules were fine with us, but I highly suggest those who don’t enjoy constraints stay away.

Palm Canyon trail leads down into the canyon near a stream to picnic, explore, or horseback. The canyon offers a Trading Post for maps, refreshments, Indian art, and more. Andreas Canyon boasts over 150 species of plants with unusual rock formations and the Andreas Creek. Murray Canyon is a hike south of Andreas Canyon offering trails on foot or horseback leading to possible sightings of the Peninsula Big Horn Sheep (an endangered species) and other wild animals.

There are ranger-guided tours with a fee. We guided ourselves around, and it was fine. However, there is plenty of evidence of Native American history.

Photo made by Bob Walker in en:Siskiyou County, California in 1991.
Photo made by Bob Walker in en:Siskiyou County, California in 1991.

Castle Crags State Park

Castle Crags State Park received its name for its 6,000-feet glacier-polished crags that overlook the Sacramento River just beneath the majestic Mount Shasta. Towering alongside the spiky crags is the rounded-shaped Castle Dome that is often compared to Half Dome in Yosemite. The crags can definitely be seen from the freeway. My family sees them whenever we drive by on Interstate 5. We pulled over one time and discovered an easy access to the park.

The 4,350-acre park occupies almost 30 miles of winding trails, with a trail into Castle Crags Wilderness that is about 3 miles long. The wilderness is a division of the Shasta-Trinity National Forest. The famous Pacific Crest Trail also winds through the lush park. The Castle Dome hike is strenuous but my family found it worth the effort with a bubbling spring along the hillside and gorgeous views of Mount Shasta and the crags.

The park has 76 campgrounds and six environmental campgrounds. Each campground is without showers. The recreation area of the park features fishing and swimming, excursions into the backcountry, nature viewing, horse trails, educational programs, and exhibits. There are many chances to view Mount Shasta as well. Spring is an excellent time to view the brilliant display of over 300 species of wildflowers.

show route and directions
A markerD.L. Bliss State Park -
D L Bliss State Park, 9881 CA-89, South Lake Tahoe, CA 96150, USA
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B markerEl Captian State Park -
El Capitan State Beach, California 93117, USA
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C markerIndian Canyons State Park -
Indian Canyons, 38520 S Palm Canyon Dr, Palm Springs, CA 92264, USA
get directions

D markerCastle Crags State Park -
Castle Crags State Park, 20022 Castle Creek Rd, Castella, CA 96017, USA
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© 2017 Kenna McHugh


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