Best State and National Parks in California


Largely thanks to Hollywood, the state of California is a mecca for arts and entertainment. However, the state also deserves status as an outdoor wonderland.

With nine national parks and an impressive 280 state parks, California certainly has much to offer, in both opportunity and acreage.

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Lassen Volcanic National Park picturing a landscape of red rocky hills with steam rolling off a small body of water

Nearest City: Redding, California

Located in the northeastern region of the state, Lassen Volcanic National Park protects one of the most breathtaking and unique natural areas in California.

The park’s most notable feature is Lassen Peak, a volcano located amongst California’s famous Cascade Mountain Range. It’s a plug dome volcano, the largest of its kind in the entire world.

However, Lassen Volcanic National Park contains more than one volcano. In fact, it’s actually one of the only places in the world with all four types.

In addition to this ensemble, Lassen also protects several volcanic lakes, an elaborate display of hiking trails, and several camping areas.


Redwood National and State Parks

An upward shot of the Redwood trees displaying their towering heights in the Redwood National Park

Nearest City: Orick, California

The Redwood National and State Parks in California are co-managed by the National Park Service and the California Department of Parks and Recreation.

Located along the western coast of northern California, these protect endemic species of the area, including the coastal redwood.

Jedidiah Smith, Del Norte Coast, and Prairie Creek are three of the most popular and largest state parks included in the collection. These parks offer visitors the opportunity to walk amongst some of the largest trees in the world, set up camp within California’s idyllic western coast, and kayak along the Smith River.

The Redwood National and State Parks also manage the tall trees grove, where visitors can crane their necks and admire trees over 300 feet tall.

Entry to the tall trees grove requires a permit, obtained from the visitor centers.


Yosemite National Park

A rocky, shallow river or lake bed is lined with golden and green trees along the shoreline with towering rocky cliffs on a partly cloudy day in Yosemite National Park

Nearest City: Mariposa, California

Yosemite National Park was the third national park the National Park Service developed and protected. First created in October of 1890, it’s consistently one of the most visited parks in the United States.

The park also boasts diverse populations of wildlife, geologic formations, and dense acres of hardwood forest.

In total, Yosemite National Park covers almost 750,000 acres. Visitors will find an endless supply of outdoor experiences, several protected habitats, and opportunities to learn more about the park’s cultural ties.

Wildlife species include black bears, bighorn sheep, mule deer, mountain lions, foxes, and bobcats. You might be lucky enough to spot these upon your arrival.

However, take care to keep your distance—these wildlife species are indeed wild.


Joshua Tree National Park

Hikers walk up a small rock formation surrounded by dried out desert vegetation and Joshua Trees in Joshua Tree National Park

Nearest City: Twentynine Palms

Featured on album covers of popular bands such as the Eagles and U2, Joshua Tree National Park is one of the most iconic locations in all of California.

It protects a desert shrub environment scattered with Joshua Trees.  These give the park its name.

Interestingly, however, the Joshua Tree isn’t a tree at all. Rather, it’s a unique species of yucca (Yucca brevifolia).

Composed of acreage from the Mojave and Colorado Deserts, the park’s ecosystem and environment is largely dictated by elevation. The Mojave Desert resides at a higher elevation, and thus is quite cooler than the lower Colorado Desert.

Visitors will find opportunities to hike, camp, rock climb, and see breathtaking sights.


Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park

Small forests line the shores of small lakes which sit in a valley surrounded sharp, steep mountains in Sequoia and Kings National Park

Nearest City: Visalia, California

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park reside in the southern ranges of the Sierra Nevada. Together, the two parks manage more than 1,350 square miles. These protect diverse populations of flora and fauna.

Every year, over 1.5 million visitors arrive at Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Park to experience its uniqueness and undeveloped acres of wilderness.

Recreation attractions include hiking trails, groves of large sequoia trees, waterfalls, and a series of developed and undeveloped camping areas.

The two parks continue to work together, largely due to proximity and overlap of species.


A Limitless Landscape

A large shallow lake reflects the tree-lined shores and barren mountainous hills at one of California's National Parks
The state of California came to fame as a natural paradise via the words of renowned naturalist, John Muir.  He is often considered the “father” of national parks.

It’s not hard to understand why California’s beauty so moved him. With a diverse landscape, extensive wildlife, and incredible natural phenomena, the Golden State deserves its nickname and then some.

For more travel recommendations, check out the best state and national parks in Oregon, Utah, or Texas.