(Andrew Mace/Flickr)

Planning a summer getaway? With its wealth of national, state, local and regional parks, California is home to a staggering array of recreational opportunities. A panel of experts joins us to share tips on the best hikes, campsites, waterfalls and picnic spots. What’s your favorite under-the-radar outdoor destination?

State Park Recommendations By Guests and the Forum Community

Camping

Big Basin State Park – classic redwoods and waterfalls (oldest state park)

Boot Jack Campground – first-come, first-serve camping in Mt. Tam

Butano Park – half hour south from Half Moon Bay and camping in the redwoods

Castle Rock State Park – panoramic views and redwoods

Henry W. Coe State Park – remote state park in Morgan Hill

Emigrant Wilderness – secluded area north of Yosemite; lots of granite, great for backpacking

The Lakes Basin – hidden gem north of Lake Tahoe; Sardine Lake Resort (great bar)

Lassen Volcanic National Park – Northeastern California

Lost Coast – one of most popular backpacking trails today along the California coast

MacArthur Burney Falls State Park – cabins for overnights and waterfalls; more secluded

Montana de Oro State Park – San Luis Obispo County

Bothe-Napa State Park – Napa; yurts for camping

Natural Hot Springs – hike-in campgrounds in Big Sur

New Brighton Beach Campground – Santa Cruz

Pantoll Campground – first-come, first-serve camping in Mt. Tam

Pinnacles National Park – newest national park; visible signs of the San Andreas Fault run through

Saline Valley Hot Springs – near Death Valley; best September through April

Sierra National Forest – central Sierra Nevada; fewer crowds

Silver Lake Campground – near Kirkwood

Tioga Road (Tuolumne Meadows) Campground – first-come, first-serve camping in the high grounds of Yosemite

Utica Union and Reservoir – little-known free campgrounds in the Sierras

Van Damme State Park and environmental camp ground, Mendocino Coast – light backpacking

Westport-Union Landing State Park – best coastal views up the northern California coast

White Wolf Campground – first-come, first-serve camping in Yosemite with dining lodge

Willow Creek Campground, Sonoma Coast – only state park on Russian River

 

Dog-Friendly

Fort Funston – San Francisco

Limantour Beach – Point Reyes

Little Yosemite Valley – Sunol

Morgan Territory Regional Preserve – near Livermore

Point Isabel – Richmond/Albany

Sunol Regional Wilderness – East Bay; fantastic wildflowers in May

Wild Cat Canyon Regional Park – Richmond

 

Family-Friendly

Ano Nuevo State Park – Pescadero

Panther Meadows – Mount Shasta area; walk-in campground, nice little hikes

Pfeiffer Falls – Big Sur

Star Lake – meteor site in backwoods in Yosemite

 

Hiking Specific

Bay Area Ridge Trail – range of difficulties that spans Bay Area

Carrizo Canyon – San Luis Obispo/Santa Maria

Fort Ross Historic Park – Sonoma Coast

Jack London State Historic Park – Sonoma County; historic buildings and museums run by a non-profit

Montgomery Woods – Ukiah; lots of redwoods

Mount Diablo State Park – Contra Costa County

Mount Eddy – Mount Shasta National Park 

Mount Wanda – John Muir Historic site near John Muir’s Martinez house; guided moonlit hikes

Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve – Oakland

Tilden Regional Park – Orinda

 

Mixed Recreational Activities Parks

Alpine Meadows – Tahoe; lots of recreational activities

Anderson Valley – beautiful, but hilly roads for biking

Mount St. Helena – rock climbing in Napa Valley

Samuel P. Taylor State Park – hike-in/bike-in campgrounds in Lagunitas

Tomales Bay – kayak camping in Point Reyes

 

Weekend Getaway

Mineral King Area, Sequoia National Park – Silver City Mountain Resort

Pacific Grove area – great for spring wildflowers

 

Guests:
Peter Fish, editor-at-large for Sunset Magazine
Ann Marie Brown, author of books including "California Hiking" and "California Waterfalls"
Brad Day, publisher of WeekendSherpa.com, a free weekly e-mail about accessible outdoor adventures in the Bay Area

  • Guest

    What do your guests have to say about the arrival some years ago in California of ticks that carry Lyme disease? Are most people aware of this risk factor?

  • It would be good to mention the role that California state parks play in promoting bicycle touring down the coast. The reduced rate for cyclists and their “no need for reservations” policy, at Hiker/Biker campsites, make the California Coast a great route for this healthy and ecologically friendly way of travel. I’ve appreciated these campsites for bicyclists on several of my tours down the coast over the years. Robert, in Bellingham, WA.

    • reverenddude

      They have them in lots of places besides the coast.

  • Kathleen Moazed

    Please! Butano is pronounced byoo-tan-oh, accent on 1st syllable. Any parks expert has to know that, they made the same mistake last time

  • Kishore Hari

    Burney Falls is the best – I highly recommend it. I haven’t stayed at the cabins, but I will now!

