Top 10 California State Parks to Visit in 2015

California is full of a diverse range of stunning landscapes that make up the state park system. From beaches and ancient forests to mountains and lakes, there’s tons to explore in California. Here’s a look at 10 of the top state parks in California that you should check out in 2015.

10. Red Rock Canyon State Park


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Photo by Sara Flemming

This park offers a good introduction into desert hiking for beginners and some beautiful red rock scenery as well. Some pretty well-known movies were shot here as well including the The Mummy and one of the opening scenes from Jurassic Park. It’s also full of history as well. For centuries, this park was an important trade route for many different Native American tribes including the Kawaiisu. Today, it’s just a great place to explore and discover some interesting landscapes and also get up close to Joshua trees.

9. Angel Island State Park

Angel Island Hike 2013

Photo by Ray Bouknight

It’s not the biggest state park in California, but Angel Island is uniquely situated in the Bay Area like its own little lonely wilderness. From Angel Island, you can catch some amazing views of the city of San Francisco without having to deal with the hustle and bustle of city life. In addition to the hiking, it’s a great place to ponder the century of military history found at the park as it was used to process troops for both WWI and WWII, in addition to housing immigrants and POWs.

8. Calaveras Big Trees State Park

Calaveras Big Trees State Park stump

“Big Stump.” Photo by dotpolka

This state park preserves two spectacular groves of giant sequoias, the largest trees on the face of the planet. Since the mid 1850s (when these large trees were put on the map) it’s been a draw for tourists and it’s considered to be the longest operated tourist attraction in California. If you visit, you’ve got to check out “Big Stump”, the first Sierra redwood recorded by Augustus T. Dowd in 1852 and thought to have been one of the largest sequoias in the region before it was cut down.

7. Trinidad State Beach

Trinidad Beach, CA

Photo by Rose Wahlin

You’re not likely to run into major crowds at this state park located far north on the California coast. In the spring, the headlands and cliffs here are filled with bright wildflowers that inundate the surrounding area. There are a number of beach areas including College Cove that serve as perfect refuge area from the strong winds that can occur. If the surf is just right, you’ll also be able to catch the natural blowhole that bursts out of Pewetole Island, a small island just off the beach that’s topped with towering Sitka spruce trees.

6. Emerald Bay State Park

Sunrise, Emerald Bay, Lake Tahoe, CA.

Photo by Steve Dunleavy

Emerald Bay is one of the most scenic spots in the Lake Tahoe area. It offers sweeping panoramic views of the the serene “Tahoe Blue” waters and is home to the only Island in the lake as well “Vikingsholm,” one of the best examples of Scandinavian architecture on this side of the world, according to

5. Sonoma Coast State Park


Photo by Daniel Gillaspia

Used as the backdrop for the closing scene of the hit movie The Goonies, this stretch of Northern California coastline is breathtaking and easily accessible as well. There’s numerous cliff-faced beaches perfectly suited for whale watching and craggy coastlines that are great for tide pooling. There’s also never any shortage of dramatic sunsets to capture while you soak in the experience and share the beaches with barking harbor seals.

4. Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

A stormy day @ Julia Pfieffer Burns State Park

Photo by Leigh Langman

This park offers some pretty enjoyable and easy hiking options but it’s the magnificent view of the “tidefalls” known as “McWay Falls” that sets this park apart from many others. Here, a thin waterfall spills eighty feet down onto the soft sands of this cove as waves of turquoise water wash ashore, creating one of the most spectacular photograph opportunities in the country.

3. Jedediah Smith State Park

Smith River

Photo by Mario Vaden –

Jedediah Smith State Park is one of the best places to explore California for redwoods due to the small crowds that frequent areas such as Stout Grove. In addition to the redwoods, there are some spectacular views of the Smith River to check out as well as the bumpy drive on Howland Hill Road, which will take you through some narrow turns so close to redwoods that you’ll be able to reach out your window and touch them.

2. Humboldt Redwoods State Park

Founder's Grove, Humboldt Redwoods State Park, Humboldt Co., CA

Phot by Steve Dunleavy

This is the third largest state park in California and it protects over 17,000 acres of untouched old growth redwoods, including Rockefeller Forest, which is the largest old growth redwood forest in the world. With over 100 miles of trails, this park is a hiker’s dream. Even if you’re not into the most strenuous of hiking, embarking on the 32 miles Avenue of the Giants auto tour is a must!

1. Anza-Borrego Desert State Park


Photo by Sameer Mundkur

Wrinkled badlands span a jagged horizon; a rocky creek runs through a cluster of palm trees in a hidden oasis, and—in the spring—millions of orange and purple petals overlay entire desert meadows. Such are the dramatic landscapes of the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, the second-largest state park in the continental United States. An often overlooked park in the Colorado Desert, it encompasses more than six hundred thousand acres including over five hundred miles of dirt roads, twelve wilderness areas, and over one hundred miles of hiking trails covering an extraordinary tapestry of dynamic desert terrain.

There are so many amazing state parks in California that it’s hard to narrow them down to 10 so I’m sure some of your favorites may have been left out. If that’s the case drop a comment below and let me know which park deserved a spot on the list!

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