With 28 National parks in California, you can truly find something for everyone to see and enjoy. California National Parks include Channel Islands National Park, Death Valley National Park, Joshua Tree National Park, Lassen Volcanic National Park along with Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park and Yosemite National Park.
California also has multiple national monuments and national historic sites. Each of these national parks in California offers the opportunity to get outside and explore nature, historical sites and learn more about our park systems. We love traveling through California because it feels like every time you turn around there is another park to visit.
California has a great variety of National Parks. The windswept Channel Islands lie off the southern coast, offering adventures on land and sea. Forested parks include Sequoia & Kings Canyon and Redwood, where visitors can camp among some of the tallest and oldest trees in the world.
Desert Parks include Death Valley, the lowest place in America, and Joshua Tree. Golden Gate National Recreation Area is an urban park. Its holdings include popular Alcatraz Island, the Presidio, and historic Fort Point. Other historic Parks include Manzanar, Cabrillo, and Eugene O’Neil.
There are National Parks for every taste in California, but Yosemite, Mohave, and Mt. Lassen are particularly suited to long leisurely visits. Here are more details about these particular parks:
California National Parks
Glaciers carved the hanging valleys of Yosemite, and the marks of that icy passage are still sharp and plain to see. Waterfalls tumble down chutes of gray granite and chunks of mountain domes stand guard. Yosemite Valley gets most of the visitors, but other regions of the park are as magnificent and much less crowded.
South of Yosemite Valley, Glacier Point is a gorgeous overlook. Here, visitors stare down at the famous waterfalls of the valley walls and across to the gray granite majesty of Half Dome and its companions. Many trails into the backcountry start near Glacier Point.
In the northern wilderness of Yosemite, backpackers explore the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne on a long tough trail. Its beauty amply rewards the dogged hiker. Waterwheel Falls on the Tuolumne is like nothing else on earth. In the right conditions, its waters arc up and around, defying gravity.
Yosemite Park is always open, but the rigors of winter are not for everyone (though the valley is uncrowded then). Many of the roads close in winter, but visitors can ski cross-country and camp in the snow.
The elegant Ahwahnee and the nostalgic Wawona are popular hotels any time of year, but especially at Christmas. Yosemite Valley Lodge sits at the base of Yosemite Falls, and simple accommodations from tent sites to cabins are scattered throughout the Yosemite Valley. White Wolf Lodge on Tioga Pass is a peaceful place to stay before heading off into the wilderness.
Abraham Lincoln signed the bill that set aside land for Yosemite in Northern California. Later, John Muir camped with Teddy Roosevelt at Glacier Point and persuaded him to increase the protection of the park. Most of Yosemite is designated wilderness now, protected forever from civilization.
Mohave National Preserve
Midway between Los Angeles and Las Vegas is desolate Mohave National Preserve. It is often unbearably hot here from May to October, but there are compensations. In fact, this huge desert park holds a surprising variety of attractions.
After a rainy winter, the wildflower show is astonishing. Whatever the season, winding canyons lead on, and mysterious caves burrow into the dry hills. The cinder cones remind visitors of the power of nature, and the Kelso dunes amaze those who run down them to hear their distinct song. Most of all, there is solitude.
Hole-in-the-Wall is a developed campground suitable for families. It has an information center and a short nature trail that introduces travelers to the plants of the region. The campground is set among pockmarked cliffs with a prehistoric feel. Take the Rings Trail down Banshee Canyon for an unusual experience. Explore it by climbing down a series of bolts and rings through a chute that can feel extremely narrow. If the wind is right, you will hear the Banshee howl.
Desert tortoises live in the preserve, along with bighorn sheep, poisonous Gila monsters, golden eagles and rattlesnakes. The rattlesnakes of the Mohave are particularly deadly, so never put your hands or feet any place you cannot see.
The Mohave Preserve is one of the most recent areas to come under the protection of the Park Service. It joined the system in 1994. Because it is a preserve rather than a national park, certain uses prohibited elsewhere, such as hunting, are permitted here.
Mount Lassen Volcanic National Park is not terribly popular. It is far from major population centers and gets so much snow that the main road often does not open until June. It is a fascinating place though, with various geothermal features set among evergreen forest and the rocky remains of lava flows. Many of the park’s attractions are accessible in a few steps from the car.
It is also possible to climb Mount Lassen, a rigorous 5-mile trek. Bumpass Hell, a huge geothermal feature, is quite close to the road. It features a stinky variety of bubbling mud pots and steaming fumaroles, set in a landscape of multicolored mud. The whole feature can be visited on a mostly level two-hour walk. The Cinder Cone, on the other hand, is a tough climb, up a steep spiraling trail through sliding reddish cinders. Climbing Cinder Cone is like trying to run on a beach.
There are also peaceful lakes though, evergreen forests, and alpine flowers. A delicate flower, the Lassen Smelowskia, grows only within the bounds of Lassen Park. It is a threatened and endangered species.
