16 Best National Parks in California to Visit in 2023

:Ultimate Guide to All 63 US National Parks

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California is home to more national parks than any other state in the United States. The state touts nine national parks, plus more national monuments, seashores, recreation areas, and historic sites. Theres no shortage of beautiful federal lands in this great state.

From majestic waterfalls to rugged mountains to colorful coastline, the national parks in California offer something for everyone. Beyond the natural beauty, Californias parks are home to some incredible feats, including:

The highest mountain peak outside of Alaska

The lowest elevation in the United States

The longest stretch of undeveloped coastline outside of Alaska

Three of the first four national parks

One of three tide falls in the United States

This guide covers thebest national parks in California, complete with thehighlightsandmust-see destinations.

Are you looking for more California national park inspiration?Dont miss these posts:

The Best Northern California National Park Road Trip

How to Spend One Day in Yosemite National Park

The Best One Day in Joshua Tree Itinerary

18 Best Hikes in Sequoia National Park

This post may contain affiliate links, where I may receive a small commission at no additional cost to you. Read more in thisdisclosure policy.

How many national parks are in California?

4. Redwood National and State Parks

11. Devils Postpile National Monument

14. Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area

15. Golden Gate National Recreation Area

16. King Range National Conservation Area

Frequently Asked Questions about National Parks Near California

Final Thoughts on the California National Parks Ranked

How many national parks are in California?

There arenine national parks in California, including popular parks like Yosemite, Sequoia, Death Valley, and Joshua Tree. In addition, California is home to28 national park sitesprotected by the National Park Service, including national monuments, seashores, and recreation areas.

You can see afull list of all California national parkshere.

Are you planning a national park trip but dont know where to start?Get my free 28-page national park ebook where I break down everything you need to know to visit all 63 USA national parks.

Before diving in, heres a quick visual guide of the best national parks in California shown on a map. This guides 16 best national parks are scattered throughout beautiful California.

Yosemite National Park is the crown jewel of Californias national parks. It is theoldest national parkin the state (and second oldest in the country). While Yellowstone was the first national park, it was initially Yosemite that sparked the idea for the national park system.

The most iconic views are inYosemite Valley, surrounded by towering canyon walls, grassy meadows, and flowing waterfalls. Granite peaks likeEl CapitanandHalf Domelure more than 3 million photographers and adventurers each year.

Theres no shortage of incredible things to do in Yosemite with bucket-list hikes likeYosemite,Vernal Falls, andHalf Dome, and scenic drives likeGlacier Point Road.

In addition to the valley, visitors can also take in the scenicTuolumne MeadowsandTenaya LakeoffTioga Pass RoadorMariposa Grovefor a change in scenery.

The best time to visit Yosemite islate spring or fallwhen crowds are fewer and temperatures are more comfortable. In the spring, waterfalls flow at full force. In the fall, some leaves change colors, and the meadows turn a golden hue.

Read more about Yosemite National Park:

20 Best Photo Spots in Yosemite

25 Best Airbnbs Near Yosemite

Best Things to Do in Yosemite National Park

is one of the most breathtaking waterfalls in the park. You can view the falls from a short walk to Lower Yosemite Falls viewpoint or take a longer hike to the top of Upper Yosemite Falls.

is one of the best waterfall hikes in the park. A short hike takes you to a viewpoint of Vernal Falls, but a more strenuous trail takes you to the top of both waterfalls in a loop.

is one of the most photographed spots in Yosemite, providing excellent views of Half Dome and Yosemite Valley.

is an incredible sunset hike off Glacier Point Road, providing panoramic views overlooking Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, and El Capitan.

is one of the most challenging hikes in the park requiring adventure seekers to scale the curved rock face using cables and chains.

Sequoia National Parkis home to the worlds largest trees, the giant sequoias. Tucked away into the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Sequoia and its northern neighbor,Kings Canyon, form a joint park protecting huge trees and stunning landscapes.

The largest tree in the world, theGeneral Sherman Tree, can be found here, measuring over 36-feet wide at its base. TheGiant Forestoffers plenty more massive sequoias to marvel at, from theCongress Trailto theBig Trees Trail.

In addition to massive trees, Sequoia has panoramic vistas, likeMoro Rock, and the tallest point in the contiguous United States,Mount Whitney. Only a short drive away from Yosemite National Park, Sequoia is worth visiting.

