The profile of Yosemite's famous Half Dome as seen from Glacier Point.

View from Glacier Point. Photo © CelsoDiniz/123rf.

California boasts some of the most beautiful parks in the world. They’re everywhere and they come in all sizes, from tiny city and county greenscapes on up to multi-thousand-acre wilderness wonderlands.

If you visit only one park in California, make it Yosemite National Park. The endless parade of sights, the sounds of forest life, the clean smell of fresh air, and the feel of the wind combine to create an iconic California park experience. A very different but equally astonishing landscape greets you at Death Valley, another of California’s massive national parks. You could easily spend a week at either of these parks and not see all there is or hike even half the trails.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is the biggest state park in the California system. Come spend a spring weekend here to see some of the most beautiful desert wildflowers around. At the other end of the state — and the other end of the climate spectrum — the Redwood National and State Parks are actually half a dozen semi-separate entities clustered together and managed cooperatively. Camp in coastal redwood groves, hike fern-strewn trails down to the cool coast, and educate yourself about California’s natural and human history. Speaking of history, California’s many state historic parks are gems too often overlooked. Fort Ross, Railtown 1889, Bodie, and even all of Old Town San Diego make history far more fun than any book ever could.

The park with the most natural drama in the state must be Mount Lassen — one of only two active volcanoes in the contiguous 48 states and one of the most remote parks in the state. On the other hand, Griffith Park in Los Angeles has all the comforts of a big city, with swimming pools, sports courts, museums, and even an observatory. Yet it’s got a lovely greenbelt and hiking trails, reminders that even Los Angeles treasures its parks.

Maps - Northern California 7e - Northern California

Northern California

Excerpted from the Second Edition of Moon California.