Featuring everything from the high peaks of the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the below-sea-level salt flats of Death Valley, California’s national parks offer visitors a diverse range of environments and activities.
Aspiring travellers of all ages to visit California national parks such as Redwood, Joshua Tree, and Yosemite, national parks such as Redwood, Joshua Tree, and Yosemite deserve the millions of visitors they receive each year.
The National Park Service in California has a total of 28 national park units, which includes national monuments and national recreation areas, and provides opportunities for outdoor activities throughout the year.
National parks in California capture the many ecosystems that can be found across the state, and no two are alike in terms of the opportunities to explore them.
It doesn’t matter if you’re exploring sea caves in Channel Islands National Park or rock climbing at Pinnacles National Park; California’s national parks are ideal for weekend getaways, state-spanning road journeys, and once in a lifetime adventures.
Visit national parks throughout California at any time of year, whether it’s for winter sports in Lassen, spring blooms in Death Valley, or summer fun in the Santa Monica Mountains. No season is better than the next for visiting national parks in the state.
Our list of the best national parks in California will help you plan your outdoor adventures in the state.
Yosemite National Park, the state’s crown jewel natural space, exemplifies the sheer natural beauty and charm of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in Central California, and is considered by many to be the most beautiful place on the planet.
Yosemite National Park has drawn great photographers, naturalists, and rock climbers for more than a century, and it now draws more than four million tourists from all over the globe each year, according to the National Park Service.
While many visitors spend their time taking in the spectacular scenery of Yosemite Valley, there is plenty of room to have a more personalised experience inside the park’s 1,100 square miles.
Some of the most recognisable elements of the park are the monolithic granite peaks of El Capitan and Half Dome, which loom above the valley like fortresses.
Whether it’s taking in the views from vantage points such as Tunnel View or securing a highly sought-after permit to walk to the summit of Half Dome, these towering rock formations are frequently cited as a highlight of a visit to the park.
Yosemite National Park, which serves as a backdrop for spectacular acts of gravity, is also home to moving elements such as the 2,425-foot-tall Yosemite Falls.
A vacation to Yosemite is not complete without taking in the sights and sounds of hiking, history, and animal viewing.
Visitors may get a taste of it all by visiting Tuolumne Meadows. In Tuolumne, hikers follow the lush banks of the Tuolumne River, where they come into contact with the Pacific Crest Trail, which runs the length of the United States.
The Sierra Nevada Mountains provide a wide range of activities throughout the year. Summertime is a great time to take advantage of the hiking trails and campgrounds. There will be fewer people and plenty of opportunities to ski, snowshoe, and just relax in the quiet surroundings during the winter months.
A mystical world of massive rocks, breathtaking sunsets, and acres of the park’s namesake vegetation awaits visitors at the confluence of the Mojave and Colorado Deserts. Joshua Tree National Park is located at the crossing of the Mojave and Colorado Deserts.
There are several opportunities for adventure in Joshua Tree, as well as campgrounds where you may spend the night. Jumbo Rocks Campground is a favourite destination for families and lone visitors alike, thanks to its more than 120 campsites that provide access to large rock outcroppings and unique features such as Skull Rock.
The park’s busiest season is between October and May, when temperatures are at their lowest before and after summer, preventing tourists and the park’s resident wildlife from being active during the day.
Joshua Tree National Park is a haven for outdoor recreation and desert attractions. Popular activities in the park include hiking, stargazing, and rock climbing on the park’s more than 8,000 established climbing routes.
A number of spring-fed oases, marked by palm trees, can be found throughout Joshua Tree National Park, and they are a great place to find some shade and cooler temperatures while exploring the park.
Sunsets in Joshua Tree are absolutely breathtaking, and there’s something about the way the light filters through the desert landscape that has people captivated for the rest of their lives.
The night sky in Joshua Tree is equally as spectacular as the daytime sky, with a brilliant starscape and expansive views of the Milky Way visible from almost anywhere in the park.
During the peak season, advanced camping reservations in Joshua Tree are strongly advised, and the RoadRunner Shuttle, which runs throughout the park and provides free entrance, is a great way to get about.
The Redwood National and State Parks are a unique collaboration between state and federal agencies that protect over 100,000 acres and some of the world’s tallest living objects, including some of the world’s tallest trees.
Aside from the towering redwoods that tower above its borders, Redwood National and State Parks also have fern-covered valleys, peaceful beaches, and an abundant variety of exotic animals. Among the popular activities in these massive Northern California landscapes are hiking, scenic driving, and camping under the watchful eyes of colossal trees.
