From the unique animal species found on isolated Pacific Ocean islands to the mountains reflected in a valley lake, the National Parks in California provide a diversity of sights for the curious traveler.
When looking for US National Park vacation ideas, you’ll find majestic sequoias, ocean beaches and islands, Joshua Trees, and stunning desert landscapes in California.
California has nine US National Parks, more than any state. Whether you’re looking for a place to hike, camp, or just take in some stunning views, one of these incredible national parks is sure to fit your needs.
Whether you’re looking to explore ancient redwoods or take on a challenging hike through one of California’s many trails, here’s a list of the California National Parks and things to do at each one.
Use our US National Park Packing List to make sure you have the right clothing and gear for visiting any time of year! Grab your free printable packing checklist by clicking the image below!
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Best Time to Visit California National Parks
Due to the varied climates and weather around California, it’s hard to give a definitive answer to this question. But in general, the best time to visit California National Parks are spring and fall for the most moderate temperatures.
California National Parks in the Spring – The weather is mild and the wildflowers are in bloom, making this one of the most popular times to visit. Many trails and campgrounds open up during spring, giving visitors plenty of options for exploring the outdoors. Keep an eye on the weather, however, as spring can also bring potentially hazardous conditions like high winds and flash flooding.
California National Parks in the Summer – It’s best to avoid Death Valley and Joshua Tree since they are in desert locations and summer temperatures will be HOT! Summertime brings large crowds of visitors, so be prepared for busy trails and campgrounds. If you plan to visit during the summer months, make sure to make reservations ahead of time and come prepared with plenty of water.
California National Parks in the Fall – This time of year is considered by many to be the best time to visit California’s national parks. The weather is cooler so it’s perfect for outdoor activities. Fall is also a great season for wildlife viewing, as animals begin to prepare for the colder months ahead.
California National Parks in the Winter – During the winter, travel and services could be affected by snow storms at the higher elevations. Winter is a quiet and beautiful time to visit California’s national parks. Be sure to bundle up and come prepared for cold temperatures, as some areas can be quite chilly.
We recommend the Guide Along App to hear fun behind-the scenes stories and local tips that play automatically as you drive, based on your GPS location.
List of National Parks in California
The Golden State of California is an ideal travel destination any time of year. The California National Parks here offer some of the best outdoor experiences in America.
Channel Islands National Park
Encompassing five islands off the southwest coast of California, Channel Islands National Park is only accessible via boat, sea plane, or ferry. The park is a remote natural environment with no services or amenities, so be prepared with everything you’ll need.
Due to its remote location, Channel Islands is one of the least visited national parks. Explore the Visitor Centers in Santa Barbara or Ventura, and then buy a ticket from a park concessionaire or private boat to access the islands.
Channel Islands activities include: hiking, camping, kayaking, boating, snorkeling, diving, fishing, surfing, tidepooling, whale watching, seal and sea lion viewing, ranger programs, and more!
Channel Islands preserves species of plant and animal life, such as the deer mouse and island fox, found only on these land masses.
View thousands of seals and sea lions on the beaches and waters around San Miguel Island.
Check out tidal pools around the park to find various forms of marine life. You may find species like the purple sea urchin, sea lettuce, limpet, solitary green anemone, and buckshot barnacle. Look for tidal pools during low tide, but remember to keep an eye on the waves.
Channel Islands Lodging & Tours
Death Valley National Park
This basin below sea level in eastern California is aptly named Death Valley National Park. Several pioneers perished here in the extremely hot and dry conditions on their way to the coast.
The highest recorded temperature is 134 degrees Fahrenheit. Highlights of the 5,219-square-mile Death Valley National Park include Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America, and Scotty’s Castle, a mansion built in the park.
Death Valley is famous for the intense heat during the summer, but the cooler months are the best times to explore this desert location. Spring is the most popular time of year with warm and sunny day, and the possibility of spring wildflowers!
Activities at Death Valley National Park include: scenic drives, hiking, camping, backcountry driving, backpacking, biking, stargazing, and photography!
Joshua Tree National Park
The immense Joshua Tree National Park, nearly 800,000 acres in the Mojave and Colorado deserts of Southern California, has two separate desert ecosystems due to the varying elevations in the park.
Located a few hours outside Los Angeles, San Diego, Las Vegas, and Phoenix, it’s a popular California National Park.
The park is open year-round, but there are few facilities, making it a true desert wilderness. There is no cell service throughout the park. Always pack water, food, and supplies for the time you’ll be at the park.
Spring and fall are the seasons with the most moderate temperatures. Summer is HOT, over 100 degrees F! Winter has cooler days and freezing nights, and may snow at the higher elevations.
Joshua Tree National Park activities include: hiking, camping, biking, rock climbing, horseback riding, ranger programs, photography, and stargazing!
