Don’t get us wrong, we don’t mind paying a small admission fee when it comes to visiting one of our state’s wonderful state or national parks. After all, that money goes to keeping the parks beautiful! However, sometimes you’re in the mood for a plain and simple outing without worrying about admission or parking fees. That’s why we compiled this list of eight incredible natural wonders in Northern California that you can see for free. No pesky admission fees – just walk (or bike or drive) up and enjoy!
During these uncertain times, please keep safety in mind and consider adding destinations to your bucket list to visit at a later date.
1. Mt. Shasta
An icon visible from almost anywhere in Northern California, Mt. Shasta's beauty cannot be understated. Towering over the landscape at 14,179-feet-high, it's considered the fifth highest peak in the state of California and it's definitely one of the most beloved. The mountain's mysterious hold on people isn't anything new. Lore regarding Mt. Shasta has been shared for thousands of years among the Klamath Tribes and to this day it is the site of sacred rituals among the region's indigenous tribes. There are an endless amount of ways to enjoy everything that this incredible mountain has to offer. Hiking, wildlife viewing, fishing - you can do it all in the Mt. Shasta area. From hiking and cycling in the summer to snowmobiling, skiing, and sledding in the winter, there's always something to do at this iconic NorCal natural wonder.
2. Redwood National Park
Of course, Northern California's most well-known natural wonder is our redwood forests. There are plenty of places in our region to soak up the majestic beauty of the tallest trees on Earth, but Redwood National Park is one of the best. In addition to protecting these beautiful trees, the park also boasts vast prairies, oak woodlands, rivers, and 40 miles of rugged coastline. Redwood National and State Parks are fee-free with the exception of certain day-use areas. There is no entrance fee to drive the scenic roads or visit the park's combined three state parks and national park, making it the ideal destination for a hassle-free adventure.
3. McCloud River Falls
For waterfall enthusiasts, McCloud River Falls outside the town of McCloud is a must. Consisting of three gorgeous cascades, finding each waterfall makes for an unforgettable adventure in a beautiful setting. The waterfalls are easily accessed along the McCloud River Three Falls Trail. The trail follows the river, taking you directly to the lower, middle, and upper falls. Although the falls aren't the biggest in the area, their unique beauty is most definitely a sight to behold.
4. Trinity Alps Wilderness
As the second-largest wilderness area in California, the Trinity Alps Wilderness is an area that evokes reverence in anybody who's lucky enough to explore it. Known for its chiseled granite peaks and alpine lakes, you could spend a lifetime exploring the area's 500,000 acres (which includes over 600 miles of trails) and still not see it all. There is no fee for the use of the wilderness area and it's open year-round. However, you'll want t keep in mind that some trails may be inaccessible during the winter months. In the summer, trailheads like Canyon Creek are wildly popular and visitors should plan accordingly.
5. Point Reyes National Seashore
Located on the Point Reyes Peninsula in Marin County, Point Reyes National Seashore is a natural sanctuary on the Northern California coastline. In addition to breathtaking ocean views, Point Reyes also boasts rocky headlands, sandy beaches, hillsides, forested ridges, and over 1,500 species of plants and animals! There's simply no better place to take in the beauty of NorCal's magnificent coast. There is no entrance fee to access the national seashore.
6. Sacramento River
The largest river in California, the Sacramento River flows south for 400 miles from the Klamath Mountains all the way to the San Francisco Bay. In addition to boasting stunning beauty, the river is incredibly important to the majority of California for its water supply and hydroelectric power. The river provides water to over half of the state's population and supports the most productive agricultural areas in the nation, as well!
7. Lake Tahoe
The crown jewel of California's Sierra Nevada mountain range, Lake Tahoe is a natural wonder unlike anything else. Trailing only the five Great Lakes in size (and the second deepest after Crater Lake), it's no secret that Tahoe is one of Northern California's most popular tourist attractions. Although much of the lake's shoreline has been developed with resorts and parks to accommodate travelers, you'll find that there are plenty of places where you can enjoy the lake's crystal-clear beauty for free, like Van Sickle Bi-State Park, Commons Beach Park, or Lake Forest Beach.
8. Cypress Tree Tunnel
The famous Cypress Tree Tunnel is technically part of Point Reyes National Seashore, but it's such a cool spot that it's worth mentioning on its own! You may have seen photos of this unique spot in Inverness, as it's by far one of the most photographed natural wonders in Northern California. Consisting of a tunnel of Monterey cypress trees, nothing beats seeing this destination at sunset when the light hits the trees at that perfect moment.
What do you think? Did we miss any of your favorite free-to-see natural wonders on this list? Feel free to share ’em with us in the comments below!