8 National Parks a Road Trip Away from LA

Discover Furnace Creek for you Death Valley hotel.
The spring-fed pool offers a luxurious getaway in the Death Valley desert. Photo Credit: Xanterra Parks and Resorts

From the beach to the desert to the mountains, eight national parks are a road trip away from LA. Parkgoers can enjoy nature’s serenity, from the towering trees of the Sierra Nevada mountains to the tide pools of the Pacific Ocean.. Travelers can choose from desert hikes to tide pool hunting to camping and hiking, national parks offer world-class outdoor recreation. Here are the Best National Parks Close to LA.

8 Best National Parks Close to LA

  • Joshua Tree National Park
  • Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks
  • Death Valley National Park
  • Mojave National Preserve
  • Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument in Palm Springs
  • Cabrillo National Monument in San Diego
  • Channel Islands National Park
  • Devils Post Pile National Monument
Discover Joshua Tree National Park with kids.
Joshua Tree National Park offers a quick pitstop along Interstate 10 between Phoenix and Los Angeles. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Joshua Tree National Park

Travelers leaving Los Angeles fail to look beyond the lane lines as they race east toward Phoenix. Just outside Palm Springs, Joshua Tree National Park offers families a glimpse into two different desert ecosystems. This national park, which is larger than the state of Rhode Island, is best explored during the school year. Families can hike in it.

Hike the Bajada Trail or the Keys View Trail for family-friendly hiking trails. The north entrance of the park offers more Joshua trees than the south entrance. This is one of the Best National Parks Close to LA.

Where’s Joshua Tree

Located 143 miles from Los Angeles, Joshua Tree National Park is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Admission to Joshua Tree is $30 per vehicle for a 7-day pass.

I found year-round camping, some first-come, first-serve. Palm Springs offers nearby lodging and food service that is not located in the park.

Top Things to Do in Joshua Tree National Park

A trip to see the redwoods of California is a must for the family. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks

Located in the Sierra Nevada mountains, this is a popular summer destination for its redwoods. First, take the kids on a hike through redwood trees so tall they touch the sun. Then climb through the trunk of a fallen giant. This is one of the Best National Parks Close to LA.

Saddle up the school-aged kids and take a guided trail ride through the forest. Attend a Park Ranger Program. Reserve a cabin for an unforgettable weekend getaway with the family.

Kings Canyon. Where to see Redwoods in California with kids.
See California’s Giant Sequoias in Kings Canyon along with meadows. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Sequoia was established in 1890 after Yellowstone, the first national park in California and the second in the system. Sharing a boundary with Sequoia, Kings Canyon was established in 1940.

Home to the highest peak in the lower 48, find Mt. Whitney in Sequoia. Sequoia and Kings Canyon earned their rank as a top California destination.

Where’s Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks

Sequoia is 200 miles from Los Angeles, and Kings Canyon is 240. Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks remain open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, though seasonal road closures happen. Admission is $35 per vehicle for a 7-day pass.

Camping, cabins and lodging are offered in both parks, though reservations are recommended.

Guide to Kings and Sequoia Canyon National Parks
Discover Furnace Creek for you Death Valley hotel.
Death Valley for kids? Yes, my kids were fascinated by hiking at the lowest point in North America. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Death Valley National Park

It might sound more like a nightmare than a getaway, but Death Valley offers families a unique landscape to explore. This California national park captures kids’ imaginations with just its name.

A land of extremes, Death Valley is the largest national park outside of Alaska, with over 3 million acres. It is home to the lowest point in North America, 282 feet below sea level, and the highest air temperature ever recorded (134 F/56.7 C).

In some of the harshest living conditions in North America, I discovered a luxurious side of Death Valley. At the Inn at Furnace Creek, a AAA four-diamond resort, I found an 18-hole golf course, tennis courts, massages and a glamourous spring-fed pool.

Minutes away, the family-friendly The Ranch at Furnace Creek offers a horse corral, another spring-fed swimming pool, a playground, and several restaurants with Western themes. To get a taste of the landscape, explore Badwater Basin, Artist’s Palette, and Mesquite Flat Dunes with the family.

Where’s Death Valley

Death Valley National Park, 274 miles from Los Angeles, remains open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Admission is $30 per vehicle for a 7-day pass.

Camping, cabins and lodging are offered in Death Valley, though reservations are recommended.

Death Valley National Park Planning Guide
Explore the Mojave Desert with a drive to the visitor center at Kelso, California. Photo Credit: Pixabay

Mojave National Preserve

From pinyon-pine-speckled mountain peaks to valleys teeming with creosote bush, the Mojave National Preserve challenges the perception of the desert. Remarkably, it is greener than its neighbor, Death Valley National Park.

As I drive through, it’s the jack rabbit’s gigantic ears that give him away, delighting my animal-loving kids. With its convenient location off major interstates, a first-time visitor can get a glimpse of the Mojave desert as they drive through.

Where’s Mojave

Mojave National Preserve is between Interstates 15 and 40, about 200 miles from Los Angeles. It’s open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and free to enter.

Find rustic camping, first-come, first-serve with water but without utility hook-ups in Mojave. Barstow offers limited lodging, 98 miles away.

How to Visit Mojave National Preserve
Take the Palm Spring Aerial Tram for winter snow and summer shade.
The Palm Springs Tram spins as it ascends 2.5 miles from the desert to an alpine oasis. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument in Palm Springs

Perched high above Palm Springs, California, is an alpine forest boasting towering trees. Summer temperatures rarely reach 80, and as the seasons change, the treed oasis transforms into a winter wonderland perfect for a day of sledding or snowshoeing. First, climb aboard the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway for a breathtaking ride in the world’s largest rotating tram cars.

