However, no state in the West has as much of it as California. The Golden State is a virtual cornucopia of natural wonders. From top to bottom, investigate its incredibly beautiful coastline to the deep woodlands and deserts found here too. Stay at hundreds of fantastic California RV Camping Resorts along the way and you’ll enjoy the best California has to offer at California Camping.
Sure, California’s fantastic coastlines and towering redwoods of the northern area of the state get all of the attention, but in southern California, deserts dominate the landscape. Northeast of Los Angeles, the Mojave Desert encompasses over 15,000 square miles. Although not every part of the Mojave is excellent for a leisurely picnic lunch (think hot), this”high” desert comprises several mountain ranges and is located well above sea level. Both of these factors are what give the Mojave its own distinctive ecosystem, allowing for an assortment of wild inhabitants. Native birds such as the roadrunner and cactus wren often share space with exotic migratory birds such as vireos and flycatchers. Coyotes and kit foxes prowl the desert mountains, as do more docile creatures like bighorn sheep and wild boars. Like many deserts, the Mojave is susceptible to extreme weather.
In the southern end of the region, before the Mojave Desert becomes the Sonoran Desert, lies Joshua Tree National Park. This 734,000-acre desert refuge is home to some of the nation’s most unusual and photogenic plants. The Joshua tree is the biggest of the yucca plants and has thrived in this region of the country. Some two dozen types of bird regularly create the Joshua tree house and the tree has an intricate part in the ecology of this desert wildlife. The park itself offers a 40-mile driving tour where one can meander through the gentle desert landscape and find loads of photo opportunities.
But do not let the name scare you off – the place isn’t out to get you. In fact, Death Valley is the most visited desert park in the country. The valley’s floor, which lies nearly 300 feet below sea level, eventually gives way to sparkling painted hills and 10,000-foot snow-capped peaks. Due to the enormity of this park, driving is essential and lots of the park’s attraction are spread out. But after a destination is chosen and the rig is parked, Death Valley offers hundreds of miles of hiking trails that you soak up the dramatic scenery. Be sure to visit Telescope Peak in the park’s Emigrant Canyon. This summit is the park’s highest, reaching over 11,000 ft and offering some wonderful views.
As you go north and out of California’s southern desert region, the Sierra Nevadas beckon visitors with its wide variety of activities and natural beauty. This 430-mile stretch of granite cliffs and snowy peaks delight visitors with numerous parks and attractions, including eight national forests, three national parks, and 14 wilderness areas. Any trip to the Sierra’s wouldn’t be complete without visiting at least one of the area’s other national parks: the Sequoia, Kings Canyon, and of course, Yosemite.
The 402,000-acre Sequoia National Park is the nation’s second oldest park after Yellowstone. Driving through Sequoia National Park is an adventure in itself. Follow Mineral King Road as it follows the Kaweah River for 25 miles before reaching the scenic Mineral King portion. General Highway is another winding drive which will bring you to a stand of trees where four of the five world’s tallest could be found. Just north of Sequoia sits Kings Canyon National Park, home of General Grant, the nation’s largest tree. Offer a salute to the lofty hardwood. Another must-see is the Zumwalt Meadow, the six-mile valley floor provides excellent opportunities for day hikes along a peaceful valley surrounded by towering granite cliffs. North of Kings Canyon lies California’s most famous national park, Yosemite. Crowds can be, well, annoying, so select your season well (spring and fall are best). Yosemite’s vastness and many isolated areas make this a very pleasant visit and a must for the RVer cruising through California.
For even more dramatic scenery head east of Yosemite only a few miles until you get to Mono Lake. One of the oldest lakes in the usa, Mono Lake attracts all types of wildlife into the area, such as unusual sea birds who come seeking food resources that inhabit the lake’s salty water. But the truly significant element of Mono Lake is the calcium-carbonate rock formations found on the lake’s shoreline, porous spires rising out of the salty water, standing like eerie sentinels protecting the coastline.
From here, choose one of many paths north, all of which are quite scenic, until you reach the Sierra foothills and the Lake Tahoe region. Set along the California-Nevada border, Lake Tahoe has become an immensely popular holiday area, particularly for skiers. Lake Tahoe rewards its visitors with fantastic scenery, relaxing hikes, and tons of other outdoor pursuits year-round. It’s easy to escape the developed shores of Lake Tahoe. The western side of this lake offers two state parks, Emerald Bay and D.L. Bliss, each with miles of linking hiking trails and memorable surroundings. The lake is a miracle as well. At over 6,000 feet in elevation, this mountain lake is among the highest in the world.
Northern California remains one of America’s most popular and beautiful regions. Yes, there is much more here than San Francisco, though that’s a excellent place to start things off. While having only a fraction of the population of southern California, the northern regions offer the most varied and impressive landscape in the American West.
The Lava Beds National Monument is 47,000 acres of hardened molten lava, making for interesting landscape. To go to the Lava Beds National Monument is really a special adventure. The region was once a hotbed (literally!) of underground flowing lava tubes. These days, the flows have subsided, but in their wake, a boon of almost 200 caves and grottoes, many of which are available for exploration. Whether you are an experienced spelunker, just starting out, or simply curious about this underground world, Lava Beds National Monument is entertaining, nonetheless.
For birders, a must-stop is the Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge and the Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge. While these two adjacent parks, located just north of the Lava Beds, play host to a vast selection of permanent and migratory birds, the area is best known for its migratory bald eagle population, generally regarded as the country’s largest. Don’t forget the binoculars.
Directly west of those wildlife refuges, along the California coast, clustered together are several redwood areas that make for wonderful stops. While Redwood National Park anchors the area, the coastal drive is also lined with several areas featuring northern California’s star attraction, the mighty redwood.
Much of the American West prides itself on its diversity – from forbidding deserts
Continuing along the California coast, about an hour north of San Francisco, is located the Point Reyes National Seashore, a majestic peninsula that juts out into the Pacific Ocean. Scientists consider the delicate sediment found here may one day disconnect itself from the California mainland. Here is a hint: Try not to be there when it does. But before that day, the area is easily accessible and offers fantastic benefits for wildlife enthusiasts. Nearly 500 types of birds call Point Reyes home, or at least throughout their migratory travels. Dozens of mammals, including several marine types, can readily be found here as well.
If you do nothing else, make sure you travel Highway 1, one of the most scenic drives in the entire world. Here, the journey is as good as the destination, although Big Sur won’t disappoint. This area has inspired generations with its tantalizing views and dazzling sunsets. Because of the numerous RV parks and campgrounds that make up the region, Big Sur easily affords days of leisurely outdoor pursuits.
Just if you want to get out of the RV for a day trip, leave your rig behind in Ventura (wave into the Woodall’s office) or Santa Barbara and take a chartered boat to explore the Channel Islands. Sea lions frolic along the islands’ beaches. Whales cruise for meals just offshore. A plethora of shorebirds roost about the islands’ high ground. Santa Cruz Island is the largest and ecologically diverse of all of the Channel Islands.