The National Park Service, or NPS, is turning the big 100 this month – and we can’t wait to celebrate its centennial.
Since its inception on August 25, 1916, the NPS has been preserving the ecological and historical integrity of some of the country’s most breathtaking natural environments – and California is no exception.
The state’s nine national parks each represent a unique part of California’s diverse ecosystem and terrain and provide a glimpse into the Golden state’s rich history.
To celebrate the century old birthday of this great agency, the National Park Service invites you to “Find Your Park.” But why visit just one when you can visit nine? Inspired by the Washington Post’s How to Visit Nearly Every National Park in One Epic Road Trip, we have put together the ultimate road trip through all the national parks in California.
With the help of Google Maps (our loyal guide), we calculated that the shortest path through every national park in California would be 1,616 miles long and take 29 hours to drive through non-stop.
Starting from the Redwoods where tall trees are nothing short of abundant, and ending on the dry, desert plains of Joshua Tree, here’s how to explore all of California’s dynamic national parks – in one memorable road trip.
Stop #1: Redwood | Crescent City, California
Located on the upper northwestern part of California near the Oregon border, the Redwood National and State Parks encompass about 60 miles and are filled with the tallest trees on earth, vast prairies, oak woodlands and wild river ways. While Redwood offers many attractions and amenities, the majestic trees for which the park is named are, of course, the stars of the show. Find a grove and hug a redwood – or hug them all.
Stop #2: Lassen Volcanic | Mineral, California
Explore one of our planet’s most majestic natural wonders at Lassen Volcanic National Park. You’ll see steaming fumaroles, meadows freckled with wildflowers, clear mountain lakes and of course, a whole lot of volcanoes. These lava erupting giants will surely blow your middle school volcano science project out of the water.
Stop #3: Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front | Richmond, California
If you love learning about the men and women who put themselves on the line for victory during WWII, then you’ll definitely take delight in visiting Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front in the East Bay community of Richmond. You’ll see the faces, hear the stories and view educational and interactive exhibits that will transport you back in time.
Stop #4: Pinnacles | Paicines, California
Located in the small Coast Range Mountain town of Paicines, Pinnacles national park is one of the area’s most well-known landmarks. The site formed around 23 million years ago when multiple volcanoes erupted leaving behind a 30-mile-wide volcanic field that’s full of many species of plants and animals that call the rocks home.
Stop #5: Yosemite | Yosemite National Park, California
Being one of the country’s most recognized national parks is a quality that sets Yosemite apart. But there’s much more to the park than popularity. The valley’s grand waterfalls, deep valleys, meadows, ancient giant sequoias and vast wilderness are some of the natural beauties you can experience at Yosemite.
Stop #6: Sequoia & Kings Canyon | Three Rivers, California
Huge mountains, rugged foothills, deep canyons, vast caverns and the world’s largest trees are what Sequoia and Kings Canyon parks are all about. Located in the southern Sierra Nevada area east of the San Joaquin Valley, these parks attract some cute but dangerous creatures – black bears. So be careful when storing your food!
Stop #7: Channel Islands | Ventura, California
Made up of five small and remarkable islands, the Channel Islands give us an idea on how the coastal Southern California terrain and ecosystem once was. The islands isolation from the mainland have created unique animals, plants and archeological resources found nowhere else on Earth.
Stop #8: Death Valley | Death Valley, California
Taking the title as the hottest, driest and lowest national park, Death Valley is truly one to cross off your bucket list if you haven’t already done so. The park’s sizzling temperatures are especially high this time of year, so take precaution when heading out. Fun fact: despite its morbid name, you can find plenty of life in this extraordinary park.
Stop #9: Joshua Tree | Twentynine Palms, California
Another desert destination, Joshua Tree combines two distinct desert ecosystems, the Mojave and the Colorado in its vast and fascinating terrain. You can find a variety of plants and animals here, as well as rugged mountains of twisted rock that give the park a really cool and unique look.
Are you inspired to get in on the anniversary fun? Pack your bags and check out what the state’s national parks are all about for an adventure you’ll never forget. And don’t forget to pack your “passport” – visit the Visitor Center at each park for a stamp to commemorate your visit.
Bonus: Bring your energetic fourth grader along for the ride. Thanks to the Every Kid in a Park program, fourth graders can visit all of the country’s national parks for free for an entire year!