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Five Must-Do Magical National Natural Wonders in Northern California

1. Lassen Volcanic National Park. Located in eastern northern California, near the northern end of the Sacramento Valley and part of the Cascade Range, about 45 miles east of Redding (and 180 miles north of Sacramento), this 106,372-acre park offers bubbling mud pots, stinking fumaroles, churning hot springs, fields of lava rocks and cinder cones, beautiful lakes and streams, colorful meadows, pine and fir forests, glaciated canyons, and amazing wilderness views from the dominant feature -- Lassen Peak (10,457-feet), the largest plug dome volcano in the world. Lassen Peak itself sits upon the remains of the ancient Mount Tehama, a stratovolcano that was a thousand feet higher. Other peaks in the park include Brokeoff Mountain, Mount Conrad, Mount Diller, and Pilot Pinnacle. Other volcanos in the park include Mount Harkness (which has one of the oldest fire lookout towers in the park service), Red Mountain, Prospect Peak, and Raker Peak. The park was established in 1916, the 15th National Park designated by Congress. Start your visit at the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center (which includes exhibits, a cafe, and gift shop). Hikers will enjoy a network of 150 miles of trails, including ones that connect with the Pacific Crest Trail; definitely consider one or more of these trails: Mill Creek Falls (3.6 miles RT), Bumpass Hell (3.0 miles RT), Lassen Peak (4.8 miles RT, strenuous), Cold Boiling Lake (1.4 miles RT), Kings Creek Falls (3.0 miles RT), Echo Lake (4.4 miles RT), Lily Pond Nature Interpretative (.75 mile RT), Manzanita Lake (1.5 mile RT), Terminal Geyser (5.8 miles RT, connects with PCT), Inspiration Point (1.4 mile RT), and Horseshoe Lake (2.8 mile RT). Best visited in the summer and fall, the park is accessible via California State Route 89. While in the area, check out Whiskeytown National Recreation Area, Lave Beds National Monument, and Redwood National Park (all part of the Circle of Discovery). Learn more: Lassen Volcanic National Park.

2. Lava Beds National Monument. Located in northeastern California, on the northeastern flank of Medicine Lake Volcano, just 20 miles south of the Oregon state line, about 150 miles northeast of Redding (and 300 miles north of Sacramento), this 46,000-acre park has the largest total area covered by a volcano in the Cascade Range. Established in 1925, the park has more than 700 lava tube caves, created by lava flows from about 30,000-40,000 years ago. It is one of the longest continually occupied areas in North America, with a history that dates back thousands of years, as well as home to the Modoc War (1872-1873), when the Modoc Indians were attacked by the U.S. Army. Consider one or more trails, including: Big Nasty Trail (2.0 mile loop perfect at sunset), Petroglyph Point Trail (3.2 miles RT with views of Medicine Lake Volcano), Whitney Butte Trail (6.6 miles RT with views of Mount Shasta), and Three Sisters Trail (8.7 mile loop through collapsed lava tube trenches). Many of the trails, roads, and other early infrastructure were developed/built by workers from the Civilian Conservation Corps at Camp Tulelake. A visitor center is located at the south end of the park, and includes a bookstore with souvenirs. While in the area, check out three wildlife refuges: Lower Klamath, Tulelake, and Clear Lake National Wildlife Refuges... as well as the Modoc National Forest. Managed by the National Park Service. Learn more: Lava Beds National Monument.

