The Ultimate Guide To The National Parks In California

The Ultimate Guide To The National Parks In California

California
Valley View | Yosemite Attractions

California is home to nine amazing National Parks!

With nine National Parks, California is the state with most National Parks in the US!

The sprawling state of California has a diverse geography, including a rugged coastline, majestic mountains, dense woods, deserts, and volcanic beds. Therefore it’s not surprising to see so many National Parks in California, and each National Park is very unique!

Alaska comes second, with eight wonderful National Parks. However, Alaska National Parks are seasonal, with most of the roads closed during winter. On the other hand, California National Parks enjoy incredible weather year-round. Most of the National parks in California are accessible during winter, except a few parks/portions of the parks closed due to snow accumulation.

The National Park Services does an excellent job of protecting and maintaining the National Parks in the US!

Not only the National Parks in California but all National Parks in the US are very well maintained and protected by the National Park Services, with proper roads, visitor centers, park shuttles, ranger programs, and ensuring visitor safety.

The choices of attractions in California can be overwhelming, and it becomes challenging to select between beautiful California Beaches, Pacific Coast Highway Scenic Drive, lively cities, gorgeous coastal towns, and now the California National Parks!

It isn’t easy to see everything in California unless you’re planning a month-long trip. The next best way to see all the National Parks in California is by taking multiple trips to California and mixing it up with other nearby attractions in California or neighboring states. Like, visiting Death Valley National Park when visiting Las Vegas, Joshua Tree National Park on your trip to San Diego, or adding Yosemite National Park to your San Francisco trip itinerary.

Here is my ultimate guide to the National Parks in California, featuring nine National Parks in California to help you select the best National Park to visit on your trip to California!

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The Nine National Parks of California

California National Parks Map

California National Parks Map

On the California National Parks map above, I have marked all nine National Parks in California to provide an idea about the locations of the National Parks in California.

On the map and in the post, I have listed the nine National Parks in California sequentially, starting with Redwood in Northern California and going all the way to Joshua Tree in Southern California.

National Parks in California

  • Redwood National and State Parks
  • Lassen Volcanic National Park
  • Yosemite National Park
  • Sequoia National Park
  • Kings Canyon National Park
  • Pinnacles National Park
  • Death Valley National Park
  • Channel Island National Park
  • Joshua Tree National Park

Every National Park in California is unique and has its own alluring charm, so it’s difficult to pick one over the other. I recommend you take your time but see them all!

Redwood National and State Parks

Redwood National and State Parks | California National Parks

Redwood National and State Parks, mostly known for the tallest trees in the world, has a lot more to offer!

Redwood National and State Parks is home to the tallest tree in the world, named Hyperion, a redwood, whose location within the park has been kept a secret to protect it from any harm. However, besides the tallest trees in the world, Redwood National and State Parks are home to vast prairies, beautiful coastline, waterfalls, rivers, several scenic drives, and hiking trails.

Redwood is called “State and National Parks,” as it’s a collection of multiple parks!

Redwood National and State Parks is actually a collection of National and State Parks, including Redwood National Park, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, and Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park. Even though they’re different parks and have distinct names, you can seamlessly move between different parks in the area.

Redwood National and State Parks Location

Redwood National and State Parks are located close to the California-Oregon border, 340 miles from San Francisco, CA, about 6 hours drive and 320 miles from Portland, Oregon, and about 5 hours 30 minutes drive.

Must-see in Redwood National and State Parks

While the options are literally endless in Redwood National and State Parks, but these are my top picks, including a few scenic drives and easy hikes.

Ladybird Johnson Grove: This is a magnificent groove with an easy hiking trail, 1.5 miles roundtrip, that lets you stroll among some ginormous and aged trees.

Klamath River Overlook: The Klamath River Overlook offers breathtaking views of the Ocean! In the beautiful blue-green waters, you may also spot seals and whales.

Coastal Drive: Drive along the Pacific Coast with stunning views! The Coastal Drive is a one-way and narrow drive, but the views are remarkable.

