5 National Parks within driving distance from Los Angeles, most of them are doable as a day-trip!
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.
By Collin Morgan & J-F Wright
Sun, Apr 18, 2021 10:00 AM PST
Obviously we can't keep track of all the park's updated opening dates and hours - expecially during a pandemic. So please make sure to check the webiste of the National Park you want to visit, we've included links for each of our favorites.
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 many of the parks within a day’s drive.
Pro tip – the National Park Service has four free entrance days left in 2021. Make sure to take advantage of these days to explore a new National Park for free:
- August 4th - One year nniversary of the Great American Outdoors Act
- August 25th – National Park Service Birthday
- September 25th – National Public Lands Day
- November 11th – Veterans Day
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 are conveniently right next to each other and can be explored together. We'd recommend getting a hotel room or Airbnb close by (or camp?) to really get the full experience over a day or two, but this is doable as a day-trip from LA if you leave early and don't mind coming back late.
You can't miss 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 highest mountain off your bucket list!
On that note - mountainous altitudes have a huge impact on your stamina. We've noticed this when running 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.
Channel Islands National Park
1 hr 30 mins driving and 1-2 hr boat ride from the mainland to islands from Los Angeles (map)
Channel Islands National Park 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 plants and animals – 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 $45 for children and from $63 for adults for round-trip tickets. Make sure to reserve your tickets in advance. Oh yeah, 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 is a brilliant clash between two desert ecosystems, the Mojave and Colorado. The famous Joshua trees dot the vast landscape - among otherworldly life - hence the name. Jagged boulders and rock formations give the park a unique look, and 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)
Yosemite National Park is the epitome of what a National Park should be. Yosemite is breathtaking, wild, vast.... In other words: a masterpiece. Thunderous waterfalls, sheer cliffs, and towering sequoias are all for you to explore. Half Dome and El Capitan are two rock faces you have to see for yourself. You've seen pictures, but they are even more stunning in real life.
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 so many 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 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. Turn off all lights around you and once your eyes have adjusted to the night you'll see a starry sky like you never knew existed!
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.
About The Authors
Collin Morgan is a Grand Rapids, Michigan based writer and enjoys the unique and unusual aspects of the automotive industry. He has experienced the worldwide car culture firsthand and has visited the automotive shrines of Ferrari, Lamborghini, and Pagani in Central Italy, tackled the Autobahn, and toured Wales with a rally club. Back in the States, he frequents car events in Detroit and Chicago and is convinced Michigan is the most underrated state for picturesque drives. He owns a 1999 Miata and has happily allowed many good hair days to be ruined by the open road turbulence.
John-Fredrik Wright was born in Sweden, but raised on both sides of the Atlantic. His experience in the automotive industry starts with a summer-job as a host at Volkswagen’s premier showroom in Stockholm. Later, he worked as an instructor at Swedish Active Driving, teaching safe driving (among other things the renowned "elk-avoidance maneuver") and advanced driving techniques.