We have fallen heirs to the most glorious heritage a people ever received, and each one must do his part if we wish to show that the nation is worthy of its good fortune.Theodore Roosevelt
An avid outdoorsman and adventurer, boasting a larger-than-life personality and dispensing more than a few memorable witticisms, 26th President of The United States Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt is known for many things.
He was once shot in the chest during a speech and refused to yield the floor to be medically attended to until his speech was finished.
He boxed on the White House lawn and pounded his chest at world leaders, proclaiming his “speak softly and carry a big stick” credo, though few would ever accuse Roosevelt of speaking softly.
His political style and straightforward, plainspoken bluntness could easily be seen as the root of the flower of today’s performative combat politics.
Yet his greatest legacy is not his style but his substance and his heart, and Teddy Roosevelt’s heart was always with nature.
After becoming president in 1901, Roosevelt used his authority to protect wildlife and public lands by creating the United States Forest Service (USFS) and establishing 150 national forests, 51 federal bird reserves, four national game preserves, five national parks, and 18 national monuments by enabling the 1906 American Antiquities Act. During his presidency, Theodore Roosevelt protected approximately 230 million acres of public land.
The 26th president’s heritage is seen all throughout the United States, from the Badlands of North Dakota to the Everglades of Florida, The Smoky Mountains of Eastern Tennessee to the deserts, ridges, and valleys of California.
As the most populous state and one of the most diverse topographically, California is a nature lover’s dream come true.
California’s 28 National Parks are as diverse as the over 40 million visitors they receive every year. Joshua Tree National Park, Sequoia National Park, Death Valley National Park, Kings Canyon National Park, Pinnacles National Park, Yosemite National Park, Lassen Volcanic National Park, Redwood National Park, and Channel Islands National Park are some of the most popular.
If you’ve ever wanted to take that ultimate adventurer road trip to the tallest peaks, densest, most majestic forests, and the stunningly beautiful deserts the Golden State has to offer, keep reading for our guide to some of the highlights:
JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL PARK
Two distinct desert ecosystems, the Mojave and Colorado come together in Joshua Tree National Park. A fascinating and diverse variety of plants and animals make their homes in a land sculpted by strong winds and occasional torrents of rain. Dark night skies, a rich cultural history, and surreal geologic features add to the wonder of this vast wilderness in southern California.
One particular highlight for every visitor is a drive or hike up to Keys View at sunset.
The surrounding vista inspires awe, wonder, and smallness of place in a vast panorama of mountainous majesty that stretches all the way south to the Salton Sea. This destination should be top priority for all who venture into this desert wonderland a mere 147 miles east of Los Angeles.
REDWOOD NATIONAL PARK
Most people know Redwood as home to the tallest trees on Earth (or maybe the setting for the Forest Moon of Endor from George Lucas’ Return of the Jedi). The park also protects vast prairies, oak woodlands, wild riverways, and nearly 40 miles of rugged coastline. People have lived in this verdant landscape since time immemorial and it remains a breathtaking landscape that continues to be popular among nature travelers, drawing millions of visitors to Northern California every year.
DEATH VALLEY NATIONAL PARK
While it may not be the most welcoming name for a national park, desert lovers will find Death Valley as a must-see destination while touring the parks of California. Located just four hours north of L.A. and two hours west of Las Vegas, this seeming no-mans-land, with its steady drought and record heat, makes Death Valley a land of extremes. Yet, each extreme has a striking contrast. Towering peaks are frosted with winter snow. Rare rainstorms bring vast fields of wildflowers. Lush oases harbor tiny fish and refuge for wildlife and humans. Despite its forbidding name, a great diversity of life survives in Death Valley.
YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK
Some of the more recognizable sights and attractions of California’s possibly most famous park are located just a hop, skip, and a drive east from the state capital of Sacramento.
The park is not just a great valley, but a shrine to human foresight, the strength of granite, the power of glaciers, the persistence of life, and the tranquility of the High Sierra. First protected in 1864, Yosemite National Park is best known for its waterfalls, but within its nearly 1,200 square miles, you can find deep valleys, grand meadows, ancient giant sequoias, a vast wilderness area, and much more.
Yosemite is a bucket list park while traveling the Golden State, whether you’re looking to camp, backpack through the wilderness, take a day trip to see the giant rock formations, or, for the more adventurous and skilled, maybe you’d like to take a crack at Half-Dome for a magnificent view from one of the park’s most famous slabs of granite.
These few highlighted examples are just a taste of the wonder and beauty California’s National Parks have to offer. To quote our forebears, imbued with the most American of all pioneer spirits: “Go west, young man.”