Howland Hill Road: The Howland Hill Road is a scenic drive through dense redwoods and a great way to explore the Redwood National and State Parks if you don’t have time to hike one of the trails in the park.

Stout Grove: Located in the northern part of the park, Stout Grove is a dense grove of redwoods and home to some ancient trees.

Hiking in Redwood National and State Parks: There are several hiking trails in the park, ranging from a couple of hours to full-day hikes. Some of the popular trails include James Irvine Trail, Boy Scout Tree Trail, Tall Trees Grove Trail, Fern Canyon Trail, Damnation Creek Trail, and several others.

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Lassen Volcanic National Park | California National Park

Lassen Volcanic National Park, a dramatic landscape, a rare combination of destruction and beauty!

Let not the name or the picture I have used in my post mislead you; Lassen Volcanic National Park is not just a destructed area. It’s so much the opposite of that! Lassen Volcanic National Park is home to some gorgeous lakes, waterfalls, and of course, yes, sputtering sulphur vents and bubbling mud pots.

The landscape at Lassen Volcanic National Park is quite dramatic and a rare view in the US. The only other place in the US that offers a similar landscape and a similar experience is the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii.

Lassen Volcanic National Park Location

Lassen Volcanic National Park is located in Northern California, 250 miles northeast of San Francisco, CA, about 5 hours. Lassen Volcanic National Park Address: Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center, 21820 Lassen National Park Hwy, Mineral, CA 96063.

Must-see in Lassen Volcanic National Park

Gorgeous lakes: Lassen Volcanic National Park is home to several beautiful lakes with crystal clear blue water with the backdrop of the Lassen peak. The most popular and the must-see lakes in Lassen Volcanic National Park are Lake Helen, Manzanita Lake, Summit Lake, Boiling Springs Lake, and Juniper Lake.

Sulphur Works: See bubbling mud pots and steaming vents at Sulphur Works, a viewing area easily accessible with a sidewalk.

Bumpass Hell: The Bumpass Hell is the most hydrothermally active region in Lassen Volcanic National Park. There’s a boardwalk, 3 miles roundtrip, which lets you explore and experience the extravaganza of several thermal features in Bumpass Hell.

Cinder Cone Hike: The 4 miles roundtrip Cinder Cone hiking trail in Lassen Volcanic National Park, with the trailhead located at Butte Lake parking area, is a very rewarding hike. It’s on this hike you will see the Fantastic Lava Beds and the Painted Dunes, my two favorite spots in the entire park.

I highly recommend visiting the Fantastic Lava Beds and the Painted Dunes on the Cinder Cone Hiking trail.

Yosemite National Park

California National Parks

Majestic Cliffs, Deep Valleys, Waterfalls, Glaciers, & Giant Sequoias!

Yosemite National Park is mostly known for its gorgeous waterfalls, but there is a lot more to see and explore in the park, including deep valleys, aged sequoia trees, glacier-carved lands, grand mountains, wildlife, and much more.

The gateway to pristine & awe-inspiring nature, Yosemite National Park is also a popular hiking and camping destination in the US. Yosemite National Park is open all year-round, but some sections are inaccessible by car from November through April due to snow.

Yosemite National Park is located in Northern California, 170 miles northeast of San Francisco, about 3 and 1/2 hours drive, and 280 miles, 5 hours drive from Los Angeles.

You can find more details, including Yosemite attractions, Yosemite attractions map, a suggested itinerary, hiking trails, campgrounds, hotels, and restaurants in Yosemite in my Yosemite travel guide.

Read More: The Ultimate Guide To Yosemite National Park

Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

Sequoia and Kings Canyon, two great adjacent National Parks in California!

The location of these two National Parks, adjacent to each other, provides an excellent opportunity to visit two great National Parks in California at once! The parks are open all year-round, but some sections and roads are closed in winter due to snow and may require tire chains.

