Day 2: Redwoods and Beaches

For our second day we decided to visit the woods and the ocean. There are several redwoods parks in Bay Area, this time we visited Big Basin Redwoods State Park that is only 40 min drive from Mountain View. The park is very big and offers multiple hiking options. We selected 3 mi Sequoia trail loop.

Big Basin Redwoods State Park

Big Basin Redwoods State Park

Big Basin Redwoods State Park

Big Basin Redwoods State Park

After the forest we drove to the wild beaches in Davenport Area. There are multiple parking areas along the Pacific Coast Highway. Here are some pictures from our stops:

Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz

Shark Fin Cove:

Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz

Most likely the train is not coming 🙂

Santa Cruz

We finished our day of exploring in a big beach city Santa Cruz:

Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz

PS: contact us if you’d like to know more about any of our visited places 🙂

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Day 1: San Francisco

We visited San Francisco multiple times but I never wrote anything about Bay Area so now it’s time to fix this 🙂 Several weeks ago we went to Mountain View for 2 days and I’m going to share what we did this time. It’s just one of multiple versions of how you can spend time in SF and surrounding areas. Since we explored all touristic places in SF this time we decided to visit some of our favorite locations.

First of all, I’m going to share our secret location for morning coffee with the view and free parking – Starbucks in Presidio Park. Even if you don’t like their coffee it’s still a very nice place to start the day. As you can judge from the pictures below the park is beautiful and peaceful.

San Francisco

San Francisco

San Francisco

San Francisco

San Francisco

Another benefit of that place is that it’s really close to the Palace of Fine Arts:

San Francisco

San Francisco

San Francisco

San Francisco

If you are driving I suggest to use Crissy Field parking – it is free and has lots of spots. Even during the summer we didn’t have any issues with finding a spot.

From there we usually walk towards the Golden Gate Bridge, cross it, and go to the viewpoint on the opposite side. It is approximately 7 mi walk but it’s definitely worth doing it.

San Francisco

San Francisco

San Francisco

Some more views along the way:

San Francisco

San Francisco

Views from the bridge:

San Francisco

San Francisco

It is almost impossible to find a parking spot on the other side. But if you walk you have plenty of time to take as many pictures as you’d like 🙂

San Francisco

San Francisco

And views on the way back:

San Francisco

San Francisco

San Francisco

If you have energy for more walking you might consider visiting Pier 39 sea lions and stopping for SF famous clam chowder.

San Francisco

San Francisco

If you woke up really early and still have extra time then you can stop by these painted ladies 🙂

San Francisco

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Day 2

2 Days in Bay Area, California

San FranciscoDuration: 2 days
Mileage: 1000
Starting point: Irvine, CA
States: CA
Budget for 2 people: $300 ($120 gas, $150 food, $30 other)
No hotel expenses since we stayed at a friend’s place

  • Day 1: explore San Francisco (Golden Gate bridge area)
  • Day 2: Big Basin Redwoods State Park, local beaches, Santa Cruz

Day 4: Northern California

Stop 1: Sacramento Downtown

Our plan was to see the downtown and start driving home. We parked next to the State Capitol and started our walk. This is the State Capitol:

Sacramento State Capitol

Sacramento State Capitol

Next stop was the Cathedral of Blessed Sacrament:

Cathedral of Blessed Sacrament

We continued walking in the Old Town for some time and then headed back to our car to drive to our next destination.

Stop 2: 17 Mile Drive

17 mile drive is a scenic drive ($10 entrance fee) on the Monterey Peninsula that is considered one of the most beautiful drives in the world.  It goes to Pebble beach through the Pacific Grove and Del Monte Forest. At the entrance you are given a map with the main landmarks clearly marked. There are many signs along the road so you won’t miss your turn or stop. It is possible to spend the whole day there to see everything, but you can also drive through it quickly depending on your time limit. Of course it is worth driving along all PCH and spending there several days, but if you don’t have that much time then you can do 17 mile drive only to get a feel of what PCH is.

17 Mile Drive, PCH, California

Lots of fat little cuties there 🙂

17 Mile Drive, PCH, California

This picture shows that money can actually buy anything. Large territory of the peninsula is actually a golf course, some of it is on the beach. I’m wondering what’s in these people’s heads? “Let’s go and throw some golf balls into the ocean?” (we actually saw several ball going straight into the ocean).

