There are amazing National Parks in California just a short drive—and in one case, a boat ride—away from LA (plus we’re rounded up some cozy cabins to stay in case you want to extend your trip). From Joshua Tree to Yosemite National Park, there aren’t better places to lace up those hiking boots, get outside, and explore these national treasures provided by mother nature. Check out the list below and be prepared to be blown away by the bucket-worthy beauty just a few hours outside our door.
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Know Before You Go: There are a variety of ways to access the parks for free. All fourth graders are eligible to receive the Every Kid Outdoors pass that give them (along with any kids under 16 and up to 3 adults) access to parks, historical structures and federal public lands for a full year, for free.
There is also the California State Library Parks Pass—a new program where you can “check out” a pass from the local library for a free vehicle day-use entry for one passenger vehicle up to nine people.
Joshua Tree National Park
If you haven't been to Joshua Tree National Park yet, be prepared for a magical experience. Located just 2.5 hours east of LA, this beloved desert hotspot casts it spell on visitors every year as they enjoy world class hiking and rock climbing in a tranquil desert landscape filled with giant boulders and twisty, alien-like Joshua trees. For a full day of fun, plan to arrive early to snag parking and bring lots of water and sunscreen. Kiddos will love staying for the park’s mind-blowing sunsets and incredible stargazing later on.
Good to Know: Want to see the night sky in ways you've never seen before? Save-the-date for the 7th Annual Night Sky Festival taking place Sept. 23-24 at Joshua Tree National Park. Tickets go on sale in early Jun.
Airbnb Nearby: The Joshua Tree National Park entrance is only a 15 min. drive from this family-friendly oasis in the desert. With 3 bedrooms (one of which has two single beds), there’s plenty of room for the whole brood to spread out and relax. The backyard is perfect for a BBQ and kiddos can soak in the starlit desert sky from the hot tub.
Channel Islands National Park
Channel Islands National Park is a 2-hour drive from LA and then a 1-3 hour ferry ride via Island Packers (the official boat Concessionaire for the Channel Islands National Park), departing regularly from Ventura and Channel Islands Harbors in Ventura and Oxnard, CA. A chain of five islands–Santa Cruz, Anacapa, Santa Rosa, Santa Barbara and San Miguel–make up this unspoiled, primitive destination that’s begging to be explored by adventurous families. All five are filled with breathtaking scenery, but Santa Cruz tends to be the most popular with family-friendly activities like whale watching, hiking and kayaking through mysterious sea caves. Be sure to bring plenty of food and water for your trip as there are no concessions available on any of the islands.
Airbnb Nearby: There are no Airbnbs on any of the Channel Islands, but camping is welcome. If you’re heading back to land after a day of long day exploration, this adorable house in downtown Santa Barbara is just the ticket. It sleeps up to six guests, offers a chef’s kitchen, a sunny backyard and is within walking distance of State Street’s vibrant eateries and shops.
Cabrillo National Monument
Located in San Diego, Cabrillo National Monument commemorates the 1542 landing of the first European expedition to explore the west coast of the United States. This amazing SoCal destination not only offers kids an important history lesson, but also gives them a swell opportunity to see migrating grey whales; tide pools filled with octopuses, crabs and bat stars; stunning views of San Diego and Tijuana; and gives you a chance to climb to the top tower to the Old Point Loma Lighthouse.
Airbnb Nearby: A short drive from the Cabrillio National Monument, this lovely ocean beach getaway is perfect for a larger family with 3 bedrooms (including 4 bunk beds). Enjoy dinners on the rooftop deck with beautiful views of the surrounding neighborhood and Pacific Ocean.
Death Valley National Park
Known for being the hottest and driest place in North America, Death Valley National Park is an unexpected gem for a family vacation. During the warmer months, your desert adventures will be much more comfortable if you go before noon or wait until after sunset. Littles will love exploring the beautiful canyons surrounded by the glow of the mountains. But the real draw here is Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America, where you can walk out onto the salt flats—a one-of-a-kind experience. And die-hard Stars Wars fans can “visit Tatooine” by checking out park locales like Artist’s Palette, Golden Canyon and the Mesquite Sand Dunes where some of the most iconic scenes were shot for Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope and Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi.
