California State Park System

The State Parks of California

There are 280 parks units controlled and overseen by the California Department of Parks and Recreation. These parks make up roughly one-third of the scenic coastline, consisting of 1.4 million acres total. Campsites and trails for hiking, biking and horseback riding are prevalent, and the parks, as a whole, represent a diverse gathering of landscapes, plants, animals and cultural reserves.

The first state park in California was Yosemite Grant, part of the current day Yosemite National Park. This land was set aside in 1864. By 1902, Big Basin Redwoods State Park was also founded and is the oldest state park in California still in existence under its original conditions. The State Park Commission would not be established until 1927, however, when the state’s legislative branch first set it up. Its earliest members included Major Frederick R. Burnham, W. F. Chandler, William E. Colby, Henry W. O’Melveny and Dr. Ray Lyman Wilbur.

Visitors wanting to enjoy the parks can purchase one of several California State Park visiting passes. The Golden Poppy Vehicle Day Use Annual Pass costs $125 and the Vehicle Day Use Annual Pass costs $195; both passes allow their holders to operate a motor passenger vehicle within the parks for a year. A Boat Use Annual Pass costs $100 and allows its holder to operate personal sailboats over eight feet and motorized watercraft within a park for a full year. The park system also provides discounts for disabled persons, senior citizens and distinguished veterans.

Interested parties can also make special reservations for tours and camping trips at several of the state parks. Tours are offered at both Hearst Castle and  Año Nuevo. Reservations for both parks can be made by calling 1-800-444-4445. Camping reservations can be made online or by phone and are available on a first-come-first-serve basis. Visitors interested in making a camping reservation should call 1-800-444-PARK and would be wise to do so several months prior to the intended date of their trip. The California state park camping fees vary by park and range anywhere from $5 to $550.

The mission of the California Department of Parks and Recreation is to preserve the state’s natural and cultural resources in order to improve the lives of the people in California. However, along with preservation, the department also provides plenty of opportunities to enjoy the beauty of the state’s natural resources by allowing visitors to get inspired and uplifted by the state parks. For a listing of some of the 280 park units managed by the California Department of Parks and Recreation, see the resources below.

General questions and comments about the state park system as a whole can be sent to info@parks.ca.gov.

Notable California State Parks


An overview of the bay at Ano Nuevo State Park.

(Image by Unknown. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)