Over a Third of the Golden State’s Oak Trees Are History … and We Should Do More to Save Them

Where to visit the wild oaks from Southern to Northern California.

The oak trees of California may not receive the same devotion as the towering sequoias and legendary redwoods that draw visitors to our state parks, put their presence is nonetheless a significant part of our history and inherent landscape. For the Native American’s that settled here, the oak acorn provided an important source of food.

According to Sunset, “Natural landscapes dominated by oaks once covered more than a third of California. (Oaks grow in other Western states too, but not so abundantly.) There is the blue oak of the Sierra Foothills, and Southern California’s Engelmann oak. There’s the coast live oak, which grows from Mendocino County south to Baja. Most impressive of all is the massive valley oak—sometimes more than 100 feet tall, with twisted branches that look like aerial sculpture. The best book on the trees, Oaks of California, likens the valley oak woodland to ‘a Gothic cathedral on rich floodplain.’”

Sadly, a combination of disease, farming and new development has wiped out a huge chunk of the oak population over the last two centuries. “Biologists estimate that more than a third of California’s original millions of acres of oak woodlands has been lost. And the California Oaks organization estimates that another 750,000 acres of oaks are at risk in the next 30 years.”

Thankfully, there are still spots throughout the state where you can bask in the shade of the beautiful wild oak. Here’s a handy guide from Sunset on where to find them:

Northern & Central California

Bidwell Park, Chico

Oak woodlands (of seven species) spread across one of the country’s largest city parks. At One-Mile Recreation Area, along Big Chico Creek, valley oaks reach more than 100 feet tall.

bidwellpark.org

Cosumnes River Preserve, Galt

South of Sacramento, valley oaks in dense forest and meadows; 4.5 miles of trails.

cosumnes.org

Kaweah Oaks Preserve, Visalia

Just off State 198 (and a good stop on the way to Sequoia N.P.), near-pristine forests of valley oaks.

sequoiariverlands.org

Peter J. Shields Oak Grove, UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden, Davis

A grand collection of 100 types of oaks, including 8 California species plus many others from around the world. A cool stop on I-80.

arboretum.ucdavis.edu/oak-collection.aspx

Southern California

Malibu Creek State Park, Calabasas

Trails in this Santa Monica Mountains park lead to savannas studded with coast live and valley oaks. $12/vehicle

malibucreekstatepark.org

Oak Glen Preserve, Oak Glen

Known for its apples, The Wildlands Conservancy’s preserve at the base of the San Bernardinos also showcases oaks.

wildlandsconservancy.org/preserve_oakglen.html

The Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, Santa Barbara

The Woodland Trail shows coast live oaks nurturing a rich community of plant life (lemonade berry, toyon). $10

sbbg.org

Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve, Murrieta

A nearly 10,000-acre reserve noted for its Engelmann oaks, found mostly in parts of San Diego and Riverside Counties. $3

rivcoparks.org

Read more here.

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