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7 Stunning California National Parks — Including Hidden Gems

Annie Gabillet

California could be considered the birthplace of the National Park system. In 1906, naturalist John Muir brought President Teddy Roosevelt camping in Yosemite Valley. There, he convinced the president to put the area under federal protection, to preserve its natural beauty and environment for future generations. Today, Yosemite National Park is one of California’s most popular tourist destinations, and it stands among the best National Parks in the country. But it’s not the only National Park California has to offer. If you’re a nature lover and looking for a way to unwind in the Golden State, consider these seven breathtaking California National Parks. We bet you’ll discover some you never heard of.

Channel Islands

Courtesy of Unsplash // Jeremy Bishop

Five islands make up Channel Islands National Park located off the coast of Ventura in Southern California. Wildlife has been able to flourish on the islands due to their isolation, a reality the park still tries to preserve today. There are no services available at the park, including food, so you have to be prepared! On the islands you can hike, snorkel, kayak, or even camp. Make sure to pack a swimsuit that can handle all the action, like the Ribbed Voyager or The Swan Dive. You can access Channel Islands National Park from Santa Barbara or Ventura, where you can also find visitor centers.

Death Valley

Courtesy of Unsplash // Jakup Gorajek

It might be one of the hottest places on earth, but Death Valley is brimming with life. Wildflowers pop up after freak rainstorms and fish and wildlife thrive in oases. This the largest National Park outside of Alaska, with 3.4 million acres. Popular activities include hiking, mountain biking, and enjoying the stars after dark. It’s located about 2.5 hours from Las Vegas and 4.5 hours from Los Angeles.

Joshua Tree

Courtesy of Unsplash // Jayma Leavengood

Enjoy nature that looks like it’s from a Dr. Seuss book in Joshua Tree National Park. Found about 1 hour from Palm Springs, 2.5 hours from Los Angeles, and 3 hours from San Diego the park is a desert wilderness. You can camp, hike, and go rock climbing. Horseback riding is another popular way to experience the landscape. Just be sure to take it all in.

Lassen Volcanic

Courtesy of Unsplash // Thomas Ciszwski

Volcanoes aren’t the only thing Lassen Volcanic National Park has to offer. You’ll also find wildflower meadows, pristine crater lakes, dark skies, and hydrothermal hot water areas at the park located about 4 hours north east of San Francisco. There, you’ll witness lava flows, mud mots, or hot springs. You can either stay at the Drakesbad Guest Ranch or camp in the park.

Pinnacles

Courtesy of Flickr User Christian Arballo

California’s tectonic plates formed towering rock formations — the pinnacles — over millions of years. A former National Monument, Pinnacles officially became a National Park in 2013. Located about 2.5 hours south of San Francisco, the landscape was shaped by volcanic eruptions that happened 23 million years ago. In the park, you can hike, rock climb, go caving, or keep your eyes on the sky to spot one of California’s famous Condor birds.

Sequoia & Kings Canyon

Courtesy of Unsplash // Victoria Palacios

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks sit side by side in the Southern Sierra Nevada. In the twin parks you can find the world’s largest trees — the California sequoia redwoods — as well as huge mountains and deep canyons. It’s as if everything is built for giants. There are four lodges in the parks; good options if you don’t feel like camping. No matter where you stay, you can take in the nature by exploring the giant sequoia groves, day hiking, or horseback riding. In the winter, you can ski and snowshoe. The parks are located about 4 hours from either San Francisco or Los Angeles.

Yosemite

Courtesy Unsplash // Aniket Deole

Yosemite National Park has an embarrassment of natural riches: dramatic waterfalls, grand meadows, giant sequoia redwood trees, and dramatic granite cliffs. You can camp, backpack, or stay in one of two of the parks iconic lodges or in rudimentary tent cabins. The park is about 5 hours from LA or 3.5 hours from San Francisco.

As you can see, California’s seven National Parks feature diverse and mesmerizing nature. It’s like you can travel to other planets without leaving the state. Where will you go first?