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(Last Updated On: July 13, 2022)

Did you know California has 260 State Parks? As more and more people are going outdoors, I’ve been seeking out lesser known State Parks that are just as stunning as some of the National Parks that get all the fame! This guide will review six of the best State Parks in California (that happen to be my favorite) as well as give you tips to planning and finding underrated State Parks and camping destinations!

This post is in partnership with Tyler Technologies, NIC Outdoors and California State Parks.  Listen to a podcast episode: Miss Rover X Tyler Technologies as we discuss how technology has impacted the outdoor space and travel memories!

A Guide to some of the Best State Parks in California and tips to planning and finding underrated State Parks and camping spots near you!

6 Best State Parks in California to Visit

This list is based off of State Parks that I have personally visited in California. I have visited twelve State Parks in California so far and these are my absolute favorites. NIC, through Tyler Technologies and US eDirect, offers Recreation Dynamics that allows you to easily plan and reserve camping spots and/or timed-entry tickets to visit State and National Parks. And with the ever growing popularity of National and State Parks, it is so important to plan ahead and ensure a spot is waiting for you! These links to reserve will be listed below!

Wedding Rock Trail

1. Sue – Meg State Park

This State Park was formerly known as Patrick’s Point State Park in Northern California and was recently changed to its Indigenous name with the efforts of the Yurok Tribe. This State Park has lush forest areas and trails as well as rugged coastal terrain.

Location: Trinidad, California

Top Views/Hikes:

  • Wedding Rock (0.3 miles, 42 ft elevation gain)
  • Agate Beach (0.5 miles, 111 ft elevation gain)

Best Seasons to Visit:

Being that Sue-Meg State Park is on the Northern California Coast, it stays in mild temperatures year round (40–65°F in summer and 35–55° in winter) with mornings typically covered in fog. Prepare for rain if you’re visiting between October and April.

My favorite time to visit this State Park is in the Spring.

More information and Reserving a Campsite

I always stay at Agate Campground when I visit here. The spots are tucked into the forest and a short walk away from incredible coastal views. Sue-Meg can book up in the summer months, so I highly recommend planning at least a month or two in advance if you plan to camp here.

Crags Trail to Castle Dome at Castle Crags State Park

2. Castle Crags State Park

Castle Crags State Park in Northern California is an area that I was able to visit recently. The towering 6,000-feet tall granite spires in the Castle Crags Wilderness were something I needed to see for myself!

Location: Mount Shasta, California

Top Views and Hikes

  • Crags Trail to Castle Dome
    • 5.2 miles | 2,066 ft elevation gain
  • Vista Point Trail
    • 2.8 miles | 613 ft elevation gain

Check out my complete guide for this area HERE.

Best Seasons to Visit

Spring and Summer are the best season to visit Castle Crags, as it has moderately warm to hot temperatures and no more snow by late spring. The snow here typically lasts until March/April.

I visited in June and had weather in the low 70’s (Fahrenheit).

More information and Reserving a Campsite

I booked a camping spot at Castle Crags Campground. There was a decent amount of last minute availability as I was booking dates during the week instead of the weekend. I booked my campsite 4 days before arriving!

A Guide to some of the Best State Parks in California and tips to planning and finding underrated State Parks and camping spots near you!
Stout Grove Trail at Jedediah Smith State Park

3. Jedediah Smith State Park

Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park is the last of redwood parks going North on California’s coast. It is near the ocean and has beautiful scenic drives through towering Redwood trees and incredible hiking opportunities. This State Park contains about seven percent of all the old-growth redwoods left in the world.

I have lived in Redwood Country for almost 3 years now, and this park has me returning over and over for some incredible photography with light rays and morning fog in the trees.

Location: Crescent City, California

Top Views and Hikes

  • Stout Memorial Grove Trail
    • 0.7 miles | 32 ft elevation gain
  • Howland Hill Road
    • Scenic Drive

Check out my complete guide for this area HERE

Best Seasons to Visit

This is a park that I would say is great any time of year. Summer temperatures vary quite a bit at around 45 to 85 degrees. Winter brings lots of rain and temperatures between 30 and 65 degrees.

The Redwood canopy prevents you from getting drenched in the rain and the colors of the trees almost seem more vibrant then! Summer will have the most ideal weather for those camping.

More information and Reserving a Campsite

I recommend visiting The Jedediah Smith Website where information and an educational video is available on how humans can negatively impact an area. This area books up very quickly so you may have to plan for pretty far in advance if you wish to stay at the campground here.

Ultimate Girls Trip Guide for the Best Southwest Road Trip
Red Rock Canyon State Park

4. Red Rock Canyon State Park

This is another place I apparently cannot stay away from, as I’ve been back twice! If you like desert cliffs, buttes and vibrant orange-red rock formations, Red Rock Canyon State Park should be on your radar.

