National Parks in California: Best National Parks and Monuments

National parks in California offer an unprecedented mosaic of natural wonders, making the state one of the foremost destinations for outdoor enthusiasts.

California, one of the largest states in the United States, stands as evidence of the country’s natural beauty. California boasts the highest number of national parks in the nation, totaling 9 captivating sites. From oceanfront vistas to desert flats and mountainous terrains, the state offers a kaleidoscope of outdoor activities catering to every preference.

National Parks in California: Best National Parks and Monuments 1

In addition to the national parks, California hosts 25 areas managed by the National Park Services, encompassing National Monuments, National Historic Sites, National Recreation Areas, and National Historic Trails.

As you embark on this exploration, the vast array of national park areas and state parks opens the door to limitless possibilities.

National Parks in California

National Parks in California: Channel Islands National Park
Channel Islands National Park

1. Channel Islands National Park

  • Year Established: 1980
  • Annual Visitors: 366,250
  • Area: 249,561 acres
  • Best Time to Visit: August to October 

Channel Island National Park is comprised of five jaw dropping islands about 29 miles from Santa Barbara, California. The islands include Anacapa, Santa Rosa, San Miguel, Santa Cruz, and Santa Barbara. Known for its gorgeous nature, amazing wildlife, and preservation of cultural heritage, these islands are awe-inspiring.

This park is all about water experiences such as snorkeling, swimming, and kayaking. Due to the nature of the islands, visitors need to arrange travel by boat to the island of their choice. It’s highly recommended that this is done in advance. Keep in mind that there are no cars or bikes on the islands, therefore exploring on foot is the only option. 

National Parks in California: Death Valley National Park
Death Valley National Park

2. Death Valley National Park

While Death Valley National Park is known for its stark landscape, for travelers looking for a bit more edge, this park is perfect. The geological and topographical aspects of Death Valley are what draws people in, including the vast salt lake bed that sits at -282 feet. That makes Death Valley the lowest National Park in the United States. 

During the spring season the park features stunning wildflowers. Most of the top sites in Death Valley National Park are accessible from paved roads. There are a few dirt road destinations but these roads are graded and easily accessible with most vehicles. 

National Parks in California: Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park

3. Joshua Tree National Park

  • Year Established: 1994
  • Annual Visitors: 2-3 million 
  • Area:  795,156 acres
  • Best Time to Visit: March to May, October to November

Joshua Tree National Park features a vastly beautiful desert landscape in southern California. Visitors can enjoy seeing the desert come to life as they find gorgeous Joshua Trees, cacti, geological features, and adventure around every corner. The park’s namesake is a twisted, spiny, palm-like tree that is considered a giant succulent. 

The location of this park is quite remote, but it is easily accessible from the three main entrances including the north entrance at Twentynine Palms, west entrance at Joshua Tree, and south entrance at Chiriaco Summit. Keep in mind that these towns are very small and all tend to blend together. 

National Parks in California: Kings Canyon National Park
Kings Canyon National Park

4. Kings Canyon National Park

  • Year Established: 1940
  • Annual Visitors: 400,000 
  • Area:  461,901 acres
  • Best Time to Visit: September to October

Kings Canyon National Park has some truly spectacular scenery including General Grant Grove where the largest Sequoia in the park can be found. General Grant is actually the second largest tree in the world and a can’t miss attraction when visiting Kings Canyon. 

The park is located in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains next to its sister park, Sequoia National Park. Beyond marveling at the stature of the giant Sequoia trees, the park also offers hiking, horseback riding, and camping. 

National Parks in California: Lassen Volcanic National Park
Lassen Volcanic National Park

5. Lassen Volcanic National Park

  • Year Established: 1916
  • Annual Visitors: 500,000 
  • Area: 106,452 acres
  • Best Time to Visit: August to October

Those searching for a unique National Park to visit in the United States don’t need to look further than Lassen Volcanic in Northern California. Both nature lovers and adventure seekers will love the incredible landscape and geological features of the park. The park got its moniker for being the home of the world’s largest plug dome volcano, Lassen Peak. 

The park also offers other geological features such as steam vents and mud pots. Lassen Volcanic National Park does get inclement winter weather due to its northern location.

National Parks in California: Pinnacles National Park
Pinnacles National Park

6. Pinnacles National Park

  • Year Established: 2013
  • Annual Visitors: 200,000 
  • Area: 26,000 acres
  • Best Time to Visit: March to May, September to October 

Pinnacles National Park offers solitude and challenge as visitors escape urban life for complete peace and quiet. The park has some challenging hikes, rock climbing, and interesting geological formations. 

The park has two distinct sections, the East and West, that are not connected by roads. Instead, the only way to get from East to West is hiking trails. One of the most popular features in this small National Park is a talus cave, Bear Gulch Cave. 

National Parks in California: Redwood National Park
Redwood National Park

7. Redwood National Park

Redwood National Park is home to the world’s oldest and largest trees. Setting foot in a Redwood forest is a special experience that feels otherworldly. The Redwoods here reach staggering heights of over 360 ft and weigh over 500 tons, these are true giants. 

Additionally the park features incredible hiking and the pristine Northern California coastline. In fact, the scenic Redwood Coast drive is one of the most beautiful and iconic drives in all of North America. 

National Parks in California: Sequoia National Park
Sequoia National Park

8. Sequoia National Park

  • Year Established: 1890
  • Annual Visitors: 1 million 
  • Area: 328,315 acres
  • Best Time to Visit: June to August

Sequoia was California’s first National Park established in 1890 to protect the giant Sequoias of the park. Home to some of the tallest trees on Earth, the park also houses the General Sherman tree, which is believed to be 2,700 years old and is the largest Sequoia in the world. The General stands at a staggering 275 ft tall and is 36 ft in diameter. 

The park has a beautiful landscape, much like neighboring park Kings Canyon. Other activities include hiking and wildlife viewing. Sequoia is home to badgers, coyotes, black bear, deer, fox, cougars, and bighorn sheep. 

National Parks in California: Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park

9. Yosemite National Park

As California’s most popular National Park, Yosemite has dramatic scenery including cascading waterfalls, stunning mountain peaks, and awe-inspiring canyon walls. Its location in the High Sierras of Northern California provides outdoor adventure and a nature lover’s dream. 

Yosemite National Park’s most famous features are its granite monoliths, Half Dome and El Capitan. Many climbers dream of scaling these monoliths, but the park also offers amazing hiking trails and abundant wildlife, including a healthy black bear population. The bears have even mastered breaking into people’s cars!

Are you planning an epic trip to Yosemite? Make sure to check the articles below:

Other Areas of California Maintained by National Park Services

  • Alcatraz Island
  • Cabrillo National Monument
  • California National Historic Trail
  • Castle Mountains National Monument
  • César E. Chávez National Monument
  • Devils Postpile National Monument
  • Eugene O’Neill National Historic Site
  • Fort Point National Historic Site
  • Golden Gate National Recreation Area
  • John Muir National Historic Site
  • Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail
  • Lava Beds National Monument
  • Manzanar National Historic Site
  • Mojave National Preserve
  • Muir Woods National Monument
  • Old Spanish National Historic Trail
  • Point Reyes National Seashore
  • Pony Express National Historic Trail
  • Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial
  • Presidio of San Francisco
  • Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front National Historical Park
  • San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park
  • Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area
  • Tule Lake National Monument
  • Whiskeytown National Recreation Area
by Viktor Elizarov
I am a travel photographer and educator from Montreal, Canada, and a founder of PhotoTraces. I travel around the world and share my experiences here. Feel free to check my Travel Portfolio and download Free Lightroom Presets.

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