Finding The Best National Parks In Northern California

Even if you’re traveling for business, that doesn’t mean you can’t get out and explore where you happen to be staying. And fortunately for both business and leisure visitors to Northern California—particularly the areas between Los Angeles and Fresno—there are plenty of national parks to explore. Here are the best National Parks near LA to spend the day exploring while you’re in town.

Paramount Ranch, Agoura Hills CA

For one of the best driving distance parks near LA, you can’t go wrong with a stop at Paramount Ranch in Agoura Hills. It’s about a 3 ½ hour drive from the Fresno area, but from areas in LA, the trip will only take about an hour. Paramount Ranch is a rather unconventional but quite entertaining national park: it was leased by Paramount Pictures starting in 1927, and any films were recorded there.

But it’s not all about the big (and small) screen here, though the film industry is part of the attraction. There are several miles of hiking trails plus equestrian and mountain biking accommodations, so you can indulge in the scenery or imagine you’re in your own film, like The Lake House, or even a traditional western.

Paramount Pictures also filmed scenes set in China and San Francisco on the ranch, and the National Park Service later reinvented the location and added Western Town, which is accessible by trail.

Angeles National Forest, Palmdale CA

The Angeles National Forest is just over an hour’s drive from El Segundo, well within driving distance of the greater LA area. From Fresno, it’s about a 3-hour trek, but still doable for a day trip. Once you get up into the mountains, there are 557 miles of hiking trails that range from beginner level to expert.

River and stream fishing is another outdoor pursuit enjoyed by many visitors, but you do have to have a fishing license for the state of California. Of course, you can also pack a picnic and enjoy amazing views of plants, scenery, and wildlife.

Depending on the season, you may even see animals like bobcats, mountain lions, or Nelson bighorn sheep! Either way, the high elevation offers crisp mountain air and an unbelievably photogenic view along the trails and vista points.

Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, Malibu CA

Fortunately for beach fans, it’s under a two-hour trip to get from the greater Los Angeles metro to the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area in Malibu. From Fresno, it’s more like a 3 ½ hour trip, but well worth it for the experience.

Once there, you can explore over 500 miles of hiking trails, check out the scenic (and famous) Malibu beaches, and visit historical and cultural sites, all across multiple offshoots of the National Recreation Area.

There are Native American cultural centers, old movie sets in the form of ranches (one being Paramount Ranch), and wildlife like dolphins, coyotes, quail, and more. However, this location has been affected by local fires in recent months (and years), so there are often areas closed off to the public depending on current fire activity and rehabilitation efforts. Still, the Recreation area is one of the most diverse driving distance parks near LA, and the availability of both beach and forest exploration is ideal.

Channel Islands National Park, Ventura CA

Getting there may be a bit unconventional, but the sights you can see at Channel Islands National Park make the trip well worth it. You’ll need to schedule a trip via park concessionaire boat or private watercraft to get to this National Park, but the journey to the boat launch site is about two hours from El Segundo and the greater LA area. From Fresno farther north, it’s roughly a 3 ½ hour drive.

Once you arrive on the islands, there are no bicycles or vehicles allowed; instead of driving or pedaling, you can hike, attend a lecture on local wildlife and conservation, snorkel, dive, kayak, and more. Note that there are multiple islands to explore, too, making this one of the most diverse and therefore most accommodating national parks in Northern California.

And while it may take a full day to explore what a single island has to offer, there’s no reason you can’t return another day—or even camp overnight—to indulge further.

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, Three Rivers CA

A short jaunt from Fresno—just over an hour’s trip—the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks offer an array of outdoor activities year-round. It takes about four hours to reach from the Los Angeles area, but this pair of parks sits side-by-side in Three Rivers and span everything from huge mountains to gigantic caverns.

The parks are also home to the biggest trees in the world. You can explore sequoia groves, go backpacking, play in the snow in winter, stop by a visitor center or museum to learn more about the landscape and flora and fauna, capture breathtaking photos from a viewpoint, visit a Native American cultural center, explore an underground cave, go horseback riding, climb Moro Rock, and a ton more!

Essentially, any outdoor pursuit you can imagine, you can do in Three Rivers—making it worth the drive no matter where you’re staying in Northern California.

  • Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks
  • Three Rivers, CA
  • 4 hours from LA area/El Segundo
  • Things to Do online guide

No matter where you are in the greater Los Angeles or even Fresno area, there’s plenty of adventure to be had at these Northern California National Parks. So be sure to pack your leisure gear even if you’re visiting for business, because you won’t be able to resist the temptation of getting out of the city to explore.

Leave a Reply