When you consider how many beautiful places there are in northern California, it’s pretty easy to overlook some of our state parks. We honestly have some amazing parks here! Take a look at these 10 that are sadly under-appreciated, and plan a visit to one (or more!) of them soon.
1. Emerald Bay State Park, El Dorado County
This beautiful spot at Lake Tahoe is truly spectacular and has what might be the perfect California weather. You'll find summertime temperatures of 75 during the day and 44 at night - nice and cool. In addition to the astounding natural beauty of this place, the mansion Vikingshom is an incredible example of Scandinavian architecture - visit it by hiking down a steep, one-mile trail.
2. McArthur Burney Falls Memorial State Park, Shasta County
This state park gets plenty of visitors, but we couldn't leave it off this list because it's impossible to fully appreciate it until you've seen it. 900 acres of forest to explore, plus the stunning 129-foot Burney Falls makes this park a must-see.
3. Russian Gulch State Park, Mendocino County
This park pretty much has it all - shady forest trails, tidepools, waterfalls, a rocky coastline and a beach. A short 2.5-mile hike takes you to this gorgeous 36-foot tall waterfall; you'll also love the secluded little beach here.
4. Sinkyone Wilderness State Park, Mendocino County
Sinkyone is a rugged beauty, but it's not for everyone. The trails are steep, and the camping is primitive. You'll need to carry in your own potable water and carry out your trash. Sometimes the parking area is inaccessible due to flooding. The few that venture here find gray whales, sea lions, seals and even elk. It's well worth the effort, if you're up to the challenge.
5. The Forest of Nisene Marks State Park, Santa Cruz County
This redwood forest is a quiet retreat where you'll enjoy a day of hiking or an overnight stay at one of the campsites. Traverse 30 miles of trails that take you from the sea level to 2,600 feet. For true solitude, hike six miles from the West Ridge Trailhead to the trail camp.
6. Angel Island State Park, Marin County
Angel Island State Park is hiding right in plain sight in San Francisco Bay. Take a ferry or private boat to this little oasis, which has some of the best views of the bay area to be found. Hike or ride your bike along the trails here, and plan to camp overnight for a great outdoor experience.
7. Ahjumawi Lava Springs State Park, Shasta County
This remote park is a true hidden gem - you can only access it by boat. Here, you'll find freshwater springs, lakes and lava flows. Explore the springs to find some ancient fish traps built by the Ahjumawi tribe. Hike on over 20 miles of trails here, but wear adequate shoes - the lava is sharp.
8. Indian Grinding Rock State Historic Park, Amador County
This little park is the perfect blend of beautiful, natural surroundings and intriguing Native American history. The oak trees that surround this place provided acorns to feed the Miwok tribe. The large, flat stone here was used to grind acorns into flour, which formed holes you can still see today. Camp overnight in one of the seven bark houses that might give you an idea of what life was like for the Miwoks.
9. Donner Memorial State Park, Nevada and Placer Counties
This park memorializes the Donner Party, who were trapped here in the winter of 1846-47 and died of starvation and exposure. The Pioneer Monument pays tribute to every pioneer who traveled this trail. Visitors will enjoy 2.5 miles of hiking trails, and Donner Lake. It's a beautiful place to spend the day or stay overnight.
10. Humboldt Redwoods State Park, Humboldt County
This amazing park includes the Rockefeller Forest, which is the world's largest number of old-growth coastal redwoods, covering 17,000 acres. The entire park encompasses 53,000 acres and is one of the best places to see redwoods in the entire state. Camp in one of the 250 campsites and explore to your heart's content.
What’s your favorite northern California state park? Tell us about your most recent visit.
If you’re ready to get out and explore more of northern California’s beauty, take our
Lighthouse Road Trip.