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Fun and Interesting Places to Visit in Northern California

1. Klamath National Forest. Located in northern California (and spilling slightly into Oregon, about 300 miles north of Sacramento, this 1.7+ million acre land is forested with ponderosa pine, Jeffrey pine, Douglas fir, white fir, and incense cedar, including about 168,000 acres of old growth forest. The forest includes five designated wilderness areas, including: Marble Mountain Wilderness, Russian Wilderness, Red Buttes Wilderness, Siskiyou Wilderness, and Trinity Alps Wilderness, as well as the Butte Valley National Grassland. The forest is open for camping (with multiple campgrounds), fishing, hiking, horseback-riding, picnicking, and OHV riding. Visitors will find more 200 miles of rivers for rafting and more than 150 miles of wild and scenic rivers in the forest, as well as multiple botanical areas with many rare and endemic species. Consider one of more these trails for hiking: Haypress Meadow (6-mile RT; beautiful wildflowers); Marble Valley (9-mile RT; leads to PCT and historic Marble Valley Cabin); Paradise Lake (4-mile, shallow lake); Statue Lake (5-mile RT, lake with majestic granite pillars); Elk Creek (4-mile RT, picnic area at creek at 2-mile mark); Fen Trail (2.5-mile RT, interpretative trail with spectacular views of Kangaroo Lake and Scott Valley at PCT). Be sure to include Pluto's Cave, a lava tube cave, on your list. For folks who want to drive, check out one of the three scenic byways that run through the forest, including the Bigfoot Scenic Byway, State of Jefferson Scenic Byway, and part of the Volcanic Legacy National Scenic Byway (altogether 500 miles long). Learn more: Klamath National Forest.

2. Marin Headlands. Located in west-central California, just north of San Francisco across the Golden Gate Bridge, and part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (which includes about 82,000 acres around the San Francisco Bay Area), the headlands are famous for the spectacular views of the Bay Area, including the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, and Pacific Ocean. Besides the views, the headlands are known for the thousands of raptors (including hawks, kites, falcons, eagles, vultures, osprey, and harriers) that arrive each autumn; other wildlife include river otters, deer, coyotes, fox, turkeys, rabbits, mountain lions, and bobcats, as well as owls, song birds, and waterfowl. The Miwok formerly lived in the headlands seasonally for thousands of years. Not surprisingly, given their altitude and location, several historic military sites are located on the headlands, including Fort Cronkhite and Fort Barry (which includes the SF-88 Nike Missile site). A visit is not complete without a stop at the Point Bonita Lighthouse (the last manned lighthouse on the California coast), which can be reached by crossing a $1-million suspension bridge during limited open hours. Be sure to hike the Gerbode Valley trail, a five-mile loop in the rolling headlands that also leads to a series of other trails. Camping includes four campgrounds, all of which need reservations: Kirby Cove (open April-November), Bicentennial, Hawk Camp, and Haypress. Get the entire scoop the Marin Headlands Visitor Center, located in the former chapel at Fort Barry. Learn more: Marin Headlands.

3. Modoc National Forest. Located in northeastern California, near the borders of both Oregon and Nevada, about 300 miles northeast of Sacramento, this 1.65-million acre forest, which was called "The Smiles of the Gods" by Native American tribe the Modocs (after which the county and forest are named), is dominated by ponderosa and Jeffrey pines and contains more than 43,000 acres of old-growth lodgepole pine, ponderosa pine, white fir, red fir, and incense cedar. Special places within the forest include the South Warner Wilderness (which includes picturesque vistas and the highest peaks in northeast California), Medicine Lake Highlands (a volcanic area offering unique geological features as well as Medicine Lake and Undertakers Crater), the Devil's Garden (an extensive prehistoric lava flow, with very little vegetation beyond western junipers), and Mill Creek Falls (located about 1/4-mile from Mill Creek Falls Campground). Expect to encounter a variety of wildlife, from waterfowl among the wetlands, to wild horses, elk, deer, and pronghorn antelope. Fishing, camping, mountain-biking, horseback-riding, and hiking are popular activities. The forest contains OHV trails as well. Hikers should consider walking at least part of the Red Rim Trail and Mill Creek Trail. For folks who like to drive, consider the Adin, Canby, (Manzanita) Lookout Auto Tour Loop (best June to October) and the Devil's Garden Auto Tour Loop (which includes the Householder, Everly, and Big Sage Reservoirs). Learn more: Modoc National Forest.

4. Point Lobos State Reserve. Located on coastal central California, about 120 miles south of San Francisco, near the town of Carmel-by-the-Sea, this dazzling 400-acre day-use only park, considered the "crown jewel" of the state park system, features great wildlife viewing (including sea animals such as sea lions, seals, sea otters, and migrating whales), hiking, SCUBA diving and snorkeling, and a whaling museum, as well as opportunities to explore rare plants, endangered archeological sites, and unique geological formations. The name comes from the offshore rocks at Punta de los Lobos Marinos (Point of the Sea Wolves). The area also contains beautiful headlands, coves, and rolling meadows -- and offers many trails to soak up the beauty throughout the park. The history of the area is one of whaling and abalone harvesting -- and a small cabin built by Chinese fishermen from that era still remains at Whaler's Cove, and now serves as a cultural history museum. While in the area, other must-see natural attractions include Big Sur, Garrapata State Park, Carmel River State Beach, Asilomar State Beach, Andrew Molera State Park, Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, as well as the Point Pinos Lighthouse and Point Sur Lightstation. Learn more: Point Lobos State Reserve.

5. Salt Point State Park. Located on the northern coast of California, in Sonoma County, just north of Jenner, about 95 miles northwest of San Francisco, this 6,000-acre park has 20 miles of hiking trails and more than 6 miles of beautiful rocky coast -- including Salt Point, which protrudes into the Pacific Ocean. The park gets its name from the reaction to the sandstone cliffs of salt from ocean water -- which crystallizes in the sandstone in a honeycomb-like network call tafoni. Visitors enjoy rocky promontories, panoramic views, and kelp-dotted coves -- while also picnicking, hiking, horseback riding, fishing, tidepooling, camping, and SCUBA diving. The park includes Gerstle Cove, an Underwater Reserve where no form of marine life may be taken or disturbed. Some of the park is grasslands, but in higher elevations, you'll find trees such as Douglas firs, Bishop pines, coast redwoods, and cypress. Wildlife you may see include deer, coyote, raccoon, bobcat, fox, badger, skunks, and chipmunks, as well as woodpeckers, ospreys, Steller's jays, and ravens. While in the area, also check out Kruse Rhododendron State Reserve, Fort Ross State Historic Park, Sonoma Coast State Park, and Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve. Learn more: Salt Point State Park.

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