5 Least Visited National Parks In California Worth Considering

As people begin considering summer vacations, national parks and road trips are always a good option for anyone looking to immerse themselves more into nature than city life. When planning which parks to visit, however, avoid the lure of the most well known ones and keep your footprint light while opting for the less crowded ones. Here are the five least visited national parks in California to consider if you want to explore the golden state at your own pace (once it’s safe). Check the National Park Service website for reopening dates and alerts.

least visited national parks in california lassen
The hydrothermal areas of Lassen Volcanic National Park | PIXABAY

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Bubbling mud pots and lava rocks abound at Lassen Volcanic National Park. In fact, every rock there originates from volcanoes. A diverse park, it features four volcano types, hydrothermal areas and over 150 miles of hiking trails. Located north of Tahoe National Forest, it is just under an hour east of Redding and the 5 freeway. 

The main park road offers scenic views and access to most trails. Lake Helen often has snow and ice well into summer and the picnic area east of the lake is a great spot to see Lassen Peak. Bumpass Hell trail (three miles roundtrip) is a good way to see the hydrothermal (hot water) area with boiling pools.

channel islands
Sunset over Channel Islands National Park, off the California coast near Santa Barbara | JARED MURRAY

Channel Islands National Park

The Channel Islands National Park encompasses five of the eight California Channel Islands (Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, San Miguel, and Santa Barbara) and their ocean environment, preserving and protecting a wealth of natural and cultural resources. Although located just off the coast Between Santa Barbara and Ventura, the islands are relatively isolated and only accessible by boat. There is no transportation available on the islands, so be prepared to walk, boat or kayak around.

Although there are no services available, camping is allowed year round. Each island is unique and opportunities to snorkel, dive, hike, kayak and view marine mammals abound. If your timing is limited, you can take a half or full day tour.

Least visited national parks in california redwood
Prairie Creek at Redwood National and State Parks | RICHARD PRICE

Redwood National and State Parks

Largely known for having some of the tallest trees on Earth, Redwood National and State Parks are, surprisingly, some of the least visited national parks in California. Beyond the towering redwoods, the parks also protect vast prairies, woodlands and nearly 40 miles of rugged coastline.

Located near Northern California’s Crescent City, you can opt for a scenic drive through ancient forests or stunning coastlines. Otherwise, visitors can camp at a variety of campgrounds and take ranger-led tours, kayak, visit tidepools or simply hike for hours.

Least visited national parks in california
Kings Canyon National Park | ALEX OLZHEIM

Kings Canyon National Park

Side by side with Sequoia in the Sierra Nevadas, Kings Canyon National Park is the land of giants and canyons. Five unique areas (Foothills, Mineral King, Giant Forest & Lodgepole, Grant Grove and Cedar Grove) each have their own climate, features and highlights. 

Multiple campgrounds offer a different experience and there are several lodges throughout the park to satisfy non-campers. Everything from horseback riding, to rock climbing and fishing are usually available, as well as a visit to Crystal Cave, a marble cavern.

least visited national parks in california pinnacles
The view from Moses Spring Trail in Pinnacles National Park | NATIONAL PARK SERVICE

Pinnacles National Park

For something truly unique, visit Pinnacles National Park. Roughly 23 million years ago, multiple volcanoes erupted, flowed and formed what has now become Pinnacles National Park. Towering rock spires are home to wildlife like peregrine falcons, golden eagles and the California condor.

Bear Gulch Cave is home to a colony of Townsend’s big-eared bats, a “sensitive species” that is protected. With luck, depending on your timing, you may be able to sneak a peek at them. Otherwise, spend your time rock climbing and hiking desert trails.

-Michelle Martin