The golden state of California has many awe-inspiring landscapes, breathtaking views, and unparalleled natural beauty. From rocky coasts to towering granite cliffs and beautiful forests there are parks spread out across vast areas in California. The parks have hiking, bouldering, kayaking, camping, and many other activities that you will be able to enjoy.

Some of the best west coast parks in the US are in California. These conservation areas are a gateway into adventure and connecting with nature. This guide contains information about all the national parks in California, all the outdoor activities, camping options, and any other relevant information.

National Parks in California

  • Lassen Volcanic National Park

  • Channel Islands National Park

  • Pinnacles National Park

  • Joshua Tree National Park

  • Yosemite National Park

  • Death Valley National Park

  • Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

  • Redwoods National Park

Lassen Volcanic National Park Lassen Volcanic National Park

Among the best national parks in California is Lassen Volcanic National Park covering a land area of more than 90,000 acres. It is located in the northeast corner of the golden state. This national park in California is also known as a mini Yellowstone Park because many of the same geothermal formations as Yellowstone are found at Lassen Volcanic National Park. The park is home to a volcano that erupted in 1914 and might erupt again soon!

Places to Visit

Lassen Peak

Lassen Peak is one of the largest plug dome volcanoes on Earth. You can hike the Lassen Peak Trail which takes you to the summit of the volcano. The hike is 5 hours long and covers 5 miles. The view from the top is very beautiful over the national park.

Bumpass Hell

Bumpass Hell features the largest concentration of hydrothermal features. This phenomenon is very interesting to see if you haven’t seen it before. The trail is only open during summer and fall to prevent accidents in the snow. The trail is very popular so getting there early is recommended.

Lava Beds

Lava beds are formed from years and years of flowing lava from the volcano mountain. Visitors can see bubbling mud pools, steaming fumaroles, and colorful hydrothermal features. The most spectacular scenery in this national park is at Manzanita Lake, Reflection Lake, Kings Creek Falls, and Summit Lake.

Plants and Animals 

This national park in California is home to a variety of plant species that have adapted to the unique volcanic environment. Some of them are Whitebark Pine, Mountain Hemlock, Shasta Red Fir, Western White Pine, Corn Lily, and hundreds of other species. 

Across Lassen Volcanic National Park, there is endless wildlife, some of which are, Bobcats, American Black Bears, Mountain Lions, Coyotes, Foxes, Skunks, Mule Deer, Gray Foxes, Pine Martens, and a variety of bird species. The unique diversity of plants and animals makes this one of the best national parks in California.

Outdoor Activities 

This park also has thrilling adventurous activities like hiking, backpacking, and camping, with trails ranging from easy walks to challenging summit climbs. For those who love fishing, you’re lucky because fishing is allowed in some of the parks’ lakes, including Manzanita and Summit Lake.

In the colder months, outdoor enthusiasts are attracted to the park by winter activities such as snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and snow camping.

Camping Options

The park has a range of accommodation options, including camping in developed sites with facilities. Those who want to experience more distant environments can also set up camp on the edge of the forest.

Best Time to Visit

The ideal time to visit Lassen Volcanic National Park is from July to October, from the opening of roads till the snow starts to fall again.

Channel Islands National Park

Channel Islands National Park, also known as the Galapagos of North America, encompasses 5 of the 8 Californian channel islands. The park covers a total area of 249,561 acres. This California national park has some of the most pristine underwater life including giant kelp forests that are great for diving. All the islands are famous for their rugged coastlines, deep sea caves, spectacular cliffs, and beautiful beaches. The Channel Islands fall right on the coast so they are a great addition if you are doing a cross-California road trip.

Places to Visit

Anacapa Island

Anacapa Island has breathtaking views and countless sea birds. The island of Anacapa is renowned for its icon Arch Rock. It is closer to the mainland than other islands and has excellent bird-watching opportunities. It hosts the world’s biggest breeding colony of Western gulls.

Santa Cruz Island

Awesome adventurous activities like kayaking and hiking can be done on Santa Cruz Island with stunning coastal views and deep canyons. Santa Cruz Island is the largest island in the park.

Santa Rosa Island

Santa Rosa Island, the second largest island in the park, has various landscapes, including beaches, dunes and rocky mountains that make it an ideal destination for hiking, camping or encounters with wildlife.