Located in California’s southern Sierra Nevada mountains Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are home to the largest and second-largest tree in the world by volume!

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks Location

Sequoia National Park is located about 200 miles from Los Angles, about 3 and 1/2 hour drive. Kings Canyon National Park shares the boundary with Sequoia National Park, and you can seamlessly access one park from the other.

Must-see in Sequoia National Park

Sequoia National Park is home to the largest tree in the world, General Sherman Tree! Yes, you definitely need to see that, but there’s more to see and explore in Sequoia National Park.

General Sherman Tree: The General Sherman Tree in Sequoia National Park is the largest single stem living tree on earth by volume! The towering General Sherman Tree is 275 feet tall and 36.5 feet wide at its base. There is an easy one-mile roundtrip trail leading to the General Sherman Tree from the trailhead parking lot.

Tunnel Log: Located on Crescent Meadow Road, the Tunnel Log is a very popular spot in Sequoia National Park. Here you could drive through a tunnel, 17 feet wide and 8 feet high, carved out of a fallen sequoia tree.

Moro Rock: Moro Rock is a granite monolith in the heart of the Sequoia National Park. However, it’s more popular for the sweeping views from atop the Moro Rock. The hike to the top is a bit strenuous, with 400 steps and a steep climb, but the views are phenomenal.

Crystal Cave: Open seasonally, accessible only via guided tours, Crystal Cave is a marble cavern, home to some gorgeous and fragile marble formations.

Giant Forest Museum: The Giant Forest Museum is a great place to learn about the park’s history and ecology. With interactive and interesting exhibits, it’s a fun place for kids and grownups alike.

Hiking Trails in Sequoia National Park: There’re several hiking trails in Sequoia National Park, including Congress Trail, Big Trees Trail, Tokopah Falls Trail, Crescent Meadow Loop Trail, and a few others.

Must-see in Kings Canyon National Park

Kings Canyon National Park is home to General Grant Tree, the second largest tree in the world!

General Grant Tree: Located in the General Grant Groove in Kings Canyon National Park, it is the second-largest tree in the world, about 267 feet tall and 29 feet wide at its base. There’s an easy hiking trail, 0.3 mile loop, starting at the parking lot at General Grant Groove, leading to the General Grant Tree.

Kings Canyon Panoramic Point: This is a scenic overlook in the Kings Canyon National Park offering stunning views of the canyon and the giant trees from the top. It’s an easy hike, 0.5 miles roundtrip, to the Panoramic Point.

Kings Canyon Scenic Byway: This a 50 miles long scenic highway starting at the Hume Lake Ranger Station, going all the way to the Cedar Groove. There are several lookouts along the way where you can stop and enjoy the spectacular scenery.

Zumwalt Meadows: Located in the heart of Kings Canyon National Park is the Zumwalt Meadows, a beautiful meadow in a picture-perfect setting! A 1.5 miles roundtrip hike around the Zumwalt Meadows offers some great views of majestic cliffs, flowing rivers, and wildflowers.

Waterfall in Kings Canyon National Park: Kings Canyon National Park is home to a few beautiful waterfalls, including Grizzly Falls, Roaring River Falls, and Mist Falls.

Hiking Trails in Kings Canyon National Park: You will find several hiking trails in Kings Canyon National Park as well, including Redwood Canyon Trail, Big Baldy Trail, Mist Falls Trail, and Big Stump Trail.

Pinnacles National Park

Pinnacles National Park California National Parks

Pinnacles National Park, a paradise for rock climbers and hikers!

Pinnacles National Park, one of the newest National Parks in the US, also happens to be the smallest of all National Parks in California. However, it has a diverse landscape and is home to several natural wonders, including very distinctive rock formations and talus caves.

Pinnacles National Park’s unique landscape and rock formations were sculpted by the movements in the tectonic plates and volcanic activities. The rugged lava field and volcanic spires of Pinnacles National Park, initially located 200 miles away from its current location, over time, has shifted to its current location.

