Los Angeles is an exciting and busy metropolis with lots to offer residents and tourists alike. From renowned restaurants and entertainment to scenic beaches and hiking trails, there’s something in L.A. for everyone to enjoy. But if you want to venture outside the city limits and immerse yourself in nature, there are a number of national parks within driving distance. We rounded up the top options to make your trip planning easier.
Channel Islands National Park
100 miles (2.5-3 hours by car and ferry) from Los Angeles
Experience the serenity of nature in Channel Islands National Park. The park boasts five individual islands (San Miguel, Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz, Anacapa and Santa Barbara) off the California coast, offering activities that range from hiking to diving to whale watching. A unique characteristic of the islands and their surrounding waters is that they are home to more than 2,000 plant and animal species, 145 of which are found nowhere else in the world. All five islands offer year-round camping, affording you an unparalleled stargazing opportunity. To get to the park from L.A., you’ll need to drive to Ventura, where you can park and board a ferry bound for the islands. Ferry times vary from 1-4 hours depending on which island you’re traveling to.
Joshua Tree National Park
127 miles (2 hours and 15 minutes) from Los Angeles
The Mojave and Colorado deserts converge in Joshua Tree National Park, giving it two distinct ecosystems with different landscapes, plants and wildlife. The park is named after the Joshua Tree — a prickly tree that is a member of the Agave family and found in the Mojave Desert. Campers, climbers and hikers find late fall and early spring to be the best times to visit due to the cooler temperatures. If you want to see the most photogenic sunrise or sunset, head to Cholla Cactus Garden.
Death Valley National Park
214 miles (4 hours and 30 minutes) from Los Angeles
Not only is Death Valley the largest national park outside of Alaska, it is also the hottest place on Earth, the driest place in the U.S. and home to Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America. But don’t let these facts — or its name — intimidate you: This is a truly cool national park to visit! One neat feature and very popular attraction at the park is the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. Trekking through these rippled dunes will make you feel like you’re in a faraway place like the Sahara Desert. When you’re ready to return to the comfort of your car, cruise the scenic 9-mile drive called Artist’s Drive to see colorful mountains and canyons.
Yosemite National Park
279 miles (5 hours) from Los Angeles
This beautiful national park is known for its breathtaking waterfalls, but it features a wide variety of scenery including deep valleys, meadows, giant sequoia and unspoiled wilderness. One of the most popular scenic viewpoints in Yosemite is Tunnel View on Route 41, where you can see Yosemite Valley, El Capitan, Bridalveil Fall and Half Dome. As you explore Yosemite, be on the lookout for wildlife like bobcats, black bears, mule deer and Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep. Before you go, check out Yosemite Village, which is full of shops, restaurants, lodging and an Ansel Adams gallery.
Pinnacles National Park
267 miles (4 hours and 45 minutes) from Los Angeles
Ancient volcanic activity formed the landscape of what is now Pinnacles National Park. You can go rock climbing, explore the quiet of caves and hike among interesting geologic formations. Camp in the park and enjoy unbeatable stargazing in the absence of light pollution. Visit in the spring to see fields of colorful wildflowers.
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks
203 miles (4 hours and 30 minutes) from Los Angeles
The Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are two separate but adjacent parks that are administered as one, meaning that your entry pass is valid at both destinations. Sequoia National Park is best known for its towering, ancient sequoia trees, while Kings Canyon National Park is home to the deepest canyon on the continent with a depth of 8,200 feet. During your visit, don’t miss seeing the largest living tree in the world, called the General Sherman Tree, at Giant Forest in Sequoia National Park.