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California Grandeur

By Vanessa Wade
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Breathtaking landscapes … ancient trees … windswept bluffs … beautifully barren deserts …
staggering mountain ranges.

But for many, California is revered for her magnificent national parks, all 27 of them. At the top of the list are the crown jewels of the state: Redwoods, Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon, and Joshua Tree. As the National Park Service’s centennial year comes to a close, what better way to celebrate than to spend some time at one or more of these time-honored treasures? Take a respite from your day-to-day routine and escape to pristine lands that will make you forget the hustle and bustle of urban life.

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REDWOOD

Humboldt & Del Norte Counties
803 miles from San Diego

Redwood National and State Parks (RNSP) is a collection of three California State Parks: Del Norte Coast, Jedediah Smith and Prairie Creek Redwoods State Parks. These parks are co-managed by the National Park Service and the California Department of Parks and Recreation. Both agencies work tirelessly to preserve the ancient coast redwood ecosystem (thusly, a UNESCO World Heritage site). This habitat sustains a diversity of life such as sea anemones, black bears, Douglas fir trees, gray whales, northern spotted owls and even banana slugs. In addition to old-growth redwood groves that were once threatened by the logging industry in the late 1800s, RNSP encompasses open prairie lands, two major rivers, and nearly 40 miles of pristine, rugged coastline. Today, you can expect to experience world-class camping as well as adventures on horseback, mountain biking or hiking. To plan your trip to the Redwoods, visit: nps.gov/redw

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JOSHUA TREE

San Bernardino & Riverside Counties
164 miles from San Diego

The namesake for this park comes from the variety of yucca tree that has unruly branches and spiky palm leaves. Joshua Tree National Park is nearly 800,000 acres in area—that is, slightly larger than the state of Rhode Island! The Colorado and the Mojave desert ecosystems overlap in this park, expressing a unique variety of flora and fauna. Fantastic geologic formations can be seen throughout the park. In addition to camping, there are a variety of riding and hiking trails that lead you through desert lowlands, various forests and palm oases. Joshua Tree is also a destination for world-renowned bouldering and rock climbing. The desert night skies are unobscured by light pollution and tree canopies … perfect for stargazing. To find out more about Joshua Tree National Park, visit: nps.gov/jotr

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YOSEMITE

Mariposa, Tuolumne & Madera Counties
456 miles from San Diego

Yosemite is easily the pièce de résistance of the National Park System. Occupying 747,956 acres, this UNESCO World Heritage site boasts abundant waterfalls, ancient sequoia groves, deeply-hewn valleys, and impressive granite domes. Sculpted by glaciers nearly three million years ago, and presently teeming with wildlife and lush forests, this recreational destination is renowned for fishing, rafting, big-wall rock climbing, and wildlife watching. Though many trails and park roads are either inaccessible or closed November through early May, the wintry paradise that is Yosemite Valley remains open for cold-weather activities such as backcountry skiing and snowshoeing.

Accommodations range from wilderness camping to roomy cabins. And for the less rugged of heart, the creature comforts of historic hotel lodging (five of which are National Historic Landmarks!), such as The Ahwahnee Hotel, Parsons Memorial Lodge, The Wawona Hotel & Thomas Hill Studio, LeConte Memorial Lodge, and the Rangers’ Club, are available. To begin planning your trip to Yosemite, visit: nps.gov/yose

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SEQUOIA & KINGS CANYON

San Joaquin Valley, Sierra Nevada Mountain Range
324 miles from San Diego

Sequoia National Forest is contiguous to the south with Kings Canyon National Park. Both parks are operated by the National Park Service and are noteworthy for their old-growth forests. Specifically, Giant Forest, which occupies 1,880 acres within Sequoia National Forest, is home to the renowned General Sherman giant sequoia tree, the largest living tree by volume on the planet.

Elevations range from 1,370 feet to 14,494 feet and dramatically yield diverse ecosystems and weather conditions. For instance, it is commonplace for snow to force road closures at higher elevations while flowers are in full bloom in the foothills! Before you go, check for what’s open and be prepared for potential abrupt weather change.

Some other distinguishing places within Sequoia National Park are Crescent Meadow, Moro Rock, Tokopah Falls and the subterranean Crystal Cave. Walking cave tours are offered spring through autumn and are guided by trained cave naturalists. Dress warmly as cave temperatures are approximately 48°F: tours vary by age group and level of experience. Be on notice that you might have to belly-crawl with a flashlight! For more information, visit: explorecrystalcave.com

Kings Canyon National Park has more than 800 miles of maintained trails, some of which traverse giant sequoia groves. There are many spectacular waterfalls, along with incredible views of the high Sierra Nevadas, in this more than 400,000 acres of designated wilderness. It’s easy to see how a backcountry enthusiast might opt for endless overnight backpacking!

There are 14 campgrounds (three of which are open year-round) available for overnight accommodations. The majority of campgrounds are first-come, first-served, with a six-person limit per standard site.

There are numerous overlooks from which to view stunning vistas, and interesting roadside exhibits along both Generals Highway (historically, the main access road that connects Highway 180 and Highway 198) and the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway (along Highway 180). To find out more about Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks, visit: nps.gov/seki

IF YOU CAMP

Make reservations at Recreation.gov up to six months in advance for standard campsites (a maximum of six people); up to one year in advance for group sites (7 – 50 people).

Campfire permits are free and are required for any fire on Forest Service Lands. Permits are available from Preventwildfireca.org or at visitor centers throughout the parks. Depending on the campsite, note that fire restrictions for campfires, cook stoves and barbecue grills may be in place. Check before you ignite!

Black bears are active year-round in most of these parks. All food, trash and any scented items must be properly stored in metal food-storage boxes to prevent campsite intrusions or vehicle break-ins. Check with your camp host to find out if metal food-storage boxes are provided.

Despite how cute or gentle the forest critters can seem, know that animals born in the wilderness are inherently wild. Maintain safe distances from non-domesticated animals.

DID YOU KNOW?

In 1864, President Abraham Lincoln signed a bill that annexed Mariposa Grove and Yosemite Valley to the
State of California.

In 1918, “Yosemite Clare” Marie Hodges was the first female park ranger hired by the National Park Service.

95% of Yosemite is designated wilderness but only seven square miles are utilized by visitors.

Nearly four million people visit Yosemite each year.