California national parks are home to some of the most iconic outdoor landscapes. Out-of-this-world landscapes, panoramic vistas, and beautiful natural formations enchant adventurers. With travel prices soaring, it’s time to ditch the plane ticket and hit the road. If you’re on a budget, go camping! If you have more money, stay in a lodge or cabin. No matter your travel style, California’s national parks will live up to the hype.
1. Yosemite National Park
of The most visited California national park Yosemite, founded in 1890, is located on California’s eastern border surrounded by the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Yosemite Valley is the centerpiece of the park, a 7-mile, glacier-carved basin that surrounds iconic waterfalls like Half Dome, El Capitan, and Yosemite Falls. Yosemite National Park is a hiking paradise with trails for all ages and fitness levels. Must-see trails include the Lower Yosemite Fall Trail (easy), Cook’s Meadow Loop (easy), Mist Trail (moderate), and Half Dome Trail (strenuous). It’s also known for its beautiful overlooks, and famous viewpoints include Glacier Point, Tunnel View, and Olmsted Point.
The best time to visit Yosemite National Park is usually between May and September, when temperatures are between 70°F and 90°F and precipitation is minimal. During the summer, reservations may be required to drive through the park during peak hours (6 a.m. to 4 p.m.). If you have reserved lodging within Yosemite Park, your reservation includes reservations. Please be sure to check the online reservation information.
2. Redwood National and State Parks
Northern California’s Redwood National and State Parks are about six hours from San Francisco or Portland, but the destinations more than justify the effort. Redwood national and state parks include his three state parks and his one: Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, Del North Coast Redwoods State Park, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, and Redwoods National Park. Includes national parks. Together, these parks protect approximately 40,000 acres of old-growth redwood forest. Highlights of the area include Hyperion (the world’s tallest tree), Lady Bird Johnson Grove, Tall Trees Grove, and Trillium Falls.
Unlike other California national parks, lodging within Redwood Park is limited to four campgrounds spread across three state parks. There are no developed campgrounds within Redwood National Park itself. Jedediah Smith Campground, Elk Prairie Campground, and Gold Bluffs Beach Campground are available year-round, but Mill Creek Campground is only open from May through September. If camping isn’t your thing, consider booking lodging in nearby towns like Eureka or Klamath.
3. Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park
Sequoia and Kings Canyon are separate parks managed by the National Park Service. Sequoia National Park, established in 1890 and named for the giant sequoia tree, contains over 631 square miles of forested landscape. There is also the General Sherman Tree, which is the largest tree by known volume. Kings Canyon National Park was founded in 1940 and has an area of 722 square miles. The granite walls of Kings Canyon Tower rise 4,000 feet above the canyon floor in places, all carved by glacial action.
The best time to visit Sequoia and Kings Canyon is from June to August, as the High Sierra typically receives snow until late spring. Temperatures during this time are the mildest, especially for hikers and campers. During the summer, daytime temperatures average 70°F, and nighttime temperatures can reach the mid-40s. Admission includes both parks.
4. Point Reyes National Seashore
Point Reyes National Seashore is a vast stretch of protected coastline in Northern California’s Marin County that is home to more than 1,500 species of plants and animals. The park has approximately 240 miles of hiking trails and four hiking trails. remote campsite. Day-trippers enjoy the park’s historic buildings, visitor center, and beautiful beaches. Other highlights include Alamere Falls, Point Reyes Lighthouse (a great lookout for migrating gray whales), and Philip Burton Nature Reserve.
Point Reyes National Seashore is open year-round, but the best weather is from May to September. However, he only visits from January to April to observe gray whale migrations and elephant seal pups. Admission to Point Reyes National Seashore is free, but backcountry camping costs $30 per site, per night, and is limited to six people. Leashed pets are only allowed in certain areas, so check the restrictions when planning your trip.
5. Channel Islands National Park
One of California’s most underrated national parks, Channel Islands National Park is a marine paradise located off the coast of Southern California. Comprised of five islands, the park is home to more than 2,000 species of flora and fauna, 150 of which are endemic to the park. Anacapa Island is great for bird watching and short hikes. Adventure seekers will love Santa Cruz Island, which offers opportunities for sea cave kayaking, diving, snorkeling, hiking, and camping. Santa Rosa and San Miguel are also perfect for leisure enthusiasts who want to relax on pristine sandy beaches with stunning sea views.
