9 Best California National Parks You Need To Experience

Carey Oakes
Star Gazing

9 California National Parks You Need to Experience

It’s no secret that California is a stunning state to visit, and I’m not talking about the stars strutting down the streets of Hollywood.  California has nine National Parks with quite a diverse range of things to see.  Some have towering pinnacles and dry desert landscapes while others are blessed with the ocean’s waves and tumbling water falls.  So whatever you’re into, California’s National Parks probably have it.

California National Parks

Joshua Tree

September In Joshua Tree

Located three hours outside of San Diego, Joshua Tree has reached new levels of popularity as of late.  Whether its rise to fame has anything to do with references in music from U2 and Childish Gambino is irrelevant; Joshua Tree is a true gem.  Housing two ecosystems, this national park is about as dry and beautiful as they come.  Travelers from all over the world come here to camp and waste the night away under the stars.  After all, there really is no better place to do so.

While you’re here, you have to hit Skull Rock, Hidden Valley, and the Cholla Cactus Garden.  After a long day of exploration, our Coyote Ranch Hostel at Joshua Tree is the perfect place to crash.  So join us under the stars in J-Tree, you know you want to.

Pinnacles National Park

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Pinnacles National Park sits right next to the Salinas Valley and is properly named. Its towering rocks and mountains are remains from a volcanic eruption that happened 23 million years ago.  Here you can explore caves, the Condor Gulch trail, Machete Ridge, and rock climb.  It truly is every climber’s paradise.  As a national park off of California’s beaten path, it’s far quieter than Yosemite and Joshua Tree.

Yosemite

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Situated in California’s Sierra Nevada mountain range, Yosemite is as awe inspiring as everyone says it is.  Visiting this national park you’ll surely find one of the  dramatic sceneries you’ve ever seen.  From massive cliff faces and mountains to lush forests and quiet creeks, Yosemite’s geography is incredibly diverse.  If you’re a less experience hiker, take a walk along Yosemite Valley and Lower Cathedral Lake.  If you want to join international thrill seekers in climbing one of Yosemite’s many high points, make sure you come prepared with plenty of water and the right gear.

Some trails, like that leading up to the Half Dome, require a permit.  You can find an official list of Yosemite’s permits and trails here.

Point Reyes National Seashore

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One of the lesser known National Parks that California has to offer, Point Reyes is located just pass Big Sur.  Here  on the jagged cliffs you’ll be sure to have some incredible views of the Pacific Ocean.  If you find yourself in Point Reyes between January and April, you might even catch the annual gray whale migration in addition to the elephant seals that normally inhabit this spot; Chimney Rock is a great look out point to do so and a great hike.

When you’re finally ready to stop hugging the seashore, head a bit inland to see the Cyprus Tree Tunnel, Tomales Point Trail, and the leaning trees on Sir Francis Drake Boulevard.

Death Valley

Death Valley is far from the gloom and doom its name suggests, but it is hot, hot, hot.  Come to this beautiful site prepared with lots of sunscreen and water; you’ll be glad you did.  The national park’s boulders, salt flats, dunes, and pine trees are true wonders.  Be sure to check out the Badwater Basin, America’s lowest point; Zabriskie Point; Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes; and Dante’s view.  You might also be familiar with Titus Canyon; For some reason, I feel like I see this deep, narrow gorge in a ton of car commercials, but I digress.

Lassen Volcanic National Park

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Like Pinnacle’s National Park, Lassen Volcanic National Park is another lesser known park in California.  Lassen Volcanic National Park has hydrothermal hot springs, volcanic peaks, and lakes that reflect the snow capped mountains on its surface.  Be sure to check out Bumpass Hell for hot springs and steam vents, Lassen Peak, and Manzanita Lake to boat and fish.

Sequoia and King’s Canyon National Park

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Sequoia National Park lies just South of Yosemite.  Putting it simply, if you’re looking to see some big trees, Sequoia and King’s Canyon National Park is the place for you.  Some of Sequoia’s most popular spots are the King’s Canyon byway, Moro Rock, and the world’s largest tree stem, General Sherman.  While you’re here be sure to check out the Cedar Grove region of the park.  Boasting countless trails for hikers of any skill level, it’s perfect for those in search of a killer hike.

Channel Islands

Relatively close to Los Angeles, the Channel Islands can only be reached by boat or plane.  While you’re here you can’t even have access to any type of wheeled vehicle.  The perfect place for snorkeling, surfing, kayaking, and hiking, this national park consists of eight islands.  With limited access to food or water, you must bring your own.  While Santa Cruz is the most popular island, Anacapa is a great site to watch the sunrise.

The Channel Islands National Park has visitor centers in Ventura and Santa Barbara where you can catch public boats to transport you to the islands.  Make sure to plan in advance and find the boat schedule here.

Redwood National Park

Redwood National Park is five hours due North of San Francisco, although its idyllic setting and rainforest will make you feel much further. Because this park is so huge, you would need weeks to genuinely see it all.  If you’re like most people and don’t have weeks to sacrifice to the great outdoors, be sure to see Fern Canyon, the Prairie Creek Redwoods, and the Lady Bird Johnson Grove Trail.

Camping in California National Parks

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All of California’s National Parks are perfect for camping, but it’s a little more complicated to do than you might expect.  Camping requires a lot of preparation, and if you’re looking to do so in a national park you need to book at least six months in advance.  There is a $7.99 reservation fee that is non-refundable. Most parks host walk-in camping sites as well; these operate on a first-come first-serve basis.  Check in is always at 2 pm, and checkout is at noon.

For more information, click here.

California National Parks Tour

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Want to say goodbye to the four walls you’ve been sitting in since COVID started?  There are plenty of tours and itineraries to help you explore each of California’s National Parks.  Yosemite’s Mariposa Country website has a variety of itineraries on their site that suits every traveler. National Geographic even offers nine-day trips starting at $3,499; you can reserve your spot online or by calling 1-800-281-2354.  Even Lonely Planet offers a pretty detailed guide on how to take a 17 day journey through Cali’s National Parks.

Regardless of how you travel or where, visiting at least one of California’s nine national parks is a must.  So get outdoors and explore the wonderful wilderness the West Coast has to offer.

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