California’s National Parks and National Monuments

One of best things about living in California is the wide array of beautiful and diverse National Parks all located within the state (there are eight of them, nine if you split Kings Canyon and Sequoia). From Joshua Tree in the South to Lassen Volcanic Park in the North, California is full of diverse and wonderful parks for you to explore. I have spent a little time in a lot of the main parks and have collected my post and hike recaps in one page for you to enjoy. Check out the parks below for plenty of different adventures and be sure to drop me note if you think I missed something I should have seen. Hopefully, I will have something on all of these parks soon.

National Parks

Channel Islands National Park

These beautiful and remote islands off the coast of California are an amazing escape from the hustle of normal life in SoCal. While they can be hard to get to they are worth the extra effort since they provide such a diverse landscape. I have only got to the closest one but I can't wait to try others.

Death Valley National Park

One of the most unusual parks in the whole United States, not to mention California, Death Valley National Park is a vast expanse of deserts and unique attractions. Home to lowest point in all of North America, Badwater, and less than 100 miles form the highest point in the whole United States, Mt Whitney, Death Valley really has everything.

Read about all of my favorite Death Valley spots here

Kings Canyon & Sequoia National Park

This beautiful national park has a wide variety of backcountry to explore ranging from waterfalls and rivers to trails and forests. It also has one of the best caves in California and two of the largest trees in the entire world.

Joshua Tree National Park

Somewhat like Death Valley National Park, Joshua Tree is a desert park that has a huge amount of natural rock formations that are a draw for rock climbers all over the USA as they have routes from easy to difficult. They also have a natural arch rock, 5000 foot peak and a collection of Joshua Trees and Cholla "Jumping" Cactus. It is home to a huge collection of the unique Joshua Tree, from which it gets its name.

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Lassen Volcanic National Park is the northern most National Park in California and sets itself apart with both a selection of large peaks as well as lots of volcanic activity. One of the best parts of the park is Lassen Peak which is a 10,000 foot peak that is easy accessible, as it is only around 5 miles round trip, and provides a beautiful 360 degree view of the entire park and even Mt Shasta. From there the park also offers an amazing trip to Bumpass Hell which is volcanic area. A less traveled park that is well worth an extended stay. There is also hundreds of miles of trails for you to explore as well.

Pinnacles National Park

Pinnacles National Park is one of the lesser known gems in California and the newest of its National Parks. With only 150,000 people even entering it each year it doesn't get a lot of foot traffic. This is mostly due to the fact that it is close to Yosemite and Sequoia so people probably skip it for one of those. However, Pinnacles National Monument is amazing. It has caves, peaks and a general other worldly landscape that is beautiful and will have you exploring for days. I would not recommend it in the heat of the summer as I went around July and it was around 104 degrees. During the cooler months though this is a great place to check out.

Redwoods National Park

Home of the famous and massive redwoods, this National Park in the North West part of California is home to a plethora of beautiful groves, massive trees and unique hikes. Lady Bird Johnson Grove is my personal favorite but if you are near by you should drive the Avenue of the Giants as well.

Yosemite National Park

My favorite park in California but also one of the busiest. When you leave the tunnel and enter the park, I believe you would be hard-pressed to find a better view anywhere that captures that much beauty (if you have been there you will know what I mean). Yosemite National Park is full of hikes, nature, and rock climbing and really has something for everyone. Even if camping is not your thing they have a beautiful and expensive hotel called the Ahwahnee that is located right in the heart of the park. If you see one thing in California in your life my recommendation would be Yosemite. My write ups for this area is little lacking just because I have been there many times in my youth, but less recently, so I do not have a lot of great pictures to show for it.

National Monuments

California also has 11 different National Monuments. Some are 1,000’s of acres and some are just a small piece of land, but all of them encompass a beauty that makes California unique. I have only travelled to a couple of them, but have left the full list here for you to enjoy and will update more as I get to visit more of them. Check them out below.

Cabrillo National Monument

Cabrillo National Park is different than others on this list as it is centered around a monument of Juan Rodrigues Cabrillo on the outer tip of the peninsula facing San Diego.  However, just because that is the focus, it does not mean there is not a lot to explore here as well. There is an old turn of the century lighthouse, new modern lighthouse, collection of tide pools and a couple different hiking / walking trails. It is an interesting area that provides some beautiful views of San Diego and even Tijuana in the distance.

