Do you want to visit the best California National Parks? We’ve got a list to get you started. The National Park Service protects and manages national parks, monuments, and natural, historical, and recreational properties across the United States for public use. Yellowstone was the first to be established in 1872. Over time, more National Parks were established across the US, with Theodore Roosevelt signing legislation to establish five during his term as President between 1901 and 1909.
The National Park Service was officially founded in 1916 to oversee the management of these federal properties. The formation of the agency was spearheaded by conservationist Stephen Mather with the assistance of journalist Robert Sterling Yard, and signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson.
Today, there are over 400 properties covering over 84 million acres in 50 states. In California alone, the National Park Service manages or is affiliated with over 30 properties. Let’s take a look at the best California National Parks.
The Best California National Parks
Cabrillo National Monument
Address: 1800 Cabrillo Memorial Drive, San Diego, CA 92106
Cabrillo National Monument is located in San Diego on the Point Loma Peninsula. The National Monument marks the spot where explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo anchored, first introducing Europeans to the west coast of North America. Things to do here include visiting a historic light house, learning about exploration and maritime history, whale watching, hiking, and visiting tide pools.
Channel Islands National Park
Address: 21901 Spinnaker Drive, Ventura, CA 93001 (Ventura Mainland Visitor Center)
Address: 113 Harbor Way 4th Floor (Outdoor Santa Barbara Visitor Center)
Channel Islands National Park is just off the coast of Santa Barbara, California and is one of the country’s most secluded National Parks. Channel Islands National Park is only accessible by boat. The islands are undeveloped and there is no transportation. All areas on the island must be accessed by foot, boat, or kayak. Things to do at Channel Islands National Park include diving, snorkeling, kayaking, whale watching, camping, and hiking.
Death Valley National Park
There is no physical address for Death Valley National Park or the Visitor Center. Visit the website for detailed directions.
Thanks to its record breaking temperatures, Death Valley National Park is known as the hottest place on Earth. Death Valley is also the driest US National Park with the lowest elevation in North America. There is plenty to see and explore here at Death Valley with over 3.2 million acres of protected wilderness. Things to do at Death Valley National Park include sightseeing, hiking, camping, off roading, backpacking, mountain biking, trailrunning, and more.
Devils Postpile National Monument
Address: Devil’s Postpile Access Road, Mammoth Lakes, CA 93546
Devils Postpile National Monument was designated to protect the unique geological feature, columnar basalt, and the 101-foot high Rainbow Falls. Created by cooling lava and receding glaciers, this location is one of the finest examples of these unique columnar formations in the world. Things to do at Devils Postpile include hiking, camping, fishing, and viewing wildlife.
Joshua Tree National Park
Address: 74485 National Park Drive, Twentynine Palms, CA 92277-3597
Joshua Tree National Park is one of California’s most popular parks with nearly 3 million visitors annually. The desert wilderness is home to the famous Joshua Trees, historical sites, and a variety of unique geological formations. Things to do at Joshua Tree National Park include hiking and backpacking, mountain biking, horseback riding, camping, rock climbing, wildlife viewing, sightseeing, and photography.
Lassen Volcanic National Park
Address: 38050 Highway 36 East Park Headquarters, Mineral, CA 96063
Lassen Volcanic National Park protects over 100,000 acres of wilderness, thermal springs, and is home to the largest plug dome volcano. The park is one of the few locations on Earth to contain all four types of volcanoes. Things to do in Lassen Volcanic National Park includes hiking and backpacking, boating, fishing, sight seeing, visiting hydrothermal areas, camping, snow sports, and more.
Muir Woods National Monument
Address: 1 Muir Woods Road, Mill Valley, CA 94941
Named after the legendary and inspirational conservationist John Muir, Muir Woods National Monument has been federally protected since 1908. Here you’ll explore historic sites, ancient redwood groves, and take in magical views of the northern California coast. Things to do at Muir Woods National Monument include hiking, camping, interpretive programs, and more.
Pinnacles National Park
Address: 5000 East Entrance Road, Paicines, CA 95043
Pinnacles National Park is a unique landscape formed by volcanic eruptions millions of years ago. The park features canyon bottoms and oak woodlands, rare talus caves, towering rock spires, and the Bear Gulch Reservoir. Things to do at Pinnacles National Park include wildlife viewing, hiking, exploring talus caves and geologic formations, rock climbing, and camping.
Point Reyes National Seashore
Address: 1 Bear Valley Road, Point Reyes Station, CA 94956
Point Reyes National Seashore spans many miles of the northern coast of California with over 150 miles of trails to explore. At Point Reyes, you can experience pristine coastal land, elephant seals, and waterfalls. Other points of interest include Tomales Bay, Historic Pierce Point Ranch, Drakes Beach, the Point Reyes Lighthouse, and the Tule Elk Reserve. Things to do at Point Reyes National Seashore include hiking, sightseeing, wildlife viewing, kayaking, beach activities, and more.
Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks
Address: 47050 Generals Highway, Three Rivers, CA 93271
Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks encompass over 1,300 square miles of majestic forests, ancient trees, rushing rivers, and diverse wildlife. The Giant Sequoias are the stars here, and is home to the world’s largest tree, the General Sherman Tree. General Sherman stands 275 feet tall and is more than 36 feet in diameter at the base. You can also visit the runner up, The General Grant Tree, coming in at 267 feet tall and 29 feet at the base. Things to do at Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks includes sightseeing, hiking, climbing Moro Rock, exploring the river, camping, wildlife viewing, picnicking, scenic drives, overnight backpacking, and more.
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park is one of the most visited National Parks with over 700,000 acres of wilderness to explore. You’ll get to experience first hand views of 2,425-foot Yosemite Falls, or hike up the side of Vernal Falls. From majestic waterfalls and towering trees, to some of the most famous rock climbing routes, the park is packed full of of natural beauty. Things to do in Yosemite National Park include hiking and backpacking, scenic drives, rock climbing, bicycling, wildlife viewing, tours and interpretive programs, and more.
California National Parks, Monuments, Trails, and Historic Sites
Here are all the NPS Sites in California as of 2023.
- Alcatraz Island
- Cabrillo National Monument
- California National Historic Trail
- Castle Mountains National Monument
- Cesar E. Chavez National Monument
- Channel Islands National Park
- Death Valley National Park
- Devil’s Postpile National Monument
- Eugene O’Neill National Historic Site
- Fort Point National Historic Site
- Golden Gate National Recreation Area
- John Muir National Historic Site
- Joshua Tree National Park
- Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail
- Lassen Volcanic National Park
- Lava Beds National Monument
- Manzanar National Historic Site
- Mojave National Preserve
- Muir Woods National Monument
- Old Spanish National Historic Trail
- Pinnacles National Park
- Point Reyes National Seashore
- Pony Express National Historic Trail
- Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial
- Presidio of San Francisco
- Redwood State & National Parks
- Rosie The Riveter WWII Home Front National Historic Park
- San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park
- Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area
- Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks
- Tule Lake National Monument
- Whiskeytown National Recreation Area
- Yosemite National Park
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Heidi Deal is the author of the Newcomers Handbook to Living In Los Angeles & Orange County, and a children’s book author specializing in history and human rights.