California is arguably one of the most well-known states in America (and perhaps the entire world), with famous attractions, landmarks, scenery, and no fewer than nine national parks.
However, California also has plenty of amazing, unique things to do and see that won’t pop up on “best of” lists. Northern California, in particular, is home to countless hidden gems, including black sand beaches, mysterious shipwrecks, a replica of the African Serengeti, and much more.
Whether you only have a few days or you’re planning a longer road trip, here are 10 epic things that belong on your Northern California bucket list.
10 Things To Put on Your Northern California Bucket List
These are 10 of the best things to do in Northern California to get the full outdoor adventure you’re seeking!
1. Lassen Volcanic National Park
We know — it seems odd for a national park to appear on a list of unique things to do in northern California. However, Lassen Volcanic is actually one of the most underrated parks in the entire country. It’s often compared to Iceland, with lava rocks, hissing steam vents, bubbling sulphuric mud pits, and of course, the park’s centerpiece: 10,457-foot-tall Lassen Peak.
2. Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest
Near the town of Bishop at over 10,000 feet in elevation, you’ll find Northern California nature at its finest: an eerily beautiful forest of gnarled trees. These aren’t just any trees, though — they’re among the oldest living organisms on the planet. Many are over 4,000 years old, and the oldest is over 5,000! The pine forest is a great destination for hiking, biking, nature photography, camping, and stargazing.
3. Point Reyes National Seashore
If you’re looking for outdoor activities in Northern California, Point Reyes should be at the top of your list. Located in Marin County just north of San Francisco, Point Reyes is full of endless adventure and incredible scenery. There are countless hiking trails, secluded beaches, and the iconic Point Reyes Lighthouse. Nearby, don’t miss the Point Reyes shipwreck in Tomales Bay or the cypress tree tunnel.
4. Trees of Mystery
There are many places to see California’s famous redwoods, but how many of them also have 50-foot-tall statues of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox? This alone would be worthy of a spot on any Northern California bucket list, but the redwoods at Trees of Mystery are equally fantastic. Walk the tree canopies on a suspension bridge, hike the trails, or ride through the treetops in a gondola.
5. Black Sands Beach, Shelter Cove
Situated along the spectacular Lost Coast in Mendocino and Humboldt Counties, Black Sands Beach is one of the best things to do in Northern California. The ocean is too rough for swimming, but the beach is walkable and there are tide pools to explore. Be sure to check a tide chart to plan your visit around low tide!
6. Paddling the Russian River, Sonoma County
Wine Country is hardly an off-the-beaten-path destination, but most visitors don’t experience it like this. Head to the Guerneville stretch of the Russian River, where you can kayak or go paddleboarding among the vineyards. If you don’t have your own, several outfitters rent equipment or offer guided trips.
7. Safari West African Wildlife Preserve, Sonoma
Also in Sonoma County, Safari West African Wildlife Preserve is one of the most unique things to do in Northern California. Here, you’ll find giraffes, rhinos, and antelope roaming freely through the plains. You can also take an open-air Jeep tour, but fair warning — you’ll be certain that you’re in the Serengeti, not California!
8. South Yuba River State Park
As far as outdoor activities in Northern California go, this state park has a little of everything. Visitors can hike or bike, swim, fish, see four historic bridges (including the Bridgeport Covered Bridge, the longest covered wooden bridge in the world!), or even pan for gold along the riverbank.
9. McArthur-Burney Falls
It’s fair to say that the “eighth wonder of the world” should be on your Northern California bucket list. The 129-foot waterfall near Redding seems to come out of nowhere in a remote part of the state. Take the short path to the overlook, then head down to the base of the falls. If possible, visit in spring or summer, when the falls are at peak flow.
10. Black Chasm Caverns
When most people think of Northern California nature, beaches and rocky sea cliffs come to mind. Black Chasm Caverns proves there’s very literally more than meets the eye, with massive rooms of stalactites, stalagmites, and rare helictite crystals. The only way to experience the caverns is via a 50-minute walking tour, and tickets are first-come, first-served.
Take a Northern California Bucket List Road Trip
With so many unique things to do in Northern California, the best way to experience them is on a road trip. Even better, why not get a Cruise America RV rental and bring the comforts of home along? With several convenient pickup locations in Northern California, it couldn’t be easier to hit the road and start checking things off your bucket list!