When it comes to national parks in California there is no shortage of choices. It may be one of the best parts of visiting California — the plethora of national parks to choose from. Did you know California is home to the most national parks in the U.S.?
Whether you are looking to get out for a weekend getaway or aiming to hit a few parks on a road trip, this is a rundown of your choices. You may be looking to get out to the desert or want to visit the lowest point in the United States, both are incredible choices. California truly has it all — you’ll even find some of the tallest temperate redwoods and active volcanoes.
Here is an overview and some of the highlights of why you can’t miss these nine national parks in California.
National Parks in California
Frequently Asked Questions
How many national parks are there in California?
In total, there are nine national parks including the national seashore of Point Reyes.
What are California’s national parks?
They are Yosemite National Park, Lassen Volcanic National Park, Joshua Tree National Park, Pinnacles National Park, Point Reyes national seashore, Death Valley National Park, Redwoods National Park, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park, and Channel Islands National park.
There are also national monuments like Devil’s Postpile and the King Range National Conservation area.
Are national parks open in California?
The short answer is yes though there have been seasonal closings for some due to winter. Most remain open year-round and require entrance fees. Be sure to pack your mask to enter the parks and remember to travel responsibly in California.
Do I need reservations to enter the park in 2021?
The short answer is some are requiring reservations in advance like Yosemite National Park. Check directly with the national park website for the most up-to-date information.
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Yosemite National Park
It may be one of the most iconic national parks in California, Yosemite is at the top of every bucket list. For good reason, there is nothing quite like that first view when you drive into the valley and see Half Dome Towering in the distance. The valley, though small in driving distance, is home to a lot of areas to explore.
You can hike trails that take you to waterfalls and even climb one up to Glacier Point. The park typically stays open year-round, just keep in mind that during the winter months you may need chains or 4WD. In the park itself, there are amenities like restaurants, cafes, and even a well-disguised Starbucks.
Read this ultimate guide to Yosemite to help plan out your time there.
Travel tip: Aim to visit Yosemite National Park during the week to beat the crowds. It gets very busy with traffic backing up to the entrance of the park. From San Francisco, it is about a 4-hour drive.
Where to Stay in Yosemite National Park
My top hotel choice to be close to Yosemite National Park would be the AutoCamp Hotel that has airstreams and cabins. There are also some incredible Airbnbs in the area, I think you’ll love this Winne A-frame that is just south of the park. This Forest Retreat home is like a scene from a design magazine.
Lassen Volcanic National Park
One of the most underrated national parks in California is Lassen Volcanic. Home to a diverse landscape, this Northern California gem often gets overlooked. You’ll certainly be impressed with just how much there is to do here without the crowds.
Walk the trails that you to Bumpass Hell, the main geothermal area in the park. You can even climb up a cinder cone volcano if you choose to take on the steep trail. Lassen is a wonderful destination, prime during the early summer to mid-fall before the snowy season.
Read this guide on visiting Lassen Volcanic National Park to help plan your trip and what things to do.
Where to Stay in Lassen Volcanic National Park
Accommodations in Lassen Volcanic National Park are limited to campsites and a few select cabins at Manzanita Lake Campground. If you’re looking to be close to the park, I’d recommend booking at night at Highlands Ranch Resort for a more hotel-like stay.
We personally rented a Westfalia from Outdoorsy and parked it at the Mill Creek Resort Campground overnight. Mill Creek also has some camping spots and private cabin rentals too.
Death Valley National Park
Known as the park of extremes, Death Valley may be one of the more challenging national parks to visit just due to its climate. The summer months are scorching hot and it’s with no surprise given it is home to the lowest point in the U.S.
With some careful planning, a timely visit here will bring you to some incredible landscapes. You may even feel like you’re on another planet. You can’t miss the landscape of Zabriskie Point nor the rainbow colors of Artist’s Drive.
Death Valley is a serious bucket list destination, just be sure to visit from the fall to the early spring.
Where to Stay in Death Valley National Park
There are limited accommodations like the Oasis at Death Valley within the park which is why most people will snag an Airbnb in Beatty. Just consider that you will have a long drive in if you do stay in Beatty. This design Airbnb was my favorite find in the Beatty area.
Joshua Tree National Park
Where the two deserts meet, the Mojave and the Colorado makes the unique landscape of Joshua Tree. Also home to the famed Joshua Tree, it’s a fan favorite for a weekend away in Southern California.
Many come to hit the trails and get outside, and really to disconnect. Often asked why Joshua Tree is so special, it’s a place that shows you just how beautiful something can be when tested with perseverance. The severe climates here have shaped this desert into a landscape with flora and small animals that live there now.