Santa Rosa and San Jacinto National Monument

"Rising abruptly from the desert floor, the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument reaches an elevation of 10,834 feet at the summit of Mount San Jacinto. The National Monument’s boundary encompasses about 272,000 acres, including 65,000 acres within the San Jacinto Ranger District of the San Bernardino National Forest, and 89,500 acres within the Bureau of Land Management’s California Desert Conservation Area.  The National Monument includes two federal Wilderness Areas:  the Santa Rosa Wilderness which contains 61,600 acres of BLM and Forest Service lands, and 19,470 acres of the Forest Service’s San Jacinto Wilderness."

Devils Postpile National Monument

"Devils Postpile National Monument is located near Mammoth Mountain in extreme northeastern Madera County in eastern California. It was created in 1911, and protects Devils Postpile, an unusual formation of columnar basalt. The name "Devils Postpile" refers to a dark cliff of columnar basalt. Modern potassium-argon dating indicates the formation was created by a lava flow at sometime less than 100,000 years ago, while other dating methods suggest that the lava flow might have occurred 700,000 years ago. The source of the lava is thought to have been somewhere near Upper Soda Springs campground at the north end of Pumice Flat on the floor of the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River, from where it flowed to the site of the Postpile and was impounded by a moraine. Estimates of the formations thickness range from 400 feet to 600 feet. In any event, the lava that now makes up the Postpile was near the bottom of this mass."

Muir Woods National Monument

Muir Woods is the closest spot to see redwood trees in the San Francisco area. The monument area is situated in a lush canyon, where you can stroll among the giants on a dozen or so miles of trails. The area technically extends all the way out to the coast as well, including the fantastic Muir Overlook, which is a very popular spot for travelers on Pacific Coast Highway. Read about both of these spots below.

Carrizo Plain National Monument

Carrizo Plain National Monument is a preserved area over 50 miles long and 15 miles across. It is the largest native grassland still remaining in California and it paints a picture of what the area would have looked like before humans settled it. Painted Rock also sits in the middle of the park and it is one of the best collection of rock art in California. The San Andreas Fault runs along the east portion of the park, making some impressive mountains that you can look up at. The area is best visited during the spring when the wildflowers are at full bloom.

Lava Beds National Monument

One of the most unique of all California's National Monuments, Lava Beds has over 700 lava tubes throughout its 40,000 acres. The park has developed trails to at least 20 of them and they are all so unique that it makes for an amazing place to explore. It is really out of the way when you are driving around California, but it is worth it to see. Here are the places I have explored in the park.

California Coastal National Monument

"Located off the 1,100 miles of California coastline, the California Coastal National Monument comprises more than 20,000 small islands, rocks, exposed reefs, and pinnacles between Mexico and Oregon. The scenic qualities and critical habitat of this public resource are protected as part of the National Landscape Conservation System, administered by the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Department of the Interior."

These are the rest of the National Monuments, I have not visited any of them yet but you can see them below.

Fort Ord National Monument

"Fort Ord National Monument encompasses a sweeping landscape of vivid beauty and rich biodiversity in the heart of California’s Central Coast.  In addition to its biological wonders, the area is notable for its historical significance, including its role in the Spanish settlement of California and in the military training of generations of American soldiers. The monument, which was designated in 2012, is a world-class destination for hikers, mountain bikers, and outdoor enthusiasts who come to enjoy the area’s history and scenic landscapes."

Charrizo Plain National Monument

"The Carrizo Plain is a large enclosed plain, approximately 50 miles long and up to 15 miles across, in southeastern San Luis Obispo County, California. It contains the 250,000 acre  Carrizo Plain National Monument, and it is the largest single native grassland remaining in California. It includes Painted Rock in the Carrizo Plain Rock Art Discontiguous District, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 2012 it was further designated a National Historic Landmark due to its archeological value. It is one of the easiest places to view surface fractures of the San Andreas Fault which traverses below the plain."

Giant Sequoia National Monument

"The monument includes 38 of the 39 Giant Sequoia groves in the Sequoia National Forest, amounting to about half of the sequoia groves currently in existence. This includes one of the ten largest Giant Sequoias, the Boole Tree. Its two parts are around Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks."

World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument

"Valor in the Pacific encompasses nine sites in three states associated with World War II: The Attack on Pearl Harbor, including the USS Arizona, Utah, and Oklahoma memorials in Hawaii; the Aleutian Islands Campaign on Attu Island, Kiska Island, and Atka Island in Alaska; and the Japanese American internment at Tule Lake War Relocation Center in California."

