The Best (And Worst) National Parks In California

Home » The Best (And Worst) National Parks In California

The Best (And Worst) National Parks In California

The national parks on mainland California range from desert vistas to mountain peaks. They each certainly have their own uniqueness that makes them all worth a visit.

To help you determine which order to place them on your bucket list, we’ve ranked them from best to worst.

Let’s explore!

How We Ranked These Parks

We ranked the national parks in California based on the following four criteria. 

Facilities

Clean and accessible facilities are an important feature to look for when visiting a national park. From bathrooms to campgrounds, we took a look at the facilities available at national parks in California as part of their ranking. 

Trail Variety

Trails for hiking, biking, and horseback riding are a major reason for visiting national parks in California. So we factored the variety of trails each park has into its ranking.

Ease Of Access

The level of access into and around a national park is important to know before you visit. We ranked the parks with accessibility for any traveler in mind.

Sheer Beauty

Visiting national parks is a unique experience in the natural world. Therefore, we considered the “gorgeousness” of each of the California parks for their ranking.

#1 – Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park is in the California desert with various plants, animals, and rock formations sculpted by wind and rain. It’s famous for the unique Joshua Trees that grow throughout the park. 

Facilities: There are several campgrounds in Joshua Tree National Park. Some require reservations, but three of them are first-come, first-served. Equestrian camping and group sites are also available. The national park has bathrooms spread throughout. 

Trail Variety: Joshua Tree has a large number of hiking trails good for any skill level. You can focus on one trail or do several short hikes in a day. The national park also has biking and horseback trails. In addition, it’s a popular spot for rock climbing. Whatever activities you do, remember that you’re in the desert and take safety precautions seriously. 

Ease Of Access: Joshua Tree is easily accessible from Coachella Valley on the park’s south side. It also has entrances on the east, west, and north end. The park is also easy to drive around. In addition, it has plenty of parking spread throughout for easy access to trailheads.

Pro Tip: Here are the best free campsites near Joshua Tree National Park.

Gorgeousness: 10/10

#2 – Lassen National Park

Lassen Volcanic National Park is a mountainous wonderland with lakes and volcanoes. The park is located in northern California and has a rich geological history. 

Facilities: There are a variety of camping options in the national park. Manzanita Lake, Butte Lake, and Summit Lake Campgrounds are best for RVs. A limited number of wheelchair-accessible sites are available at each of these. There are no hookups in the park, but there’s a dump station at Manzanita Lake. Stock corrals are also available by reservation only for those camping with pack animals.

Trail Variety: The park has over 150 miles of trails, so you can hike to hydrothermal areas, volcanic peaks, mountain lakes, and meadows. Lassen Volcanic National Park has four popular day hiking trails. The park additionally has numerous backpacking, pack animal, and biking trail options.

Ease Of Access: Lassen Volcanic National Park is about 150 miles north of Sacramento, California. Its elevation is between 5,650 feet to 10,457 feet, but it’s still easy to get around the park in many places. This is because the park focuses on the importance of improving its accessibility for any traveler.

Gorgeousness: 8.7/10

#3 – Death Valley National Park

Death Valley is hot, dry, and the lowest national park. In fact, its basin is located 282 feet below sea level. Temperatures in the summer months can rise to upwards of 130 degrees Fahrenheit. However, April through June can be a spectacular time to visit if there’s a super bloom. This is when rare rainstorms cause the fields to fill with wildflowers. 

Facilities: There are several campgrounds in the park that open October-April. In the summer months, only a few are open due to the extreme temperatures.

Trail Variety: Death Valley National Park has a great assortment of hiking trails for all skill levels. November through March are the best months to hike in the park. But spring, summer, and fall seasons can be way too hot and create dangerous conditions for hikers. Biking, backcountry backpacking, and horseback riding trail options are also available. 

Ease Of Access: Getting to Death Valley National Park is seamless from Las Vegas or Southern California. The road through the park is certainly easy to navigate and get around via car or RV. 

Pro Tip: We recommend taking a dip in the natural hot springs in Tecopa.

Gorgeousness: 8.3/10

#4 – Yosemite National Park

Yosemite is one of the most popular national parks in California. Part of the Sierra Nevada mountains, it’s known for its waterfalls and granite peaks. Its most sought-after peaks are El Capitan and Half Dome.

One of the main reasons Yosemite is ranked lower is due to massive crowds and lots of vehicular traffic.

Facilities: Yosemite National Park has thirteen campgrounds, and nine of them accept RVs. Size restrictions vary in each campground, but some of them do have sites that fit up to a 40 foot RV.

Trail Variety: A wide variety of hiking trails, from easy to strenuous, are spread throughout the park. The national park’s website has a guide for where to see wildflowers on the trails and more. Backpacking, biking, rock climbing, and winter sports are also popular activities in the park.

Ease Of Access: Access into and around Yosemite is easy. In addition, the park offers an accessibility guide for persons with disabilities. 

Pro Tip: Here are the best free camping spots near Yosemite.

