There is nothing more spectacular than driving over the brow of a hill or venturing around a headland and coming across a view so eye-catching that you forget to take a breath, something that happens regularly in California’s national parks. These adventure wonderlands are full to the brim with cinematic dreamscapes and endless natural diversity. Californian national parks are known and loved worldwide, making them hotspots for tourists, but with the help of our expert guides and in-country Concierges, you’ll find that there are still plenty of little hidden gems along the way. Below is our selection of the best national parks in California…
Yosemite National Park
It is only when you notice the ant-sized climber suspended from El Capital’s sheer overhang, that you realise just how unfathomably vast Yosemite National Park really is. Accompanied by an expert guide, hike through the lush swaying grasslands of Yosemite Valley and even stop for a paddleboard lesson on one of the babbling brooks that meander through the wide rocky ravine. Once your legs get tired, enjoy afternoon tea at the landmark Ahwahnee Hotel where you may be lucky enough to spot young black bears playing happily in the gardens. To end the day, experience that top-of-the-world feeling at Glacier Point, as the sun hits the tips of El Capitan and Half Dome, covering them in a fiery red glow and highlighting why Yosemite is one of the best national parks in California.
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks
Brimming with big trees, deep green canyons and dramatic scenery, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks rival Yosemite. Explore the Giant Forest where the smell of rich pine fills the air and find yourself wonderfully overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the timber towers. Amble through the colossal sequoias with a local guide until you reach the General Sherman tree. As the largest tree on Earth, you can’t miss it. Hop in the car and squeeze through the ancient archway of the Tunnel Tree – not something you do every day and it definitely makes an Instagram-worthy snap.
Death Valley National Park
The dry, barren landscape of Death Valley National is not for everyone, especially given that temperatures often soar past 50 degrees Celsius, however this lunar landscape offers some of the most extraordinary sights in all of California. Venture to Badwater Basin with its otherworldly hexagonal patterns and wide deep-pink sunsets, and you’ll be able to boast that you have been to the lowest point in North America. Death Valley is evidence that the best national parks in California are not just about landscapes and nature. For a culture hit, follow in the footsteps of 19th-century silver miners at the historic hillside town of Cerro Gordo, just outside the valley, where you can explore the original timber-clad buildings and ancient artifacts with the help of a local guide.
Lassen Volcanic National Park
Lassen is not only one of the best national parks in California but is also one of our top pics when it comes to exploring untouched wilderness. To get your adrenaline pumping, hike the geyser trail where geothermal pools bubble and the Sulphur smell is strong enough to make you want to hold your nose, or venture down to the glacier-blue waters of Manzanita Lake and hop on a kayak in search of a picturesque picnic spot. Explore the hidden gems of the park on a guided hike and discover the Painted Dunes that shimmer in shades of lavender and burnt orange, dotted with iridescent green spruces. While most tourists rush to see the billowing fumaroles and glassy lakes (which are undeniably worth a visit), the multicoloured pumice dunes are an off-the-map must.
Joshua Tree National Park
If quintessential Californian wilderness is what you are after, Joshua Tree National Park is the ultimate adventure while still only two hours from LA. The desert park is filled with Dr. Seuss-like Joshua trees situated within a magical lunar landscape. Try a spot of bouldering around the Instagrammable Skull rock, followed by a guided rock-climbing adventure if you want to push yourself a little further. Catch a glimpse of a greater roadrunner zipping back and forth between mounds of granite and rocky outcrops, or glance up at the sky as graceful hawks swirl overhead. With countless hiking trails around abandoned mines and spikey cactus gardens as far as the eye can see, visiting Joshua Tree national park is a must.