California is home to some to some of the most beautiful and diverse national and state parks in the United States. You can choose to spend your leisure time surrounded by the magnificence of the desert, the awesome majesty of ancient towering redwoods or the rugged and beautiful Pacific coastline.
1.Andrew Molera State Park
Surrounded by the magnificence of the Big Sur landscape, Andrew Molera State Park is a very lightly developed state park which offers boundless opportunities for nature lovers to come and explore. The Visitor’s Center can supply you with maps of the hiking and biking trails, interpretive exhibits and guided tours of the park. You can hike for miles along trails which lead along meadows, hilltops and bluffs or make your way directly to the beach for surfing, wind-surfing, swimming, tidal pooling and picnicking. As this is a Day-use-only park you are not allowed to camp anywhere but restrooms and drinking water is available.
Andrew Molera State Park, 5500 CA-1, Big Sur, CA 93920, Phone: 831-667-1112
2.Anza Borrego Desert State Park
Surrounded by rugged wind-chiseled mountains, the Anza Borrego Desert State Park welcomes visitors to come and experience life in an area of exceptional natural beauty. You are advised to start your tour at the Visitor’s Center where you can watch a 15-minute orientation video and view some interesting exhibits. To properly appreciate this unique landscape you need to linger for a few days – the park offers a variety of camping opportunities including a serviced campsite for RVs and trailers and primitive back-country camp sites. Experienced hikers will find some seriously challenging trails to explore while families can enjoy shorter family-friendly hikes. Regular Behind-the –Scenes archaeological tours are available – check the website for more info.
Anza Borrego Desert State Park, 20 Palm Canyon Dr, Borrego Springs, CA 92004, Phone: 760-767-4205
3.Bothe-Napa Valley State Park
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Nestled in the heart of the beautiful Napa Valley, the Bothe-Napa Valley State Park offers the perfect destination for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts. You can come for a day of hiking, picnicking and swimming in summer or bring along your tent, RV or trailer to enjoy a few nights in the campground. If you prefer not to camp you can hire a yurt or cabin and spend some quality time relaxing in the heart of wine country. There are several scenic hiking trails to explore, and regular guided educational hikes are offered throughout the year. When you call into the Visitor’s Center you can take an interesting walk around the Native American Garden Trail and children can join the Junior Ranger program.
Bothe-Napa Valley State Park, 3801 St Helena Hwy, Calistoga, CA 94515, Phone: 707-942-4575
4.Calaveras Big Trees State Park
Preserving and showcasing the North Grove of giant sequoias since 1931, the Calaveras Big Trees State Park is one of the most popular parks in California. Since opening several other stands of big trees have been added to the park ensuring an amazing variety of habitats which you are invited to come and explore. There are two large campgrounds where you can set up camp and spend your days hiking the scenic and awe-inspiring North, South and Bradley Grove trails which meander through these amazing forests. Guided hikes are offered on Saturdays and the Visitor’s Center can supply all the info you require about other park activities which include biking and fishing.
Calaveras Big Trees State Park, 1170 CA-4, Arnold, CA 95223, Phone: 209-795-2334
5.Coast Dairies State Park
The Coast Dairies State Park is one of the newest State Parks in California, created to protect a very special seven-mile strip of coastal property from developers who wanted to turn this state asset into a high-end housing estate. The park is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in California which are now, thankfully, demarcated for public recreation. There is a seven-mile coastal hiking trail which connects the seven beaches in the park, many of which are challenging to access but well worth the effort. The park is day-use only so no camping is allowed. Popular activities include hiking, tide-pooling, beach-combing, surfing and wind-surfing.
