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West Coast National Parks: A Guide

by | Hotspots, North America

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The West Coast of the United States is home to some of the most well-known national parks in the country. Whether you’re a seasoned hiker or a casual visitor looking to take in the sights, the national parks on the West Coast should leave a lasting impression on you. In this guide, we’ll explore some of the top national parks on the West Coast, including Yosemite, Olympic, and Crater Lake. So grab your mental hiking boots and let’s hit the trails!

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park is located in the Sierra Nevada mountain range in central California, about a 4-hour drive from San Francisco. The park covers an area of over 750,000 acres (303,550 hectares) and is home to a variety of landscapes including forests, meadows, and granite cliffs.

Yosemite is known for its iconic landmarks, including Half Dome, a massive granite dome that rises over 4,700 ft (1,432 m) above the valley floor, and El Capitan, a popular rock climbing destination. The park is also home to a variety of plant and animal life, including sequoias, black bears, and mule deer.

Yosemite is also home to a number of historic sites, including the Ahwahnee Hotel and the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias. The park receives over 4 million visitors per year and is a popular destination for hiking, rock climbing, and other outdoor activities.

Somewhere in Yosemite National Park

Landmarks

Yosemite National Park is home to a number of notable landmarks and features, including:

  • Half Dome: Half Dome is a granite dome that rises over 4,700 ft (1,432 m) above the valley floor. It is a popular hiking and rock climbing destination, with a challenging 16-mile round-trip hike to the top.
  • El Capitan: El Capitan is a massive granite monolith that towers over 3,000 ft (914 m) above the valley floor. It is a popular rock climbing destination, with over 1,200 climbing routes ranging from beginner to expert level.
  • Yosemite Falls: Yosemite Falls is a series of three waterfalls that total over 2,400 ft (732 m) in height, making it one of the highest waterfall in North America. The falls are a popular hiking and photography destination and can be viewed from several vantage points in the park.
  • Ahwahnee Hotel: The Ahwahnee Hotel is a historic lodge located in Yosemite Valley. Built in the 1920s, the hotel is known for its grand architecture and sweeping views of the park.
  • Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias: The Mariposa Grove is home to over 500 giant sequoia trees, some of which are over 3,000 years old. The grove is a popular hiking and photography destination, and offers guided tours for visitors interested in learning more about these massive trees.

A black bear cub in Yosemite National Park

Tips for visiting Yosemite

Here are some tips for planning a trip to Yosemite National Park:

  • Best times to go: The best time to visit Yosemite depends on your interests and what you hope to do in the park. Summer is the busiest time of year, and offers the best weather for hiking and rock climbing. Spring and fall are also good times to visit, with fewer crowds and cooler temperatures. Winter is the quietest time of year, with snow sports and winter activities available.
  • Where to stay: There are several lodges and campgrounds within the park, as well as nearby hotels and vacation rentals. If you’re planning to stay in the park, be sure to book your accommodations well in advance as they tend to fill up quickly.
  • Permits and reservations: Some activities in the park, such as backpacking and rock climbing, require permits or reservations. Be sure to check the park’s website for information on these requirements and how to obtain them.
  • Transportation: Yosemite is a large park with limited public transportation. If you’re planning to visit the park, it’s a good idea to have a car to get around. Alternatively, there are shuttle bus services available within the park that can take you to different areas.
  • Pack for the weather: Yosemite’s weather can vary greatly depending on the season and altitude. Be sure to pack appropriately for the weather, with layers and rain gear if necessary. It’s also a good idea to bring plenty of water, as well as snacks and other supplies for your activities in the park.

Popular activities

Some of the most popular activities in the park include:

  • Hiking: Yosemite is home to over 800 mi (1,287 kilometers of hiking trails, ranging from easy strolls to challenging backcountry routes. Some popular hikes in the park include the Mist Trail to Vernal Falls, the Four Mile Trail to Glacier Point, and the Half Dome Trail.
  • Rock climbing: Yosemite is known as a world-renowned rock climbing destination, with over 1,200 climbing routes ranging from beginner to expert level. El Capitan, a massive granite monolith, is a particularly popular climbing destination.
  • Wildlife viewing: Yosemite is home to a variety of plant and animal life, including sequoias, black bears, and mule deer. The park offers guided wildlife tours and ranger-led walks for visitors interested in learning more about the park’s flora and fauna.
  • Scenic drives: Yosemite is home to several scenic drives, including the Glacier Point Road and the Mariposa Grove Road. These drives offer beautiful views of the park’s landscapes and landmarks.

To browse and book tours and activities in Yosemite National Park, go here. For lodging options, go here.

