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12 Best National Parks in California (2023)

California runs along the Pacific Ocean from the Mexican border. 

It is characteristic of deserts, mountains, mountain lakes, redwood forests, beaches, and other fascinating geological formations. 

It is home to several national parks, which attract hundreds of thousands of visitors from far and wide each year. 

Each national park has something different to offer visitors.

They are home to a wide variety of hundreds of animal, plant, and bird species.

Some of them are home to unique species that can only be found here. 

We have put together a list of the best and top national parks in California.

Read on to see what each of them has to offer its visitors.

12 Best national parks in California

1. Devils Postpile National Monument

A double rainbow at Rainbow Falls at Devil’s Postpile National Monument in California, Robert Bohrer | Shutterstock

Rating: 4.7

Entry ticket: $15 per adult (16+), $10 per child (3-15) – per day rate

3-day pass: $30 for adults (16+), $14 for children (3-15) 

Seasonal Pass: $75 per adult (16+), $35 per child (3-15)

Address: Devils Postpile Access Road, Mammoth Lakes, CA 93546

  • It was established in 1911
  • It is in Eastern California near Mammoth Lakes city
  • It covers a 700 acres piece of land

Why you should go: The Devils Postpile National Monument is a renowned national park in the country, thanks to the fascinating columns of basalt rock found here. 

This unusual basalt rock carries the Devils Postpile, after which the national monument is named.

This rock is the main point of attraction in the park.

But it’s not the only one. 

Rainbow Falls, located on the San Joaquin River, is the other point of attraction.

Its name comes from the rainbows seen in the mist as the water flows from top to bottom on a sunny day. 

Things to do: Visitors come from far and wide to see the unusual columns of basalt rock and learn more about their formation.

They are molded into interesting hexagonal shapes. 

You can also visit the monument to witness the beauty of the Rainbow Waterfall

Hiking is also one of the most interesting things to do here.

Wind your way through the selected trails as you take in the scenic landscape in the park. 

2. Channels Island National Park

Felix Lipov | Shutterstock

Rating: 4.7

Entry ticket: free entry

Address: Ventura, CA 93001

  • It was established in 1980
  • It covers an area of over 249,000 acres of land
  • It is in Santa Barbara County and Ventura County
  • The closest city is Santa Barbara

Why you should go: Channels island National Park is the best national parks in California, known for being home to five of the eight islands found on Santa Barbara’s coastline. 

The national park is nicknamed ‘America’s Galapagos‘ owing to the above-mentioned fact. 

It is home to one hundred and fifty unique animal and plant species.

They are only found here.

In total, the famous park is home to over 2,000 flora and fauna species. 

Things to do: Channels Island National Park is a popular site to visit during summer and autumn.

Each season offers a wide range of unique activities. 

During summer, you can enjoy whale watching.

The warm waters of summer attract blue whales and humpback whales. 

In autumn, you can enjoy swimming, scuba diving, snorkeling, and kayaking. 

In spring and winter, you can visit to witness the awesomeness of the migrating gray whales. 

It is also an ideal place for hiking and camping.

Santa Cruz Island, which offers camping grounds, is the most visited area of the park. 

  • The park is open daily for 24 hours.

3. Pinnacles National Park

Zack Frank | Shutterstock

Rating: 4.7

Entry ticket: $30 per vehicle, $15 per person, $25 per motorcycle – day pass

Annual pass: $55

Address: California 95043

  • It was established as a National Park in 2013
  • It is in Central California on the east side of Salinas Valley

Why you should go: Pinnacles National Park is one of California’s best national parks that comes to life in the spring season.

It is characteristic of eroded rocks and cliffs. 

The park derives its name from the eroded rocks leftovers that were left behind by an extinct volcano that eroded over 23 million years ago. 

Since 1908, the park had been known as a national monument as established by President Theodore Roosevelt.

It only attained its national park status in 2013, thanks to President Barack Obama.

Things to do: Pinnacles National Park is an ideal site for hiking.

The park is divided into the West and East divisions by the rock formations. Visitors can access either division from the other, but only through hiking. 

The best time to hike is during spring when the park is covered in lush greenery and beautiful wildflowers. 

You can also enjoy rock climbing and exploring the caverns and caves found here. 

This historical park is a perfect place for camping owing to cool nights. 

  • Spring is the best time of the year to visit Pinnacles National Park.