Coast Dairies State Park, Cabrillo Hwy, Santa Cruz, CA 95060, Phone: 831-423-9703
6.Cuyamaca Rancho State Park
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Located east of San Diego, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park lies in a very scenic area surrounded by forests, meadows and creeks. The main activities in this park are hiking, horse-back riding, camping and nature observation. You will find parking, restrooms, showers and picnic areas for day trippers, while campers can bring all their gear to either Paso Picacho or Green Valley Campgrounds, which offer picnic tables, fire rings and restrooms with flush toilets and showers. There are also two primitive hike-in or ride-in campsites for hikers and equestrians. You can look forward to exploring over 100 miles of trails either on foot, by bike or on horseback.
Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, 13652 Highway 79, Julian, CA 92036, Phone: 760-765-3023
7.Death Valley National Park
When you arrive at Death Valley National Park you will be entering the Driest, Lowest and Hottest national park in the US. Located below sea level, the park showcases a world of extremes where blazing deserts and snow-capped peaks vie for your attention, and a light shower can transform the desert landscape into a field of wild flowers. Accommodation options are just as extreme and you can stay in a luxury lodge or a primitive campsite, or choose one of the fully serviced campgrounds. Outdoor activities in this enormous three-million acre park include scenic drives to some of the many must-see sights, endless hiking opportunities, back-country hiking and driving, mountain biking and birding.
Death Valley National Park, Death Valley, CA 92328, Phone: 760-786-3200
8.Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park
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Located just south of Crescent City, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park protects a remarkable 8-mile stretch of coastline where some of the tallest trees in the world stand guard over the beach. The park is an amazing destination for hikers and bikers, as well as visitors who just enjoy walking on the beach, fishing and tide-pooling (swimming is not allowed). There are a number of extremely scenic drives for people who prefer not to hike or bike. Fit hikers should enjoy the Damnation Creek Trail which offers a challenging and steep 4-mile hike down to the beach and back and the Coastal Trail which winds through rugged bluffs and giant redwood forests. Campsites are available at Mill Creek Campground during the summer.
Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, 1111 2nd Street, Crescent City, CA 95531, Phone: 707-465-7335
9.Donner Memorial State Park
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Nestled in the heart of the beautiful Sierra Nevada, the Donner Memorial State Park is dedicated to the memory of all the brave eastern immigrants who travelled to California in the mid 1800’s. The park offers a delightful recreational area for outdoor enthusiasts who will find something to do regardless of the season. In summer you can enjoy camping, hiking, boating, swimming, fishing and paddling, while winter visitors can spend their time exploring the hiking trails with snow shoes or cross-country skis. You can learn about the region’s geological history at the Visitor’s Center and you can book a campsite up to six months in advance.
Donner Memorial State Park, 12593 Donner Pass Rd, Truckee, CA 96161, Phone: 530-583-7892
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10.Garrapata State Park
Conveniently located just eighteen miles from Big Sur, Garrapata State Park is a very scenic recreation area for hikers and beach lovers. Even if you do not plan on visiting, the park offers such wonderful views that it is well worth stopping there on your way to Big Sur. Day-visitors (no camping allowed) can enjoy coastal hiking along well-maintained trails and access to two miles of beach where you can enjoy fishing, swimming, surfing, wind-surfing, snorkeling and scuba diving. The beach is frequented by various sea mammals including sea lions, seals and sea otters, and you may be lucky enough to spot a gray whale if you visit during their annual migration.
Garrapata State Park, CA-1, Carmel-By-The-Sea, CA 93923, Phone: 831-624-4909
11.Hearst San Simeon State Park
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If you love camping and the beach, the Hearst San Simeon State Park is hard to beat. Located between San Simeon and Cambria, the park protects a beautiful stretch of rocky coastline and offers marvelous views of the ocean. Visitors are invited to come and park their RVs, trailers or tents at one of 115 campsites, all of which have picnic tables and fire rings and easy access to restrooms, showers and fresh water. You can enjoy a wide range of activities in the park including hiking, fishing, swimming, surfing and beach combing. The park also offers good wildlife watching, including the chance to watch elephant seals from the Elephant Seal Boardwalk.
