Visiting California national parks should probably be on your bucket list. Some of the best recreation areas in the U.S. can be found in the Golden State.
We have essential tips for you about when and where you should go on your trip out west.
Today we’ll cover the vital details of visiting these fantastic parks.
Let’s hit the road!
What Are National Parks?
Yellowstone became the first national park in 1872. The federally protected nature needed a governing body, so the National Park Service (NPS) was founded in 1917. They preserve older parks like Yosemite and new ones like New River Gorge. Did you know the government doesn’t just protect parks, though?
The NPS system includes 424 units. This also includes federal monuments and historic sites. You can also visit national seashores and battlefield sites, all locations the NPS maintains.
How Many National Parks Are in California?
California has 28 national units, more than any other state. Nine of the units have been classified as national parks. You’ll also find national historic sites, preserves, and monuments throughout.
No matter how you enjoy spending time outside, this unique state has options you’ll love. Those who enjoy ocean views will definitely want to visit the Point Reyes National Seashore, and mountain lovers should check out the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. If you like deserts, you’ll probably want to see the Mojave National Preserve.
When Is the Best Time to Visit California?
Before you plan your trip to this exciting state, you’ll need to know when to visit. Your desired activities might dictate when you want to go. For example, skiers should go in the winter, while hikers should make the trip in the late summer.
You’ll find excellent camping throughout California from April to October. If you want to avoid some crowds, consider traveling during shoulder seasons. That means in the spring before Memorial Day and after Labor Day in the fall.
7 Legit National Parks in California
Now that you know when to visit the state, we want to explore where you should go. We picked seven of our favorite national park sites worth your trip.
#1 Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park can be found in central California. It’s located about 140 miles east of San Francisco. It has become known for its stunning granite cliffs and raging waterfalls.
Adventurers love to spend time at Yosemite. Visitors enjoy hiking, rock climbing, and backcountry camping at this 760,000-acre national park. If you want a more relaxing outdoor experience, you’ll still love it. You can birdwatch, take a tour in an open-air tram, or go for a scenic drive up to glacier point.
Pro Tip: Spend the night at one of these 11 Free Yosemite Camping Spots You’ll Love.
#2 Death Valley National Park
Located in south-eastern California and southern Nevada, Death Valley spans more than 3 million acres. Its size makes it the largest national park in the contiguous United States. In the summer, the park has a reputation for being the hottest place on earth, and in the winter, several portions of the park close due to snowfall.
However, if you visit in the spring or fall, you’ll enjoy extraordinary stargazing. Star Wars fans will especially love the self-guided driving tour of filming locations. The area also has a reputation for birdwatching and biking.
#3 Carrizo Plain National Monument
Carrizo Plain, 150 miles north of Los Angeles, sits along the San Andras fault. This 250,000-acre national monument has views of the Tremblor Range. You can walk the boardwalk at Soda Lake or head to the overlook for a birdseye view of the plain’s salt deposits.
Visitors often visit Carrizo Plain National Monument in late March to see the wildflower blooms. You can get a good view by driving down Soda Lake Road, but you’ll want to use a high-clearance vehicle for the dirt roads.
Besides the flowers, hikers enjoy visiting Painted Rock to see artwork by Chumash and other Indigenous people. You’ll need to book a permit in advance on recreation.gov to visit Painted Rock, so plan accordingly.
#4 Joshua Tree National Park
Located on I-10, about halfway between Phoenix, Arizona, and Los Angeles, California, you’ll find Joshua Tree National Park. The location in the Mojave Desert means it gets hot in the summer, so plan your trip in the spring or fall.
Rock climbers from all over the world flock to this location for its renowned climbing. If you prefer to keep your feet on the ground, you can take a hike instead. Don’t forget to get a good look at the park’s namesake, the Joshua Tree. It doesn’t grow anywhere else in the world.
Pro Tip: Save on your budget by spending the night at the Best Free Camping Near Joshua Tree National Park.
#5 Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument
The Cascade, Klamath, and Siskiyou mountain ranges converge at this spot to create a unique monument. You’ll find it along the California-Oregon border. The 2,600-mile-long Pacific Crest Trail runs through here, making it a popular place for hiking and backpacking.
Other popular summer activities include birdwatching and camping. Visitors can fish or hunt throughout the monument with a permit from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. This becomes an exciting winter destination for snowmobiling, sledding, and skiing.
#6 Sequoia National Park
Established in 1890, this location can be called the United States’ second national park. You’ll find it in the Southern Sierra Nevada mountains. The world’s largest tree, the General Sherman Tree, calls Sequoia home.
After admiring the giant sequoias, you can go for a scenic drive to Beetle Rock or the Eleven Range Overlook. The area offers hikes at all levels, from short, paved trails to multiday treks. Over 200 species of birds live here, in addition to bats and mule deer, making it ideal for wildlife viewing.
#7 Lassen Volcanic National Park
At this national park in North East California, visitors can see all four types of volcanoes. Prospect Peak demonstrates a shield, and Lassen Peak exemplifies a plug dome. Cinder Cone’s a cinder cone, and Brokeoff exhibits a composite. If you aren’t already a volcano nerd, you’ll be by the time you finish your trip!
You can find plenty of educational opportunities, including Sulpher Works. Check out the ranger-led program schedule before you go. In the winter, rangers lead snowshoe hikes; in the summer, you can watch scientists banding birds.
Are California National Parks Worth Visiting?
If you like to be outside, you’ll love California National Parks. They offer something for adventurers of every level, from scenic drives to rock climbing. Whether you enjoy desert or mountain landscapes, the Golden State has you covered.
Even if you don’t visit one of the seven sites we recommended, you still have over 400 others. So pack up and get ready for happy adventuring!
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 who 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: