One of the main reasons people visit California is to see the incredible national parks. California national parks are incredibly popular but are also very accessible. The parks feature out-of-this-world scenery, unique landscapes and real wilderness which entice visitors from around the world. Featuring volcanic peaks, strange rock formations, lush meadows and dry deserts, the diversity of the landscape in California comes to life in these national parks. But if you have limited time which are the best California national parks to visit?
We could tell you which California national parks we think are the best, but one of the best things about California’s national parks is that they have something for everyone. The parks cover a variety of landscapes and weather, so no matter what your interests, everyone will have a favorite. Below we’ve categorized the parks to help you select which parks you’ll enjoy the most.
Best California National Park for Fun and Unique activities
Yosemite – It’s hard not to be inspired and awe-struck by the fantastic vistas available in Yosemite. The views of Half Dome, Hetch Hetchy, Tuolumne Meadows and many others have provided inspiration for great artists and photographers. For more information see our Two Week Itinerary In and Around Yosemite National Park.
Best California Park for Scenic Drives
Redwood – Scenic is an understatement when you are driving by 300-foot-tall trees. The 8 mile Coastal Drive is spectacular.
Best California Park for Adventure
Kings Canyon & Sequoia National Park – This is a great spot for whitewater rafting, cave exploration, and rock climbing and waterfall hikes. After you’ve had enough adventure enjoy the soaring redwoods. For more detail on what to see, check out our One Week Itinerary for Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks.
Best California Park for Bear Spotting
Yosemite – the park is home to between 300 and 500 black bears. There are no grizzly bears in Yosemite. For more information on Yosemite bears see this National Park Service article
Death Valley – Peace and solitude can be found in the park’s 3.4 million acres of space. The scorching temperatures scare away many visitors so even in high season (outside summer months) the park is never overcrowded. For more details on what you can do see the one week itinerary for Joshua Tree and Death Valley
Best California Park for an Island Escape
Channel Islands National Park – The islands are only 14 miles offshore but are a world apart. Unless you have your own boat the only way to get to the islands is by park concessionaire boats. There is NO transportation available on the islands. All areas must be accessed by foot. Isolation over thousands of years has created unique animals, plants, and archeological resources found nowhere else on Earth.
Another factor to remember when choosing a park is how crowded it will be. Below you can see which parks are most popular via the total visits reported by the National Parks Service. These are the pre-COVID 2019 numbers are those are probably more representative than the current COVID affected numbers.
Yosemite National Park – 4.5 million visitors
Joshua Tree National Park – 2.988 million visitors
Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks – 1.878 million visitors
Death Valley National Park – 1.74 million visitors
The bigger the better! Having been a Disney Vacation Club member since the late 90s, our family has had the chance to try a number of the best pools at Walt Disney World and Disneyland. This was before the days when pool hopping was disallowed at the most popular spots like the Disney Beach Club. We loved to search out and try the larger pools with waterslides and other fun activities. We found the larger pools also allow people to spread out so you don’t feel like you are sitting or swimming on top of someone else. So where are the largest pools at WDW and Disneyland? Let’s have a look.
As of June 6, 2021 here is the California theme parks and national parks status, as well as details on restrictions currently in place due to COVID. With new regulations being rolled out things will likely change quickly over the next few months so check back often.
California Theme Parks Status
Disneyland Theme Park Status
Until June 15, 2021 only California residents may visit the Disneyland Resort theme parks in groups no larger than 3 households. Proof of residency may be required.
The State of California strongly recommends that all Guests be fully vaccinated or obtain a negative COVID-19 test prior to entering the theme parks.
Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa has begun a phased reopening. Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel will plan to reopen on June 15, 2021 with reduced capacity. The Disneyland Hotel will plan to reopen on July 2, 2021 with reduced capacity.
