Top National Parks in California
From the heights of Yosemite’s Half Dome to the depths of Death Valley, California has no shortage of awe-inspiring national parks, which draw some 40 million visitors annually. The state’s varied terrain makes for stunning landscapes rich with natural and cultural history. Here’s what you need to know about California’s top national parks.
Yosemite National Park
Nestled in the Sierra Nevada, Yosemite National Park can be explored on a day trip from San Francisco or Lake Tahoe. Hike through Yosemite Valley for close-ups of Yosemite Falls and Bridalveil Fall as well as the granite peaks of El Capitan and Half Dome, or book a tour that includes panoramic views from Glacier Point.
Death Valley National Park
Most often visited from Las Vegas, this extraordinary desert landscape—much of which lies below sea level—seems worlds away. Despite record-high temps and droughts, Death Valley supports an array of wildlife. Tours typically stop at viewpoints such as Furnace Creek, Artist’s Palette, Badwater Basin, Devil's Golf Course, Dante's Peak, and Zabriskie Point for photo ops and guided walks.
Joshua Tree National Park
Straddling the Mojave and Colorado deserts, Joshua Tree is revered by rock climbers for its distinctive geological formations. But the park is perhaps best-recognized by its namesake plant, actually a yucca palm, whose twisty, spiky branches make a great backdrop for a selfie. Choose your vehicle—van, Jeep, or Hummer—and make your getaway to Joshua Tree from Palm Springs.
Muir Woods National Monument
Just across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco, one of the Bay Area’s most popular natural treasures contains some of the tallest trees you’ll find anywhere. Stroll the easy, paved pathways through groves of old-growth coast redwoods and marvel at their height and girth. Tours include transport and parking (which itself requires a reservation if you visit independently), with easy side trips to nearby Sausalito.
Otherwise known as the Rock, Alcatraz is strategically placed on San Francisco Bay. Your admission ticket to the former federal penitentiary includes its award-winning audio tour and the boat ride to and from the island. Combine San Francisco sightseeing and other attractions to make the most of your visit to this National Historic Landmark District.