Point Lobos State Natural Reserve is a diamond of natural beauty along California’s central coast.
This beautiful place offers a treasure of colors, dramatic landscapes, green forests, rugged coves, weathered trees, and grey fog to brilliant sunlight. It can be easy to see birds of prey overhead, flittering butterflies, quiet deer grazing, or the heads of sea lions and harbor seals popping up from the surf.
The air is clean here and provides the visitor with a measure of restoration.
This wonderful place does have a strict limit on the number of visitors at any one time, limiting visitors to 450 people, so not to cause unacceptable damage to this great setting.
The summertime can be very busy here and in the neighboring town of Carmel, sometimes causing traffic to become bottlenecked on the Coast Highway 1. Plan to arrive early for the best opportunities to see animals and avoid any late afternoon crowds.
If you can visit in the wintertime or spring when rains have restored the landscape.
The images in this short video were taken on the Winter Solstice when just a handful of visitors were on the trails and the low-angled light from the sun offered the grandest views and colors.
To learn more visit:
The Point Lobos Foundation
California State Parks
The Open Sea exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium is a visually immersive experience. It allows visitors to see the open ocean at a depth of roughly 25 feet underwater while standing in a comfortably warm viewing room.
Visitors enter a dark viewing theater with a 90-foot transparent wall that rises high to the ceiling. In this place, humans appear as dark silhouettes against the blue world beyond where silver and grey sea turtles, sharks, rays, tuna and a variety of other fish are in constant motion.
Lances of light piercing into the depths and brightly illuminate any creature that swims through the shafts.
I have found that just before closing time at the aquarium, you can enjoy this vista with just a hand-full of others, or in some cases have a precious minute to enjoy it all by yourself.
Imst is a beautiful town in Western Tirol. Here visitors will find a wonderful gorge that gushes with cascades and roars with waterfalls. The hike begins in the middle of town near a centuries-old church, within minutes a visitor is traversing a series of catwalks and footbridges while exploring this rugged landscape. Steps along the trail are often carved from the rock itself, and if wet, can be slippery so wear decent hiking shoes. In fact, my local guide would not go on the trail for several days after a rain as she believed the steps to be too slippery.
The actual hike is not difficult, but there are several areas where the trail is very steep while other sections have low overhangs. Expect a 250 m (820 ft) elevation gain while exploring the 1.5 km (.9 mile) long gorge.
This is a beautiful place but be prepared for a good number of people in the summertime. Consider going on the early side to lessen the number of people on the trail with you. Be prepared for an unexpected rain shower; during my visit, a sudden and very unexpected rain shower poured from the sky on us for about ten minutes, then as quickly as it started, the rain ceased and the sky was clear again.
The sound of water is always around you in the gorge.
Near the top of the falls is a recreation area with opportunities for playing and dining. Plan for several hours to fully explore the gorge at a leisurely pace.
Winter can be a wonderful time to visit Big Basin Redwoods State Park in California.
We arrived at 10 a.m. (December 29th) and parked across from the old log building known as Big Basin Headquarters. The temperature outside was 44 degrees and the damp air was crisp. The morning clouds had dissipated and sunlight streaked through the forest canopy onto the ground below.
Surrounding the headquarters were goliaths – redwood trees that were 4, 5, and 6 feet across. One tree appeared to be 8 or 9 feet at the base. Even though I have visited here many times I am always impressed by the size and grandeur of these magnificent trees. But, today my family was here to see other sights – three magnificent waterfalls: Berry Creek Falls, Silver Falls, and Golden Cascade.
We made sure our water bottles were full before crossing over Waddell Creek and onto the Skyline-to-the-Sea trail that would lead us to the waterfalls. The winter rains had made the forest green with color. The forest was quiet, peaceful and restorative.
After an hour or so of walking through the redwoods, the sounds of rushing water could be heard. The creek next to us, Kelly Creek, was alive with water and small cascades. Everything around was green and moist. The redwoods towered above us. The only sounds we heard were our breathing and our footsteps on the ground made gentle gushing noises as we walked on the damp trail. The cleanliness of the air was a joy to breathe! Something small at the side of the trail moved ahead of us, it was a newt that was slowly traversing the fallen logs and fern fronds.
At the Timms Creek trail junction, a fallen redwood had created a natural bridge (shown). We rested and played here for a few minutes then continued on. Soon, a rock overlook along the trail let us peer down onto Kelly Creek – a myriad of small white cascades dotted the creek, large brown boulders sat among ferns and broad-leafed plants and a color chart of green moss dotted the sides of trees.
