If you spend time traveling through California, you’re sure to have many “eureka” moments. In those moments, you find your happy place, and you’d do anything to claim the spot as your private oasis. If you enjoy visiting national parks, there’s a good chance you’ll have one of those moments while visiting the national parks in California.
Today, we’re looking at the best national parks The Golden State has to offer. Let’s get started!
How Many National Parks Are in California?
California has nine parks with the title of “national park.” However, the state has 28 different sites operated by the National Park Service. Parks like Yosemite, Death Valley, and Redwoods may get a lot of attention, but Alcatraz Island, Golden Gate, and many more call California home as well.
What Is the Largest National Park in California?
Death Valley National Park is the largest national park in California and the contiguous United States. It’s a massive three million-acre park that contains the lowest, driest, and hottest spot in the country. Be sure you pack your sunscreen no matter what time of year you plan to visit.
What Is the Most Visited National Park in California?
Depending on who you ask, you might get a different answer regarding the most visited park in California. With 4.5 million visitors, Yosemite gets the most visitors as far as parks with the “national park” title.
However, the National Park Service also manages Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, which attracts 24 million visitors each year. It’s the third most visited city park in the country.
Golden Gate Park is often compared to Central Park in New York City. However, Golden Gate Park is 20% larger than Central Park. The park runs east to west and is about three miles long and half a mile north to south. In contrast, Yosemite is 747,956 acres and takes a bit more effort to get to compared to Golden Gate Park.
7 Best National Parks in California
The Golden State has some unbelievable landscapes waiting to be explored. While all national parks are significant, we’ve narrowed it down to seven we think you should visit. Let’s take a look!
Address: 9035 Village Dr, Yosemite Valley, CA 95389
About: Yosemite National Park is 1,200 square miles of serene beauty. It’s full of valleys, meadows, giant sequoias, and walls of granite more than half a mile high. Whether you’re planning to hike, climb, or enjoy a scenic drive, you’ll experience some of the best landscapes in the entire country.
➡ If you want to hike while visiting Yosemite, but you’re not sure where to start, check out these 7 Easy Hikes in Yosemite That Anyone Can Enjoy.
The park is home to more than 25 waterfalls and hundreds of animal species, and it attracts 4.5 million visitors each year. About 75% of those visitors come from May through October. Despite the park being 1,200 square miles, most guests never leave the six-square miles of Yosemite Valley.
Morton Road Trip Rating: 10/10 – Yosemite National Park offers something for everyone, and a trip to this park should be on every adventurer’s bucket list.
2. Joshua Tree
Address: 6554 Park Blvd, Joshua Tree, CA 92252
About: Joshua Tree National Park is only a few hours outside of Los Angeles, San Diego, Las Vegas, and Phoenix and is a great place to escape the hustle and bustle of life in a big city. The park is open year-round, and each year 2.8 million visitors come to enjoy hiking, camping, rock climbing, and photography.
If you want to beat the crowds, it’s best to plan your visit from October through May. Not only will you avoid crowds, but you’ll also benefit from the cooler temperatures. The park is approximately 800,000 acres of desert wilderness.
Morton Road Trip Rating: 8/10 – Named after a type of yucca plant, this park offers tremendous stargazing opportunities, plenty of space for camping, and hundreds of miles of hiking trails.
Address: 47050 Generals Hwy, Three Rivers, CA 93271
About: Sequoia National Park was established in 1890 to protect the groves of giant sequoias. The park is 629 square miles and is under joint administration with neighboring Kings Canyon National Park. One of the park’s highlights is General Sherman, the largest tree in the park. It’s believed to be somewhere between 2,300 and 2,700 years old.
The park offers much more to see and experience than giant trees. You’ll also find other plants in the park, like cedar trees, sugar pines, white firs, and ponderosa pines. You may even get a glance at some of the wild animals that call the park home, like black bears, mule deer, gray foxes, and squirrels.
Morton Road Trip Rating: 7/10 – In 2021, Sequoia experienced a massive wildfire that did a tremendous amount of damage to the park’s infrastructure. Not all park areas are open, and some trails remain closed due to safety concerns. Parking at the park’s main attraction, General Sherman Tree, is severely limited, making it challenging to snag a parking spot during peak times.
More National Park Articles You’ll Enjoy:
- How to Best Explore Kobuk Valley National Park in Alaska
- The Complete List of Alaska National Parks
- Are Homeless People Living in the National Parks?
4. Death Valley
Address: Death Valley, CA 92328 (Neither Death Valley National Park nor Furnace Creek Visitor Center has a specific street address.)
