10 Most Beautiful National Parks in California

Martina Rosado
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Map of National Parks in California

National and state parks are a premier form of recreation in the Golden State. There are a number of outstanding parks throughout the state that offer visitors a wide variety of activities and a dramatic range of landscapes, both natural and cultural. From the ancient redwoods in Redwood National Park and the Joshua Tree National Park to the urban pavilions of the California State Parks, California's parks are a varied collection of some of the world's most exotic natural treasures.

This section of the guide features ten of the most beautiful and popular of California's national parks and state parks. The selection is not exhaustive, but should provide a good idea of what California's parks have to offer. The list features some of the best known national and state parks in California.

Devils Postpile National Monument

Point Reyes National Seashore

Point Reyes National Seashore is a remote part of western California, just north of San Francisco. It’s known for its beautiful sandy beaches, hiking and backpacking trails, as well as its pinnacles and sea caves.

Standing in a sea cave with the wind howling by your ears. The sound of crashing waves below you and the smell of pine trees all around. These are experiences you don’t forget. It is an experience you have to try to really understand.

The area is also a great family vacation destination where visitors can enjoy spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean.

In addition to the hiking trails, Point Reyes National Seashore is also home to the American Oyster Farm, located about twelve miles up the coast in the town of Marshall, California.

The oyster farm is open daily from 1:00 p.m. until sunset, 365 days a year.

While at the oyster farm, it’s always a good idea to bring a head-net and wet suit with you. In addition, don’t forget your hiking shoes or boots or you’ll risk getting the blisters that come from being unprepared.

Channel Islands National Park

Santa Barbara, California.

The Channel Islands are a unique group of islands off the coast of California; they are comprised of five islands, San Miguel Island, Santa Rosa Island, Anacapa Island, Santa Cruz Island and Santa Barbara Island. The five islands, generally speaking, are far from flat. They are all somewhat hilly, and getting around the island can be challenging. Aside from the tides that can get pretty big on some islands.

The Channel Islands National Park is the largest refuge within the Channel Islands. It is comprised of six noncontiguous areas. They are Anacapa Island, Santa Cruz Island, Santa Rosa Island, Santa Barbara Island, San Miguel Island, and Anacapa Island as well as the six smaller islands of Santa Rosa Island, Santa Cruz Island, San Miguel Island, Anacapa Island, and San Nicolas Island.

The Channel Islands are known for their rugged landscapes, beaches and freshwater reservoirs; they also host some of the rarest plants and animals in the United States.

The park is home to a specific endemic species, Santa Cruz Island buckwheat. Only the island itself is a breeding area for the buckwheat plant; thus, the plant is found only there. Another plant, the Santa Cruz Island liveforever, was added to the list of endangered plants in the northwestern Channel Islands on April 16, 1994.

A favorite fishing spot of locals, long term residents.

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Lassen Volcanic National Park is right in the heart of beautiful Northern California. It’s also on fire right now.

It’s a great place to take a stroll through a lavender-colored wilderness, visit bubbling mud pots, and smell the pungent scent of boiling sulfur. You could spend all day hiking, birding, horseback riding, and taking pictures.

Plus, you’ll probably run into some famous faces while you’re there. Just be careful if you’re on the trail in the backcountry. The park is home to red-legged frogs, so be careful to make your approach slowly and quietly.

Skip the crowds at Lassen by visiting in the winter. The camping is top-notch and you have excellent views of the park’s volcanic features.

Pinnacles National Park

(East County Hills)

A mecca for rock climbers this park also has a few paved roads that run through the hills, affording stunning views from the interior of the park.

It's unspoiled by hikers or campers, and the hiking is extraordinary. The winding nature of the trails challenges even the most experienced hiker.

The rock formations in this park are extraordinary, and you can spend hours wandering among the boulders. The best time to visit the park is during the spring or summer months, as it gets very crowded in the fall and winter.

The scenery is sublime: Thousands of blocks of igneous rock rise up from the earth, spires and rock-faces jutting up out of a sea of desert landscape, and the sun always seems to be shining.

The rocks are a welcomed break in the desert landscape, evocative of wild places ranging from Scotland and Alaska, to the Australian Outback. This park was established January 11, 2001.

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

Joshua Tree National Park

On the fringes of the Mojave Desert in Southern California , Joshua Tree National Park is, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful places in California.

At 6500 acres, it’s large enough to offer everything from wide-open desert landscapes to soaring mountain views. For those who are looking to reconnect with nature, allow yourself to be taken away by Joshua Tree National Park.

While some parts of the park can hold up to 8000 acres of desert sand, it’s not exactly a hotbed of civilization. Camping options are limited with only four designated campgrounds. If you wish to pitch a tent, there are even fewer campsites.

During the day, though, you can expect to be surrounded by turquoise skies and a relaxed atmosphere.

The park is all but void of any other light pollution. Enjoy the quiet solitude … without the fear of having your night sky taken away from you.

Technically part of the Mojave Desert National Preserve, Joshua Tree’s climate allows for a number of different activities.

Whether you wish to pack up your things for a day hike or go out on a backpacking adventure, you can find something that suits your fancy in Joshua Tree National Park.

Redwood National Park

California’s Redwood National Park is truly one of the jewels in the crown of our national parks system. Near the base of the San Andreas Fault, the landscape here is one of the most spectacular in California. This is a study in the geology of California.

The Redwoods here are growing in a soil rich with sedimentary rocks that have washed into the area from all across the state. Lakes of calcareous water and bogs are rejuvenating the ancient trees and creating strange hybrids and new varieties.

The park also plays host to the South Fork Eel River and many of its canyons, which offer some of the best hiking in all of California with panoramic views of the mountains, sea and forests.

This isn’t sea level but it is high enough to be an amazing place to hike. The 1.5 mile hike to the Fern Canyon Trailhead has a spectacular waterfall and the trail itself boasts a beautiful canopy of Coast Redwood.

This is a great place to escape the crowds and can be accessed on a quiet 50-mile loop known as the Redwood Canyon Trailhead to Oregon Standoff Trail.

This trailhead begins where the Redwood Canyon Trailhead ends and extends to the Lost Horse Creek Trail and the Grizzly Creek Trail. When combined, these trails form a beautiful loop through the most wondrous trees on earth.

Death Valley National Park

(California)

Death Valley National Park is the lowest, driest and hottest national park in America. The park has just 2.4 inches of rainfall a year and during summer temperatures in the high 130+°F range (at its highest).

The desert climate and low humidity make it an ideal place for the preservation of rock art, including rock paintings. Arid land and long stretches of empty space may be scary to some but to others, this is the epitome of beauty.

The park comprises of 155,000 acres and covers an area of 1,000 square miles, which is quite large for the area. The park is located on the border of California and Nevada and is divided into three main sections:

The largest section is the 158,000 acre Death Valley National Park in the northern section of the park. The second largest section is about 11,342 acre Badwater Basin, located in between the other two sections.

The third largest section is about 3,984 acres Dante’s View in the southern section. The park was declared a national park in 1994.

In the Death Valley page, you can find some interesting facts about the park and much more.

Yosemite National Park

The world’s third largest national park is a top photo-shoot location popular with families and nature enthusiasts alike. Yosemite has everything from mountains, waterfalls, and forests to valleys and meadows. The park is the third most visited site in USA, having been been visited by over four million people a year.