Students groups studying science, biology, ecology and other related topics may want to consider planning an eco tour of California. This tour would encompass some of the most well known national forests in the United States. Students would be able to see the California Redwoods up close and visit sites relevant to marine science. A well-rounded trip might also include a visit to San Francisco, where there are natural areas to explore nearby and within the city limits.
Eco trips are a great opportunity for active learning about the natural world. Visiting some of California’s natural treasures will impress upon students the importance of preserving these and other areas in the U.S. Following are some suggested itinerary stops for an eco tour of California, along with brief descriptions of what each place has to offer.
Sequoia National Park
Located in the southern Sierra Nevada Mountains, Sequoia National Park offers the ecology or science student a rare look at some of the largest mountain ranges in the West (rising to heights of 12,000 feet or greater) and some of the oldest and most well- preserved sequoia redwood trees. Up until the late 1700s and early 1800s Sequoia National Park was inhabited by two different tribes of native Americans: The Monache and Yokuts. Students exploring the park will learn about their history and see their artifacts. In the late 1700s the Spanish explored the region. Later came hunters, trappers, loggers and miners. By 1890 this region became Sequoia National Park. Today it is called Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks – both in the same vicinity of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. In addition to a rich history and some very special trees, the Sequoia National Park is also an excellent site for the study of geology with some unique features of the mountains, canyons and waterways.
Yosemite National Park
The famous naturalist John Muir was one of the main forces behind the creation of Yosemite National Park. Yosemite is approximately 200 miles from San Francisco and just over 300 miles from Los Angeles. The park encompasses 1,169 square miles and is also home to many larger than life redwood trees. Almost 95% of the park is designated as wilderness – making it a wonderful location for the study of ecology, biology, geology and other scientific subjects. The park has many dramatic waterfalls, with Yosemite Falls being the tallest in North America at a height of 2,425 feet. The highest peak in Yosemite is Mount Lyell at 13,114 feet; the most well-known is Half Dome, at 8,842 feet — this famous peak was cut in half by a glacier. The park offers a great deal of bio- diversity with many different plant and animal species, some which are unique to the park itself.
Cowell Redwoods State Park
At this California State Park, students can take a self-guided nature path tour to become familiar with the flora and fauna in the area. Here students will experience the wonder and magnificence of walking in old growth woods. There are a variety of trees in the Cowell forest that have never been cut. Some of the trees in this park are 1400-1800 years old. These may include Redwoods and Douglas fir, Mandrone, Oak and Ponderosa pines. The tallest tree in the state park is 285 feet and approximately 16 feet wide. Students will see the San Lorenzo River and visit the nature center and bookstore to learn more about the trees they see.
Monterey Bay Aquarium
A visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium offers students the chance to see the marine life that lives and feeds near the California coastline up close. Some of the sea creatures that inhabit the aquarium include octopus, sea otters, pink flamingos and other wading birds and penguins. A visit to the Aviary offers a look at birds and animals that live near the ocean’s edge, including: the leopard shark, sand crab, bat ray, bay ghost shrimp, North American plovers and red phalarope. For student trips designed for seeking a more interactive adventure, group leaders can plan a sailing trip or surface scuba diving adventure with the Aquarium dive staff in the Great Tide Pool.
Morro Bay State Park
Students can further explore species that live on the California coast by taking a glimpse at marine life in the Morro Bay and lagoon. The group can visit the Morro Bay State Park Museum and learn about the cultural history of the Morro Bay area, Native American settlements that once existed there and the unique geology of the bay. Groups can visit the saltwater marsh where they will have the opportunity to watch native birds in their natural habitat. Another suggested stop near Morro Bay is the Museum of Natural History where they can opt to take a nature walk, view the exhibits, and learn about the Chumash and how they used native plants in their diets and daily lives. The Museum of Natural history tour is recommended because it will further deepen students’ knowledge of the area.
If student groups have time in their schedule and wish to visit an urban area, San Francisco offers Twin Peaks and Fort Point National Historic Site, and other eco tour options. They can also visit well-known sites, such as the downtown district, Chinatown, Cannery Row and other places.
Eco tours are a rewarding experience for both teacher and student, because this type of trip is a great complement to learning through reading. Teachers interested in advance preparation for trips can visit the websites of locations discussed in this article for learning modules and other materials.