10 National Parks to Visit Near O.C.

After being cooped up for months, it seems everyone had the same idea this summer: get in the car and experience the natural beauty and grandeur of a national park! Many of these protected areas saw record attendance—all the more reason to plan a visit for the off-season. From stunning waterfalls and towering redwoods to mountain vistas and epic sand dunes, each of our picks have unique charms, and all are within an eight-hour drive of Orange County. It’s time to tick these iconic spots off your travel wish list!

Photograph by Tyler Raye

Death Valley

✓Sand Dunes    ✓Education    ✓Tranquility    ✖Trees

259 miles from Orange County

“How can rocks and sand and silence make us afraid and yet be so wonderful?”

— Edna Brush Perkins, suffragist and writer

Situated along the California-Nevada border, Death Valley National Park is known for its record-setting temperatures, otherworldly landscapes, and brilliant night skies. The 3.4-million-acre park is not only the largest of its kind, it’s also the hottest, driest, and lowest. The past two summers, the park reached a record 130 degrees. To avoid extreme heat, time your visit for late winter or early spring for a chance to see desert wildflowers. 

Read our full travel guide at orangecoast.com/oc-traveler/national-parks-near-orange-county-death-valley/

Photograph by Erik Jacobson

Grand Canyon

✓Vistas    ✓Wildlife    ✓Majesty    ✖Humidity

486 miles from Orange County

“In the Grand Canyon, Arizona has a natural wonder which is in kind absolutely unparalleled throughout the rest of the world.”

— Theodore Roosevelt, 26th U.S. president

The Grand Canyon’s wonders are best enjoyed in the off-season, as spring and fall showcase sunny days that aren’t hot. Be prepared with plenty of water, no matter when you go, as this place is high (7,000 feet) and dry (less than 10 percent humidity much of the time). The beautiful vistas are endless, no matter what angle you choose to see the canyon or hike into it.

Read our full travel guide at orangecoast.com/oc-traveler/national-parks-near-orange-county-grand-canyon/

Photograph by Jared Murray

Channel Islands

✓Wildlife   ✓Hiking    ✓Kayaking    ✖Lodging

101 miles to Oxnard or 108 miles to Ventura, plus 12 to 55 miles by boat

“In a closed ecosystem, species often exhibit dwarfism. Or gigantism. The Santa Cruz Island fox got smaller. But the Island scrub-jay is one-third bigger … than jays on the mainland. And that’s why the islands are called … the Galapagos of North America.”

— T.C. Boyle, author

Five islands—Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, San Miguel, and Santa Barbara—and their marine environs make up Channel Islands National Park. Of its 2,000 plant and animal species, 145 are found nowhere else.

Read our full travel guide at orangecoast.com/oc-traveler/national-parks-near-orange-county-channel-islands/

Photograph by Tom Gainor


✓Biking   ✓History    ✓Scenic Drives    ✖Proximity

440 miles from Orange County

“The red rock backdrop dazzled us as brutal rapids nose-dived off the cliffs into pools surrounded by abundant green piñon-juniper forests and fiery peach and coral sandstone canyons carved by flowing rivers and streams.”

— Karl Wiggins, author

Whether you’re looking to hike, bike, enjoy a craft brew, or even just drive around with no plan, Zion National Park has it all—and no matter what you choose, you’ll see incredible views from every angle.

Photograph by Stephen Leonardi

Read our full travel guide including a side trip to Bryce Canyon at orangecoast.com/oc-traveler/national-parks-near-orange-county-zion/

Photograph by Cyrus Crossan


✓Birdwatching    ✓Climbing    ✓Caves    ✖Crowds

312 miles from Orange County

“A Pinnacles National Park would preserve a unique portion of our land: not only a critical record of geological time … but also a rare habitat for condors, a wide array of flowers, and 400 species of bees.”

— Ken Burns, documentary filmmaker

National Geographic magazine describes Pinnacles National Park as “a geologic wonderland of jutting volcanic spires, cliffs, and peaks located in the dense chaparral country of the Gabilan Range.” It’s one of the country’s least-visited national parks—and the least visited in California.

Read our full travel guide at orangecoast.com/article/national-parks-near-orange-county-pinnacles/

Photograph by Angel Origgi


✓Trees    ✓Mountains    ✓Waterfalls    ✖Cell Service

265 miles from Orange County

“Do behold the king in his glory, King Sequoia. Behold! Behold! seems all I can say … Well may I fast, not from bread but from business, bookmaking, duty doing, and other trifles.”

— John Muir, naturalist and author

Visitors flock to Sequoia National Park for one thing—to walk among giants. You can read the stats and see the photos, but for true understanding you must stand beneath the massive trees for yourself. The nation’s second-oldest national park is open year-round; hike in the summer, and snowshoe in the winter. A vehicle pass ($35) is valid for up to a week.

Read our full travel guide including a side trip to Kings Canyon at orangecoast.com/oc-traveler/national-parks-near-orange-county-sequioa-and-kings-canyon/

Photograph by Christian Joudrey


✓History    ✓Scenery    ✓Popularity    ✖Spontaneity

323 miles from Orange County

“When I was about 15, I went to work at Yosemite National Park. It changed me forever. Nature had carved its own sculpture, and I was part of it, not the other way around.”

— Robert Redford, actor and director

Yosemite usually gets more than 4 million visitors a year, but the pandemic cut the numbers in half in 2020. Plenty has changed for this year: No shuttle service in the valley, and advance online reservations are required to enter the park through at least Sept. 30. The pass ($35) is good for three consecutive days, rather than the usual seven. Visit on weekdays or during the off-season (October through May) for all the park’s wonder without the heat or crowds.

Read our full travel guide at orangecoast.com/oc-traveler/national-parks-near-orange-county-yosemite/

Photograph by Cedric Letsch

Joshua Tree

✓Culture    ✓Proximity    ✓Serenity    ✖On-Site Lodging

135 miles from Orange County

“Joshua trees embody the spirit of the California desert, and it is crucial that we preserve their unique, iconic beauty for future generations.”

– Dianne Feinstein, U.S. Senator

Where the low Colorado Desert and high Mojave Desert meet sits Joshua Tree National Park, a tranquil shrubland studded with incredible rock formations and the lively, namesake variety of yucca trees native to the area. Just a couple of hours from Orange County, it offers a perfect change of scenery. On top of the natural sights, Joshua Tree is also home to a thriving and eccentric artist community. No wonder 2.8 million visitors come here annually, with the busiest months running from October through May.

Read our full travel guide at orangecoast.com/oc-traveler/national-parks-near-orange-county-joshua-tree/

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