California National Parks and Natural Landscapes

Featured California locations are listed below, and shown on the California map (south, north) – these are the most scenic places in the state, and include beaches, canyons, deserts, forests, lakes, mountains, rock formations, scenic drives and volcanic areas.

Alternatively, see these other California listings pages:

National Parks, National Monuments, National Recreation Areas and National Historic Sites
State Parks
State Natural Reserves

National Park Service Units

★★★★★ CABRILLO National Monument – rocky peninsula near San Diego
★★★★★ DEATH VALLEY National Park – starkly beautiful desert wilderness
★★★★★ DEVILS POSTPILE National Monument – unusual volcanic basalt formations in the eastern Sierra Nevada
★★★★★ GOLDEN GATE National Recreation Area – beaches, coastal bluffs, historic buildings and military sites around San Francisco
★★★★★ JOSHUA TREE National Park – desert, large rocks and curious plants
★★★★★ KINGS CANYON National Park – large wilderness area with deep canyons, lakes, sequoia trees and waterfalls
★★★★★ LASSEN VOLCANIC National Park – amazing volcanic and geothermal phenomena
★★★★★ LAVA BEDS National Monument – cinder cones, craters and lava caves in the far north
★★★★★ MANZANAR National Historic Site – remains of a WW2 internment camp, with a remote yet spectacular location in Owens Valley
★★★★★ MOJAVE National Preserve – excellent desert scenery
★★★★★ MUIR WOODS National Monument – small but accessible redwood forest north of San Francisco on the Marin Peninsula
★★★★★ PINNACLES National Park – isolated mountains composed of eroded, volcanic rock
★★★★★ POINT REYES National Seashore – isolated hilly peninsula bordered by miles of wind-swept beaches and cliffs
★★★★★ REDWOOD National and State Parks – dense coastal redwood forests
★★★★★ SANTA MONICA MOUNTAINS National Recreation Area – canyons, grassy hills and Pacific Ocean beaches, northwest of Los Angeles
★★★★★ SEQUOIA National Park – huge trees, cliffs and mountains
★★★★★ WHISKEYTOWN-SHASTA-TRINITY National Recreation Area – forested lakes in the northern California mountains
★★★★★ YOSEMITE National Park – glaciated peaks and valleys of great beauty

Other Major Scenic Places

★★★★★ ALABAMA HILLS – rounded granitic rocks below the eastern Sierra Nevada, containing many arches
★★★★★ ANZA-BORREGO DESERT State Park – large, varied area of canyons, mountains, desert and badlands
★★★★★ BIG SUR – the Pacific Coast of central California, south of Carmel
★★★★★ BIG BASIN REDWOODS State Park – thick coastal redwood forests in the Santa Cruz Mountains, south of San Jose
★★★★★ BODIE State Historical Park – exceptionally intact, well preserved and authentic California ghost town
★★★★★ CALAVERAS BIG TREES State Park – giant sequoia in the northern Sierra Nevada
★★★★★ CALIFORNIA MISSIONS – series of historic Spanish churches dating from 1769
★★★★★ EASTERN SIERRA – the steep, more remote east side of the Sierra Nevada, accessed by several paved roads to high elevation trailheads
★★★★★ HUMBOLDT REDWOODS State Park – ancient redwood forest in north California
★★★★★ LAKE TAHOE – major center for recreation, enclosed by high mountains
★★★★★ MONTANA DE ORO State Park – scenic, unspoilt section of the south California coast
★★★★★ PALM SPRINGS – exclusive city surrounded by deserts and mountains
★★★★★ POINT LOBOS State Natural Reserve – beautiful, rocky peninsula with abundant wildlife, near Carmel and Big Sur