The trail descended and crossed over a small footbridge. In a few minutes, we rounded a corner – ahead of us were the Berry Creek Falls.
These 65-foot falls drop vertically – plunging abruptly into a valley of redwoods and moss. To say this is ‘picturesque’ is an understatement.
We enjoyed the view then continued to a viewing platform about three-quarters the height of the falls for a direct look (shown is the view from the platform). For ten minutes we had this view all to ourselves. Then several other hikers arrived, they deserved the same tranquility we just enjoyed, so we moved on.
The trail continued upstream for about twenty minutes. Small cascades danced in the creek and gurgles of water made curious sounds as pools emptied over steep rocks. Here we saw a huge, bright yellow, banana slug about seven inches in length next to the trail. We had seen several banana slugs on the trail but this was by far the largest. The sound of falling water was coming from just up the trail.
Silver Falls began to appear through the redwoods. These falls were slightly hidden by the mass of trees, but it was easy to see the white and frothy ‘silvery’ water as it poured over the top and dropped a wonderful 60 feet or so into a pool below. A series of stairs on the trail wound up the side of the valley to the top of the falls. At the top was a single cable handrail (shown in the photo). The trail was a little slick so we proceeded with caution.
In just seconds we were at the Golden Cascade. These were actually two cascades; at the base was a vertical fall of about 15 feet, just above it was a much more impressive drop. I am not sure about the height, but for perspective notice the person in the photo (top right, wearing a red vest).
We enjoyed a well-deserved snack in this tranquil place then continued on our hike back to the car. Although it was an hour before sunset it was close to dark when we arrived at the parking area. These are some deep valleys and the trees are very, very tall. It can become dark quickly in the redwood forest.
I like to visit between rainstorms when the weather grants a two to three-day rest between showers allowing the trails to harden up a little. Seeing these waterfalls in the winter (and spring) are spectacular. The summer is a great time to visit too, but the streams have less water and sometimes can become just a trickle of water as fall approaches.
On our wintertime day hike, we passed only 14 people on the trail! The loop took us about 6 hours to complete and required roughly 11 miles of hiking – it is strenuous. This is a hike for families with older kids.
Big Basin Redwoods State Park was established in 1902 and was California’s first state park.
Big Basin is located a one hour drive from Saratoga, California and roughly half an hour from the town of Boulder Creek. The entrance fee is $10.
To continue your own explorations of Big Basin Redwoods State Park visit:
The General Sherman Tree in Sequoia National Park is the largest tree in the world!
How big is it? An interpretive display near the tree gives some perspective about the size of this giant, “Looking up at the General Sherman Tree for a six-foot-tall human is about the equivalent of a mouse looking up at the six-foot-tall human.”
In our video, we provide a ‘sense of scale’ with a visit to a stone inlay ‘footprint’ found along the trail. This footprint represents the size of the tree at its base. Stand in the middle of this footprint and turn slowly around to better appreciate the size. The tree at its base is 103 feet in circumference (31 meters), and 36.5 feet (11 meters) in diameter.
The General Sherman Tree is approximately 2,200 years old. It is not the oldest or the tallest – it is the biggest in terms of volume. How big? Back to the interpretive display, “If the Sherman Tree’s trunk could be filled with water it would provide enough water for 9,844 baths. That’s one bath every day for 27 years.”
If you want to see the tree even closer continue down the trail. The trail has lots of opportunities to see more, learn about and better appreciate this magnificent wonder of nature.
Visitors to the park can easily travel to the tree via the park’s shuttle. The shuttle is a free service offered to park visitors in the summer. An added benefit is that after walking half a mile downhill from the main shuttle stop you can easily jump on another shuttle and continue to see the sights of the park. Walking half a mile is not that far for some, but if you have an elderly relative who is not used to the altitude they will thank you for not having to climb back uphill.
Car parking is available at the main parking lot, but finding space can be a pain in the summer. Take the shuttle to avoid these headaches.
A visit to Mist Falls in Kings Canyon National Park is one of the great sights of the park.
The hike is moderately strenuous with about 800 feet of elevation gain. The round-trip is roughly 9.2 miles and can take up to 5 hours to complete, though we took 6 hours with all of our sightseeing.
Our day began at 8 in the morning. We started at the aptly named, ‘Roads End.’ This circular loop on Highway 180 is literally the ‘end of the road’ as this main Highway in the Kings Canyon stops and doubles back. From this point, the rugged wilderness is enjoyed on foot.