Looking for a unique way to explore Palm Springs, California’s national park site? The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway ascends 2.5 miles to the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument. This is one of the Best National Parks Close to LA.

Where’s the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains

The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway is located six miles from downtown Palm Springs. Open seven days a week with seasonal hours. Tram adult admission is $30.95 and kids (3 to 10) are $18.95 but the national monument is free.

Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument Planning Guide 
Cabrillo National Monument. Where to go in San Diego with kids.
Learn about the explorer Cabrillo and when he landed in San Diego. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Cabrillo National Monument in San Diego

Cabrillo National Monument is named after Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, the first European to set foot on the West Coast in 1542. It is minutes away from downtown San Diego, and It offers families history, geography, and science lessons.

During our visit, we walked through exhibits on the early explorers, a big hit with my boys. And learned about the importance of pollinators, a must for butterfly lovers.

Cabrillo features the Old Loma Lighthouse (1855-1891) and tide pools, a kid favorite. Seasonal gray whale watching offers families a chance to see the marine giants during migration.

Where’s Cabrillo

Cabrillo National Monument is 10 miles from Downtown San Diego and 130 miles from Los Angeles. Since food service isn’t available, bring a lunch and make a day of it.

Check out the low tide schedules and arrive early for limited parking. Cabrillo National Monument is a day-use-only park; admission is $20 per vehicle for a 7-day pass.

Top Things to Do in San Diego
Start at the Channel Islands Visitor Center to see the tide pool with a touch tank. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Channel Islands National Park

Five lonely islands float on the horizon off the coast of Southern California. Though over 2,000 species of plants and animals call them home. And 145 of those can only be found in the Channel Islands National Park.

The five distinct islands offer refuge to animals and plants. Families prepared to hike can discover beaches or canyons. Snorkeling, kayaking and swimming are popular too.

Where are the Channel Islands

The Channel Islands Visitor Center is located in Ventura, 66 miles north of Los Angeles. It offers an interpretive area with a tide pool touch tank for the kids, so it’s an opportunity to learn about the Channel Islands without visiting them.

Channel Islands National Park remains open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The Channel Islands are free. A National Park concessionaire provides ferry service to several of the Channel Islands. Reservations and tickets are required in advance.

The Channel Islands offer no services for visitors, like food or water. Rustic camping is available on all islands. Reservations for boat passage and campground reservations are required.

Planning Guide for Lassen Volcanic National Park in California

Devils Post Pile National Monument

So check out this national monument for rock formations that look like logs. Then find some of the best examples of columnar basalt in the world. Along with geology, hike to a couple of waterfalls over a hundred feet tall.

Finally, hike to Minaret Falls or Rainbow Falls to see the waterfalls up close.

Where’s Devils Post Pile

Find the Devils Post Pile in the western Sierra Mountains, a couple of miles from Mammoth Lakes. Open seasonally from mid-June through mid-October, depending on snow. Open 24 hours a day and free to enter, though a mandatory shuttle bus requires a ticket.

Manzanar National Historic Site near Death Valley
Manzanar National Historic Site near Death Valley. Credit: Catherine Parker

Manzanar National Historic Site

At the height of WWII, over 100,000 people, including children of Japanese descent, had to leave their homes and jobs. Ordered by the U.S. government in response to the Pearl Harbor Attacks, U.S. citizens and Japanese immigrants were relocated to military-style camps across the western U.S.

One of the biggest camps is located near the western entrance of Death Valley National Park. You can walk through what remains of the camp, including a driving route.

Where’s Manzanar National Historic Site

Find the Manzanar National Historic Site at 5001 Highway 395 in Independence, north of the Death Valley entrance. It can be explored in a couple of hours. It is free to visit and open from sunrise to sunset.

Best Books about National Parks 
Know Before You Go
  • As soon as possible, make reservations for lodging and tours.
  • Lodging reservations can be made 13 months in advance.
  • Always carry extra water year-round.
  • Plan ahead and pack picnics and snacks, food service is limited in national parks.
  • Don’t rely on technology for directions in national parks, get a map at the visitor center.
  • Flat tires are common on unpaved roads, so be prepared.
  • Don’t hike at the lower elevations in the summer.
  • Don’t leave kids or pets in vehicles during the summer in the desert, when temperatures can reach 160 F.
  • Keep wild animals wild. Don’t feed them for your safety and theirs.
  • Do not enter mine shafts or tunnels.
  • Water shoes are a must for tide pool exploring.


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Everyone Needs a Break. Got a list of the best National Park Service Sites a road trip away from Los Angeles. Pack up and explore the Redwoods, wade through a tide pool, drive through a legendary desert, all just a few hours drive from LA, really. What are the closest National Parks to LA | National Parks in Southern California | Best Road Trips for Southern California Where to go camping in SoCal #NationalParks #California


Catherine Parker has a passion for travel and seen all 50 U.S. States. As a former flight attendant with one of the largest airlines, there isn't a North American airport that she hasn't landed in at least once. Since clipping her professional wings after 9/11, she combines her love of the open road with visiting architectural and cultural icons. She is based out of Central Texas dividing her time between writing and restoring a pair of 100-year-old houses. She shares her life with her three kids and her husband.

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