With 10 incredible National Parks located near San Francisco, the city is the perfect entry point to explore an array of national parks. From San Francisco, it takes less than a day to reach all 9 California National Parks as well as Crater Lake, Oregon’s only National Park.
We used San Francisco as a base to explore the surrounding National Parks and wanted to share our guide to the best National Parks near San Francisco!
10 National Parks Near San Francisco
From the towering sequoias in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks to the bubbling landscapes of Lassen Volcanic National Park and the barren landscapes of Death Valley, there are some incredible National Parks near San Francisco.
National Parks near San Franisco tip: all the National Parks listed below are within an 8 hour drive from San Francisco and can be easily reached within a day. We’re not suggesting that you can visit them all as a day trip from San Francisco but as a great addition to a trip to the city.
1 | Sequoia National Park, California
Drive Time from San Francisco: 4 hours 45 minutes
Sequoia National Park, and the adjacent Kings Canyon National Park, are home to the world’s tallest trees: the magnificent sequoia tree.
The world’s largest tree (by volume), the General Sherman is located in the park’s Giant Forest Sequoia Grove. It has a diameter of 36 feet at its base, is 275 feet tall, and continues to grow today. The General Sherman is estimated to be at least 2,300 years old.
Mount Whitney, the tallest peak in the contiguous US is also located on the boundary of the far eastern boundary of Sequoia National Park and Inyo National Forest. The Great Western Divide chain of mountains blocks views of Mount Whitney from within the park so, if you want to check it out, the best spot is the Interagency Visitor Center on Highway 395 on the east side of the Sierra.
Other highlights include Moro Rock, a 400 step climb which rewards with incredible views, the marble karst Crystal Cave and Tunnel Log, a fallen sequoia which cars can drive through.
2 | Pinnacles National Park, California
Drive time from San Francisco: 2 hours 15 minutes
125 miles south of San Francisco, Pinnacles National Park bears the remains of an ancient volcanic field.
One of the smallest National Parks in the US, Pinnacles boasts over 30 miles of trails and is one of the few locations the endangered California condor can be seen in the wild. Bat colonies reside in the Bear Gulch Cave and Balconies Cave and it’s possible to hike through the caves.
National Parks near San Francisco tip: Bear Gulch Cave, home to a colony of Townsend’s big-eared bats, are closed between mid-May and mid-July to protect the colony of bats as they raise their young. The park tries to keep at least part of the cave open for the rest of the year provided the bats show no signs of disturbance.
3 | Yosemite National Park, California
Drive Time from San Francisco: 3 hours 15 minutes
Located on the western Sierra Nevada Mountains the deep valleys, cascading waterfalls and giant sequoias are a magnet for visitors to Yosemite National Park. Yosemite is home to some fascinating residents and some lucky visitors spot black bears, mountain lions and bighorn sheep.
Most of the action takes place in Yosemite Valley which stretches almost 8 miles and was carved by glaciers millions of years ago.
Yosemite’s two most famous sights are Half Dome and El Captain: the permit only Half Dome rises 4,800 feet above the Yosemite Valley floor and sits across the valley from the equally impressive El Captain. Yosemite Falls, Bridalveil Falls, and Nevada Falls are among the magnificent waterfalls which cascade over the Yosemite rock and the most impressive views are from Glacier Point, Washburn Point, and Tunnel View.
National Parks Near San Francisco tips: the ‘Firefall’ is one of Yosemite’s most famous phenomons. On certain days, when conditions are clear and there is water flowing, the setting sun hits the 1,000 foot high Horsetail Fall at exactly the right angle to create the appearance of a stream of molten lava or fire. This typically happens for a few minutes each evening during late February and draws photographers to the waterfall viewing platform, a 1.5mile one way hike. Recent storms meant the ‘Firefall’ was also visible in October 2021.
4 | Channel Islands, California
Drive time from San Francisco: 5 hours 15 minutes to Santa Barbara, 5 hours 45 minutes to Ventura Harbour + boat (1 hour to Santa Cruz and Anacapa, 3 hours to Santa Rosa and Santa Barbara)
One of the most unique US National Parks, the Channel Islands National Park comprises a chain of five islands (Santa Cruz, Anacapa, Santa Rosa, Santa Barbara, and San Miguel) off California’s Pacific Coast.
The islands offer a return to nature and the chance to experience California as it once would have been. There is no transportation on the islands and they can only be accessed via boat, walking or kayaking and there are no services on the islands.
Anacapa Island, with 2 miles of trails and an abundance of watersports, is the most popular for first-time visitors along with Santa Cruz and its spectacular trails and equally abundant water sports.
