10 Spectacular Outdoor Adventures in California for Nature Lovers

California is the ultimate nature lover’s playground and home to some of the best outdoor adventures in the country. From barren lands of Death Valley to massive giants of Sequoia National Park, California has all to keep the outdoor enthusiasts coming back for more.

Last updated: April 29, 2024

Visit Emerald Bay State Park, Outdoor Adventures in California - Roads and Destinations
Spectacular outdoor adventures in California for nature lovers

10 Incredible Outdoor Adventures in California

Things don’t always go the way we plan. The years of pandemic proved it once again. While many of us had to cancel our travel plans during that time, California had never ceased to offer some of the best outdoor adventures in the country. Whether it’s a day-long hike in a national park or road trip along the Pacific Coast Highway, staying outdoors is easy in the Golden State.

And since outdoor adventures have always been one of my favorite types of travel, I look forward to exploring California anew. These places are what makes California so unique and special, an alluring destination for outdoor lovers from all corners of the world.


1. Joshua Tree National Park

Whether you’re looking for beautiful desert landscapes or cool glamping experiences, Joshua Tree National Park is here for you. Home to famed Joshua trees, the park is one of the best places to start your California outdoor adventures. With an abundance of trails for all activity levels, it suits amateurs and professional outdoor enthusiasts alike.

Even climbers, boulderers, and highliners are eager to add Joshua Tree National Park to their favorite training places in California. The reason behind it is more than 8,000 climbing routes and 2,000 rock problems.

Looking for a small oasis in the California desert? Barker Dam is a good place to start. The site is seasonal, however. So keep your expectations low if you’re hiking along the trail in the middle of the hot summer season.

Yet regardless of the weather in California, watching the sunset in the Cholla Cactus Garden is one of the best outdoor adventures neither locals nor visitors dare to miss.

READ MORE: How to Spend a Weekend in Joshua Tree National Park

National Parks Perfect for a Day Trip from Los Angeles, Outdoor Adventures in California - Roads and Destinations
Joshua Tree National Park | Outdoor adventures in California

2. Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

From the desert to a forest, the outdoor adventures in California are as diverse as the state itself. The next place to visit here is Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. Also known as a Land of Giants, this area has gathered some of the tallest trees, deep canyons, massive mountains, and big caverns. In fact, the world’s largest tree measured by volume, the General Sherman Tree, resides in Sequoia National Park.

Furthermore, this part of California ensures different kinds of adventures for outdoor lovers that include hiking, camping, ranger-led programs, and even a tour of the Giant Forest Museum that is open year round. If you’re down for a little hiking feat with panoramic views, climb the stairs of Moro Rock, one of the tedious, yet glorious sites in this part of California.

Visit Sequoia National Park, Outdoor Adventures - Roads and Destinations
Sequoia National Park | Spectacular outdoor adventures in California

3. Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park is one of the favorite places in California to see waterfalls and stunning mountains. The area is home to some of the world’s famous summits, such as the granite cliffs of El Capitan and Half Dome.

Yosemite Village is another all-time favorite that offers year-round access to some of the most beautiful hikes and waterfalls, including Yosemite Falls, Bridalveil Fall, and Vernal Falls. The waterfalls are at their peak in early spring when the snow melts. By the end of summer, many turn into a trickle. Even Yosemite Falls, the tallest waterfall in the park, didn’t escape this fate.

Visit Yosemite, Travel Goals - Roads and Destinations
Yosemite National Park is one of the favorite outdoor destinations in California

4. Lake Tahoe

I understood all the hype around Lake Tahoe, Northern California, only after we visited the place a few summers ago. Located in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Lake Tahoe allures with its pristine location and crystal clear waters. It’s a place to perfect your kayaking and paddling game in the summer, hit a trail most of the year, and ski down a snowy hill when the winter arrives.

Yet regardless of the time of the year you visit the area, be sure to include Emerald Bay State Park in the list of your outdoor adventures in California. With a tiny isle surrounded by towering peaks and trees, reflecting off the water, Emerald Bay, one of Golden State’s most beautiful state parks, looks like a twin brother of Lake Bled in Slovenia.

TIP: If you are visiting the area in summer, be sure to add a boat ride and a tour of Vikingsholm Castle, a 38-room mansion located on Fannette Island, to your outdoor adventures in Northern California.

