California Has 9 National Parks—More Than Any Other State

California Has 9 National Parks—More Than Any Other State

View of soaring rock formations overlooking the tourist-filled Yosemite Valley in Yosemite National Park on June 25, 2012. (Michael Thurston/AFP/GettyImages)

Kimberly Hayek

Kimberly Hayek

4/15/2024

Updated: 4/15/2024

While California gets a lot of heat from critics, there are many advantages to living in the Golden State, including having the most national parks.
Thanks to the state’s diverse physical geography, California boasts a total of nine unique national parks. In them, you can find cliffs, beaches, volcanic lava beds, fertile river valleys, waterfalls, mountains, and deserts—not to mention the world’s tallest tree, named Hyperion, in the Redwood National Forest.

Redwood National Park

Home to the tallest trees in the world, stepping into the Redwood National Park is like stepping into a magical fairyland. Located on the Northern California coast, its humid climate thanks to the marine fog blankets these magnificent trees, providing the perfect environment for the old growth redwoods to thrive. These massive trees can live to be 2,000 years old and grow to over 300 feet tall. Here you can visit the world’s tallest living tree, named Hyperion, which stands at 380 feet and is estimated to be between 600 to 800 years old. This beloved national park, established in 1968, has 139,000 acres of beautiful prairies, oak woodlands, wild rivers, and nearly 40 miles of rugged coastline. It’s also free to enter except for certain campgrounds.
Don’t miss easy-to-access spots along Highway 101, including the secluded Enderts Beach and the old growth immersed Damnation Creek Trail. A drive through the scenic Avenue of the Giants, which takes you through a massive Redwood tree, is also a must.
Visit in the autumn to see the trees turn orange and yellow or the blooming flowers burst into pink, purple, and blue in the spring. Winters bring lots of rain.
A tourist poses for a photo next to the General Sherman Giant Sequoia at Sequoia National Park in California on March 9, 2014. (Mladen Antonov/AFP/Getty Images)

A tourist poses for a photo next to the General Sherman Giant Sequoia at Sequoia National Park in California on March 9, 2014. (Mladen Antonov/AFP/Getty Images)

Sequoia and Kings Canyon

Located in California’s southern Sierra Nevada mountains, two adjacent parks, Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park are administered together by the National Park Service, so the $35 entrance fee will grant you access to both parks.
Sequoia National Park is home to the largest trees in the world, by volume. Here you’ll find enormous mountains, gorgeous rock formations, striking park views, deep canyons, vast caverns, and the world’s largest trees.
Viewing the sequoias is easy across ages and mobility levels, with paved wheelchair-friendly trails. General Grant Tree Trail, the General Sherman Tree, and the Big Trees Trail are easy hikes among the old conifers.
Kings Canyon is home to the largest grove of Sequoia trees in the world. You’ll also find stunning deep valleys, massive rock formations, canyons, waterfalls, and peaks. The best time to see sequoias is spring through fall.
The two parks are altogether 66 miles long, and 93 percent is designated wilderness, so many of the sights are found only while backpacking. Generals Highway connects to Sequoia National Park and is open year-round except amid heavy snow.
Kings Canyon is closed in winter when heavy snow hits except for Grant Grove or Wolverton Snowplay Area, which have snow December through March. Enjoy cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in certain sections of the park—Giant Forest and Grant Grove, for instance—from December to April. The greatest access and selection of activities are available in the summer season, from July through September.

Channel Islands

Nicknamed the “Galapagos of North America,” the Channel Islands National Park off the Southern California coast is a collection of five ecologically rich islands home to 2,000 plant and animal species, 145 of which can be found nowhere else in the world.
Each of the islands have something special to offer. Santa Cruz Island is known for its beautiful sea caves. Hike on the many trails on Anacapa Island to see a 1932 lighthouse and gorgeous views, such as Inspiration Point, which requires a steep 157-step climb. Witness the rare Torrey pines on Santa Rosa Island, or the thousands of seals that have made San Miguel Island’s Point Bennet their home, while Santa Barbara Island is known for its nesting seabirds.
It’s the only national park that is accessible solely by boat. Island Packers, the official boat concessionaire of the park, charge boarding fees of $66 for adults and $47 for children round-trip. Book tickets a few months in advance, especially during peak times. Private docks are available in certain locations. Spend the night at one of the 72 campsites across the park’s five islands. Be sure to make reservations for all campsites six months in advance.
A heat advisory sign is shown along U.S. highway 190 during a heat wave in Death Valley National Park in Death Valley, Calif., on July 16, 2023. (Ronda Churchill/AFP via Getty Images)

A heat advisory sign is shown along U.S. highway 190 during a heat wave in Death Valley National Park in Death Valley, Calif., on July 16, 2023. (Ronda Churchill/AFP via Getty Images)