17 Mile Drive, PCH, California

17 Mile Drive, PCH, California

17 Mile Drive, PCH, California

Famous more than 250 years old Lone Cypress:

17 Mile Drive, PCH, California, Lone Pine  17 Mile Drive, PCH, California

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Day 3: Northern California

Other than our camping area by Summit lake, we wanted to visit Bumpass Hell and Cinder Cone in Lassen Volcanic National Park. However, Bumpass Hell was closed due to snow in the area thus we visited Cinder Cone only. Also, we had some car problems in the morning which cost us 3 hours of time and limited our options.

Bumpass Hell is the largest thermal area in the park, however we’ve been to Yellowstone earlier and we didn’t regret of not seeing it. But we definitely wanted to climb a volcano so we headed to Cinder Cone.

Stop 1: Cinder Cone

First complication is 7-mile gravel road leading to the hiking area. Big cars can make it easily but we were driving 25 mph max – this was the boring part.

Cinder Cone hike is 4 miles round trip and takes you to the top of the volcano. Estimated hike time is 3 hours, but we made it in 2. This is what you’ll see from the top:

Lassen Volcanic Cinder Cone

Lassen Volcanic Cinder Cone

Lassen Volcanic Cinder Cone

Lassen Peak:

Lassen Volcanic Cinder Cone

Lassen Volcanic Cinder Cone

Prospect Peak and Snag Lake:

Lassen Volcanic Cinder Cone

The Fantastic Lava Beds and the Painted Dunes are clearly viewed:

Lassen Volcanic Cinder Cone

It feels really cool walking on the edge of the volcano. Even though it was very hot you don’t feel it due to the height and wind.

Lassen Volcanic Cinder Cone

Now, the challenging part is going up on a steep loose volcanic gravel trail. See that small dots at the top? Those are tiny little people. It took us approximately 20 min to crawl up with several stops to catch up breath. We were the fastest among all other people, but even small kids were able to go up. I would say that most people can make it up in an hour.

Lassen Volcanic Cinder Cone

Lassen Volcanic Cinder Cone

Lassen Volcanic Cinder Cone

This is how the first mile of the hike looks like:

Lassen Volcanic Cinder Cone

Stop 2: Sacramento

As we wasted 3 hours and 200 miles on our car problem fixing we arrived later than planned and decided to rest and save some energy for our last day.

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Day 4

Day 2: Northern California

Stop 1: Fern Canyon

I read in some blogs that this is the best 1-mile hike in California and was skeptical about it. But it is absolutely gorgeous! Btw, Jurassik Park was filmed there.

Fern Canyon is located in the Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, not far from our camping location. Seven different types of ferns grow on the 50 foot high walls, they create perfect environment for some of ancient species and amphibians. Home Creek runs through these walls.

The area is wet due to all running streams. We were prepared to get wet and put on our hiking boots, however, when we got there we saw small wooden footbridges installed across all streams. They made it very easy to walk though the canyon and not get wet. This hike is a 1-mile loop, but we decided to go back the same way to enjoy the canyon once again.

To get to this place take Davison Road from Highway 101. It is 8 miles of unpaved dirt road, but totally worth doing it. There are several streams on the road and you’ll need to cross them. Their depth depends on the season, but they were small this time. We crossed all of them with our small car. Some people left their cars by the stream and hiked additional 1 mile.

Davison Road:

Fern Canyon, California

Beginning of the trail, it is 0.1 mile to the canyon:

Fern Canyon, California

Some of my favorite pictures of the canyon:

Fern Canyon, California

34. Fern Canyon

35. Fern Canyon

36. Fern Canyon

Fern Canyon, California

Tiny waterfalls dripping from the walls:

Fern Canyon, California

Fern Canyon, California

Fern Canyon hike starts from the Gold Bluffs Beach, we stopped there for a stroll and to take these pics:

Gold Bluffs Beach

Gold Bluffs Beach

Stop 2: The Big Tree

This tree is estimated 1500 years old and has a circumference of 68 feet. It is located on the Newton Drury Scenic Parkway near the Prairie Creek Visitor Center. There are no clear signs on the road, we parked next to the first sign saying “Trailhead parking” and we found a sign leading to the tree. There are several larger hikes in the area too.