Pinnacles National Park Location

Pinnacles National Park is located in central California, 270 miles northwest of Los Angeles, about 4 and 1/2 hours drive, and 120 miles from San Francisco, 2 and 1/2 hours drive. Pinnacles National Park is open all year-round, but it’s better to avoid the summer months, as summer temperatures can be excruciating.

Must-See in Pinnacles National Park

Pinnacles National Park is home to great peaks, volcanic spires, reservoirs, caves, and several hiking trails. There are two entrances in Pinnacles National Park, and unlike other National Parks, you can’t drive to vista points within the park. You have to leave your cars at the parking lot and hike one of the trails.

Hiking Trails in Pinnacles National Park: Hiking is one of the main activities in the park and the only way to explore Pinnacles National Park. The park is small, and cars can get you to the main entrance, rest you have to hike. There are several hiking trails in Pinnacles National Park, including Balconies Caves, Bear Gulch Reservoir, Moses Spring Trail, and High Peaks.

Talus Cave: Talus Caves, rare and unique cave formations, are formed when narrow canyons are covered with boulders from the top. The caves in Pinnacles National Park are located in Bear Gulch Caves and Balconies Caves area and are accessible via hiking trails.

Gulch Reservoir: The Gulch Reservoir, accessible via the Moses Spring trail, is a beautiful lake atop the Bear Gulch Caves.

Pinnacles National Park is also an excellent place for camping, rock climbing, and Bird watching!

Death Valley National Park

The Racetrack | Things To Do in Death Valley

Death Valley National Park, the Hottest, Driest, and lowest National Park!

Death Valley National Park, straddling two states, California and Nevada, is the valley of all extremes!

Death Valley National Park’s Badwater Basin, lying 282 feet below sea level, is the lowest point in the US. Also, due to consecutive drought and extreme summer temperatures, Death Valley is the hottest and driest point in the US, with a record temperature of 134Β° F recorded in July 1913, which is the highest temperature ever recorded in North America.

Contrary to its name, “Death Valley,” it’s quite lively and beautiful, with colorful rocks, stunning rock formations, and vast salt flats!

Death Valley is located in eastern California, close to the California and Nevada border. Death Valley is about 260 miles from Los Angeles, about 4 and 1/2 hours drive. However, I recommend visiting Death Valley from Las Vegas, which is only 130 miles and 2 and 1/2 hours drive.

You can find more details, including Death Valley attractions, a suggested itinerary, hiking trails, campgrounds, hotels, and restaurants in Death Valley in my Death Valley travel guide.

Read More: The Ultimate Guide To Death Valley National Park

Channel Island National Park

Channel Island National Park | California National Parks

Channel Island National Park, home to unmatched beauty and nature!

Island National Parks are rare in the contiguous US. However, California is blessed with one island National Park, the Channel Island National Park, which comprises five beautiful islands.

Channel Island National Park Location

Channel Island National Park is located off the coast of southern California and is accessible only via park concessionaire boats or private boats. The ferries to Channel Island National Park depart from Ventura and Channel Islands (Oxnard) Harbors, and it’s highly recommended that you plan ahead and make your reservations in advance. You can find the Channel Island National Park boat schedule and reserve tickets online on the NPS website.Β 

Once you reach the island, you need to explore the islands on foot or by kayak, as there are no other means of transportation on the islands. The only lodging option in Channel Island National Park is camping on the islands, and there are no stores or restaurants on the islands.

Exploring the five islands of Channel Island National Park

Every island of Channel Island National Park is quite unique, and each offers a different view and set of activities.

Anacapa Island: Home to sea cliffs, sea caves, 40 feet high Arch rock, a historic lighthouse, Anacapa Island is a gateway to pristine nature! Anacapa Island comprises three islets, which often appear and disappear due to the fog and water levels. That’s why Native Indians called it Anypakh, which literally means a mirage.
There’s a two-mile hiking loop that goes around the island and is the best way to explore the gorgeous coastal views, tidepools, overlooks, wildflowers, and wildlife on the island. Anacapa Island is an excellent place for kayaking, snorkeling, and birding.