Read More About Sequoia National Park:

Best Time of Year to Visit Sequoia

Best Things to Do in Sequoia National Park

is the largest tree in the world, standing at 275 feet tall and 36 feet wide. This 2,000-year-old tree weighs 2.5 million pounds and is accessible from a short hiking trail.

is one of the best hikes in the park, filled with ancient giant sequoias. This hike includes the General Sherman Tree, plus two more scenic groves named The Senate and The House, hence the trail name.

is another short loop through giant sequoias. The trail features boardwalk paths and informative signs on a sequoia trees history and life cycle.

is a challenging granite dome rock formation. Stairs have been carved into the rock, allowing for a challenging hike to spectacular sunset views of the Sierras.

is a massive sequoia that fell many years ago to block the road. The park then carved a hole in the fallen tree that allows vehicles to drive through.

Kings Canyon National Parkis one of the most underrated parks in California, with only half the visitors of neighbor Sequoia National Park. The two parks form an adjoining park unit, sharing a website and park staff!

Kings Canyon is also home to giant sequoias in the Grant Grove area, one of the best places to stay inside the park. The massiveGeneral Grant Treeis the second largest tree globally (after the German Sherman Tree!).

The iconicKings Canyon Scenic Bywayoffers incredible views of the granite canyon and lush valley. This part of Kings Canyon is often called Little Yosemite, touting similar views without the crowds.

Read More about Kings Canyon National Park:

7 Best Campgrounds in Kings Canyon

Best Things to Do in Kings Canyon National Park

is home to the General Grant Tree, the second largest tree on the planet, only after the General Sherman Tree. This short loop through the grove is the perfect family-friendly activity.

is an excellent 50-mile scenic drive into the heart of Kings Canyon National Park and its iconic valley. Unfortunately, this route is only open in the summer due to heavy snowfall.

4. Redwood National and State Parks

Redwood National Parkis one of the most serene parks in California, tucked away along the coast near the Oregon border. While Sequoia is home to the largest trees (the sequoia redwoods), Redwood is home to theworlds tallest trees(the coastal redwoods).

Unlike other national parks, Redwood National Park has partnered with three popular state parks, co-managing the areas redwood groves.

Together, the national park plusJedediah Smith Redwoods, Del Norte Coast, andPrairie Creek Redwoods State Parksform the Redwood National and State Parks.

The worlds tallest tree,Hyperion, is hidden in the Tall Trees Grove, requiring a special access permit.

Beyond the mystical redwood groves, visitors can immerse themselves in the coastline with fern canyons, rugged beaches, and incredible scenic drives.

Read More About Redwood National Park:

Ultimate Guide to Visiting Redwood in 2023

25 Best Things to Do at Redwood

San Francisco to Redwood Road Trip

Best Things to Do in Redwood National & State Parks

is a serene grove of redwoods containing Hyperion, the tallest tree in the world. Located in Redwood National Park, this hike requires a permit to access.

is a photogenic grove of old-growth coastal redwoods in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park.

is another spectacular redwood grove in Redwood National Park named after former first lady, Lady Bird Johnson.

is a scenic drive in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, providing the opportunity to drive along with the redwoods and see grazing elk.

is a popular coastal hike to tide pools near Crescent City in Del Norte Redwoods State Park.

Death Valley National Parkis home to the lowest, driest, and hottest point in the United States. The parks famousBadwater Basinis located 280 feet below sea level.

The arid national park is known for its hot weather much of the year, often reaching 120 degrees in the summer.

From the picturesque, rolling sand dunes atMesquite Flatsto the scenic viewpoints ofZabriskie Pointand colorfulArtists Palette, there are so many varying landscapes and attractions to see.

Death Valley is harsh for much of the year but offers incredible sunrise and sunset views when visited in the colderspring and fall months.

Spring is also the best time to catch the wildflower super bloom, typically from late March to early April. Unfortunately, the summer brings dangerous heat.

Best Things to Do in Death Valley National Park

sits at 3,000 feet elevation, one of the highest points in the park. This scenic dune field is the best in the park and the tallest dunes in California.

is the lowest point in North America, sitting at 280 feet below sea level. The salt flats here are best seen at sunrise or sunset.

is one of the best sunrise spots in the park, providing panoramic views of the mountains surrounding Death Valley.

is a colorful region of the Black Mountains best seen in the afternoon. The landscape reflects beautiful pink, teal, and orange rocks.

is another series of picturesque dunes and one of the most iconic features in Death Valley.