The Big Tree Prairie Creek Redwoods SP

Stop 3: Crescent / Enderts Beach

On the way to these beaches we also stopped at Klamath River Overlook, but we couldn’t see anything due to the heavy fog. If you take Enderts road along the Crescent Beach you’ll get to the Crescent Beach Overlook point. From there a short 0.75 trail goes to the remote Enderts beach.

Enderts Beach

Enderts Beach

Enderts Beach

Enderts Beach

Stop 4: Howland Hill Road

After Fern Canyon this is my favorite part of our trip. Howland Hill Road is an unpaved one lane 10-mile road in-between  of giant redwoods. Sometimes the road gets very narrow and you need to squeeze in between 2 trees. Passing is a fun part, especially in hiking areas, like Stout Grove. We stopped a little further from that area to avoid traffic and walked to the hiking trails. We made 1-mile loop trail, but there are several longer routes as well.

Howland Hill Road

Howland Hill Road

Howland Hill Road

Not the best picture, but gives an idea of how the road looks like:

Howland Hill Road

Stop 5: Summit Lake North campground in Lassen Volcanic National Park

To avoid repeating the same road we went up to Oregon and drove to Lassen Volcanic National Park via Mount Shasta area. Mount Shasta is seen on the bottom picture. It was unexpected to see it covered in snow. But even more surprisingly was to see more snow in Lassen Volcanic.

Road to Lassen Volcanic

Mount Shasta

Summit North Lake campground is also nice. The only disadvantage is mosquitoes so don’t forget to take anti mosquito spray if you decide to camp there!

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Day 3

Day 1: Northern California

My first comment is that this trip was amazing, but even if we made it in 4 days I highly recommend spending more times in Redwoods and Lassen Volcanic, especially if you are not accustomed to the road trips. These national parks and surrounding areas are very beautiful and deserve more time to be seen and enjoyed in full.

Stop 1: Pacific Coast Highway

We had a lot of energy on our first day and decided to quickly drive through Sonoma county to get to the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) and drive along the coast to the North. Below are some random pics from the stops that we made on PCH.

PCH, California

PCH, California

PCH, California

PCH, California

Stop 2: Fort Bragg Glass Beach

In the past this place used to be a dump, but nature created something beautiful out of it.. This place is unique, but the most disturbing thing is that people who visit it collect and take glass with them. We saw people bringing buckets and plastic bags to grab as many glass pieces as possible. If you visit please leave that place untouched for other people to enjoy too.

Fort Bragg, Glass Beach, California

Fort Bragg, Glass Beach, California

Fort Bragg, Glass Beach, California

This beach is located in the MacKerricher State Park,  and if you walk a little further you’ll see some beautiful landscapes.

Fort Bragg, Glass Beach, California

Fort Bragg, Glass Beach, California

Fort Bragg, Glass Beach, California

Fort Bragg, Glass Beach, California

Fort Bragg, Glass Beach, California

Stop 3: Chandelier drive-thru tree

There are 3 drive-thru trees in Northern California: Chandelier, Shrine and Klamath. Even though these places are tourist traps (they are still fun for kids), we decided to visit one of them. After paying $5 and lining up for approximately half an hour we had a chance to get our picture. Driving thru this tree reminded me of driving narrow Spanish roads 🙂

Chandelier Tree, California

Stop 4: Avenue of the Giants

Avenue of the Giants is a scenic 31 miles road going through Humboldt Redwoods State Park. Founders Grove is the must stop place. Below are some pictures taken in that area, hubby for scale 🙂

Avenue of the Giants, California, Redwoods

Avenue of the Giants, California, Redwoods

Avenue of the Giants, California, Redwoods

Avenue of the Giants, California, Redwoods

Avenue of the Giants, California, Redwoods

Stop 5: Elk Prairie campground

This is now my favorite campground: spacious, private, in the woods, with hot water and fire rings. We arrived around 9pm and still had some sun light to settle our tent and make fire. Here are some pictures of the surrounding area (taken early in the morning):

