There’s no beating around the bush with California, it’s a stunning state to visit (and pretty diverse, too). From the southerly fringes near San Diego to the northerly quarters around Crescent City, California is a pretty vast and stunning state to explore, especially within its national parks. Now, there are quite a few national parks in California to see, some with soaring mountains and rambling streams, others with towering waterfalls and desert-like landscapes. whatever you’re into, you’re almost guaranteed to find one you love.
In truth, that’s what makes California so special, it’s stunning natural beauty.
Oh, and a big ol’ dose of cool cities like San Francisco too!
With that in mind, I wanted to share, with you, some of the most incredible national parks in California you have to visit.
Take a look below at the most beautiful national parks in California. Just remember to pack your hiking shoes.
1.) Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park blew my mind when I visited…it’s a trip that I will never forget.
Between the jagged rock faces, the forest filled grasslands and babbling brooks you’ll find one of the most dramatic national parks in California and one I’m sure you’ll love.
Now, climbs to spots like Half Dome should not be taken lightly, these are some pretty tiring hikes, so be prepared and take things slow. I made it halfway and that alone had me exhausted! I swear I have the utmost respect for anyone that’s completed this.
The hike itself will take around 12 hours, so leave at first daybreak.
Also, don’t forget to pack at least 4 litres of water for your hike – that’s essential.
If you do decide on hiking half dome, you’ll also need a permit obtained from Yosemite National Park (which you can apply for here). They only allow a few hundred people a day to climb, so book in advance.
That being said, If you’re looking for a more gentle walk head down to Yosemite Valley and Lower Cathedral Lake is suitable for less experienced hikers. You can see more about these trails from the national parks of California website.
Oh, and keep your eyes peeled for Yosemite Falls, too and head to Glacial Point (for some gorgeous views)! It’s incredible.
2.) Sequoia And Kings Canyon National Park
Sequoia sits just south of Yosemite, adjacent to Kings Canyon, in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains. Both of these together are technically two different national parks in California, but they do just flow into one (so to speak).
Once here, you’ll see the giant red sequoia trees (the worlds largest trees) that line the park and a whole heap of other cool spots like; Kings Canyon Byway (for some gorgeous views), visit General Sherman (to see the biggest single stem tree in the world) and hike towards Moro Rock.
From here, you’ll get some awe-inspiring views over one of the prettiest national parks in California.
Also, if you do venture into Kings Canyon, make sure to explore Rae Lakes, spot California’s second-largest mountain (Mount Williamson) and explore the beauty that is the Palisades.
Plus, If you’re looking for some great hikes, pop over to the Cedar Grove area of the park. You can view all the details on the routes, right here.
3.) Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park is home to a mixing point of two desert ecosystems, the Mojave Desert and the Colorado Desert (which makes it totally unique).
This dry, boulder-filled and barren national park is a thing of beauty and a great spot to explore if you’re coming from Europe. We just don’t have deserts like this.
Once inside the park, make sure to explore the other gorgeous sites like; Skull Rock, Mecca Hills (which is actually just outside the park) and so much more It really is one of the special national parks in California.
If it’s a hike you’re after, head over to the Hidden Valley.
There are some pretty easy trails around here and it’s an almost out-of-this-world experience.
4.) Redwood National and State Parks
Redwood National and State Parks isn’t just one of the singular national parks in California, it’s actually made up of multiple parks that spread across the coastline (which confused me initially).
All of these are around five hours north of San Francisco (which makes it perfect if you want a little city and nature break combined).
Once here, you’ll find a mix of temperate rainforest, giant redwood trees and the lapping Pacific Ocean which makes for an idyllic setting. Now, you’ll need weeks to explore all of the Redwood National and State Parks but there are a few key spots you won’t wanna miss.
Firstly, pop over to Fern Canyon (which sounds like exactly what it is), hike the Damnation Creek trail, see Prairie Creek Redwoods and explore Trinidad State Beach.
You won’t be disappointed.
5.) Death Valley National Park
I still remember my first trip to Death Valley (as an 11-year old) and being totally terrified by the name.
But don’t worry, the name is worse than it sounds.
Now, the park itself is actually pretty easy to explore if you’re travelling from Las Vegas (Nevada) or a little longer from the likes of Los Angeles.
Although arid, Death Valley is one of the coolest (or should I say hottest) national parks in California. Once here, make sure to check out the Badwater Basin, Zabriskie Point and the Ubehebe Crater.
Three totally gorgeous spots to explore on foot, make sure you’re doused in the strongest sun cream and have plenty of water. On my very first visit, the park ranger wouldn’t let us enter as we didn’t have enough water in the car.
The park itself is, like, seriously hot and is almost always the hottest (and driest) place in the United States.
6.) Point Reyes National Park
Point Reyes National Park sits on the coast of northern California and gives us some wonderful views over the Pacific ocean. It’s the type of place where Jagged cliffs, cascading waterfalls and rolling hills all make for some epic vistas.
When it comes to things to do, seal spotting, kayaking and hiking are just a few of the more active elements of the park. Best of all, in my opinion, the park is also just past the Big Sur which should be on your bucket list, McWay Falls and Bixby Bridge are two epic California landmarks that you don’t want to miss.
This means you can combine Big Sur and the Point Reyes quite easily on one trip.
Oh, and don’t forget to visit Point Reyes Headlands which are the very best places to view the annual grey whale migration, which is best to catch a glimpse between January-April each year.
7.) Channel Islands National Park
The Channel Islands National Park is just off the coast of California, relatively close to Los Angeles. Now, obviously being one of the island national parks in California, you’ll only be able to access the islands boat, rich friends with their own boats, or super-rich friends with their own private planes!
Though don’t be fooled into thinking you need to spend a pretty penny to experience the Channel Islands National Park, it can be done relatively cheaply and is accessible with many day trips, too.
One thing to remember is that all wheeled transport is banned on the islands, this means it’ll be your two feet that’ll take you around the five islands. Once here, make sure to test your skills snorkelling, surfing, hiking, and kayaking.
If you do decide to stay a few days, make sure to see the most incredible sunrises from Inspiration Point on Anacapa Island – you’ll love it!
8.) Pinnacles National Park
Pinnacles National Park sits just east of the Salinas Valley less than two hours from Big Sur. The park is the leftovers of a volcanic “incident” that occurred around 23 million years ago (give or take a year or two 🤣).
Once you’ve arrived, make sure to explore the Condor Gulch Trail, see Machete Ridge and explore the Bear Gulch Reservoir. They’re all beautiful and it’s often much quieter than parks like Yosemite.