  • Ben Rawner

    Henry Coe State Park near Gilroy is amazing. So many campgrounds and small lakes to camp in. Plus its not that famous so there are usually tons of camp spaces build and on trails.

    Also, the Lost Coast is great for backpackers who want to see an untouched California Coast. Be ready to rough it, but well worth it.

  • Christina Harshell

    Humboldt Redwoods State Park in particular Hidden Springs Campground. A beautiful place with secluded hilly campsites just a few hundred yards across the Avenue of the Giants to a lovely swimming spot in the Eel River. Hiking GALORE!

  • lalameda

    Shout out to Ann Marie Brown. Loved your b&b in Groveland with the hummingbird feeders. As for the show, consider learning to sail, there are clubs to join, boats to rent if you don’t want to own one and great places to camp on a boat in the bay area.

  • Lana

    Morgan Territory north of Livermore is a beautiful quiet place to hike when the hills are green. Also, if you aren’t the type to make camping reservations 4 months in advance (like me), you can usually get last minute reservations at Butano SP or Sugarloaf Ridge SP in Sonoma County – both are great parks, not crowded at all.

  • 1PeterDuMont2STARALLIANCE8

    Public Comment Presented to California’s
    PARKS FORWARD COMMISSION
    [At Public Meeting on 2014 April 30th near SFO]

    The STAR ALLIANCE • FOUNDATION FOR ALL • proposes a spectacular monument dedicated to cooperation and peace —”from sea to shining sea” — to grace the peak of Angel Island and serve as a complement to the globally iconic Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor.

    Companion to a mobile “Floating AquaTheater™” on the Bay, the elevated Ring of All Nations™ monument will provide spectacular, 360-degree views from its multiple observation decks; plus restaurant, meeting, and display spaces dedicated to worldwide peace education, public service, and public parks.

    The upper deck of the Ring Monument will support heroic statuary of thirty diverse human figures, gathered in a circle, hands clasped in solidarity, eyes upraised to a central fountain of stars representing humanity’s “Highest Common Ideals.”

    Both structures will serve as prototypes for similar monuments and facilities recommended worldwide for inter-connectable democratic assembly, public education and inspiration.

  • My favorite dog friendly beach is Dillon beach in Tomales, Marin County. A not very well known walking, frisby gulf, dog friendly park is Crane Creek, located in Rohnert Park, Sonoma County. Great show, good timing!

  • Robert Thomas

    There are many places inside Yosemite Park that offer wonderful experiences away from the Valley.

    One of these is Ostrander Lake, the headwater of Bridalveil Falls, about eight miles south of Yosemite Valley. The walk is steep and accommodations are a little severe but worth the effort. Nearby are the otherworldly Hart Lakes, which are among the most starkly beautiful sites in the western states.

  • Hhotelconsult

    I beg you to read this! =^D

    a) Any recommendation on BLM Dispersal camping?

    b) TIBURON CALIFORNIA – best trail running and picnic in the Bay Area, hands down. Pavlov’s Peak in the St. Hilary Nature Preserve is easy access for all skill levels and has 360 views of the entire Bay area. It’s the most beautiful place for views in the Bay Area. It’s easier to get to than Angel Island, with essentially the same views: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L0gip_HqPwU

    c) Plumas County by Buck’s Lake near Quincy has a PG&E maintained first come first serve camp site named Hakins Valley which is *right* on the water.

    d) Wilbur Hot Springs just burnt down, but are offering dispersal camping without campfires. Go support this epic, and ancient, place! http://wilburhotsprings.com

  • Jen

    All East Bay Regional Parks are off-lease for dogs on the undeveloped trails (unpaved). Lake Chabot has a 13 mile trail around it and a campground.

  • JACKIE

    THIS IS FOR THE PERSON WHO WANTED AN HISTORICAL HIKE. LAKE CHABOT PARK IN CASTRO VALLEY, CA,OPERATED BY EAST BAY REGIONAL PARK DEPARTMENT, HAS SEVERAL MONUMENTS ON THE DAM ABOVE THE LAKE. BUILT IN 1876 BY CHINESE LARBORERS, THE DAM WAS CONSTRUCTED USING THE TECHNIQUES INVENTED IN THE GOLD FIELDS OF CALIFORNIA, INCLUDING TUNNELING, SLUICE WAYS AND HYDROLICS. IT WAS COMPACTED BY HORSES LED BACK AND FORTH OVER EACH LAYER OF CLAY LIKE EARTH. PARK IN THE LAKE CHABOT MARINA AND WALK ALONG THE LAKE TWO MILES TO THE DAM. OR PARK IN CHABOT PARK OF SAN LEANDRO, OFF ESTUDILLO, AND WALK 3/4TH A MILE UP THE TRAIL TO THE DAM AND MONUMENTS. THERE ARE MANY SURROUNDING TRAILS TO EXPLORE AS WELL ONE INCLUDES A SEASONAL WATERFALL.

    • Hhotelconsult

      There’s no need to yell.

      I kid I kid!

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