The sunshine state of California is home to some of the most stunning national parks in America. Here are our top 5 best California National Parks in the summer that you should add to your bucket list!
When looking for US National Park vacation ideas, you’ll find breathtaking coastlines, towering mountain ranges and lush redwood forests in California.
California has nine national parks, more than any state in the U.S., and each one is special in its own way.
During the summer months, these parks truly come alive with vibrant colors and activities that make them a perfect destination for any outdoor enthusiast.
Whether you’re looking to explore ancient redwoods or take on a challenging hike through one of California’s many trails, here are the best national parks in California to visit this summer.
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What to Pack for a Summer National Park Vacation
- US National Parks Pass – You can order passes online or get them at any of these Federal Recreation Areas. → BUY THE PASS AT REI and they will donate 10% of sales to the National Park Foundation.
- Hiking shoes/boots!
- Darn Tough Hiking Socks!
- UV protection clothing for women
- UV protection clothing for men
- Water bottles or hydration backpacks
- Healthy snacks
- National Park maps
- Lip protection with sunscreen
- Polarized sunglasses
- Hand lotion
- Female urination device
- Toilet paper (carry out in a bag – do not bury)
- Hand sanitizer
- First aid kit
- Bags to pack out trash
- DOWNLOAD our Camera Gear Checklist
Best California National Parks in Summer
If you’re looking for a fun summer vacation idea in the US, the Golden State of California is an ideal destination for a summer getaway, and the national parks here offer some of the best outdoor experiences in America.
Redwood National and State Parks in the Summer
60 miles long, along the Northern California Coastline, almost at the Oregon border, sits Redwood National and State Parks. This national park, along with the three redwood state parks, consists of protected forests and beaches, and are home to some of the oldest and tallest trees in the world.
Visitors to Redwood will find massive redwoods, 37 miles of gorgeous California coastline, open prairie lands, and two major rivers. For thousands of years American Indian tribes have made a home within the North Coast region; today they still maintain a cultural presence in the areas surrounding the (RNSP) Redwood National and State Parks.
Redwoods is an absolute must visit in the summer; it’s the coolest of the national parks because of its proximity to the coast.
Visitors should expect cooler, damp weather. Year-round temperatures fall between the mid-40s to mid-60s, and summer can be foggy with highs in the low-70s.
Yosemite National Park in the Summer
Best known for its waterfalls and giant sequoia trees, Yosemite National Park rests in Central California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains and attracts over 400 million visitors every year from around the world.
Nearly 1200 square miles, Yosemite National Park offers more than giant sequoias. It’s home to the iconic granite peaks of El Capitan and Half Dome, stunning vista views from lookout landmarks like Tunnel View, and the unforgettable and massive 2,425ft Yosemite Falls.
History, hiking, and wildlife watching are common in the National Park, and Tuolumne Meadows is the perfect spot for it all. Tuolumne follows the banks of the Tuolumne River and hikers have the opportunity to cross paths with the famous Pacific Crest Trail.
Summer here is the best time to enjoy the campgrounds and hiking trails. The temperature is usually warm during the day, and chilly at night. Average summer temps in Yosemite are in the high 80s but can drop quickly. Wear long layers for both sun protection and warmth.
Yosemite National Park Lodging and Tours
- Hotels Near Yosemite National Park
- Vacation Rentals Near Yosemite National Park
- Tours Near Yosemite National Park
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park in the Summer
A consolidation of management for Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park in 1943 gave us two parks in one. The parks sit side by side in the southern Sierra Nevada, east of the San Joaquin Valley, and are part of the Sequoia National Forest. Combined, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park is an impressive 1,353 square miles.
Home to the world’s oldest known sequoia and largest trees, this “forest of giants” gives us a beautiful and accessible forest environment complete with crystal clear waterfalls, rivers, and creeks.
The parks caverns are extraordinary, and visitors here can take a guided tour through the unique marble caves. The landscape is diverse with dramatic Sierra Mountain scenery, granite domes, rushing rivers, deep canyons, rugged foothills, huge mountains, and more.
Sequoia is generally more crowded than King’s Canyon, but both are stunning and have something to offer.
The best time to visit Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park is in Summer, June through August, when weather is the most stable. However, weather can be quite different and change quickly between differing park areas. The weather varies 20 to 30 degrees as you change elevation. It’s entirely possible to have spring blooms in the foothills and at the same time have snow at Giant Forest.
Sequoia & Kings Canyon Lodging
Lassen Volcanic National Park in the Summer
Less than an hour from Redding, California in the states northeast corner, rests the often-overlooked Lassen Volcanic National Park. Lassen is a beautiful national park complete with steaming fumaroles, lush meadows, jagged peaks, clear mountain lakes, volcanoes, and numerous hydrothermal areas. As one of the lesser-known National Parks it’s usually the least crowded.
Lassen offers plenty to see and do. Boardwalk trails show off popular areas in the park such as Devil’s Kitchen and Bumpass Hell but that’s not all. Visitors can enjoy hiking over 150 miles of trails.
Fishing, camping, or swimming at Manzanita Lake. Make the climb up Lassen Peak for spectacular views or enjoy other activities like mountain bike or horseback riding. Lassen Volcanic National Park offers surprises at every turn, including a cold boiling lake and gorgeous cascades.
Summer is a great time visit as you gain access to all the park areas, trails, and activities along with special summer events. Visitors can expect warm temps in the daytime, and cool temps in the evening. The average high in the summer is 70s to 80s and lows in the low 50s. For every 1000ft increase in elevation expect a 5 degree decrease in temperatures.
Lassen Volcanic National Park Lodging
Channel Islands National Park in the Summer
A chain of five islands off the Southern California coast, Channel Islands National Park is only accessible via boat, sea plane, or ferry. A remote natural environment with no services or amenities, visitors need to come prepared with everything they need. Popular activities include dolphin or whale watching, hiking, picnicking, kayaking and more.
Each of the Channel Islands offer something unique you’ll want to see. Anacapa Island has trails leading to a 1932 lighthouse and the clifftop Inspiration Point. Santa Rose Island is home to the rare Torrey pines.
Santa Cruz Island has many sea caves including the notable Painted Cave. The southernmost Santa Barbara Island attracts nesting seabirds while thousands of seals gather at San Miguel Island’s Point Bennett.
Summer time at Channel Islands is peak season and the best time of year to visit and enjoy sailing, kayaking, diving, snorkeling, and swimming. In the Summer, the parks underwater video program begins at Anacapa and the mainland visitor center broadcasts live. Average temperatures are in the 60s and 70s and are typically moderated by the moist ocean air. Nighttime especially has high humidity and frequent fog.
More California National Parks
- Joshua Tree
- Death Valley – summer temps reach the high 120s!!
- Point Reyes National Seashore
California Bucket List
To help make your trip planning easier, we’ve compiled this comprehensive list of must-do activities that belong on every California Bucket List: things to see, do and taste all around the state! Grab the free download by clicking the graphic below!