Are you a nature lover but aren’t really into hiking or getting dirty? Never fear – Northern California is perfect for you! Not only is this place the dream destination for road trippers, it features jaw dropping natural scenery that will blow you away. And the best part is, you can enjoy most of these sites right from your car or a quick turn off the side of the road.
1. Lake Helen, Lassen Volcanic National Park
Lake Helen isn't the only attraction at Lassen Volcanic National Park that you can see from the car, but it's definitely one of the most memorable. If you feel like walking down to the beach and dipping your toes in, be warned, it's freezing! The stunning azure lake is fed by mountain run off. If you don't have the time or inclination to make it down to the water's edge, not a problem! It's right on the side of the road, so you don't even have to pull over to get an eyeful.
2. Highway 1
This is a drive like none other. The whole route is filled with dramatic cliffs, lovely beaches, and awe inspiring trees. You will love every minute of it. This shot was taken fairly south in Mendocino County.
3. Mount Shasta
While you don't even have to leave the busy Interstate 5 corridor to get a good look at Mount Shasta, sometimes it's best to get off the beaten path. This is an image of Mount Shasta taken from Castle Lake Road during sunset. If you don't have time for a detour, though, you won't miss Mount Shasta. It rises up and towers over the surrounding landscape.
4. Sierra Valley
If you have never visited a high elevation mountain pasture, we suggest you take a drive up to Sierra County. There isn't a lot here in terms of cities and conveniences, but that's why we love it. Sierra Valley is a huge plain ringed by beautiful peaks. You won't regret taking a peek at this stunning landscape.
This large rock is one of the most iconic features of the Northern California coastline. It's a dramatic scene from the cliffs above. There is a lighthouse to explore on the mainland, as well.
6. The Wildlife
What's more natural than seeing a wild animal in its habitat? These Roosevelt Elk were spotted near the Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, which is a great place to take in some scenery as well. No matter where you go in Northern California, though, you are likely to see deer, sea birds, interesting insects and other mammals. There's a good chance you will see something really cool, like a bald eagle, too.
7. The Cypress Tunnel at Point Reyes
Driving through a tunnel of trees is a one of a kind, truly magical experience.
8. McCloud River
The McCloud River features several waterfalls that are just stunning. While you have to walk a little bit to get to the river in some locations, you can view other falls from the road. Pictured here is the Middle Falls, shot from above.
9. The Redwood State and National Parks
Northern California's most iconic claim to fame, these towering redwoods will dwarf any person or car traveling though the scenic Avenue of Giants, the road that hits all the most interesting stops along the way. Stop in at the Trees of Mystery for a fun gondola ride that takes you up the hillside without having to hike, if you truly want an unforgettable Redwood experience.
10. Mendocino Botanical Gardens
Okay, technically you have to get out of your car for this one, but the stroll into these gardens is well worth it and you won't feel at all like you just got dragged on a hike. The gardens are beautiful and it has nice paths both paved and unpaved, most of which are wheelchair accessible. The best part is when the garden path opens up and you get a one of a kind view of the ocean. It's definitely a must see.
11. Donner Summit, Truckee
Take Old Highway 40, which runs parallel to Interstate 80 and used to be the only pass through the mountains, up to Donner Summit. It starts at Donner Lake and winds its way through pine and granite. You'll be awed and amazed when you reach the top of this scenic drive. Don't forget to take in the bridge; it's a restored historic gem that looks like it grew out of the grey granite.