Joshua Tree National Parkis one of the most visited parks in California, thanks to its proximity to Los Angeles,Las Vegas, and Palm Springs. As a result, this famous desert escape is a retreat for photographers, celebrities, and hikers alike.

The parks boulders, namesake trees, and spiky cacti come from the intersection of two unique desert landscapes: theMojave Desertand theColorado Desert.

So while many come to see the famousJoshua Trees, the large boulders bring rock climbers.

The desert landscape comes alive at sunrise and sunset in Joshua Tree, with the unique, crooked trees casting shadows in the golden sunlight. Roadrunners, owls, and coyotes cover the park in these golden and blue hours.

As a certified dark sky park, Joshua Tree National Park is also an excellent place to visit for stargazing. You may even be able to spot the Milky Way!

Fall through springare the busiest months in Joshua Tree. The mild temperatures make this time of year perfect for hiking and camping.

Read More About Joshua Tree National Park:

One Day in Joshua Tree Itinerary

5 Best Sunrise Spots in Joshua Tree

Best Things to Do in Joshua Tree National Park

is one of the best places in the park to see the sunrise. These spiky, small cacti illuminate and glow magically in the morning light.

is an easy hike through a valley filled with boulders and Joshua Trees.

is what remains of an abandoned gold mill from 1933. Joshua Trees iconic boulders frame this historic site.

is one the best places in the park to see the sunset, providing panoramic views over the valley and Palm Springs.

are two photogenic boulders accessible just off the parks main scenic drive.

is one of the best places to camp in Joshua Tree National Park, with campsites nestled amongst large boulders.

In the northeast corner of California,Lassen Volcanic National Parkis home to unique hydrothermal features reminiscent of Yellowstone.

Less than an hour from Redding and Mount Shasta, but a days drive from other major cities, Lassen Volcanic National Park offers a unique retreat unlike many others in California.

The parks volcanic landscape makes this park a must-visit. Lassen is one of the few places where you can find composite, shield, cinder cone, and plug dome volcanoes all in one spot. In addition, the fuming hydrothermal features create a unique environment.

Beyond the volcanic features, you can relax by sereneManzanita Lakeand admire the surrounding Cascade Mountains. Its more remote location means fewer crowds and plenty of space to enjoy the natural scenery.

Best Things to Do in Lassen Volcanic National Park

is a thermal area filled with mud pots, geysers, pools, and other sulfuric, boiling features. This area is very reminiscent of Yellowstone National Park.

is one of the most beautiful areas in Lassen. The mountain lake provides gorgeous views of Lassen Peak and the surrounding area.

is a cascading 30-foot waterfall along a 2-mile easy hike.

Off the coast of Santa Barbara, California

Channel Islands National Parkis one of the newer parks in California, founded in the 1980s. This chain of five islands floats off the coast of Southern California, near Santa Barbara.

The Channel Islands can only be reached by boat or seaplane, keeping crowds here to a minimum compared to other national parks in California.

Visitors can hop aboard a ferry from either Oxnard or Ventura to make a day trip to a multi-day camping trip to the islands. The largest island,Santa Cruz Island, is the most popular to visit, with hiking, camping, and kayaking that appeals to everyone.

The Channel Islands is known for its plentiful wildlife, sometimes called the Galapagos of North America. The islands are home tomore than 2,000 plant and animal species.

Depending on the time of year, you may see dolphins, whales, elephant seals, and bald eagles around the islands.

Best Things to Do in Channel Island National Park

is the largest of the five Channel Islands. Theres no shortage of incredible things to do here, including short hiking trails, kayaking, snorkeling, and camping.

is one of the best parts of visiting! With plentiful opportunities to take in the coastline and see wildlife, the one-hour ride is well worth it.

is a short wildflower-filled hiking trail to a panoramic viewpoint on Anacapa Island.

Pinnacles National Parkis the newest park added to Californias National Park System. Located about two hours south of San Francisco, inland from the Monterey Bay, Pinnacles is known for its caves and rocky spires.

Thetalus cavesprovide plenty of opportunities for unique, adventurous hikes. The surrounding volcanic rock, called pinnacles, was formed by magma.

