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California’s Must-See National Parks

by Josephine Hogan

Are you sick of being cooped up and want to get out for the weekend? But aren’t sure what to do while also social distancing? California is full of amazingly beautiful places to see, which is probably why there are so many national parks spread throughout the state. And it is a great way to get out while socially distancing.

Though there are plenty of national monuments and historic sites that you can visit in California as well. Today we’ve compiled a list of just the national parks you can visit in this stunning state. And as always, be sure to check the weather forecast as well as local and state guidelines before heading out on your next trip.

1) Channel Islands

If you’re looking for some quiet time while seeing some stunningly beautiful islands, then this is definitely the place for you. While you’re there, go on a hike or camp for a night. You can also go snorkeling or kayaking. But mostly you can spend the weekend relaxing within the beauty of the islands. Because there are several islands, be sure to plan your trip ahead of time to get the best of your weekend.

  • Address:
    • 1901 Spinnaker Drive, Ventura, CA 93001
  • When to go:
    • Year-round
  • Hours:
    • Park: Open 24 hours a day
    • Robert J. Lagomarsino Visitor Center: 8.30 am to 5 pm
    • Outdoors Santa Barbara Visitor Center: 10 am to 5 pm
  • How much does it cost:
    • Free
  • Website:
aerial photography of sea and mountain

2) Death Valley

Death Valley is the hottest, driest, and lowest national park. Which makes this below-sea-level basin a striking contrast. Here you can find towering peaks frosted with winter snow and vast fields of wildflowers among the desert scape. When planning a trip to this stunning basin, be sure to be prepared. It is the hottest and driest national park after all.

  • Address:
    • Furnace Creek, CA 92328
  • When to go:
    • Year-round
  • Hours:
    • Park: Open 24 hours a day
    • Furnace Creek Visitor Center: 9 am to 4.30 pm
  • How much does it cost:
    • Vehicle: $30
    • Motorcycle: $25
    • Individual: $15
  • Website:
person standing on top of mountain

3) Joshua Tree

Spend the weekend at Joshua Tree National Park exploring where two distinct desert landscapes meet. The sprawling park, coming in at nearly 800,000 acres, has so much to offer. From the sand dunes to granitic monoliths there is a bit of everything here. While out exploring, look for the vast plant and wildlife. And as always, be sure to plan for the trip. The heat can get a bit overwhelming during the summer months.

  • Address:
    • 74485 National Park Drive, Twentynine Palms, CA 92277-3597
  • When to go:
    • Year-round
  • Hours:
    • Park: Open 24 hours a day
    • Joshua Tree Visitor Center: 7.30 am to 5 pm
    • Oasis Visitor Center: 8.30 am to 5 pm
    • Cottonwood Visitor Center: 8.30 am to 4 pm
    •  Black Rock Nature Center: 8 am to 8 pm (Closed from June 1 to Sept 30)
  • How much does it cost:
    • Vehicle: $30
    • Motorcycle: $25
    • Individual: $15
  • Website:
green tree on brown field during sunset

4) Lassen Volcanic

Home to steaming fumaroles, meadows dotted with wildflowers, clear mountain lakes, and numerous volcanoes, this is one national park you don’t want to miss out on. You’ll be able to see the story of the volcanic past and the hot water that continues to shape the landscape today. Don’t forget to plan for your trip so you can properly explore the park’s beauty.

  • Address:
    • 38050 Highway 36 East, Park Headquarters, Mineral, CA 96063
  • When to go:
    • Year-round
  • Hours:
    • Park: Open 24 hours
    • Kohm Yah-Mah-Nee Visitor Center: 9 am to 5 pm (Check online for winter hours)
    • Loomis Museum: 9 am to 5 pm (closed Nov 1 to Memorial Day weekend)
  • How much does it cost:
    • Winter Pass: $10
    • Vehicle: $30
    • Motorcycle: $25
    • Individual: $15
  • Website: https://www.nps.gov/lavo/index.htm
green trees on brown field during daytime

5) Pinnacles

If you’re looking for a fun weekend exploring a truly unique landscape, then Pinnacles is the place for you. This national park was formed from multiple volcano eruptions to become what you can see today. Explore the chaparral and canyon bottoms. And even a talus cave or two. No matter what you decide to do, there are stunning landscapes to be seen. Don’t forget to check out the website and local guidelines before heading out for the weekend.