Immense glaciers once ruled this place, everything has been scoured and etched in some way by their great presence. Perhaps the most dramatic result is the great canyon walls that rise from the valley floor several thousand feet.
The sand and gravel trail continued for roughly 2 miles through forests, past great boulders and along the beautiful South Fork of the Kings River. Near the Bubbs Creek Trail junction, we saw a Black Bear. It was a magnificent sight! We quietly continued on our journey and allowed the bear to enjoy his day.
At the Bubbs Creek junction, the trail begins an incline. Here the river can conceal emerald pools hidden like gems along the trail. Quickly these pools turn to gentle rapids then become a series of white-water cascades that continue all the way to the falls two miles up the trail.
We rounded a corner and met a couple who had just returned from Mist Falls. We had seen several backpackers heading into the backcountry but these folks were the first-day hikers we had met. This active couple looked to be in their early 70’s. They must have started their hike at about 6 in the morning. We asked about the distance to the falls, both smiled but one answered, “It just keeps getting better from here.”
Soon afterward we stopped on an expanse of granite. This great monolith provided a good place to rest, drink some water and have a snack. From this place, we could turn around to fully see the valley below us. The view was jaw-dropping. Describing this scene is not possible, only that the word ‘beautiful’ is a weak word to define this spectacular sight. Dominating the view, 3 miles distant, was the uniquely shaped 9,146-foot mountain called, ‘The Sphinx.’
Finally, we reached Mist Falls. We could hear a roar as white-water exploded over the falls and tumbled beneath. The wind moving over the falls carried a fine mist downstream and into the surrounding forests. It was actually chilly. After drinking in this view we continued up the trail to another vantage point. Here the river’s channel created a flume. The flume slammed into a submerged boulder and catapulted a frothy and boiling mass of water 20 feet into the air – then disappeared over the edge of the falls. Further up the trail, we found a great view overlooking the falls. It was a sight. We enjoyed some lunch and this delicious experience.
Every member of the family can enjoy a quick visit to the Roaring River Falls in Kings Canyon National Park.
The falls are beautiful, picturesque and a short distance (.4 miles/.6 Kilometers) from the parking area adjacent to Highway 180, the major road in the canyon. The paved trail leads to an overlook making this a convenient destination for all ages.
Visitors can see about 80 feet of the falls as water tumbles through a gorge and unleashes a loud roar of water and spray into a turquoise pool below. Surprisingly, this visible section is only the lower third of the falls. The rest of the falls remains hidden – except to the imagination. The trail ends at the overlook because of the steep and rugged topography.
The easy accessibility of visiting Roaring River Falls can make the trail crowded and parking hard to find on weekends and during afternoons. If possible, visit the falls in the morning or evening when your family might just be the only people witnessing the sights and sounds of this inspiring place.
If you and your family have the opportunity to visit the General Grant Tree of Kings Canyon National Park you are in for a treat.
Parents can walk among and appreciate the majesty of these ancient and immense Giant Sequoia Redwood trees. Kids will enjoy being outside, playing in an old cabin and walking through the Fallen Monarch, a cave-like giant redwood that is so big that it once stabled 32 U.S. Cavalry horses.
The General Grant Tree is important because it is the world’s third-largest living thing (by volume). The General Grant is 268 feet (81.6 meters) in height and has a circumference of 107.5 feet (32.7 meters)! It is not just big, but ancient; although the exact age of The General Grant is not known the National Park Service’s web site estimates the tree to between 1800 and 2700 years old.
When visiting this tree spend a few minutes contemplating about the civilizations and people who lived about 2,000 years ago – then consider, the General Grant was likely an old tree when those people walked the earth. Wow.
Some ‘fun facts’ displayed on a placard near the General Grant Tree help visitors better understand more about this immense redwood.
If the trunk of the General Grant Tree was a gas tank on a car that got 25 miles per gallon, you could drive around the earth 350 times without refueling.
The General Grant Tree is so wide it would take about twenty people holding hands to make a complete circle around the base.
If the General Grant Tree’s trunk could be filled with sports equipment, it could hold 159,000 basketballs or more than 37 million ping-pong balls.
President Calvin Coolidge proclaimed the General Grant Tree to be the Nation’s Christmas Tree in 1926. In 1956, President Dwight D. Eisenhower designated it as a National Shrine, a living memorial to those who have given their lives for their country.
