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Top 5s & 10s From California Camping California Camping

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1) Pierce Ranch -
This swath of land is home to more than 300 tule elk and a herd of deer, along with rabbits, fox, bobcats, and a mountain lion that is almost never spotted. Often you can see the elk right from the parking lot, without hiking at all, making it ideal for seniors or children. For those who want to walk, a stellar hike is routed up and down the foothills out to Tomales Point, a spectacular setting with the Pacific Ocean off to the west and serene Tomales Bay to the east.

2) Grizzly Island Wildlife Area -
Grizzly Island, along with the adjacent Suisun Marsh, provides the largest nesting habitat for mallard ducks and is home to a growing herd of tule elk that has been used as seed stock for herds all across California. The wildlife area is networked by small roads, sprinkled with wetlands and grasslands, and finding the elk is always a great fortune hunt. It is best to bring binoculars to spot them, then take your time creeping up for closer views.

3) Waddell Creek Trail Rancho Del Oso -
A hiking and biking trail starts at the coast at Rancho Del Oso, located on Highway 1 south of Ano Nuevo, and meanders inland across a variety of stunning habitats: marsh, lagoon, stream, riparian, meadow, and forest. In the process, you can see ducks, seabirds, steelhead, deer, and squirrels as you venture through these habitats, respectively. A bonus is that cyclists can lock their bikes at the end of the trail, then make the short hike to Berry Creek Falls.

4) China Camp State Park -
The deer seem almost tame here, often bedding down adjacent to the campground parking lot. But it gets even better. A series of trails trace the shoreline, with the best heading out to Jake's Island, providing intimate glimpses of many birds, including egrets, herons, grebes, and during low tides, sandpipers, mud hens and others. In addition to the opportunity to see wildlife, the views of San Pablo Bay can make the North Bay seem so vast and tranquil that the setting is almost surreal.

5) Palo Alto Baylands -
The walk from the interpretive center on out along the slough to the mouth of San Francisquito Creek features scads of ground squirrels playing hide-and-seek, an occasional surprise jackrabbit, along with egrets, avocets, coots, ducks, and other migratory waterfowl. The views of the South Bay are gorgeous on clear days, when it seems as if you could take a flying leap, sail across the water, and land atop Mount Diablo.

6) Pillar Point -
From a small parking lot at the west side of Pillar Point Harbor, just below the radar station, a great trail skirts the west end of the harbor and is routed out to Pillar Point. Here you will find up to a dozen sea lions playing in the kelp beds, as well as a secluded beach. The walk out is short and easy, and presents a chance to see grebes, gulls, and cormorants, and later in the summer, pelicans, shearwaters, and other migratory seabirds.

7) Arrowhead Marsh -
Here is one of the best bird-watching areas on San Francisco Bay, a shoreline/marsh habitat that covers 1,220 acres. Some 30 species of birds are commonly spotted here, including clapper rails, which can be quite elusive at other wetlands. The marsh runs along San Leandro Bay and is part of the Martin Luther King Regional Shoreline, with a paved trail skirting the edge of the marsh. To extend your venture, walk across a bridge at San Leandro Creek and out to Garretson Point.

8) San Pedro Valley Park -
This San Mateo County park is best known for beautiful Brooks Falls and the sweeping views of the coast on the Montara Mountain Trail. But the valley floor is filled with wildlife, especially deer, which are best viewed on warm weekday mornings in early spring when few people visit. If you are lucky, you may see other wildlife, even raccoons at dusk, or perhaps a fox. You stand a better chance of seeing rabbits nibbling at the meadow -- and the hawks that circle overhead looking for them.

9) Fisherman's Wharf -
Sometimes it seems as if the sea lions at the wharf were all dogs in a previous life. After all, they have begging down to a science and put on quite an exciting show (especially for youngsters) treading water, ducking, playing tag -- anything to get your attention. Just like a dog! As summer arrives, so will endangered brown pelicans, so many that it is hard to believe the species was once almost wiped out. They join gulls, cormorants, and other birds looking for a handout, much like humanoid wildlife frequenting San Francisco.

10) Coyote Hills Regional Park -
The Baylands Trail is an easy three-mile walk that features views of the South Bay, crosses four Native American shell mounds, and runs adjacent to a marsh that is a wildlife sanctuary for many waterfowl. But that much is predictable. What is not is how the ground squirrels come popping out of the ground, then scurry off, only to disappear into another of their favorite holes. It can be a great show. For a side trip, take the wooden boardwalk out through the North Marsh to see waterfowl.

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