California has more national parks than anyone else in the country. The diverse range of landscapes you can find on the West Coast can be seen in the Golden State's 10 national parks.

California's national parks are some of the best in the entire system. National monuments, wilderness areas, seashores and preserves are also protected by the National Park Service.

These gems are not to be missed if you want to get outside and see nature in a different way. There are many national parks in California.

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Yosemite Falls is just one of the many iconic features in this quintessential national park © Christian / 500px

1. Yosemite National Park

For sheer grandeur, it's the best.

Even to those who have never been to a national park, it evokes nature's grandeur. The park's busiest and most developed part is the valley, which contains hits like the granite monster El Capitan and the waterfall Bridalveil Fall. The sequoia groves and wilderness trails of the other sections of the park are simply amazing.

Do you think in for the long haul? You can connect the dots from the heart of Yosemite to the top of Mt Whitney by packing that pack. The John Muir Trail goes step by step up and over six Sierra passes over 11,000 feet. You can join other obsessives crossing rivers and streams on their way to the Whitney summit.

Paying homage to the oldest living things on earth is possible. The stalwarts of the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest have stood the test of time. You can take the high-altitude road up to the White Mountains if you want to see the Sierra Nevada and the valley below. Get your bearings and catch your breath at the Visitor Center, which is powered by the sun.

Male hiker standing on rocks atop Glen Pass, Kings Canyon National Park, California, USA
Kings Canyon offers endless backcountry adventures © RooM the Agency / Alamy Stock Photo

2. & 3. Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

It's best for wilderness exploration and ancient trees.

These two parks are joined by a high-altitude roadway that leads to a national forest and Wilderness areas. There are groves of giant sequoias, wildflower-strewn meadow, gushing waterfalls, dramatic gorges and spectacular vistas all around.

With a dramatic cleft deeper than the Grand Canyon, Kings Canyon offers true adventure to those who desire seemingly endless verdant trails, rushing streams and gargantuan rock formations. The camping, exploration and climbing here are excellent. Kings Canyon has its own groves of sequoias, with trails that are much less traveled than the ones in the national park. The General Grant tree is the second largest tree in the world.

Most of the park's wilderness is occupied by Peaks more than 14,000ft high. The Kings Canyon Scenic Byway is open from April to October and is accessible to everyone who drives with confidence. The park's only entrance station is called the Big Stump.

If that wasn't enough, imagine crawling out of your tent into a "front yard" of trees as tall as a 20-story building and as old as the Bible, and you're good to go!

You can see dagger-sized stalactites in a 100,000-year-old cave, climb 350 steps to a granite dome, and drive through a 2000-year-old log if you choose. Before you even walk a trail, you'll see wild scenes, waterfalls, and encounters with black bears, as well as epic overnight backpacking trips that will lead you to deserted lakes and idyllic camps.

Hiking in Death Valley National Park is challenging but rewarding © Dan Sedran / Shutterstock

4. Death Valley National Park

Natural extremes are the best.

The place of Old Testament severity is evoked by the name. It is the hottest, driest and lowest national park in the United States. You will find sand dunes, water-sculpted canyons, rocks moving across the desert floor, extinct volcanic craters and plenty of endemic wildlife. In Death Valley, nature puts on a great show.

The national park visitor center, a gas station, ATM, post office and lodging are all located at Furnace Creek. A general store, restaurant, saloon and ice cream parlor are in the town square. Gas, food and lodging are included in the facilities at Stovepipe Wells Village.

You can get a park entry permit from the self-service pay stations along the park's access roads and at the visitor center.

Manzanita Lake and Lassen Peak, Lassen National Park
The world’s largest plug-dome volcano is reflected in Manzanita Lake © MBRubin / Getty Images

5. Lassen Volcanic National Park

It's the best for landscapes other than wordly ones.

