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Top Ten Best State Parks in California

Updated on October 30, 2012
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Anza-Borrego Desert State ParkBig Basin Redwoods State ParkJulia Pfeiffer Burns State ParkAngel Island State ParkPrairie Creek Redwoods State ParkArthur B. Ripley Desert Woodland State ParkEmerald Bay State ParkAhjumawi Lava Springs State ParkGrover Hot Springs State ParkBodie State Park
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
Big Basin Redwoods State Park
Big Basin Redwoods State Park
Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
Angel Island State Park
Angel Island State Park
Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park
Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park
Arthur B. Ripley Desert Woodland State Park
Arthur B. Ripley Desert Woodland State Park
Emerald Bay State Park
Emerald Bay State Park
Ahjumawi Lava Springs State Park
Ahjumawi Lava Springs State Park
Grover Hot Springs State Park
Grover Hot Springs State Park
Bodie State Park
Bodie State Park

California is a beautiful state where there is a great opportunity to see a diverse range of nature. From the deserts of Death Valley to the beauty of the Pacific Coast, California is filled with different types of weather, flora, fauna and vistas. Visiting the top ten cities of California would give you great insight into the urban and rural life of the area but if you are specifically interested in studying the state’s natural attributes then you should forego the cities and check out the following ten great California State Parks instead.

1. Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. This state park is a must-see if for no other reason than it’s the largest state park in California and the second-largest in the entire nation. It is located in Southern California, near San Diego, and is a desert landscape set in a valley and surrounded by tall mountains. Desert animals including roadrunners, snakes and Desert Bighorn Sheep can all be seen here but what you really go to see is the striking vastness of desert land that spreads out before you in this part of California.

2. Big Basin Redwoods State Park. At the opposite end of the spectrum in terms of the nature of the park is Big Basin, a state park located in Northern California near the city of Santa Cruz. This state park is the oldest state park in California and it’s a popular one because it’s home to many of the state’s redwood tourists which are a popular natural tourist attraction in California. Animals here include birds and deer and natural features include waterfalls.

3. Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. Speaking of waterfalls, there are two different places along the California Coast where you can see the unique sight of a waterfall cascading down into the ocean. One of those is McWay Falls which is located inside of Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. This park is a beach park near Big Sur. It is a popular place for camping and is favored among people who enjoy nature but who like relatively easy and comfortable trails.

4. Angel Island State Park. This is one of the best small state parks in the state for tourists to enjoy. It’s located in the bay just outside of San Francisco so you have to take a ferry to get there. There aren’t too many trails but there is camping and picnicking and some historic landmarks located here. Plus it’s got an amazing view of San Francisco!

5. Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. This is one of a group of Redwood State and National Parks and is often considered to be the best of the bunch. Located up in Northern California by Humboldt County, it is a park that is rich and lush with plant life and animal life. There are massive redwood trees here that stretch over 300 feet tall and should be seen for their magnificence. Animals include elk and frogs.

6. Arthur B. Ripley Desert Woodland State Park. This is a really interesting state park area outside of Los Angeles. It’s a lesser-visited park so it’s great for people who are looking to get off the beaten path a bit. It’s a desert landscape that is heavily populated by the Joshua Tree. A must-see in this area is the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve which is about seven miles away from the park itself. This is a floral reserve for the California Poppy – and an amazing sight to see!

7. Emerald Bay State Park. One of the places that Northern Californians love to head to for vacation is Lake Tahoe and this state park is located right near that popular destination. It’s a beautiful lake area that’s different from the rest of the scenery at these other state parks because of its calmness and serenity.

8. Ahjumawi Lava Springs State Park. This is a hard-to-reach state park that must be accessed by boat. It is located in Northern California in Shasta County. There are primitive campsites here so it’s great for the person who truly wants to get away. The nature is interesting because the area is covered with dried lava flow. Birds are the most commonly-spotted wildlife in this area.

9. Grover Hot Springs State Park. This state park is located in Eastern California near the Sierra Nevada Mountains. It is one of the state’s parks that you can visit to enjoy the experience on natural hot springs, a treat no matter where you are from!

10. Bodie State Park. For something truly different, you might want to check out this state park which is actually a ghost town preserved in a state of arrested decay. It’s not like other state parks since it’s not a natural environment but rather the historic remnants of a once-thriving town. However, it is indeed considered a state park and will add a unique twist to your exploration of the state.



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  • profile image


    5 years ago

    I can't believe Point Lobos isn't on this list.

  • cheapestinsurance profile image


    7 years ago from California, USA

    The state parks of California are one of the most incredible things about California. If you live in California and don't visit the parks regularly, you are missing out on one of the most fantastic things that your home state has to offer!

  • AutumnLockwood profile image


    7 years ago from Northern California

    I live in Northern California and visit our local state parks several times a year, but am sad to say I have never visited any of the ones on your list...apparently I am missing out:) Thanks for the inspiration!

  • profile image

    Paintball Guy 

    7 years ago

    Great Hub. I have been looking for some new state parks to visit this year. Thanks!

  • profile image

    Weber Genesis E320 

    7 years ago

    cant wait to get there this summer

  • Dolores Monet profile image

    Dolores Monet 

    8 years ago from East Coast, United States

    Kathryn - years ago, my husband and I visited the Anza Borrego. He was in San Diego for business and I went along. Being from the east coast, we'd never seen a desert and so...I was flabbergasted. An incredible place. I've never seen a sky so blue or more dramatic scenery. I fell in love. Every single step totally changed the view. I had to keep stopping. And cried all the way back to San Diego.

  • profile image


    9 years ago

    Basically, I wanna do a roadtrip in August. If we were, we would drive in a Grand Vitara SUV. If we were to make a few stops to some US tourist sights (mount rushmore, grand canyon, etc.) along the way (and stay in a hotel overnight whatever state we’re in), how long do you guys think would it take?


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