Which California parks can you visit right now?

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Many of our beloved California parks have recently caught fire. Some are currently on fire or threatened by new fires, while others remain shrouded in smoke, and even more are badly damaged and closed indefinitely. Meanwhile, COVID-19 has left indoor spaces unsafe while putting our mental health at risk, intensifying our need to spend time in the great outdoors.

While we hope for a quick recovery in parks and surrounding areas that are struggling, we’re here to provide ideas for natural escapes that remain safe and accessible. These might not be the most well-known or popular parks, but during this particularly difficult time exploring a less traveled and somewhat more remote park might be the ideal solution. Visitors are also important to the small businesses, decimated by the pandemic, that surround these parks.

When Yosemite National Park is smoky or crowded, consider Lassen Volcanic National Park

Even before Yosemite National Park’s AQI skyrocketed, entering during the pandemic was a problem. (Just ask the congressman who used his position to pressure the park to give him a vehicle pass). And while Yosemite is clearly one of California’s best natural experiences, few realize that Lassen Volcanic National Park is in some ways just as stunning, with the added bonus of four types of volcanoes, one of which can be even be walked inside.

Plus, the surrounding landscapes have hilarious names like Bumpass Hell – a geothermal area with bubbling pools and billowing clouds of steam – and Devastated Area, where you can see the aftermath of the Lassen Peak explosion in 1915. Climbing to the summit gives views of all of the land (and a few rare alpine plants), while the easy loop hike around Lake Manzanita provides the best views of the summit itself. Watch out for otters, however. The lake was closed to swimming earlier in the summer after a mother otter went into protection mode and sent a visitor to hospital.

Redwood National and State Parks contain the tallest trees in the world.

franckreporter / Getty Images

Since Big Basin is closed for a year, try a road trip to Redwood National and State Parks

Big Basin Redwoods State Park cannot be replaced in our hearts, and its year-round closure leaves a gaping hole in our outdoor repertoire. While the Bay Area has many other pretty redwood stands including Armstrong Redwoods, Muir Woods, and Redwood Regional Park, we recommend a more elaborate business. Have you thought about a pilgrimage to the tallest of the tall trees in California?

Redwood National and State Parks are actually five parks in one, and they’re uncrowded (read: less COVID-y) compared to other ancient redwood attractions. The parks contain the three tallest trees in the world, and while the locations are kept under wraps, you can walk among the giants thinking of how a huge 379-foot tower stands somewhere nearby. The region contains 45% of the world’s redwoods and has thus been named a World Heritage Site. Trust us: there’s a reason scenes from “Star Wars” and “The Lost World: Jurassic Park” were shot in these woods. In addition to leisurely hikes, the area’s highlights include a scenic coastline, gushing rivers and waterfalls, grazing Roosevelt elk, fern-filled canyons, quirky little towns, and plenty of good plots of land to plant. a tent.

Mendocino Headlands State Park offers one of the most beautiful California getaways on the coast.

Mendocino Headlands State Park offers one of the most beautiful California getaways on the coast.

Ashley Harrell

With the fire still burning near Big Sur, think of Mendocino Headlands State Park

There’s no peak in Big Sur for a car cruise along the rugged seaside cliffs. And while Highway 1 has reopened and steady progress has been made to contain the Dolan fire , Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park could be closed until 2021 and the air quality remains undesirable for camping. For those who just can’t wait for seaside romance and wind-blown cypress trees, we recommend heading north to Mendocino Headlands State Park instead.

In this former whaling village, New England salt box cottages are perched atop a blustery promontory, and the rocky coves are covered with bay brambles. You can hike along the cliff face or relax on the sand below, and it is only a short walk back to town for a beer in the Irish pub or an exquisite meal in one of the outdoor restaurants (book well in advance for this). On a recent Friday we even came across some live music at Luna Trattoria.

A sea lion in the eelgrass at Anacapa Island in the Channel Islands National Park.

A sea lion in the eelgrass at Anacapa Island in the Channel Islands National Park.

Douglas Klug / Getty Images

Pass over Point Reyes and see whales in the Channel Islands

Point Reyes National Waterfront is unquestionably in a league of its own. But at the time of going to press, Limantour Road and all of its trails, beaches and campgrounds were closed, along with visitor centers in the park, and the air quality was not great. In addition, a bunch of roads are under construction. We happen to know a place that has no issues with roads, but is also a great place for whale watching this time of year: the Channel Islands.

The Galapagos of California, as some call these five islands, is off the radar of most travelers. But the remote archipelago offers top-notch hiking, kayaking, camping, and even scuba diving in the kelp forests. In addition, at this time of year, the fog begins to dissipate and visitors have seen quite a few blue whales lately. The boats in the port of Ventura operate at limited capacity due to COVID, so you’ll definitely want to reserve your seats at least three weeks in advance.

Finally, we would like to point out that COVID presents unique challenges for travel in 2020. If you make the decision to visit one of the parks, check with the latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to ensure your safety and the safety of others. Also keep in mind that the situation with the fires is fluid and check the park’s websites for updates before you go.


Ashley Harrell is Associate Editor at SFGATE which covers California Parks. Email: [email protected] | Twitter: @ AshleyHarrell3

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