The state parks in California are fantastic sites to enjoy the beautiful beauty and history of the Golden State. If you’re planning a trip to the state, you should surely include a couple of the greatest California state parks on your schedule.
State parks in California are widely dispersed throughout the state, ranging from coastlines and forests to lakes, deserts, and mountains, and are easily accessible when seeking an escape into nature.
Some state parks in California highlight the state’s history and culture. For example, Bodie State Historic Park in the Eastern Sierra is a tribute to the state’s gold rush past.
California state parks are excellent pit breaks on road travels across the state. They are also ideal for day outings and weekend getaways.
1. Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, one of California’s most well-known state parks, is home to the breathtaking McWay Falls. The 80-foot waterfall cascades from the cliffs down to the beach below.
The park has a number of hiking paths varying in length and difficulty, some of which give stunning coastline views. Look for roosting California condors in eucalyptus trees and wander in the shadow of giant redwoods.
Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, located along the Big Sur Coast, offers camping, although reservations are required well in advance. The park is an excellent stop along the Pacific Coast Highway or on a Big Sur road trip.
2. McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park
Burney Falls, at 129 feet, is one of California’s most magnificent waterfalls. The fan-shaped waterfall is pretty full all year and flows into a lovely plunge pool.
Burney Falls is accessible through the park’s one-mile Burney Falls Loop Trail. The route winds around the beautiful falls, which may be seen from above as well as up close.
The park, located in the Cascade Mountains in northern California, features woodland and streams, as well as a variety of nature paths and walks. The park is traversed by the Pacific Crest Trail.
McArthur-Burney State Park also has a piece of the lovely Lake Britton. In addition to treks and excursions, you may fish and camp here.
3. Anza-Borrego Desert State Park – Best State Parks In California
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, located in Southern California’s Colorado Desert, is one of the top day excursions from Palm Springs for nature lovers.
It’s also one of the quickest weekend escapes from San Diego, being just around 2 hours away by car!
The park is crisscrossed by paved and dirt roads, as well as a network of trails, and has spectacular desert vistas, a number of cold slot canyons, and gorgeous palm oasis.
If you wish to stay for a few days, there are various campsites within the park.
Exploration of the terrain in a high clearance vehicle combined with hiking provides the finest experience.
4. Point Lobos State Natural Reserve – Best State Parks In California
The incredibly picturesque Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, located only a few miles south of Carmel-by-the-Sea and Monterey, has been dubbed the “crown jewel” of the California State Parks system.
Point Lobos State Park is a popular site for both locals and visitors, with a rich history of whaling and abalone harvesting and the essence of California’s coastal beauty contained in a few square miles.
At Point Lobos, walk the many picturesque coastal hiking routes, see the sea birds on Bird Island, and enjoy the ancient Monterey cypress trees (the native species only grows at Point Lobos and nearby Cypress Point in Pebble Beach).
5. Emerald Bay State Park, South Lake Tahoe
Emerald Bay State Park is located on the gorgeous west side of Lake Tahoe, one of California’s most beautiful lakes. Emerald Bay is on the California side of Lake Tahoe, which spans the California-Nevada border.
Emerald Bay has been recognized as a National Natural Landmark. The park is a few minutes’ drive from South Lake Tahoe and is accessible by Highway 89, the route that around the lake.
Take in the breathtaking views of the bay from the Inspiration Point overlook on Highway 89. Admire the beautiful evergreen trees that frame Lake Tahoe’s sole island, Fannette Island.
6. Bodie State Historic Park – Best State Parks In California
Bodie State Historic Park is located northeast of Yosemite National Park, near the picturesque Highway 395 corridor. The park preserves the ruins of a gold rush-era village, with structures preserved in “arrested degradation.”
In the final part of the nineteenth century, gold was discovered in the region. Large amounts were uncovered after a mine fell in, and Bodie became a boom town.
However, the community progressively declined and was formally designated as a “ghost town” by 1915.
Bodie, a National Historic Landmark, is worth a visit to see the ghost town that still appears the same as it did over 50 years ago, when the last occupants departed the dying settlement. You may wander the streets and see into the houses.
7. Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park
Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park is our favorite of California’s redwood parks. Redwoods State Park is home to a plethora of old-growth redwoods, including some of the biggest (by trunk size) in the world.
The park is part of the Redwood National and State Parks system.
Walking down a foggy route in the park beneath the shadow of enormous ancient trees is a bucket list event you won’t want to miss. Not only are the trees in the park stunning, but the vegetation underneath is lush and diverse, making for excellent photo opportunities.
Drive Howland Hill Drive through the park, beneath the redwood canopy. There are various walking pathways that allow you to get up up and personal with the giants.
8. Pigeon Point Light Station State Historic Park
Pigeon Point Lighthouse is one of the highest lighthouses in the United States, standing at 115 feet. The light was originally turned on in 1872, and the station is still operational today.
Pigeon Point Light Station Historic Park is roughly an hour’s drive south of San Francisco near Pescadero. Plan to be in the park around sunset if you love photography sunsets: the lighthouse looks spectacular against a backdrop of colorful skies.
Aside from the historic lighthouse, the region is well-known for its abundant marine life and birdwatching possibilities. From the coast, look for whales and other sea creatures, and bring binoculars or a spotting scope to see the many seabirds. In the spring and early summer, look for wildflowers.
9. Año Nuevo State Park – Best State Parks In California
Ao Nuevo State Park, about an hour’s drive south of San Francisco along the coast, is noted for its pinniped rookeries. Guided visits are available from mid-December until the end of March, when the elephant seals are breeding.
By permit, you can visit for much of the remainder of the year on a self-guided tour. Seals can be spotted all year. The round-trip journey to Ao Nuevo Point (where you may see the seals) is around 3 to 4 kilometres.
10. Columbia State Historic Park
Columbia State Historic Park, located in the heart of Gold Country, about an hour’s drive from Sacramento, preserves the California gold rush town of Columbia, where massive amounts of gold were extracted between 1850 and 1860.
The town dwindled in the years that followed, with buildings being demolished and many people fleeing, but unlike most other gold rush era boom towns, Columbia was never fully deserted. The park was established in 1945 to protect what was left.
Today, Columbia is a thriving town that has preserved over a dozen gold rush-era buildings. You may pan for gold, ride the stagecoach, see a blacksmith at work, and enjoy a guided tour of town.
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