The three major state parks that are co-managed by Redwood National Park are Jedediah Smith, Del Norte Coast, and Prairie Creek Redwoods State Parks.
Jedediah Smith State Park is located in the northern California town of Jedediah Smith. Any one of the five visitor centres located inside the parks is an excellent spot to begin your exploration, such as the Thomas H. Kuchel Visitor Center, which provides trail information, educational exhibits, and special ranger-led events, among other things.
Many visitors to Redwood National and State Parks visit Fern Canyon, the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway, and the wildflower-filled Enderts Beach, all of which are popular destinations.
Death Valley National Park, located in a world of sand dunes, salt flats, and strange moving rocks, contains some of the most severe environmental conditions seen anywhere in the United States. Summer temperatures in Death Valley regularly exceed 120 degrees Fahrenheit, despite the fact that it is located at some of the country’s lowest elevations.
The Badwater Basin portion of the park, which is filled with polygon salt formations, provides a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to explore 280 feet below sea level.
Spring is the most popular time of year to visit Death Valley National Park, with the best chance of seeing a wildflower spectacularloom occurring in late March to early April being late March to early April.
Other dynamic desert environments can be found throughout the park, including exploding salt crystals at the Devils Golf Course and mountain-sized sand dunes at Mesquite Flats.
Other dynamic desert environments include exploding salt crystals at the Devils Golf Course and mountain-sized sand dunes at Mesquite Flats. The Furnace Creek area of the park serves as the starting point for many visitors, thanks to resources such as a visitor centre and a variety of lodging options, including seasonal campgrounds.
The adjoined Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks, which contain massive trees, deep canyons, and dramatic Sierra Mountain scenery, compete with their more well-known neighbour to the north, Yosemite National Park in terms of popularity.
The massive General Sherman tree in Sequoia National Park is the world’s largest tree by volume, with a trunk that measures more than 36 feet in diameter at its base, making it the largest tree on the planet. General Sherman is a sequoia grove located inside the Giant Forest portion of the park and is flanked by multiple other sequoia groves.
Free park shuttles run throughout Sequoia National Park from May to September, transporting the park’s large number of yearly visitors to popular destinations such as the Lodgepole Campground, the Giant Forest, and Morro Rock, the park’s trademark vista walk.
The bald granite dome of Morro Rock, which stands over 6,700 feet tall and offers a breathtaking perspective of the Great Western Divide, may be reached by climbing up a route and up stone stairs with a railing to the summit.
Taking a backpacking trip into the vast wilderness of Kings Canyon National Park is a popular way to see the park, especially since most of the wild land is inaccessible by vehicle.
Aside from rock climbing and travelling the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway, other popular activities include visiting the underground caverns of the Crystal Cave. The most frequently observed wildlife in both parks includes mule deer, black bears, and a large number of other visitors craning their necks upward towards the canopy.
Pinnacles National Park, California’s newest national park, is located east of the Salinas Valley in the state’s Central California region.
This volcanic-formed playground is divided into two halves by a road that runs down the middle, and it is filled with talus caverns, towering spires, and a plethora of outdoor activities.
Rock climbing, camping, and hiking the many adventurous trails in Pinnacles National Park, including paths that meander through the park’s talus caves, are all popular activities in the park (flashlights recommended).
Point Reyes National Seashore, located an hour north of San Francisco, is the only federally designated seashore on the West Coast.
Over 150 miles of hiking paths wind their way through the estuaries, woodlands, and marshes of the national seashore, as well as along the various natural beaches that provide breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean.
A famous tourist destination as well as a wildlife haven, this shoreline is home to a variety of animals including elk, seals, and grey whales during their yearly migrations.
The Point Reyes Lighthouse serves as a beacon for tourists from all over the world who are looking for a picture-perfect destination to visit.
Lassen Volcanic National Park, located in the state’s northeastern region less than an hour from Redding, has numerous unique hydrothermal sites that are actively erupting to the present day.
In the park, appropriately themed places such as the Devils Kitchen and Bumpass Hell give sensory immersion in a dynamic environment via boardwalk walks and sensory immersion in a dynamic environment.
Lassen Volcanic National Park offers a variety of other activities, such as swimming at Manzanita Lake, hiking Lassen Peak, and staying the night at Drakesbad Guest Ranch, all of which are quite popular.