In contrast to the cool, green conifer forest that surrounds it is the dry, smoldering, treeless terrain of the national park. In the winter, tons of snow prevent you from getting too far inside. To enter the park from the southwest entrance is to step into a different world. The lava scape shows the fiery core of the Earth. The terrain is marked by hot springs, steamy mud pots, noxious sulfur vents, fumaroles and lava flows.

In the past, the region was used as a meeting point for Native American tribes who hunted deer and gathered plants to make baskets. Some Indigenous people still live nearby and work with the park to educate visitors on their culture.

There is a 17 mile section of the Pacific Crest Trail in the park. The first 1.3 miles of the Lassen Peak Trail are suitable for families. Even if the weather is cloudy, the view from the top is amazing.

There is a 2.3 mile trail that leads to Mill Creek Falls. There are bubbling mud pots, hissing steam vent, fountains and fumaroles on the roadside. There are strange colored pools and billowing clouds of steam at Bumpass Hell.

Moon Rise and Condor in Flight at Pinnacles National Park
A condor flies in front of the moon in front of rock formations at Pinnacles National Park © NickLustPhotography / Getty Images

6. Pinnacles National Park

It's the best for condor spotting.

Millions of years of erosion have resulted in the park's craggy monoliths, sheer- walled canyons and twisting caves. In addition to hiking and rock climbing, the park's biggest attractions are its two talus caves.

There is a natural barrier between the park and the spires. The east entrance is accessed via Highway 25 from Hollister and Highway 146. On one side there are visitor centers. You can hike to the other side of the park in about an hour. There are California condors in the park.

The best time to visit is during the spring or fall.

Seussian Joshua trees sprout from the desert of Joshua Tree National Park © Dennis Silvas / Shutterstock

7. Joshua Tree National Park

It's the best for desert views.

At the convergence of the Colorado and Mojave Deserts, there are Joshua trees that look like books. Climbers know that the best place to climb in California is at "JT", where they can scramble up, down and around the giant boulders. Hikers look for hidden, shady desert-fan-palm oases while mountain bikers are hypnotized by the desert vistas. It is also a great place to spend time outdoors.

The Joshua tree is named after the biblical prophet Joshua who pointed the way to the promised land. In the spring, the trees send up a large flower, while the ocotillo cactus shoots out flowers. U2 spent time here while recording their 1987 album The Joshua Tree. You can base yourself in the desert communities along the northern perimeter of the park.

A man walks on a path by giant trees in Redwood National Park, California, USA
Walking through Redwood National Park draws your eyes upward © Carmen Martínez Torrón / Getty Images

8. Redwood National Park

It's best to look up.

This park is the southernmost of a patchwork of state and federal lands. You can pick up a map at the visitor center. If you go inland on Bald Hills Road, you can either go to Lady Bird Johnson grove or get lost in the woods.

Only a limited number of cars per day are allowed access, and you can get a free permit at the visitor center. After a 6-mile rumble on an old logging road behind a locked gate and a moderately strenuous 4.5 mile round-trip hike, this can be a half-day trip. You can either take a one mile hike to the falls or take a 2.5 mile loop from the Davidson Road area.

There are footbridges that are removed during the winter due to high water. If you are hiking at this time of the year, you should check with a park Ranger to make sure the situation is okay.

Dolphin jumping out of the water in front of a rock arch formation
Swimmers leap from the water in Channel Islands National Park © Daniel Friend / Getty Images

9. Channel Islands National Park

For marine life, it's the best.

The Channel Islands are made up of eight islands lying off the coast. Channel Islands National Park is made up of four northern islands and one southern island. There are a lot of plants and animals that are unique to the islands. You can access the chain by boat.

There are several snorkeling, diving, swimming and kayaking opportunities on Anacapa, Santa Cruz and SantaRosa. Colonies of elephant seals can be found in San Miguel and Santa Barbara.

The islands get the most visitors in the summer and fall. The best times to visit are during the wildflower season in the spring and in the fall when the fog clears. It's ideal for whale-watching in the winter.

