The diversity among all the national parks of the West is astounding. Still, California’s have some of the starkest differences – from the cool Channel Islands and boiling-hot Death Valley to the bone-dry Joshua Tree and lush Yosemite. Have a look at some photos from these incredible landscapes and then plan a trip to take your own soon!
Channel Islands National Park
Anacapa Island, the smallest of the Channel Islands, has the largest protected breeding grounds of western seagulls in the world with 10,000-plus birds nesting from May through July. The trails that traverse the island make it tough not to get near an angry bird mama. Though some appear ready to attack, they’re just protecting the nest and want you to keep moving so they can feed their chicks and keep them warm.
Channel Islands National Park is made up of a very distinctive set of islands, including Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, San Miguel and Santa Barbara.
The Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, named after the mesquite trees that grow in the area, are home to kangaroo rats and sidewinder rattlesnakes, among other desert creatures.
Badwater Basin is the lowest point in North America at 282 feet below sea level. Nearby Furnace Creek reached 130 degrees in July 2021, the hottest temperature ever recorded on the planet (an unverified 1913 reading measured 134 degrees in Death Valley).
Joshua Tree became a national park in 1994, following a long history as a national monument. Visitor numbers have grown substantially since then. It’s named after the famous Yucca brevifolia Joshua trees that can be found in and around the park.
Though airplane and auto traffic have brightened the region, the night sky at Joshua Tree is still a wonder.
Campgrounds at Joshua Tree are often full, but sites are plentiful throughout the park.
One of the newest national parks, established in 2013 after being a national monument since 1908, Pinnacles is home to prairie falcons and a release site for California condors that have been hatched in captivity. More than 80% of the park is designated as Hain Wilderness, named after Schuyler Hain, a homesteader whose tours and advocacy led to the recognition of Pinnacles in the early 20th century.
Home to the world’s tallest trees and old-growth redwood forests, Redwood National Park (also part of the state park system) has trees standing at more than 300 feet tall and 2,000 years old. The park also features some 40 miles of rugged coastline.
Sequoia & Kings Canyon
Sequoia & Kings Canyon national parks, jointly administered since the 1940s (Sequoia itself became the nation’s second national park in 1890), boasts big trees of its own. There is a plethora of landscapes, hiking options and wildlife. A pair of favorites, of course, is the Giant Forest in Sequoia and Grant Grove in Kings Canyon. The former features the famed General Sherman Tree, which is the largest living sequoia.
What can be said about the Yosemite Valley that hasn’t been said a million times over? Yosemite is a timeless piece of wilderness. To keep it that way, the National Park Service has instituted a reservation requirement during the peak season in order to limit visitors. Do yourself a favor and also explore outside of the Valley. Your camera, and the bears, will thank you.