A lot of the American West prides itself on its diversity – from forbidding deserts to breathtaking coastlines, from towering redwood forests to snow-capped mountains. From top to bottom, explore its incredibly beautiful coastline to the deep woodlands and deserts found here too. Stay at hundreds of fantastic California RV Camping Resorts along the way and you’ll enjoy the best California has to offer at California Camping.
Sure, California’s fantastic coastlines and towering redwoods of the northern part of the state receive all of the attention, but in southern California, deserts dominate the landscape. Northeast of Los Angeles, the Mojave Desert encompasses more than 15,000 square miles. Although not every part of the Mojave is excellent for a leisurely picnic lunch (think hot), this”high” desert contains several mountain ranges and is located well above sea level. Both of these factors are what give the Mojave its own unique ecosystem, allowing for an assortment of wild inhabitants. Native birds such as the roadrunner and cactus wren often share space with exotic migratory birds such as vireos and flycatchers. Coyotes and kit foxes prowl the desert hills, as do more docile creatures like bighorn sheep and wild boars. Like many deserts, the Mojave is susceptible to extreme weather.
At the southern end of the region, before the Mojave Desert becomes the Sonoran Desert, is located Joshua Tree National Park. This 734,000-acre desert sanctuary is home to some of the nation’s most unusual and photogenic plants. The Joshua tree is the largest of the yucca plants and has flourished in this region of the country. Some two dozen kinds of bird regularly create the Joshua tree home and the tree plays an intricate part in the ecology of this desert wildlife. The park itself provides a 40-mile driving tour where one can meander through the gentle desert landscape and find plenty of photo opportunities.
But do not let the name scare you off – the place isn’t out for you. In actuality, Death Valley is the most visited desert park in the nation. The valley’s floor, which lies nearly 300 feet below sea level, eventually gives way to sparkling painted hills and 10,000-foot snow-capped peaks. Because of the enormity of this park, driving is essential and lots of the park’s attraction are spread out. But once a destination is chosen and the rig is parked, Death Valley offers countless miles of hiking trails that you soak up the dramatic scenery. Be sure to visit Telescope Peak in the park’s Emigrant Canyon. This summit is the park’s highest, reaching over 11,000 ft and offering some wonderful views.
As you go north and from California’s southern desert region, the Sierra Nevadas beckon visitors with its wide variety of activities and natural beauty. This 430-mile stretch of granite cliffs and snowy peaks delight people with many parks and attractions, including eight national forests, three national parks, and 14 wilderness areas. Any trip to the Sierra’s would not be complete without visiting at least one of the region’s other national parks: the Sequoia, Kings Canyon, and of course, Yosemite.
The 402,000-acre Sequoia National Park is the country’s second oldest park after Yellowstone. Driving through Sequoia National Park is an experience in itself. Follow Mineral King Road since it follows the Kaweah River for 25 miles before reaching the scenic Mineral King portion. General Highway is another winding drive which will bring you to a stand of trees where four of the five world’s tallest can be found. Offer up a salute to the lofty hardwood. Another must-see is the Zumwalt Meadow, the six-mile valley floor provides excellent opportunities for day hikes along a peaceful valley surrounded by towering granite cliffs. North of Kings Canyon is located California’s most famous national park, Yosemite. Crowds can be, well, annoying, so choose your season well (spring and fall are best). Yosemite’s vastness and many isolated areas make this an extremely pleasant visit and a must for the RVer cruising through California.
For even more dramatic scenery head east of Yosemite only a few miles until you get to Mono Lake. One of the oldest lakes in the usa, Mono Lake brings all types of wildlife to the area, such as unusual sea birds that come seeking food resources that inhabit the lake’s salty water. But the truly significant aspect of Mono Lake is the calcium-carbonate rock formations located on the lake’s shoreline, porous spires rising from the salty water, standing like eerie sentinels protecting the shoreline. Creepy, but cool.
From here, choose one of many paths north, all of which are quite scenic, until you get to the Sierra foothills and the Lake Tahoe region. Set along the California-Nevada border, Lake Tahoe has become an immensely popular vacation area, particularly for skiers. Lake Tahoe rewards its visitors with fantastic scenery, relaxing hikes, and tons of other outdoor pursuits year-round. It’s easy to escape the developed beaches of Lake Tahoe. The western side of the lake offers two state parks, Emerald Bay and D.L. Bliss, each with miles of connecting hiking trails and memorable surroundings. The lake is a miracle also. At over 6,000 feet in elevation, this mountain lake is one of the highest in the world.
Northern California remains one of America’s most popular and beautiful regions. Yes, there is more here than San Francisco, though that’s a wonderful place to start things off. While having only a portion of the population of southern California, the northern regions offer the most diverse and remarkable landscape in the American West.
The Lava Beds National Monument is 47,000 acres of hardened molten lava, which makes for interesting landscape. To visit the Lava Beds National Monument is really a special adventure. The region was once a hotbed (literally!) Today, the flows have subsided, but in their wake, a boon of nearly 200 caves and grottoes, many of which are available for exploration. Whether you’re an experienced spelunker, just starting out, or just curious about this underground world, Lava Beds National Monument is entertaining, nonetheless.
While these two adjacent parks, situated just north of the Lava Beds, play host to a vast array of permanent and migratory birds, the area is best known for its migratory bald eagle population, generally regarded as the nation’s largest. Don’t forget the binoculars.
Directly west of those wildlife refuges, along the California coast, clustered together are several redwood areas that make for wonderful stops. While Redwood National Park anchors the area, the coastal drive can be lined with several areas featuring northern California’s star attraction, the mighty redwood.
Much of the American West prides itself on its diversity – from forbidding deserts
to breathtaking coastlines.
Continuing along the California coast, about an hour north of San Francisco, is located the Point Reyes National Seashore, a majestic peninsula that juts out into the Pacific Ocean. Scientists believe the delicate sediment found here will one day disconnect itself from the California mainland. Here’s a hint: Try to not be there when it does. But until that day, the area is easily accessible and offers fantastic rewards for wildlife enthusiasts. Nearly 500 kinds of birds call Point Reyes home, or at least during their migratory travels. Dozens of mammals, including several marine types, can easily be found here as well.
If you do nothing else, make sure you travel Highway 1, among the most scenic drives in the whole world. Here, the journey is as good as the destination, though Big Sur won’t disappoint. This region has inspired generations with its tantalizing views and dazzling sunsets. Due to the many RV parks and campgrounds that compose the area, Big Sur easily affords days of leisurely outdoor activities.
Just if you want to get out of the RV for a day trip, leave your rig behind in Ventura (wave into the Woodall’s office) or Santa Barbara and choose a chartered boat to explore the Channel Islands. Sea lions frolic across the islands’ beaches. Whales cruise for meals just offshore. A myriad of shorebirds roost about the islands’ high ground. Santa Cruz Island is the largest and ecologically diverse of all the Channel Islands.