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Favorite Parks and Natural Reserves

Visit some of the most beautiful landscapes and wildlife in the West at these 12 state parks and reserves.

Via Staff
Chapel at Fort Ross State Historic Park, Jenner, Calif., image
Photo credit
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia
Photo caption
The reconstructed chapel at Fort Ross State Historic Park is from a 19th century Russian settlement on the Sonoma coast.

CALIFORNIA Point Lobos State Natural Reserve Carmel-by-the-Sea, Calif. “Beauty can always be found here,” says Eileen Fukunaga of Monterey, Calif. “You might see dolphins, spouting whales, nesting cormorants, or black-crowned night herons. I saw a juvenile sea otter at ease on the rocks filling up on mussels.” (831) 624-4909,

Railtown 1897 State Historic Park Jamestown, Calif. “The steam engines here have starred in many movies,” says Bill Baum of Sonora, Calif. “There are daily roundhouse tours and weekend steam and diesel train rides April through October. The trains are authentic and carefully restored.” (209) 984-3953,

Fort Ross State Historic Park Jenner, Calif. “Compelling history in a spectacular setting,” says Corey Mostafa of Santa Rosa, Calif. “Beyond the 19th-century Russian settlement are views of the rugged Sonoma coast.” (707) 847-3286,

Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve Guerneville, Calif. “Nothing beats the Pioneer Nature Trail here,” says Russell Thompson of Santa Rosa, Calif. “It’s a self-guided, wheelchair-accessible interpretive path through the awesome old trees, one of which is 310 feet tall. There’s even a tree-hugging platform.” (707) 869-2015,

Empire Mine State Historic Park Grass Valley, Calif. “A grand trip back in time,” says Karen Lilly of Nevada City, Calif. “Beyond the wonderful trails is the well-preserved Bourn Cottage, owned by the folks of Filoli fame. You can also see what’s left of the mine itself on one of the docent tours.” (530) 273-8522,

Hendy Woods State Park Philo, Calif. “Great for biking and rollerblading amid awesome redwoods near an exceptional apple farm,” says Sophia Vigeant of Tomales, Calif. “The one-room cabins with wood-burning stoves are cozy in cool weather.” (707) 937-5804,

Jack London State Historic Park Glen Ellen, Calif. “A lovely place to spend a day,” says Tracy Bryant of Sebastopol, Calif. “This was the site of London’s Beauty Ranch, and you can still see his cottage, the House of Happy Walls museum, the Wolf House ruins, and the circular Pig Palace. There are miles of hiking trails and a pond.” (707) 938-5216,

IDAHO Bruneau Dunes State Park Mountain Home, Idaho. “A great place for camping, fishing, hiking, photography, birding, and stargazing,” says Ed Riche of Boise. “Climbing the tallest dune—it’s 470 feet—is a highlight of the park experience.” (208) 366-7919,

Farragut State Park Athol, Idaho. “Named for our navy’s first admiral, David Glasgow Farragut, this park has hiking, biking, and horse trails, campsites, and disc golf courses—all near beautiful Lake Pend Oreille,” says Toni Jacobson of Gresham, Ore. “You’ll see evidence of the park’s use as a naval training site. The statue of Mack, as it’s known, honors the sailors who trained here.” (208) 683-2425,

Oregon Smith Rock State Park Terrebonne, Ore. “A steep but worthwhile trail leads down to the Crooked River,” says Maralee Gerke of Madras, Ore. “On one side is the river, alive with ducks, geese, and occasional muskrats. On the other are dangling rock climbers, their voices echoing on the canyon walls.” (541) 548-7501,

Wallowa Lake State Recreation Area Joseph, Ore. “I enjoy the beauty of the alpine lake,” says MaryJo Monroe of Portland. “My son gets a thrill on the nearby tram that travels 4,000 feet up Mount Howard. Bring your camera.” (541) 432-4185,

Shore Acres State Park Charleston, Ore. “Walk to the seaside cliffs and view magnificent waves crashing on the rocks below,” writes Dewey Day of Milwaukie, Ore. “After listening for a bit, follow a trail through a wooded area to the tidy formal gardens. They’ll quiet your spirit and refresh your heart.” (541) 888-3732,

This article was first published in March 2012. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.