Even though the entire USA is home to some pretty incredible national parks, some of the best ones out there are scattered along its western coast.
Whether you’re planning a north-to-south road trip along the West Coast and want to fit in some serious outdoor time in your itinerary, or you’re simply looking for inspiration on where to go next for a weekend nature escape, here’s a comprehensive guide to the best national parks you’ll find scattered along the West Coast!
- You may also be interested in this epic California national parks road trip itinerary
12 Incredible West Coast National Parks
Top Tip: There’s an entry fee for most west coast national parks. We highly recommend you invest in America the Beautiful – the US annual national parks pass to make the most of road tripping on the west coast and save on entrance fees.
First up, let’s look at each of the west coast national parks in detail.
1. Olympic National Park
Located in the state of Washington, Olympic National Park is one of the most diverse national parks in the United States, especially when it comes to scenery and ecosystems.
Here, you’ll find a wide array of landscapes, ranging from coastal goodness, sky-high waterfalls, lush meadows, mountains, glaciers, and even the largest rainforest in the country. Needless to say, Olympic offers a whole lot of things to do across its terrain, which means you could easily spend weeks here and never have to do the same thing twice.
For first-timers to the park, some of the must-do activities include exploring Hoh Rainforest, hiking in the forest, swimming at Sol Duc Hot Springs, and enjoying beach time at Kalaloch Beach.
Entrance Fee: $30 per private vehicle, valid for 7 days. An annual Olympic National Park pass is $55 or included with America the Beautiful and other annual national park passes. Camping and wilderness fees are additional.
Best Time to Visit: Olympic National Park is open 24 hours, year-round, though some of the mountainous areas may be subject to winter road closures in extreme weather. Check for road closures due to maintenance and washouts before you set off.
- Although you can tackle some sections of Olympic National Park as a day trip from Seattle, you’ll want to dig deeper into this west coast gem with our 5-day Olympic National Park Road Trip Itinerary
2. Mount Rainier National Park
Mount Rainer National Park is absolutely splendid, especially when you consider it’s home to an active volcano and the most glaciated peak in the continental United States.
Located in Washington State, this national park offers beautiful views of Mount Rainer Volcano, which you can enjoy on a hike across various terrains, ranging from ancient forests to subalpine meadows. Waterfalls and lakes are abundant here, too!
Beyond being one of the most beautifully scenic drives in Washington, a few of the best things to do at Mount Rainer include hiking the Skyline Trail to Panorama Point, walking the Patriarchs Trail across the forest, and checking out Myrtle Falls. If you’re feeling up for a challenge, you can also head out on a trek of a lifetime to summit the volcano!
Entrance Fee: $30 per private vehicle, valid for 7 days. Mount Rainier annual passes can be purchased for $55 or included with America the Beautiful and other annual national park passes.
Best Time to Visit: Mount Rainier is open year-round, with peak season experienced in July and August when it is drier under foot, and wildflowers are blooming. Mid-week is highly recommended to try and avoid peak crowds. Spring and fall bring fewer crowds though daily weather can dictate access to certain park facilities. In Winter the park is open to cars only through the Nisqually Entrance.
3. North Cascades National Park
North Cascades is commonly referred to as the Alps of America due to its gorgeous alpine beauty. This national park in Washington is chrome to the largest glacier systems inside the contiguous United States!
Due to the fact that North Cascades National Park isn’t widely known as its Washington counterparts closer to Seattle, solitude during your visit is a guarantee. While exploring, you’ll get the chance to see over 300 glaciers, mountains that reach heights of 8000 feet, hundreds of lakes, and lots of wildlife unique to the region.
Driving over the scenic Highway 20 is a great way to cover a ton of ground in a short time, but you can also hike the many trails on offer in order to get more personal with the landscape. For a dose of culture, you can also visit Stehekin, a small community inside the park!
Entrance Fee: North Cascades is FREE to visit. Permit fees apply for overnight camping.
Best Time to Visit: Although technically open year-round, snow cover outside of summer can make access to most parts of the park impossible in winter. North Cascades is best visited from June to September when it’s drier, and there is less chance of avalanches and road closures (it is the Pacific Northwest, though – pack raincoats whenever you visit).
4. Crater Lake National Park
Located in southern Oregon, Crater Lake National Park is home to a lake of the same name that was once set inside a volcano. Crater Lake is actually the deepest lake in the United States and also one of the most beautiful ones, making this park a must on your national parks bucket list.
Inside the park, you’ll find smaller lakes as well, most of which were formed over 7,000 years ago as a result of a volcanic eruption. A few of the can’t-miss activities at the park include driving the rim road, boating over the lake, and even swimming if you’re not one to be scared of freezing temperatures.
There’s also a pretty fun trolley tour that will take you to see some of the top highlights of the park; this is a great choice for families or for those not too keen on hiking.
Entrance Fee: $30 per private vehicle in the summer (May 22 – October 31), $20 in the winter (November 1 – May 21). A Crater Lake annual pass (which also covers Lava Beds National Monument) is $55 or included with America the Beautiful and other annual passes.
Best Time to Visit: Much of the park, including Rim Drive, is inaccessible to vehicles due to snowfall in winter, so the best time to visit the park and see the lake itself is late May to October – see estimated seasonal dates here. Winter sports enthusiasts can still enjoy skiing and snowshoeing from November to May, but it’s definitely one of the best national parks to visit in summer.
- Plan a complete road trip through the most scenic parts of central Oregon using this itinerary covering Seattle to Crater Lake, via Portland, the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, Mount Hood and Bend
5. Redwood National & State Parks
Covering an area of over 130,000 acres in northern California, Redwood National & State Parks is one of the most unique parks in the United States.
The main thing to do at Redwood is the chance to get up close with the groves of redwoods, which are the tallest trees in the world, and make exploring the park feel as though you’re inside a storybook forest.
One of the best things to do at Redwood is driving the Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway, a road that cuts through the park and will have you traversing some of the most popular groves of redwoods. This drive also has several trailheads scattered all over, which makes it a treat to drive as you’ll have plenty of excuses to stop and stretch your legs out.
With much of the Redwoods traversing over Highway 101, it’s the perfect national park to incorporate into a west coast road trip, taking you through some of the most scenic driving territory in northern California all the way to the Oregon border.
Entrance Fee: Redwoods is FREE to enter. At developed campground entrances, there are state park day use fees to pay for Jedediah Smith, Del Norte Coast, and Prairie Creek Redwoods – though these fees are waived with America the Beautiful and other annual national park passes.
Best Time to Visit: Open year-round, summers are drier under foot and warmer, though do be aware of the coastal fog that occurs in summer. Winters experience a lot of rain and possible washouts and road closures to be aware of when tackling the coastal 101.
- Driving from San Fan? This scenic driving itinerary will take you all the way from San Francisco to the Redwoods along the Pacific coast.
6. Lassen Volcanic National Park
The West Coast is filled with lesser-known national parks, and Lassen Volcanic National Park is definitely one of them.
Located in northern California, Lassen only became a national park a few years ago, which means it still remains a bit of a secret in the national park system. Even many California locals don’t know about its existence!
Lassen is extremely unique because it homes four types of volcanoes – Shield, Composite, Cinder Cone, and Plug Dome. This means the terrain you’ll find here is anything but usual, with bubbling mud pots, geothermal areas, and sulfur vents being just a few of the highlights you’ll get to see here.
Moreover, thanks to its somewhat similar landscape to Yosemite National Park, Lassen makes for a great alternative to visit if you want to escape the crowds. A few of the best things to do at Lassen include kayaking at Manzanita Lake, seeing hydrothermal waters at Bumpass Hell, hiking a cinder cone volcano, and checking out Kings Creep Falls.
Entrance Fee: $30 per private vehicle, valid for 7 days. An annual pass is $55 or included with America the Beautiful or any annual national park passes.
Best Time to Visit: Although open year-round, snow at high altitudes makes much of the park inaccessible from November through until May. *Some parts of the park are still in rehabilitation following the Dixie Fire.
- Whether you are only stopping through or plan to camp, we share our favorite itineraries to make the most of your available time at Lassen Volcanic National Park
7. Pinnacles National Park
Pinnacles became a part of the national park system in 2013, which means it’s still relatively new. Due to lack of advertising, it still remains one of the biggest hidden gems in California – in 2021, Pinnacles National Park registered only 348,000 visitors.
Here, you’ll find a plethora of things to do, especially if incredible rock formations are your jam.
Because the park sits right on top of the San Andreas Fault, it houses some pretty unique-looking rock formations and caves. In fact, most of the visitors to Pinnacles head here in order to find rock climbing experiences, which can range from easy beginner lessons to adventures that last several days.
Moreover, Pinnacles National Park is one of the few places in the United States where you can see a lot of Condors. Even though they’re a critically endangered species, Pinnacles and volunteers have been making a lot of re-introduction and conservation efforts, so spotting them is quite easy here!
Entrance Fee: $30 per private vehicle, valid for 7 days. An annual pass is $55 or included with America the Beautiful and annual national park passes.
Best Time to Visit: Pinnacles is a great spot to explore year-round. Do note, despite being relatively new, peak crowds are being experienced in 2022, especially on holidays and weekends; visitors should arrive before 8 am to guarantee parking.
8. Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks
Hidden inside the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range in California, Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks are a gorgeous place to visit because, within its grounds, you’ll find sequoia trees – the largest trees in the world!
Pair the forest with views of snow-capped mountains, and you’ve got yourself a scene that looks pretty much as though it came straight out of a painting.
Plus, even though getting to walk amid the world’s largest trees is enough to make Sequoia National Park a must on your travel bucket list, there’s a whole lot more on the park’s menu. Sequoia is also home to Mount Whitney, the tallest mountain in the continental United States, as well as Kings Canyon, which is one of the deepest canyons in North America (it’s even deeper than the Grand Canyon!)
A few of the can’t-miss activities at Sequoia include going in search of the largest tree in the world (General Sherman), climbing a granite dome known as Moro Rock, exploring inside Crystal Cave, and driving through the park’s tunnel log (it’s a tunnel carved out of a Sequoia tree!).
If you’re feeling up for a challenge of a lifetime, hiking the 22-mile trail to Mount Whitney is also an option!
Entrance Fee: $35 per private vehicle, valid for 7 days. An annual pass is $70 for Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks and Hume Lake Ranger District of Sequoia National Forest/Giant Sequoia National Monument. America the Beautiful Annual Pass can also be used along with annual national park passes.
Best Time to Visit: The parks are open year-round; however, high altitudes make many parts of the parks inaccessible in winter. Year-round services are provided at Grant Grove, the Foothills, and Giant Forest & Lodgepole while the Mineral King and Cedar Grove areas are open from spring through fall.
9. Death Valley National Park
Even though the name Death Valley may make the park sound like a place where nothing thrives, it actually happens to be one of the liveliest national parks you can visit on the West Coast!
As you start making your way into the park, the landscape may actually feel a bit desolate at first, but as you start making your way further in, you’ll find yourself uncovering a world of rolling canyons, twisting sand dunes, interesting rock formations, and even hills that are colored in vibrant tones!
There’s so much you can do at Death Valley that listing everything feels impossible, but whatever you do, make sure you don’t miss out on driving the Artist’s Drive in order to see colorful mountains, slide down a few sand dunes, hike over hills of borax, and stand at Badwater Basin, which is the lowest point in the United States.
The hottest, driest, and lowest national park in the USA, it certainly makes for one of the most scenic drives in California.
Entrance Fee: $30 per private vehicle, valid for 7 days. An annual pass for Death Valley is $55, or included as part of America the Beautiful or other annual national park passes.
Best Time to Visit: Make no mistake, hot, dry, and arid, summer is NOT the best time to visit Death Valley. The park is open year-round; however, the cooler months of winter are definitely the preferred time for exploring the park. Check conditions here before you set out.
Commonly dubbed the Galapagos of North America due to their similar terrain and incredible wildlife viewing opportunities, the Channel Islands is not just one of the most incredible national parks on the West Coast but also one of the least known ones!
Even though it’s not technically on the West Coast, considering it’s an archipelago of islands on the Pacific, getting to the Channel Islands National Park can be done by taking a boat trip out from California’s mainland.
Thanks to the fact that it still remains pretty unknown, the park is rarely visited, and as a result, you can expect to find lots of solitude during your visit.
The park is made up of five islands, with the main one being Santa Catalina. Here, you’ll get the chance to hike over dramatic cliffs, enjoy beaches with beautiful views of the ocean, try excellent seafood, and have encounters with both marine and land animals like you never have before!
Entrance Fee: It is FREE to visit Channel Islands, though you will need to pay for transportation from the mainland with Island Packers.
Best Time to Visit: The Channel Islands is open year-round, though check schedules for public holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas.
11. Joshua Tree National Park
California is home to some pretty striking desert scenery, and you’ll find some of the best inside captivating Joshua Tree National Park.
This humongous national park sits at the exact point where two deserts blend together: The Colorado Desert and the Mojave Desert. Here, you’ll find an incredibly unique landscape made up of two entirely different ecosystems, both of which bring unique features into the mix.
Scenic driving is a favorite activity at Joshua Tree, especially when you consider temperatures can get extremely hot, making it a great way to explore without having to brave the weather. If you’re up for adventuring, though, you can go horseback riding, hiking, rock climbing, and biking across the many trails on offer.
Moreover, if you get the chance, try planning to spend a night inside Joshua Tree. The park is listed as Dark Sky Territory, which means stargazing is out of this world. Luckily, Joshua Tree offers tons of accommodation options, ranging from simple campsites to glamping tents, yurts, and domes!
Entrance Fee: $30 per private vehicle, valid for 7 days. A Joshua Tree annual pass is $55, or included with American the Beautiful or other annual national park passes.