3. Muir Woods National Monument. Located in central-west California, on Mount Tamalpais, adjacent to Mill Valley just north of San Francisco and part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, this 554-acre day-use only park is known for its towering old-growth (more than 1,000 years old) coastal redwood trees. The monument was established in 1908 from a land donation from California politician William Kent -- and named for naturalist John Muir. The visitor center includes a care and gift shop -- and leads to the 2-mile loop main trail following Redwood Creek. Must-do hikes include the 4-mile Dispsea Trail to Ben Johnson Trail for views of the Pacific Ocean and Mount Tamalpais), as well as to Bohemian Grove and Cathedral Grove. You'll find 60 more miles of trail at the adjacent Mount Tamalpais State Park (home of the now-defunct Mount Tamalpais Scenic Railway). Besides the amazing trees (which also include Douglas Fir, big-leaf maple, tanbark oak, red alder, and bay laurels), expect to see deer, chipmunks, and numerous birds (including Steller's jays, kinglets, and thrushes). Be prepared for enjoying the day through a coastal marine layer fog. Important note: A parking and shuttle reservation service is being implemented to better manage visitation levels to the park. Operated by the National Park Service. Learn more: Muir Woods National Monument.

4. Redwood National and State Parks. Located along coastal northern California, almost all the way to the Oregon border, about 325 miles north of San Francisco, about 170 miles west of Redding, this jointly run four-park area (one national park and three state parks) includes 37 miles of rugged and pristine coastline (from approximately Ukiah, CA, to Josephine County, OR), old-growth redwood groves (including three distinct species: Dawn Redwoods, Giant Sequoias, and Coast Redwoods; you'll also find Sitka spruce, western hemlock, and Douglas fir), open prairie lands, and two major rivers. The parks include 5 visitor/information centers, including the Thomas H. Kuchel Visitor Center (one mile south of Orick off of Highway 101) and the Hiouchi Visitor Center (on Highway 199, 9 miles east of Crescent City). Definitely consider one or more of these trails, including the Lady Bird Johnson Grove Trail (1.5 miles; 1 mile north of Orick), DeMartin Section (6 miles; from Wilson Creek Picnic Area), Gold Bluffs Beach (4.8 miles; to Carruthers Cove; lots of sea birds), Friendship Ride (3 miles; great for elk viewing), and Prairie Creek (4 miles; crystal clear creek with spawning fish in winter/early spring). Scenic drives include: Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway, Coastal Drive Loop, Bald Hill Loop, and Howland Hill Road (unpaved). Recognized as both a World Heritage Site and International Biosphere Reserve. Other places to visit in the area include the Lake Earl State Wildlife Area and Tolowa Dunes State Park, Smith River National Recreation Area, Harry A. Merlo State Recreation Area, Patrick's Point State Park. Learn more: Redwood National and State Parks.

5. Yosemite National Park. Located in the Sierra Nevada mountains, in east-central California, about 200 miles east of San Francisco, this 747,956-acre park of granite cliffs, giant sequoia trees, and beautiful waterfalls is one of the most visited and photographed of all national parks. With elevations ranging from 2,127 feet to 13,114 feet, this World Heritage Site offers a diversity of geography and plant species unlike anywhere else; about 90 percent of the park is designated wilderness, protecting more than 160 rare plants and unique geological elements. While once called Ahwahnee (big mouth) by natives, the name was changed to Yosemite, a lose translation of the native word, yohhe'meti (which means killers) after a renegade tribe was driven out of the area. This is the park of famed naturalist John Muir and renowned photographer Ansel Adams. A decent (if often very crowded) bus system can take you to all the major trails and sites in the Valley, but a car is necessary for seeing more of the park, including Mariposa Grove, Tunnel View, Yosemite Falls, Wapama Falls, Bridalveil Fall, El Capitan, Sentinel Dome, and Half Dome. Expect large crowds and seriously congested roads in the summer months. The Lyell Glacier is one of the few remaining in the Sierra Nevada. The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and John Muir Trail (JMT) overlap through the park, just a small part of more than 750 miles of trails within Yosemite. For the best scenic drive, take Tioga Road (only pen from May/June through November). The park also contains two National Historic Landmarks: the Sierra Club's LeConte Memorial Lodge (the park's first visitor center) and Ahwahnee Hotel. Don't forget to get oriented at the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center and the adjoining Yosemite Museum. Learn more: Yosemite National Park.

To see a list of all the national natural parks, monuments, and forests in California, go to our sister site, EmpoweringParks.com: California Natural Park Wonders.

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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