Lake Tahoe, Outdoor Adventures in California - Roads and Destinations
Fannette Island – one of the most elusive outdoor adventures in California

5. Mammoth Lakes

Summer or winter, Mammoth Lakes in Central California gathers big crowds of outdoor enthusiasts. From hiking to boating and all kinds of winter activities, the place knows how to satisfy your adventurous spirit.

So, for a winter getaway, visit Mammoth Mountain where you can enjoy California winter wonderland well into the summer months. Alpine lakes in the Mammoth Lakes area take care of the outdoor adventures that have little to do with the snow. Lake Mary, June Lake, and Mono Lake are some of the prime destinations to check out in the region.

The Top 5 Lakes Near Mammoth Lakes - Roads and Destinations
Places to visit in Central California: June Lake

6. Big Sur: Favorite Outdoor Adventures on the California Coast

When it comes to a road trips across California, the legendary Pacific Coast Highway with its famous Big Sur wins every time. This iconic stop on the coast of California is a bucket list destination for the outdoor enthusiasts all over the world.

Thanks to its winding turns, panoramic views, and seaside cliffs, Big Sur is regarded as one of the most beautiful coastlines in the world. If this is not enough, then McWay Falls, the Bixby Bridge, and Pfeiffer Beach will surely convince you to check out this outdoor adventurer’s paradise when you visit California next time.

READ MORE: Driving through Big Sur: The Best Things to Do and Places to Visit

3 of the Best Cross-State California Road Trips, create itinerary - Roads and Destinations
Big Sur is one the most panoramic outdoor adventures in California

7. 17-Mile Drive

Once you decide to explore the California coastline, be sure to combine your Big Sur outdoor adventure with the panoramic 17-Mile Drive. This scenic road on the Monterey Peninsula takes you through a forest to a rocky coastline and sandy beaches.

It’s a place where you can find such attractions as Pebble Beach, the Lone Cypress, and Seal Rock. On the downside, the roadway is privately managed. So, expect to pay a fee upon your arrival.

3 of the Best Cross-State California Road Trips - Roads and Destinations
For a panoramic outdoor adventure in California, look no further than the 17-Mile Drive

8. Lassen Volcanic National Park

Steaming fumaroles, clear mountain lakes, picturesque meadow… You can wholeheartedly count on Lassen Volcanic National Park to provide you with the unforgettable adventures in Northern California. Home to Lassen Peak, one of the largest plug dome volcanoes in the world, it’s a great weekend destination to bring your family and enjoy some breathtaking views.

Somehow, our biggest outdoor adventures in this part of California revolved around waterfalls. We spent the morning hiking in McArthur-Burney Falls Park and continued on with the same falls-inspired agenda in the afternoon while marching through a burned-down forest to Kings Creek Falls.

Lake Helen - Roads and Destinations
Outdoor adventures in California: Lassen Volcanic National Park

9. Channel Islands National Park

Driving is not enough to get to Channel Islands National Park, one of the most isolated outdoor places in California. Located off the coast of Santa Barbara, the area consists of 5 islands: San Miguel, Santa Rosa, Anacapa, Santa Barbara, and Santa Cruz, the largest island in the park.

To get to the Channel Islands, you can join a ferry operated by Island Packers or fly across the Pacific (the most expensive option). Once on the island, you’re free to hike, kayak, and explore hidden caves all day long. Camping is also available. Yet make sure to reserve your spot in advance.

Channel Islands, one day on Anacapa Island - Roads and Destinations
Top outdoor adventures in California: Channel Islands National Park

10. Death Valley – One of the Least Summer Appropriate Outdoor Adventures in California

Death Valley is arguably one of the most unique outdoor destinations in California. From salt flats to sandstone canyons, vibrant Artists Palette, mysterious moving rocks, a golf course that only the devil can play on, and Lake Manly, a temporary lake in the lowest and driest place in North America, the park surpassed all your expectations of the ideal “playground” for active outdoor lovers.

TIP: Bring lots of water and don’t attempt any long-ish hikes after 10:00 am in the summer. The extreme heat caused fatalities in the past.

READ MORE: Death Valley Blew Us Away

National Parks near Los Angeles - Roads and Destinations
Early summer adventures in California: Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes

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