California’s national parks serve as a reflection of the state’s diverse landscapes. These extreme locations, which range from the lofty peaks of the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the salt flats below sea level in Death Valley, offer unrivaled beauty. Additionally, these public areas, like Yosemite National Park and the Redwoods, have sparked generations of wanderlust and are deserving of the millions of visitors they receive each year.
There are 28 separate national park units in California, including nine national parks and a national seashore. Among other things, these additional units include national parks and monuments. Lava Beds and Whiskeytown Lake are both must-see California landscapes, despite the fact that they don’t have the same name recognition.
California’s national parks are accessible all year long. Additionally, a large number of parks in the desert, like Joshua Tree, have a wintertime visiting season. Therefore, regardless of the season, it’s the ideal forecast for visiting one of California’s top national parks.
Our list of the top national parks in California will help you cross off some adventures from your bucket list.
1- Redwood National and State Parks
A rare collaboration between state and federal agencies, the Redwood National and State Parks guard over 100,000 acres and some of the tallest living things on earth. Redwood National and State Parks are home to 350-foot trees as well as fern-covered canyons, serene beaches, and a wide variety of wildlife.
Jedediah Smith, Del Norte Coast, and Prairie Creek Redwoods State Parks are the three state parks that Redwood National Park co-manages. Additionally, there is the Redwoods National Park. A great place to start your exploration is at any of the five visitor centers situated inside these parks, such as the Thomas H. Kuchel Visitor Center in Orick. Visitors can find trail information, educational displays, and unique activities led by rangers here.
The Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway, Enderts Beach, and Fern Canyon are all well-liked locations within the Redwood National and State Parks. Hiking, scenic driving, and camping under the giants are also common activities in these imposing Northern California landscapes.
2- Yosemite National Park, California
Yosemite National Park, located in the Californian mountains, is well-known for its granite cliffs and waterfalls. Photographer Ansel Adams made two rock formations famous: Half Dome and El Capitan. Yosemite is a year-round vacation spot where melting snow makes it possible to hike at high altitudes in the summer. However, because summer is also the busiest time of year, park rangers advise visitors to take advantage of the free shuttle service to reduce traffic. Plan ahead because many famous hikes call for permits.
The overwhelming magnificence of this place tends to make one feel small and humble in the most profound way. The best time to go is during the off-season, according to us.
3- Sequoia National Park, California
Big trees, deep canyons, and dramatic Sierra Mountain scenery can be found in the adjacent Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park. Yosemite National Park, its more well-known neighbor to the north, competes with it for popularity, and the nation-spanning Pacific Crest Trail runs through each of them.
With a base diameter of more than 36 feet, the enormous General Sherman tree in Sequoia National Park holds the record for being the largest tree by volume in the world. It is located in the park’s Giant Forest area and is surrounded by numerous other sequoia groves. Within either park, this is also one of the most frequently visited areas.
Free shuttles transport the numerous annual visitors to well-liked locations like the Lodgepole Campground, the Giant Forest, and Morro Rock—the park’s iconic vista hike—between May and September throughout Sequoia. A hiking trail leads up to the over 6,700-foot-tall bald granite dome of Morro Rock, which is reached by stone steps with a handrail at the top. Hikers are rewarded for their efforts with a breathtaking view of the Great Western Divide.
4- Point Reyes National Seashore
The only federally recognized seashore on the West Coast is Point Reyes, which is located an hour north of San Francisco. The national seashore’s estuaries, forests, and marshes, as well as the numerous undeveloped beaches with breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean, are all connected by more than 150 miles of hiking trails.
Elk, seals, and grey whales during their yearly migrations are frequent animal sightings along this coastline, which is popular with both wildlife and tourists. The Point Reyes Lighthouse acts as a beacon for tourists from all over the world seeking a destination fit for a postcard.
5- Whiskeytown National Recreation Area
Whiskeytown Lake is located in Northern California, about a 15-minute drive west of Redding. The area around this enormous reservoir and its surroundings is rich in history. The old-west town at the bottom of the lake, which was erased from the map when the Whiskeytown Dam was constructed, is a part of this legacy. On September 28, 1963, the President of the United States John F. Kennedy paid his final visit to California and dedicated this dam.
The region’s distinctive history, which includes the ancient Wintu peoples who subsisted off the land for millennia, is interesting, but what tends to draw visitors is the abundance of recreational opportunities. Swimming, fishing, and paddling are a few activities you can do in the water. Along with numerous notable waterfalls, the larger recreation area is home to miles of hiking, biking, and horseback riding trails.
The Carr Fire of 2018 destroyed the recreation area, adding to Whiskeytown’s history. Over the past four years, extensive rehabilitation and restoration efforts by volunteers and the forest service have restored significant visitor resources.