Dominated by snowcapped Mount Shasta, visible for 100 miles on a clear day, California's upper northern territory is among the least-visited parts of the state. Often called "the Far North," this region stretches from the rice fields north of Sacramento to the Oregon border. The area is so immense that the state of Ohio would fit comfortably within its borders.

For the adventurous traveler, the Far North is a superlative destination for outdoor sports such as hiking, climbing, skiing, white-water rafting, and mountain biking. Other attractions, both artificial and natural, range from the Shasta Dam, the highest overflow dam in the world; to Lava Beds National Monument, which has dozens of caves to explore; to Lassen Volcanic National Park, a towering laboratory of volcanic phenomena.

South of the Cascade Range is one of the most popular recreational regions in the Golden State: Lake Tahoe, straddling the border between California and Nevada, at 6,225 feet above sea level. Although the lake has been marred by overdevelopment -- particularly along the casino-riddled southern shore -- the western and eastern coastlines are still quiet havens for hiking, cycling, and watersports. The surrounding Sierra Nevada mountains offer some of the best skiing in the United States, with more than a dozen resorts.