California National Parks

California boasts the most National Parks of any state and they offer some amazing diversity. Come #FindYourPark in California.

California National Parks

Alcatraz Island

You may know Alcatraz as the maximum security federal prison that's famous for being inescapable, but it has also served as a fort and was also occupied in 1969 by The Indians of All Tribes for 19 months to bring attention to Native American civil rights. Located in San Francisco, ferries come and go all day to the island, and you are welcome to explore as long as you wish.

Consider a guided Ranger tour which are available once you arrive on the island. Alcatraz Island is open year round, except for Thanksgiving,  Christmas, and New Years Day. Make sure to book your ferry ride in advance.

Cabrillo National Monument

Cabrillo National Monument pays homage to Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo - the first European explorer to set foot on the West Coast of what is now the United States. It is located at the tip of Point Loma in San Diego, California.

In addition to telling the story of European exploration, the site also protects various wildlife. Birding is popular here year round, as well as exploring the tide pools. During January and February, whales can be spotted from Whale Overlook.

Cabrillo National Monument is open every day of the year, and San Diego's awesome weather makes it easy to visit any time. Fees are charged per vehicle and are good for six days.

California National Historic Trail (CA, CO, ID, KS, MO, NE, NV, OR, UT, WY)

The California National Historic Trail is an incredible 2,000 miles long and recounts the journey of over 250,000 people who made their way to California during the 1840's and 50's searching for gold, prosperity, and a better life. It was the greatest mass migration in American history. The Trail runs roughly from Independence, MO to Sacramento, CA, and spans ten states - California, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming.

Passport sites and interpretive centers exist along the route in several states. A modern-day auto route is also available for those wanting to trace the trail by car.

Castle Mountains National Monument

Castle Mountains is a remote desert landscape that's nestled in between the Mojave National Preserve and the Nevada state line just south of Las Vegas. Dirt roads are the only way to access this park, which will appeal to some. Although the park is primitive, its diverse features include Joshua Tree forests and scrubby landscapes that are part of the more popular Joshua Tree National Park, but without the crowds.

Castle Mountains National Monument is open all year. Summers are hot in the lower elevations but cooler higher up, so plan accordingly. The park is about an hour and a half drive from Las Vegas or about three hours from Joshua Tree National Park near Palm Springs, CA.

César E. Chávez National Monument

Located in Keene, CA near Bakersfield, César E. Chávez National Monument memorializes Mr. Chávez's lifelong struggle for the rights of agricultural workers in California and elsewhere. His tireless work led to the first union in the United States for farm workers, helping to secure better wages and working conditions.

On the site, you'll find Mr. Chávez's home, which also served as the headquarters for the United Farm Workers Union. Today, you can tour the home and view his office as it once was. The site is also his final resting place, and his grave site is available for viewing.

Channel Islands National Park

Channel Islands National Park Anacapa Island

Located just off the coast of Ventura, CA, Channel Islands National Park protects five islands (out of seven total) and is home to diverse plant and animal life. Bats, mice, and even Island Foxes can be found living on the islands, as well as pelicans, gulls, and birds of prey. In the surrounding ocean, dolphins, whales, seals, sea lions, and large kelp forest are part of this unique ecosystem.

The islands can be reached by boat, and tours can be booked to several of the islands. Kayaking, diving, hiking, and animal watching are all popular activities here. Overnight camping is also available on the islands, but you may want to plan around the yearly seagull nesting, or you won't get any sleep.

The main Visitor Center is located at the Ventura Marina, with other smaller contact stations on the islands. Trips can be booked with Island Packers to Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, San Miguel, and Santa Barbara Islands.

Read more about visiting Channel Islands National Park here.

Channel Islands National Park California

Death Valley National Park (CA, NV)

Death Valley National Park Nevada

Interested in visiting the hottest place on Earth? Better take some water. It may be hot in summer, but heat isn't the only extreme here. It also has snowy peaks in winter and the rare rain storm brings with it blooms of desert plants. Don't count on that though, because Death Valley is also the driest National Park in the United States.

Death Valley National Park is located west of Las Vegas (about a two hour drive) and north of Los Angeles (about 5 hours) and sits on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. At 3.4 million acres, this park is big - most of which is designated wilderness area. There are plenty of things to explore here, along with Ranger-led programs, hiking, camping, and even movie locations for the Star Wars films. Death Valley is open year round, 24 hours a day.

Devils Postpile National Monument

Devils Postpile gets its name from the unique columns of basalt that make up this 101-foot geologic anomaly. It's very similar to Giants Causeway in Northern Ireland in its formation and geometric appearance.