Hearst San Simeon State Park, 500 San Simeon Creek Rd, Cambria, CA 93428, Phone: 805-772-6101
12.Humboldt Redwoods State Park
Covering over 53,000 acres, the Humboldt Redwoods State Park is the third-largest state park in California, protecting and showcasing the world’s largest old-growth contiguous redwood forest. One of the most popular activities is driving the remarkable 32-mile Avenue of the Giants. You should make a point of stopping at the Visitor’s Center where you can find all the info you need to thoroughly enjoy your park visit. There are over 250 campsites where you can set up a base camp and then spend your days exploring over 100 miles of hiking, biking and equestrian trails, swimming, fishing and birding. Children can sign up for a Junior Ranger Program and everyone can join nature walks and campfire programs.
Humboldt Redwoods State Park, 17119 Avenue of the Giants, Weott, CA 95571, Phone: 707-946-2263
13.Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park
Established back in 1929 to protect one of the northern-most stands of majestic ancient Redwood trees in California, the Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park is named after the first white man to explore the northern Californian interior. The park encompasses the Smith River, which offers excellent fishing, snorkeling and kayaking, and visitors are invited to bring their tents, RVs or trailers and spend a few days exploring in the footsteps of Jedediah. (If you hate camping you can rent one of four rustic log cabins). You can take scenic drives through the forest of giants or set off along a network of more than 20 miles of hiking trails, while mountain bikers can look forward to cycling the 19.6 mile Little Bald Hills Trail.
Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, Crescent City, CA 95531, Phone: 707-765-7335
14.Joshua Tree National Park
Located at the confluence of the Mojave and Colorado Deserts, the Joshua Tree National Park is home to two distinct and separate ecosystems which provide habitats for a surprisingly large number of plants and animals. The 800,000-acre park is a delight to visit and you will need some time to truly do it justice; you can make your base at one of nine scenic campgrounds and spend your days admiring this unique landscape on foot, horse-back or motorized shuttle bus. Other activities in the park include star-gazing, wildlife watching, rock climbing, hi-lining and slack-lining. Equestrians are well-catered for at special equestrian campsites, and children can sign up for a Junior Ranger Program.
Joshua Tree National Park, California
15.Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
Named after a respected Big Sur pioneer, the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park stretches inland from the Big Sur coastline to reach an elevation of nearly 3,000 feet in some places. The park encompasses magnificent forests and an 80-foot waterfall which drops directly into the sea from the Overlook Trail. You will find interpretive exhibits and programs at the Visitor’s Center and have the chance to enjoy wildlife watching as you make your way along a network of hiking trails and nature walks, including an easy path to the beach. There are two hike-in Environmental campgrounds and day-trippers can bring a picnic to enjoy at the picnic areas.
Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, 52801 California State Route 1, Big Sur, CA 93920, Phone: 831-667-2315
16.Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park
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Nestled among rugged mountains, plummeting canyons and towering forests in the southern Sierra Nevada, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks lie side by side, offering visitors a chance to see some of the tallest trees in the world. The parks are a wonderland for hikers and backpackers who can explore over 800 miles of real wilderness trails, or enjoy some less strenuous day hikes. You can also admire the wilderness by car along various scenic drives, most of which will take you to amazing viewpoints. In addition, there are caves to tour, rocks to climb and museums and Visitor’s Centers offering ranger-led programs for all ages. There are five campgrounds where you can set up camp and a number of rustic tents and cabins for back-packers.
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, California, Phone: 559-565-3341
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17.Limekiln State Park
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Located on the Big Sur coast, the Limekiln State Park is named for the four remaining historic lime kilns which have survived from an 1887 lime-calcining plant. This is a small park which gives you the chance to hike several fairly short and easy trials to the kilns and a lovely waterfall. The trails are shaded by the enormous old-growth redwoods and many offer superb views of the beach and the ocean. You can book a campsite in advance – several are right on the beach or tucked away in the forest and the campground offers direct access to the hiking trails. You can enjoy the small beach area, do some wildlife watching and star-gazing after dark.
