California is home to E-I-G-H-T National Parks and we were able to visit 5 of these wonders.
We entered Northern California and made our way to Redwood National Park, but also Redwood State Park. It was pretty confusing to know which one was which. We made sure to explore a lot of it, so we could safely say we did, in fact, visit the National Park. It is hard to comprehend just how big these giants are, let alone fit them into a photo. We can definitely guarantee you will leave feeling small, in awe, and have a few kinks in your neck.
When visiting the Redwoods there is a place you must camp, Gold Bluffs Beach (disclaimer the road is VERY narrow/pot-holey/steep and you can NOT bring a pull behind trailer or large RV). The rocky road is worth it for miles and miles of sandy beaches and blue water, we ended up staying 3 nights because it was just beautiful.
For a good little “hike” you can walk the beach to Fern Canyon. The walls are up to fifty feet high with seven different kinds of ferns completely covering them. Be prepared to get wet, as the only way to truly see the canyon is to walk through lots of freezing cold water.
Fun Fact: Steven Speilberg described Fern Canyon as, “an unforgettable natural wonder” and ended up filming part of Jurassic Park 2: Lost World there (obviously we immediately watched the movie after we walked through the canyon). Other hikes we would recommend, walking around Jedediah Smith State Park, seeing “Big Tree,” and Lady Bird Johnson Grove Trail (grab the free guide book at the beginning).
From the Redwoods we made our way to Lassen Volcanic NP. If you’re like us, you might have never even heard of this NP, but this one really is a hidden gem. After we got our info (maps, sticker, and patch) we went just outside the park to go through the “Subway Cave,” a 1/3 mile dried lava tube that you can walk through. Bundle up and bring a head lamp, it’s a bit chilly and pretty dark!
The one hike that was recommended to us was “Bumpass Hell,” unfortunately it was closed for trail improvements (but definitely put it on your list). Instead we chose to hike Brokeoff Mountain a 7.4 mile up and back trail with 2,600ft of elevation gain. A great hike with many views along the way before 360° views of the park once you reach the top. This small but mighty park is spectacular, especially for anyone that enjoyed Yellowstone.
After the natural beauty of Lassen Volcanic NP we made our way to the bright casino lights of Reno, NV. Along the way we camped at a few great places: dispersed camped in Plumas NF and then made our way on a pretty rocky road where it just so happens part of our muffler fell off… a quick fix from Mr. Zamboni’s repair shop and we made our way to Washoe Lake State Park campground for a spectacular sunset, but maybe more importantly a hot shower.
Next day we made it into Reno, Nevada to pick up our friends, Mike and Whit, for a quick weekend in Lake Tahoe together! Too many drinks, not enough time and all the laughs helped Kate’s homesickness immensely.
Lake Tahoe is absolutely beautiful. Skiing is the thing to do in winter, but hiking is a great way to see the natural beauty when there is no snow to ski down. Once again, if you don’t have the AllTrails app, download it. It is the best way to find hikes, especially if you’re new to the area.
We stayed in the south part of Lake Tahoe and did the Granite Lake & Maggie’s Peak hike. It is 3.6 miles out and back with about 1800ft of elevation gain, so a good workout. Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, thanks again you two, it was the perfect weekend!
Onto the next NP, Yosemite! We both had heard how amazing Yosemite was and were worried it wouldn’t live up to the hype. Luckily, for us, it didn’t disappoint!
The drive into Yosemite Valley alone is stunning. As you wind closer with every turn, the famous granite formations of El Capitan and Half Dome begin to appear. We parked and walked around the village to get a feel for the park and plan our itinerary. With over 800 miles of trails, it’s hard to decide on where to spend your time. However, with most people barely leaving their cars, we found that as long as you get out past the throngs of people, it doesn’t matter where you go, you’ll be rewarded. For our first hike, we went way off the beaten path and hiked Mt. Hoffman. The ranger told us it was a “social” trail meaning it wouldn’t have any markings or signs. We figured, “meh, we’ll give it a shot.” It was a great hike with not a single other person on the trail. We also had no idea where we were going and still aren’t sure if we made it to the “top” but, it was a good way to dip our toes into Yosemite.
