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5 Best California Road Trip Destinations to Beat the Crowds

The Golden State is an outdoor paradise from the beautiful coastline to desert landscapes and some of the tallest mountains in the country. It’s fair to say that California has endless adventures, and a road trip may be the best way to visit the state.

The only downside for some may be the crowds. Places like Yosemite get gridlocked with traffic, while campsites in places like Joshua Tree book up months in advance. However, plenty of outdoor destinations are off the beaten path.

So, grab your map and some sunblock as we help you plan the best California road trip.

5. Start in the Desert at Anza-Borrego State Park

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Wildflowers in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. (Source: Getty Images)

In far eastern San Diego County, you’ll find yourself at Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. At 935 square miles, it’s not only the largest state park in California but the biggest state park in the 48 contiguous states. 

The park covers a large part of the Colorado Desert and is a great destination, especially in the winter when you can avoid the extreme heat. The park contains 500 miles of dirt roads, 12 wilderness areas and endless hiking trails.

Plus, you can hike the Goat Canyon Trestle, a 200-foot-tall wooden railroad bridge.

4. See the Joshua Trees in Mojave National Preserve

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A Joshua Tree in Mojave National Preserve. (Source: Getty Images)

Located between Death Valley and Joshua Tree National Parks sits Mojave National Preserve. The area is sure to be quieter than the two popular parks, but you can still experience the plants and animals of the desert. 

Mojave also contains miles of hiking trails and a long off-road drive for four-wheel drive vehicles. 

The protected area also contains multiple first-come, first-serve campsites. 

3. Get Close to Yosemite at Sierra National Forest

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A lake in the Sierra National Forest. (Source: Getty Images)

Yosemite National Park is one of the most beautiful destinations in the entire National Park Service. However, if you don’t like waiting in traffic to start a hike, you may want to avoid it.

Located just south of Yosemite is the Sierra National Forest. The forest has plenty of recreation opportunities, including sections of the Sierra Nevada with snowtopped peaks. Visitors to the area will find thick pines and beautiful lakes to enjoy.

Another benefit of Sierra National Forest is plenty of pick-your-own dispersed campsites. This takes out some of the headaches of early reservations, and the best part is if you still want to go to Yosemite National Park, it’s an easy day trip.

2. See the Redwoods in Big Basin State Park

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A heavily forested road in Big Basin Redwoods State Park. (Source: Getty Images)

There are a lot of destinations you can see towering trees on a California road trip, but Big Basin Redwoods State Park may be just a bit quieter. 

Located 36 miles north of Santa Cruz, this Bay Area destination has plenty of old-growth redwoods for you to see. Plus, the park is jam-packed with trails and some great loops to get you up close to these impressive trees.

Unlike some other San Francisco area redwood destinations, Big Basin also has nearly 150 campsites to reserve online before you go, so you can find an easy place to stay for the day.

1. End Your California Road Trip on the Coast at King Range National Conservation Area

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A hiker on the coast. (Source: Getty Images)

Protected by the Bureau of Land Management, King Range National Conservation Area covers 35 of the coastline in northern California.

The incredible destination lets you stand on the beach within walking distance of the mountains. It’s a paradise for surfers and mountain bikers at the same time.

While there, don’t be surprised to see seals, an extensive range of birds and maybe even a black bear.

The area has multiple campgrounds, and reservations are not required. However, some of them with facilities will charge an $8 fee.

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