And, because it’s the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, there are walks, talks and other events going on all week long.
If you’re heading out, I do recommend keeping plenty of gas in your car at all times, and a cooler full of water and snacks, too, because some of these parks have no facilities.
Pinnacles National Park: I only recently discovered this park in southeastern Monterey County, with beautiful rock spires, interesting caves to explore, rock climbing, birding and more. Now is a great time to visit, when the weather is cool and the park is verdant. It’s about a five-hour drive, up the 5 freeway, then cut through Paso Robles to the 101. Lots of wine tasting in the area. We stayed at the modest but clean Valley Harvest Inn in Soledad, only 15 minutes from the park. Make a reservation, it sells out. Learn more: Ns.gov/pinn or call 831-389-4486.
Joshua Tree National Park: This high desert park near Palm Springs captured my heart so thoroughly I bought a house there! It’s a 2-3 hour drive from Orange County. Get an early start for a day trip, or spend the night. This is the perfect time to visit: You might see wildflowers. Make sure to check out the Wonderland of Rocks. Barker Dam is an easy and beautiful hike. All week long, there are patio talks, ranger-led walks, hikes and more for adults and children at all three visitor centers. Call 760-367-5500 or visit Nps.gov/jotr to learn more. To find places to stay, look here: Joshuatreechamber.org
Sequoia/Kings Canyon national parks: These side-by-side parks are very different but gorgeous each in their own way. You need to keep an eye on the weather because it can be snowy, but as of this writing, all roads are clear and dry. In summer, you can be mobbed on the trails here, but spring is generally lovely, cool and uncrowded. Expect to spend four to five hours driving up, a mostly pleasant experience through Tulare County. There are lodges inside the parks, but I recommend the friendly, rustic Montecito Sequoia Resort, where your nightly rate includes meals and activities. My teens loved it, and they offer special low rates in the spring. Learn more at MsLodge.com. You can also spend the night in cute Visalia, or lots of modest guesthouses and motels along the highway. Learn more at Nps.gov/seki or call 559-565-3341. Current road conditions: 559-565-3341 (press 1, 1).
Zion National Park: Spring is my favorite season to visit Zion, which is a scenic seven-hour drive north off Interstate 15. Zion’s picturesque red rock canyons can be blazing hot in summer, but are typically delightful right now. Las Vegas makes a perfect stopover on the way to or from the western entrance. I like to stay in the tiny town of Springdale, just outside the park borders. Slightly cheaper lodging is available an hour away in Kanab. One reason I like this park is the variety of hiking here, everything from riverside strolls paved for wheelchairs all the way to multi-day backpacks. Note that the Zion Lodge has a nice dining room that makes a more pleasant break than the fast food cafeteria downstairs. The park operates a free shuttle bus around the canyon to relieve traffic congestion, spring to late fall. Want more? You can easily combine this trip with Bryce National Park, about a 90-minute drive away. At 9,000 feet, Bryce is still icy this time of year so hiking is limited, but the views are still fabulous. Learn more: Nps.gov/zion or call 435-772-3256.
Death Valley National Park: You may have read about wonderful wildflower blooms in Death Valley this year, and there are still some places to see them, though you’ll have to get out of your car and actually hike. While Europeans have an endless fascination with this 3-million-acre park in the summertime, when it’s 120 degrees, most of us greatly prefer spring or winter, when the vistas don’t come with an overheated car. It may already be hot in the daytime, but will cool down at night. This park is located northeast of Bakersfield. Expect to drive 4-5 hours to get there. The National Park Service advises you not to rely on your GPS Navigation, so use a map. You remember what one of those is, right? Learn more: Nps.gov/deva or call 760-786-3200.
Got a good travel tip for me? Or a suggestion? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I love to hear from readers.