Luckily for us Angelenos, we have a plethora of National Parks to choose from, all within driving distance from our homes. Here’s 5 of our favorite National Parks near Los Angeles.
Los Angeles is known for being a sprawling city boasting Hollywood, fast cars and legions of people. However, with so many national parks near Los Angeles, L.A. is a National Park hub as well. Thanks to California’s 9 different national parks – the most in any state – Los Angeles is an ideal National Park road trip headquarters, with most of the parks within a day’s drive.
Pro tip – the National Park Service has three free entrance days left in 2020:
- August 25 – National Park Service Birthday
- September 26 – National Public Lands Day
- November 11 – Veterans Day
Make sure to take advantage of these days to explore a new National Park with an entrance fee! You’ll get in for free.
Here’s our list of our favorite 5 National Parks near Los Angeles, all within driving distance:
Sequoia / Kings Canyon National Parks
3 hr 30 min – 4 hr 30 min drive from Los Angeles (map)
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks (official park website) are conveniently right next to each other and can be explored together. We recommend getting a hotel room or Airbnb close by to really get the full experience over a day or two. You must see General Sherman – the world’s largest tree by volume. You’ll be staggered by the sheer scale of the trees in the Giant Forest, and you’ll find that skyscrapers were around long before humans created them.
The tallest mountain in the lower 48 – Mount Whitney – is situated on the eastern edge of the Parks in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Might as well visit and check both the tallest tree and mountain off your bucket list!
On that note – mountainous altitudes – have a huge impact on your stamina. We’ve noticed this when racing from General Sherman back up the path to the parking lot. It’s not far at all, but you’ll be winded when you get there (if you get there).
Channel Islands National Park
1 hr 30 mins driving and 1-2 hr boat ride from the mainland to islands from Los Angeles (map)
The mainland visitor center is temporarily closed, make sure to verify its status before taking the trip.
Channel Islands National Park (official park website) makes up 5 of the 8 islands resting on the distant western horizon of Los Angeles. The islands and surrounding marine sanctuary are a haven for over 2,000 different species of plant and animal – 145 of which are exclusive to the Park. Snorkeling, hiking and swimming are popular activities. There are no services on the island, so bring whatever you’ll need for the day including food and drinks.
The mainland visitor center is located in Ventura where you can learn about the island before departing on the 1-2 hour boat ride. The ferry fares range from $59 for round-trip adult tickets to $41 for children. Make sure to reserve your tickets in advance. There’s also a chance you’ll encounter whales or dolphins on the boat ride!
Joshua Tree National Park
2 hr 30 mins drive from Los Angeles (map)
Joshua Tree National Park (official park website) is a brilliant clash between two desert ecosystems, the Mojave and Colorado. Famous Joshua trees dot the vast landscape among otherworldly life, hence the name. Jagged boulders and rock formations give the park a unique look. You might be surprised that something so wild is relatively close to our sprawling city.
Most camping is first come, first serve, and admission is $30 per vehicle for a seven-day pass. The north entrance is populated with more Joshua trees than the south, and that’s what makes this Rhode Island-sized park so unique.
Yosemite National Park
5-hour drive from Los Angeles (map)
Reservations are currently required. You need a pass to travel on Tioga Road, but the park itself is gradually reopening.
Yosemite National Park (official park website) is the epitome of what a National Park should be. Yosemite is breathtaking, wild, or in other words, a masterpiece. Thunderous waterfalls, sheer cliffs, towering sequoias are all for you to explore. Half Dome and El Capitan are two rock faces you have to see for yourself.
Yosemite has become very crowded during the summer, and it’s just as beautiful in the spring or fall. This way you can absorb as much of the serenity of the park without the distraction of other people. If you’ve got the time, the route to Yosemite runs right by the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. That’s a perfect multi-day adventure just waiting for you.
Death Valley National Park
4-hour drive from Los Angeles (map)
Death Valley National Park (official park website) is truly one of the most extreme places in the United States. With over 3.4 million acres to explore, the vast violent landscape seems to stretch on forever. Temperatures can reach a scorching 130 degrees, and the park is home to the Badwater Basin, which boasts the lowest elevation in North America. Yet even as you sweat buckets, snow-capped mountain peaks sparkle in the distance. Death Valley contains a surprisingly diverse array of wildlife and landscapes with swirling sand dunes and dusty flats shimmering in the heat.
We recommend that you stay a night or two because Death Valley National Park is an official International Dark Sky Park. Be ready to see a starry sky like you never knew existed! As of July 2020 the park is gradually reopening, but most facilities remain closed due to Covid19. Also, during the summer months, be extremely wary of the heat… It’s no joke! Bring more water than you think you might need and avoid hiking after 10am.
Which National Park is your favorite? Have you been to any of the parks listed here?