Explore California National Parks

California National Parks Guide

California National Parks run the gamut from scenic mountains to arid, hot deserts. As with much of California, the designation depends on where you are in the state.  The geography is diverse and holds beaches, snow-capped mountains, desert expanses, valleys, and forests. The Central Valley that occupies the heart of California is considered one of the most fertile agricultural lands in the entire country.

Major tourist attractions include the Redwood forests of the Sierra Nevada wilderness, Giant sequoia trees found in the Sequoia National Park considered to be the largest life forms, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in San Diego County which comes alive with vibrant flowers in spring, Disneyland – the theme park in Los Angeles, Paul J Getty Museum, Palm Desert, Yosemite National Park in San Francisco, the resort city of Palm Springs and Mojave desert. Tourists also flock to see the numerous trees standing tall on the California White Mountains dating back to more than 4000 years in the past.

Channel Islands National Park, California

Comprised of five in a chain of eight southern California islands near Los Angeles, Channel Islands National Park is home to a number of significant natural and cultural resources. Over 2,000 species of plants and animals can be found within the park. More than a hundred of these species are unique to the islands and found nowhere else in the world.

channel islands

The park includes the islands of San Miguel, Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz, Anacapa, and Santa Barbara. Each island has unique geography, character and its own plants and animals. Most visitors visit the islands using one of the boat or air services operated by the National Park Service. Adventurous visitors can bring along camping gear and stay in one of the primitive campgrounds.

Channel Islands National Park provides a wonderful break from the stress of urban life. The islands are ideal for quiet time with family and friends – opportunities for trekking, canoeing, fishing, and scuba-diving are aplenty. Visitors can simply relax to the soothing sounds of the natural world.

The visitor center of the park features a bookstore, a display of marine aquatic life, and exhibits featuring the unique character of each park island. Early fall is the best time to visit the park. Autumn time produces smooth seas and clear waters, which attract ocean kayakers and scuba divers.

Death Valley National Park, California – Nevada

Death Valley holds the distinction as the hottest place in North America. Its sculpted rock layers form deeply shadowed, eroded crevices at the foot of sharply silhouetted hills. The valley was named by a group of settlers in 1849, who survived despite running out of food and water.

Full Guide to Death Valley

Joshua Tree National Park, California

In a unique transitional area, where the lower Colorado Desert meets the high Mojave northeast of Palm Springs, Joshua Tree National Park protects 800,000 acres of ragged trees. The trees can reach up to forty feet in height, but they have to struggle hard to survive in the arid and rocky conditions. All around lie great heaps of boulders, pushed up by the Pinto Mountain Fault, their edges rounded and smoothed by flash floods and winds.

joshua tree national park sunrise

This magical landscape is at its best during sunrise or sunset when the desert floor is bathed in red light; at noon it can be a blazing furnace, with temperatures sometimes topping 125 F in summer, and rising even higher in the Low Desert section of the park. The Joshua Tree National Park is appreciated by campers and rock climbers for its unspoiled beauty, gold-mine ruins, ancient rock carvings, and incredible rock formations.

When hiking in this park, stick to the trails. This is not a place just to drive past; visitors should explore for a while away from the roads. One of the easiest hiking trails leads one and a half miles from Canyon Road, six miles from the visitor center, to Fortynine Palms Oasis. Here, quartz boulders tower around the Indian Cove campground. Another trail from here leads to Rattlesnake Canyon, where streams and waterfalls break the eerie silence.

A brilliant desert panorama of badlands and mountains is seen from the 5185 ft Keys View, from where the Geology tour leads down to the east through the best of Joshua Tree’s rock formations, and further to the Cholla Cactus Garden. The park offers nine campgrounds, all in the northwest except for the one at Cottonwood.

Kings Canyon National Park, California

Kings Canyon National Park is located in the southern Sierra Nevada mountain range, adjoining Sequoia National Park. Kings Canyon is wilder and less visited than Sequoia, with a maze-like collection of canyons and a sprinkling of isolated lakes, which produce the perfect environment for self-guided exploration.

echo hike canyon

Kings Canyon has few big trees but compensates with a gaping canyon gored out of the rock by the Kings River as it cascades down from the High Sierra. The few established sights of the park are near the main roads, leaving the vast majority of the landscape unspoiled, but well within reach of willing hikers. To reach the main canyon proper, you have to pass through the hamlet of Grant Grove, where there is a useful visitor center.

Kings Canyon Highway descends from Grant Grove into the steep-sided Kings Canyon, cut by the furious action of the Kings River. Whether or not this is the deepest canyon in the United States, its wall sections of shining blue marble and the yellow marks of yucca plants are quite magnificent. Visitors are advised not to wade into the river – people have been washed away even when paddling close to the bank.

Just a mile further, Kings Canyon Road comes to an end at Copper Creek. The multitude of canyons and peaks which constitute the Kings River Sierra are networked by hiking paths, almost all best enjoyed when you have a tent, provisions and a wilderness permit from the ranger station.

Lassen Volcanic National Park, California

Lassen Volcanic National Park is located about fifty miles over gently sloping plains east from Red Bluff on Hwy – 36. The 106,000 acres that make up the pine forests, crystal green lakes and boiling thermal pools of this park are one of the most unearthly parts of Northern California’s forbidding climate, which brings up to fifty feet of snowfall each year.

mount lassen

The thirty-mile tour of the park from Manzanita Lake in the north should not take more than a few hours. Marking the halfway point, Summit Lake is a busy camping area set around a beautiful icy lake, close to which are the park’s most manageable hiking trails. From a parking area to the south, the steep, five-mile ascent to Lassen Peak begins. Experienced hikers can do it in four hours, but wilderness seekers should head out east to the trails of the Juniper Lake area.