At night, the absence of light pollution allows for the sky to be illuminated with stars. It’s one of the best places in California to go see the night sky. Go to Joshua Tree to see the diverse landscape and stay to connect with it. It’s truly one of the most magical national parks in California. You could even consider taking a day trip here.
Where to Stay in Joshua Tree National Park
If there is one thing synonymous with Joshua Tree, it’s epic Airbnbs. You’ll have SO many choices when it comes to bohemian hideaways that are close to the park. Our friends Rich and Sara run the original Joshua Tree House, we love it so much! They also have the Casita by Joshua Tree House, a beautiful two-bedroom bungalow.
If you can’t snag a night there, my shortlist of epic Airbnbs in Joshua Tree are Villa Kuro, The Moondance, El Rancho, and the Dome in the Desert.
Channel Islands National Park
Home to five islands (Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, Anacapa, San Miguel, and Santa Barbara), is the least visited national park in the U.S. Right off the shores of Santa Barbara and Ventura, this chain of islands is reachable by ferry or small plane.
It’s home to over 2,000 plants and animal species and the marine life here is spectacular. On the islands themselves, you can go hiking and enjoy the natural landscape. Some often refer to it as the American Galapagos, it’s that special.
Where to Stay in Channel Islands National Park
You can stay overnight on the Channel Islands but it is incredibly limited to a campground which takes some coordination. Hence why most people only go for the day. I’d recommend staying in the Ventura area, the Waypoint has cute airstream trailers you can stay overnight in. Otherwise, you can stay in the Santa Barbara area and drive down to catch the ferry.
Redwood National Park and State Parks
Home to the tallest trees on the planet, Redwood National Park is one of the furthest north parks in California. It’s a combination of national parks and state parks, and the area is quite large for exploring.
What most don’t realize is that it’s four parks together: Redwood National Park, Del Norte Coast State Park, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, and Jedediah Smith State Park. So you really have a diverse area to explore when you visit.
The area is super popular for hiking and biking, and lots of people get permits to go overnight. If you do one thing when you’re there, definitely go take a stroll through Fern Canyon. It is one special place to experience where steep walls are covered in ferns and create a beautiful valley.
Where to Stay in Redwood National Park
Accommodations are more limited the closer you get to the park which is why when we visit, we opt to stay in the area of Trinidad. There are a lot more amenities here too. If you’re looking for a quaint inn, check out the Lost Whale Inn or the Emerald Forest Cabins. When I was there last, I stayed in this amazing home rental in a town called Whalesong.
Pinnacles National Park
Located in Central California near Salinas, Pinnacles National Park is known for its unique rock formations. The woodland and canyon landscape has a plethora of wildlife to see and is really popular for spring flowers.
There are a lot of trails that give you access to see the different geological formations, so be sure to get oriented between the East and the West side before setting out.
Where to Stay in Pinnacles National Park
Based on recommendations from trusted travel sources, the Inn at the Pinnacles is the best “luxury” option in the park. You can stay outside of the park in areas like Salinas and Soledad.
Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park
With two national parks coming together, you can visit both on a single trip. Both Sequoia and Kings Canyon are epic in their own way. High up in elevation, the parks are home to the tallest sequoias around. You can explore canyons, go for scenic drives, and even climb to the top of a granite dome called Moro Rock.
For those looking to get outdoors, you will have plenty of space to do so here.
Where to Stay in Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park
One of the most recommended places to stay at is the Wukaschi Lodge that is open seasonally and has a wonderful location to explore the park. In the area, if you’re up for driving into the parks, there are some beautiful Airbnbs you can book. My top finds are the Sierra Vista Casita, this stunning Cottage, and this romantic studio.
Point Reyes National Seashore
One of my personal favorite destinations located in Marin County is the Point Reyes National Seashore. Home to a protected coastline with pristine beaches and landscapes, it’s an incredible destination to visit for a weekend.
The stunning cliffs tower over the Pacific Ocean and the headlands are home to a distinct group of wildlife. Two of them being the colony of elephant seals and the Tule Elk, both of which you can see on your visit.
Head to the area of Point Reyes if you’re looking for a natural haven that is connected with the ocean. Read this weekend guide to Point Reyes to help plan your trip.
Where to Stay in Point Reyes National Seashore
For the Point Reyes area, you have a few choices but you’ll most likely stay close to Point Reyes Station or in Inverness. My top two hotels are Nick’s Cove and The Olema House. Both are pretty close to the National Seashore area and you can easily access hiking trails from both properties. The area also has a lot of private vacation rentals which are wonderful. The most famous Airbnb is the Inverness A-Frame, definitely snag a night if you can. I love this Creekside Cabin and this Writer’s Den has a lot of natural light.
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