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Five Magnificent Scenic Drives/Areas to Experience in Northern California

1. Ebbetts Pass National Scenic Byway. Located in north/central California, starting in Arnold in the heart of the Sierras, about 95 miles southeast of Sacramento and 100 miles south of South Lake Tahoe, this 55-mile two-lane drive through the Stanislaus National Forest climbs northeastward to an elevation of 8,732 feet (and is not recommended for those pulling a trailer). You'll pass through the old growth forests as you marvel at towering mountain peaks and glacier-carved alpine lakes. Before starting your journey on CA-4, stop at the Sierra Nevada Logging Museum to gain insights on the lumber industry. Once on the road, look for Calaveras Big Tree State Park, which contains two groves of Giant Sequoia trees (the largest living entities on the planet), a 5-mile hike through the tall trees, a visitor center, and cabins, camping, and picnic facilities. Later, stop at Hell's Kitchen Overlook, before continuing to Lake Alpine, which offers hiking, fishing, camping, and winter sports. As you continue, make a stop at Cape Horn Vista, which offers amazing views of the Sierra Nevadas. If you feel a need to stretch your legs, stop at Mosquito Lakes and hike the easy Heiser Lake Trail (or the longer Bull Run Lake Trail). Continue on up to Ebbetts Pass, which at 8,732 feet, offers breathtaking vistas. You'll also find parking for a chance to hike a section of the legendary Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). Once you're done admiring all the nature wonder, continue down the other side of the pass into Markleeville, at the junction with CA-89, where the drive officially ends. Take a rest stop at Grover Hot Springs State Park, which offers a soaking pool, cold swimming pool, camping, hiking trails, and more. This drive is best done in summer to fall. Learn more: Ebbetts Pass National Scenic Byway.

2. Northern Pacific Coast (Hwy 1). This 215-mile scenic adventure starts just north of San Francisco, 11 miles past the Golden Gate Bridge, where the CA-1 splits from US-101. Your first stop is a bit of a side trip up to Muir Woods National Monument, known for its towering, old-growth redwood trees. (Note: Parking is highly restricted and a parking/shuttle reservation system is being implemented.) Next up is Muir Beach, with its amazing views of the Pacific Coast and Golden Gate Bridge. Continuing north, consider a stop at Stinson Beach, a great spot for birders. Next up is the Point Reyes National Seashore, which offers all sorts of fun, including birding, whale-watching, beaches, grasslands -- and, of course, the 1870 Point Reyes Lighthouse. As you continue north, consider a stop at the 2,000-acre Tomales Bay State Park, which features swimming beaches, hiking trails, forests, and marshes. As you hit Bodega Bay (home of Hitchcock's The Birds), consider stopping at Sonoma Coast State Beach, offering some of California's most beautiful shoreline. As you keep heading north, other stops to consider include Fort Ross Historic Park, Salt Point State Park, Kruse Rhododendron State Park, Point Arena Lighthouse and Museum, Van Damme State Park, Mendocino Headlands State Park (and the nearby Skunk Train), Jackson State Forest, Jug Handle State Reserve, MacKerricher State Park, Sinkyone Wilderness State Park, and Standish-Hickey State Recreation Area and Smithe Redwoods State Reserve, which is where the byway ends (just past Leggett).

3. Redwood Highway (Hwy 101). Once you finish the Northern Pacific Coast Byway in Leggett, stay on US-101 for the 213-mile Redwood Highway (which also includes the Avenue of the Giants Byway) that makes it way north to the Oregon state line. Located in northwest California, Leggett is about 55 miles north of Mendocino (and about 200 miles northwest of Sacramento), and home to some of the largest trees in the world. Heading north, plan for stops at Standish Hickey State Recreation Area and Richardson Grove State Park to see the tall redwoods. Take a hike or picnic stop at Benbow Lake State Park. After passing through Redway, get off the 101 and take the Avenue of the Giants Byway up to Humboldt Redwoods State Park, the jewel of this drive, with 17,000 acres of old-growth redwood forest. As you continue northward, you'll have many more opportunities to marvel at these massive trees. Just past Pepperwood, you'll jump back on the 101, heading northwest until you reach Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge, a must-stop for water fowl lovers. If driving in the spring, stop at the Azalea State Reserve; otherwise, push on to Trinidad State Beach, with cool rock formation and bluffs for hiking. Another stop is the Humboldt Lagoons State Park, but the next must-stop is the Redwood National and State Parks, which will require multiple stops. You can end the drive at Jedediah Smith Redwood State Park (the most northern of the redwood parks), or continue up to Tolowa Dunes State Park.

4. Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway. Located in northern California in the Cascade Range, this 360-mile National Scenic Byway offers numerous volcanic experiences and includes the Lassen Scenic Byway. Start in on Highway 89 in Almanor, about 150 miles north of Sacramento (and 100 miles southeast of Redding), stopping at Lake Almanor and its 52 miles of shoreline, formed by the Canyon Dam on the North Fork of the Feather River. Rail-trail fans take note: The Bizz Johnson National Recreation Trail (built on an old Southern Pacific Railroad line) is about 40 miles east on Highway 36. Next up is Lassen Volcanic National Park (last eruption in 1914), home to Lassen Peak, one of the largest plug dome volcanoes in the world, as well as Terminal Geyser, boiling mudpots, steaming fumaroles, and 150 miles of trails. Start at the Kohm Yah-mahnee Visitors Center and plan your visit. Next up on the journey is the Waterfalls Region and Hat Creek Valley, which is home to four great waterfalls, including Burney Falls and the McCloud River Falls. But your first stop is the Subway Cave Lava Tubes, just north of Old Station. Next up, Burney Falls Memorial State Park, which includes a section of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), as well as a trail to the 129-foot falls. Shortly after leaving the park, you'll hit Lake Britton; consider also a side trip to Ahjumawi Lava Spring State Park. Next stop is the McCloud Falls complex (including upper, middle, and lower falls), which has trails, picnic areas, and campgrounds. Continue on Hwy 89 until it intersects with I-5 and continue north to Mt. Shasta, a strato volcano with a peak of 14,162 feet. Take Everitt Memorial Highway east to Bunny Flat and/or continue on to Weed, an old logging town where many old structures still stand. The final leg of this byway is the Klamath Basin, Tulelake, and Lava Beds Region along CA-139, including the Tulelake, Clear Lake, and Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuges as well as Lava Beds National Monument. Want more volcano experience? Continue onto the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway in Oregon up to Crater Lake.

5. Yosemite Valley-Tioga Road-Big Oak Flat Road. Located in eastern north-central California, this 64-mile national Scenic Byway offers amazing views as you drive through Yosemite National Park and the Sierra Nevada Mountains, including the highest drivable pass in the state, including rugged granite peaks, alpine lakes, great forests (including Giant Sequoia groves), and lush meadows. Begin your journey at the Big Oak Flat entrance to Yosemite -- or, better, find Highway 120 after going into the Yosemite Valley and witnessing Half Dome, Tunnel View, Glacier Point, and Vernal Falls. Once heading east on the 120 (Tioga Road), stop at the Tuolumne Grove Trailhead for a low-key 2.5-mile hike into a beautiful sequoia forest. Stop to admire Tenaya Lake before continuing on to the Tuolumne Meadows Visitor Center. Keep going and admire Tioga Lake and Ellery Lake, with a possible stop between them for the Nunatak Nature Trail. The byway ends at the Tioga Pass gate, but keep going east to U.S. 395, where you can go north a short distance and experience Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve, a surreal and beautiful place. Continue going a bit further north and then east on Highway 270 to explore Bodie, a former gold-mining town and now State Historic Park. Note: This drive is best in the summer months, as Tioga Road is closed in the winters.

EmpoweringSites.com CEO Dr. Randall Hansen Dr. Randall S. Hansen is an educator, author, and blogger, as well as founder and CEO of EmpoweringSites.com, a network of empowering and transformative Websites, including EmpoweringAdvice.com. Dr. Hansen has been helping empower people to achieving success his entire adult life. He is also founder of EnhanceMyVocabulary.com, MyCollegeSuccessStory.com, and EmpoweringRetreat.com. He is a published author, with several books, chapters in books, and hundreds of articles. Dr. Hansen is also an educator, teaching business and marketing at the college level for more than 25 years. Learn more by visiting his personal Website, RandallSHansen.com. You can also check out Dr. Hansen on Google+, as well as Dr. Randall Hansen on LinkedIn.


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