Death Valley

Known for being the hottest place on earth and driest place in North America, Death Valley is located in California’s Mojave Desert. It’s also the lowest place in North America at 282 feet below sea level, and the second-lowest in the Western hemisphere. Its colorful mountains, sand dunes, rugged canyons, salt-covered basins, and massive craters make Death Valley an otherworldly place to visit.
Be sure to check out Telescope Park, the highest mountain in the park, stands 11,049 feet tall, just 15 miles from Badwater Basin, the lowest point in the country. The popular 6.4-mile Golden Canyon and Gower Gulch Loop trail and the 1.4-mile Natural Bridge out-and-back trail are both moderately challenging routes.
Avoid deadly heat by visiting Death Valley in the winter, from December to March, when temperatures are moderate between 65 and 73 degrees F and lows average 38 to 46 degrees F. This park charges an entry fee of $30 per vehicle.

Joshua Tree

Located south of the Mojave Desert and east of Los Angeles, Joshua Tree is a beautiful desert landscape full of beauty and life. Within its nearly 800,000 acres are gigantic stones, rare plant species, gorgeous rock formations, extraordinarily rugged mountains, sand dunes, and flat valleys. It also was once home to Columbian mammoths, saber-toothed cats, dire wolves, and giant ground sloths.
Joshua Tree’s Park Boulevard leads you from the Joshua Tree visitor cen­ter to the Lost Horse area, where you can explore three short trails (Hidden Valley, Barker Dam, and Cap Rock).
To avoid scorching 100 degree F weather, visit this year-round park in spring when average highs hover around 85 F and lows 50 F. Winter brings freezing temperatures at night. To enter, this park charges $30 per vehicle.
A view of the Milky Way arching over Joshua trees at a park campground popular among stargazers in Joshua Tree National Park, July 26, 2017. (Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

A view of the Milky Way arching over Joshua trees at a park campground popular among stargazers in Joshua Tree National Park, July 26, 2017. (Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

Lassen Volcanic

Home to the largest plug dome volcano in the world and one of the few places in the world where all four types of volcano (plug dome, shield, cinder cone, and stratovolcano) can be found, Lassen’s volcanic history makes this park a unique and dramatic landscape. You'll find incredible lava pinnacles, jagged craters, bubbling mud pots, rolling views, and clear mountain lakes. Unfortunately, a fire in 2021 destroyed over two-thirds of this park.
Avoid heavy winter snows and a closed main road by visiting the volcanic parts of the park in summer and fall. Or enjoy snowshoe hikes and cross-country skiing at the southern and northern entrances.
Lassen charges a $30 entrance fee per vehicle.

Pinnacles

Pinnacles National Park is a landscape dominated by volcanic cliffs and peaks amid the dense chaparral country of west-central California’s Gabilan mountain range. Thirty-two miles of trails bring you through incredible rock formations, winding tunnels, and shady creeks.
It’s also home to the California condor. You can go bird sightseeing, try rock climbing, or see gorgeous wildflower blooms from March to October. Located in northern California, this park is just a 2.5-hour drive from San Francisco.
Visit in February through early June for mild temperatures and blooming wildflowers and to avoid 100-degree summer temperatures.
There is a $30 entrance fee per vehicle. There are no lodging facilities, restaurants, or gas stations in the park.
Bridalveil Fall gleams in the late afternoon sunlight as clouds form overhead in Yosemite Valley on Tuesday, June 14, 2023. (Craig Kohlruss/The Sacramento Bee/TNS)

Bridalveil Fall gleams in the late afternoon sunlight as clouds form overhead in Yosemite Valley on Tuesday, June 14, 2023. (Craig Kohlruss/The Sacramento Bee/TNS)

Yosemite

With its sculpted granite rock formations, massive ancient sequoia trees, and spectacular waterfalls (including the tallest in North America), Yosemite National Park is easily one of the most popular national parks in the state and country.
It’s known throughout the world for its iconic landscapes, including Yosemite Valley, Yosemite Falls, Bridalveil Fall, El Capitan, Half Dome, and Cathedral Peak.
Within its nearly 1,200 square miles, you can find gorgeous peaks, deep canyons, massive cliffs, domes, rivers, lakes, immense waterfalls, lush green meadows, wildlife, and forests, thanks to its rich geological history.
You won’t want to miss Wawona Tunnel, which leads to Half Dome. Park your car in the tunnel’s upper parking lot, and explore the 1.2 mile trail to Inspiration Point. And a circular one-way road gives you a view over the valley, including Bridalveil Fall, a 620-feet waterfall with a granite face.
Yosemite Valley is open year-round. There is a $35 entrance fee per vehicle.
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