Reaching the island requires a short boat trip, but the time and cost will vary depending on the island you plan to visit. The park is open all year round, but summer is the best time to visit when the weather is milder and boat trips are less choppy. However, early fall is the best time for snorkeling and diving, as the sea is at its warmest (albeit still cold). There are no restaurants or lodging facilities on any of the islands, but primitive camping is allowed year-round. Therefore, overnight visitors should plan to bring food, water, and equipment.
6. Pinnacles National Park
California’s newest national park, the Pinnacles, encompasses 26,000 acres of spectacular scenery. The park includes forests, canyons, and wildlife, including the rare California condor. Other recreational activities include rock climbing, bird watching, and caving. The Pinnacles is one of the least visited of California’s national parks, and you’ll find solitude not easily found elsewhere.
Summer temperatures can reach a whopping 100 degrees Fahrenheit. For this reason, an early start is essential to avoid the peak of the heat, and you should always carry plenty of sunscreen and water. The two entrances to Pinnacles National Park are not connected within the park. The west entrance is along a narrow, single-lane road, impeding access for RVs, trailers, and large vehicles. The east entrance also provides access to the only part of the park. camp siteVisitor Center, and some hiking trails.
7. Lassen Volcanic National Park
Located in the northeastern corner of California, Lassen Volcanic National Park is typically less crowded than other California national parks and offers visitors plenty of outdoor adventures. However, because much of the park was damaged by the 2021 Dixie Fire, portions will remain closed until further notice. Otherwise, this park would have ranked much higher on our list.
Lassen has hiking trails along mountains and meadows, and crystal clear lakes are perfect for fishing, swimming, and kayaking. The biggest attractions are all his four types of volcanoes: shield volcanoes, composite volcanoes, cinder cones, and plug domes. Lassen Volcanic National Park is home to Lassen Peak, the world’s largest plug-domed volcano. Many geothermal areas include: Raging fumaroles, mud pots, boiling pools, and steaming ground. Lodging within the park includes Drakesbad Guest Ranch and eight campgrounds developed throughout the park. Generally, the best time to visit is from May to September, as some tourist attractions are closed in winter due to snowfall.
8. Joshua Tree National Park
Two distinct desert ecosystems converge in Joshua Tree National Park: the Mojave and the Colorado. As you move through the park, you’ll see granite monoliths, boulders and rock formations, and a wide range of biodiversity, including the eponymous Joshua tree. Activities at Joshua Tree National Park include hiking, rock climbing, bird watching, biking, camping, and stargazing. This park is open year-round, but few people visit in the summer when daytime temperatures exceed 100°F.
Still, if you plan to visit in the summer, it makes sense to book accommodation with air conditioning. More than 500 campsites are available, although portions of some campsites are closed during the summer. More importantly, start early, drink plenty of water, and wear proper sunscreen during outdoor activities. There are no grocery stores or restaurants within the park, so please bring everything you need.
9. death valley national park
One of the hottest and driest places on Earth, Death Valley National Park is located on the eastern border of south-central California, in the northern Mojave Desert and adjacent to the Great Basin Desert. Covering 3.4 million acres of desert land, Death Valley is home to miles of majestic sand dunes, technicolor rocks and canyons, wildlife, and 11,000-foot mountains.
Some of the park’s most notable attractions include Zabriskie Point, Mesquite Flat Dunes, Golden Canyon, and Badwater Basin (the lowest point in North America). Death Valley National Park is well known for its extreme weather and unusually high summer temperatures that can quickly reach an astonishing 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Therefore, it is generally best to visit the park in the spring or fall.
Take a road trip to California National Parks
California is home to nine national parks, ranging from arid deserts to beautiful coastlines. Each park attracts visitors in its own way, and road trippers will love the sights along the way. California’s national parks are a great option for budget-conscious travelers. Unfold your map and start planning your epic California adventure today!
Amy Albers is a librarian in Marietta, a suburb of Atlanta. When she’s not getting lost in family tree or local history, she’s finding fun solo and family travel destinations and sharing them with others. With over a dozen years of experience writing about her family and travels on her own blog, Amy currently enjoys writing freelance. She has three teenage and young adult boys who got her hooked on all things Marvel and Star Wars, and a girlfriend who raised her to be avid SEC football fans. I have a husband. Beaches and the great outdoors are her happy place, but she doesn’t get mad at luxury hotels. Check out her book reviews and her latest adventures on her Instagram. Exploring the Amisphere.