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Outdoor Adventures: State Parks and Beyond

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 (Andrew Mace/Flickr)

Planning a summer getaway? With its wealth of national, state, local and regional parks, California is home to a staggering array of recreational opportunities. A panel of experts joins us to share tips on the best hikes, campsites, waterfalls and picnic spots. What’s your favorite under-the-radar outdoor destination?

State Park Recommendations By Guests and the Forum Community


Big Basin State Park – classic redwoods and waterfalls (oldest state park)

Boot Jack Campground – first-come, first-serve camping in Mt. Tam

Butano Park – half hour south from Half Moon Bay and camping in the redwoods

Castle Rock State Park – panoramic views and redwoods


Peter Fish, editor-at-large for Sunset Magazine

Ann Marie Brown, author of books including "California Hiking" and "California Waterfalls"

Brad Day, publisher of WeekendSherpa.com, a free weekly e-mail about accessible outdoor adventures in the Bay Area


Henry W. Coe State Park – remote state park in Morgan Hill

Emigrant Wilderness – secluded area north of Yosemite; lots of granite, great for backpacking

The Lakes Basin – hidden gem north of Lake Tahoe; Sardine Lake Resort (great bar)

Lassen Volcanic National Park – Northeastern California

Lost Coast – one of most popular backpacking trails today along the California coast

MacArthur Burney Falls State Park – cabins for overnights and waterfalls; more secluded

Montana de Oro State Park – San Luis Obispo County

Bothe-Napa State Park – Napa; yurts for camping

Natural Hot Springs – hike-in campgrounds in Big Sur

New Brighton Beach Campground – Santa Cruz

Pantoll Campground – first-come, first-serve camping in Mt. Tam

Pinnacles National Park – newest national park; visible signs of the San Andreas Fault run through

Saline Valley Hot Springs – near Death Valley; best September through April

Sierra National Forest – central Sierra Nevada; fewer crowds

Silver Lake Campground – near Kirkwood

Tioga Road (Tuolumne Meadows) Campground – first-come, first-serve camping in the high grounds of Yosemite

Utica Union and Reservoir – little-known free campgrounds in the Sierras

Van Damme State Park and environmental camp ground, Mendocino Coast – light backpacking

Westport-Union Landing State Park – best coastal views up the northern California coast

White Wolf Campground – first-come, first-serve camping in Yosemite with dining lodge

Willow Creek Campground, Sonoma Coast – only state park on Russian River



Fort Funston – San Francisco

Limantour Beach – Point Reyes

Little Yosemite Valley – Sunol

Morgan Territory Regional Preserve – near Livermore

Point Isabel – Richmond/Albany

Sunol Regional Wilderness – East Bay; fantastic wildflowers in May

Wild Cat Canyon Regional Park – Richmond



Ano Nuevo State Park – Pescadero

Panther Meadows – Mount Shasta area; walk-in campground, nice little hikes

Pfeiffer Falls – Big Sur

Star Lake – meteor site in backwoods in Yosemite


Hiking Specific

Bay Area Ridge Trail – range of difficulties that spans Bay Area

Carrizo Canyon – San Luis Obispo/Santa Maria

Fort Ross Historic Park – Sonoma Coast

Jack London State Historic Park – Sonoma County; historic buildings and museums run by a non-profit

Montgomery Woods – Ukiah; lots of redwoods

Mount Diablo State Park – Contra Costa County

Mount Eddy – Mount Shasta National Park 

Mount Wanda – John Muir Historic site near John Muir’s Martinez house; guided moonlit hikes

Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve – Oakland

Tilden Regional Park – Orinda


Mixed Recreational Activities Parks

Alpine Meadows – Tahoe; lots of recreational activities

Anderson Valley – beautiful, but hilly roads for biking

Mount St. Helena – rock climbing in Napa Valley

Samuel P. Taylor State Park – hike-in/bike-in campgrounds in Lagunitas

Tomales Bay – kayak camping in Point Reyes


Weekend Getaway

Mineral King Area, Sequoia National Park – Silver City Mountain Resort

Pacific Grove area – great for spring wildflowers


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