Universal Studios Hollywood is now open. In accordance with government guidelines, to visit you must either be a California resident oran out-of-state visitor who is fully vaccinated (at least 14 days after final dose was administered) for COVID-19 with a vaccine authorized for emergency use by the FDA or WHO (proof of COVID-19 vaccination and photo ID will be required for park entry by out-of-state visitors, click here for requirements). Unfortunately, at this time, we can only welcome out-of-state visitors age 12 and over as children under age 12 are not eligible for vaccination. Party size for all visitors is limited to a maximum of three households.
Select venues are open for limited operations, individual venue and cinema hours may vary. Click here for CityWalk Hours.
For enhanced safety measures everyone is required to wear a face covering during their visit. Everyone sharing a table to dine indoors must be from the same household. Outdoor dining tables may be shared by up to three households.
Knott’s Berry Farm
Knott’s Berry Farm & Knott’s Soak City Now Open – Tickets & Reservations Available
Attendance is currently limited to California residents. Out-of-state guests welcome starting June 15.
SeaWorld San Diego Status
SeaWorld San Diego is operating as a theme park. Per state restrictions, attendance is generally limited to California in-state visitors. Fully vaccinated persons from out-of-state can visit the park if they show proof of a fully completed COVID-19 vaccine. To adhere to capacity guidelines, and for the health and safety of our animals, employees and guests, reservations and proper face coverings are required to enter the park. Starting June 15, SeaWorld San Diego may return to usual operations with no COVID-19 restrictions.
Six Flags Discovery Kingdom
Six Flags Discovery Kingdom is open. According to the State of California requirements, only ‘in-state visitors’ may make a purchase and/or reservation at the current time.
LEGOLAND® California Resort is ready to play! Enjoy select* rides inside LEGOLAND Theme Park, plus LEGOLAND Water Park, SEA LIFE aquarium and both LEGOLAND Hotels at a limited capacity with advanced reservations required.
Theme park access is available for guests within the state of California. Out-of-state guests will be required to show valid identification and proof of COVID-19 vaccination that has been completed a minimum of 14 days prior to entering. Group sizes are limited to no larger than 3 households.
California National Parks Status
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park Status
The park is open. Consistent with CDC recommendations, people who are not fully vaccinated (less than 2 weeks past your final dose) must continue to wear masks indoors and in crowded outdoor spaces. All people, regardless of vaccination status, are required to wear a mask on all forms of public transportation and in healthcare settings on DOI lands.
The park is open with some restrictions. Reservations are required to drive into Yosemite.
Death Valley National Park Status
The park is open. Most park roads, trailheads and overlooks are open, with a few exceptions. Bonnie Claire Road and Scotty’s Castle remain closed due to ongoing flood recovery work.
Furnace Creek, Mesquite Spring, Wildrose and Emigrant Campgrounds are open. The primitive campgrounds at Eureka Dunes, Thorndike, Mahogany, Homestake Dry Camp, and Saline Valley Warm Springs are open.
Joshua Tree National Park
The park is open. All campgrounds are open. Park information and orientation materials are available in the following visitor centers: Oasis Visitor Center, Joshua Tree Visitor Center, Cottonwood Visitor Center.
Ok this is not in California, but it’s close. For those that like to visit both California and Arizona on the same trip (like me!), I thought I would share my cycling experiences in Scottsdale. Scottsdale is a great place to do some road biking. During the winters I’ve visited Scottsdale a number of times. The weather is great, the temperatures generally are not too hot (though one week did get above 90 degrees in March). Even if it does get really hot, it’s usually quite a bit cooler in the morning so you can still get out and enjoy a great ride. I find Scottsdale very bike friendly, there are a number of bike paths and designated bike lanes, and I find the drivers in Scottsdale fairly accommodating for cyclists. Some of the best cycling routes in Scottsdale are near to downtown, and there are also some great rides heading north from Scottsdale.
