Grab the kids and find a National Park a few hours from the constant hum of LA. Here’s eight National Parks close to LA with everything from desert drives to tide pools to horseback rides through the redwoods.
Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks
First take the kids on a hike through the redwoods trees so tall they touch the sun. Then climb through the trunk of a fallen giant.
Saddle up the school-aged kids and take a guided trail ride though the forest. Attend a Park Ranger Program. Reserve a cabin for an unforgettable weekend getaway with the family.
The first national park in California and the second national park in the system, Sequoia was established in 1890 after Yellowstone. 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 earn its rank as a top California destination.
Where’s Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks
Find Sequoia 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 $30 per vehicle for a 7-day pass.
Camping, cabins and lodging offered in both parks, though reservations are recommended.
Joshua Tree National Park
Travelers leaving Los Angeles fail to look beyond the lane lines as they race east towards Phoenix. Just outside Palm Springs, Joshua Tree National Park offers families a glimpse into two different desert ecosystems. Best explored during the school year, families can hike in a national park larger than the state of Rhode Island.
Hike 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.
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 $25 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’s not located in the park.
Death Valley National Park
Though it might sound more like a nightmare than a getaway, Death Valley offers families a unique landscape to explore. So this California national park captures the imagination of kids with just its name.
A land of extremes, Death Valley is the largest national park outside of Alaska with over 3 million acres. 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. Explore Badwater Basin, Artist’s Palette, and Mesquite Flat Dunes with the family to get a taste of the landscape.
Where’s Death Valley
Death Valley National Park, 274 miles from Los Angeles, remain open 24-hours a day, 365-days a year. Admission is $25 per vehicle for a 7-day pass.
Camping, cabins and lodging offered in Death Valley, though reservations are recommended.
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. Remarkedly the Mojave National Preserve 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.
Mojave National Preserve sits 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.
Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument
Perched high above Palm Springs, California, find an alpine forest boasting towering trees with summer temperatures rarely reaching 80F. As the seasons change, the treed oasis transforms into a winter wonderland perfect for a day of sledding or snow-shoed exploring. 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 Spring, California’s national park site? The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway ascends 2.5 miles to the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument.
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. Admission for tram but the national monument is free.
Cabrillo National Monument
Named after the first European to set foot on the West Coast in 1542, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo. This monument is minutes away from downtown San Diego. And Cabrillo National Monument 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 the kid favorite, tide pools. Seasonal gray whale watching offers families a chance to see the marine giants during migration.
Cabrillo National Monument is 10 miles from Downtown San Diego and 130 miles from Los Angeles. Since food service isn’t available back a lunch and make a day of it, .
Check out the tide schedules for low tide and arrive early for limited parking. Cabrillo National Monument is a day-use only park, admission is $10 per vehicle for a 7-day pass.
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
Located in Ventura, find the Channel Islands Visitor Center 66 miles north from Los Angeles. It offers an interpretive area with a tide pool touch tank for the kids. So it’s 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. Though 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.
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 though mid-October depending on snow. Open 24-hours a day and free to enter though a mandatory shuttle bus requires a ticket.
Check out more National Parks
Know Before You Go
- As soon as possible make reservations for lodging and tours .
- And 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. 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.
Consideration for brands mentioned.