The Monument sits at 7,560 feet above sea level atop the Sierra Nevada range in Mammoth Lakes, California. Because of the elevation, the site is normally open only during the summers between mid-June and mid-October. Besides visiting the Postpile, other popular activities include hiking, fishing, and wildlife watching. Unless you have an exception, there is a mandatory shuttle that ferries visitors in and out of the park.

Eugene O'Neill National Historic Site

Eugene O'Neill was an American playwright and the only one to ever win a Nobel Prize. At the height of his career, he made his home in northern California where he wrote his most memorable works like The Iceman Cometh, Long Day's Journey Into Night, and A Moon for the Misbegotten.

Visitors to the park will need to make a reservation here and then take a shuttle from the town of Danville. From there, you'll be given a guided tour of the O'Neil home, which he referred to as the "Tao House".

Fort Point National Historic Site

Fort Point was constructed between 1853 and 1861 by the U.S. Army Engineers and has been called "one of the most perfect models of masonry in America". The Fort was built to protect the San Francisco Bay from foreign attack. Fortunately, the installed guns never had to be fired to ward off such an attack.

Fort Point overlooks the Golden Gate Bridge and offers visitors a unique viewpoint of this American icon. The Fort became a National Historic Site in 1970.

Golden Gate National Recreation Area

Golden Gate National Recreation Area encompasses 80,000 acres of land, both north and south of the Golden Gate Bridge, and is one of America's largest urban parks. Visitors can explore 37 different and distinct sites in the park including Muir Woods National Monument, Fort Point National Historic Site, and Alcatraz Island.

There are over 130 miles of trail in the park for recreational use and 1,200 historic structures to explore. Several beaches are also part of the Golden Gate NRA, allowing for plenty of water sports and recreation as well. President Nixon signed the Golden Gate National Recreation Area into law in 1972, and in 1988, UNESCO designated parts of the park and surrounding areas as the Golden Gate Biosphere Reserve.

John Muir National Historic Site

Considered the Father of the National Parks, there's no doubt about John Muir's tremendous influence on America's park system and the National Park Service. John Muir National Historic Site allows visitors to learn about and explore the remarkable life of John Muir and his passion for nature. Ranger-guided tours of the 14-room Muir/Strentzel home are available, along with tours of the grounds.

Visitors can also tour Muir's grave site by reservation only. Other popular activities at the park include hiking, picnicking, and visiting the Martinez Adobe which is part of the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail. John Muir National Historic Site was designated in 1964.

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park California

Joshua Tree National Park intersects the Colorado Desert to the east with the Mojave Desert to the west and offers visitors a unique landscape to explore. With its cactus gardens, Joshua Trees, and rambling geologic formations, Joshua Tree National Park is a bit of an anomaly.

Its namesake Joshua Trees aren't really trees at all - they're part of the yucca family - and look like something you might find in a Dr. Seuss story. The park itself is relatively small and can be explored in a day if you like, but there are several campgrounds throughout the park if you'd like to stay a bit longer. Prominent features around the park include Skull Rock, the Cholla Cactus Garden, Barker Dam, and Keys View where you can gaze down on the San Andreas Fault. Joshua Tree National Park is open all year.

Get more information about visiting Joshua Tree National Park here.

Joshua Tree National Park Skull Rock

Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail

In 1775-76, Juan Bautista de Anza led a group of 240 men, women, and children from Arizona to the San Francisco Bay area in California to establish the first non-Native settlement there. The stories and history of this 1,800-mile  journey are told at the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail. The trail consists of historic sites in both California and Arizona that are open to visitors. The 1,200-mile Historic Trail also offers an auto touring route, along with the Anza Recreation Trail, supported by communities along the trail. Visit here for more information and specific markers along the trail.

The portion of the trail pictured is from Arizona's Tumacácori National Historical Park.

Kern Wild and Scenic River

The Kern Wild and Scenic River has two forks that are protected. The North Fork flows through Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks and is part of the longest, linear glacially-sculpted valley in the world. The South Fork includes sections of whitewater and waterfalls, and is one of the steepest whitewater rivers in North America. The Kern Wild and Scenic River was designated in 1987.

Kings Wild and Scenic River

The Kings Wild and Scenic River flows through Kings Canyon National Park and the Sequoia and Sierra National Forests. The lower portions of the river have superior whitewater rafting opportunities and also some of the best fly fishing in California. The Kings Wild and Scenic River encompasses 65.5 miles of wild river, along with 15.5 miles of recreational river, for a total of 81 miles, and was designated in 1987.