Lassen’s indisputable landmarks are Bumpass Hell and Emerald Lake, the former a steaming valley of active pools and vents which bubble away all around. The trails are sturdy and easy to manage, but you should not venture off them. The crusts over the thermal features are often brittle, and breaking through could plunge you into hot water. Make an effort to stop at Sulphur Works, an acrid cauldron of steam vents. A magnificent trail leads for a mile around the site to Diamond Peak, with great views of the park.

The park service has its headquarters in Mineral, where you can get free maps and information. Another visitor center is at Manzanita Lake and includes the Loomis Museum, which documents the park’s eruptions.

Redwood National and State Parks, California

Thirty miles (50 km) north of Arcata, the small town of Orick marks the southern limit, and the busiest section of the Redwood National and State Parks preserve. The Tall Trees Grove here is home to America’s most famous natural treasures, the tallest trees on earth, the coast redwoods. A mighty 367 footer (112 m) is the highlight of the park, amongst other attractions.

Guide to Redwood National and State Parks, California

Sequoia National Park, California

Sequoia National Park, located in the foothills and mountains of the Sierra Nevada range, contains the thickest concentration – and the biggest specimens of sequoias to be found anywhere. The huge number of these trees in the park tends to overshadow its assortment of meadows, peaks, canyons, and caves.

general sherman

Guide to Sequoia National Park


Yosemite National Park, California

Yosemite National Park is one of the world’s most dramatic geological spectacles. The Yosemite Valley, just seven miles long, is walled by near-vertical three thousand foot cliffs, streaked by tumbling waterfalls. At ground level, grassy meadows filled with oak, cedar and fir trees cover this park. You can visit any time of the year, even in winter when the waterfalls ice up and the trails are blocked by snow.

Yosemite National Park is a California attraction and national landmark that has been millions of years in the making, culminating in a vast panorama of mountains and valleys that are unique not just in the United States, but the world over. The appeal of this park lies in the access to miles of trails, the abundant wildlife viewing and the outdoor opportunities that are beyond compare, all of which have contributed to Yosemite’s reputation for wild beauty and spectacular natural wonders. Spanning some 750,000 acres, Yosemite encompasses 1600 miles (2,575 km) of streams, 800 miles (1,287 km) of hiking trails and 350 miles (563 km) of roads.

Guide to Yosemite National Park

Complete list of California National Parks

The following list of California National Parks is arranged in a particular format. First, the parks are in alphabetical order. Second, general locations are listed, but keep in mind some parks move beyond the borders of California. Third, the type of national park is also listed.

Alcatraz Island
San Francisco, CA

Cabrillo National Monument
San Diego, CA
National Monument

California National Historic Trail
Various States, CA,CO,ID,KS,MO,NE,NV,OR,UT,WY
National Historic Trail

Channel Islands National Park
Ventura, CA
National Park

Death Valley National Park
Death Valley, CA, NV
National Park

Devils Postpile National Monument
the Sierra Nevada near Mammoth Lakes, CA
National Monument

Eugene O’Neill National Historic Site
Danville, CA
National Historic Site

Fort Point National Historic Site
Presidio of San Francisco, CA
National Historic Site

Golden Gate National Recreation Area
San Francisco, CA
National Recreation Area

John Muir National Historic Site
Martinez, CA
National Historic Site

Joshua Tree National Park – Highly Recommended
Southern California between I-10 and Hwy 62; headquarters in Twentynine Palms, CA National Park

Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail
Nogales, AZ to San Francisco, CA, AZ,CA
National Historic Trail

Lassen Volcanic National Park
Mineral, CA
National Park

Lava Beds National Monument
Tulelake, CA
National Monument

Manzanar National Historic Site
Independence, CA
National Historic Site

Mojave National Preserve
Southern California between I-15 and I-40; headquarters in Barstow, CA
National Preserve

Muir Woods National Monument
Mill Valley, CA
National Monument

Old Spanish National Historic Trail
National Historic Trail

Pinnacles National Monument
Paicines, CA
National Monument

Point Reyes National Seashore
Point Reyes, CA
National Seashore

Pony Express National Historic Trail
Various States, CA,CO,KS,MO,NE,NV,UT,WY
National Historic Trail

Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial
Concord Naval Weapons Station, CA
National Memorial

Presidio of San Francisco
San Francisco, CA

Redwood National and State Parks
Del Norte & Humboldt counties , CA
National and State Parks

Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historical Park
Richmond , CA
National Historical Park

San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park
San Francisco, CA
National Historical Park

Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area
Thousand Oaks, CA
National Recreation Area

Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks
In the southern Sierra Nevada in Tulare and Fresno counties, CA
National Parks

Whiskeytown National Recreation Area
Whiskeytown, CA
National Recreation Area

Yosemite National Park
the Sierra Nevada, CA
National Park

Of all the California National Parks, Yosemite undoubtedly gets the most ink and is the media star. While this is deserved, most of the other parks and sites are equally impressive in their own way. Whiskeytown National Recreation Area, unfortunately, is not located next to Aspirin National Drug Store, but you can only ask for so much!

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