Discover the 10 Best National Parks to Visit in Northern California

Written by Jeremiah Wright
Published: April 29, 2022
Image Credit Dan Sedran/Shutterstock.com
Share this post on:

The glittering state of California is not just one of America’s hottest travel destinations, but also a land of immense possibilities and real adventures. With its unmatched range of beaches, magnificent theme parks, incredible monuments, wineries, and Hollywood and its large economy and progressive politics, there’s never a dull moment in Northern California.

Millions of people worldwide tour this “Golden State” every year to explore the scenery, nightlife, Sierra Nevada Mountains, and the 840 miles of coastlines. Along with fast-track development, Northern California relentlessly pursues its dream of becoming a world-class city.

National parks and monuments in Northern California are oases amidst redwood forests, concrete jungles, incredible wildlife, and cliff-lined beaches. With over 28 national parks, California is by far the greatest asset and, arguably, a perfect destination to visit in the United States. Let’s look at 10 of the most famous national parks in Northern California that you should consider paying a visit to. 

1. Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park covers 759,620 acres of land.

iStock.com/agaliza

Yosemite National Park
LocationMariposa County
Size759,620 acres
Animals to SeeMule Deer, Coyotes, Black Bear, White-tailed Deer, Kangaroo Rats, Foxes, Bighorn Sheep, Bobcats, and Several Bats
Attractions to SeeGlacier Point, El Capitan, Merced River, Chilnualna Falls, Horsetail Fall, Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, Tunnel View, and Ansel Adam Gallery

With its magnificent sheer walls and breathtaking landscapes captured by Ansel Adams’ stunning white-and-black photographs, Yosemite National Park is like something out of a children’s picture book. It’s prevalent to hear people using terms like “magical” and “exceptional” to describe how they feel about this park.

Some of the most popular things here include camping, photography, hiking, climbing, or visiting museums and galleries. Make sure you visit some of the famous sections in the park, such as the Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, and El Capitan. They are among the most favorable and striking features in the park.

Half Dome, for instance, is particularly well-known for “Big Climbs.” You don’t have to be a climber to explore Half Dome. Just enjoy the views of this granite icon from any angle, and I guarantee you will appreciate why climbers from all over the world have been drawn here.

Keep your eyes open for a large furry animal if you’re walking along the Mariposa Grove and Tuolumne Meadows. You may also catch a glimpse of black bears along the Valley Loop Trail and Mirror Lake Trail.

2. Desolation Wilderness

Desolation Wilderness
Desolation Wilderness is an inspiration for photographers and nature lovers.

William Cushman/Shutterstock.com

Desolation Wilderness
LocationEl Dorado County
Size63,960 acres
Animals to SeePika, Douglas Squirrel, Black Bears, and a Variety of Mountain Birds
Attractions to SeeLake Tahoe, Mount Tallac, and a Camp Waterfall

Being one of the most popular hiking spots in the Tahoe area, Desolation Wilderness has long been an inspiration for photographers and nature lovers. It’s home to granite peaks, glacially-formed valleys and lakes, and subalpine forests. You can get the best views of the surroundings on top of a granite slope, which overlooks Emerald Bay.

Hike the Mount Tallac Trail for unparalleled views of Lake Tahoe. The trail is about ten miles long, and it may take you an entire day to reach the summit. You won’t get exhausted while on your way up because there’s so much to photograph.

3. Sequoia National Park

Sequoia National Park
Some areas of Sequoia National Park are covered with vast caverns, deep canyons, rugged foothills, and huge mountains.

iStock.com/Sara Edwards

Sequoia National Park
LocationTulare County
Size404,064 acres
Animals to SeeBlack Bears, Coyotes, Beavers, Deer, Opossums, Wolverines, Sheep, and Badgers 
Attractions to SeeGiant Forest, General Sherman Tree, Grant Grove, and Crystal Cave

Set in Tulare County in Northern California, Sequoia National Park has a complex landscape, with profoundly different appearances depending on the elevation. Ancient giant sequoia trees exemplify the diversity of landscapes in the park.

Some areas of Sequoia National Park are covered with vast caverns, deep canyons, rugged foothills, and huge mountains. Well-positioned hiking trails, nature paths, and vehicle parking lots are spread throughout the park, providing easy access to the breathtaking landscapes.