Lassen Volcanic National Park

As its name suggests, Lassen Volcanic National Park in the Cascades Range protects one of the most hydrothermally active spots anywhere. It's one of the few places where you can find all four types of volcanos in one place - shield, composite, cinder cone, and plug dome (Lassen has the largest in the world). Lassen still smolders with activity which can be seen in the steam vents, boiling springs, and mudpots that still bubble around the park. Although there hasn't been an eruption in 100 years, the potential is always there.

Because of the altitude and snowpack, summer tourist season is short and only runs from about June until snows begin to move back in around October. Popular activities include backpacking, boating, camping, hiking, fishing, and horseback riding. In winter, skiing and snowshoeing are popular.

Visit Manzanita Lake for the best views of Lassen Peak, or Bumpass Hell and Sulphur Works to see steam vents and boiling mud - two of the park's best hydrothermal areas. Juniper Lake is the largest lake in the park and perfect for water recreation like swimming and paddling.

Established in 1916, Lassen is one of America's oldest National Parks and was just the fifteenth park established by Congress. The Park was first designated as a National Monument by President Teddy Roosevelt in 1907.

Lava Beds National Monument

Thanks to the eruptions of the Medicine Lake shield volcano, Lava Beds National Monument is a 46,000-acre landscape of lava flows, tubes, caves, and unique geologic formations, but it also has a long Native American History. Caving is definitely a popular activity at the Park, and there are plenty to explore for all skill levels. Guided cave tours are offered of both the Crystal Ice Cave and Fern Cave. You can make reservations here.

Lava Beds National Monument was established in 1926.

Manzanar National Historic Site

Manzanar War Relocation Center was one of ten camps that were used for the relocation and incarceration of Japanese-Americans during World War II. Over the course of the War, over 110,000 people were sent to these camps. Guided tours and talks are available at the park, but it can also be explored on your own.

Take a tour of Block 14 where you'll learn about life in the camp and see the reconstructed barracks, a reconstructed women's latrine, and a remodeled WWII era mess hall. Other parts of the park include Merritt Park and the cemetery monument. Other WWII-era camps include Tule Lake National Monument in California and Honouliuli National Historic Monument in Hawai'i. Manzanar was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1985 and then a National Historic Site in 1992.

Merced Wild and Scenic River River

The Merced River flows from Yosemite National Park towards the San Joaquin Valley. Camping, hiking, and whitewater rafting are popular here. It also protects riparian and meadow ecosystems along with critical habitat of the endangered limestone salamander. The Merced Wild and Scenic River River was designated in 1987.

Mojave National Preserve

In the Mojave Desert between Los Angeles, California, and Las Vegas, Nevada, is the Mojave National Preserve. Its 1.6 million acres is vast and hot, but full of wildlife, caves, sand dunes, Joshua tree forests, and many other unique features. It's the 3rd-largest NPS park unit in the contiguous United States.

There are three Visitor Centers at the park, but the rest is wide open to explore on your own. In the cooler months, consider backpacking and camping. 4-wheel off-roading are popular as well as hiking, wildlife viewing, and horseback riding.

Mojave National Preserve was designated in 1994 and sits between Death Valley National Park to the north and Joshua Tree National Park to the south. Lake Mead National Recreational Area, Castle Mountains National Monument, Lake Mojave National Recreational Area, and Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument are all nearby NPS sites.

Muir Woods National Monument

Muir Woods National Monument is just a short drive from San Francisco, CA and is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The park was established in 1908 and protects 240 acres of old-growth redwood forest along the California Coast. The Park is primarily suited for hiking and is one of only a few remaining stands of redwood trees in the the San Francisco area. There are six miles of trails including 1/2 hour, 1, and, 1 1/2 hour loops.

Old Spanish National Historic Trail - AZ, CA, CO, NV, NM, UT

Old Spanish National Historic Trail tells the story of the people and places along the trail between Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Los Angeles, California. The trail was used heavily during the early 1800's to move goods through the Southwest and made Santa Fe a center of commerce in the area. The trail was a pipeline for both Mexican and American traders over a few decades until the United States finally took control of the Southwest and opened new trade routes and wagon trails, which left the Old Spanish Trail obsolete by the 1850's.

