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California’s National Parks Ranked From Best To Worst (According To Visitors)

California is home to some of the best national parks in the entire country.

From the breathtaking landscapes of Yosemite to the colossal trees of Sequoia, there’s so much unique beauty and variety on display across the state.

But with all that natural beauty, it can be difficult to choose which national park is best (and few people manage to visit every single one!).

That’s why we’ve spent hours reading through real visitor reviews and ratings to say, once and for all, which California national park is the best.

Just a heads up, this guide ranks all 9 of California’s national parks from worst to best so you’ll have to read until the end to find out which park is crowned number 1.

Hint: The answer might surprise you!


The rankings in this article are all based on real visitor reviews from across the web.

We scoured reviews and ratings from Google, Yelp, Tripadvisor and and considered them all for the final ranking.

9. Pinnacles National Park

Coming in last on the list is Pinnacles National Park which is also California’s least visited national park. 

Although coming in 9th place, Pinnacles National Park is still a hidden gem and is located in central California, about 80 miles southeast of San Jose.

It’s known for its unique and striking rock formations, and offers a rugged landscape that seems like it’s from another planet. 

The park is particularly famous for its towering spires and massive boulders that are great for enthusiastic rock climbers and hikers. 

Visitors can explore over 30 miles of trails that wind through canyons and climb up to breathtaking views of the park’s volcanic rock formations. 

One of the coolest things to see at Pinnacles is the Talus Caves, formed by boulders falling and getting stuck in narrow canyons which have now created a series of natural cave systems.

The park is also home to the endangered California Condor, and if you’re lucky, you might spot one soaring overhead. 

Pinnacles is actually one of the newest national parks in the United States, having been designated as such in 2013. 

Despite its beauty and unique features, Pinnacles National Park ranks number 9 among California’s national parks in our list.

This is because it’s lesser known and smaller in size compared to its more famous counterparts. 

8. Death Valley National Park 

Securing the 8th spot on our list is Death Valley National Park which is a land of extremes and astonishing contrasts. 

Located in eastern California and extending into Nevada, it’s recognized as the hottest, driest and lowest national park in the United States. 

This vast park is famous for its surreal landscapes which include salt flats, sand dunes, badlands, valleys and mountains. 

You can explore iconic sites like Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America at 282 feet below sea level, and the mesmerizing Furnace Creek, where temperatures can soar to record-breaking highs. 

The park’s colorful rock formations, including Artists Palette, showcase how beautiful nature can be with hues of pink, gold and green. 

Despite its harsh environment, Death Valley offers stunning night skies which make it a popular spot for stargazing due to its remote location and clear skies. 

A fun fact about Death Valley is that it recorded the hottest ever temperature on Earth, a scorching 134°F in July 1913. 

Despite its uniqueness and beauty, Death Valley comes in at number 8 on the list.

While it provides unique and breathtaking views, the extreme temperatures can make visits challenging, especially in the summer months. 

7. Channel Islands National Park

At number 7 is Channel Islands National Park which is a breathtaking series of islands located just off the southern coast of California. 

This park consists of five islands, each offering something unique.

The park provides a sanctuary for a wide range of wildlife, including over 2,000 species of plants and animals, of which 145 are found nowhere else on Earth. 

In fact, it’s commonly referred to as the ‘Galapagos of North America’.

The islands are perfect for anyone that enjoys the outdoors as you can take part in hiking, kayaking, snorkeling and camping. 

Visitors are amazed by the crystal-clear waters, rugged coastline and the chance to see whales, dolphins and the adorable island foxes that call this place home.

The park’s isolation contributes to its untouched beauty and incredible biodiversity but it also means that getting there does require a bit more effort, typically a boat ride.

A fun fact about Channel Islands National Park is that it’s home to one of the world’s rarest trees, you’ll find the unique Torrey Pines on Santa Rosa Island.

It ranks at number 7 because, despite its stunning beauty and rich biodiversity, its accessibility limits the number of visitors who can experience its wonders first hand. 

6. Kings Canyon National Park

Claiming the 6th spot on the list is Kings Canyon National Park which is a hidden gem nestled in the heart of the Sierra Nevada mountains. 

This majestic park is famous for its deep valleys, sky-high trees and rugged terrain. 

It shares its boundary with Sequoia National Park, but it has its own unique landscapes, including the colossal Kings Canyon which is one of the deepest canyons in the United States. 

Visitors get to marvel at the towering sequoias in Grant Grove, home to the General Grant Tree, which is affectionately known as the “Nation’s Christmas Tree.” 

The park also offers endless outdoor activities, from scenic drives through the Sierra high country to challenging hikes leading to breathtaking waterfalls and serene alpine lakes. 

Despite its beauty, Kings Canyon is less crowded than its neighbor, Sequoia National Park, and offers a more peaceful environment.

Kings Canyon was actually established in 1940 to protect the giant sequoias and the dramatic landscape of the High Sierra. 

It ranks at number 6 because, although it offers stunning natural beauty and diverse activities, it is often overshadowed by the more famous national parks in California. 

5. Yosemite National Park

Coming in at number 5 is Yosemite National Park which is actually California’s most famous and most visited national park.

Yosemite National Park is a showcase of natural wonder and breathtaking beauty. 

Located in the Sierra Nevada mountains, Yosemite is renowned for its towering granite cliffs, thundering waterfalls and giant sequoia trees. 