Limekiln State Park, 63025 Highway 1, Big Sur, CA 93920, Phone: 805-434-1996
18.Mount San Jacinto State Park
Located among the soaring San Jacinto Mountains which tower over the Sonora Desert near Idyllwild, the Mount San Jacinto State Park offers visitors a landscape of impressive contrasts. You can bring along your RV or trailer to one of two drive-in campgrounds (there are also primitive campsites and hike-and-bike campsites) where you can set up camp and enjoy an exceptional outdoor experience. You can get a wonderful overview of the beautiful landscape by riding the aerial tramway from Palm Springs or by driving along the scenic roads. Hiking, horse-back riding, mountain biking and guided tours are among the most popular activities and the park offers great wildlife watching and photographic opportunities.
Mount San Jacinto State Park, 25905 CA-243, Idyllwild, CA 92549, Phone: 951-659-2607
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19.Palomar Mountain State Park
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Located along the west side of Palomar Mountain in northern San Diego County, Palomar Mountain State Park welcomes nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts to come and enjoy a relaxing day trip or vacation. Campers can bring their camping gear to the on-site Campground which offers RV access, showers and restrooms. There are a network of scenic hiking trails which you can explore on foot (no dogs or bikes are allowed on the trails) while enjoying beautiful ocean views and bird-watching. If you love trout fishing you can bring along your tackle and fish for your supper on the well-stocked Doane Pond. Day-trippers can bring along a picnic to enjoy at the picnic area.
Palomar Mountain State Park, 19952 State Park Rd, Palomar, CA 92060, Phone: 760-742-3462
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20.Pinnacles National Park
Pinnacles National Park is named for the impressive rocky peaks which were formed thousands of years ago as a result volcanic activity. Today the park offers an exceptionally scenic recreational area for nature lovers and adventurers who can spend their days exploring more than 30 miles of trails. To find out which of the many trails will best suit your skills you can drop into one of the three Visitor’s Centers for maps and other info. Other activities include camping at the Pinnacles Campground, rock-climbing, cave-touring and wildlife watching. Of particular interest to birders are the resident populations of condors, woodpeckers and raptors.
Pinnacles National Park, 5000 Highway 146, Paicines, CA 95043, Phone: 831-389-4486
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21.Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park
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If you are looking for lush vegetation and exceptional coastal views, the Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park is hard to beat. The park protects perfect sandy beaches, wide open meadows and fern-lined canyon walls, along with magnificent stands of old-growth redwoods. You can set up base at one of two campgrounds (suitable for RVs and trailers) or rent one of the park cabins and explore the park along three scenic drives or 75 miles of hiking trails. In addition, the park offers an accessible trail (Redwood Access Trail), a self-guided nature trail and the chance to observe herds of Roosevelt Elk who graze the prairie meadows.
Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, Newton B Drury Scenic Parkway, Orick, CA 95555, Phone: 707-465-7354
22.Red Rock Canyon State Park
Located at the convergence of the Sierra Nevada and El Paso mountain ranges, the Red Rock Canyon State Park has a unique wow-factor. Protecting and showcasing scenic cliffs, buttes and remarkable rock formations in vivid colors, which vary from ochre to bright red, the park is a definite must-see for any visitor to California. Dry and desert-like in summer, the park explodes with colorful wild flowers after wet winters, which makes it a year-round attraction for nature lovers. The park offers varied activities which include hiking along a network of desert trails, horse-back riding, off-road vehicle trails and biking. You can enjoy a night under the desert skies at the Ricardo Campground (primitive campsites with fire rings and tables – no RV hook-ups).
