Uncovering the best national parks in California, USA
Dreaming of a holiday to California? Chances are you're imagining sunshine, coastal highways and wide open spaces, spending part of your trip exploring the Golden State's spectacular scenery, perhaps with a visit to one of the iconic California national parks.
A huge part of the attraction of a trip to America's third largest state is discovering the amazing array of natural wonders to be found here; each of the 27 national parks in California provide an exciting and varied playground for everyone in search of the great outdoors, from solo travellers to those on a family holiday.
Uncovering the best national parks in California, USA
There are over 400 national parks across America, and California is blessed with far more than its fair share; it has three times the average number of US state parks, including some of America's most famous outdoor locations, and is home to both the largest as well as the most popular national park in the country.
From the well known Joshua Tree, which inspired the U2 album, via infamous Death Valley to the Golden Gate Park and Alcatraz, it isn't surprising that between them California's national parks attracted nearly 300 million visitors last year. So, if you're planning a trip, here are some ideas on how to decide which of the California national parks' different landscapes, climates, ecosystems, and historical landmarks is the right fit for your interests and your holiday.
Start off by paying a visit to the National Park Foundation website for the USA, which provides a wealth of information about California National Parks, including maps, visitor information and even downloadable guides. A cool way to determine which of California's national parks you should head to during your time in the state is to use the map feature, where you can type in the postcode (or zip code as they say in Cali) for your hotel, and you're given a map of the nearest of the national parks to your location, from which you can click through to get more info and plan your own visit. If you're looking for inspiration, try the useful and interactive quiz feature which matches the kind of adventure you want with the right park for you.
Another helpful resource is California's National Park Service website, which is full of information about some of the less well known parks that might deserve your attention. Here are a selection of our favourite of the California National Parks to get you started:
The USA's largest national park: Death Valley National Park
This vast desert is one California national park where the timing of your visit really matters. The extreme climate means it's best to be here in spring to avoid scalding temperatures or freezing ice and snow, and it's also one of a rare breed to offer high class hotel accommodation as well as camping.
Back in the days of the gold rush it was the death of one of a small group of prospectors which gave the area its name, but migration across this chunk of land that stretches into Nevada dates much further back with plenty of native American history to discover.
The USA's most visited national park: Golden Gate National Recreation Area
Last year over 15 million people visited the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, making it the most visited national park in the country. Its urban location in San Francisco is part of the attraction, but the breadth of options here, from walking on wetlands, and seeing the sunset over the Golden Gate, to witnessing migrating whales and marvelling at a missile site, makes it a pretty cool place to leave the city behind and hike, bike, fish and camp.
California's geological marvel: Lassen Volcanic National Park
A science experiment come to life, Lassen is a geology enthusiast's perfect park, home to the world's largest volcanic dome, a site boasting all four types of volcano in existence and the location of one of only two volcanic eruptions in the USA this century.
Forming part of a chain of volcanic hotspots which stretch around the Pacific Rim, Lassen saw lava spewing back in 1915, and while you may not catch a glimpse of a live eruption today, if you're a budding photographer you can capture the boiling mud pots, mountain lakes and high peaks during one of the two day photography seminars on offer there.
California's best kept secret: Channel Islands National Park
As well as the oldest burial site in North America, there are 150 wildlife species in what's been nicknamed California's Galapagos Islands, yet most visitors to California have no idea this national park exists. In stark contrast to some of California's more well known parks, there's real rustic exploration on offer here: there are no restaurants or cafes so it's all about camping, hiking and birdwatching in the wilderness, as well as kayaking and snorkelling.
The park is reached via a ferry from Ventura, which is 70 miles north of LA so you'll need to check the campsite availability in advance if you do want to sleep under the stars, though day trips are possible.
Another top tip for exploring California's national parks is to check out the various apps out there. Try Just Ahead, a fabulous audio guide for driving through Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon, Joshua Tree, and Death Valley, the four biggest and most well loved of the California National Parks.
If you fancy visiting any of the California national parks, don't miss flight and holiday deals from the likes of British Airways. Don't forget to check out the Fly Drive options for the USA too, which can make getting around at a great price so much easier. For car hire, don't miss Alamo Gold's dedicated deals for UK holidaymakers.
More about California
Get FREE travel offers
Sign up to receive the latest deals and exclusive discounts on holidays, flights, hotels and more, plus inspiration on where to go when
We promise not to share your details
*affiliate links: find out how we are funded and why this helps us remain free to use.