February is miracle month in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. When rains fall, spindly ocotillos blare orange blossoms, beavertail cacti pop out in magenta, and the desert floor is blanketed in verbena. Call the park’s wildflower hotline (760-767-4684) to find out what’s blooming where. But even in a dry winter, Borrego Palm Canyon is lively. Hike to the oasis at dawn and you might see coyotes slurping at the base of a ten-foot waterfall—a quiet bit of Eden that’s a three-mile hike from the campground ($20; parks.ca.gov).
Native steelhead are venerated in northern California: They’re the focus of the annual Wild Steelhead Festival in Healdsburg (February 6–8; healdsburgsteelheadfest.org) and the star attraction in the Russian River come February. "Steelhead are one of the hardest fish you’ll ever catch," says guide Howard Binney. "Hook one and you’re hooked for life" (guided fishing, $175 per person, per day; superiorguidefishing.com). Although wild steelhead have been generally declining for years, the Russian teems with both wild and hatchery fish. When they venture upriver, averaging eight to 14 pounds, the steelhead have been at sea for six to eight years, and as Binney puts it, "they’re full of fire, piss, and vinegar."
California isn’t renowned for ice climbing, but two Sierra sites are positively Colorado-esque come February. Both are also classrooms for Sierra Mountain Guides’ Ice Climbing 101 courses (February 7–8, 14–15; $175; sierramtnguides.com). A 45-minute hike out of June Lake, 20 minutes north of Mammoth Lakes, leads to Horseshoe Falls, a low-angle, beginner-friendly cascade. The guides school you in the basics of wielding ice tools and swinging crampons. The action shifts the next day to Lee Vining Canyon, a cold slot that has become the spot for ice climbing in California. It’s home to Chouinard Falls (a seep, really) and colder, steeper climbs. Fast learners can climb a hundred-foot route, top-roped for peace of mind. "At one point," says head guide Neil Satterfield, "you’ll feel like you’re climbing inside your freezer and that you shouldn’t be there, but you’re having so much fun you don’t care." Murphey’s Motel in tiny Lee Vining offers ice climbers’ discounts (murpheysyosemite.com).
For a small peak, Mount Ashland packs a wallop. Locals have a saying about the 7,500-foot Mighty Mouse, which sits in the shadow of nearby fourteener Mount Shasta: "If you can ski Ashland, you can ski anywhere." And the mountain’s marketing manager adds, "People who prefer a more gentle experience go to Mount Shasta. People from California who want adventure come here" ($36; mtashland.com). More than 70 percent of Ashland’s 220 skiable acres are for upper-intermediate to advanced skiers, and the mountain’s bowl is legendary for super-steep chutes framed by rock outcroppings. In contrast to the mountain’s swagger, the nearby town of Ashland is full of quaint B&Bs and is the cultured home of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Macbeth kicks off the 2009 season on February 13 ($20; osfashland.org). Macbeth himself might have had the bowl in mind when he said, "I am afraid to think what I have done; / Look on’t again I dare not."