Airbnb Nearby: Just one mile from Death Valley National Park, this newly remodeled bungalow can comfortably fit up to six people. Located inside a lovely RV park and campground, this property features a mineral springs swimming pool and several trails for viewing ponds and local habitat.
Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument
If you’re heading to Palm Desert in the near future, the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument should be added to your list. We suggest starting off your excursion with a stop by the visitor’s center to grab a map of hiking trails in the area. Many are moderate level hikes that feature eye-popping vista views, gorgeous wildflowers and magnificent birds that kiddos will love. The San Jacinto Mountains are also home to the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway which transports guests by from the desert floor up 6,000 feet to alpine forests in less than 15 minutes.
Airbnb Nearby: Less than 20 minutes away from the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument, this 3-bedroom Palm Desert hideaway is within walking distance to El Paseo and numerous mountain biking trails. The spacious backyard features a shimmering pool, basketball area and plenty of room to lounge and relax in the desert air.
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks–homes to the world’s largest trees are an absolute must for your National Park bucket list. At Sequoia, families can visit The General Sherman–a 275 ft. tall redwood tree that’s the biggest (by volume) in the world. The Congress Trail, Big Trees Trail and Moro Rock are super popular destinations here as well. At Kings Canyon, be sure to check out Grant Grove–a special grove with huge sequoias grouped in a 90-acre area. It's truly one of the most extraordinary places on earth. And one of the best parts? No reservations required so you can scoot up to these parks at any time.
Airbnb Nearby: Set on a picturesque mountainside, less than three miles from the entrance to Sequoia National Park, this brand new home accommodates 4 guests and features a stunning wraparound deck with unobstructed views. In the mornings, sip coffee on the deck while watching deer frolic. In the evenings, sip cocktails and make s’mores around the cozy firepit.
Pinnacles National Park
If you’ve ever wanted a chance to see North America’s largest bird, the California Condor, then Pinnacles National Park in Central California is the place to do it. Take a scenic hike along Condor Gulch and High Peaks Trail and keep your eyes to the sky above–you just might spot one of these magnificent creatures. Junior spelunkers will also enjoy exploring talus caves like Bear Gulch Cave and Balconies Cave if they’re open during your visit.
Airbnb Nearby: Been dreaming of staying on a 1,000-acre working ranch? We know you have and The Tumbleweed Hotel is your opportunity! With 3 bedrooms and 2 baths, kids will love scampering around the property while enjoying the hiking trails, tennis courts, basketball courts and visiting with the farms animals, including an adorable miniature horse named Fritz.
Muir Woods National Monument
Home to a cathedral of gorgeous redwood trees that are 250 ft. tall and are between 400-800 years old, Muir Woods National Monument is a very special place that every family should experience. There are six miles of trails to explore and most hikes are generally short–making it an easy trek for little feet. But it’s the serene atmosphere here that will leave you with a complete feeling of zen–at least until you get back your car with the kids.
Airbnb Nearby: A tranquil forest retreat if we’ve ever seen one, this gorgeous home in Mill Valley is just minutes from Muir Woods National Monument and features 2 bedrooms and a cozy loft made for adventurous kiddos. Surrounded by a lush forest landscape and offering breathtaking views of the valley and Bay, this vacation paradise is sure to rejuvenate the soul.
Yosemite National Park
Located in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains, Yosemite National Park welcomes millions of visitors each year who come to celebrate the park's iconic beauty. There are so many bucket list things to see–whether it’s the park’s majestic waterfalls, gigantic peaks, or intriguing wildlife like Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep. Half Dome, El Capitan, Horsetail Fall, Glacier Point and Tunnel View should be on your to do list as well. Pint-sized daredevils will also dig the opportunity to go ziplining and river rafting.
Good to Know: A reservation will be required to drive into or through Yosemite National Park May 20–Sept. 30, 2022 between 6 a.m. and 4 p.m. This temporary system is in place while numerous key visitor attractions are closed for infrastructure repairs
Airbnb Nearby: A quick 20-minute drive to the Yosemite Valley floor, this light-filled, airy home is a perfect place to kick up your feet and relax during your visit to Yosemite National Park. Vaulted ceilings, a modern kitchen and a lovely deck help make your stay feel like a true vacation.
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