Giant redwoods, towering sequoias, looming boulders, mountain faces like skyscrapers, these are all commonplace in the national parks in California. Navigating these great areas can be overwhelming for newcomers so I have laid out a guide to the best national parks in California to make your trek a breeze. 

Best National Parks In California In No Particular Order

Sequoia National Park In California 

sequoia national park in california
My Sister Enjoying the Natural Pools in Sequoia.

First on the list of national parks in California is the Sequoias. Located in Central California, about 3.5 hours from Los Angeles, these protected lands have trails you can be hiking on for hours that will take you throughout their giant sequoias (equipped with The General Sherman Tree– the largest tree in the world), through pristine meadows, and to streams and natural pools you can swim in. I’ve taken a number of day trips here with my friends and family and we haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of possibilities available. 

Camping in national parks in California is common and you are able to do so here, as long as you have the proper gear and make a reservation beforehand. You only need a permit if you are going to stay overnight in the Golden Trout Wilderness portion of the forest. Additionally, you need a permit to chop down wood for a fire as well as a permit to make a campfire (that’s free though!) So be sure to research your options before you head out. 

camping in national parks in california
Taking a rest to enjoy the view in Sequoia.

If you want to just do a fun day trip like I have, I would recommend getting there early and spending all available daylight hours there. Entrance is $35 per vehicle or $20 per person walking or on a bicycle. Not far from the entrance in Three Rivers is a spot where you can park your car and walk down a short path to a spot with multiple pools to swim in and large rocks to sunbathe on. My sister and I could have spent the entire day there and not grown tired of it. 

If you do choose to keep driving however you will see many different trailheads that you can explore, and eventually you will come to a lodge where you can enjoy a meal or a cup of coffee and take in the views. You also definitely don’t want to miss going into Crystal Caves when you’re there, so look online before your visit to see ticket availability. 

There are also many areas where you can stop and set up a picnic if you want to be frugal instead. For example, I highly suggest that you check out Crescent Meadow Picnic Area while you’re there, as it will make you feel as though you’re in a Disney movie. 

list of national parks in california
Winding roads of Kings Canyon

Kings Canyon National Park in California is right next to Sequoia and it’s known not just for its large Sequoias but also for its populations of bears and cougars. Unlike Sequoia National Park however, Kings Canyon doesn’t have many roads to drive through as it’s predominantly a park to backpack in, so keep this in mind if you’re considering visiting. 

Joshua Tree National Park In California

In my opinion, one of the best national parks in California is Joshua Tree, not far from Palm Springs in southern california. This is the place to be if you’re a fan of bouldering, camping out under the stars, and catching the most beautiful sunsets and sunrises imaginable. I grew up close to this park so I often did day trips out there with my friends and family, but there are many different options to experience this place if you’re from out of town. One option I really enjoy is booking one of the many unique and fun air bnbs available just outside of the park. Many air bnbs embrace the desert vibes and have places to stay in the shape of tents or teepees or (in one case) a UFO. 

Inside the park, visitors are able to hike, boulder, and take in incredible views of endless miles of joshua trees which, if you haven’t had the pleasure of seeing them before, seem to have jumped right out of a dr seuss book. Check weather conditions before you go– summers can get excruciatingly hot here and winters can get very cold. When I come with my family we love to bring our dog, pack a picnic, and grab chairs and extra warm blankets so that we can lay out underneath the stars after a long afternoon of climbing the large rock formations and exploring hidden crevices. 

Redwood National Park In California 

national park in california with redwood
Redwood National Forest

If you’re looking for a national park in California with redwoods, look no further. Redwood National Forest is one of the most popular national parks in California. Just like many of the other parks, you have flexibility here as to what you’re able to accomplish with the amount of time you have on hand. Whether you have one hour or multiple days to enjoy, you can choose from lovely scenic drives, bike trails, campgrounds (there are no hotels or forest service cabins in the park but you are able to make reservations and obtain free permits in order to do so). 

redwoods national park in california
Beautiful Redwood Trees are the tallest trees in the world.

The Redwoods are truly something you need to see to believe. Their size and grandeur are difficult to accurately depict. At 300ft, the redwood is the tallest tree in the world, and walking amongst them will make you feel as though you’re in a type of dystopian city. In addition to their impressive size, redwoods are some of the oldest trees in the world, with some living more than 2,000 years. In the past I have only been able to do quick trips there while driving up or down the coast, so I have truly enjoyed the roads that wind through this impressive landscape. If you’re a road trip lover, I highly recommend checking out various options for road trips from San Francisco to the Redwoods

Lassen National Park In California 

lassen national park in california is best known for large rock faces
Beautiful Lassen National Park in Spring

Lassen Volcanic National Park in California is one of the most under-appreciated parks to visit in the state. It’s starkly different from the rest of the national parks in California as it’s home to each of the four types of volcanoes: cinder cone, composite, plug dome and shield. Also, scarcely found hydrothermal vents can be found in multiple different locations in the park. One location, Sulphur Works, is rumored to be the centermost point of a prehistoric volcano, and not far sits a mud pool that spews rotten-egg smelling sulfur gas (if that’s something that interests you). 

