The USA’s National Park System showcases and preserves the very best natural areas in the country, and of the 59 U.S. National Parks, a full 20% of them are in California and Arizona.
This includes places that are known and visited by millions of people from all over the world: Yosemite and the Grand Canyon. So when we traveled through the region last month, it’s no exaggeration to say we felt we were on the trip of a lifetime.
Our route began in Northern California with Redwood National Park. Together with a network of state parks that stretches from the Oregon border to Big Sur in California, this system protects the tallest living things on our planet: the Coast Redwood trees. These massive trees can grow to over 112 meters in height and 8 metes in diameter, living to be thousands of years old. Stepping into a grove of old-growth redwoods, and feeling the sights and sounds of the outside world wash away, is an experience you can’t have anywhere else.
While not a National Park itself, Point Reyes National Seashore is maintained by the National Park Service and features a stunning marine environment practically within throwing distance of San Francisco, so it’s an easy—and stunning—drive. Of course, when you’re there, the big city seems a world away. Grassy headlands are home to elk, and steep cliffs drop to sandy beaches where elephant seals congregate.
From the Bay Area, it’s only a few hours by car to Yosemite National Park. Over 3.5 million people visit each year, and once you’re standing at the scenic overlook with an unparalleled view up the Yosemite Valley, waterfalls crashing and cliff faces towering, you’ll understand why. There are several epic hiking opportunities within the valley itself, but the park actually covers more than 1,100 square miles, and all of it makes for once-in-a-lifetime exploration.
The Grand Canyon
Few places—whether in the U.S. or the world at large—command such name recognition and reverence as the Grand Canyon, located next door in Northern Arizona. Grand Canyon National Park is one of the oldest and most visited parks in the country. As you stand in awe at a South Rim viewing platform, you’re likely to hear multiple foreign languages being spoken around you. Watch the setting sun paint the canyon walls before it finally drops below the horizon, and you’ll know it’s truly been a beautiful day.
Many thanks to the National Park Service for making this trip possible. To learn more about these and other spectacular U.S. National Parks, visit nps.gov.
– Filmmaker and Outdoor Enthusiast Joshua Johnson