The most important part of getting outdoors is simply to get out. We’re inspired by epic shots of faraway expeditions and in California we have the opportunity to have some of those epic spots in our backyard. But almost none of us will spin a mani wheel under the Himalayas or sleep on a portaledge in Yosemite.
Adventure is historically exclusive. The most elite athletes and explorers are assembled for expeditions. Funds are raised through corporate and government sponsorships. Only the most unique tales of hazard reach print.
But with access comes potential. Nature is for us all and to have access to nature provides opportunity for us all to experience the thrill of adventure or the healing qualities of the outdoors. It’s important to celebrate the world’s astonishing destinations and the few who get to go. But it’s more important to ensure the we and our neighbors are enjoying nature ourselves, regardless of personal skill or means.
Here’s a list of the ten largest cities in California and ten places to recreate within 50 miles of them. Within an hour’s drive from these cities’ centers, many times with public transportation, one can be in a beautiful piece of wilderness with camping and recreation at the tip of one’s fingers. Find your city and get out and explore:
Big Santa Anita Canyon
Description: Take a step back in time to Los Angeles’s Golden Age of Hiking. Located in the San Gabriel Mountains not far from city limits, Big Santa Anita Canyon is home to one of the cities original alpine resorts. There is also a creekside community of Forest Service cabins in the bottom of this wooded canyon and a campground with several hiking opportunities nearby.
Distance: 22 miles
Where to Stay: Spruce Grove Campground
Cuyamaca Rancho State Park
Description: Sitting at over 5,000 feet, this park reveals what a little altitude can create in the desert. This state park features granite peaks, waterfalls, swimming holes and wide green meadows above the San Diego desert. Plenty of great camping along the river.
Distance: 43 miles
Where to Stay: Green Valley Campground
Henry Coe State Park
Description: Once an early 20th century cattle ranch, Henry Coe State Park is now 80,000 acres of protected central coast range wilderness. Backpacking here is old school and unique, a sort of dealer’s choice/first come system that prioritizes privacy. The rolling green hills and native oaks create a beautiful and mild place to spend a night outdoors.
Distance: 33 miles
Where to Stay: China Hole
Point Reyes National Park
Description: Wild and livable Point Reyes is a beautifully preserved park on the rugged peninsula on the Pacific. The steep coastal park featuring forests, fields and beaches, with miles of trails and backcountry camps interspersed throughout, has a uniquely wild feeling to it. Yet with bountiful resources and a comfortable climate it’s not hard to see how people have called it home for thousands of years.
Distance: 28 miles
Where to Stay: Coast Camp
Kings Canyon National Park
Description: Low on amenities, huge on unspoiled nature. The overlooked sibling of Sequoia National Park, Kings Canyon is a high alpine paradise with valley scenery rivaling Yosemite. Granite spires, tall mountain passes and the mighty King River define this park and short distances can land you beside picturesque lakes, meadows and waterfalls.
Distance: 50 miles
Where to Stay: Grant Grove
Description: In the heart of Gold Country the American River flows through the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. Once the most productive river for gold following the 1849 rush, the three forks of the American are now best known for whitewater rafting. Along the canyon you’ll find world famous mountain bike and hiking trails. Intimate campsites and accessible recreation make this a popular park during the hot summer.
Distance: 35 miles
Where to Stay: Mineral Bar Campground
Chino Hills State Park
Description: One of the best places to see the wildflowers bloom in spring, Chino Hills is a postcard view of California’s rolling coastal hills. Mild hiking trails meander through the grasslands with views of the more imposing Santa Ana mountains on the horizon.
Distance: 50 miles
Where to Stay: Rolling M Ranch Campground
Redwood Regional Park
Description: Home to the largest remaining stands of coast redwoods in the East Bay, Redwood Regional Park is a sharp transition into nature at just ten miles from the center of Oakland. Giant redwoods form an enchanting forest, carpeted in broad green ferns. A maze of loamy trails and small creeks course through the shaded park.
Distance: 10 miles
Where to Stay: Anthony Chabot Campground
Los Padres National Forest
Description: Covering an absolutely massive amount of land between the central and southern California coast, Los Padres truly has a little bit of everything. Snowy mountains, redwood forests, hot springs, cold rivers, sandy beaches, rolling hills and craggy canyons make this forest an outdoor lovers dream. Each visit is sure to be unique and beautiful.
Distance: 43 miles
Where to Stay: Too Many Choices
Ronald W. Caspers Wilderness Park
Description: Part of the Cleveland National Forest, the Ronald W. Caspers Wilderness Park is impressively remote. With proper knowledge, a journey through the chaparel canyons can lead you to areas that feel nothing like the Orange County of popular perception. Wildflowers, a free flowing river and wide vistas with big sky views make this open space a gem among the sprawl.
Distance: 36 miles
Where to Stay: Live Oak Campground