National Historic Sites

Here are the national historic sites in California. Most of them I have not been able to visit yet but here is the list so that you can visit them.
  • Alcatraz
  • Eugene O’Neill
  • Fort Point
  • Manzanar - Read about my time at Manzanar here.
  • Presidio

National Preserves

Mojave National Preserve

With over 1.6 million acres, Mojave National Preserve is an amazing place to spend some time. It is pretty remote with no food or gas, but the mountains, cave, mines and sand dunes make it somewhere you will not want to leave.

Point Reyes National Seashore

Point Reyes National Seashore is one of Northern California's favorite stomping grounds. The seashore has miles and miles of trails, a beauitful old lighthouse and a tunnel of cypress tress. I have only been twice but each time I leave wanting to explore more.

National Recreation Areas

Santa Monica Mountains

The backyard play area for Los Angeles, the Santa Monica Mountains overlook the priciest beaches in Malibu and have dozens of miles of trails. The 60-mile backbone trail was just completed to traverse the entire spine of the range and there are dozens of state parks to explore as well.


Whiskeytown lake and the 39,000 acres that surround it provide hundreds of opportunities to explore. The lake itself is situated in between a bunch of mountains and the blue water basically beckons you to spend some time on it. Around the exterior is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Northern California as well, known as Whiskeytown falls.

Keep checking back here as I continue to explore more of California's National Park and Monuments.

*Some information used from the BLM Monuments Page

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About JoshMc

Thanks for checking out the blog, I am happy to be sharing my adventures with you! You can get to know me by reading my about me, which includes a video and additional information on the site, myself and my full disclosure. Also, follow along on Twitter here or read all of my posts on this blog here.

  • I really like Lassen Volcanic National park. Sequoia is a great park too! I love Yosemite and some of the others too of course but I like the first two since I found far less tourists there. I really need to get back some day in the near future as its been many years now.

  • Katherine

    This website is really great! I’ve now spent about 30 minutes perusing different posts. I am considering moving to San Francisco and one of the main draws is how close I’ll be to so many beautiful National Parks and hikes.
    I tried researching all the different NPs in California last week using the NP official website- and I have to say, your site is much more user friendly and the photography is stunning! So happy I stumbled onto such a great resource and can’t wait to visit some of these places in person (fingers crossed!).

    • Katherine, thanks for the kind words! I am glad you like the site it means a lot to me! I am constantly trying to showcase how great California is through my blogs so I hope you can find some fun adventures if you move here!

  • Susie McGuffee

    Can you count how many national parks in California you been to?

    • I have been to all of the National Parks, but only a small amount of the monuments. Thanks for the comment!

  • Heather S

    Great blog! Kings Canyon is my favorite national park in California so far (though I haven’t been to Yosemite). The Cedar Grove area (into the canyon) is so beautiful, it takes my breath away. It is what I imagine Yosemite to be like, but without the crowds. Love the Kings River and the waterfalls. Hope you have a chance to get there soon!

    • Thanks for the comment Heather! I am hoping to visit Kings Canyon in the next few weeks, if that happens then the site should have a lot more info on it. Also, make sure you get to Yosemite it is so amazing.

  • Richard

    Excellent work here!….have you ever made it up to the Mt Shasta and McCloud areas?….There are some really cool waterfalls out on the McCloud River and not that many people!

  • Thanks for the message and let me know if you set up a site so I can check it out! That passport is a great recommendation, I don’t have one but it looks fun!

  • smw

    Hi Josh – I just discovered your blog and it will be indispensable for planning our trip to CA next year. Thank you for putting it together and sharing it with us! It’s fantastic! Do you have any recommendations for reasonably priced accommodations near Yosemite (or which towns near Yosemite that might be good options for reasonable accommodations)? Staying in Yosemite is out of our price range.

  • I agree, Burney Falls is easily one of my favorite places in California. It is so amazing when you see it for the first time!

  • Kyle

    You are missing 7 national monuments.

    Cesar E. Chavez National Monument? California Coastal National Monument? Sand to Snow National Monument? Mojave Trails National Monument? San Gabriel Mountains National Monument? Castle Mountains National Monument? Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument?

    • Thanks Kyle, that is true! I am actually visiting most all of these in the next few weeks, so this post should go through a massive overhaul soon!