Whether looking for a perfect weekend adventure or planning a road trip, California’s parks are some of the most impressive in the United States. The state is leading in terms of the number of National Parks, but most of them are its best-hidden gems. Its famous parks, including Joshua Tree and the Redwoods, are preferred over the others.
But the lesser-known parks in California are also the ones with perfect volcanoes and host some of the world’s most spectacular diving destinations. The parks offer endless adventure opportunities, making the best options over the popular ones, which are always overcrowded. Here are the 10 underrated parks you should be checking out in California.
10 Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
The largest State Park in California, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is one of the best places to experience the wild side.
Travelers can reach this park in two hours from Riverside, San Diego, and Palm Springs. Boasting more than a dozen wilderness areas, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park has plenty of outdoor opportunities for adventurous vacationers.
There are plenty of dirt roads covering more than 500 miles where travelers will see several plant species, including wildflowers.
This park is one of the underrated parks one should be checking out in California.
- Entrance fee: $10 per vehicle per day
9 Channel Islands National Park
Channel Islands National Park is among California’s hidden gems because travelers can only get there on a boat ride and seating is also limited.
The park is incredible, boasting five stunning islands, including Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, Anacapa, Santa Barbara, and San Miguel.
These beautiful islands possess an incredible wealth of cultural and natural resources worth exploring.
Isolated for thousands of years, this park became home to unique animals, trees, and flowers. The park has a lot to offer travelers, and a wonderful trip experience is a guarantee.
8 Trona Pinnacles National Natural Landmark
Designated a National Natural Landmark in 1968 by the U.S. Interior Department, Trona Pinnacles are a unique geological feature, boasting over 500 tufa spires in the California Desert Conservation Area.
Varying in shape and size, some standing as high as 140 ft, this is a natural wonder worth exploring. Some are tall and thin, while others are short and squat, and have featured in several films and commercials.
Vacationers are allowed to camp in this beautiful park only for 14 days maximum.
7 Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
Home to McWay Falls, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is nestled along Highway 1, about 37 miles south of the gorgeous Carmel-by-the-Sea.
While this park is a popular photographers’ spot, it is one of the most underrated parks one should be checking out in California.
The park’s major attraction is its magnificent 80-ft McWay Falls, but there are plenty of other outdoor opportunities and scenic landscapes to explore, thanks to the spectacular surrounding cliffs, oak trees, hillsides, and breathtaking ocean views.
6 Grover Hot Springs State Park
Grover Hot Springs State Park is located south of the world-famous Lake Tahoe, and about four miles west of Markleeville.
This is the perfect spot for mountain getaways, thanks to the incredible summits, beautiful forests packed with pine trees, hot mineral pools, and alpine meadows.
Grover Hot Springs State Park is one of the most scenic spots in California, and it's hard to believe that it is a hidden gem.
Vacationers can go hiking, camping, picnicking, or soaking in its hot mineral pools — and have an unforgettable vacation experience.
5 Castle Mountains National Monument
Covering about 21,000 acres, Castle Mountains National Monument is majestically located between Mojave National Preserve and the Nevada state line.
The park boasts an incredible diversity of wildlife, gorgeous forests, grasslands, and fascinating history. Travelers will encounter some of the rarest wildflowers in the park.
Getting there involves a bumpy ride on dirt roads using a four-wheel drive.
Spring can be one of the best times to explore this beautiful place because the wildflowers bloom creating a gorgeous desert landscape of vivid colors.
4 Leo Carrillo State Park
Leo Carrillo State Park is a gorgeous destination that is only recognized by locals and just a handful of vacationers. It is situated along the PCH, Santa Monica's northeast side, and has a lot more to offer than travelers may realize.
This lesser-visited park boasts magnificent beachside caves, colorful reefs, beautiful tidepools, and more!
The spectacular stretch of coastline is one of the most surfing and swimming destinations in Southern California.
3 Lava Beds National Monument
Lava Beds National Monument is both a nature and historical lovers' paradise. It was created from several volcanic eruptions over the last half-million years on the Medicine Lake shield volcano, forming an incredibly rugged landscape with unique geological features.
The park has over 800 gorgeous caves, historical battlefields, stunning campsites, Native American rock art sites, and its vast desert wilderness awaiting exploration.
Lava Beds National Monument is one of the most underrated parks to check out in California.
2 Mount Diablo State Park
Travelers can access this magnificent State Park through five charming cities in the East Bay – Danville, Concord, Alamo, Cayton, and Walnut Creek.
Mount Diablo State Park boasts some of the most impressive vistas. Covering 8,539 square miles, this beautiful park allows visitors to see 40 counties of California on clear sunny days.
Families can go picnicking, hiking, or camping, as they take in the magnificent views of the Golden Gate Bridge.
1 Red Rock Canyon State Park
Movie buffs recognize Red Rock Canyon State Park because several old Hollywood westerns were filmed there, and exploring it would bring back the pictures of the desert cliffs and gorgeous rock formations to life.
Over many years, the park's outcrops have been eroded by water and wind, and only red towering walls have been left behind.
Visitors may spot several wild animals in this State Park, including saber-toothed cats and three-toed horses. Vacationers can also experience the Kawaiisu’s petroglyphs.