President Teddy Roosevelt declared Lassen Peak and Cinder Cone National Monuments in 1907. Volcanic activity occurred starting in 1912, and because of it, Lassen became a National Park in 1916. The major eruption did not come until 1921, blasting away a chunk of the mountain, and leaving a devastated area still visible today.
In high summer, many of the National Parks are heavily used. Yet even then, it is possible to find solitude by visiting areas that are less well known. Some parks never get many visitors and even the ones that do deserve their popularity. To experience the beauty of California, visit one of these great National Parks.
Don’t miss Lassen Volcanic NP visitor center! It is filled with amazing information.
Located in Crescent City. It contains the tallest trees in the world. These Redwood trees can grow to over 260 feet tall. The park welcomes visitors year-round. However, in the winter, the weather is cold and the trails muddy. The hiking and biking trails wind through the redwoods.
The 40-mile scenic drive along the coast shows the rocky cliffs and the expansive ocean. The park has some of the best, short backpacking trails and mountain bikers will follow the many logging roads through the trees. In the spring, the wildflowers burst out providing unmatched photo opportunities.
The park itself has no camping facilities. However, state parks and forests adjacent and inside the park have four campgrounds.
Recreational areas Whiskey-town, Trinity, Shasta National Recreation Area provides many lake-related opportunities. Camping is available, but reservations are necessary during the summer months.
Golden Gate Recreation Area
Golden Gate Recreation Area is in the heart of San Francisco. It has overnight facilities at Marin Headlands. Many activities occur daily including visits to an aquarium where visitors may view all sorts of fish. They have beautiful gardens that visitors may walkthrough. People can take tours to Alcatraz from this point.
Surrounding the San Francisco Bay and including such wonders as the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz Island, the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA) is one of the world’s largest urban national parks. In addition to the world-famous bridge and Al Capone’s former digs, the GGNRA includes miles of unspoiled beaches and hiking trails, military forts from the days of the Spanish conquistadors, a Nike Missile Site, and hundreds of acres of coastal wetlands on a formerly abandoned airfield. You could spend several unforgettable days viewing the many attractions within this attraction.
Lava Beds National Monument near the California-Oregon Border and Pinnacles National Park help visitors explore the geology and rock formations of the state. Each has overnight camping facilities in the parks.
Historic Sites in the San Francisco area, visitors can visit a number of historic sites. Muir Woods details the history of John Muir and also the logging industry.
The Eugene O’Neil National Historic Site memorializes the playwright. Fort Point has cannon drills, fishing, and guided tours. Point Reyes National Seashore is a place to experience the ocean. It is often foggy and chilly here. Dress accordingly.
Cabrillo National Monument is located near San Diego on the Pacific Coast.
You don’t want to miss the giant sequoias in Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park in Northern California. Some of the largest trees in the world are close enough to touch them.
California is a state of diversity, and the parks in it symbolize that. No matter what a visitor wishes to see, California’s national parks satisfy all of them.
California National Parks List
- Alcatraz Island
- Cabrillo National Monument
- Castle Mountains National Monument
- César E. Chávez National Monument
- Channel Islands National Park
- Death Valley National Park (also Nevada)
- Devils Postpile National Monument
- Eugene O’Neill National Historic Site
- Fort Point National Historic Site
- Golden Gate National Recreational Area
- John Muir National Historic Site
- Joshua Tree National Park
- Kings Canyon National Park
- Lassen Volcanic National Park
- Lava Beds National Monument
- Manzanar National Historic Site
- Mojave National Preserve
- Muir Woods National Monument
- Pinnacles National Park
- Point Reyes National Seashore
- Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial
- Redwood National Park
- Rosie the Riveter / World War II Home Front National Historic Park
- San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park
- Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area
- Sequoia National Park
- Whiskeytown-Shasta-Trinity National Recreation Area
- Tule Lake National Monument
- Yosemite National Park
- California National Historic Trail (CA, CO, ID, KS, MO, NE, NV, OR, UT, WY)
- Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail
- Old Spanish National Historic Trail
- Pony Express National Historic Trail ( CA, CO, KS, MO, NE, NV, UT, WY)
- Presidio of San Francisco
There are 28 California National Parks with over 40 million visitors each year. These parks produce over $2 billion in economic benefits from visitors.
National Parks in California include 9 wild and scenic rivers managed by the National Park Service, 4 National Trails, 2,738 National Register of Historic Places listings, 145 National Historic Landmarks, 36 National Natural Landmarks and 2 World Heritage Sites.
California National Parks protect 92 threatened and endangered species!
The National Parks in California also include 3,839 places recorded by the Heritage Documentation Program, 26,532,245 objects in the California National Park Museum collections.
Do you know how many National Parks you have visited? Check out our printable list of all US National Park Sites to count how many you have been too! If you have ever dreamed of becoming a Park Ranger check out our article on How to Become A Park Ranger. After working in parks for almost 20 years I can tell you there is something amazing about going to work in a park each day!