In addition to amazing geologic landscapes, the park is home to the endangeredCalifornia Condor, making this an excellent park for birdwatching.

Pinnacles close location to San Francisco, Big Sur, or Monterey makes it an excellent place for a national park day trip.

The best time to visit Pinnacles National Park is thespring or fallwhen temperatures are milder.

Best Things to Do in Pinnacles National Park

is a hike and cave tour to one of Pinnacles talus caves. The peaceful trail takes you through the parks iconic features and along a calm creek.

is a scenic dam completed in 1935 and can be reached via a hike on the

is a challenging 6-mile loop overlooking incredible views of the pinnacles and mountains.

inside the park, an endangered bird species with a nearly 10-foot wingspan.

While not an official national park,Point Reyes National Seashoreis still one of the most visited parks in California, with nearly 3 million visitors per year. The federally protected seashore protects over 150 miles of trails along the coast about one hour north of San Francisco.

The parks allure includes scenic forests, rugged coastline, and wildlife-filled estuaries and marshes. Its common to see animals like tule elk, whales, and seals.

Ancient cypress trees are scattered throughout the park, best seen at the picturesqueCypress Tree Tunnel.

For a taste of the parks excellent hiking, dont missTomales PointorAlamere Falls, one of only three tide falls in the United States.

In addition, Point Reyes offers several opportunities to stay at coveted hike-in campgrounds like Sky or Wildcat if youre interested in camping.

Read More:Northern California Coast Road Trip

Best Things to Do in Point Reyes National Seashore

is a historic lighthouse overlooking the Pacific Ocean, offering 360-degree panoramic views.

is an Instagram-worthy tunnel arch of cragged Cypress trees.

is an abandoned shipwreck along the scenic drive through Point Reyes.

is one of the best hikes in the park, leading to a waterfall feeding directly into the ocean.

is a bucket-list hike along the coast, filled with tule elk.

11. Devils Postpile National Monument

In addition to the nine national parks, California is also home to several national monuments, includingDevils Postpile National Monument.This small park on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains protects a rare columnar basalt formation.

This unique phenomenon occurs when thick basalt lava flows cool into hexagonal columns. Thecolumnar basaltsare exceedingly rare, with Devils Postpile serving as one of the best examples in the world and others in Ireland and Iceland.

While there isnt much to do in this national monument aside from seeing the jaw-dropping post piles, a visit to Devils Postpile is well-worth the trip, especially if you are already on a Highway 395 road trip between Death Valley and Tahoe.

Devils Postpile and the greater Mammoth Lakes area get heavy snow from November to May, makingsummerthe best time to visit this national monument.

Best Things to Do in Devils Postpile National Monument

is the namesake feature and the only must-see in the park. It can be reached via a short, 1-mile easy hike.

is a picturesque 101-foot waterfall along an easy 2.5-mile hike along a river.

Cabrillo National Monumentis one of the few city parks on this list, located on the Point Loma Peninsula just outside of downtownSan Diegoin southern California. The historic monument honors Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, who made history in 1542 as the first European explorer to reach the west coast.

Here youll find a picturesque state paired with panoramic coastal views overlooking San Diego. You can even see across the border into Mexico on a clear day!

In addition to incredible views, visitors can enjoy the scenic waterfront pathway and a beach filled with tide pools.

Best Things to Do in Cabrillo National Monument

that offers incredible views in every direction. Its the perfect introduction to the park.

is an abandoned lighthouse that has been restored for tourism.

is an excellent walking trail along the water, starting at Old Point Loma Lighthouse, offering informative signs on the areas history.

Muir Woods National Monumentis the most famous monument in California. This popular park protects ancient old-growth coastal redwoods only a few miles from San Francisco, just across theGolden Gate Bridge.

The park gets its name fromJohn Muir, the devoted naturalist who helped found Yosemite National Park and the National Park Service.

While it is a national monument, Muir Woods is also part of the largerGolden Gate National Recreation Areathat protects much of the Bay Areas natural landscapes.

A trip to Muir Woods is an essential part of any San Francisco itinerary.

However, for those who cant make the 5+ hour drive to Redwood National Park in northern California, this park provides excellent opportunities to immerse yourself among the redwoods, the tallest trees globally.

