Giant trees, up-close elk, crashing waves are worth north-coast trip
Practically speaking, much of summer 2016 is gone. Considering that optimistically, though, plenty of the summer remains. Which means we have several weeks and weekends left for travel and recreation.
Looking near and not so near to Sacramento home base, many destinations call to us for a day or multiday trip, without requiring more than a few hours drive time. Some are just down the road.
The following are travel destinations, with details about each that help one determine if the potential experience is worth the trip. It is not an all-encompassing list but includes a variety of places with individual character and attractions. And maybe some offer travelers a chance for new experiences:
REDWOOD COAST – North
From Sacramento, there’s no real quick way to reach redwood country north of Eureka.
Go up Interstate 5 to Williams, cut across Highway 20 through Clear Lake and over to Highway 101, head north through the far reaches of Sonoma and Lake counties, through Avenue of the Giants, easing through the streets of Eureka and then making the final, scenic push to Trinidad and the epic beauty beyond – and it’s a good six-hour trip.
Bomb up I-5 to Redding, then enjoy Highway 299’s curves and cliff-side route along the Trinity River and over the Coast Range before hitting 101 to the same destination – and it’s about six hours road time.
But that asphalt-tinged down payment is worth it, because the parks, trails, wildlife, fog-cooled air and giant trees are dividends beyond calculation. Herds of Roosevelt elk have run of whatever meadow, beach or headlands they prefer at the time, regal bulls hefting 6- to 8-point antler racks, cows protecting their calves as the season dictates.
Fern Canyon is at the north end of Prairie Creek State Park, reachable off of Highway 101 via a winding, six-mile one-lane route over a low mountain pass to the ocean. The route takes one along Gold Bluff’s Beach to the Fern Canyon parking lot.
Fern Canyon itself is a singular amazement, a narrow canyon whose walls are lined with a variety of ferns, numerous small waterfalls and carved by a creek whose path changes every winter. The canyon also changes yearly as trees crash down to the creek bed from the cliffs above, continuing the never-ending process of creating and changing the canyon. The place itself is worth a trip north.
Camping opportunities abound at numerous state parks – Patrick’s Point, Prairie Creek, Humboldt Lagoons – all lined with trails that take hikers to beaches, rocky points and the ocean, through heavy forest and under those coastal redwoods, the sequoia sempervirens.
In addition to land mammals, life abounds in, on and near the sea. Humpback whales can be seen during summer months feeding as they ply the Northern Pacific’s cold waters. Rarer but occasionally seen are Orcas, the black-and-white killer whales that sometimes cruise near rocky points. Sea lions abound; pelicans glide with a grace that belies their slap-footed waddling when they choose to walk the beach; gulls and countless other species ride the breezes coming in off the ocean, their calls providing a soundtrack that meshes with the surf’s constant swoosh/crash/whisper.
The little port town of Trinidad has several restaurants, a pier open to the public, a museum, library, gas station and grocery store. About 30 miles north is the town of Orick, which has more-limited services and plenty of wood carvings. Many, many carved bears.
Distance from Sacramento: 315 miles
Best routes: Interstate 5 north to Williams; west on Highway 20 to Highway 101; 101 north to Trinidad and beyond OR I-5 north to Redding; west on Highway 299 to Highway 101; north on 101
LASSEN VOLCANIC NATIONAL PARK
Uncrowded, pristine and relatively compact, Lassen Volcanic National Park is a wonder where alpine peace and solitude meet geologic animation. Several trails lead to and through active volcanic areas, and others are wilderness paths that take hikers into areas where the quiet pounds on one’s eardrums and the unsullied air, perfumed with evergreen, is nearly overwhelming.
The park, founded by an act of Congress in August 1916, has its 100th birthday this summer, an officially recognized existence that came into being following Lassen Peak’s eruptions that began in 1914. Those eruptions, punctuated with a massive blast on May 22, 1915, ended in 1917.
National Park Service statistics show that Lassen had 432,977 visitors in 2014, ranking 37th out of the country’s 59 national parks. The park is seldom crowded, though popular trails such as the one to the top of 10,457-foot Lassen Peak get plenty of traffic during hiking season. Kings Creek and other meadows are vast enough to easily accommodate summertime visitors.
A story by Sam McManis written in May 2016 provides insights about the park that holds and surrounds still-active volcano Lassen Peak:
Distance from Sacramento: 205 miles
Best routes: Interstate 5 north to Redding; east on Highway 44 to northwest park entrance OR I-5 north to Red Bluff; northwest on Highway 36 to southwest park entrance
BIDWELL PARK – Chico
Sometimes the summertime gems are hidden in plain sight, largely unnoticed by people unschooled in their very real, if unheralded, potential for fun. Bidwell Park – a massive expanse of forest and glen, gentle meadows and rocky promontories – is one of those gems, the pride of Chico and a none-too far-flung giant of municipal green space that can be worth a visit.
The web page on the city of Chico’s general site lists hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking, disc golf, paragliding and star gazing as recreational options, though aficionados would say that is a very partial accounting of things to do there.
The Bee’s Sam McManis wrote about hiking opportunities at the park in 2015:
Distance from Sacramento: 95 miles
Best route: Highway 99 north to Chico; follow signs to park entrance from the highway (95 miles)
GOLDEN GATE PARK – San Francisco
Far better known than Bidwell Park, Golden Gate Park in San Francisco is one of the great urban playgrounds of California or any other state. The variety of things to see and do seems like an aggregation of playtimes from multiple parks rather than just one.
And is it ever kid-friendly. Check out the story recently written by The Bee’s Reed Parsell and see how the park might fit into your late-summer plans.
Distance from Sacramento: 95 miles
Best route: Interstate 80 west to Bay Bridge (toll required); cross bridge into San Francisco, exit onto Highway 101 North toward Golden Gate Bridge; continue onto Octavia Boulevard; left on Fell Street; Continue onto John F. Kennedy Drive; Left onto Kezar Drive; continue onto Lincoln Way; right onto Crossover Drive.
NORTHERN SIERRA NEVADA
The Sierra Nevada east of Sacramento is one of the great outdoor opportunities in Northern California. The following two stories provide options for two types of lakes found there: little ones, and a great big one.
▪ Here are some of the little ones:
Distance from Sacramento: 65-85 miles
Best routes: Highway 50 east; follow signs to appropriate lakes
▪ And here’s an example of fun stuff on the big one:
Distance from Sacramento: 103 miles
Best routes: Highway 50 east to Lake Tahoe Boulevard; turn right and proceed to South Lake Tahoe
Is Lake Berryessa, the largest lake in Napa County, even on your radar as a place to play during the summer?
It’s big, accessible and not generally too crowded. But it’s also sort of tucked away, not really near Interstate 5 or Highway 101 or any other major route. It’s not a headline-grabbing place. But it’s pretty cool, as Paul McHugh points out in a story he wrote for The Bee in 2013.
Distance from Sacramento: 55-65 miles
Best route: Interstate 80 west to Davis; north on Highway 113 to Highway 128; west on 128 through Winters to Lake Berryessa
WINE COUNTRY – Various destinations
Wine critic Mike Dunne offers 10 destinations – not including the obvious Napa Valley – for people who enjoy wine. They range from Paso Robles and Santa Barbara County to the south, to the Sierra foothills and valleys of Sonoma County and nearby environs. The spectrum of wine styles and varieties provide a full measure of California’s winemaking excellence.
Distance from Sacramento: Distances vary
Best route: Routes vary