Red Rock Canyon State Park, 37749 Abbott Dr, Cantil, CA 93519, Phone: 661-839-6553
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23.Salt Point State Park
The Salt Point State Park is located in Sonoma County, where it covers 6,000 acres of diverse coastal landscape. As you explore the park along a network of over 20 miles of hiking trails you will be treated to scenic ocean views, large open grasslands, forested hills and rocky ocean coves. Activities are many and varied; you can simply sit on the beach and relax or get active and enjoy hiking, biking, horse-back riding and even scuba diving in the underwater park. There are three campgrounds offering primitive sites with fire-rings and picnic tables, but there are no showers or RV hook-ups. You can fish for your supper (provided you have a fishing license) and enjoy tide-pooling and beach combing along the rugged sea shores.
Salt Point State Park, 25050 CA-1, Jenner, CA 95450, Phone: 707-847-3221
24.Sonoma Coast State Park
Featuring long sandy beaches separated by rocky bluffs and headlands, the Sonoma Coast State Park is particularly popular at the height of summer when cool ocean breezes bring relief from the inland heat. There are two campgrounds where you can park your RV or trailer – both offer fire rings and picnic tables but there are no hook-ups. You can spend your days enjoying hours of beach-combing and rock pooling but it is important to remember that this section of the coastline is subject to strong rip currents and therefore not suitable for swimming. Boat ramps are available and there are several hiking trails which lead to excellent over-looks from which you may see migrating whales.
Sonoma Coast State Park, CA-1, Bodega Bay, CA 94923, Phone: 707-875-3483
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25.Yosemite National Park
Undoubtedly one of the most popular National Parks in the country, Yosemite National Park covers nearly 1,200 square miles of wilderness encompassing deep valleys, towering ancient sequoias and many impressive tumbling waterfalls. There are several campgrounds in the park, most of which open seasonally and are suitable for RVs and trailers. Park activities are many and varied and you can choose from auto-touring, hiking, horseback riding, biking, fishing and more. The best time to see the waterfalls at their best is during the spring, when flow is greatly increased by melting snow. (Many falls are reduced to a trickle by August) Other activities in the park include ranger-led tours, bus tours, guided photography walks and much more.
Yosemite National Park, 7403 Yosemite Park Way, CA 95389, Phone 888-967-3648
25 Best California State & National Parks
- Andrew Molera State Park, Photo: rolf_52/stock.adobe.com
- Anza Borrego Desert State Park, Photo: InnaPoka/stock.adobe.com
- Bothe-Napa Valley State Park, Photo: Matthew Benoit/stock.adobe.com
- Calaveras Big Trees State Park, Photo: ingusk/stock.adobe.com
- Coast Dairies State Park, Photo: RobertU/stock.adobe.com
- Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, Photo: Autumn Sky/stock.adobe.com
- Death Valley National Park, Photo: Alexey/stock.adobe.com
- Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, Photo: cucumber images/stock.adobe.com
- Donner Memorial State Park, Photo: Zack Frank/stock.adobe.com
- Garrapata State Park, Photo: Tupungato/stock.adobe.com
- Hearst San Simeon State Park, Photo: liquid studios/stock.adobe.com
- Humboldt Redwoods State Park, Photo: jkraft5/stock.adobe.com
- Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, Photo: Scottiebumich/stock.adobe.com
- Joshua Tree National Park, Photo: Doug/stock.adobe.com
- Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, Photo: Lukas/stock.adobe.com
- Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park, Photo: Simon Dannhauer/stock.adobe.com
- Limekiln State Park, Photo: Tomasz Kawka/stock.adobe.com
- Mount San Jacinto State Park, Photo: Rosemarie/stock.adobe.com
- Palomar Mountain State Park, Photo: Aleksandr Matveev/stock.adobe.com
- Pinnacles National Park, Photo: stellamc/stock.adobe.com
- Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, Photo: Under Pressure Photo/stock.adobe.com
- Red Rock Canyon State Park, Photo: aragami/stock.adobe.com
- Salt Point State Park, Photo: Charlie/stock.adobe.com
- Sonoma Coast State Park, Photo: AlessandraRC/stock.adobe.com
- Yosemite National Park, Photo: EastVillageImages/stock.adobe.com
- Cover Photo: Felipe Sanchez/stock.adobe.com