About: It doesn’t sound very hospitable with a name like Death Valley National Park, but the scenery is worth it if you have air conditioning! With record temperatures reaching 134 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s the hottest place on Earth.
The park straddles the California-Nevada state line and is the largest national park in the contiguous United States. The park also takes first place as the hottest, driest, and lowest national park managed by the National Park Service.
If you’re not interested in hiking in the desert, you can enjoy nearly 1,000 miles of paved and unpaved roads. Make sure you stock up on water and other essential supplies (there’s not much in the way of gas stations or fast-food restaurants in the desert). Exploring Death Valley is a great way to spend a day, a long weekend, or an entire week.
Morton Road Trip Rating: 9/10 – It’s not every day you can say you visited the hottest, lowest, and driest place in the country.
5. Lassen Volcanic
Address: 21820 Lassen Peak Hwy, Mineral, CA 96063
About: Located in Northern California, Lassen Volcanic National Park has the largest plug dome volcano in the world. The park is home to four types of volcanoes and offers something for everyone with over 150 miles of trails. Summer is very short in this park, and the weather can be incredibly unpredictable during the winter months.
Elevation in the park ranges from 5,650 to 10,457 feet. This can cause altitude sickness in many visitors. Keep this in mind when selecting which activities you’ll be doing. You may be able to hike more difficult trails elsewhere, but even easy hikes at higher elevations can be strenuous. The park is also home to black bears and mountain lions, so make sure you take precautions when hiking.
Morton Road Trip Rating: 8/10 – The 30-mile park highway offers some incredible views and frequent wildlife encounters.
Address: 5000 CA-146, Paicines, CA 95043
About: Pinnacles National Park formed 23 million years ago due to multiple volcano eruptions. The park has an east and a west entrance; however, they don’t connect. It’s also good to be aware that they’re over an hour apart.
With limited cell service in the area, make sure you plan accordingly to avoid being unable to communicate with any of your fellow adventurers.
Summer is a great time to visit Pinnacles, but you’ll want to plan for extreme temperatures. Make sure you bring plenty of water, especially if you plan to hike or enjoy other physical activities. The park is home to more than 30 miles of hiking trails. It’s a great idea to stop to chat with a ranger regarding the weather conditions and which hikes they might recommend for that day.
➡ Pinnacles is one of the many lesser-known national parks we recommend visiting. Here are a few more: 11 National Parks You’ve Probably Never Heard Of
Morton Road Trip Rating: 8/10 – The towering rock spires are one of the highlights for many guests to the park. Keep your eyes to the sky for a chance to see peregrine falcons, golden eagles, or possibly a California condor.
7. Redwood National and State Parks
Address: 1600 US-199, Crescent City, CA 95531
About: While home to some of the tallest trees on Earth, Redwood National and State Parks offer more than just tall trees. Here, you’ll find 40 miles of rugged coastline, wild rivers, and enough things to fill your schedule no matter how long you plan to spend in the park.
Redwood is part of a four-park system designed to protect 45% of all remaining coastal redwood forests. It averages just over 400,000 visitors each year and is 138,999 acres.
Many guests to the park are surprised to find no entry fees or even an entrance station to Redwood National and State Parks. It’s home to over 200 miles of hiking trails, but be sure to do your research, as many footbridges are temporarily removed during the rainy season to avoid damage from floodwaters.
There are no hotels or motels within the park boundaries. You’ll need to plan for a place to stay if you want to spend more than a single day in the park.
Morton Road Trip Rating: 9/10 – Getting to see some of the tallest trees on Earth is something you’ll never forget.
Is Visiting National Parks in California Worth It?
California is a massive state with a generous amount of national parks. If you can’t find a national park you enjoy in The Golden State, it might not exist anywhere.
Do yourself a favor and add these California national parks to your bucket list! Depending on your travel plans, you might even be able to visit several parks on a single trip.
There’s no shortage of incredible national parks on the East Coast either. Find out: What Are the Best National Parks in Florida?
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Tuesday 1st of February 2022
No Kings Canyon National Park? No Channel Islands National Park? Come on, get real. To mention but one example, Channel Islands National Park is the American Galapagos, with many forms of animal life (like the Channel Islands Fox) found nowhere else on Earth. There is unique and incredible hiking, snorkeling and scuba diving. I would much rather go there than Death Valley or Lassen. It is just a 17 mile ferry ride from Ventura Harbor, and is well worth the effort. You owe it to yourself to check it out rather than just following the crowds.