The park’s iconic landmarks, such as Half Dome and El Capitan, are well-known to climbers and photographers from around the world for their unbelievable beauty and challenging hikes. 

Yosemite Valley, the heart of the park, offers easy access to famous sights like Yosemite Falls, one of the tallest waterfalls in North America, and the serene Mirror Lake. 

Beyond the valley, the park’s vast wilderness is super fun to explore, with over 800 miles of trails leading through pristine meadows, high mountain passes and ancient sequoia groves. 

Despite its immense beauty, Yosemite ranks at number 5 because it can get very crowded, especially during the peak summer months, which can affect visitors’ experiences. 

A fun fact about Yosemite is that it played a key role in the development of the national parks idea, thanks in part to John Muir, who helped establish Yosemite as a national park in 1890. 

This park is not just a national treasure but also a place of inspiration. It offers stunning landscapes and a connection to the natural world that is unforgettable. 

4. Sequoia National Park  

Grabbing the 4th spot in our rankings is Sequoia National Park.

Located in the southern Sierra Nevada mountains, this park is world-famous for its gigantic sequoia trees including the General Sherman Tree which is the largest tree on Earth by volume. 

These ancient trees are some of the largest and oldest living organisms in the world and have to be seen to be believed. 

Besides the sequoias, the park also offers stunning mountain landscapes, deep canyons and a wide variety of wildlife. 

Visitors can explore over 800 miles of hiking trails that range from easy walks through the Giant Forest to challenging hikes in the High Sierra. 

Sequoia National Park also offers the spectacular sight of the Great Western Divide, a series of mountain peaks that are visible from many viewpoints within the park. 

It ranks at number 4 due to the awe-inspiring giant sequoias that offer a unique and unforgettable experience that sets it apart. 

Despite its popularity, the vastness of Sequoia National Park means that visitors can still find moments of peace where they can truly connect with nature.

3. Lassen Volcanic National Park

Coming in at number 3 is Lassen Volcanic National Park which is a hotspot of geothermal wonder located in northeastern California. 

This park stands out for its remarkable volcanic landscape, including steaming fumaroles, clear mountain lakes and numerous volcanoes.

Lassen Peak, which is one of the largest plug dome volcanoes in the world, sits at the park’s center. 

You can even hike to the peak if you’re up for it, it’s actually one of California’s best hiking trails.

Visitors are drawn to the park’s unique hydrothermal sites like Bumpass Hell, a trail that leads to bubbling mud pots, steaming ground and boiling lakes. 

The park’s diverse landscape offers everything from serene hikes through forests to challenging mountain climbs.

Beyond its volcanic features, Lassen Volcanic National Park is also home to stunning wildflower displays in the spring and summer and winter snowscapes for snowshoeing and skiing. 

It ranks at number 3 because it offers the rare opportunity to explore a variety of volcanic features all in one place, combined with less crowds compared to more famous parks. 

A fun fact about Lassen is that it witnessed a series of eruptions from 1914 to 1921 after 27,000 years of dormancy. 

This led to its establishment as a national park in 1916 to protect the area for future study and enjoyment. 

2. Joshua Tree National Park

Taking the number 2 spot on the list is Joshua Tree National Park which is located in southeastern California.

The park is named after the Joshua trees which are twisted and bristled desert plants that are scattered throughout the area. They give the park its distinctive appearance. 

This park is also celebrated for its striking rock formations, star-filled night skies and a variety of plants and animals that have adapted to its harsh desert environment. 

Visitors flock to Joshua Tree for rock climbing, hiking, camping and photography, taking advantage of the park’s surreal scenery and peaceful surroundings. 

Among the must-see attractions are the Cholla Cactus Garden, the panoramic views from Keys View and the historic Keys Ranch. 

Joshua Tree is also great for stargazing as it offers some of the clearest night skies in California due to its remote location and minimal light pollution. 

It ranks at number 2 because of its unique beauty, accessibility for a variety of outdoor activities and its significance as a cultural and natural landmark. 

1. Redwood National Park 

Redwood National Park takes the crown as the number 1 national park in California, according to visitor reviews, and it’s not hard to see why. 

Situated along the coast of northern California, this park is world-renowned for its awe-inspiring redwood trees, some of the tallest and most ancient trees on Earth. 

These giant trees have formed a forest that feels both majestic and mystical. Exploring the park is a truly unique experience.

The park’s diverse ecosystems also include vast prairies, wild riverways and rugged coastline.

The park provides habitats for a wide variety of wildlife including sea lions, elk, black bears and over 400 bird species. 

Visitors can explore a network of trails that offer everything from leisurely walks through the forest to rigorous hikes along the scenic coast. 

One of the park’s highlights is the Stout Grove which is a relatively small grove featuring many 300 ft tall redwood trees.

Redwood National Park, along with the state parks it’s associated with, protects nearly half of the world’s remaining redwoods. 

There are only a few other places in the world where you can see redwoods.

It ranks at number 1 because it not only showcases some of the most spectacular natural wonders in the state but also provides a serene and almost spiritual experience that resonates deeply with those who visit. 

And that’s it!

That’s all of California’s national parks ranking from best to worst according to the people that have visited.

Sophie Davis

Born and raised in the Bay area of California, Sophie is a California native. She joined our team in 2023 to create travel guides on California.

Learn more about the Traveller's Elixir Team.

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