"Jobs fill your pockets, but adventure fills your soul"
What comes to your head when you think of parks? For most, a picture of swing sets and monkey bars pops into your brain. But for those familiar with Southern California, the word "park" conjures up much more grand imagery. Mountains, forests, lakes, rivers, waterfalls, wildlife; these things are what you come to expect when exploring the parks all across the southern half of the Golden State. Home to the highest AND lowest point of elevation in the contiguous United States (Mt. Whitney and Death Valley respectively), California offers an insanely wide variety of parks, both state and national, that are guaranteed to blow visitors away. Let's jump into our list that provides you with a breakdown of some of the best parks in Southern California and what to do when you visit!
1. Joshua Tree National Park
The park is named after... well you guessed it ...the Joshua Tree, a desert-bonded tree with a unique structure. Designed over millions of years by the harshest elements that Mother Nature has to offer, Joshua Tree National Park stretches over nearly 800,000 acres of rough terrain. The Joshua Tree environment, which can seem desolate at first glance, is home to a handful of unique ecosystems. Despite the cruel conditions, Joshua Tree is filled with plant and animal life that has adapted and thrived in the area’s climate.
Among the animals that call Joshua Tree home are large herds of desert bighorn sheep, black tailed jack rabbits, coyotes and kangaroo rats as well as a number of smaller mammals. Given its position along the Pacific migratory flyway, various families of birds can often be spotted flying about the park.
Attractions & Activities
Hiking: According to AllTrails, Joshua Tree has 131 hiking trails. One of the most popular of these is Ryan Mountain. This 2.9-mile out-and-back trail is rated as moderate and should take about two hours for the average hiker. Climb over a thousand feet and be rewarded with panoramic views of the park. Friendly reminder that dogs are not permitted on any trails in Joshua Tree.
Camping: Joshua Tree National Park has around 500 individual campsites across eight campgrounds. The majority are available for reservation on Recreation.gov.
Rock Climbing: Among Joshua Tree's over 8,000 climbing routes exists a tremendous variation of crack, slab, and steep face climbing routes that make this park a must-visit for climbers of all abilities.
To learn more about Joshua Tree, visit:
2. Angeles National Forest
Angeles National Forest spans about 700,000 acres and is the secluded adventure hub for the Los Angeles metropolitan area. The forest offers breath-taking views and a wide variety of trails to explore. With a dramatic elevation range of 1,200 to 10,640 feet, Angeles gives visitors the opportunity to explore different terrains and layered ecosystems. The majority of the forest is covered with dense bush which transitions to pine and fir-covered slopes as you reach the majestic peaks in higher elevations.
The Angeles National Forest offers natural environments, spectacular scenery, developed picnic areas and campgrounds, fishing, swimming, and the solitude of quiet wilderness areas. Trails winding throughout the forest cater to mountain bikers, off-highway vehicle enthusiasts, and hikers.
Attractions & Activities
Hiking: The famous Pacific Crest Trail runs through Angeles National Forest and accounts for 176 of the 557 miles of hiking available just an hour's drive away from the concrete jungle of Los Angeles. If you aren't feeling like hanging out on that hiking highway, check out one of the several waterfalls that Angeles National Forest boasts.
Camping: Between the 10 developed campgrounds available for reservation and dozens of first-come, first-served sites, the options are almost endless. A major consideration when picking a site is elevation: temperatures can range just as dramatically as the elevation - with tank top weather at lower elevations quickly turning into parka weather as you climb higher.
To learn more about Angeles National Forest, visit: https://www.fs.usda.gov/main/angeles/about-forest
3. Cleveland National Forest
The Cleveland National Forest is the southern-most National Forest in California. Consisting of 460,000 acres, the forest offers a wide variety of terrains and recreational opportunities. Wildlife and plants are abundant in the forest. With the settling of missions, towns, cities, and suburbs, populated areas now cover many of the mountains in the region, but the protection of this forest gives visitors a glimpse into a past world before millions of people called Southern California home.
The forest offers a wide variety of recreational activities, including: hiking, camping, mountain biking, target shooting, and ATV riding. Like Angeles National Forest, the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail carves its way through the Cleveland National Forest.
Attractions & Activities
Hiking: The forest has over 150 different hiking trails. Fall and winter are the best seasons to explore these chaparral-covered expanses, as summer can get uncomfortably hot.
Camping: Cleveland National Forest is split into 3 Ranger districts that all offer dispersed camping. If you are seeking a less rugged route, there are 16 different developed campsites to choose from in the forest.
To learn more about Cleveland National Forest, visit:
4. Crystal Cove State Park
Crystal Cove State Park is one of Orange County’s largest remaining examples of open space and natural seashore. It features 3.2 miles of beach, 2,400 acres of backcountry wilderness and an offshore underwater area.
Attractions & Activities
Hiking: Crystal Cove State Park's inland region is a hidden gem of the Southern California region, from the wooded Moro Canyon, up to the spectacular coastal views of Moro Ridge. This is the perfect place to get a wide range of views. Head inland to explore canyon views or head towards the coast to take in the ocean horizon.
Camping: Crystal Cover features 30 tent sites as well as primitive hike-in camping in the backcountry, which has 32 sites spread out across 3 areas. Although some locations do require a hike to reach camping areas, it does provide a peaceful refuge from the urban surroundings.
To learn more about Crystal Cove State Park, visit: http://www.crystalcovestatepark.org/
5. San Onofre State Beach
San Onofre State Beach, locally known as "San O", is one of California's most popular beaches and hosts swimmers, sunbathers, surfers, kayakers, fishermen, bicyclists, and campers. It has around 2.5 million visitors per year and it is one of the top five most-visited state parks in California.
Attractions & Activities
Surfing: Featured in The Beach Boys' 1963 hit, "Surfin' U.S.A", San Onofre is famous for its consistent waves off-shore and its picturesque surf culture on-shore. Pick up a surf board from one of the local surf shops in town and head to San O for a perfect day on the waves.
Beach Fires: A handful of fire pits are stationed up and down the San O beach. Grab a bundle of firewood and set up your fire to take in a surreal sunset while the flames dance in your fire pit. Don't forget to bring some s'mores to top of an unforgettable day on the golden coast.
Wildlife: Known for frequent wildlife encounters, San O is a great spot to get a glimpse of the majestic sea animals that travel up and down the Southern California coast. Dolphins and sea lions are frequent visitors of the San O beaches, even Whales can be spotted from time to time!
To learn more about San Onofre State Beach, visit: https://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=647
I Do Tours
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