The Ultimate Summer Bucket List for Outdoor Adventurers in Northern California

Photo by John Gibbons

It’s time to prepare for summer in Northern California, meaning we put away our rain coats and boots and switch them out for sunglasses and air conditioning. While we love all seasons in NorCal, summer gives you the chance to see some of the most beautiful outdoor destinations on the planet.

From camping to visiting the lake to chasing waterfalls, there’s something for everyone during the summer months. Here’s the ultimate summer bucket list that will keep your heart happy in Northern California:

Backpack the Trinity Alps Wilderness

Photo by Miguel Vieira

The Trinity Alps Wilderness, located just northwest of Redding, is a gorgeous mountain range providing backpackers with stunning views, pristine high-alpine lakes and unmatched wilderness isolation. It’s the perfect place for an outdoor adventure in the summer months.

Learn about the Trinity Alps Wilderness

Summit Lassen Peak

It’s hard to beat the experience you get when you’re standing at the summit of a significant mountain, especially when it’s an active volcano. The hike to the top of Lassen Peak is not a strenuous as one might think and you will experience amazing views of Lassen Volcanic National Park and NorCal.

This hike is much easier than the hike to Shasta Bally and Mount Shasta. It can be fun hike for the family and can be a great hike at night during a full moon.

Learn about Climbing a Volcano: Hiking to the Summit of Lassen Peak

Ride a Redwood Rail Bike

There’s no place on the planet like the giant redwoods of Northern California. Towering high above the ground, these ancient trees are a testament to the power of nature and provide onlookers views of the largest trees on the planet. And there’s a way to enjoy these redwoods up-close-and-personal with the most unique adventure in Northern California.

The Rail Bikes are a two-person operated mini-railroad bike that will push you along the beautiful train line manually using pedals. Departing from Fort Bragg, a guide will lead you and your small group on your pedal-powered vehicles on a roughly one-and-a-half hour trip, with a 30 minute stopover at Glen Blair Junction, where you can relax or hike the trail into the redwoods.

Learn more about the Redwood Rail Bikes

Kayak Under the Moon at Whiskeytown Lake

The kayak tours on Whiskeytown Lake are one of the most popular activities in the park. The kayak tours operate out of the Oak Bottom Marina and last 2-2.5 hours covering 2-4 miles with frequents rest stops. All equipment is provided and single paddlers may be partnered with another person in a tandem kayak.

Once a month, visitors can participate in the full-moon kayak tour, with rare views of the lake from the natural lunar light. it’s become one of the most popular tours in the park.

Learn about Moonlight Kayaking on Whiskeytown Lake

Hike to the Top of Half Dome

Rising nearly 5,000 feet above Yosemite Valley and 8,800 feet above sea level, Half Dome is a Yosemite National Park icon and a great challenge to many hikers. Despite an 1865 report declaring that it was “perfectly inaccessible, being probably the only one of the prominent points about the Yosemite which never has been, and never will be, trodden by human foot,” George Anderson reached the summit in 1875, in the process laying the predecessor to today’s cable route.

Today, thousands of people reach the summit. For most, it is an exciting, arduous hike; for a few, it becomes more of an adventure than they wanted.

Read about the Thrilling Hike to the Top of Yosemite’s Half Dome

Explore the Lush Walls of Fern Canyon


Walking through Fern Canyon, hikers are greeted with 40-50 foot high walls covered in five fingered ferns, sword ferns, and delicate lady ferns. As you can tell, it was aptly named. During the summer months, small wooden footbridges cross the stream that meanders through the canyon. Still, occasionally hikers will be greeted with slick logs or bridges whose support has eroded away, and droop into the cold water. In other words, be prepared to potentially get your feet wet.

It is like walking back in time, and indeed films set in the prehistoric age have been filmed here. Savvy film buffs (or probably casual cinephiles as well) know that The Lost World: Jurassic Park was filmed here, in addition to two dinosaur documentaries produced by the BBC and Imax.

Learn more about Exploring Humboldt’s Illustrious Fern Canyon

Summit Mount Shasta

Flickr/Rafael Edwards

At 14,179 feet, Mt. Shasta is the second-highest summit in the Cascade Range and an active volcano to boot.

Climbing Mount Shasta is the ultimate badge of honor in NorCal. It’s a grueling hike up steep terrain with changing weather patterns and snow conditions. Add to that the lack of oxygen, it’s easily the hardest hike/climb in our area.

Learn about Climbing Mount Shasta

Take a Stroll Through the Cypress Tree Tunnel

Photo by Intricate Explorer

There are so many beautiful places in Northern California that are prime destinations for photographers – Mount Shasta, Burney Falls, Lake Tahoe, Yosemite – but a long row of Monterey cypress trees in the Point Reyes National Seashore might be the best of them all.

Located just north across the bay from San Francisco, the Point Reyes National Seashore is known for it’s charming shoreline, active wildlife, historical lighthouse and Pacific Ocean waterfall (Alamere Falls). But if you’ve seen a photo from the area, it most likely came from one of the most Instagrammable destinations in NorCal – The Cypress Tree Tunnel.