The next day, we stuck to some of the park favorites: Glacier Point, Sentinel Dome, and Taft Point. The hike that loops all three is definitely worth it. You’ll have people tell you to do it counter-clockwise or clockwise and neither of them are right. We went clockwise and got our butts kicked but, I don’t think the other way would’ve been any easier.
We spent another day just taking in the valley, getting pizza in the village, and watching the climbers ascend the sheer cliff of El Capitan. Most people spend all their time in the valley which would have plenty for anyone to do but, we recommend taking the trip south to the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias.
Our last day in Yosemite was spent here and we loved it. We hiked the the longest loop around the grove, trying to see all the sequoias possible. The biggest one, dubbed the “Grizzly Giant” is believed to be the very spot where John Muir and President Teddy Roosevelt camped in the early 1900s and laid the groundwork for future conservation. TR left Yosemite saying, “It was like lying in a great solemn cathedral, far vaster and more beautiful than any built by the hand of man.” We couldn’t agree more.
A short drive later and we found ourselves in another National Park, Kings Canyon and Sequoia. Two parks in one. They are technically two parks but, they are administered jointly which means…one entry fee! We started our visit in the northwestern portion of Kings Canyon. There are gigantic sequoias everywhere you look. We visited General Grant, the world’s second largest tree and walked the popular trail among other giants.
The real sequoia immersion though, happened when we hiked Redwood Canyon. On this trail, there were far less people and no barriers or fences around the trees. Walking through groves and groves of sequoias with nothing keeping us from walking up and touching them. From Kings Canyon, we drove General’s Highway into Sequoia National Park. The highway is a windy mountain road that connects the aforementioned General Grant with General Sherman, the world’s largest tree. There are older and taller sequoias but, GS is the largest with a volume of 52,500 cubic feet.
Pictures don’t do these trees justice, you truly have to stand next to them to appreciate their towering majesty. Big trees are definitely the showcase of these two parks but, another must-do is the climb to the top of Moro Rock. Three hundred and fifty steps lead you to breathtaking 360 degree views. We did this one on a whim and were so glad we did.
We drove down out of the Sierra Mountain range and the landscape changed dramatically. Gigantic trees to desert desolation. With lots of open road ahead of us, we found a pit stop for the night somewhere in the desert of eastern CA. It was there where we became podcast stars. A friend of Jason’s from college, Chris, had reached out to us about being on his adventure themed podcast, “Like a Bigfoot.” We are hardly interesting enough to be interviewed but, Chris was kind enough to have us on. We talked for roughly 45 minutes about all things MichelVangelo; how we got started, highlights of the trip, and some of the hurdles. To listen to the podcast, click here.
We ventured further east into the desert to Death Valley National Park. The name says it all…death valley. Valley of Death. Thankfully, the infamous scorching temperatures are reserved for the summer not November when we decided to visit. We should’ve known but, Death Valley is…wait for it…a valley. Meaning we had to drive up into some mountains before descending into the valley. MichelVangelo was not a fan of the incline and a few “cool down” pit stops were necessary. Eventually, we were able to coast down into the valley. Some of the straightest, you-can-see-for-forever roads are in Death Valley.
The first stop inside the park was the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. Miles and miles of sand dunes that made us feel like we were in the Sahara. As we made our way to the visitor’s center and campgrounds, we started noticing RVs….lots of RVs. Not good when you’re looking for a place to camp. Stopping in at the Visitor’s center, we asked if there was an event going on and the ranger replied, “Oh, yeah it’s the 49ers group.” After staring blankly back at her she followed up with, “It’s like geriatric burning man.” Fantastic. Thankfully, their group was mostly huddled around the visitor’s center campground and we were able to find spot up the mountain.
What Death Valley lacks in beautiful scenery, it makes up for in night sky. Once the sun went down, the sky lit up with billions of stars. The next morning, we got out early to avoid the crowds of “geriatric burners” and saw some of the popular spots. Badwater Basin was our favorite, sitting at 282 feet below sea level. Make sure to also drive through Artists Palette, the scenic loop is 9 miles of colorful rock formations unlike anything we’ve ever seen.
California, we loved you.
Click below to check out our video recap of California.