I live in Southern California, so the U.S. National Parks near Los Angeles are the ones my neighbors and I visit most often. The U.S. National Parks Service makes it easy to discover which national park is best for anyone. Have you heard about Find Your Park? We can enter our state, or search by types of experiences sought, and the U.S. national park nearest or best suited for our travel needs are given as results.
April 16-24 is National Park Week. This means that entrance to all US national parks, national monuments, and historic places is free; what better time to take advantage of our wonderful National Park System? There are 410 national parks, monuments (etc) in total, of which 58 are officially designated national parks. California has eight of them — you’ve heard of most of them, and Yosemite, Death Valley, and Redwood National Parks are probably among the most famous in all of the United States (along with perhaps the Smoky Mountains and Grand Canyon). But a little closer to my home, and easy for an overnight or weekend visit, are the Channel Islands and Joshua Tree National Parks. They are the U.S. National Parks near Los Angeles, California.
Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree is almost a straight shot east of Los Angeles, and about a two and a half hour drive. The 10 to California State Route 62 will take you right to Twentynine Palms, easy-peasy. There’s some mixed elevation: above 3,000 feet, Joshua Tree is part of the Mojave Desert. Lower down, it’s part of the Colorado desert. The distinctive Joshua trees are seen throughout the park, needless to say, along with big loose boulders and spherical rock formations. Hikers enjoy exploring Joshua Tree National Park; some moderate to difficult hiking trails are Contact Mine, Ryan Mountain, Fortynine Palms Oasis, and Lost Horse Mine. Easier, shorter and flat trails include Cholla Cactus Garden, Hidden Valley, and Indian Cove.
My older daughter’s fondest memory of this national park was finding a real stinkbug on the ground. She annoyed it with a stick until it sprayed at her — delight! Well, delight for a child, anyway. We get our family memories where we can. There are plenty of other animal species besides stinkbugs out at Joshua Tree, though. Desert animals are usually nocturnal, but you can see Golden eagles, roadrunners, and scorpions if you keep your eyes open (keep a look out for those scorpions, by the way. They don’t like to be bothered). Black-tailed jackrabbits coyotes, and desert Bighorn Sheep are often sighted by watering holes and at Barker Dam.
Channel Islands National Park
It is an easy drive from Los Angeles to Ventura, the base for Channel Islands National Park. The 101 N goes mostly west in this part of the state (that the 101 N runs east-west for a large chunk of change is frequently confusing to travelers and locals alike). Exit 64 off the 101 takes you to Channel Island Harbor. The drive is about an hour and a half. But, once you’re there, look for signs for Harpers Ferry Center (run by the National Park Service). It takes about an hour to get to the islands. Call Island Packers to reserve a spot on the ferry. (805)642-1393.
The two most popular of the Channel Islands are Anacapa and Santa Cruz. The others — Santa Barbara, Santa Rosa and San Miguel — are also accessible and private boats may dock there. Now, these are no tropical isles a la Hawaii, and the hikes can be rough for the inexperienced. Anapaca and Santa Cruz are the most user-friendly, so to speak, whereas the outer islands like Santa Rosa are much more rugged and mountainous, with unsigned paths. Be smart. East Anapaca has a figure eight shaped, gentle trail that kids can manage, as long as breaks are allowed and you remember to bring plenty of water. When my daughter was eight, she did this hike, but complained mightily throughout. Santa Cruz has more options, ranging from flat “nature trail” types of hikes to really tough un-maintained paths that I wouldn’t do…but plenty of rugged outdoorsy types love tackling those trails.
There is plenty of kayaking, fishing, camping, snorkeling/scuba diving and tide pool exploring to do on the Channel Islands. Whale watching is very popular, seasonally, as well. Birders come out, as do naturalists on the lookout for seals and sea lions. If you plan ahead and wake up early, tackling one of the islands in the Channel Islands National Park as a day trip is feasible, and Channel Island day trips are in fact quite popular with Ventura County locals.
Imagine spending a day or two on islands in the Pacific Ocean, or among Joshua trees in the desert. Los Angeles is fortunate to have two special national parks close enough for an easy drive. This National Park Week, consider setting a day or two aside to explore one of the U.S. national parks near Los Angeles, the Channel Islands or Joshua Tree National Park. Los Angeles’ proximity to both makes them obvious choices for appreciating our country’s National Parks System. And remember, the U.S. National Parks Service helps all of us find the closest national park to all of us anywhere in the United States. What a smart site for easily accessing the country’s most gorgeous gift to us, the U.S. national parks.