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8 Beautiful, Exciting and Amazing California State Parks

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



1. 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 see more than 100 feet down 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. You can take in the 268 family campsites with nearby restrooms and hot showers without hookups. Take a large group with a 50 people group campground available. The beach is only a walking distance from the campgrounds. The well-marked underwater park welcomes scuba diving.

I 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

2. El Capitan State Beach

The state park streams along the coastline with tall groves visible from the highway line. El Capitan State Beach is a crowded beach that offers a beach walk, picnic grounds, hiking, surfing, and camping. The coastal live oaks along with willows and sycamores edge El Capitan Creek. Such flourishing waterways in the woods with plenty of wildlife nestle 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 132. Every location 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. 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 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 through the woodlands on El Capitan Point. Another walk, which we didn’t consider, 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 1,000-foot elevation increase.

If you like to surf or watch surfers, which my family does, you'll appreciate viewing the surfers. There were many out at El Capitan State Beach when we attended. The park attendant told us that the surfing conditions fluctuate as the weather changes. During the fall and winter is low tides. The advanced surfers enjoy the seamless swells from the west or west-southwest.

3. Indian Canyons

Indian Canyons includes three different canyons, each canyon distinct in its beauty, greens, and trails. When my family arrived at the canyons, the brochure introduced strict behavior guidelines such as no smoking, no fires, no loud music, no dogs, and no bicycles or motorized vehicles on the trails.

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 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 pleasant. However, there is plenty of evidence of Native American history.

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

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

4. Castle Crags State Park

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

The 4,350-acre park occupies almost 30 miles of winding trails, with a pathway into Castle Crags Wilderness 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 campsite is without showers. The park's recreation area 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 see the brilliant display of over 300 species of wildflowers.

5. Clear Lake State Park

Clear Lake is California’s biggest freshwater lake, and along its shores is Clear Lake State Park. Visitors engage in a variety of water pursuits in and near the lake. The pursuits include swimming, water-skiing, fishing, and boating. The State Park is home to various waterfowl since the climate, and abundant fish are ideal for them, which also draws recreational fishing.

One casts a line, using the correct bait or lure to catch various fish, such as bass, blackfish, crappie, Sacramento perch, bluegill, and channel catfish. Clear Lake is rated as the best place to bass fish. The fishing organizations sanctioned the lake, per the amount of fish hooked, as the number one bass fishing locale in the U.S.

If fishing isn’t your game, then you can hit the Indian Nature Trail. The self-guided trail not only educates people about the Pomo people but is a beautiful trail shaded by live oak trees. The path can get hot during the summer months. Pomo people dwelled in the area for hundreds of years.

The park has simple cabins for those who plan their visit and set reservations. Four campgrounds are easy to get to, with 147 different sites and two hike and bike sites. A group campground quarters 50 people. All the sites have a table or tables and a food locker with an area for campfires.

6. Point Lobos State Natural Reserve

My family and I visited Point Lobos for two days, and we wanted to stay two more days because of no crowds and beauty. We discovered hidden coves while hiking along the Pacific ocean. The hikes we took were to the coastal beaches. Our favorite Point Lobos Loop Trail kept us in great shape but is an easy hike. We hiked it on our first day. We spotted sea otters playing together and harbor seals swimming in and out of the waves. The most exciting part of the hike was the ocean views. We pick a clear day, and the ocean was radiant blue. We even hiked through the coastal woods. Again, the weather was perfect, with the trailer almost to ourselves.

We visited the Chinese fishermen's Whaler Cabin built in the 1850s. The exhibits detailed the history of the area—artifacts like fishing equipment, whaling tools, diaries, and photographers.

We only paid for parking and stayed at a nearby hotel. The reserve is strictly for day use, and the last entry is 4:30 PM.

7. Barker Dam Loop at Joshua Tree State Park

My family and I enjoyed this 1.5-mile hike as we took the Barker Dam Loop. We saw a small unique-looking reservoir within the Wonderland of Rocks. Because the Joshua Tree National Park tends to be dry, we made sure to visit the trail in the winter—early spring is good, too. The loop is well marked and easy to follow, making it a pleasant hike. Leave from the parking lot and head northwest toward Barker Dam. Continue toward Wall Street Mill, northeast. We pass boulders on both sides as the trail emerges along the small blue lakeshore. The stagnant desert waters appear mystical in this desert landscape, though a noble calm for a relaxing moment from trekking through the desert.

Angel Island has a paved road that you can bike or hike.

Angel Island has a paved road that you can bike or hike.

8. Angel Island State Park

We experienced a ferry ride to Angel Island. Once on the island, it was a perfect day to hike the ring road, enjoy the wilderness and visit historical sites. We had a panoramic view of the Bay Area, including the Golden Gate Bridge.

We visit the fishing site of the Miwok Native Americans.

We learn how at various times, the island was a cattle ranch, Civil War army post, an immigration and quarantine station, WWII POW camp, and cold war missile site.

In the 1960s, Angel Island became a state park to preserve the island’s natural beauty and resources. We found opportunities to capture photos of mule deer, monuments, abandoned buildings, and one lonely coyote. The harbor offers seals, sea lions, and dolphins. We even hiked the upper trails of Mt. Livermore.

Beautiful Places in California Near Me

In my travels, I tell my friends and acquaintances about the beautiful places in California near me. I invited them to visit my home and spend a weekend or week discovering the beauty of my state. We visit state parks along the coast or in central California. We marvel at its beauty. Sharing these adventures is one of the memorable ways to explore California.

© 2017 Kenna McHugh

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