California is home to some of the world’s most incredible national parks that boast the tallest waterfalls, largest trees, and most extreme temperatures. Every April brings National Park Week, a celebration of the history, beauty, and culture of the nation's gorgeous public lands (this year, it runs through April 29). Check the National Park Service's events calendar for happenings throughout the rest of the week, such as free guided hikes in the Channel Islands and a Jumbo Rocks Evening Program in Joshua Tree. Think you know a lot about California's iconic parks? Test your knowledge with these eight facts.
1. Yosemite National Park was America’s first government-protected park, designated a public trust by President Abraham Lincoln in 1864.
When visiting this unforgettable park, just deciding where to begin is not easy. Start by putting these must-sees on your Yosemite bucket list, including a hike up to Yosemite Falls—the highest waterfall in North America—and a stop at Wawona Tunnel View to catch Half Dome, El Capitan, Bridalveil Fall, and Yosemite Valley within one panoramic photo.
2. Death Valley National Park is the largest national park in the Lower 48—and it sits 279 feet below sea level.
This 3.3-million acre park is the hottest and driest spot in America, with temperatures that can reach above 120 degrees in the summer. Take our recommendations for what to do in Death Valley National Park, including hikes to panoramic overlooks, drives to see dramatic rock formations, and more.
3. There are 200 caves in Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks, including the state’s longest cavern.
One of those caverns is Crystal Cave, where you can crawl through passages on the Wild Cave Tour. Caves aside, the park is best known for its gigantic sequoias, including the General Sherman Tree, the largest living thing in the world. Don’t miss the chance to drive through a tree (Tunnel Log), or get a panoramic view from the top of Moro Rock, which requires a 350-step climb. Read our story (or watch the video above) on more things to do in Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks.
4. Lassen Volcanic National Park is the only place on Earth that features all four types of volcanoes: shield, plug dome, cinder cone, and composite.
Bonus fact: The commanding Mount Lassen last erupted in 1915, and was the most recent volcanic activity in the continental U.S. until Mount St. Helens blew in 1980. We have 7 great ideas for what to do in Lassen Volcanic National Park, including a stroll around the peaceful Manzanita Lake and a stop by the bubbling and steaming pots of Sulphur Works.
5. There are 8,000 rock climbing routes throughout Joshua Tree National Park.
Not a climber? There are plenty of other things to do in Joshua Tree, from hiking and exploring to relaxing and stargazing. Learn dark-sky camera techniques with Joshua Tree Workshops, which include accommodations in B&B rooms or tents, and are scheduled around the new moon, when skies are the darkest.
6. Santa Cruz Island, in Channel Islands National Park, is the largest island in California—almost three times the size of Manhattan.
Located in Santa Barbara County, the Channel Islands are only 20 miles from Ventura and are accessible by boat or plane from Ventura Harbor (home to the park’s visitor’s center) and Oxnard Harbor. Paddle a kayak, surf, snorkel, hike, or go whale watching on this gorgeous chain of five islands.
7. At 379.7 feet, Hyperion in Redwood National and State Parks is the tallest known coastal redwood.
The sight of California’s northern coastal trees is awe-inspiring, as are the other features of Redwood National and State Parks. Keep an eye out for Roosevelt elk, the redwoods’ largest males, which can weigh around 1,100 pounds. Don’t miss the 9-mile roundtrip hike to Fern Canyon on James Irvine Trails. The fern-dripped wilderness—used as a backdrop for Jurassic Park 2—is well worth the trip. Here are more ideas for things to do while visiting the redwoods.
8. Pinnacles National Park is the youngest in the state of California—designated a national park in 2013.
Although the Pinnacles Volcanic Formation developed more than 20 million years ago, this national park in Salinas Valley is filled with volcanic rocks, craggy spires, and wildflowers. You can camp year round on the east side—the park is split between two entrances—and spend days rock climbing or bird-watching throughout the park. Get inspired by these five ideas for what to do in Pinnacles National Park.