The park offers a variety of recreational opportunities and a chance to walk through the largest trees on the planet. Whether you prefer a short hike through the wilderness or tranquil stargazing at one of the park’s campgrounds – all kinds of adventure await you here.

4. Kings Canyon National Park

Best National Parks to Visit in July - King's Canyon National Park
Kings Canyon National Park is home to California kingsnakes, black bears, skunks, woodrats, bobcats, and foxes.

Leene/Shutterstock.com

Kings Canyon National Park
LocationFresno and Tulare Counties
Size461,901 acres
Animals to SeeCalifornia King Snake, Black Bears, Skunks, Woodrats, Bobcats, and foxes
Attractions to SeeGeneral Grant Tree, Grant Grove, Cedar Grove, Boyden cavern, and Zumwalt Meadow

No matter how long you plan to visit, Kings Canyon National Park will keep soothing your soul. This scenic wonder spot is filled with natural beauty and is one of the best places in Northern California for photography.

There’s so much to explore at Kings Canyon. It’s one of the deepest canyons in North America. One of the most popular sights you shouldn’t miss while in the area is the Grant Grove, Zumwalt Meadows, and the General Grant Tree. By visiting these sites, you will be able to experience the dramatic scenery and unrivaled beauty of the park.

Visit the park during winter to experience the deep, snowy silence of the giant trees. Snowshoeing and cross-country skiing offer a way to travel through Grant Grove and the Giant Forest in winter.

Whatever time you visit or activities you choose, you should tour King Canyon well prepared. Weather varies greatly in this area, and storms can occur at any time of year.

5. Death Valley National Park

Death Valley National Park
Death Valley National Park is one of California’s most amazing parks.

Dan Sedran/Shutterstock.com

Death Valley National Park
LocationInyo County
Size3,373,063 acres
Animals to SeeLizards, Ground Squirrels, Roadrunners, Ravens, and Coyotes
Attractions to SeeSand Dunes, Devil’s Golf Course, Keane Wonder Mine, Zabriskie Point, Ubehebe Crater, Rhyolite Ghost Town, and Badwater Basin

Ignore the forbidding name, Death Valley National Park is another of California’s most amazing parks. This captivating site will be hard to tear your eyes away from home to awe-inspiring dunes, mountains, craters, and salt flats.

Throughout the park, there are easy hikes to explore, spectacular vistas, and opportunities to simply soak up the tranquillity of the desert. This park offers a wide range of activities in diverse landscapes at any time of the year.

6. Trione-Annadel State Park

Trione-Annadel State Park
Trione-Annadel offers multiple trails for mountain biking, horseback riding, and hiking.

Brian Michelsen from Santa Rosa, California, USA / Creative Commons – License

Trione-Annadel State Park
LocationSonoma County
Size5,092 acres
Animals to SeeMountain Lions, Bobcats, Coyotes, Raccoons, Skunks, Opossums, and White-tailed deer
Attractions to SeeLake Ilsanjo, Beltane Ranch, and Ledson Marsh

Trione-Annadel State Park sprawls through areas of north San Francisco and Sonoma County. Contained within this spectacular state park in Northern California is Lake Ilsanjo, where most visitors go fishing.

Trione-Annadel offers multiple trails for mountain biking, horseback riding, and hiking. Get the best views of the blooming wildflowers by visiting the place between spring and early summer.

The diverse community of plants, such as forests, grasslands, and meadows, provides habitat for different species of animals. Visitors can spot coyotes, deer, and numerous bird species within the park.

7. Lassen Volcanic National Park

Lassen Volcanic National Park
Lassen Volcanic National Park is home to numerous volcanoes, broken landscapes of alpine forests, meadows, and steaming fumaroles.

Engel Ching/Shutterstock.com

Lassen Volcanic National Park
LocationTehama, Plumas, Lassen, and Shasta Counties
Size106,452 acres
Animals to SeeSkunks, Weasels, Foxes, Coyotes, Raccoons, Mountain Lions, Bobcats, and American Black bears
Attractions to SeeLassen Peak, Bumpass Hell, Fantastic Lava Beds, Subway Cave Lava Tube, Mount Tehama, Devil’s kitchen, and Boiling Springs Lake

A spectacular highlight nestled in four counties in Northern California, Lassen Volcanic National Park is a sight to behold. It’s home to numerous volcanoes, broken landscapes of alpine forests, meadows, stark lava beds, and steaming fumaroles.

Whether you’re a fan of wild forest land, meadows freckled with wildflowers, sheer cliffs, bubbling mud, or dramatic landscapes, you’ll find it (and so much more) in Lassen Volcanic National Park.

With so many natural wonders at your fingertips, the options for fun things to do at Lassen Volcanic National Park, either alone or with family and friends, are virtually endless, no matter what time you choose to visit.

8. Pinnacles National Park

Pinnacles National Park
Pinnacles National Park was formed as a result of eruptions from multiple volcanoes, giving rise to a unique landscape.

Zack Frank/Shutterstock.com

Pinnacles National Park
LocationSan Benito and Monterey County
Size26,606 acres
Animals to SeeChipmunks, Ground Squirrels, Brush Rabbits, Jackrabbits, Raccoons, Foxes, Bobcats, and Black-tailed Deer
Attractions to SeeCondor Gulch Overlook, Bear Gulch Nature Centre, Bear Gulch Cave, and Balconies Cave

Born of fire, Pinnacles National Park was formed as a result of eruptions from multiple volcanoes, giving rise to a unique landscape. It is one of the best places for hiking. There are over 30 miles of hiking trails ranging from easy to advanced.

Hikers journey through canyon bottoms, oak woodlands, and chaparral. Those who decide to enter the Balconies Caves and Bear Gulch Cave emerge to towering rock spires on the other end, which are also full of California condors, golden eagles, and peregrine falcons.

9. Prairie Creek Redwood State Park

Prairie Creek Redwood State Park is home to open meadows, sandy beaches, and old-growth Coast Redwood trees.

iStock.com/Oralleff

Prairie Creek Redwood State Park
LocationHumboldt County
Size14,000 acres
Animals to SeeMountain Lions, Bobcats, Chipmunks, Squirrels, Foxes, Skunks, Coyotes, Elks, Deer, and Black Bears
Attractions to SeeGold Bluffs Beach, Klamath River, Requa Road, Douglas Memorial Bridge, Elk Meadow Picnic Area, Lady Bird Johnson Grove, and Fern Canyon

Located in Humboldt County, California, Prairie Creek Redwood State Park is home to open meadows, sandy beaches, and old-growth Coast Redwood trees. By visiting this state park, you will see some of the most unique and majestic redwood trees that you can’t find in other state parks.

Prairie Creek Redwood State Park has much more to offer than just majestic redwood trees! Hike some of the trails like the Revelation Trail and Fern Canyon Trail that will lead you to fascinating views of the coastlines where cliffs and rocks alternate with sandy beaches.

10. Redwood National and State Parks

Redwood National Park
There are lots of activities to do at Redwood National Park, including scenic drives, hiking, camping, biking, and photography.

The Migrating Monkey/Shutterstock.com

Redwood National and State Parks
LocationHumboldt County
Size138,999 acres 
Animals to SeeRoosevelt Elk, Bald Eagles, Giant Green Sea Anemone, Bears, Deer, Snakes, Salamanders, and California Sea Lions 
Attractions to SeeFern Canyon, Stout Grove, Jedediah Smith Redwoods, and Redwood Creek Overlook

If you’re a fan of vast prairies, rugged coastlines, oak woodlands, and vast prairies (and who isn’t, really?) head to Redwood National Park. The park is named after the tallest redwood trees on earth, spread throughout the park.

There are lots of activities to do at Redwood National Park, including scenic drives, hiking, camping, biking, and photography. You can experience this park in just a few minutes, or you can take the whole week. So, it’s up to you to decide on a good walk or activity. There are dozens of trails to explore, but none is better than the other. Any trail you choose to hike will be the best eventually.

Share this post on:
About the Author

I hold seven years of professional experience in the content world, focusing on real estate, nature, and wildlife. Asides from writing, I enjoy surfing the internet and listening to music.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.