Gorgeousness: 9.1/10

#5 – Sequoia National Park

Sequoia National Park is made up of groves of the world’s largest trees, Sequoias. You can wander through the park via car or on foot to see these magnificent giants that can be up to 52,508 cubic feet.

Facilities: There are fourteen campgrounds in Sequoia National Park and its neighboring Kings Canyon National Park. Ten of these are in Sequoia National Park. Although, none of the campgrounds that allow RVs have hookups. On the other hand, dump stations are available at Lodgepole, Dorst Creek, and Princess campgrounds in the summer months.

Trail Variety: Sequoia has a good amount of day hiking trails throughout the national park. Overnight backpacking and horseback riding trails are also available. 

Ease Of Access: The park is accessible because of some paved paths. Sequoia National Park is next to Kings Canyon National Park in the southern Sierra Nevada, east of the San Joaquin Valley. As a result, this makes accessing them both achievable in one visit. 

Gorgeousness: 7.9/10

#6 – Redwoods National Park

Located on the coast of northern California, Redwoods National Park protects the tallest trees in the world. In fact, Redwood trees can grow as tall as 380 feet. That’s a 37-story building! Redwoods National Park also gives you access to rivers, beaches, and tide pools along the coastline. You may also stumble upon wildlife in this park.

The main downside…the park is disjointed. There’s a state park, national park, and visitor center. But none of it flows.

Facilities: The national park has developed campgrounds and backcountry camping. You’ll need to make a reservation for Redwoods National Park and State Park campgrounds.

Trail Variety: Redwoods National Park has various hiking trails through the woods and along the river. Biking and horseback riding trails also exist in the park. In addition, kayaking tours on the Smith River are a popular activity as well.

Ease Of Access: The national park is easy to access and get around. It’s also committed to accessibility. 

Gorgeousness: 8.2/10

#7 – Kings Canyon National Park

Kings Canyon National Park has a landscape similar to Yosemite. It’s famous for its Redwood Canyon, the largest remaining grove of Sequoia trees in the world.

Facilities: There are fourteen campgrounds in Kings Canyon National Park and its neighboring Sequoia National Park. Four of them are located in Kings Canyon. There are no RV hookups in campgrounds that allow RVs. But there are dump stations at Lodgepole, Dorst Creek, and Princess campgrounds in the summer months.

Trail Variety: Kings Canyon has miles of hiking trails. There are a good amount of day hiking trails throughout the park. Overnight backpacking and horseback riding trails are also available, as well as rock climbing. 

Ease Of Access: Kings Canyon National Park has a scenic byway that’s 50 miles long, allowing you easy access to endless views. The park is located next to Sequoia National Park. You can easily access one from the other.

Gorgeousness: 7.4/10

#8 – Pinnacles National Park

Located in Central California, Pinnacles National Park was formed from volcanic eruptions millions of years ago. The park offers caves, woodland, and canyons to explore.

Facilities: There’s one campground in the park, and it does have RV sites. Most RV sites have electricity. It has coin-operated showers and a dump station. In addition, there are water stations throughout the park.

Trail Variety: There are about 30 miles of hiking trails in Pinnacles National Park. While there isn’t a large variety of trails, you’ll definitely get up close and personal with the beauty of this park. From hilly hikes to caves, there is diversity in the types of trails. You can also go rock climbing in the park.

Ease Of Access: Pinnacles National Park is easy to access from either the east or west side. However, you can only access the campground from the east side of the park. Also, there are no connecting roads between the two entrances of Pinnacles, so you’ll have to drive around to see each side of the park. Both visitor centers on the east and west side of the park are fully ADA accessible.

Gorgeousness: 8.4/10

What’s The Best Time of Year to Visit California’s National Parks?

The best time of year to visit national parks in California depends on the park and the activities you want to do. If you’re visiting a park with a desert landscape, we recommend visiting in the winter months versus the heat of the summer months.

Mountainous parks can be enjoyed in the summer months because they’re a great way to escape the heat of lower elevations. 

What’s The Most Visited National Park In California?

The most visited of the national parks in California is Joshua Tree. In 2020, Joshua Tree National Park had 2.4 million recreational visits. And, in fact, it was the 10th most visited national park in the U.S. 

Are All the National Parks in California Worth Visiting?

National parks in California are each unique in their own way. And most in the state offer numerous hiking trails, good accessibility, and a high gorgeousness factor. Facilities vary, though, with some having full hookup RV sites and others being more primitive. Regardless, we think they’re all worth visiting!

Discover the Best Free Camping Across the USA

To be honest with you, we hate paying for camping. There are so many free campsites in America (with complete privacy).

You should give it a try!

As a matter of fact, these free campsites are yours. Every time you pay federal taxes, you’re contributing to these lands.

Become a FREE CAMPING INSIDER and join the 100,000 campers that love to score the best site! 

We’ll send you the 50 Best Free Campsites in the USA (one per state). Access the list by submitting your email below:

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: