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15 Must-Visit Natural Wonders in California

natural attractions in california

California is a great place to visit, but here’s something that may convince you even more — it’s full of natural wonders. Yes, the Golden State has it all: mountains, deserts, forests, and beaches. From hiking through nature parks and taking in gorgeous views, to driving through the desert, sitting by the beach, or passing through the mountains, here are 15 natural wonders in California to check out on your next trip:

15 Natural Attractions in California

1. Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe is one of the most beautiful places on Earth, with crystal clear water and snowy peaks that contrast against a bright blue sky. The clear waters of Lake Tahoe are surrounded by pine trees and snow-capped mountains, making it one of the most scenic places you can visit in California. It’s the second deepest lake and the largest alpine lake in the United States.

Lake Tahoe offers a variety of activities for visitors year-round, including fishing, and boating. A number of trails around the lake provide opportunities for hiking and mountain biking.

2. Big Sur

Big Sur

Big Sur is a long and narrow stretch of the coastline of California’s Central Coast. It is known for its dramatic and rugged landscape of cliffs, mountains, and the Pacific Ocean. Driving on Big Sur is one of the best scenic drives in the country.

Big Sur is home to numerous attractions including Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park and Andrew Molera State Park. Big Sur is also a popular destination for whale watching. Whales can be seen from land or from boats that go out into the water from December through April every year.

3. Sonoma Coast 

Sonoma Coast

The Sonoma Coast is a 17-mile stretch on the Northern Coast of California. It includes the mouth of the Russian River at Jenner and the town of Bodega Bay. It is one of the most beautiful areas in California, with its rugged cliffs, sandy beaches, wildlife, and hiking trails. The Sonoma Coast is similar to Big Sur but the weather is colder and foggier and the beaches are accessible.

You can also enjoy boating, kayaking, and fishing at Bodega Bay or take a whale-watching tour to see some of the whales. If you prefer to stay on land, hiking through redwood forests or exploring coastal trails are also great activities to enjoy while visiting Sonoma Coast.

4. Devils Postpile National Monument

Devils Postpile National Monument

Devils Postpile National Monument is a national monument located in the Eastern Sierra Nevada region of California. The monument features an unusual formation of columnar basalt. The name “Devils Postpile” comes from its unusual basalt columns which resemble stacks of posts or tree stumps.

These rocks are actually hexagonal prisms that have been formed over thousands of years by cooling lava flows. This national monument is also known for its Rainbow Falls where you can see a rainbow on the falls through the mist. 

5. Natural Bridges State Beach

Natural Bridges State Beach

The Natural Bridges State Beach is home to a natural arch that juts out over the water. The beach and its arch are made up of mudstone cliffs and boulders. It was formed millions of years ago by the wave action of the Pacific Ocean.

It’s located in Santa Cruz and is a great beach to just sunbathe and swim. The beach is also known for monarch butterflies where around 150,000 of them migrate between the months of October and February from the Monarch Butterfly Natural Preserve. 

6. Mono Lake 

Mono Lake

Created 760,000 years ago, the Mono Lake is a saline lake that is 3 times as salty as the ocean. The lake has no outlet to the ocean and receives all of its water only from precipitation. You will see these pinnacle-like formations clustered around the lake. These are known as tufa towers made out of limestone.

The tufa towers are formed when minerals precipitate out of lake water and accumulate near the surface of the lake bed. The calcium carbonate deposits build up over time to form these large limestone towers that are usually found near the shoreline or shallow water areas of the lake. 

7. Mount Shasta

Mount Shasta

Mount Shasta is an active stratovolcano in the Cascade Range of northern California. It’s technically a shield volcano, but it has all the characteristics of a stratovolcano, including a large cone-shaped crater at its summit.

Mount Shasta is the second-highest point in the Cascade Range at 14,179 feet (4,322 meters). Mount Shasta is topped with snow year-round and it was formed by volcanic activity that has been going on for thousands of years.

8. Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park is known for its granite cliffs, meadows, and waterfalls that attract millions of visitors each year. Yosemite Valley is home to some of the most popular attractions including Half Dome, a 5,000-foot granite dome, and El Capitan, a 3,000-foot granite monolith.

Yosemite also has some spectacular views such as Tunnel View or Glacier Point which will take you higher than any other point in the park. The park also has the tallest waterfall in North America, Yosemite Falls, which plunges from a height of 2,425 feet. The park also has many other waterfalls, including Bridalveil Fall and Vernal Fall.