Olympic National Park

Olympic National Park is located in the state of Washington, on the Olympic Peninsula. The park covers an area of over 900,000 acres (364,212 hectares) and is home to a diverse range of landscapes including forests, mountains, and coastline.

Summer in Olympic National Park

Olympic National Park is known for its varied ecosystems, including the Hoh Rainforest, a temperate rainforest located on the western side of the park, and Mount Olympus, the highest peak in the park at over 7,900 ft (2,408 m). The park is also home to a variety of plant and animal life, including elk, marmots, and bald eagles.

Olympic National Park is also home to a number of historic and cultural sites, including the Makah Cultural and Research Center, which shares the history and culture of the Makah Tribe. The park receives over 3 million visitors per year, being a popular destination in Washington.

Landmarks

Olympic National Park is home to a number of notable landmarks and features, including:

  • Hoh Rainforest: The Hoh Rainforest is a temperate rainforest located on the western side of the park. It is known for its dense vegetation and towering trees, some of which are over 300 ft tall (91.4 m).
  • Mount Olympus: Mount Olympus is the highest peak in Olympic National Park, rising to an elevation of 7,900 ft (2,408 m). The mountain is a popular destination for backcountry hiking and climbing.
  • Coastal Beaches: Olympic National Park is home to over 70 mi (113 km) of coastline, offering a variety of beaches for visitors to explore. The park’s coastal beaches are known for their rugged beauty and diverse plant and animal life.
  • Quinault Rainforest: The Quinault Rainforest is a temperate rainforest located on the southern side of the park. It is known for its dense vegetation and towering trees, some of which are over 500 years old.
  • Makah Cultural and Research Center: The Makah Cultural and Research Center is a museum and cultural center located within the park. It shares the history and culture of the Makah Tribe, who have lived on the Olympic Peninsula for thousands of years.

Olympic National Park is home to a number of notable landmarks and features, including:

  • Hoh Rainforest: The Hoh Rainforest is a temperate rainforest located on the western side of the park. It is known for its dense vegetation and towering trees, some of which are over 300 feet tall. The Hoh Rainforest is a popular hiking and photography destination.
  • Mount Olympus: Mount Olympus is the highest peak in Olympic National Park, rising to an elevation of 7,900 feet (2,408 meters). The mountain is a popular destination for backcountry hiking and climbing.
  • Coastal Beaches: Olympic National Park is home to over 70 miles (113 kilometers) of coastline, offering a variety of beaches for visitors to explore. The park’s coastal beaches are known for their rugged beauty and diverse plant and animal life.
  • Quinault Rainforest: The Quinault Rainforest is a temperate rainforest located on the southern side of the park. It is known for its dense vegetation and towering trees, some of which are over 500 years old. The Quinault Rainforest is a popular hiking and photography destination.
  • Makah Cultural and Research Center: The Makah Cultural and Research Center is a museum and cultural center located within the park. It shares the history and culture of the Makah Tribe, who have lived on the Olympic Peninsula for thousands of years.

Tips for visiting Olympic National Park

Here are some tips for planning a trip to Olympic National Park:

  • Best times to go: The best time to visit Olympic National Park depends on your interests and what you hope to do in the park. Summer is the busiest time of year, and offers the best weather for hiking and beachcombing. Spring and fall are also good times to visit, with fewer crowds and cooler temperatures. Winter is the quietest time of year, with snow sports and winter activities available in some areas of the park.
  • Where to stay: There are several lodges, campgrounds, and vacation rentals within the park, as well as nearby hotels and bed and breakfasts. If you’re planning to stay in the park, be sure to book your accommodations well in advance as they tend to fill up quickly.
  • Permits and reservations: Some activities in the park, such as backpacking and rock climbing, require permits or reservations. Be sure to check the park’s website for information on these requirements and how to obtain them.
  • Transportation: Olympic National Park is a large park with limited public transportation. If you’re planning to visit the park, it’s a good idea to have a car to get around. Alternatively, there are shuttle bus services available within the park that can take you to different areas.

Popular activities

Some of the most popular activities in the park include:

  • Hiking: Olympic National Park is home to over 600 mi (966 km) of hiking trails, ranging from easy strolls to challenging backcountry routes. Some popular hikes in the park include the Hoh Rainforest Trail, the Hurricane Ridge Trail, and the Summit Lake Loop.
  • Wildlife viewing: Olympic National Park is home to a variety of plant and animal life, including elk, marmots, and bald eagles. The park offers guided wildlife tours and ranger-led walks for visitors interested in learning more about the park’s flora and fauna.
  • Beachcombing: Olympic National Park is home to over 70 mi (113 km) of coastline, offering a variety of beaches for visitors to explore. Beachcombing is a popular activity in the park, and visitors may find a variety of sea creatures and other natural treasures along the shore.
  • Scenic drives: Olympic National Park is home to several scenic drives, including the Hurricane Ridge Road and the Lake Crescent Road. These drives offer beautiful views of the park’s landscapes and landmarks.

