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Top 11 California State Parks You Must Visit

California is known for being home to some of the most epic national parks in the world, such as Death Valley, Joshua Tree, and Yosemite. But did you know that California has nearly 300 state parks that are just as stunning, unique, and inspiring? State parks are wonderful because they are scattered all over the state, often have lower admission fees than national parks, and really showcase the diverse landscapes of the region. These are some of the many awesome California state parks to check out for yourself.

Anza Borrego Desert State Park Dirt trail walking path in Anza Borrego Desert State Park
Credit: Dirt trail walking path in Anza Borrego Desert State Park by © Mkopka - Dreamstime.com

Anza Borrego Desert State Park

Expect rugged landscapes, wildflowers, and scenic trails when you visit Anza Borrego Desert State Park. This park is in southeastern California and features paved and primitive roads that lead to rocky hills, sandy terrain, and colorful blooms. There’s a visitor’s center here with exhibits and a short film to watch, as well as a desert garden with typical plants next to it. Late-February and early-March are usually the best times to see wildflowers. The iconic Pacific Crest Trail passes through Anza Borrego.

Humboldt Redwoods State Park Humboldt Redwoods State Park and the Shrine Drive-Thru Tree
Credit: Humboldt Redwoods State Park and the Shrine Drive-Thru Tree by hillary h via Flickr

Humboldt Redwoods State Park

An iconic stop on the Pacific Coast Highway, Humboldt Redwoods State Park is home to ancient redwood trees that were once at risk for logging. In the North Coast region, this is one of the very best places to see redwoods, especially the 32-mile-long Avenue of the Giants. You can go boating, fishing, and swimming around the South Fork of the Eel River. Meanwhile, there are over 250 campsites at three campgrounds for overnight stays. Check out the visitor’s center and perhaps the marathons that are held in the park in May and October if you’re up for a serious challenge.

Point Lobos State Park Rocky Coast Crashing Waves Point Lobos California State Park
Credit: Rocky Coast Crashing Waves Point Lobos California State Park by © Kwiktor - Dreamstime.com

Point Lobos State Park

Point Lobos State Park is a nature destination on California’s central coast and an absolutely stunning place for photography, walking, and making art. In addition to the natural beauty of the area, there are many rare plants and interesting archaeological sites here. This reserve has been called the “crown jewel of the state park system” and is home to migrating gray whales, sea lions, seals, sea otters, and seabirds. Join a free public guided walk and visit the Whalers Cabin Museum. SCUBA diving and snorkeling are also popular here.

MacKerricher State Park Glass Beach, Fort Bragg
Credit: Glass Beach, Fort Bragg by Wollertz/shutterstock.com

MacKerricher State Park

Near the town of Fort Bragg, MacKerricher State Park is famous for its Glass Beach that makes you look at broken bottle glass in a whole new light. However, there’s much more to this park, such as the pristine dune and wetland ecosystem and tide pools along the shore. Here you can see seals along the coast and over 90 species of birds. Hikers, bikers, and joggers enjoy this park. Motorhomes and trailers up to 35-feet in length can also camp at this state park.

Garrapata State Park Coast landscape in Garrapata State Park
Credit: Coast landscape in Garrapata State Park by © Tupungato - Dreamstime.com

Garrapata State Park

Located in Monterrey County, Garrapata State Park features two beachfront miles with hiking and a 50-foot climb to an epic ocean view. Here you’ll see lots of coastal plants and perhaps some sea lions, seals, and California gray whales too depending on when you visit. You can bring your leashed dog to Garrapata Beach but not to the rest of the park.

Henry W. Coe State Park Close up of Gilia wildflowers, Henry W. Coe State Park
Credit: Close up of Gilia wildflowers, Henry W. Coe State Park by © Andrei Gabriel Stanescu - Dreamstime.com

Henry W. Coe State Park

Henry W. Coe State Park is a Northern California park with wide-open spaces and rugged terrain and steep canyons. The Ohlone Indians once called it home, and today, it is enjoyed by mountain bikers, hikers, backpackers, and photographers. Campers up to 22 feet can stay overnight here. Dogs are only allowed at the campground, paved roads, and the trail that connects the parking lot and visitor’s center.

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park Big Sur California Coastal Waterfall in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
Credit: Big Sur California Coastal Waterfall in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park by © Julie Shaw - Dreamstime.com

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is another stunning coastal park in California that was named after a pioneer woman in the Big Sur area. One of the best places for camping in Big Sur, here you’ll find dramatic 3,000-foot ridges, an 80-foot waterfall that drops into the ocean, redwood trees, and panoramic views. Keep in mind though that you cannot access the beach or ocean directly from this park.

Red Rock Canyon State Park Red Rock Canyon State Park in California
Credit: Red Rock Canyon State Park in California by © Uhg1234 - Dreamstime.com

Red Rock Canyon State Park

For amazing rock formations and desert cliffs that will take your breath away, make a trip to visit Red Rock Canyon State Park. This park is located where the Sierra Nevada and El Paso ranges meet with vivid colors you’ll never forget. You can camp here with a trailer or motorhome up to 30 feet long. The Ricardo Campground has developed sites, and camping is on a first-come, first-served basis. This is also a fun place to come for just the day to go hiking or bring your off-road vehicle to go exploring.

Sugarloaf Ridge State Park Fern lined hiking trail, Sugarloaf Ridge State Park
Credit: Fern lined hiking trail, Sugarloaf Ridge State Park by © Andrei Gabriel Stanescu - Dreamstime.com

Sugarloaf Ridge State Park

Sugarloaf Ridge State Park is a Northern California park in Sonoma County that is about an hour’s drive from the Golden Gate Bridge. Here you’ll see the headwaters of Sonoma Creek that runs through the gorge and canyon across the meadow and surrounded by ferns and redwoods. There’s a 25-foot waterfall that flows after winter rains and a nature trail along Sonoma Creek. Overall, there are 25 miles of hiking and horseback riding trails in the park, which makes for a fun day trip from the nearby town of Santa Rosa.

McArthur-Burney Falls State Park The beautiful McArthur-Burney Falls State Park
Credit: The beautiful McArthur-Burney Falls State Park by © Mike Brake - Dreamstime.com

McArthur-Burney Falls State Park

McArthur-Burney Falls State Park is a popular state park in Shasta County, Northern California. You can expect crowds on weekends between April and October. It’s located within the Modoc Plateau region and Cascade mountain range and has five miles of lake and streamside shoreline. The highlight of this park is the 129-foot Burney Falls, which flows at around 100 million gallons per day. The Pacific Crest Trail passes through the park.

Calaveras Big Trees State Park Looking up in a grove of Sequoia trees, Calaveras Big Trees State Park
Credit: Looking up in a grove of Sequoia trees, Calaveras Big Trees State Park by © Andrei Gabriel Stanescu - Dreamstime.com

Calaveras Big Trees State Park

Calaveras Big Trees State Park is another wonderful place to see the giant trees of California in the mid-elevations of the Sierra Nevada range. Giant sequoias thrive here, including the famous “Discovery Tree.” The visitor’s center has a museum and gift shop. Attractions here to see include the Lava Bluff Trail, Bradley Trail, and Stanislaus River. There are 129 total campsites here at two main campgrounds and miles of established trails to hike. In the winter, you can join a snowshoe hike in the North Grove.

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