After being cooped up for months, it seems everyone had the same idea this summer: get in the car and experience the natural beauty and grandeur of a national park! Many of these protected areas saw record attendance—all the more reason to plan a visit for the off-season. From stunning waterfalls and towering redwoods to mountain vistas and epic sand dunes, each of our picks have unique charms, and all are within an eight-hour drive of Orange County. It’s time to tick these iconic spots off your travel wish list!
✓Biking ✓History ✓Scenic Drives ✖Proximity
440 miles from Orange County
“The red rock backdrop dazzled us as brutal rapids nose-dived off the cliffs into pools surrounded by abundant green piñon-juniper forests and fiery peach and coral sandstone canyons carved by flowing rivers and streams.”
— Karl Wiggins, author
Whether you’re looking to hike, bike, enjoy a craft brew, or even just drive around with no plan, Zion National Park has it all—and no matter what you choose, you’ll see incredible views from every angle.
For a fairly quick hike, Zion Canyon Overlook Trail is 1 mile out and back with 163 feet in elevation gain. It offers the perfect spot to take in the sunset. For a longer and more difficult hike, the Narrows gives you the unique experience of hiking through water, which can be as shallow as your ankles or as deep as your chest depending on the time of year. There are some sections of the hike with banks along the side of the water so you can get out and take a break if needed. The hike can be as short as you wish or as long as 16 miles. Be sure to rent equipment beforehand; places such as Zion Outfitter offer dry pants, a dry bib, a walking stick, water shoes, and more with prices ranging from $29 to $55 for the day.
Want a more upscale camping experience? Zion Wildflower gives you the choice of staying in a luxury tent complete with a bed, furniture, decor, and shower amenities ($202 and up), a covered wagon ($209 and up), or a stylish bungalow
($202 and up). The site also has complimentary Wi-Fi, private bathrooms and showers, fire pits, and barbecue and picnic areas.
For breakfast, head to FeelLove Coffee for drinks such as the Buddy Holly coffee with white chocolate and agave ($5.50 to $7.95). You can also grab a vegan sausage breakfast burrito ($11.95). For dinner, try Zion Canyon Brew Pub where you can enjoy a Foray pomegranate sour ($7 a pint), house-marinated wings ($12), and an Elevated Elk burger with a side of chimichurri fries ($19). You can’t go wrong with the rosemary garlic pizza ($16.95) or Thai chicken pizza ($18.95) at Zion Pizza & Noodle Co.
A little more than an hour drive from Zion, Bryce Canyon National Park offers incredible views of its hoodoos, which were formed millions of years ago. While there are plenty of trails to choose from, many of them are connected, so you can pick several to combine and hike during your visit. If you go during the winter, you’ll see snow on the peaks of the hoodoos—a stunning sight. Be aware that there might be ice on certain parts of the trail, so walk carefully. If you’d rather enjoy Bryce Canyon by bike, you can choose to do so on the paved surfaces.