Now that school’s out and summer is here, it’s time to start planning some getaways to California’s great outdoors. But instead of sitting on your fanny in a camp chair all weekend (not that there’s anything wrong with that), consider taking a recreational getaway that gets your blood flowing and calories burning.
As a serious outdoors nut I could write a entire guidebook on California’s recreational getaways, but for this post I’ve narrowed it down to my seven top picks for getting some healthy exercise while exploring some of my favorite outdoor adventure destinations.
Backpacking in Yosemite
When I was a kid, my mom would always send me off on a week-long guided backpacking trip during the summer just to get me out of the house, and now I’m addicted to it. It’s the perfect combination of aerobic exercise, spiritual cleansing, confidence building, and appreciating our natural surroundings.
If you’ve never done it before, I implore you to set aside a week this summer for a backpacking trip through the Sierra Nevada—it’ll be one of the most rewarding things you do this year.
If you have zero backpacking experience and equipment (or don’t have time to plan it), I have a suggestion: Give my friend Ian Elman a call. He runs an outdoor guiding company Southern Yosemite Mountain Guides, and his staff are among the top outdoor guides in the nation and are masters at providing a fun, thrilling, and safe experience for all their clients (I highly recommend their 8-day Yosemite Grand Traverse if you really want to see it all).
Not only will a trip with SYMG be the highlight of your summer, you’ll enjoy spending time with Ian and his crew so much you’ll want to come back for more adventures every year. Give them a call 800/231-4575. And if you’re looking for great deals on Yosemite lodging, click here.
Hiking Lassen Volcanic National Park
You don’t have to fly to Hawaii to take a hike on a volcano. Lassen Peak, the highlight of Lassen Volcanic National Park is the largest plug dome volcano in the world. Although dormant, 10,457-foot Lassen Peak is still very much alive—the area still boils with a ferocious intensity: Hot springs, stinky fumaroles, geysers, and mud pots are all indicators that Lassen hasn’t had its last word.
It always amazes me how few Northern Californians have visited this amazing state park, which offer 150 miles of wonderful hiking trails. The most popular hike is the Lassen Peak Trail, a 2.5-mile climb from the Park Road to the top of the peak (you’ll get a view of the surrounding wilderness that’s worth every step of the way). On clear days, you can see south all the way to Sutter Buttes near Yuba City and north into the Cascades.
Believe me, you’ll love this eerie yet beautiful place, and have most it to yourself on the weekdays. And if you need a place to stay near Lassen, LocalGetaways is offering some great deals on local hotels.
Exploring Pinnacles National Park
The 24,000-acre Pinnacles National Park is one of the Bay Area’s best weekend hiking destinations, and I’m betting you never even heard of it. Located southeast of Salinas, Pinnacles consists of hundreds of towering crags, spires, ramparts, and hoodoos—the eroded remains of a volcano formed 23 million years ago.
Pinnacles is also haven for bird-watchers, home to six endangered California condors and one of California’s largest breeding populations of raptors (bring binoculars). You could spend days here, but it’s possible to cover the most interesting features in a weekend.
Great camping as well, but if you prefer a hotel, click here for great deals on hotels near Pinnacles.
Surfing Lessons in Santa Cruz
No, I’m not crazy. You can do this. I’m living proof. I had never surfed in my life until I took a surfing class in Santa Cruz and within an hour I was standing up and surfing. It’s an amazing adrenaline rush, getting pushed by the wave as you stand on your longboard while the surfing instructor cheers you on.
Santa Cruz has the best longboarding waves in Nor Cal—small, safe, easy, and fun—and the friendly folks at Santa Cruz’s Club-Ed Surf School will show you a great time, teaching you how to paddle, read the waves, and stand up. It’s a fantastic way to stay in shape and an incredibly rewarding accomplishment. C’mon, book a room at one of SC’s inexpensive beachside motels next weekend give it a try.
Climbing Mt. Shasta
Again, I’m not crazy. You can do this as well. It’ll probably be one of the most challenging hikes in your life, but the reward—summiting the mighty Mt. Shasta is a moment you will never forget, and the views are mind-blowing. Mount Shasta attracts thousands of hikers from around the world each year, from timid first-timers (like my mom) to serious mountaineers who search for the most difficult paths up.
The hike isn’t technically difficult, but it’s a demanding ascent that takes about 8 hours of continuous exertion, particularly when the snow softens up. All the requisite equipment can be rented in town at the Fifth Season mountaineering store, and if you’d rather hire a guide, contact Shasta Mountain Guides. Tip: For great tips on climbing Mt. Shasta, Google “So you want to climb Mt. Shasta.”
And for great deals on Mt. Shasta hotels, click here.
Summiting Mount Whitney
At 14,505 feet, Mount Whitney is the highest summit in the Lower 48 states. Along with the General Sherman Tree (the largest tree in the world), it’s one of the highlights of Sequoia National Park, a land of alpine lakes, deep canyons, and towering granite peaks.
Unlike Mount Shasta, it doesn’t take any special equipment to summit Mount Whitney, just lots of stamina (in fact, almost half the people who attempt the 22 mile-round-trip don’t reach the summit) and way more water than you’ll think you’ll need (bring a water filter). Weather, altitude, and fatigue can stop even the most prepared hiking party, but the reward for summiting is a view you’ll never forget.
Looking for affordable lodging near Mount Whitney? Click here.
Paddling on the Gualala River
Now here’s a recreational getaway idea you probably haven’t considered: Driving up the coast to Gualala (about a 2.5-hour drive from San Francisco), renting a canoe or kayak, and paddling the gorgeous Gualala River. Imagine silently gliding through thousands of acres of private forest filled with wildlife, including osprey, herons, egrets, and river otters.
You can picnic on the sandy banks of the river and swim in the crystal clear water, which is about 70-74 degrees in summer. It’s a heavenly setting for safe, self-guided outdoor adventure for the whole family. Believe me, this is a getaway you will take year after year.
If you have your own tips and recommendations on great outdoor getaways throughout California that you’d like to share, feel free to add your own comments below. We’d love to hear from you.