Location: Cantil, California

Top Views and Hikes

  • Hagen Canyon
    • 1.2 miles | 62 ft elevation gain
  • Red Cliffs Nature Trail
    • 1.0 mile | 101 ft elevation gain

Check out my complete guide for this area HERE.

Best Seasons to Visit

The best times to visit are Spring and Fall as temperatures in this area can be extreme in the summer. I went in January and in February and had great weather as well. I love visiting the desert in the winter months.

More information and Reserving a Campsite

Their website has a lot of information on what is and is not allowed there. I recommend reading up on State Park specific rules before planning to travel there! This particular State Park does not have a reservation system in place, so camping is on a first-come first-served basis at Ricardo Campground.

Burney Falls State Parks in California
Burney Falls Loop Trail

5. McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park

This State Park is most known for the 129-foot Burney Falls. This falls is maybe the most beautiful waterfall I’ve ever seen and my mind was blown when I learned it was in Northern California.

Location: Four Corners, California

Top Views and Hikes

  • Burney Falls Loop Trail
    • 1.0 mile | 167 ft elevation gain
  • Headwaters Trail
    • 2.7 miles | 262 ft elevation gain

Best Season to Visit

This destination can be visited any time of year, however Winter is pretty cold here and does get snow in the area. I’d recommend late Spring, Summer or early Fall for the best weather.

However, this State Park has grown in popularity so much that traveling during the ideal weather may not be the best plan anymore! If you’re okay with the chillier temperatures, visiting in the Winter will most likely get you a parking spot and a chance to enjoy the falls with less people.

More information and Reserving a Campsite

Check out the McArthur-Burney Falls website for updates before planning your visit. Camping books up fast during the spring and summer months and is released six months in advance from the current date.

Garrapata State Park. A Guide to some of the Best State Parks in California and tips to planning and finding underrated State Parks and camping spots near you!
Garrapata State Park

6. Garrapata State Park

Garrapata State Park offers coastal hiking and trails running from beaches into lush redwood forest. I stumbled upon this state park when my plans to see the Big Sur area fell through due to a landslide and I would love to visit again.

Location: Carmel-by-the-Sea, California

Top Views and Hikes

  • Soberanes Point and Whale Point
    • 1.8 miles | 311 ft elevation gain
  • Garrapata Bluff Trail
    • 0.6 miles | 49 ft elevation gain

Best Seasons to Visit

This State Park is pleasant to visit year-round, but gets very busy in the summer months and around holidays. The temperature generally stays in the 40-60 degree range.

More Information

This State Park is one of the few that do not have a campground, but there are plenty of nearby parks that do offer camping. Find updates and more on their website below!

Camping at Sue-Meg State Park

Tips on Planning and Finding State Parks to Visit

As a travel blogger, I’ve picked up some tips and tricks along the way when it comes to planning visits to Parks. Technology has made it easier than ever to find destinations that inspire you or places nearby that you didn’t know about!

Step 1: Find a Park

Go to www.parks.ca.gov ‘Visit a Park’ Tab. Using their interactive map to search by region or by activity is a great way to find new outdoor spaces to check out.

I recommend Searching by region first, because it is amazing how many state parks probably exist near you that you weren’t aware of. I just found 3 more near me that I now plan to check out next month!

Step 2: Logistics

Once you have found some parks that interest you, I like to read more information provided on the parks.ca.gov website and other travel blogs.

  • Is camping available?
  • What seasons are best to visit?
  • Are certain parts of the park closed for restoration?
  • What grocery stores or restaurants are nearby
  • Are there any safety concerns if I’m traveling solo as a woman?

This is also where I search the Park on Social Media and AllTrails to see what type of photography opportunities might exist and build an itinerary shot list.

Final Step: Finalize your Plans!

I love being able to book campsites in advance through www.reservecalifornia.com. If availability isn’t available for the dates you want, it provides nearby options below that may have availability.

Tip: Screenshot the emailed reservation details in case you don’t have good cell service

Burney Falls

TIP: State Park Programs for Free Entry

Going to State Parks costs a minimum of $10 per day per vehicle and that can add up. There are some incredible programs offered with support by Recreation Dynamics by Tyler’s Technologies NIC and US eDirect that help increase access to getting outside for FREE.

Jedediah Smith State Park

Podcast Episode: Miss Rover X Tyler Technologies

Check out this episode where we discuss getting outside, travel memories, safety and how technology is making an impact in the outdoor space.

Conclusion: Best State Parks in California

More and more people are heading outside for their vacation, so doing your research and planning ahead will ensure you can make the most of your time outside! Using my tips and booking through Tyler’s NIC and US eDirect reservation software on state park websites makes it easy to plan ahead. It is so enjoyable to find hidden gems nearby and other underrated State Parks that aren’t seeing the crowds that National Parks are right now.

Let me know what State Parks are your favorite or Parks you plan to check out!

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A Guide to some of the Best State Parks in California and tips to planning and finding underrated State Parks and camping spots near you!

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