Where to Stay When Cycling in Scottsdale
I’ve stayed in a number of places in Scottsdale. I’ve stayed in north Scottsdale, and other times I’ve stayed closer to downtown. My preference is to stay closer to downtown as I like to ride in and around the Camelback and Mummy mountains, and the area downtown also has a number of easier rides on nicely paved paths dedicated to walkers and riders. I suggest staying in the area, closer to downtown, perhaps near the Arizona Canal which has a great bike path that can take you to a number of great areas.
Below you’ll find some of my favorite cycling routes in the Scottsdale area. I like the challenge of some climbing, so some of these routes are fairly challenging, but I will start out with a couple of easier / flatter rides for those people looking for some easy cruising. I have these Scottsdale Cycling Routes saved in Strava, so if you are a Strava member and actually want the Route file just let me know (via a comment below) and I can send it along.
Best Cycling Routes In Scottsdale – Route #1 – Scottsdale Arizona Canal Ride – 25 kilometers
This is a great ride to get acquainted with Scottsdale and some of the downtown area. The Arizona Canal flows through the middle of Scottsdale and has pretty good bike paths on both sides. Some sections are very small gravel, but most of the ride is on paved path. In general, there is no need to deal with any traffic, as you are on a dedicated multipurpose path. The scenery along the canal is great. This is roughly a twenty kilometer ride and should take you about an hour.
You can start this ride in a number of different areas along the canal. In this case I started around North 56th Street. Get on the path on the south side of the canal. Start riding north / east on the path. You will pass through some of the downtown area just before the path crosses East Camelback Rd. At Camelback Rd, cross the canal and take the path on the north side of the canal. Continue on the path all the way until the canal temporarily ends around the Scottsdale Silverado Golf Club. The path veers off into a number of directions here. This is a good turnaround point. Now head back along the canal back home.
Best Strava Cycling Routes In Scottsdale – Route #2 – East Sonoran Desert Dr to Anthem – 40 kilometers
Here’s a ride I found a few years ago when I was staying further north in Scottsdale. It’s also a flat ride, but you can add some hills if you go further into Anthem. Here you’ll be riding a quiet paved bicycle path through the desert until you get to Anthem. The views are spectacular.
There are a number of different places to start this ride, but I like to park at the Apache Wash Trailhead parking lot and head out from there. The Apache Wash Trailhead also offers some great hiking if you have some time.
From the parking lot head back towards the road and take the bike path heading west on the north side of E Sonoran Desert Dr, which becomes E Dove Valley Road. If you are looking for a longer ride, first head east on the bike path along E Sonoran Desert Dr until it ends and then double back to the Apache Wash Trail parking and then continue on this ride.
Continue west on the bike path until it ends near the housing developments off W Dove Valley Road. Here stay on W Dove Valley Road until it intersects with North Valley Parkway. Turn right and go north here for a short time and then turn right again on North 27th Dr and take this to the Carefree Highway. Turn left on Carefree Highway for a very short stretch and then turn right and go north on North Valley Parkway which eventually turns into N Gavilian Peak Parkway and leads you into Anthem. I usually ride up a little past the Anthem Community Park and then turn around and come back.
Best Cycling Routes in Scottsdale #3 – Mummy Mountain Ride – 25 kilometers
Ok here is a ride for people that love to climb hills. The added benefit of this ride is that it has some spectacular views of the Scottsdale / Phoenix area and also of the mountain itself. The homes on the mountain are pretty spectacular also. These are the homes of the rich and famous.
I usually start and end my ride near the corner of N Scottsdale Rd and E Indian Bend Rd. To begin ride west toward the mountain on E Indian Bend Rd. Then turn left on N Mockingbird Ln, and then right on East Lincoln. Your first hill awaits! Turn right on North Invergordon Rd and take it to the top (or as far as you can go).
Now let’s head for the second hill. Come back on Invergordon then turn left on E Cactus Wren, right on N 62nd, and then left on E Indian Bend Rd. Make a slight right on N 59th Pl and head to the top via E Glen Dr which becomes E Upper Glen. This is the highest elevation point on the ride so enjoy the views!
