California is home to girls who skateboard, ski, and surf with the big boys—and, like Orange County skateboarder Bella Kenworthy, frequently beat them at their own games.
That adventurous spirit is contagious too. On California’s beaches, mountains, deserts, and rivers, there are blood-pumping activities that any half-pint can embrace—and grow in the process. Rafting trips, for instance, “are a great way to learn about the natural environment and our cultural heritage,” says Steve Markle, of the Angels Camp-based tour operator O.A.R.S. “Parents can watch as their kids gain confidence and learn to work together in the boat.” Plus, he adds, “there’s no Wi-Fi on the river, so rafting trips are a great way to interact with each other.”
Want to inspire your thrill-seeking daughter? Here are eight great places to cultivate her love of adventure.
Camping under the redwoods
Redwood National Park, with its tucked-in-the-woods campsites in the shadow of gigantic trees, is great for the outdoorsy kid who is ready to go beyond car camping. If either you or she wants a few more amenities, go to area state parks, like Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park near Orick; stay in the aptly named Elk Prairie area and you might get close-up views of huge Roosevelt elk.
Train to be a volcanologist
This national park in the Shasta Cascade region offers an excellent crash course in volcanoes, since it is home to all four main kinds: shield, plug dome, cinder cone, and composite volcanoes. The park’s Junior Ranger program helps young volcanologists learn to identify the different kinds of volcanic rock found around the park (can you tell a basalt from a rhyolite?), and discern which animal tracks they might see along trails.
Ride horses along a windswept beach
Beaches are for more than just building sandcastles. Instead, lead your little buckarette on a trail ride out to wild and windswept Ten Mile Beach in Mendocino County. The guided rides with Ricochet Ridge Ranch are good for ages six and up, and they start across from MacKerricher State Park, just north of Fort Bragg.
Rafting the American River
Kids with adventurous spirits as young as seven can handle Class III rapids, according to the seasoned guides at O.A.R.S. And the perfect place to let them rock and roll (safely) down the river for the first time? A half-day float down the South Fork of the American River, near Sacramento. Outfitters such as O.A.R.S. offer a full slate of introductory, family-friendly trips—especially fun on warm summer days. If you have older daughters (ages 12 and up) with whitewater rafting experience, consider taking on the Class III and IV rapids on the South Fork or Middle Fork American, both near Auburn.
Brave a ghost town
Bodie State Historic Park, Eastern Sierra
This ghost town on the eastern side of the High Sierra, near Mono Lake, is preserved in a state of “arrested decay”—a fascinating place for junior detectives. Come for one of three special extended nights during summer and you can take a special ghost-story-based tour, followed by a meet-up with an astronomer who will guide you through the area’s brilliant night sky.
Spelunking, climbing, and zip-lining
Moaning Cavern, near Angels Camp, offers plenty of adventure for wannabe spelunkers: a rappelling adventure (or a challenging crawl) down the 165-foot vertical cavern. Adventurous girls will want to zoom on the cavern’s above-ground zip line. There’s also a 32-foot climbing tower, where kids don real climbing gear to ascend to the top, then get belayed safely back to earth.
Roam with wild mustangs
The four-day mule-pack trip in remote and beautiful Mono County, offered by Frontier Pack Train out of June Lake, is a happy triple threat for horse-loving daughters. They’ll get to join a wrangler to ride horses (with mules carrying the gear) into the spectacular Truman Meadows area of Inyo National Forest. Rock Creek Pack Station does a similar trip into the Pizona area of Inyo, where you can see herds of wild mustangs, then sit around the campfire at night.
Swim with (leopard) sharks
Not far off the shore of San Diego’s La Jolla, colorful (and harmless) leopard sharks arrive in large clusters from June through September. Adventure girls ages seven and older can take a snorkel tour with La Jolla Kayak to see these finned bottom-feeders up close (seriously, they’re not dangerous). Afterward, you and your kids can use the tour’s underwater explorer gear—fins, mask, and snorkel—for a few hours more to explore on your own.