5 | Death Valley National Park, California
Drive Time from San Francisco: 7 hours 15 minutes
The largest National Park in the contiguous US, Death Valley is the lowest, hottest and driest of the US National Parks. Located on the Nevada – California border its stark landscape is a remarkable mix of extremes and contrasts.
Some of the hottest temperatures on the planet have been recorded in Death Valley. The highlights include Badwater Basin which, at 282 feet below sea level, is the lowest point in North America, Dantes Valley Viewpoint, Ubehebe Crater and Zabriskie Point.
6 | Joshua Tree National Park, California
Drive Time from San Francisco: 7 hours 45 minutes
In comparison to the city streets of San Francisco, the magical and enchanting Joshua Tree National Park feels like it is on another planet!
Joshua Tree National Park is the meeting point of the ecosystems of two deserts, the Mojave and the Colorado. The higher and cooler Mohave Desert encompasses the western portion of the park and is dominated by the distinctive Joshua Trees and unique rock formations. The eastern end, made up of the lower elevation Colorado Desert is remarkable for its Ocotillo plants, cholla cactus, and yucca bush. The result is an otherworldly landscape filled with a wonderful array of plant life which includes the Joshua Tree itself.
Joshua Tree’s most well-known sights include unique rock formations such as Skull Rock, Arch Rock, and Heart Rock. Other fun things to do in Joshua Tree include watching the sunrise at Keys View, hiking to Desert Queen Mine, and checking out the cacti at the Cholla Cactus Garden.
It’s also worth spending time in the surrounding towns: the creative and quirky Joshua Tree Town and the wild west themed Pioneertown are two of the best things to do near Joshua Tree National Park.
7 | Lassen Volcanic National Park, California
Drive Time from San Francisco: 4 hours
As the name suggests, Lassen Volcanic National Park has a fiery volcanic history and is a hub of hydrothermal activity. Its landscape is one of bubbling furmaloes, wildflowers, alpine lakes, and volcanoes.
The highlights include Manzanita Lake, Lake Helen and the Sulphur Works and the Devil’s Kitchen and Bumpass Hell trails. The park is one of only two known habitats of one of the rarest mammals in California, the Sierra Nevada red fox.
National Paks near San Francisco tip: Lassen Volcanic National Park often has high snowfall in winter and only certain parks of the park are accessible.
8 | Kings Canyon National Park, California
Drive Time from San Francisco: 4 hours
Adjacent to Sequoia National Park, Kings Canyon is the lesser visited of the two parks. Kings Canyon is centred around its namesake canyon which is the deepest in the US. The beautiful Kings Canyon Scenic Byway descends into the canyon and transports visitors to Cedar Grove in the heart of the canyon. Zumwalt Meadow, located in the canyon, is one of the best day hikes.
Kings Canyon National Park includes Redwood Canyon which is the largest remaining grove of sequoia trees in the world. Another Kings Canyon Grove, Grant Grove, contains General Grant Tree, the second largest sequoia tree in the world, and the Robert E Lee tree, the second tallest in the grove.
9 | Redwood National Park, California
Drive time from San Francisco: 5 hours 30 minutes
Home to the tallest trees on the planet, Redwood National Park is part of the 133,000 acre Redwood National and State Parks. The group comprises of one National Park (Redwood) and 3 State Parks (Jedediah Smith Redwoods, Del Norte Coast Redwoods and Prairie Creek Redwoods) in California. They are a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Redwood National Park is the largest of the four parks and one of its trees, Hyperion, is the tallest recorded tree in the world. The location of Hyperion is kept under wraps so as to help preserve the might redwood from visitor damage.
The park’s highlights include hiking through the popular Lady Bird Johnson Grove Nature Trail which passes through a wonderful grove of ancient redwoods, the nearby Redwood Creek Overlook, driving the scenic Bald Hills Road, and hiking the permit-only Tall Trees Trail.
National Parks near San Francisco tip: California is also home to three drive through redwoods which are fun stops on a California road trip.
10 | Crater Lake
Drive time from San Francisco: 6 hours 45 minutes
Located in Southern Oregon’s Cascade Mountains, Crater Lake National Park is home to the deepest lake in the United States. It was created almost 8,000 years ago when Mount Mazama, a 12,000-foot-tall volcano, erupted and collapsed following a huge eruption. The eruption resulted in Crater Lake, a crater almost 4,000 feet deep filled with crystal clear rainwaters and melted snow.
From scenic drives to stunning lake rim hikes and boat trips to Wizard Island, Crater Lake National Park is magnificent to visit.