To browse and book tours and activities in Olympic National Park, go here. For lodging options, go here.

Crater Lake National Park

Crater Lake National Park is located in the state of Oregon, in the southern Cascade Mountains. The park covers an area of over 183,000 acres (74,000 hectares) and is home to Crater Lake, a deep, clear blue lake formed by the collapse of a volcano.

Crater Lake National Park is known for its stunning natural beauty, with its deep blue waters and surrounding forests and mountains. The park is a popular destination for hiking, with over 90 mi (144 km) of trails ranging from easy to challenging.

Crater Lake National Park receives over half a million visitors per year and is a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers. The park is open year-round, with different activities and facilities available depending on the season.

Cool view of Crater Lake

Landmarks

Crater Lake National Park has several notable landmarks and features, including:

  • Crater Lake: Crater Lake is the main attraction of the park, and is known for its deep, clear blue waters and stunning natural beauty. The lake is the result of the collapse of a volcano over 7,000 years ago, and is now the deepest lake in the United States, with a depth of over 1,900 ft (579 m).
  • Rim Drive: The Rim Drive circles Crater Lake and offers stunning views of the lake and the surrounding landscape. The road is open seasonally and offers a number of overlooks and other points of interest along the way.
  • Mount Scott: Mount Scott is the highest peak in Crater Lake National Park, rising to an elevation of over 8,900 ft (2,716 m). The mountain is a popular destination for hikers.
  • Wizard Island: Wizard Island is a cinder cone island located within Crater Lake. The island is home to a number of hiking trails and offers views of Crater Lake and the surrounding area.
  • Phantom Ship: Phantom Ship is a small island located within Crater Lake that is shaped like a ship. The island included several hiking trails and also offers views of Crater Lake and the surrounding area.

Tips for visiting Crater Lake National Park

Here are some tips for planning a trip to Crater Lake National Park:

  • Best times to go: The best time to visit Crater Lake National Park depends on your interests and what you hope to do in the park. Summer is the busiest time of year, and offers the best weather for hiking and boating. Spring and fall are also good times to visit, with fewer crowds and cooler temperatures. Winter is the quietest time of year, with snow sports and winter activities available in some areas of the park.
  • Where to stay: There are several lodges, campgrounds, and vacation rentals within the park, as well as nearby hotels and bed and breakfasts. If you’re planning to stay in the park, be sure to book your accommodations well in advance as they tend to fill up quickly.
  • Permits and reservations: Some activities in the park, such as backpacking and rock climbing, require permits or reservations. Be sure to check the park’s website for information on these requirements and how to obtain them.
  • Transportation: Crater Lake National Park is a large park with limited public transportation. If you’re planning to visit the park, it’s a good idea to have a car to get around. Alternatively, there are shuttle bus services available within the park that can take you to different areas.

Popular activities

Some of the most popular activities in the park include:

  • Hiking: Crater Lake National Park is home to over 90 mi (144 km) of hiking trails, ranging from easy strolls to challenging backcountry routes. The park is home to a number of notable hiking destinations, including Mount Scott, the highest peak in the park at over 8,900 ft (2,716 m), and the Rim Trail, a paved path that offers stunning views of Crater Lake.
  • Boating: Crater Lake National Park is home to Crater Lake, a deep, clear blue lake that is a popular destination for boating. The park offers boat tours of the lake, as well as rentals for visitors who wish to explore the lake on their own.
  • Scenic drives: Crater Lake National Park is home to the Rim Drive, a 33-mi (53-km) road that circles Crater Lake and offers pretty views of the lake and the surrounding landscape. The road is open seasonally and offers a number of overlooks and other points of interest along the way.
  • Winter sports: Crater Lake National Park is home to a number of winter sports opportunities, including cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling. The park offers guided tours and rentals for these activities.

To browse and book tours and activities in Crater Lake National Park, go here. For lodging options, go here.

Other national parks on the West Coast

In addition to Yosemite, Olympic, and Crater Lake National Parks, there are several other national parks on the West Coast worth visiting. Some of the notable national parks on the West Coast include:

Redwood National and State Parks

Redwood National and State Parks are located in northern California, along the coast of the Pacific Ocean. The parks are home to some of the tallest trees on earth, including the coast redwood, which can reach heights of over 379 feet (115 meters). The parks cover an area of over 137,000 acres (55,600 hectares) and are home to a variety of plant and animal life, including Roosevelt elk, salmon, and a number of threatened and endangered species.

