Warm weather and longer days mean spring is here and it’s time to head outdoors. Fortunately, Orange County is perfectly located near several national parks and forests, each with their own unique natural amenities. In addition to miles of hiking, biking and horse riding trails, rock climbing and hunting are offered at some of these gorgeous parks. Some of them are even conveniently placed within a few minutes of some of SoCal’s bright sunny beaches. There’s something for everyone at these must-visit national parks near OC.
Joshua Tree National Park
74485 National Park Drive
Twentynine Palms, CA 92277
Located at the meeting point of the Colorado and Mojave Deserts, Joshua Tree National Park offers perhaps the most unique experience on this list of parks. The wide open desert sky is absolutely perfect for stargazing, and the core of the Milky Way can be viewed in the predawn hours without any light pollution from the city. Rock climbing is another activity featured at Joshua Tree that is not available at many national parks near OC. Out in the desert, a different variety of birds and wildflowers are on display, so consider bringing binoculars or a field journal on your hike, horseback ride or nature walk through the park.
San Bernardino National Forest
602 S. Tippecanoe Ave.
San Bernardino, CA 92408
In addition to just being among some of the most beautifully forested mountains in the nation, there is a seemingly endless list of things to do in the San Bernardino National Forest. Fishing and game hunting are available for those interested in waterfowl, mule deer, quail and turkey. For hikers, the historic Pacific Crest Trail runs through the park, and there are countless additional trails to explore during your stay. Bicycling and horseback riding are a couple of exciting park options, and San Bernardino National Forest touts one of the best OHV systems in Southern California.
Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area
20825 Entrada Road
Topanga, CA 90290
For the ultimate Southern California park adventure, the Santa Monica Mountains have it all. Mountains, canyons and nearby beaches provide plenty of things to do, including rock climbing, biking and hiking and camping along the famously rigorous Back Bone Trail (application required). Several trails lead right to some of SoCal’s famous sunny beaches, where visitors can surf or just relax on the sand and soak in the sun. Camping is available within the park, or for those who wish for a little more comfort, the park is located adjacent to several urban areas where more convenient lodging can be found.
Related: Best Hiking Trails In Orange County
Angeles National Forest
701 N. Santa Anita Ave.
Arcadia, CA 91006
With campground and RV camping and cabins to rent, the Angeles National Forest offers any kind of housing accommodations for a refreshing trip to the outdoors. For serious huntsmen, firearm and bow hunting are available in designated areas and appropriate hunting seasons, in addition to fishing in the various rivers and streams. Visitors with a need for off-road speed can explore the extensive OHV trails and open areas. Guests who like to take things a little slower can hike, bike or ride horses on over 500 miles of trails, including almost 200 miles of the famous Pacific Crest Trail. Warmer spring weather also means it’s time to dive into water sports like boating and swimming at Pyramid Lake.
Cleveland National Forest
10845 Rancho Bernardo Road, Suite 200
San Diego, CA 92127
Just two hours south of Orange County lies the gorgeous and expansive Cleveland National Forest. Along with the campground and RV camping, more natural or “dispersed” camping outside of the more developed areas is allowed as long as a ranger gives approval. Bring binoculars and a camera to take advantage of two official scenic observation sites and take breathtaking photos of the gorgeous wildflowers and expansive vistas viewed while hiking or biking along the extensive trail system. A large number of interpretive areas can help visitors learn more about the landscape and wildlife of the park, and the exciting Explore the Stars program is held each summer and fall.