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The most beautiful National Parks in California

We rank all the National Parks in California, from Yosemite to Pinnacles

Written by
Sarah Medina
Matt Charnock

California is great for a lot of things, but it might beat just about any US state when it comes to National Parks. After all, this is home to the likes of Yosemite and Joshua Tree, and a whole seven others too (the most of any state, by the way). 

These are a real treat for hiking and exploring, plus some of the nation’s most well-known fauna, like the California Condor and Yellowstone Bison, call these enormous parks home. But hey, you don’t need us to tell you why to visit them. You just need to tell you which order to do them in. Read on for the best National Parks in California. 

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This guide is by Time Out’s North America travel editor Sarah Medina and was updated by California-based writer Matt Charnock. At Time Out, all of our travel guides are written by local writers who know their cities inside out. For more about how we curate, see our editorial guidelines

Best National Parks in California

Yosemite National Park
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1. Yosemite National Park

With its towering granite cliffs, dramatic waterfalls and old-growth forests, it's no wonder that Yosemite is number one on this list. Throw in rock faces Half Dome and El Capitan, the Yosemite Valley and Yosemite Falls, the country's tallest waterfall, and we'd argue Yosemite is one of the best national parks in the country

🏞️ Discover the best things to do in Yosemite

Redwood National and State Parks
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2. Redwood National and State Parks

Redwood National and State Parks is home to some of the tallest trees on the planet. Encompassing more than 139,000 acres, RNSP is also one of the most ecologically diverse areas in North America and serves as an important breeding ground for the California condor. All of this means that the RNSP is usually packed with vistitors, especially on the weekends, but you can reserve tickets and parking in advance. 

Joshua Tree National Park
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3. Joshua Tree National Park

This exotic desert landscape is populated by thousands of its famous namesake, Joshua trees—as well as the boulders and rock formations that make the views so iconic. Changes in elevation make for starkly contrasting environments inside Joshua Tree National Park, including bleached sand dunes, dry lakes, rugged mountains, valleys full of wildflowers and giant clusters of granite monoliths.

📍 Discover the best things to do in Joshua Tree

Channel Islands National Park
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4. Channel Islands National Park

Called "the Galapagos of North America," the Channel Islands are made up of eight separate islands, five of which are protected and off-limits to the public. Since half of the park's area is underwater, consider renting a kayak and taking a guided tour of Painted Cave, one of the world's deepest sea caves. And keep your eyes peeled for the Island Fox, one of the rarest mammals on the planet.

Death Valley National Park
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5. Death Valley National Park

Death Valley's claim to fame is as the hottest, lowest and driest place in the USA, with temperatures topping an insane 130 degrees. That being said, the park is also home to a diverse array of colorful canyons, desolate badlands, shifting sand dunes and sprawling mountains, and 1,000 species of plants, plus salt flats, historic mines and hot and cold spring oases. Highlights include Badwater Basin, the lowest elevation in North America, and tons of spooky ghost towns

Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks
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6. Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks

This joint Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks are home to some of the world's largest trees. (The stately General Sherman and General Grant trees are the largest in the park). But it's also home to 240 caves, a scenic segment of the Sierra Nevada (including the tallest mountain in the contiguous United States), and Moro Rock, an isolated, dome-shaped granite formation with a rock-cut stairway to the panoramic summit.

Lassen Volcanic National Park
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7. Lassen Volcanic National Park

Lassen Volcanic rocks four different types of volcanoes including Lassen Peak, the largest plug dome volcano in the world. Lassen Peak last erupted in 1915, but much of the rest of the park is continuously active – molten rock heats numerous hydrothermal features including fumaroles, boiling pools and bubbling mud pots. But it's not all volcanoes here: the park is also known for its wildlfower meadows and clear mountain lakes. 

Pinnacles National Park
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8. Pinnacles National Park

One of the newest national parks in the USA (it got the title in 2013) and one of the least visited in California, Pinnacles draws in visitors with its, you guessed it, pinnacles – massive black-and-gold towers of andesite and rhyolite rock which are popular with climbers. Even if you only have one day, you can see many of the park's highlights including the Talus Caves and hiking the Condor Gulch Trail (and, yes, keep an eye out for condors). 

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