California has some of the most spectacular natural wonders in the United States.
From north to south and east to west, the Golden State is a dream come true if you’ve been yearning for some serious outdoor adventures and striking natural vistas.
With so many landscapes, regions, and climates on the menu, there’s a little something in Cali for everyone, no matter the type of adventure you’re after.
From rugged coastline drives to hiking in the desert in search of life, these are a few of the best California experiences for nature lovers you need to add to your bucket list!
1. Road Trip Big Sur
A drive through Big Sur is one of the dreamiest experiences in the whole state. With sky-high mountain peaks to the east and striking views of the ocean to the west, this drive is full of excuses to stop to take in the views and rest your legs for a bit.
Despite it being a relatively short drive at just 90 miles, you can easily spend a few weeks completing it because the entire region has so many wonderful things to do and see that you’ll be making tons of stops along the way.
From exploring the eye candy that is the seaside town of Carmel to catching fabulous views of the Pacific at Andrew Molera State Park, Big Sur sure has everything it takes to reward visitors with fabulous vistas and awesome activities in nature.
- Expand your journey all the way down the PCH from San Fran to San Diego
2. Find Your Love for Life at Death Valley National Park
Don’t be freaked out by the name! Death Valley is, in reality, one of the liveliest places in California. Seriously, the first impression you’ll get as you arrive is that of a desolate place.
Still, once you start to explore it, you’ll find wacky rock formations, golden sand dunes, twisting canyons, and mountains painted in striking colors.
While there’s so much to do at Death Valley that you could easily dedicate an entire week to exploring it and never have to do the same thing twice, a few of the top activities include standing on the lowest part of the United States at Badwater Basin, testing gravity by sliding down dunes of sand, hiking on hills of borax, and searching for colorful mountains by looping around Artist’s Drive!
- See a complete itinerary over the Sierra Mountains from Yosemite to Death valley
3. Drive Tioga Road for Some Seriously Epic Views
Yosemite is California’s most emblematic national park, and one of the best ways to soak up its beauty is by driving along California Highway 120, or Tioga Road as it’s more commonly known as, one of the most irresistibly beautiful drives in California.
Tioga Road runs along the length of Yosemite National Park, guaranteeing amazing park vistas along the way. First, it will take you all the way up to the highest pass in California before going downwards into the Eastern Sierra, letting you delight in the panoramic views of the emblematic granite cliffs of Yosemite dreamy alpine lakes, and redwoods that dot the way in seemingly endless cirques.
If you want to get a closer look at Yosemite’s most iconic granite cliffs (Half-Dome and Clouds Rest), you must make a stop at Olmsted Point. Once there, you can opt for a hike at Tuolumne Meadows, which follows along the Merced River over carpets of wildflowers.
At the very end of the drive, you’ll be greeted by Mono Lake, a saline soda lake that looks like it belongs on another planet!
Keep in mind: Tioga Road is open on a seasonal basis in the summer and fall, usually from late May until early November. Be sure to check Yosemite’s official web page for exact dates so you can plan your trip accordingly.
- See how to combine all of California’s national parks on one epic California nature road trip.
4. Walk Under a Canopy of Centuries-old Redwoods
Ever wondered what walking inside an enchanted forest would feel like? A stroll through Redwood National Park is as close as you can get to that!
Nestled in the northern end of the California coast, this park is home to groves of Redwood trees, which are famed for being the tallest trees in the world. Seriously, a visit here is so fascinating that its beautiful vistas are sure to remain with you forever.
Redwood is actually a combination of several state parks, occupying a vast area of more than 130,000 acres. Because of its huge size, it would take weeks to explore it completely, but taking a few days is enough to explore its highlights.
Driving the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway road is an absolute must, as this incredible northern California scenic drive goes straight through the forest and allows you to see the groves of centuries-old redwoods in their full splendor. If you want to rest your legs, stop every now and then, park your car, and hike some of the many trails on the way to get more personal with the area.
Fun fact: Did you know that Dieter Stark’s final scene in Jurassic Park 2 was filmed here? So yes, a visit to Redwood does give the impression that you somehow stepped into another time and place.
Fern Canyon, in particular, is a striking canyon with walls covered in fern and a creek crossing right through it, making you wonder if dinosaurs will pop out at any moment!
- Click here for a complete guide to driving the Redwood Highway
5. Spot Wildlife at Point Reyes National Seashore
Point Reyes National Seashore is a real treasure you’ll want to visit more than once, especially if you are a big fan of wildlife encounters. Its diverse landscapes include open grasslands, forested crests, mountainous peaks, and of course, sweeping beaches so beautiful you’ll have to pinch yourself!
Situated around an hour north of San Francisco, the prime activities at Point Reyes are biking and hiking, both of which allow you to explore all the different habitats in the park. Hiking, in particular, will increase your chances of catching glimpses of the fauna prevalent in the area, especially northern elephant seals and bobcats.
Have you ever traveled to any of these nature havens in California? Which one was your favorite? We’d love to know all about your visit to any of these gems, whether you’ve been to them before or if you decided to visit after being inspired by this post!
More on Road Tripping in California
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- Take the scenic route from San Francisco to Yosemite, discovering more of the historic side of the state
- For something completely different, why not visit these unique places in California on your next Cali road trip
- Continuing your journey north, these are our favorite stopping points if you’re road tripping San Francisco to Portland.
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