California's amazing national parks are where vacation dreams come true: Epic scenery, outdoor adventures, and timeless memories. It’s never too early to start planning, especially if you intend to visit during the peak summer season. Here's what you need to know about making a trip to California’s parks:
Redwood National Park
In the land of 30-story-high redwoods, two popular sites require advance planning this summer: Fern Canyon’s two-story cliffs covered in ferns and Tall Trees Grove, a cluster of majestic trees growing near Redwood Creek.
To drive to the Fern Canyon trailhead at Gold Bluffs Beach from May through September, you must have a free online parking permit, available for booking now. (If you can't score one, you can still hike to Fern Canyon via the James Irvine Trail, a 10-mile round-trip.) To drive the winding, narrow road to the Tall Trees Grove, you must apply for a free permit online, which grants you access to the grove road's locked gate.
Lodging and camping options are sprinkled throughout the 50-mile stretch of coast managed by Redwood National and State Parks. Check out lodging options in Crescent City, Eureka, Arcata, Trinidad, or Klamath.
Lassen Volcanic National Park
During the winter months, most of Lassen is closed due to heavy snow cover, but the park road typically opens around June 1—check here for updates. The 2021 Dixie Fire burned 73,000 acres on the park's eastern side, but many areas near the park's roads—including Manzanita Lake and much of the Southwest and Butte Lake areas—were unaffected. The park's most popular sites will be accessible during 2022, including Lassen Peak, Bumpass Hell, Sulphur Works, and Manzanita Lake.
Yosemite National Park
Hoping to savor the majesty of Yosemite's 3,000-foot-high cliffs, bald granite domes, and sparkling alpine lakes? Know before you go: Day-use reservations are required at all Yosemite entrances from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. from mid-May until late September. You can book a reservation for summer dates online, and you can sometimes find last-minute slots; each reservation is valid for three consecutive days. If your preferred dates are already filled, check back seven days before your scheduled trip. Additional passes will be released one week in advance of each summer date.
You don't need a day-use reservation if you have lodging or camping reservations inside the park, a Half Dome or wilderness backpacking permit, or if you ride into the park in a YARTS bus or with a licensed commercial guide.
If you don't have reservations and want to drive your own car into the park, you can do it before 6 a.m. or after 4 p.m. Reserve lodgings in gateway towns close to the park—Mariposa, Groveland, Oakhurst, Fish Camp, or Lee Vining—and enjoy fun local activities while you wait for the no-reservations hours: Take a hike on the Lewis Creek Trail near Oakhurst. Go for a swim at Rainbow Pool east of Groveland. Visit the Yosemite Climbing Museum or sip Cabernet at Butterfly Creek Winery. Walk the shoreline of Mono Lake in Lee Vining.
In other Yosemite news, Glacier Point Road will be closed in 2022 due to a major road improvement project. After a two-year hiatus, the Yosemite Valley shuttle system is operating with free service to 20 stops in the eastern valley. Additionally, Yosemite Hospitality's popular open-air Valley Floor Tour runs during the summer.
Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks
In the wake of 2021's KNP Complex wildfire, many regions in these side-by-side parks have already reopened, including Giant Forest, Grant Grove, and Foothills. You can drive into the park on Highway 180 from Fresno or Highway 198 from Visalia and Three Rivers. Trails to the giant sequoia trees at Giant Forest and Grant Grove—including the world's largest, the General Sherman—are open. The Generals Highway between the two parks is open, and the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway to Cedar Grove tends to open by late April or early May.
All in-park lodges typically open in early May (Bearpaw High Sierra Camp is closed for 2022). If you stay in Visalia or Three Rivers, you can ride the Sequoia Shuttle into the park instead of driving ($20 round-trip, from late May through early September). The shuttle drops you off at the Giant Forest Museum, and from there, free shuttles travel to the General Sherman Tree, Crescent Meadow, Moro Rock, and Lodgepole and Wolverton trailheads.
Death Valley National Park
This vast desert park is much hotter than Joshua Tree—115 degrees is common—but even so, Death Valley sees a lot of summer visitors. Rooms fill up fast, so reserve in-park lodgings far in advance at The Oasis at Death Valley or Stovepipe Wells Village. Trails and attractions will be open this summer except for Scotty's Castle, which remains closed until April 2023. Hike trails and visit scenic viewpoints in the cooler early morning hours, and don't miss Furnace Creek's recently revamped outdoor thermometer, a must for vacation selfies.
Pinnacles National Park
Pinnacles' craggy peaks, caves, and wildflowers have always been a major attraction in the Salinas Valley, but the park's visitor numbers have doubled since 2019. That means it's wise to visit on weekdays instead of weekends. Whether you drive to its west side or east side—and the two sides aren't connected by any roads—parking is extremely limited. There are no lodgings or campgrounds in the park, but camping is available at nearby Pinnacles Campground, or book a motel room in Soledad.
Channel Islands National Park
In California's Galapagos, you can camp and hike to your heart's content this summer. The park concessionaire, Island Packers, departs from Ventura Harbor Village and Oxnard's Channel Islands Harbor and runs day trips and overnight excursions to Santa Cruz Island, Santa Rosa Island, and San Miguel Island. Anacapa Island is temporarily closed while the park rebuilds its 50-year-old landing dock, but it may reopen during the second half of 2022. Book early for weekend campsites on the Channel Islands; you can usually score midweek sites even at the last minute.
Joshua Tree National Park
This Greater Palm Springs park saw a record three million visitors in 2021, and a surprisingly large percentage showed up from June to September, when temperatures often soar above 100 degrees. Even on the hottest days, don't expect solitude, but do expect fabulously starry skies, J-Tree's marquee flora, and amazing rock formations. Book in-park campsites at recreation.gov, or reserve lodgings outside the park in Twentynine Palms, the town of Joshua Tree, or Yucca Valley. When camping, remember to peek underneath your car before you drive away—desert tortoises sometimes seek shade under parked cars.