Explore Native American Culture At These California State Parks

You’re probably thinking of unique trips this year and may want to choose locations where you can enrich and expand your understanding of other cultures.That being said, when considering your destination options, include one of the following five state parks that honor various Native American tribes throughout California. Explore the land and learn more about their significance to Native American culture. 

The chaw’se, or grinding rock, of marbleized limestone that the Miwok people used for thousands of years to grind acorns for food | INDIAN GRINDING ROCK STATE PARK

Indian Grinding Rock State Historic Park

Home to one of the largest sites of petroglyphs in the state, Indian Grinding Rock State Historic Park is located in the town of Jackson. This park is the ideal spot to learn about the culture of the Miwok people who are local to the area. Named for its chaw’se, a “grinding rock” of marbleized limestone, it is the largest collection of bedrock mortars in North America.

A visit to Indian Grinding Rock State Historic Park offers a great opportunity to see how the Native Californians lived before the European settlers arrived. Visitors can see how the Miwok used the chaw’se to grind acorns for food for thousands of years, explore self-guided trails, bark houses, a roundhouse and museum on site. This historic park is an excellent option for educational and cultural exploration, to experience the Native American Miwok culture and traditions that still live on today.

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Wassama Round House State Historic Park | BRIAN BAER

Wassama Round House Historic Park

Wassama Round House Historic Park is located in Ahwahnee, north of Fresno. The park contains a round house that is still used today by the local tribes of the area, which are the Southern Sierra Miwok and Chukchansi Yokuts. While there are no trails to hike, this state park does have a picnic area, it is used as a ceremonial meeting place by local Native Americans and hosts ceremonies and festivals in the round house. Gathering Day, held the third Saturday of October, includes demonstrations of dancing, crafts and basket weaving, providing a great opportunity to experience Native American culture firsthand.

Clear Lake State Park

Northwest of Santa Rosa, Clear Lake State Park (featured above) is a great location for those interested in learning about both the environment and Indigenous people of the area. Ideal for hikers, the park offers several trails, including the Indian Nature Trail, a moderate, half-mile self-guided trail where you can learn about the culture of the native Pomo people and how they utilized the area’s resources.

Hunters and gatherers, the Pomo built tule boats to fish and used obsidian (cooled volcanic lava) to make tools and barter. Located on the shores of California’s largest freshwater lake (that dates back 1.5 million years), visitors to Clear Lake State Park can also enjoy swimming, fishing, boating and water-skiing.

Chumash Painted Cave State Historic Park | BRIAN BAER

Chumash Painted Cave Historic Park

Chumash Painted Cave Historic Park is located north of Santa Barbara and showcases a sandstone cave that contains paintings left behind by the Chumash people. With a population of over 15,000 before European contact, the Barbareño Chumash were one of the largest and most influential tribes in California. Today’s modern city of Santa Barbara, at the base of the Santa Ynez Mountains, was the capital city of the Barbareño, then called Syukhtun.

The cave reflects the importance of preserving the art and culture of the people who are native to the area, with the art dating back to before the 1600s. Years ago, you could actually tour deeper within the cave, but areas have since had to be cordoned off due to graffiti and defacement. 

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Cliffside view from Patrick’s Point State Park in Trinidad | PATRICKS POINT STATE PARK

Patrick’s Point State Park

It may look like Patrick’s Point State Park is on a Hawaiian island, but it’s actually located in Trinidad, a seaside town in Humboldt County. The park offers a wide variety of activities and opportunities to learn about the local Native American tribe of the area, the Yurok people. There is a Native American Plant Garden and a Yurok village containing family houses, a sweat house, a redwood canoe and much more. Guided hikes on trails are also usually available, making this a great location for exploring California while learning about the people who are native to the area.