The trail runs through six states - New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Arizona, Nevada, and California - and there are several points for visitors to interact and learn more about its history. Here are some popular locations for Passport Stamps along the trail:

- Navajo National Monument - Shonto, AZ
- Pipe Spring National Monument - Fredonia, AZ
- Glen Canyon National Recreation Area - Page, AZ (Also the location of Horshoe Bend)
- El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument - Los Angeles, CA
- Mojave National Preserve Headquarters - Barstow, CA
- Colorado National Monument - Fruita, CO
- Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve - Mosca, CO
- Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park - Montrose, CO
- Aztec Ruins National Monument - Aztec, NM
- Lake Mead National Recreation Area - Boulder City, NV
- Arches National Park - Moab, UT
- Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument - Kanab, UT

Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail

The Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail is one of America's great hiking trails through some of the most amazing scenery and landscapes in the United States. Winding up the Pacific Coast from the U.S./Mexico border, the trail runs 2,650 miles through California, Oregon, and Washington until reaching the Canadian border.

The Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail was one of several established by Congress in 1968 as part of the 1968 National Trails System Act. The Trail passes through several National Parks including Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks, Devils Postpile National Monument, Yosemite National Park, Lassen Volcanic National Park, Crater Lake National Park, Mount Rainier National Park, and North Cascades National Park, along with many other state parks and National Forests.

Click here for more information on the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail.

Pinnacles National Park

Pinnacles National Park

Pinnacles National Park is one of America's newest parks, having been upgraded from National Monument status in 2013. Sitting on the San Andreas Fault between Los Angeles and San Francisco, Pinnacles was formed from volcanic and tectonic forces that created huge boulders, rock faces, and deep canyons. Another notable feature of the park are their talus caves which have been formed from boulders and rocks stacking on top of one another.

In addition to the great hiking and scenic views, Pinnacles is home to several different kinds of wildlife. The caves are an important habitat for bats, and Pinnacles is home to the largest maternity colony of Townsend’s big-eared bats between San Francisco and Mexico. The park offers a variety of hiking trails, climbing routes, and bird watching opportunities, including falcons and California Condors.

Visitors can reach the park from either the east or west entrance, but there are no roads that connect the two sides of the park. Hiking trails connect the two, however. Pinnacles National Park is open year-round.

Click here for more information about visiting Pinnacles National Park.

Pinnacles National Park California

Point Reyes National Seashore

The Point Reyes National Seashore protects over 71,000 acres along the California coast and is a habitat for several species of plants and animals, many of which are endangered. Its beaches have been recognized as some of the cleanest in California, and popular activities here include water sports, hiking, camping, horseback riding, and fishing. Wildlife viewing is also popular, and Point Reyes has the largest population of harbor seals in California behind the Channel Islands.

The Point Reyes Peninsula is about a 1.5-hour drive north of San Francisco, and was designated a National Seashore in 1962.

Pony Express National Historic Trail - CA, CO, KS, MO, NE, NV, UT, WY

Before there was the telegraph, the most efficient method for getting messages across the country was the Pony Express. Riders could get a piece of mail from Saint Joseph, Missouri to Sacramento, California - 2,005 miles - in just ten days. As thousands of settlers traveled west along the Oregon Trail during the mid-1800's, along with the height of the Gold Rush and the Mormon migration, the need arose to get mail quickly to the West. Although the Pony Express only existed for eighteen months in 1860-1861, it became synonymous with the Old West.

Today, you can trace the Pony Express National Historic Trail at various points throughout Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, and California. Check here for sites and points of interest in each state. The Pony Express National Historic Trail was designated by Congress in 1992.

Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial

The Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial recognizes WWII's worst home front disaster, killing 320 Americans. While loading ammunition onto two ships destined for the Pacific Theater in 1944, an explosion was triggered that killed mostly African-American sailors. The outcry was immediate and led to the largest Navel mutiny in the history of the U.S. Navy. These events, along with the subsequent trial, led to the eventual desegregation of the Navy after the war.

Guided tours of the Memorial are available by catching a shuttle from John Muir National Historic Site in Martinez, California. The Memorial was created in 1994 and is located at the Concord Naval Weapons Station near Concord, California.

Presidio of San Francisco

The Presidio has a rich cultural and military history, but today serves as a park and recreation area. This urban park offers visitors the chance to hike, picnic, sail, or just enjoy the California sunshine. There are 24 miles of hiking trails, including parts of the Golden Gate Promenade, Presidio Promenade, Coastal Trail, Ecology Trail, and portions of the Bay Area Ridge Trail, the Bay Trail, and the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail. The Presidio was transferred to the National Park Service in 1994 and is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

Redwood National and State Parks

Redwood National and State Parks are home to the tallest trees on Earth, and these lands are managed by the California Department of Parks and Recreation in conjunction with the National Park Service. Although the massive trees are the main attraction, there are plenty of other activities, including bicycling, hiking, kayaking, camping, and horseback riding. Be sure to check out a dance demonstration presented presented by members of the Tolowa and the Yurok tribes who have reservations and lands in the area.

