Best Outdoor Experiences in Northern California

California is a great spot to discover the great outdoors! Home to several stunning national parks, stunning coastlines, valleys that feature hundreds of vineyards set amid rolling hills and hiking trails that offer majestic panoramic views – it’s the perfect state to visit for those looking for some adventure on their holiday. Read on as our travel experts list their top outdoor experiences in California.

Yosemtite National Park

top outdoor experiences in california

As one of America’s most popular national parks, Yosemite boasts some of the best views, hiking trails, and family holiday opportunities in the USA.

Hiking and climbing is synonymous with Yosemite National Park and El Capitan, the world’s tallest granite monolith and one of the world’s top rock climbing destinations is its crowning glory. Widely regarded as the most brutal challenge in rock climbing the rock face soars 3,000 feet (900 meters) high, attracting climbers from all over the world. It is recommended for only experienced climbers. You can get up close to by cycling, walk or hiking the many trails along the valley floor to the Lower Falls. There are plenty of trails in the park to suit all levels of experience.

You can also spend a few hours on horseback as sleepy, easy-going trail rides meander up through the park and along Mirror Lake. You can opt for short or longer and more experiences trail rides that can bring you deep into the Park centre. Or experience the relaxing sounds of the Merced River as you cycle the riverway through the park with lots of spots to stop and snap the great El Captain.

Another highlight is to drive Tioga Pass to Mammoth Lakes and get up close with the great outdoors high Alpine meadows, lakes and forests. See the amazing split apart Earthquake Fault formed around 600 years ago or the 65 quare mile Mono Lake, where you can spend a day kayaking among the unique solid calcium tufta towers that accumulate along the shore in summer and autumn.

With so much to do in the park it’s a great idea to stay here for a few days. From tents and tent cabins to RV’s. Yosemite national Park offers all types of camp grounds that are well serviced. From basic tent pitch sites to raised tent cabins and cabins you can enjoy catching up with hikers and climbers or even those on their trip of lifetime in fully fitted out RV’s.

Lake Tahoe

top outdoor experiences in california
Nestled at the foot of the majestic Sierra Nevada mountains you’ll find the cobalt blue Lake Tahoe, a place of endless opportunities for activities and adventure. Located about 3.5 hours drive west of San Francisco, a few days in the region is the perfect add on to your city break as you swap the hustle and bustle of San Fran life for lakeside lodging. You can choose to stay either at North Lake Tahoe or South Lake Tahoe, read on below for more information on both options.

North Lake Tahoe
Offering up mile after mile of stunning vistas, North Lake Tahoe is home to range of hiking and mountain biking trails and in the winter you’ll find the largest concentration of downhill and cross country skiing in North America, making it your perfect ski destination. Or try something different with snowmobiling, sledding, snowshoeing, ice skating, and even snow biking all available to try out! In the summer get out on the lake itself and enjoy kayaking, paddleboarding, parasailing or jetskiing. Or just spend a day at one of the many beaches and enjoy swimming in the clear blue waters of the lake. As a special treat, why not charter a boat and go out on a fishing trip, or sit back and relax as you watch the sun set over this stunning region as the water gently laps around you.

South Lake Tahoe
South Lake Tahoe boasts all the beautiful scenery and variety of activities of North Lake Tahoe but with a vibrant nightlife scene added in! Days can be spent snow sledding, snow tubing, snowmobiling, skiing and snowboarding in the winter and hiking, biking, horseback riding, swimming, kayaking and paddleboarding in the summer as the lake glistens as smooth as glass. As the sun sets on a day full of adventure, South Lake Tahoe’s legendary nightlife comes alive so get set to party the night away!

Napa Valley

top outdoor experiences in california
Napa Valley, located just north of San Francisco is one of the world’s premier wine regions boasting more than 400 wineries. Discover food & wine experiences that go beyond the norm as you stroll through the hillside vineyards, talk with the winemaker, or sip award-winning wines with dramatic views of the valley floor as you visit the wineries of Napa Valley. It is quite simply one of the best places on earth to sit back in the sun and enjoy fine wine.

A trip to Napa Valley is the perfect day out from San Francisco or you could even spend a couple of days in the region, with a wide range of accommodation available from luxorious resorts to quaint B&Bs. While in Napa Valley be sure to take a trip on the Napa Valley Wine Train, a luxurious vintage train which takes you on a 36mile roundtrip to St Helena and back, stopping at several celebrated wineries along the way where you can enjoy exclusive winery tours and meals.

Redwood National Park

top outdoor experiences in california
Located in the very north of California, Redwood National Park is home to the tallest trees on Earth, many of which are over 300ft tall and 2000 years old! Visitors come to the park from all over the world to discover this majestic trees, a stunning panoramic coastline and signature wildlife. You’ll find pristine wilderness, hundreds of miles of hiking and bicycling trails, self-guided nature trails, picnicking, camping, river swimming and horseback riding.

If planning to stay in the park for a couple of days, there are 4 serviced camp grounds onsite. Staying at the park gives you plenty of time to explore the ancient forests, rugged coastline, upland prairies, and oak woodlands of Redwood National Park.

Death Valley National Park

top outdoor experiences in california
Death Valley National Park is a park of extremes. It is the lowest, hottest and driest national park in North America. Straddling the border of southern California and the Mojave Desert in Nevada, the park is famous for its huge sand dunes, gaping canyons and jaw dropping peaks that rise majestically over the valley below.

There are plenty of ways to explore this remarkable terrain. Some highlights that you should certainly check out as you explore include Badwater Basin—at 282 feet below sea level, it’s the lowest point in North America. From low to high – head to Dante’s View, an overlook at 5,475ft in the Black Mountains with a stunning panorama out over Death Valley over a mile below you.

Early risers can catch the sunrise at Zabriskie Point as you watch the Badlands in the golden glow of the early morning light. The morning sun also paints the Panamint Range across the valley with gorgeous pinks and purples. Meanwhile, late afternoon is a great time to do the Artists Drive, a 9 mile route that weaves through some of Death Valley’s most vibrantly hued volcanic formations. The highlight is Artist’s Palette, where the rock is coloured with gorgeous yellows, pinks, and greens.

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By Amanda O'Brien

Personal Travel Planner

Favourite Destination: Texas has to be one of my favourite places, take in vibrant cities, history, music and culture. Dallas has the Sixth Floor Museum and The Perot Museum of Nature and Science, great for the family. Make sure you take in the “dive bars” in Deep Ellum. Fort Worth, experience the Old West with the twice daily cattle drive in the Stockyards. Learn to line dance at Billy Bobs, the largest Honky Tonk, visit the Rodeo and enjoy a bottle of Buffalo Butt Beer. Austin, the live music capital of the world, take a sunset cruise on Lady Bird lake and see the world’s largest urban bat colony and then head over to 6th Street for some of that famous music.

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