Best Things to Do in Muir Woods National Monument

is one of the most scenic groves in the park, reached via the main loop hiking trails through Muir Woods.

is a stunning 4-mile hike that offers views of redwoods, plus Mount Tamalpais, San Francisco, and the ocean.

14. Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area

Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Areaoffers picturesque mountain views and hikes just outside of Los Angeles, Californias most significant population center. The park stretches from Santa Monica in Los Angeles up the coast to Oxnard, hugging the coastline through Malibu.

The Santa Monica Mountains are the perfect outdoor retreat on a day trip from Los Angeles.

The rugged waterfront mountains and rolling hills are excellent for photo-worthy hikes and camping trips. The recreation area also encompasses several state parks, including Point Mugu State Park, renowned for hiking trails.

Best Things to Do in Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area

is located along the Pacific Coast Highway at the northernmost point of Santa Monica Bay. Here youll find beautiful ocean views and beaches.

offers the Backbone Trail System, a beautiful series of 70 miles of trails with panoramic views.

is located inside the park. The historic old western movie town is still used for movie production today.

15. Golden Gate National Recreation Area

Golden Gate National Recreation Areais the most visited of Californias national parks, getting more than four times the visitors as Yosemite National Park each year.

This expansive park protects more than 80,000 acres in San Francisco and the Marin Headlands, to the Point Reyes National Seashore to the north.

Here youll find iconic landmarks like theGolden Gate Bridge,Alcatraz Island, andLands Endin San Francisco. To the north, the rolling, mountainous hills in the Marin Headlands offer spectacular coastal hiking opportunities, perfect for a day trip from San Francisco.

Best Things to Do in Golden Gate National Recreation Area

in San Francisco provides excellent views of the bay and the Golden Gate Bridge.

provides excellent opportunities to spot whales on the migration from December to February.

is located along a rocky trail overlooking the Bay, San Francisco, and the Golden Gate Bridge from Marin County.

is a beautiful system of trails through the Marin Headlands, overlooking the ocean and rolling hills in Marin County.

16. King Range National Conservation Area

TheKing Range National Conservation Areais one of Californias most remote national parks. This park protects the rugged King Range mountains that dramatically dive down to meet the Pacific Ocean.

Here, the coastline includes theLost Coast, the longest stretch of undeveloped coastline in the contiguous United States. This famous area is home to a renowned backpacking route, which requires a special permit and knowledge of tides to hike.

Non-hikers can enjoyMattole Road, a unique opportunity to see the Lost Coast by car. In addition, a trip toShelter CoveandBlack Sand Beachprovides a small glimpse at the coastline in the King Range NCA.

Read More:Lost Coast Road Trip Itinerary

Best Things to Do in King Range & The Lost Coast

provides an opportunity to see the Lost Coast up close by vehicle. The road starts in Ferndale and reconnects with Highway 101 in Humboldt Redwoods State Park along Avenue of the Giants.

is a coastal resort town loved by photographers, hikers, and anglers. Its an excellent peaceful retreat with several lodges, restaurants, and hiking trails.

Frequently Asked Questions about National Parks Near California

What are the names of Californias national parks?

The nine national parks in California, ranked from best to last, are:

California is home tonine national parks, more than any other state in the United States. Californias parks include the famed Yosemite, Death Valley, and Joshua Tree parks. Plus, it is home to the lowest and highest point in the contiguous US and the worlds tallest trees.

The most visited national park in California isYosemite National Park, with more than 3 million visitors each year. However, the most visited site managed by the National Park Service in California is the Golden Gate National Recreation Area in San Francisco, with 13 million annual visitors.

Yosemite National Parkis the most famous of the national parks in California. The picturesque canyon and waterfalls make it easy to see why more than 3 million visitors come here each year. Yosemite was also the inspiration for John Muir and the National Park Service.

Pinnacles National Parkis the newest national park in California, founded in 2013. This park is home to rocky terrain, unique pinnacles, and talus caves. In addition, its one of the few places in the world to see the endangered California condor bird.

The biggest national park in California isDeath Valley National Park. It is more than 3 million acres in size, stretching across the desert of southern California. In addition, it is also the lowest, hottest, and driest spot in North America.

While there are many national parks in California, these are the best and should be added to any California road trip.

These are the best national parks in California:

Are you looking for more California national park inspiration? Dont miss these posts:

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