Santa Cruz Island: Santa Cruz is the most popular and the biggest island in Channel Island National Park. Santa Cruz Island is home to sea coves, gorgeous sweeping vistas, and several sea caves, including the popular Painted cave. Santa Cruz Island is an excellent spot for kayaking, snorkeling, and camping. Santa Cruz Island is the only island in Channel Island National Park with a concession offering guided kayak tours and equipment rentals.

San Miguel Island: Home to lush vegetation and wildlife, including island fox, deer mouse on the island, and dolphins, sea lions, seals, and whales off the coast. However, a permit is required to visit San Miguel Island, and areas beyond Cuyler Harbor beach, Nidever Canyon, the Cabrillo Monument on the island are accessible only via guided tours.

Santa Rosa Island: The second-largest island in Channel Island National Park, Santa Rosa Island is home to beautiful sandy beaches, rolling hills, and several hiking trails. The weather can change quickly, and there are no concessions or other services on Santa Rosa Island.

Santa Barbara Island: Located in the center of Channel Island National Park, Santa Barbara Island is the smallest of all islands in the park. The beautiful blue-green water, gorgeous views, and wildflowers in the park make it a great destination for hiking and camping. However, the ferries to Santa Barbara Island are limited, and you need to plan ahead and make reservations in advance.

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park | The National Parks In California Travel Guide

Joshua Tree National Park, a dramatic desert landscape and home to several astounding desert trees!

Joshua Tree National Park’s landscape is best described as a desert wonderland with giant granite boulders, mountains, and amazingly beautiful Joshua trees!

Joshua Tree National Park is open all year-round, but summers can be harsh in the desert, and I recommend avoiding the summer months as you would need to hike to explore the park.

Joshua Tree National Park Location

Joshua Tree National Park is located in southeastern California, 130 miles from Los Angeles, about 2 and 1/2 hours drive, 160 miles from San Diego, and 190 miles from Las Vegas. There are no concessions, lodging, or other services inside the park. There are campgrounds in the park, but you need to plan ahead and reserve the campsites in advance.

Must-see in Joshua Tree National Park

Most of the attractions in Joshua Tree National Park are located along the two main roads in the park – Park Boulevard that runs west to east and Pinto Basin road that runs north to south. There are pullouts and trails along the roads, but you will need to hike to get to the park’s attractions.

Hidden Valley Nature Trail: One of the most popular hikes in the park, a one-mile easy loop, takes you through a very scenic portion of the park amid several Joshua trees and rock formations.

Cholla Cactus Garden: Located along the Pinto Basin Road, the Cholla Cactus Garden is home to several thousand spiny cacti trees and is a one-of-a-kind experience! The hike to Cholla Cactus Garden from the parking lot is flat and short, 0.25-mile roundtrip.

Skull Rock: One of the iconic rock formations in Joshua Tree National Park, Skull Rock is a top-rated tourist attraction in the park. Shaped by several years of erosion, the human skull-shaped rock is located right off the road.

Arch Rock: This is another very popular rock formation in Joshua Tree National Park, a 30 feet tall granite arch accessible via a short 0.5-mile loop starting at the White Tank Campground parking.

Cottonwood Spring Oasis: The Cottonwood Spring in Joshua Tree National Park is home to a spring and is a rare sight in a desert. The water led to the growth of several large green trees in the middle of the desert. There’s a 1.2-mile long easy roundtrip trail starting at the parking lot that leads to this desert retreat.

Joshua Tree National Park is also an excellent place for rock climbing and birding.

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Channel Island National Park | California National ParksI hope you enjoyed reading the post, The Ultimate Guide To The National Parks In California, and I hope this will help you plan your trips to the National Parks In California. While there’re several other attractions in California, you can’t leave out these amazing National Parks!

Happy feeding your soul!
Shreyashi

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