I won’t bother to give all the directions, but the highlights on the other side of the mountain in terms of climbs are E Roadrunner Rd, N Mohave Rd to NSeguero Rd, and N Hummingbird Lan to E Hummingbird Lane. As mentioned I have a Strava Route for this ride and am happy to share it. After this climb I exit back down E Hummingbird Ln to Scottsdale Rd.
Best Cycling Routes In Scottsdale – Route #4 – Tour of Camelback Ride – 33 kilometers
This ride is very similar to the Mummy Mountain Ride. A lot of hills to climb, and a lot of great views. But this ride around Camelback Mountain is a little longer and has a little more total elevation.
I also start this ride from N Scottsdale Rd. I take E Chapparal Rd to enter the mountain. Turn right on N Invergordon Rd, then turn left on E Cholla Ln. This is the first hill and a good warmup. The head back down and go over a block to E Sage Dr. Enjoy the ride to the top of this street, it’s short but steep with grade of 14% near the top.
Wind your way through the neighborhood or take E MacDonald Dr. The first destination is N Superstition Ln which has a nice run up. Next head a few blocks over and take a run up N 54th St to N 52 Pl.
On the west side of the mountain you can take E Arlington Rd up to N Camelback Canyon Dr. Take this as far as it goes.
Now we move over to the south side of the mountain. Here you will find the most challenging climbs. From E Camelback Rd, turn left on N Camelback Rd, the turn right on E White Gates Rd. Turn left on N Cliffside Dr and continue left on E Red Rock Dr. This will take you to the top and is the biggest climb of the day. The grade near the top is about 15%. If you want an even more challenging ride take Red Rock to the top in the opposite direction, the grade here approaches 20%! The view from the top is spectacular.
For your last climb take Red Rock down and find your way over to E Valle Vista Rd. After finishing that climb, you can connect to N 56th St and back to E Camelback Rd.
Best Strava Cycling Routes In Scottsdale – Route #5 – Ride to Fountain Hills – 101 kilometers
This is a longer ride for people that enjoy a nice four to five hour ride. The route starts along the Arizona Canal as described in Route #1, but then continues to Fountain Hills and slightly beyond. There is one large hill that rises gradually and then more sharply as you get to Fountain Hills. You then climb the hill again on the way back. So in total it’s a good 700 meters of climbing.
Follow the directions given in Route #1 along the Arizona Canal until you hit the Scottsdale Silverado Golf Club. Even though the Arizona Canal path ends here, a good part of the remaining ride is also on dedicated paved pathways. When you arrive at the golf club get off the Arizona Canal trail and follow the path on the north side of the golf course until you hit N Hayden Rd. Then take the path along N Hayden Rd north. At E McCormick Parkway I turn left. Follow the trail on the right side of the road and follow the trail as it turns right along the golf course. Follow this path until it reconnects with N Hayden Rd. Follow the trail as it parallels N Hayden, and then goes under N Hayden Rd. Follow the path until it connects with E Mountain View Rd. This is where the path ends, so take the bike lane on E Mountain View Rd and stay on the road as it veers right. Continue until you hit E Via Linda, turn left on this road and continue to E Shea Blvd.
You can ride the path on the north side of E Shea Blvd if you don’t want to ride on the road. Stay on E Shea Blvd for a while, it starts to go uphill here. here you start to feel like you are leaving the big city and heading towards the quieter mountain area. When you get to N Palisades Blvd turn left and continue into Fountain Hills. In Fountain Hills turn left on N Fountain Hills Blvd which turns into E McDowell Mountain Rd. Continue along this road until you feel like turning around! Then head home the same way you came.
As mentioned, if you want the Strava Routes, just put a comment in the comment section with your email and I will send them to you. Hope you enjoyed the rides! If you are hading to California, check out the Best Cycling Rides in San Diego post.