4. Joshua Tree National Park

Boulders and Joshua Trees in Joshua Tree National Park, California, Gary C. Tognoni | Shutterstock

Rating: 4.7

Entry ticket: $30 per vehicle, $15 per person on bike or foot, $25 per motorcycle – 7-day pass

Annual pass: $55

Address: Riverside County and San Bernardino County, California

  • It was established as a national park in 1994
  • It covers an area of 790,000 acres
  • It is near Twentynine Palms city

Enjoy the adventure of best things to do in Joshua Tree with family & Friends!

Why you should go: Joshua Tree National Park is famous for the beautiful unique trees scattered all around it. These unusual majestic trees are known as Joshua trees, from which the park’s name is derived. 

The park has two deserts, the Mojave Desert and the Colorado Desert.

Each of them has a different ecosystem owing to their elevation. 

The Mojave Desert is on the higher side, while the Colorado Desert is on the lower side. 

Things to do: Owing to its unique landscape, Joshua Tree National Park is a major attraction site for nature lovers from California and all around the United States.

It is a lovely place to hike.

Its serenity is ideal for quiet nature walks. 

Visitors will enjoy not only the beautiful landscape but also animal and bird watching. 

The park also offers camping grounds. 

5. Death Valley National Park

Dan Sedran | Shutterstock

Rating: 4.7

Entry ticket: c

Address: Riverside County and San Bernardino County, California

  • It was established as a National Park in 1994
  • It is located between Nevada and California

Why you should go: Death Valley National Park is awesome national parks in California owing to its bare deserts and magnificent snow-capped mountaintops.

The park has four areas namely Death Valley, Panamint Valley, Mint Valley, Eureka Valley, and Saline Valley. 

It is one of the driest and hottest places in the world and the hottest one in North America. 

Things to do: One of the best things to do in Death Valley National Park is sightseeing.

You can do so through hiking, driving, cycling, and mountain biking. 

It has scenic sites and historical sites that are worth visiting. 

The park has nine camping grounds.

You can enjoy stargazing at night while camping since the park offers the darkest night skies in the country. 

Saline Valley is home to several hot springs. 

Are you looking for best camping islands in California? Check out list of Catalina Island Camping in 2023.

6. Yosemite National Park

Victor Maschek | Shutterstock

Rating: 4.8

Entry ticket: $30 per automobile, $15 per person on a horse, bus, or foot, $30 per motorcycle – 7-day pass

Annual pass: $70

Address: California

  • It sits on over 750,000 acres
  • It touches four counties, Mono, Madera, Mariposa and Toulomne
  • 95% of the park is wilderness

Why you should go: Yosemite National Park is a world-famous park and one of the coolest national parks in California. 

It is renowned for its dramatic scenery which consists of meadows, waterfalls, lakes, mountains, granite cliffs, glaciers, and more. 

Things to do: The scenic park is a popular destination for hiking lovers.

It offers lovely hiking trails and some of the most beautiful views in California. 

You will enjoy exploring its dramatic landscape as well as watching a wide variety of wildlife in the park.

Horseback riding is allowed.

During winter, guests can take up skiing. 

7. Redwood National and State Parks

Stephen Moehle | Shutterstock

Rating: 4.8

Entry ticket: free entry, $5 for entering adjoining parks: Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, and Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park.

  • It was established in 1968
  • It covers an area of over 138,000 acres
  • It is on the northern coast of California

Why you should go: Redwood National and State Parks is renowned as the home of 45% of the remaining coast redwood trees population in the world.

The park was established to protect them from becoming extinct. 

It is made up of four State Parks; Redwood National Park, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, and Del Norte Redwoods State Park. 

Things to do: If not for anything else, visit Redwood National and State Parks to see the beautiful coastal redwood trees.

The trees are known to be among the oldest and tallest remaining trees on the planet

You can hike through the lush green forests as you take in the park’s beauty and watch its wildlife.

It is a lovely site to bond with nature. 

There are select camping grounds. 

Horseback riding and mountain biking are allowed on select trails too. 

8. Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

Giant Redwood trees in Sequoia and Kings canyon national park, California | Shutterstock

Rating: 4.9

Entry ticket: $35 per private vehicle, $20 per person on foot or bike

Annual pass: $80

Address: 47050 Generals Hwy, Three Rivers, CA 93271

  • It was designated a UNESCO site in 1976
  • It consists of Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Parks

Why you should go: Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks consist of two national parks;  Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks, but counts as one park since they have operated jointly as one since 1943

The parks are characteristic of sequoia forests.

These forests make it one of the 12 best national parks in California and the United States. 

Sequoia trees are the largest on the planet. 

Several rivers run through the forest which, is dotted with lush greenery.

The parks are home to over 200 animal and bird species. 

