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Natural beauty just hours away from Central Valley

Natural beauty just hours away from Central Valley

The lone Cypress and an ocean view are worth the trip to 17 mile drive.

POSTED July 8, 2011 11:17 p.m.

Hot days and muggy nights have Central Valley residents looking for a cool place to escape this summer. Many vacationers are skipping the expenses of far-away destinations and opting instead to take in the natural beauty that Northern California has to offer. And with the beaches and forests just hours away, daytrips are a realistic and affordable option for Valley residents. Several of these places still tout un-touched wilderness and breathtaking scenery, all practically in the back-yard of Central Valley residents.

1.       Monterey Peninsula: Between the white sandy beaches of Carmel-by-the-Sea and the colorful wildlife of the beach dunes, there are plenty of pretty things to look at while you relax in the Monterey area. There are also wonderful natural hiking trails at Point Lobos for the more active set. Seventeen-mile drive is a nice compromise for the whole family, with active rock climbing and tide pool gazing opportunities and accessible lookout points over the scenic shoreline. There are also several biking trails throughout the Monterey area, and a few shops along the beach rent bicycles for the afternoon.  Daytime temperatures at the beach rarely get above 80 degrees, and the Pacific is always chilly enough to cool off even the most heated vacationer.


2.       Big Basin State Park: A quick drive north of the Monterey Peninsula can take a traveler 100 years back in time, to see what Northern California looked like before the modern inventions of cars and strip malls. Big Basin State Park is the oldest state park in California, and is still thick with old growth costal redwood trees. Camping, hiking, biking and equestrian trails are open to the public year round.  Big Basin has several trails perfect for first-time hikers, including Sequoia which leads to Sempervirens Falls. Overnight camping is also available in the park, although weekend reservations tend to fill up fast. To reserve a camping spot at Big Basin, or any other state park, visit


3.       Yosemite National Park: This national park is a regional favorite for camping, but its proximity to Turlock makes it a good option for quick day trips. The Yosemite Falls and other watering holes are fed by snow run-off, and they stay cold even in the warmer summer months. Hiking on Half Dome has increased so much in recent years that permits are now required on weekends and holidays to hike up the face of the steep rock formation. The trail leading up to the base of Half Dome, however, is still seasonally open to the public without a permit.


4.       Pinecrest: One of the closest skiing destinations transforms into an easy-to-get-to summer vacation destination. Pinecrest Lake offers water sport, swimming and hiking opportunities with all the comforts of flushing toilets and a snack bar. Hike just around the corner to the lake dam and the trail offers wilderness views of the forest and lake. A convenient store and several locally-owned restaurants give Pinecrest a rustic mountain-town feel without sacrificing the appeal of its natural beauty.

No matter which outdoor adventure you choose to embark on, remember that safety needs to come first. The California State Parks Department recommends always hiking with a friend or family member.

Other safety tips include:

·         Take plenty of drinking water.  Leave stream, river and lake water for the park wildlife.  Although it looks clean and refreshing, mountain stream water can make you ill.

·         Let someone back at camp or at home know where you are going and when you plan on returning.  Take a mobile phone for emergencies only or to let them know you have returned safely.

·         Don't walk off-trail.  Cutting across switchbacks erodes the hillside and eventually destroys the trail.  Plus, walking off-trail increases your chance of suffering an injury or getting lost

·         Wildlife lives in all of our state parks, even near urban areas.  Although rare, black bears, mountain lions, and rattlesnakes may be seen. Whenever you encounter wildlife on the trail, keep your distance back away slowly, and do not run.  Report your sightings to a State Park Ranger.

·         Poison oak is a common plant throughout much of California.  Learn to identify its shiny, three-leaf pattern and avoid touching it.  If you touch poison oak, wash immediately with water and mild soap.  Pat dry with a clean towel.

To contact Andrea Goodwin, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2003.

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