Best Time to Visit: The moderate weather of spring and fall are the most popular, whilst visitor numbers fall during the heat of summer. Entrances are open daily 7.30 am to 5.00 pm.
Possibly the jewel in the crown of the west coast national parks, Yosemite National Park is a treasure trove of natural beauty.
Covering over 1,200 square miles of the Sierra Mountains, you can find deep valleys, dramatic waterfalls, granite cliffs, grand meadows, ancient giant sequoias, and vast wilderness areas to explore.
Bridalveil Falls is undoubtedly one of the park’s most popular stopping points, along with a hike to Mirror Lake for stunning views of Half Dome and a visit to Mariposa Grove for a glimpse of the giant sequoia trees the Sierra Mountains are acclaimed for.
Tioga Road, the most popular thoroughfare through the park, will reward road trippers with the most spectacular views, but do be prepared for congestion at one of the country’s most popular parks.
Entrance Fee: $35 per private vehicle, valid for 7 days. Annual Yosemite National Park passes are $70 or included with America the Beautiful or annual national park passes.
- Please be aware you no longer need need timed entry permits for peak-time entry to Yosemite; this has been abolished for summer 2023.
Best Time to Visit: Yosemite can be great to visit year-round, with each season offering something special (though there are road closures in some parts of the park in winter). One of the most visited parks in the United States, plan your trip accordingly, and even with timed reservations, expect congestion in the peak summer months, try to visit earlier in the spring and fall for fewer crowds.
- This scenic driving itinerary will take you between Yosemite and Death Valley National Parks, or head north next and take in the stunning mountain scenery Yosemite to Lake Tahoe
Best Route For Seeing The West Coast National Parks
To see all of the US west coast national parks is no small task but still doable in one long road trip if you have the time to spend zig-zagging your way down the west coast.
The total distance, depending on the route you take, is 400 miles, plus you will need a boat to the Channel Islands.
West Coast National Parks Map
Click on the map to create your own itinerary in Google Maps
Summary of West Coast National Parks
|West Coast National Park||State||Best Time||Entrance Fee|
|Olympic National Park||Washington||May to October||$30|
|Mount Rainier National Park||Washington||July to October||$30|
|North Cascades National Park||Washington||June to September||Free|
|Crater Lake National Park||Oregon||June to September||$30|
|Redwood National and State Parks||California||June to September||Free (State Park Day Fees)|
|Lassen Volcanic State Park||California||June to October||$30|
|Pinnacles National Park||California||Spring and Fall||$30|
|Death Valley National Park||California||November to March||$30|
|Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks||California||Spring and Fall||$35|
|Channel Islands National Park||California||Summer and Fall||Free + Ferry|
|Joshua Tree National Park||California||October to April||$30|
|Yosemite National Park||California||Spring and Fall||$35|
Driving Guides With Scenic Stopping Points
For more ideas on how to explore the US west coast national parks, we have these detailed itineraries which will help you plan out your route and interesting stopping points along the way.
- Scenic Stopping Points From San Francisco to Yosemite – via Berkeley, Castro Valley, Oakdale and Columbia State Historic Park
- Drive from Yosemite to Lake Tahoe with several scenic and historic stops along the way
- San Diego to Joshua Tree Driving Guide – your ultimate desert road trip itinerary in southern California!
- San Francisco To Portland – covering Lassen Volcanic National Park and Crater Lake National Parks
- San Francisco to Redwoods – with state park and nature stops along the way to Crescent City
- Best Washington Scenic Drives – incorporating Olympic National Park, Mount Rainer National Park and North Cascades National Park
- Driving Seattle to Yellowstone you can pick up several more US National Parks and state parks on a circular trip through Washington, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana and Oregon on this epic PNW road trip!
We hope this list of the best national parks on the West Coast helped you get some inspiration for your next outdoorsy escape. Even though there are incredible national parks spread all over the United States, there’s something seriously special about the ones you’ll find on the West Coast!
More Tips Before Setting Off On Your Family Road Trip
- Read these pro-tips for visiting national parks before tackling a US National Parks road trip
- For a fun addition to your national parks road trip, grab yourself a National Parks Passport
- Want to avoid the crowds? Try these lesser-known US National Parks for a unique family vacation
- Got a 4th Grader in the family? Don’t forget you may be eligible for a FREE national parks pass as part of the Every Kid Outdoors campaign
- Head further east, and you’ll come across even more US treasurers, including the Mighty 5 in Utah, or complete the Grand Circle for one of the most epic US Road Trip experiences.
- Make sure you download our printable family road trip checklist, so you never forget an important item again
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