Joshua Tree National Park Lodging & Tours
- Hotels Near Joshua Tree National Park
- Vacation Rentals Near Joshua Tree National Park
- Joshua Tree NP Tours
Lassen Volcanic National Park
Less than an hour from Redding, California in the northeast corner, you’ll find the often-overlooked Lassen Volcanic National Park. As one of the lesser-known California National Parks it’s usually the least crowded.
The park’s 106,000 acres boast smoking fumaroles, mud pots, and hot water streams that give a glimpse of the thermal activity taking place underneath the soil
Lassen Volcanic is open every day, but some park facilities and roads close in the winter and early spring due to snow. Always check the current weather and conditions before heading into the park from November through May.
Summer and fall activities include: scenic drives, hiking, boating, fishing, camping, ranger programs, photography, and stargazing!
Winter activities include: playing in the snow, sledding, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, backcountry skiing or snowboarding, and snow camping!
Lassen Volcanic National Park Lodging
Pinnacles National Park
Named for the crags and rock spires that remain from an ancient volcanic field, Pinnacles National Park is known for its unique landscape. It’s located several miles inland from the Pacific Ocean, but it’s not considered a coastal region.
The best time of the year to visit Pinnacles National Park is in the spring when all the wildflowers are in bloom and the weather is still nice. Fall and winter are also terrific times to visit. The park can be very hot during the summer with temperatures reaching well over 100 degrees.
There are two entrances to the Pinnacles that do not connect via roads. You can hike through the entire park from either entrance. The East entrance is from Highway 25 through Hollister, CA. The West entrance is off Highway 101 in Soledad at Highway 146.
Expect long lines and delays getting into the park during the spring, fall, and winter on weekends and holidays. It’s recommended you enter the park early, before 9am!
You’ll find some lodging in the surrounding towns, but it’s best to take full advantage of the experience by camping in the local campground.
Activities to do at Pinnacles National Park: hiking, rock climbing, camping, talus caving, and ranger programs.
Where to Stay Near Pinnacles National Park
Redwood National Park
Comprising 133,000 acres, Redwood National Park and three adjoining state parks are located along the coast in Northern California. This national park consists of protected forests and beaches, and are home to some of the oldest and tallest trees in the world.
Year-round temperatures along the redwood coast are mid-40s to mid-60s degrees F. Summer can be foggy, with highs reaching the low 70s. Winter is cooler, but with considerable rain (60 to 80 inches from October through April).
Redwood National Park activities include: scenic drives, hiking, camping, biking, and photography!
Redwood National Park Lodging
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park
Located in the southern Sierra Nevada east of Visalia, California you’ll find Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park. 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, you’ll find huge mountains, deep canyons, and cool caverns at this National Park in California.
Due to the extreme elevation changes as you travel through the parks, weather conditions and temperatures can change as you travel to different areas. Temperatures can vary 20 to 30 degrees as you change elevation.
The best time to visit Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park is in spring and summer from June through August when weather is the most comfortable. Snow can still remain on the high-mountain passes well into the summer.
In the spring and fall, some areas are closed or have reduced hours. Winter means snow in the high elevations so be prepared for tire chain requirements. It’s always recommended to check current road and weather conditions before heading into the park.
Activities at Sequoia & Kings Canyon include: exploring the Sequoia Groves, touring the park caverns, day hiking, camping, scenic drives, ranger programs, and photography!
Sequoia & Kings Canyon Lodging
Yosemite National Park
Located in Central California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains, Yosemite National Park attracts over 400 million visitors every year from around the world. We recommend you plan ahead and make reservations for lodging, camping, and any activity requiring permits!
During the peak seasons of spring and fall, plan to arrive early to avoid delays and traffic congestion!
Yosemite in the spring is usually sunny and warm, with occasional winter storms. It’s the best time of year to see the waterfalls!
Yosemite in the summer is warm to hot with afternoon thundershowers possible any time, especially at the higher elevations. Hazy and smoky conditions are common in the summer.
Yosemite in the fall means variable weather from hot to cold and dry to rainy or snowy! Hazy and smoke may still be present in the fall. It’s the best time of year to see fall foliage!
Yosemite in the winter is cold and snowy! The Tioga Road and the road to Glacier Point are closed in the winter. Tire chains are often required on park roads, so it’s best to check road and weather conditions before heading to the park.
Activities at Yosemite National Park in the spring, summer, and fall include: scenic drive, hiking, camping, backpacking, rock climbing, ranger programs and tours, biking, fishing, rafting, photography, and stargazing! In the winter enjoy snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and downhill skiing!
Yosemite National Park Lodging and Tours
- Hotels Near Yosemite National Park
- Vacation Rentals Near Yosemite National Park
- Tours Near Yosemite National Park
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!