The park has over 750 miles of hiking trails that wind through forests and meadows filled with wildflowers and wildlife. There are also options for mountain biking, rock climbing, and kayaking as well as camping out under the stars.

9. Redwood National and State Parks

Redwood National and State Parks consist of the oldest and tallest trees on Earth. These majestic giants can grow to be 2,000 years old and reach heights of more than 300 feet. This park system consists of four redwood parks: Redwood National Park, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, and Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park.

This park system preserves 45% of existing coastal redwood trees. Some trails lead through old-growth redwood forests while others wind through scenic meadows or along a canyon filled with fern. If you’re looking for solitude with no crowds, this is definitely the place for you!

10. Pinnacles National Park

Pinnacles National Park is located in central California about an hour’s drive from San Jose or San Francisco. The park’s name comes from the near-vertical rock formations that make up much of Pinnacles’ terrain. These rocks were formed by volcanic activity as long as 23 million years ago.

This rugged landscape of spires and sharp pinnacles are primarily made up of volcanic rock. The park is known for its two talus caves that have at least 13 species of bats. In springtime when the wildflowers bloom it makes for some beautiful scenery at Pinnacles National Park!

There are over 200 different species of wildflowers that grow here throughout the year but during springtime, there are many more! 

11. Death Valley National Park

Death Valley National Park

There are a lot of reasons to visit Death Valley National Park. It’s big — the largest national park in the contiguous United States — and it’s a wonder. Death Valley has many diverse environments ranging from salt flats and badlands to canyons and mountains.

The park protects Death Valley, which is well known for its extremely hot weather and is considered the lowest point on the surface of the Earth’s crust. It is also the hottest and driest of all the national parks in the country. 

12. Lassen Volcanic National Park

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Lassen Volcanic National Park is the place to see 4 different kinds of volcanoes: stratovolcano, cinder cone, shield, and plug dome. The park is known for Lassen Peak, the largest plug dome volcano on Earth. Lassen Volcanic National Park also has 8 hydrothermal areas that contain hot springs, mud pots, and steam vents.

Visit Bumpass Hell, the largest hydrothermal area in the park, and Sulphur Works, another hydrothermal area but more accessible. Head to Manzanita Lake for a mirrored view of Lassen Peak on the lake.

13. Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks

Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks

Visit Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park to see giant sequoias. These giant sequoia trees are the biggest trees on Earth. There are also giant sequoia groves where the trees grow together in clusters. This park system consists of two national parks: Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park.

Apart from sequoia trees, you will also see deep valleys, gorgeous vistas, and waterfalls. Formed by glaciers, the Kings Canyon also has the General Grant Tree, the world’s second-largest tree. The Kings Canyon Scenic Byway is a beautiful highway that stretches for 50 miles. Take a short hike to Grizzly Falls which are 75 feet high. Sequoia National Park is known for having the highest mountain in the contiguous United States, Mount Whitney.

The park also has Moro Rock, a 350-step journey for panoramic mountain and valley views, and Tunnel Log, a sequoia tree that vehicles can drive through. General Sherman Tree is a popular attraction that’s 103 feet wide and you’ll see many visitors hugging the tree. It’s also a great park for birdwatching with over 200 species of birds. 

14. Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park is located in the Mojave desert in southeastern California. The park is named after Joshua trees, a unique species that can only be found in the southwestern United States. This park is loved for its intriguing rock formations that were caused due to water and wind erosion. There are a lot of hiking and rock climbing opportunities.

Skull Rock is a popular attraction at this park and you can see evident sockets that occurred due to this erosion. Arch Rock is another interesting rock formation that displays a natural arch. The best view at the park would be Keys View for landscape views of Palm Springs, the Salton Sea, and Coachella Valley. 

15. Channel Islands National Park

Channel Islands National Park

Channel Islands National Park is California’s only national park with islands. Away from mainland California, this park consists of five islands. It’s known for the Painted Cave for its vivid colors inside the cave. It’s also one of the biggest sea caves on Earth.

These undeveloped islands provide dramatic views as well as captivating wildlife. You can see humpback whales, gray whales, and blue whales here. Snorkeling and kayaking are the two best ways to see the beauty of these islands. 

Conclusion

California is a state full of natural wonders. From snow-capped mountains to scenic beaches—there’s never a shortage of eye candy when visiting California. The variety of locations and spectacular sights that California has to offer can give anyone a reason to visit this Golden state. 

Author Bio

Rasika is the owner of the travel blog Bae Area and Beyond. She is from the Bay Area and her blog covers California destinations. She hopes that her readers will fall in love with California, just like she did.

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