Redwood National Park was established in 1968 and collectively, the Parks encompass 139,000 acres.

Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historic Park

Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historic Park is located in Richmond, CA near Oakland, and educates visitors on what life was like on the home front during WWII. The Visitor Center explores the sacrifices, stories, and realities of everyday life during the War.

The Visitor Education Center contains information, exhibits, and park films. On Fridays, you can meet a real WWII Home Front worker who shares stores about the period. Other sites in the Park include the Red Oak Victory Ship and the Rosie the Riveter Memorial. Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historic Park was established in 2000 and is still undergoing development.

Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta National Heritage Area

Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta National Heritage Area was established in 2019 and is California's first and only National Heritage Area. The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is among the most fertile agricultural regions in the world, and this park is focused on telling the stories of its rich cultural heritage. The Delta is at the confluence of California's two largest rivers and is the largest estuary on the West Coast of the Americas.

San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park

San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park is primarily a collection of historic vessels and ships related to the rich maritime history of the Pacific Coast. Ships in the collection range from the late 1800's and early 1900's and can be toured with a Park Ranger.

The Park is in the popular Fisherman's Wharf area of San Francisco and was established in 1988 as an official National Park Unit.

Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area

The Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area is located in the Santa Monica Mountains north of Los Angeles in Southern California. The National Park Service owns and manages 23,648 acres, making it the largest urban National Park in both the United States and the world. The Park's lands stretch from the California coast in Malibu up to the Santa Monica Mountains.

Hiking, camping, climbing, and wildlife viewing are all popular here, as well as beach activities and water sports. It's also a great place for stargazing, whale watching, and for watching the spring wildflowers bloom.

Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area was established in 1978.

Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks

Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks sit next to each other in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and are home to the largest trees on Earth - the Giant Sequoia. General Sherman and General Grant are the largest trees in the park and are nearly 275 ft. tall. Besides visiting the Sequoia groves, visitors can enjoy hiking, fishing, camping, or a visit to Crystal Cave. If planning on staying for a few days, consider booking a stay at the historic John Muir Lodge.

Although they are separate Parks, Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks are managed as one and have a combined size of 1,353 sq. miles. Lands in these Parks were first preserved back in 1890, but did not come under combined management until 1943.

Surprise Canyon Creek Wild and Scenic River

Surprise Canyon Creek Wild and Scenic River is a rare desert river that begins in the higher elevations in Death Valley National Park and runs down towards Surprise Canyon. The river and canyon are a habitat to various plant and animal species, including bighorn sheep and the rare Panamint daisy. The River was designated a Wild and Scenic River in 2019 and is part of the Bureau of Land Management.

Toulumne Wild and Scenic River

Designated in 1984, the Toulumne Wild and Scenic River runs for 83 miles through the heart of Yosemite National Park. This free-flowing river is known for its riparian habitats and also its recreation. The whitewater boating here is some of the best anywhere.

Tule Lake National Monument

Tule Lake National Monument is one of several camps used to detain and incarcerate Japanese-Americans during WWII. Tule Lake was the largest and most controversial. The Tule Lake Segregation Center and Camp Tulelake are both part of this NPS Unit and can be toured with a Ranger.

Other NPS sites related to the relocation of Japanese-Americans include Manzanar National Historic Site and Honouliuli National Historic Monument in Hawai'i.

Whiskeytown National Recreation Area

Whiskeytown National Recreation Area protects Whiskeytown Lake and 42,000 acres in northern California near the Klamath Mountains, and Cascade and Coast Mountain Ranges. Visitors primarily come to enjoy getting out on the lake, which is great for swimming, paddling, boating, canoeing, sailing, and even SCUBA diving. Hikers also enjoy the park for its abundance of waterfalls.

Whiskeytown National Recreation Area was created by Congress in 1965.

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park first came under federal protection in 1864, well before the National Park Service even existed, and is one of America's oldest National Parks. This park in the High Sierra Mountains was a favorite of John Muir and is still one of America's most visited parks with 4,586,463 visitors in 2019.

Yosemite is full of iconic landmarks and formations like El Capitan and Half Dome, but the Yosemite Valley is full of places to visit like Hetch Hetchy and Mariposa Grove for the Giant Sequoias. There are virtually unlimited opportunities for recreation around the park, including hiking, climbing, backpacking, bird watching, fishing, horseback riding, stargazing, and plenty of winter sports.

Yosemite encompasses 748,436 acres and was established in 1890. It was later re-designated in 1906.