San Miguel Island

San Miguel Island, known for its isolation and remarkable natural beauty is the most remote or least visited of these islands. It is a great place to get away from the crowds and recharge in nature.

Santa Barbara Islands

Santa Barbara Island is famous for its wide sandy beaches. You can find a lot to choose from if you’re trying to swim the best wave or watch an excellent sunset.

Plants and Animals

Out of all the animal and plant species that exist on Earth, 145 of them can be found only on the islands of this national park in California. Some of them are Island Oak, Island Scrub Oak, Island Bush Poppy, Giant Coreopsis, Santa Cruz Island Manzanita, and Island Ironwood. Among wildlife, cute island foxes, gray whales, dolphins, sea lions, and some birds like Pelicans, Island scrub chase, and many more can be found on these islands. Blue and humpback whales can be seen here from summer to early fall.

Outdoor Activities

There are a variety of things that can be done by visitors in this California national park, such as hiking, camping, kayaking, snorkeling, and scuba diving. The islands have an extensive network of hiking trails that range from beginner to expert levels. This makes it possible for visitors to explore the extraordinary landscape. The waters of the surrounding area are a popular destination for divers, having opportunities to explore giant kelp forests, macro marine life, and underwater caves.

Best Time to Visit

You can visit Channel Islands National Park throughout the year. However, anytime you visit, you are going to miss out on something or the other in this California national park. This is because each season has its unique weather, natural events, and outdoor activities. For example, in the spring season, you can witness the migration of spring birds or the birth of Island fox puppies. Similarly, the ideal time for sailing, snorkeling, diving, kayaking, and swimming is the summer season. To choose which season you want to visit, visit the government website for all information.

 

 

Pinnacles National ParkPinnacles National Park

Pinnacles National Park is located in the Gabilan Mountains east of the Salinas Valley. This California national park contains approximately 26,000 acres. It is characterized by massive rock spires, cliffs or rough canyon walls.

Places to Visit

The rock formations of the Pinnacles include unique and striking spires formed by volcanic breccia. Talus caves, formed by giant boulders lodged between rock walls, are also known to exist at Pinnacles. Visitors are usually attracted to the Bear Gulch and Balconies Caves.

Plants and Animals

Some of the notable plant species in Pinnacles National Park are California Buckeye, Coast Live Oak, Manzanita, Blue Oak, Toyon, and California Flannelbush. Pinnacles is home to numerous animal species like Canyon pets, mountain lions, hummingbirds, and condors.

Outdoor Activities

Some of the activities you can do at Pinnacles National Park are rock climbing and hiking the beautiful Bear Gulch Cave Trail. Pinnacles National Park is perfect for people who prefer hiking on less visited trails.

Camping Options

The park also has camping facilities, with both tent and RV options available, as well as picnic areas and restroom facilities.

Best Time to Visit

The best time to go to Pinnacles National Park is in late February to early June. This period has excellent weather and smaller crowds. Temperatures in summer might get too hot so visiting this park in spring or fall would be a good idea.

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree photo by Jeremiah Warren

Joshua Tree National Park is a favorite amongst people from Los Angeles because it’s the most easily accessible national park in California. It is located between the Mojave and Colorado deserts on the south coast of California. Mojave is the hottest desert on the North American continent. Approximately 800,000 square kilometers are designated as Joshua Tree National Park. The park is known for its Joshua trees which are high, spiky plants in the agave family that can reach up to 40 feet.

Places to Visit

Joshua Tree National Park is renowned for its stunning rock formations, from granite monoliths to huge boulders and massive rocks. There are so many things to do in Joshua Tree including visiting Hidden Valley, Skull Rock, and Arch Rocks.

Plants and Animals

Wildlife in Joshua Tree National Park, ranges from desert tortoises, jackrabbits, coyotes, and bighorn sheep to a wide variety of bird species. In addition, you will also be able to observe lizards, snakes, kangaroo rats, and other small animals that have adapted to the harsh desert environment. The park’s birdwatching opportunities are also good, particularly with species such as roadrunners, hawks, and other migratory birds that make it their home.

Outdoor Activities

There are numerous outdoor activities you can do at the park. There are many options for hiking, ranging from easy nature walks to more challenging trails, such as 49 Palms Oasis and Ryan Mountain. Due to its diverse and formidable rock formations, Joshua Tree National Park is a famous destination for rock climbers as well.