Redwood National and State Parks offer a variety of outdoor activities for visitors to enjoy, including hiking, birdwatching, and picnicking. The parks are home to a number of hiking trails, ranging from easy strolls to challenging backcountry routes.

The very tall sequoia trees, also known as coast redwood

To browse and book tours and activities in Redwood National and State Parks, go here. For lodging options, go here.

Mount Rainier National Park

Mount Rainier National Park is located in Washington state, about 50 mi (80 km) southeast of Seattle. The park is home to Mount Rainier, an active stratovolcano and the highest mountain in the state, rising to an elevation of over 14,000 ft (4,267 m). Mount Rainier is the most topographically prominent mountain in the contiguous United States and is visible from much of the surrounding area.

This is Mount Rainier

Mount Rainier National Park covers an area of over 236,000 acres (95,700 hectares) and is home to a variety of plant and animal life, including alpine meadows, old-growth forests, and a number of threatened and endangered species. The park is known for its diverse landscape, with forests, waterfalls, glaciers, and a number of other natural features.

Mount Rainier National Park offers a variety of outdoor activities for visitors to enjoy, including hiking, rock climbing, mountaineering, and birdwatching. The park is home to a number of hiking trails, ranging from easy walks to challenging backcountry routes. In addition to hiking, the park also offers opportunities for rock climbing, with a number of routes available for climbers of all abilities.

To browse and book tours and activities in Mount Rainier National Park, go here. For lodging options, go here.

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Lassen Volcanic National Park is located in northern California, about 50 mi (80 km) east of Redding. The park covers an area of over 106,000 acres (43,000 hectares) and is home to a number of volcanoes and hydrothermal features, including Lassen Peak, an active volcano that last erupted in 1915. The park is known for its diverse landscape, with forests, meadows, lakes, and a number of other natural features.

Lassen Volcanic National Park is home to a variety of plant and animal life, including conifers, wildflowers, and a number of threatened and endangered species. The park offers a variety of outdoor activities including hiking, birdwatching, and picnicking. The park is home to a number of hiking trails, ranging from easy strolls to challenging backcountry routes.

Lake Helen, a popular spot in Lassen Volcanic National Park

Lassen Volcanic National Park is a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts, with over half a million visitors per year. The park is known for its winter sports, with snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and other activities available during the colder months.

To browse and book tours and activities in Lassen Volcanic National Park, go here. For lodging options, go here.

Pinnacles National Park

Pinnacles National Park is located in central California, about 80 mi (129 km) southeast of San Jose. The park covers an area of over 26,000 acres (10,500 hectares) and is known for its unique rock formations and caves. The park is home to a number of geological features, including spires, pinnacles, and a number of other natural features.

Pinnacles National Park is home to a variety of plant and animal life, including chaparral, oak woodlands, and a number of threatened and endangered species. The park offers a variety of outdoor activities, including hiking, rock climbing, and spelunking. The park is home to a number of hiking trails, ranging from easy walks to challenging backcountry routes. In addition to hiking, the park also offers opportunities for rock climbing, with a number of routes available for climbers of all abilities.

Pinnacles National Park receives over half a million visitors per year. The park is known for its unique geological features and is a popular destination for rock climbers and spelunkers.

Cool lava formations in Pinnacles National Park

To browse and book tours and activities in Pinnacles National Park, go here. For lodging options, go here.

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are located in central California, about 200 mi (322 km) southeast of San Francisco. The parks cover an area of over 461,000 acres (186,600 hectares) and are home to some of the tallest trees on earth, including the giant sequoia, which can reach heights of over 300 ft (91 m). The parks are known for their diverse landscape, with forests, mountains, meadows, and a number of other natural features.

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are home to a variety of plant and animal life, including conifers, wildflowers, and a number of threatened and endangered species. The parks offer a variety of outdoor activities for visitors to enjoy, including hiking, and rock climbing.

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are popular destinations for outdoor enthusiasts, with over two million visitors per year.  The parks are known for their towering trees and diverse landscape, and are a popular destination for hikers and rock climbers.

To browse and book tours and activities in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, go here. For lodging options, go here.

Road view of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

Bottom line

The national parks on the West Coast of the United States offer a variety of landscapes and activities for visitors to enjoy. From the towering trees of Yosemite National Park to the volcanoes and hydrothermal features of Lassen Volcanic National Park, the national parks on the West Coast are home to a number of unique and diverse natural features.

So, why wait? Perhaps you should plan your trip to one of the national parks on the West Coast today.

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