Learn more about the Cypress Tree Tunnel

Find a Whitewater Rafting Adventure

There seems to be no end of reputable rafting companies in NorCal and southern Oregon eager to get you in their boats, which is why we haven’t attempted to include a list here. There’s just too good a chance we might leave somebody out. A good way to get started shopping for the right trip with the right company is to surf the web. Many rafting companies have elaborate websites with tons of information, maps and splashy, whitewater photographs. Personally, when my life is hanging in the balance I like to go with professionals.

As the mercury climbs into triple-digits of the summer season, keep in mind there are stimulating, active things you can be doing to keep cool. A day spent whitewater rafting is a day of fun and enjoyment not soon forgotten.

Here are 5 Epic White Water Rafting Trips in Northern California

Spend a Summer Day in Bidwell Park

It’s not a far reach to say this is how many people in Northern California view Chico in the summer. If it wasn’t for Bidwell Park, I would be right there with them, but the 2500 acre park changed Chico from a place I was trying to get away from to somewhere I didn’t want to leave.

Bidwell Park starts on the outskirts downtown and sprawls into the mountains behind Chico, unravelling Big Chico Creek and creating a prime destination for outdoor junkies with a broad scope of interests. Whether you live in Chico or the surrounding NorCal area, Bidwell Park is worth a visit.

Here’s a Complete Guide to Bidwell Park – Chico’s Massive Outdoor Utopia

Cruise the Avenue of the Giants

Sitting in in the middle of the Humboldt Redwoods State Park is the Avenue of the Giants, a 31-mile two lane stretch of old Highway 101 that features some of the most beautiful scenes of Northern California’s world-famous redwoods.

This roadway has become a popular destination for roadtrippers to get a quick glimpse of the beauty of the North Coast without even having to leave their vehicle. The massive trees aligning the highway are a portion of the largest remaining stand of virgin redwoods in the world.

Learn more about the Avenue of the Giants

Go On An Underground Adventure

Northern California is full of beautiful outdoor gems. From active volcanos to massive waterfalls, there’s so much to explore above the ground. There’s also plenty to see underground.

The wilderness areas surrounding Redding are what is known as the Shasta Cascade, which hosts a unique location on the valley floor below Mount Shasta, Lassen Peak and the Trinity Alps. The geologic and volcanic history of the area is a fascinating endeavor that you can see up close if you try hard enough. From the tourist-heavy destinations to the hidden gems, there are a few different options to go underground and see the rich science of the area.

Check out 5 Underground Adventures in the Shasta Cascade

Camp in the Desolation Wilderness

(Note: Many areas of the Desolation Wilderness were burned in the Caldor Fire. Please check restrictions before planning your hike)

The Desolation is a 64,000-acre playground crisscrossed by hiking trails, running water and a generous number of alpine lakes of all sizes bursting with wild brook trout. Some of the lakes also contain rainbows or brown trout, and even a few golden trout, our California state fish.

Access is easy even if the hiking isn’t necessarily. There are trail heads on all four sides of the Desolation so picking the best access might take some research depending on where you’d like to go. Once you’ve hiked up onto the plateau (which runs between 6,500 and almost 10,000 feet elevation), the landscape is vast as trails weave between dense ancient forests and huge expanses of granite sheets.

Learn more about An Epic Backpacking Adventure in Tahoe’s Desolation Wilderness

Visit One of NorCal’s Beautiful Waterfalls

Sorry TLC, we like chasing waterfalls.

In Northern California, we are rich with beautiful waterfalls from Yosemite all the way to the Oregon border. Hundreds of waterfalls call NorCal their home and we’ve been on a quest to find the best waterfalls the North State has to offer. Needless to say, the variety of waterfalls in our area is stunning.

Learn about the 20 Most Beautiful Waterfalls in Northern California

Go on a Houseboat Trip on Shasta Lake

The sun is shining and the heat is beginning to roll into NorCal which means it’s almost time to spend our days cooling off and having some fun on the lake. 

Now, everyone knows the best way to spend a day on the lake is on a houseboat. You simply can’t argue otherwise. When I think of houseboats on the lake I think of family, friends, water-sports, BBQ’s, sun-tan lotion and waking up with the sunrise. So it’s time to get excited to spend your summer days on Shasta Lake.

Learn about the World’s Greatest Houseboat Trip on Shasta Lake

Kayak Lake Tahoe on a Clear Kayak

Photo: Clearly Kayak

The water of Lake Tahoe is world famous for its clarity. Ever since humans began settling in the area in the late-1800’s, people have marveled at being able to see up to 100-feet down in the water. The best way to get a front-row seat to this magical water? On a transparent kayak.

A tour company near South Lake Tahoe, aptly named Clearly Tahoe, provides guests with tours of the shoreline of Lake Tahoe in their beautiful clear kayaks, allowing visitors to experience the beauty of the lake above and below the water. Among the tour offerings with Clearly Tahoe is their Scenic Shoreline Tour, Sunset Tours and LED Stargazing Tour.

Learn more about clear kayaking on Lake Tahoe

Have a wonderful summer in Northern California!

Active NorCal

Telling the Stories of Northern California


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