Camping Options

The park has a range of camping opportunities, from primitive sites with minimum facilities to more adventurous backcountry sites for those who prefer an even more remote experience.

Best Time to Visit

March to May and October to November are the best months for visiting Joshua Tree National Park. Though the park is accessible year-round, temperatures in these months are relatively comfortable with an average temperature of about 85 degrees Fahrenheit.

Yosemite National Park Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park is the world’s most famous environmental wonder in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains. Yosemite National Park is located in central California with unique Sierra Nevada gateway towns surrounding it. Yosemite National Park spans over 748,000 acres of land and has elevations ranging from 2000 to 13,000 feet. It is the most well-known national park in California and people from around the world come to visit here. 

Places to Visit

Yosemite Valley

This legendary valley has a fabulous view of the great granite cliffs, including El Capitan and Half Dome. It’s also the site of charming waterfalls, like Yosemite and Bridalveil Falls.

Glacier Point

The highest point in Yosemite National Park is Glacier Point. It is at a height of 7,214 meters and provides stunning views of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, and the surrounding forest.

Mariposa Grove

This ancient forest has about five hundred giant sequoias and California’s tunnel trees. It makes for stunning pictures. You can often spot grizzly bears in this area as well. 

Tuolumne Meadows

Tuolumne Meadows is a high-country alpine wilderness area known for its beautiful meadows, lakes, and stunning granite domes, situated at an altitude of 8,600 feet. 

Waterfalls

There are a lot of impressive waterfalls in Yosemite National Park, some of which are North America’s tallest waterfalls. Yosemite Falls is one of the most recognizable and spectacular waterfalls in the park. Bridal Veil Falls is a 620 feet waterfall known for its calm flow, making it easy to see from the entrance of Yosemite National Park.

Plants and Animals

The park is home to a wide range of plant and animal species, adapted to its varied habitats, including forests, meadows, and alpine regions. Various beautiful plants like Giant Sequoia, Jeffrey Pine, Western Dogwood, and Western Juniper can be commonly found in this park. Animal species like American Pika, Black Bear, Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep, and Yosemite Toad can be seen in this park. 

Outdoor Activities

Yosemite is a hiker’s paradise, with a huge number of trails for different skill levels. You can go on a short nature walk or go on a full-day hike to scenic viewpoints like Glacier Point or Vernal Fall. You can also do multi-day backpacking adventures along the park’s extensive trail system. 

For rock climbing, whether you’re a seasoned climber or a beginner, you can find rocks suited to your experience level. Iconic climbing spots include El Capitan and Half Dome, but there are many other granite walls and domes to explore.

Best Time to Visit

Each season in Yosemite has its own unique experience. The spring has blooming flowers and cascading waterfalls. Summer is an excellent time for hiking, camping, or watching wildlife. The fall season has vivid autumn colors, while winter allows cross-country skiing or snowmobiling in peaceful surroundings. So choose the month according to your interest and preferences and then go visit Yosemite National Park. 

Death Valley National ParkDeath Valley National Park

Death Valley National Park is a breathtaking destination located in eastern California. It has over 3.4 million acres and is renowned for its diverse landscapes and hot temperatures. People who have been to this national park in California say that it feels like they have landed on another planet.

Places to Visit

The Badwater Basin salt flat lies 282 feet below sea level and is the lowest point in North America. You can walk along the salt flats and see all the salt formations. Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes are huge golden sand dunes that have amazing photo opportunities during sunrise or sunset. Zabriskie Point at sunset when the sunlight illuminates the eroded badlands is also a great place to see the sunset.

Plants and Animals

Death Valley has a lot of desert plants and animals that have adapted to survive in extreme conditions. Some species include the desert bighorn sheep, coyotes, kit foxes, and various cacti such as the barrel cactus and the Joshua tree.

Outdoor Activities

Death Valley has a lot of hiking trails for all levels. The most interesting is the trail to Telescope Peak, the highest point in the park, for breathtaking views. Since Death Valley has so little light pollution, stargazing here is spectacular. You can spot some stars that you cannot see in any other places in California. If you are an adventure enthusiast, you can go on an off-road excursion on a 4×4 as well.