Things to do: These beautiful parks are ideal sites for hiking.

They are also perfect for anyone interested in educational trips.

The park’s management facilitates this. 

9. Lassen Volcanic National Park

H Peter Ji Photographer | Shutterstock

Rating: 4.8

Entry ticket: $10 per vehicle, $10 per person on a horse, bicycle, or foot, $15 per motorcycle – 7-day pass

Annual pass: $40

Address: 47050 Generals Hwy, Three Rivers, CA 93271

  • It was established as a national park in 1916
  • It is located in northeastern California
  • It was originally made up of the Lassen Peak National Monument and the Cinder Cone National Monument

Why you should go: Lassen Volcanic National Park is a top national park in California, characteristic of mountain lakes, fumaroles, meadows, and volcanoes. 

It attracts visitors all year-round with its bubbling pools of mud, hot springs, and sulfur vents.

Its summit, the Lassen Peak Volcano, is an ideal spot to have a breathtaking view of the surrounding scenic landscape. 

Things to do: The national park has beautiful trails, all leading to the summit of Lassen peak.

The peak is still active with hot springs, fumaroles, and mud pots. 

There is Lake Helen at the bottom of the volcano which makes for a beautiful spot to relax and enjoy the tranquility of water. 

It is also a beautiful picnic site.

You can explore it to see its flora and fauna. 

Even though the summit is still active, a volcanic eruption has not taken place since 1914

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10. Point Reyes National Seashore

Xiu Yu Photography | Shutterstock

Rating: 4.8

Entry ticket: free entry

Address: Point Reyes Station, CA 94956

Why you should go: Point Reyes National Reyes is run by the US National Park Service.

It is a nature lover’s paradise with breathtaking views and a wide variety of animals and plants.

It is home to 18% and 45% of North America’s bird and plant species, respectively. 

The beautiful nature preserve has a viewing point from which visitors can take in a panoramic aerial view of the Pacific Ocean’s crystal blue waters. 

It sits in the western region of Marin County

Things to do: One of the most popular activities to do here is whale watching.

It attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors from California and the country, who are eager to watch whales during the winter season. 

You can explore the nature preserve to enjoy bird watching and the diverse plant life. Bird watching is especially possible during the spring season. 

The park is also ideal for walks along the beautiful beach as you enjoy the ocean view. 

Point Reyes National Seashore is an ideal destination for adults and children.

11. Cabrillo National Monument

John Couture | Shutterstock

Rating: 4.8

Entry ticket: $10 per person, $20 per vehicle

Address: 1800 Cabrillo Memorial Dr, San Diego, CA 92106

  • It was designated national monument status in 1913
  • It is named after Joan Rodriguez Cabrillo 
  • It is in the south of Point Loma Peninsula

Why you should go: Cabrillo National Monument is one of the best national parks in California owing to its beautiful views. It attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. 

It was named in honor of Joan Rodriguez Cabrillo, the first explorer to set foot on what is known today as the West Coast of the United States. 

There is a commemorative statue at the top of the monument. 

Things to do: You can climb to the top of the monument, from where you will have a 360 degrees panoramic view of the surrounding area. 

Down the road, you will come across a beautiful waterfront as you make your way to the little beach. 

The park also hosts different events throughout the year.

During some of these events, the entry fee is waived.

Some of these include Whale Watch Weekend in January, Open Tower Day, Founder’s Day, and more. 

Having enough time to explore more places in California? Here is best activities, attractions and fun things to do in San Diego, and best things to do in Malibu over the year.

12. Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area

Joe Y Jiang | Shutterstock

Rating: 4.7

Entry ticket: free entry

Camping fee: between $10 – $225 per night depending on the park

Address:233 Pacific Coast Hwy, Oxnard, CA 93033

  • It comprises nine state parks
  • It covers over 153,000 acres 
  • It was established in 1978

Why you should go: Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area is a national park in California that attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors.

This fact is owing to it being home to nine state parks and some of the loveliest beaches in Los Angeles. 

Each park has a different offering.

For example, the Leo Carrillo State Park is ideal for visitors seeking to enjoy a beach experience.

Malibu Creek State Park is perfect for hiking.

It offers a beautiful landscape and an elevation fit for hiking. 

Things to do: As mentioned above, each of the national parks that make up the Santa Monica Mountains Recreation Area, offers visitors a different experience. 

Thus, visitors will enjoy a wide range of activities including, biking, hiking, bird watching, beach walking, rock climbing, horseback riding, camping, and many more. 

Hiking and biking offer guests beautiful views of either the ocean or the surrounding landscape.