  • Address:
    • 5000 Highway 146, Paicines, CA 95043
  • When to go:
    • Year-round
  • Hours:
    • Park: Open 24 hours
    • East Pinnacles Book Store: Thursday- Monday 9 am to 4 pm
    • West Pinnacles Visitor Contact Station: Closed until further notice (due to COVID-19 restrictions)
  • How much does it cost:
    • Vehicles: $30
    • Motorcycle: $25
    • Individual: $15
  • Website:
silhouette of trees under starry night

6) Redwood

While it can seem like a no-brainer to go see the tallest trees on Earth because they are absolutely stunning. But there is so much more to see than just the stellar redwood trees. Plan to check them out, then head on over to some of the other places protected by the park. Like the miles of rugged coastline or the oak woodlands. No matter what you choose to do while visiting the park, it is bound to be a great time full of wonderful sites.

  • Address:
    • 1111 Second Street, Crescent City, CA 95531
  • When to go:
    • Year-round
  • Hours:
    • Park: Open 24 hours
    • Thomas H. Kuchel Visitor Center: 9 am to 5 pm
    • Prairie Creek Visitor Center: 9 am to 5 pm
    • Hiouchi Visitor Center: 9 am to 5 pm
    • Crescent City Information Center: 9 am to 5 pm (check online for winter hours)
    • Jedediah Smith Visitor Center: 9 am to 5 pm (closed from early Oct to mid-May)
  • How much does it cost:
    • Redwood National Park and State Parks: Free
    • Gold Bluffs Beach / Fern Canyon: $8
    • Jedediah Smith Campground: $8
  • Website:
landscape photography of forest

7) Sequoia and Kings Canyon

These two national parks lie next to each other in the southern Sierra Nevada. Together they have over 800,000 acres of land and hundreds of miles of hiking trails to enjoy. Like the Redwood National Park, these two parks are known for the massive trees. But while the ones on the coast are known for their height, the trees in this park are known for their girth. While visiting be sure to check out General Sherman, the world’s largest tree by volume. As always be sure to plan ahead. This park is known to get a bit of snow in the winter months.

  • Address:
    • 47050 Generals Highway, Three Rivers, CA 93271
  • When to go:
    • Year-Round
  • Hours:
    • Park: Open 24 hours
    • Foothills Visitor Center: 8 am to 4.30 pm (check online for winter hours)
    • Giant Forest Museum: 9 am to 5 pm (check online for winter hours)
    • Kings Canyon Visitor Center: 9 am to 4 pm
    • Lodgepole Visitor Center: 7 am to 4.30 pm
    • Cedar Grove Visitor Center: 9 am to 5 pm (closed between Sept 5 and May 23)
    • Mineral King Ranger Station: 8 am to 4 pm (closed between Sept 24 and May 24)
  • How much does it cost:
    • Vehicle: $35
    • Individual: $20
    • Motorcycle: $30
  • Website:
brown wooden fence in forest during daytime

8) Yosemite

No matter what you’re looking for, you’ll find it at Yosemite National Park. There are stunning waterfalls, like Yosemite Falls or the much smaller Vernal Falls. Or if you want gorgeous mount peaks, look no further than Cathedral Peak. But whatever you choose, you don’t want to miss out on Glacier Point where you can see the grandeur of Yosemite Valley.

  • Address:
    • 9035 Village Dr, Yosemite Valley, CA 95389
  • When to go:
    • Year-round
  • Hours:
    • Park: Open 24 hours
    • Valley Visitor Center: Currently closed due to COVID-19
  • How much does it cost:
    • Vehicle: $35
    • Motorcycle: $30
    • Individual: $20
  • Website:
aerial photo of mountain during sunrise

Though we only mentioned the national parks in California, there are plenty more national places to visit in the state. If you are looking for a national monument or a historic site to visit, be sure to check out the National Park’s website. Let us know in the comments what national park in California is your favorite.

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