Many of the Giant Redwood trees in the Sierra Nevada Mountains were named just after the American Civil War. It was at this time the General Grant Tree was named after Ulysses S. Grant the final leader of the Union forces. A short distance away from the Grant Tree is the Robert E. Lee Tree, named for the leader of the Confederate forces. The Lee tree is the 12th largest tree on the planet.
The General Grant Tree and other Giant Sequoias are located in Kings Canyon National Park and the adjacent Sequoia National Park. Visitors to the Grant Tree can enjoy a self-guided trail that is half a mile (.8 kilometers) in length. The trail from the parking area is paved so wheelchairs and strollers are welcome. The location of the Grant Tree is roughly a 1.5 hours drive east of Fresno, California.
The High Peaks Trail takes you through the heart of the Pinnacles rock formations.
The hike can be strenuous and is not recommended for children. Start at the Bear Gulch Day Use Area and walk up the Condor Gulch Trail. This part of the hike offers some great views of the Pinnacles. Stop at the Overlook for some water but also drink in the views.
The trail continues to climb but loops back allowing hikers to see the Bear Gulch area below. In the distance are rolling hills and beautiful views. The trail moves through chaparral and to a sparse, yet beautiful area before joining the High Peaks Trail.
Walking along the High Peaks trail a large monolith rises to the north of the canyon. This is Machete Ridge, below it is the Balconies Cave – but that is another hike. This trail winds through strange finger-shaped Pinnacles rock formations. A sign tells you the trail will become steep and narrow. After a few minutes hikers are rewarded with a vista of the High Peaks.
Continuing down the trail the path becomes steep, then appears to stop. Here the trail becomes footholds carved into the rock; well-worn handrails beckons hikers higher.
At the top of the Pinnacles, stop. Enjoy the view.
As the trail descends keep an eye out for Condors gliding overhead.
The High Peaks trail drops sharply then levels out revealing even more bizarre rock formations that hint at the monument’s volcanic past.
Note: This was produced several years before Pinnacles National Monument was renamed Pinnacles National Park. The references within the article and videos still use the term Monument.
The Balconies Cave and Cliffs loop is a great family hike at Pinnacles National Monument.
Start at the Chaparral Ranger Station at the West Entrance of Pinnacles National Monument to walk this easy to moderate 2.4-mile loop trail. The trail passes house-sized boulders and follows a small creek, gradually the trail funnels into a small canyon and the entrance of the Balconies Cave.
Balconies Cave is generally dry, but in the winter and spring wading might be required as you duck under boulders and scramble through tight squeezes. A flashlight is required. It is easy to imagine that this hidden trail takes you to a lost-world on the other side.
Just past the cave is the Balconies Cliffs Trail junction. Walk up the trail while keeping an eye open for a possible Condor or Turkey Vulture. At the top of the trail take a break and enjoy the breathtaking views of the surrounding area; in the background are the towering Machete Ridge and the immense Balconies Cliffs.
Walking down the path the scenery becomes greener. Enjoy the occasional wildflowers and great views. The Balconies Cliff Trail trail soon reconnects with the Balconies Trail and will return hikers to the parking area. Keep a watchful eye for the small waterfall on the left side of the trail during your return trip.
This is a great family hike at Pinnacles National Park.
Visitors can start at the Bear Gulch Day Use Area and hike up a moderately inclined trail to the entrance of Bear Gulch Cave. The hike to the reservoir is a short hike of 1.3 miles (one way), but it is action-packed.
The trail pleasantly meanders past a creek, between the rocks and through the trees. In about twenty minutes we arrive at the entrance of Bear Gulch Cave.
Inside the cave, we hear water trickling and light can be seen streaming down onto the trail in several sections. As we move into some dark passages the sound of rushing water becomes louder. Then the cave opens up into a large room. A waterfall rushes next to us as we climb steps that take us further into the cave.
Depending on the season the upper section of the cave might be closed to help protect a sensitive species of bat and their young. In our video this section of the cave is open to explorers – here a flashlight is required. We sometimes have to squat down and duck walk through several narrow sections while wading in ankle-deep water. For an eight-year-old (and adults too) this is a lot of fun.
Soon we emerge from the darkness and walk below house-sized boulders that are jammed into the canyon above us. Then we see a staircase chiseled from the rock itself. We walk up and are greeted by a small reservoir. Walking around the reservoir we look back at the dam and several amazing rock features that rise into the sky.