Other National Park Service-designated sites in California

A wooden ladder leading to the surface of Golden Dome Cave at Lava Beds National Monument © Alberto Loyo / Shutterstock

10. Lava Beds National Monument

For geology, it's the best.

There are lava flows, craters, cinder cones, spatter cones and amazing lava tubes in the 47,000 acres of lava Beds National Monument. The caves in the monument average a comfortable 55F (13C) no matter what the weather is like. There are Native American pictographs and petroglyphs in some parts of the park.

A wide view of the pathway leading to the lighthouse at Point Reyes National Seashore, Marin County, California, USA
The lighthouse at Point Reyes National Seashore looks like it’s perched at the end of the world © Jerry Sanchez / Shutterstock

11. Point Reyes National Seashore

It's best for hitting waves.

Marine mammals and birds, as well as scores of wrecks, can be found at Point Reyes National seashore. You can see whales in the winter at the edge of the world lighthouse, which is whipped by ferocious winds.

Trees in Muir Woods National Monument, Marin County, California, USA
The majestic forest of Muir Woods National Monument is only 12 miles north of San Francisco © Zack Frank / Shutterstock

12. Muir Woods National Monument

It's the best place to get a taste of nature.

The world's tallest trees are only found in Northern California and southern Oregon. The closest redwood stand to San Francisco is 12 miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge at Muir Woods.

The area was eyed by loggers and they thought it would be a good place to build a dam. The plans were stopped when William Kent donated 295 acres to the federal government. The site was made a national monument by President Theodore Roosevelt.

Devils Postpile National Monument
The basalt columns that give Devils Postpile its name were created by ancient lava flows that rapidly cooled © Getty Images

13. Devils Postpile National Monument

It's the best for column climbing.

The most interesting thing to see in Reds Meadow is the volcanic formation of the national monument. The basalt columns formed when the rivers of molten lava slowed and cooled. From the top of the columns, you can see the honeycomb design. There is an easy half mile hike from the Ranger Station to the columns.

A 2.5 mile hike through fire-scarred forest leads to the spectacular Rainbow Falls, which is located over a 101ft basalt cliff. The best time to see a rainbow form is at midday. The Reds Meadow area has a cafe, a store, a campground and a pack station. The Reds Meadow area has a shuttle service.

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A lava tube in Mojave National Preserve hints at the dramatic geologic forces that shaped this corner of California © Airbnb

14. Mojave National Preserve

It's best for absolute solitude.

The wilderness of the Mojave National Preserve is a 1.6 million-acre expanse of dunes, Joshua trees, volcanic cinder cones and habitats for bighorn sheep and desert tortoises. You can spend an entire day or just a few hours driving around the free preserve, taking in natural sights such as giant "humming" dunes, an extinct volcano, and a huge Joshua- tree forest. Information and maps are available at the main visitor center.

When snowstorms are not uncommon, daytime temperatures plummet to 50F (10C) in the winter. You will be knocked over by strong winds in the fall. There is no gas inside the preserve.

Ansel Adams Wilderness is a desginated wilderness in the Eastern Sierras
Ansel Adams Wilderness is named for the famous photographer who introduced many Americans to the scenery of the West for the first time © Alamy Stock Photo

15. Ansel Adams Wilderness Area

It's the best for Alpine scenery.

There is a Wilderness Area abuts Inyo National Forest. Some of the most dramatic scenery in the Sierra Nevada can be found here, including lakes, high peaks, gorges and a few small glaciers.

A bristlecone pine with the Milky Way overhead in Schulman Grove in Inyo National Forest © Pamela Marcelino / Shutterstock

16. Inyo National Forest

It's best for high peaks.

An enormous area of nearly two million acres of dense forests, high peaks and lakes, as well as nine wilderness areas, can be found in Inyo. The network of trails and campgrounds includes Ranger stations in Lone Pine, Bishop, and Mono Basin. The Hoover Wilderness Area is located in the Inyo National Forest and contains 128,000 acres of paradise, including Virginia Lakes and high peaks to the west.

The article was first published in March 2021.