California’s national parks should be on your bucket list

California's Death Valley National Park.

California is home to nine national parks, more than any other state ­— Alaska is second with eight.

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.

The following is a snapshot of the parks. However, it is advised that you visit their websites or call ahead to determine if and when they are open.

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 archaeological resources found nowhere else on Earth. It is the most challenging park to reach because it can only be visited by boat.

Must see

Anacapa Island ith 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 he mixed-sand and cobblestone Scorpion Beach is a world-class destination for swimming, diving, snorkeling and kayaking.

Santa Barbara Island  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 heat 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. 

Must see

Badwater Basin n expansive salt flat with distant desert mountains and a pink sky sunset, Badwater Basin is the lowest elevation in North America at 282 feet below sea level.

Artists Drive  one-way, nine-mile drive that passes through eroded, colorful desert hills. 

Devils Golf Course n immense area of rock salt eroded by wind and rain into jagged spires. 

Zabriskie Point he 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.

Must see

Indian Cove Nature Trail ne of the best places to enjoy a view of Joshua trees. Keep an eye out for bighorn sheep and desert tortoises.

Arch Rock Trail he 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 his 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.

Must see

Warner Valley umerous hydrothermal features including Boiling Springs Lake, Terminal Geyser and Devils Kitchen.

Mill Creek Falls Trail n 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 ikers 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. 

Must see 

California Condors alifornia Condors are the park’s signature bird. However, there are 200 other birds, including turkey vultures, hawks, golden eagles and peregrine falcons.

Moses Spring Trail his mile-around, out-and-back hike takes visitors up 377 feet of elevation to Bear Gulch Reservoir. Sky-high volcanic structures line the trail, which includes some easy-to-navigate caves.

Talus Caves alconies 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 riverways and nearly 40-miles of rugged coastline.

Must see

Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway rive this 10-mile road that cuts through the heart of an old-growth forest in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. Herds of Roosevelt elk 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 round-trip 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 rairie 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. 

Must see

General Sherman Tree ust under 275 foot 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 ust 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.

Must see

Yosemite Falls t 2,424 feet, it is the highest waterfall in North America and the sixth largest in the world.

Half Dome osemite’s most popular rock formation is a granite crest that rises more than 4,737 feet above the valley floor.

Tunnel View ourney along State Route 41 for a breathtaking snapshot of Yosemite Valley and several of its attractions, El Capitan, Half Dome and Bridalveil Falls. 


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