Another hydrothermal vent location is called Bumpass Hell, and you need to hike 2.5 miles to get to it. Here, there are even more boiling mud pools, vents that release sulfur steam and wooden planks that form a path along the small valley they sit in and allow visitors to walk right next to these incredible (and smelly) natural vents. 

lassen Hydrothermal national park in california
Hydrothermals of Lassen National Park.

If you want to keep your nose clear however, you can drive up to either Lake Helen or Manzanita Lake for a leisurely walk, picnic, or calming activity of kayaking or paddleboarding. 

You may also choose to extend your stay by lodging in one of the hotels on the property. Options like the Highlands Ranch Resort, Drakesbad Guest Ranch, and Tall Timbers Bed and Breakfast are excellent choices for staying in the park. 

Yosemite National Park In California 

Yosemite National Park is best known for its large rock faces
Half Dome Yosemite

Up in the Sierra Nevada Mountains rests Yosemite National Park, best known for its large rock faces, sprawling meadows, and connection to John Muir, the famous naturalist and explorer who lobbied for its creation in 1890. Spring and Summer are the best times to visit the park because of the mild weather and availability of attractions.

Top things to do in this park include visiting El Capitan to marvel at what has been the white whale of many professional climbers and photographers over the course of its lifetime. Check out the documentary “Free Solo” which follows the first and only man to ever free climb it. Half Dome is another rock formation that is a must-see while in the park, and is a popular destination for brave hikers to trek to the top. To do this however, you will need to obtain a permit, as well as those who wish to camp in Little Yosemite Valley. 

The Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls trails are perhaps the most popular courses to take to receive some of the most pristine views in the park. To get to the top of Vernal Falls, begin at Happy Isles and follow the path up until it diverges into two, and take the Mist Trail which will spray you with mist, hence the name, until it lets you out at the top of this incredible drop. To get to Nevada Falls from here, simply continue walking uphill for another 1.5 miles until you reach a footbridge that will offer you ideal views of the Falls. From this point you can either turn around or follow the John Muir Trail back down into the Valley. 

Channel Islands National Park In California 

best national parks if you want a break from the mainland life.
Channel Island Scenery is breathtaking.

Off the coast of Southern California lies a chain of eight islands, five of which are all a part of the National Park system: Anacapa, Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz, San Miguel and Santa Barbara. Each one is distinct in its own way and all have limited accessibility. There are visitors centers for the islands that are located in Ventura and Santa Barbara, however to get to the islands themselves, you need to either go with the concessionaire boat group, Island Packers, or go on a private boat. Once you’re on the islands, there are no transportation options so they can only be explored by kayak or hiking. 

This is one of the best national parks to explore if you truly want a break from the hustle and bustle of mainland life. It’s also perfect for having a view of some critical endangered species such as the Island Fox, Snowy Plover and Island Night Lizard. The Island Fox, if you are able to get a glance of it, is truly special as it is found only on the Channel Islands, and they have evolved to become quite the friendly creatures as they have no natural predators on the islands. 

In addition to the animals, visitors can enjoy activities like hiking, camping, snorkeling, scuba diving and surfing on the islands. However, there are no lifeguards present and the rocky topography of the islands can create dangerous conditions for water sports, so this is not a place for people to try anything new. If you are confident in your abilities though make sure you bring a good wetsuit as the water off the coast of California is generally cold. 

Visiting California’s National Parks 

nine national parks in California
Beautiful Landscape of Kings Canyon.

As I mentioned at the beginning of the article, there are nine national parks in California, and I only talked about seven here. While I chose those based on my own experiences, it should not negate the beauty and awesomeness of the other three I didn’t mention. Death Valley National Park and Pinnacles National Park boast some of the most breathtaking views and unforgettable experiences in the country. I truly believe that there is no going wrong with whatever park you choose to visit, California has something for everyone. 


What is the main national park in California?

Since all of the parks have their own unique flair and attributes, it is difficult to identify one as being any more important than the others. However, Yosemite National Park is the most visited one out of the rest and it is considered the most famous.

What is the largest national park in California?

Death Valley National Park is the largest national park in California, consisting of over 3.3 million acres of salt flats, sand dunes, and canyons.

What is the oldest park in California?

Sequoia National Park is the oldest national park in California, and it was founded in 1890 by President Benjamin Harrison.


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