Camping Options

Furnace Creek Campground is situated near the visitor center and has basic amenities such as water, flush toilets, and fire pits. It has both tent and RV sites available. Mesquite Spring Campground on the other hand is deep in the desert wilderness. The quiet campground has a more secluded camping experience. It has picnic tables, pit toilets, and fire grates.

Best Time to Visit

To fully appreciate this California national park, planning your visit in the cooler months, typically from November to March is better. During this time, temperatures are more moderate, allowing for comfortable exploration of the park’s attractions. In summer temperatures can reach well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, making it a dangerous place for hiking.

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National ParksSequoia National Park

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, located side by side in the southern Sierra Nevada, are known for their huge sequoia trees and dramatic landscapes. These national parks in California are administered together by the forest services.

Places to Visit

As the largest living tree on the planet, the General Sherman Tree is an absolute must-see. The tree was named because it is over 2000 years old and is still bravely soldering on. For a great hike, go up the Moro Rock trail which has amazing views of the surrounding mountains and valleys. The granite dome is accessible by a series of stairs carved into the rock. You can also visit Crystal Cave which is a marble cavern with a short hiking route inside it. You have to book tickets for the cave in advance.

Plants and Animals

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are home to a rich variety of flora and fauna. Towering sequoia trees are the main part of the landscape, providing a place to live for lots of species. Wildlife enthusiasts can find black bears, mule deer, mountain lions, and an array of bird species, including the iconic pileated woodpecker here.

Outdoor Activities

You can explore the extensive network of trails that wind through the parks. There are trails going to Crystal Cave and Moro Rock. If you are feeling lazy, go on a drive along Generals Highway, which connects both parks, and has breathtaking views, pretty meadows, and access to various trailheads.

Camping Options

Lodgepole Campground has a great camping experience in the middle of the giant sequoias. Amenities include drinking water, showers, and a visitor center, making it suitable for both tent and RV campers. Dorst Creek Campground is situated on a wooded hillside. It has modern facilities, including flush toilets, fire pits, and ample space for tents and RVs.

Best Time to Visit

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are best explored during the summer months, from June to September. During this time, the weather is generally pleasant, and all roads and facilities are open. It’s important to note that winter brings heavy snowfall, leading to the closure of certain areas within these California national parks.

Redwoods National ParkTake a Pacifica mini van down Howland hill road in the Redwood National Forest

Redwoods National Park, located on California’s stunning North Coast, is a great gem for nature lovers seeking some quiet amongst nature. This national park in California is not only renowned for its majestic coast redwoods but also its diverse ecosystems that support lots of plants and animals.

Places to Visit

Tall Trees Grove is a part of Redwoods National Park where you can see some of the world’s tallest trees, reaching heights of over 350 feet. You can do a 4.5-mile hike around this area and see all the tallest trees here. For a gentler walk, follow the trail along Home Creek. The path is called Fern Canyon because the entire area is covered with ferns. The Coastal Trail is where you can witness the powerful waves crashing against dramatic cliffs for those that love the ocean.

Plants and Animals

Redwoods National Park boasts an incredible diversity of plant and animal species. You will find creatures like the American black bear, Roosevelt elk, gray foxes, and bird species such as the iconic marbled murrelet.

Outdoor Activities

There are lots of hikes amongst the redwood trees here. There are also gentler hike along streams or along the ocean for those that prefer the coastline. 

Camping Options

Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park has several campgrounds surrounded by giant redwoods. Situated along the banks of the Smith River, Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park also has a great camping experience.

Best Time to Visit

Redwoods National Park can be enjoyed throughout the year. However, the dry months of late spring to early fall, from May to October, are better for exploring the park’s trails and for outdoor activities.

Conclusion

National parks in California are full of natural beauty, adventure, and diverse ecosystems for visitors to explore. From the geothermal wonders of Lassen Volcanic National Park to the unique marine life of Channel Islands National Park, there is something for everyone to enjoy. 

Pinnacles National Park has its towering rock formations and talus caves, while Joshua Tree National Park has striking desert landscapes and iconic Joshua trees. Yosemite National Park, with its majestic granite cliffs, breathtaking waterfalls, and abundant wildlife, remains a true gem of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. 

Death Valley has a landscape like no other and Redwoods and King Canyon have stunning giant sequoia forests at every turn. These national parks in California have unforgettable experiences for nature lovers and adventure seekers alike.

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