California is home to nine national parks, more than any other state; second is Alaska, which has eight. April 20-28 has been designated as National Parks Week across the United States. Parks across the country will host a variety of programs and events to celebrate National Parks Week.
History of National Parks
On March 1, 1872, Congress established Yellowstone National Park “as a public park or pleasuring-ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people” and placed it under control of the Secretary of the Interior. The founding of Yellowstone National Park began a worldwide national park movement. However, the idea of protecting unique wilderness for the benefit of the people was first put into practice, as so many other forwarding thinking actions, in California. In 1864 conservationists convinced President Abraham Lincoln to declare Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of giant sequoias a public trust of California. This marked the first time the U.S. government protected land for public enjoyment and it laid the foundation for the establishment of the national and state park systems. In 1916 the National Park Service was created by an act of Congress that was signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson.
Channel Islands National Park
Channel Islands National Park encompasses five islands and their ocean environment. Isolation over thousands of years has created unique animals, plants and archeological resources found nowhere else on Earth. It is the most challenging park to reach because it can only be visited by boat.
Anacapa Island: With only two miles of trails, but unmatched scenery Anacapa Island is a must visit. See dramatic overlooks, magnificent coastal views and the last permanent lighthouse built on the West Coast.
Santa Cruz Island: The mixed sand and cobblestone Scorpion Beach is a world-class destination for swimming, diving, snorkeling and kayaking.
Santa Barbara Island: A variety of seabirds can be seen throughout the year, including brown pelicans, cormorants, pigeon guillemots and western gulls. Seals and sea lions can be viewed from Landing Cove and from the Sea Lion Rookery and Elephant Seal Cove overlooks.
Death Valley National Park
In this below-sea-level basin, steady drought and record summer heat make Death Valley a land of extremes. Summer is probably the worst time to visit because the head index can reach dangerous levels. Winter, spring and late fall are the best times to visit. First, visit the Furnace Creek Visitor Center to pay your park fee and get a park map.
Badwater Basin: An expansive salt flat with distant desert mountains and a pink sky sunset, Badwater Basin is the lowest elevation in North America at minus 282 feet below sea level.
Artists Drive: A one-way, nine-mile drive that passes through eroded, colorful desert hills.
Devils Golf Course: An immense area of rock salt eroded by wind and rain into jagged spires.
Zabriskie Point: The most famous viewpoint in the park. Overlooking the golden colored badlands of the Furnace Creek formation, the point is most popular at sunrise and sunset.
Joshua Tree National Park
Two distinct desert ecosystems, the Mojave and the Colorado, come together in Joshua Tree National Park. A fascinating variety of plants and animals make their homes in a land sculpted by strong winds and occasional torrents of rain. Dark night skies and surreal geologic features add to the wonder of this vast wilderness in southern California.
Indian Cove Nature Trail: One of the best places to enjoy a view of Joshua trees. Keep an eye out for bighorn sheep and desert tortoises.
Arch Rock Trail: The 30-foot-tall Arch Rock can be viewed from this short half-mile trail that features infinite beauty. Climb up inside the arch for great views and perfect pictures.
Cholla Cactus Garden: This cacti grove can be seen from a short quarter-mile trail. It is one of the world’s densest concentrations of the lovely-but-dangerous cholla cactus.
Lassen Volcanic National Park
Home to steaming fumaroles, meadows freckled with wildflowers, clear mountain lakes and numerous volcanoes. Summer is the best time to visit, snow can limit access winter and spring.
Warner Valley: Numerous hydrothermal features including Boiling Springs Lake, Terminal Geyser and Devils Kitchen.
Mill Creek Falls Trail: An excellent hike for families. This moderate 3.2-mile round-trip hike passes through Red Fir forest to the park’s highest waterfall.
Cinder Cone Volcano: Hikers are awarded with spectacular views of the park including Lassen Peak, the Fantastic Lava Beds and the colorful Painted Dunes.
Pinnacles National Park
Some 23 million years ago multiple volcanoes erupted, flowed and slid to form a unique landscape. Designated as a national park in January, 2013, this is the youngest national park in the state of California. Visit during the winter, spring and fall, summer offers dangerous heat.
California Condors: California Condors are the park’s signature bird. See nearly 200 other birds, including turkey vultures, hawks, golden eagles and peregrine falcons.
Moses Spring Trail: This mile-around, out-and-back hike takes visitors up 377 feet of elevation gain to Bear Gulch Reservoir. Sky-high volcanic structures line the trail, which includes some easy-to-navigate caves.
Talus Caves: Balconies Cave and Bear Gulch Cave. Flashlights or headlamps are required. Bear Gulch Cave is home to a large colony of Townsend’s big-eared bats.
Redwood National and State Parks
Home to the tallest trees on Earth. The parks also protect vast prairies, oak woodlands, wild river-ways and nearly 40-miles of rugged coastline.
Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway. Drive this 10-mile road that cuts through the heart of an old-growth forest in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. Herds of Roosevelt elk roam are easy to spot in the woods. Stop and take a hike at one of the many trailheads along the route, including Big Tree Wayside (see the Big Tree measuring 304 feet tall and 21 feet in diameter) and Ah-Pah.
Fern Canyon on James Irvine Trail. Enter prehistoric wilderness on this 9-mile roundtrip hike. The densely verdant forest served as the backdrop for a number of scenes in Jurassic Park 2. See spectacular redwoods and a 50-foot-deep canyon dripping with ferns.
Big Tree Loop: Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. Start at park headquarters for this easy, but incredibly scenic loop, as it passes through some of the park’s most scenic groves and also has a nice variety of different environments, with both upland and lowland redwoods.
Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks
Dramatic landscapes with huge mountains, rugged foothills, deep canyons, vast caverns and the world’s largest trees. There are bears here. Don’t leave food in your car.
General Sherman Tree: Just under 275-ft. tall, this landmark in Sequoia National Park is among the world’s largest trees.
Tunnel Log: Drive Crescent Meadow Road in the Giant Forest and drive through Tunnel Log, a passageway through a tree estimated to be at least 2,000 years old. The tree fell across the road from natural causes in 1937 and was cut through to make a visitor attraction in the summer of 1938.
Roaring River Falls: Just off of Highway 180, a very short third-of-a-mile walk from the Cedar Grove Area off of Generals Highway, lets you quickly access the falls via a paved, tree-covered path.
Yosemite National Park
A shrine to the strength of granite, the power of glaciers, the persistence of life and the tranquility of the High Sierra.
Yosemite Falls: At 2,424 feet, it is the highest waterfall in North America and the sixth largest in the world.
Half Dome: Yosemite’s most popular rock formation is a granite crest that rises more than 4,737 feet above the valley floor.
Tunnel View: Journey along State Route 41 for a breathtaking snapshot of Yosemite Valley and several of its attractions, El Capitan, Half Dome and Bridalveil Falls.