Elk Prairie Redwoods Camp

Elk Prairie Redwoods Camp

Elk Prairie Redwoods Camp

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Day 2

4 Days in Northern California: Pacific Coast Highway, Redwoods, Lassen Volcanic, Sacramento

Fern Canyon, CaliforniaDuration: 4.5 days
Mileage: ~2000
Starting point: Irvine, CA
States: CA
Budget for 2 people: $450 ($65 for 2 nights in camps, $45* for 2 nights in hotels, $200 gas, $120 food, $20 other)

  • Day 0: drive to San Francisco after work
  • Day 1: drive to Redwoods National Park along Pacific Coast, explore Glass Beach and Avenue of the Giants (420 mi, 10 h overall)
  • Day 2: explore Fern Canyon, Big Tree of Elk Creek Prairie SP, Newton B. Drury Scenic Pkwy, Crescent Beach, Enderts Beach, Howland Hill Road; drive to Lassen Volcanic National Park (400 mi, 9 h overall)
  • Day 3: hike to Cinder Cone; drive to Sacramento (300 mi, 6 h overall)
  • Day 4: explore Sacramento; “17 mile drive”; drive home (600 mi, 10 h)

* We used our Wyndham rewards to book hotels, one night price was $15, second $30

Day 10: From SLC to Denver

We heard from several people that Boulder is a really nice city and we decided to check it our before our flight as we had several hours left. And it is very nice indeed. We liked walking in the downtown and in the University area. Also, hiking in the Chautauqua area is enjoyable as you can see from the pictures below. As there is a University there were hundreds of students everywhere which made the city look vibrant and attractive. So far Boulder looks like one of the best cities to live for young families in the US.

Boulder Colorado

Boulder Colorado

Boulder Colorado

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Day 8: From SLC to Denver

Stop 1: Wind Cave National Park

National Park offers several guided tours to the cave at affordable prices ($12). Timing is very convenient and it was very easy to purchase tickets at the visitor center. We arrived at 11am and were in the cave at 11:30 🙂 I can’t say that this is one of the most beautiful caves I’ve ever seen, but it is very big and people are still surveying it. We spent ~ an hour in the cave.

Wind Cave

Wind Cave

Buffalos are everywhere, sometimes they decide to cross a road in front of you very slowly 🙂

Wind Cave

Stop 2: Badlands National Park

Badlands surprised us in a very nice way: the territory of these unique pinnacles formations and prairies is massive! There are several view points along the scenic road and many different hiking trails which will lead you among the prairies or will give you an opportunity to walk on their tops.

Badlands National Park

Badlands National Park

Badlands National Park

Badlands National Park

Badlands National Park

Badlands National Park

Badlands National Park

Badlands National Park

Badlands National Park

Badlands National Park

Badlands National Park

Badlands National Park

Badlands National Park

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Day 10 (skipping Day 9 as it was a long drive to Denver via Nebraska and Kansas)

Day 7: From SLC to Denver

Stop 1: Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Finally it was warm enough and we were able to use our convertible car as designed 🙂 We lowered the roof and drove through Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

These little cuties are our new obsession! They are so funny so we spent at least half an hour staring at them.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

And some more wild life!

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Stop 2: Mount Rushmore

We went to see Mount Rushmore at 9pm to observe the lightening ceremony. There are a lot of negative reviews about this place, but I think it is cool. I enjoyed visiting the museum and reading historical information. Considering how much efforts it took to build this monument places like this must be appreciated.

Mount Rushmore

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Day 8

Day 5: From SLC to Denver

This is the day when we almost met a grizzly bear on our way 🙂 We decided to explore Many Glacier area and hike to Grinnel Lake. We were told that there can be bears, but we didn’t expect to meet people running away from one. Our way back was full of fear of meeting another bear as we had to walk around a large lake. But other than that the area is breathtaking!

Glacier Many Glacier Grinnel Lake

Glacier Many Glacier Grinnel Lake

Glacier Many Glacier Grinnel Lake

Glacier Many Glacier Grinnel Lake

Glacier Many Glacier Grinnel Lake

Glacier Many Glacier Grinnel Lake

Glacier Many Glacier Grinnel Lake

Glacier Many Glacier Grinnel Lake

Saying good-bye to Montana 🙂

Glacier Montana

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Day 7 (skipping Day 6 as it was only a long drive to North Dakota)