National park status shouldn’t be a competition, but if it were, California would be winning. It outranks Alaska and Utah as the location with the most national parks in one state.
Can you name all of them off the top of your head? It’s okay. We won’t be testing you, but we’ll introduce you to all of our National Park Service’s properties in California.
How Many National Parks Are in California?
Grabbing the title of “state with the most national parks,” California is host to eight of America’s gems and one national seashore. The Golden State is so large with such varied topography that you can find eight exceptional regions within its boundaries. All are preserved within the National Park Service (NPS).
They include Channel Islands, Death Valley, Joshua Tree, Lassen Volcanic, Pinnacles, Redwoods, Sequoia & Kings Canyon, and Yosemite National Parks. Additionally, there’s also Point Reyes National Seashore.
However, if you’re a stickler for accuracy, there are really NINE national parks. Sequoia and Kings Canyon are two separate entities. But, they’ve been jointly administered by the NPS since 1943, so they are routinely lumped together.
What Was the First National Park In California?
In 1864, land was set aside in the Yosemite Valley for preservation. California got it for administration under the Yosemite Grant as a state park. Many people assume that Yosemite National Park then became the first national park in California. They’re wrong – by about one week.
Actually, The NPS adopted Sequoia National Park on September 25, 1890. That was a full week before John Muir could talk the federal government into protecting Yosemite’s high country with national park status.
The Complete List of National Parks in California
With enough national parks to field a baseball team, California has plenty of room for visitors to its state to come and explore each one. Here’s a list to get you started on your Golden State adventure!
1. Channel Islands National Park
About: Encompassing five islands off the south-central coast between Santa Barbara and Ventura, Channel Islands National Park protects and preserves animals, plants, and archaeological resources unique to their ocean environments.
There are also the islands of Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara, Santa Rosa, and San Miguel. Additionally, they offer views into abundant sealife, Spanish exploration, ranching history, and Native American cultural life. Hiking, limited camping, and even spearfishing are just a few of the activities found within the Channel Islands.
2. Death Valley National Park
About: To hit the ultimate low in the U.S., a visit to Death Valley National Park is required. Located in the Mohave Desert of southeastern California, the park celebrates its below sea level designation with abundant life found within its boundaries.
Oases provide sustenance for wildlife and visiting humans even under record-breaking heat. In a land of extremes, Death Valley ranges from drought-stricken basins to snowy mountain tops. All this while hosting mysterious moving rocks, desert castles, and borax mule trains, among other sites.
3. Joshua Tree National Park
About: South of Death Valley and just east of the resort town of Palm Springs lies Joshua Tree National Park. It got its name from the Dr. Seuss-looking yucca trees scattered throughout its boundaries. The park stands at the meeting of the Mohave Desert and the Colorado River.
Here you will find vast rock formations mix with arid landscapes and oases. Due to this, it is known as a rock scrambler’s paradise. Joshua Tree attracts campers and hikers who long for the seclusion of the desert and those who revel in the clear night skies. That’s perfect for stargazing.
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4. Lassen Volcanic National Park
About: In Northern California, just east of Redding, lies Lassen Volcanic National Park. Its name described the process of the landscape formations throughout the park, hinting at the smoking fumaroles and vents still there.
Boiling mud pots and volcanic mountain peaks bring out the hikers and campers. On the other hand, Lassen is also known for its many plant and animal species. The park lies at the convergence of three ecosystems that provide suitable habitats for them all.
From the mountainous regions of the southern Cascade Mountains to the Sierra Nevadas’ rugged terrain and the Great Basin’s arid landscapes, this national park benefits from their environmental conditions.
5. Pinnacles National Park
About: Located in west-central California east of Carmel, Pinnacles National Park protects another volcanic landscape. This one was formed, not only by erupting volcanoes, but also by moving tectonic plates, which folded and wrenched the rock.
That created formations along a fault zone. The unusual terrain left behind has a mixture of wooded chaparral, canyons, and rock pinnacles that entice hikers, climbers, and bird watchers to explore the park. Additionally, raptors and amphibians on the endangered species list like to hang out here.
6. Redwood National Park
About: The northern California coast is host to Redwoods National Park, where the tallest trees in the world reside. But there’s so much more here to discover, such as fern canyons, tidepools, woodlands, and wild, rushing rivers. Visitors can hike, bike, and even kayak their way through Redwoods, exploring ancient sequoia forests and 40 miles of coastal terrain.
In water and on land, there are plenty of opportunities to view whales, elk, and several species of seabirds. Then drive through a giant redwood along the Redwood Highway to complete your visit to this magical park.
Certainly, it will be an adventure you will never forget!
7. Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park
About: Much like Redwoods, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks harbor the world’s largest trees. However, the topography of the latter parks is further inland, falling within the mountainous terrain of the Sierra Nevadas directly west of Death Valley.
These rugged peaks and dense forests place the gentle giants in a different setting. It’s one that requires arduous effort to reach the parks’ outer boundaries. You can explore Sequoia and Kings Canyon on skis and snowshoes during the winter season.
In contrast, summer brings the opportunity to backpack, hike, or ride horseback into the wilderness. It’s a trip well worth the effort, no matter what season you choose.
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8. Yosemite National Park
About: The granddaddy of all California national parks, Yosemite, is situated southwest of the state capital, Sacramento. Its land was set aside for preservation way back in 1864 under the Yosemite Grant. But, it didn’t become a national park until 1890. With stunning sights like Half Dome, El Capitan, and Horsetail Falls, visitors get just a taste of the splendor on display at Yosemite.
Additionally, hiking is a popular pastime in Yosemite, with backcountry camping running a close second. Glaciers dug out this valley. As a result, geological formations were left, in addition to bucolic meadows and splendid water features not seen together anywhere else in the world.
It’s also worth mentioning that because of Yosemite’s immense popularity, entrance to the park is by reservation from May 20 through to September 30.
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9. Point Reyes National Seashore
About: With beaches, forests, waterfalls, and lighthouses to see, Point Reyes provides a multitude of activities for visitors to California’s only national seashore. Located north of San Francisco, the 71,000-acre park encompasses more than 1,500 plant and animal species.
That’s all located on hillsides, grasslands, and across beaches within its boundaries. During their stay, travelers who explore the seashore will find four backcountry campgrounds, several ranches, numerous sandy beaches, and the historic Point Reyes Lighthouse on their list of destinations.
Visit the Nine National Parks of California
By now, it should be evident that California has nine must-see destinations that should be on your travel itinerary. Each of these national parks has unique features set aside for generations to discover. They provide overwhelming landscapes worth exploring.
Additionally, they boast preserved historical sites and captivating wildlife. In short, a trip to California’s many national parks will make lifelong memories.
On your next visit to the Golden State, skip the Hollywood Walk of Fame and hike through California’s National Parks.
Which park will you visit first? Tell us in the comments!
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