Miscellaneous Locations
★★★★★ Algodones Dunes – vast sandy expanse in the far southeast
★★★★★ Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest – photogenic trees along the summit ridge of the White Mountains
★★★★★ Andrew Molera State Park – Big Sur beaches and coastal bluffs
★★★★★ Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve State Natural Reserve – orange poppies and other wildflowers, on low hills at the edge of the Mojave Desert
★★★★★ Box Canyon – twisting, eroded ravine, part of the San Andreas Fault
★★★★★ Calico Ghost Town Regional Park – partially restored silver mining town northeast of Barstow
★★★★★ Castle Crags State Park – sculptured granite cliffs in far north California
★★★★★ Crowley Lake Columns – eroded rock formations along the shoreline of Crowley Lake in Owens Valley
★★★★★ Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park – redwood groves alongside the Pacific Ocean
★★★★★ Donner Memorial State Park – historic location with a relaxing setting
★★★★★ Emerald Bay State Park – scenic inlet on the west side of Lake Tahoe, containing Fannette Island
★★★★★ Estero Bluffs State Park – undeveloped Pacific coastline with small beaches and eroded cliffs
★★★★★ Fossil Falls – dryfall and narrow ravine through ancient lava deposits
★★★★★ Garrapata State Park – beautiful section of the Big Sur coastline
★★★★★ Gaviota State Park – beaches, cliffs and coastal mountains, west of Santa Barbara
★★★★★ Giant Sequoia National Monument – many groves of giant sequoia trees, in the southern Sierra Nevada mountains
★★★★★ Griffith Park – hilly city park overlooking Hollywood and Los Angeles
★★★★★ Grizzly Creek Redwoods State Park – little-visited redwood groves along the Van Duzen River
★★★★★ Harmony Headlands State Park – sandstone formations along an isolated, roadless section of the Pacific coast
★★★★★ Hat Creek Volcanic Area – lava flows, craters, cinder cones and lava caves, near Lassen Volcanic NP
★★★★★ Hot Creek Geological Area – hot springs and fumaroles close to Mammoth Lakes, part of the Long Valley Caldera
★★★★★ Humboldt Lagoons State Park – forested lagoons beside the northern Pacific coast
★★★★★ Jacumba Outstanding Natural Area – desert and mountains near the Mexican border
★★★★★ Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park – giant redwoods in the far northwest
★★★★★ Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park – a coastal waterfall, beaches, cliffs and wooded hills, along Big Sur
★★★★★ Lost Coast – the wildest and least developed stretch of California’s Pacific coast
★★★★★ MacKerricher State Park – sand dunes, beaches and tidepools, on the Pacific coast north of Fort Bragg
★★★★★ Mammoth Lakes – ski resort town at the edge of the Sierra Nevada
★★★★★ McArthur Burney Falls Memorial State Park – beautiful waterfall and a wooded lake
★★★★★ Mendocino Headlands State Park – small promontory lined by cliffs, beaches and sea stacks
★★★★★ Mojave Trails National Monument – desert plains and mountains, crossed by Route 66 and other historic trails
★★★★★ Mono Lake – unusual lake in the eastern Sierra Nevada foothills
★★★★★ Montgomery Woods State Natural Reserve – remote, little-visited grove of redwoods in the Coastal Mountains
★★★★★ Morro Bay State Park – hills, marsh and shoreline around Morro Bay, including Morro Rock
★★★★★ Mount Shasta – snow-capped volcano in the Cascade range
★★★★★ Patricks Point State Park – compact, developed, wooded promontory along the north Pacific coast; a popular camping location
★★★★★ Pinnacles National Natural Landmark – strange spires in the desert south of Trona
★★★★★ Point Arena – unusual rocks and a historic lighthouse, along the Pacific coast
★★★★★ Point Cabrillo Light Station State Historic Park – lighthouse at the edge of grassy bluffs, lined by scenic inlets and offshore rocks
★★★★★ Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park – coastal redwoods near Crescent City
★★★★★ Rainbow Basin National Natural Landmark – weathered desert canyons and badlands
★★★★★ Red Rock Canyon State Park – exposed, eroded, colorful strata
★★★★★ Route 66 – long section of the old highway through the Mojave Desert
★★★★★ Saddleback Butte State Park – isolated peak in Antelope Valley, in the southern Mojave Desert
★★★★★ Salt Point State Park – undeveloped section of the north California coastline, with unusual sandstone formations
★★★★★ Salton Sea – large, shallow, salty inland lake bordering Imperial Valley
★★★★★ San Bernardino Mountains – steep-sided range northeast of San Bernardino, including Lake Arrowhead and Big Bear Lake
★★★★★ San Gabriel Mountains – hilly area providing a refuge from Los Angeles
★★★★★ Sand to Snow National Monument – varied preserve including desert ravines and mountain summits
★★★★★ Sonoma Coast State Park – 15 miles of beaches, cliffs and coastal grasslands, in Sonoma County, north California
★★★★★ Tomales Bay State Park – sheltered inlet at the edge of Point Reyes
★★★★★ Torrey Pines State Reserve – dunes and sandstone cliffs north of San Diego
★★★★★ Trinidad State Beach – beautiful section of the north California coastline
★★★★★ Vasquez Rocks County Park – exposed, angular strata north of Los Angeles
★★★★★ Volcanic Tableland – tuff plateau crossed by boulder-filled ravines, with many petroglyphs