From Towering Redwoods to Vast Salt Plains:

Here Are the Must-See Natural Wonders on a California Road Trip

Hudson Brown
June 13, 2024

The Golden State specialises in all things natural beauty with record-setting, jaw-dropping wonders everywhere you look.

Not only is the state vast – it’s the third-largest in the country – but it features unrivalled contrast with a myriad of fascinating natural wonders easily within reach of major urban centres.

We’ve teamed up with Visit California to reveal the must-see outdoor wonders whether you prefer mountain hikes, desert landscapes, lakefront kayaking or ancient forests. Hop in the car with your best pals for a journey where virtually every mile presents glimpses of California’s mind-blowing beauty.

Death Valley National Park

The hottest place on Earth

Set along California’s arid eastern fringe, Death Valley National Park is aptly named for its extreme summer heat and minuscule rainfall. But this vast desert isn’t devoid of intrigue — quite the contrary. The landscape boasts mountain vistas, towering dunes, sprawling salt flats, volcanic craters and even heavenly waterfalls, making for an unforgettable trip.

Load a sturdy 4WD with supplies and set off. Start early with sunrise at Zabriskie Point, featuring unmatched views over the badlands, then commute along Artist’s Drive to experience the park’s most scenic road. Stargazers can also catch celestial showings from the heights of Dante’s View.

Image: Visit California


Standing in a grove of Sequoias in Sequoia National Park

Brad Booth via iStock

Sequoia National Park

Home to the biggest trees you’ll ever see

Placing yourself amongst nature can leave you feeling tiny but the sensation hits especially strongly at Sequoia National Park. The expansive park in central California is home to five of the ten largest trees on earth, including General Sherman, which rises more than 80 metres above the forest floor and is the largest on earth by volume.

Outside of these millennia-old natural wonders, Sequoia National Park offers a fascinating collection of short hikes. Departing from General Sherman, the Congress Trail is an easygoing loop lined with big sequoias. For a breathtaking panorama, head to Moro Rock’s granite dome.

Yosemite National Park

An outdoor adventure wonderland

Recognised around the globe for its dramatic rock formations, Yosemite National Park is a must-visit for adrenaline junkies . You’ll find hardened thrill-seekers sleeping on the cliff faces of soaring granite landmarks like El Capitan and Half Dome.

Want to take a less extreme route? There are a plenty of exceptional hiking tracks to conquer. The lookout from Taft Point is unbeatable, while the giant sequoias in Mariposa Grove are some of the oldest trees on earth. Beautiful campgrounds are dotted all over Yosemite if you want to stretch out your stay — waking amongst nature has never looked so good.

Image: Visit California


Looking at the North side of Mount Shasta after a fresh snow

Kirpal Kooner via iStock

Mount Shasta

A fantastic range of hiking for all skill levels

Mount Shasta is one of Northern California’s most stunning pinnacles, rising more than 4300 metres. The road to Mount Shasta is abound with adventure, as destinations like Burney Falls and Castle Crags State Park present captivating detours on the four-hour journey from San Francisco.

Only seasoned climbers should attempt Mount Shasta’s summit due to the challenging conditions. Fortunately, there’s still an incredible variety of hiking in the area, with gorgeous scenery and mountaintop views rewarding your efforts. Roam the trail between the lower, middle and upper McCloud Falls or tackle nearby Mount Eddy for splendid views of Mount Shasta.

Lake Tahoe

Californian snow country at its biggest and best

Set within the Sierra Nevada mountains, Lake Tahoe’s crystal-clear waters are an icon of the North American wilderness. Although the drive is long from Los Angeles, about eight hours, the journey is made easy with tempting stops around every bend. Take a well-earned break at Lone Pine Lake to catch panoramic views of Mount Whitney’s dazzling summit.

If you’re hungry, Erick Schat’s Bakery is a staple for road trippers, serving a mouth-watering selection of sandwiches and treats. Around the shores of Lake Tahoe, Emerald Bay offers excellent hiking and kayaking while Logan Shoals vista is the best place to be come sunset. To the north, Incline Village has several waterfront restaurants where you can soak up the views.


Landscape view of the geothermal features of Bumpass Hell in Lassen Volcanic National Park (California).

Bumpass Hell

A geothermal hotspot

​​Lassen Volcanic National Park is an otherworldly destination as one of the few places on earth featuring all four types of volcanoes. Punctuated by serene mountain lakes and meadows bursting with wildflowers, the park has more than 150 miles of hiking trails to the most of once you emerge from the car.

For those seeking even more geothermal activity, Bumpass Hell, the park’s largest hydrothermal area, is the place to be. Molten rock deep below the earth boils water that emerges as simmering pools and mud pots. Walk safely amongst the gurgling basin via Bumpass Hell’s adventurous boardwalk.

Channel Islands National Park

The unofficial Galapagos of North America

You’ll have to go the extra mile to reach Channel Islands National Park but trading in your car for a 90-minute ferry or private boat ride is worth it to see the North American Galapagos. Just on the stretch from the mainland, you can expect to see pods of dolphins riding the bow wave.

This national park has allowed unique species to evolve undisturbed across its five islands. For example, the island fox and the island deer mouse don’t exist anywhere else on earth. Relish the serene hiking, sea kayaking and snorkelling throughout this enchanting marine park.

Image: Kelly Van Dellen via iStock


Spring 2019 is another banner year for wildflowers in Anza Borrego Desert Park, California, USA.

Vince Barns via iStock

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

A sprawling desert with cacti and flowers everywhere you look

At a two-hour drive from San Diego, the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is the ideal distance for a road trip. But with this landscape as vast as it is diverse, you’ll need to pick and choose your adventures, as commuting between many of the park’s highlights won’t leave much time to see the sights.

For a short walk, consider the Cactus Loop Trail. Blooming cactus and wildflower species enrich the scenery while the endless views are exceptional. The Slot is another alluring trek — the narrow path in a siltstone canyon passes through and beneath exquisite rock formations.

Start planning your tour of California, America’s ultimate playground, today.

Header image: Visit California

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