Five National Parks Near Los Angeles
Above photo: El Capitan, a granite monolith, dominates Yosemite valley.
Story and photos by Susan Hegger
Susan worked at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch as a reporter and feature editor. She is a world traveler and an avid photographer.
All the destinations are beautiful and within a day’s drive.
What could be more American than celebrating Thanksgiving in a national park? I’ve done that with my brother and his family for the past five years, ever since I was widowed. I’ve welcomed forging a new tradition for a new life; we’ve all embraced the closeness that comes from sharing adventures in some of the country’s most beautiful and iconic settings. As flexible as we are, we have one non-negotiable requirement: The park must be within a reasonable day’s drive of Los Angeles. (Think three kids, now 7, 9 and 11, in a minivan.)
We leave the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, giving us an early start. But, like the rest of the world, we return to LA on Sunday, braced for traffic.
In order nearest to farthest, here are estimated travel times, mileage and routes to five parks in easy reach of Los Angeles.
Joshua Tree National Park
2 hours, 20 minutes (131 miles) via Interstate 10 East
For starters, the park has no stores, restaurants or hotels. So unless you rough it, consider staying in Palm Springs, about 50 miles from the park. The popular town’s dose of mid-century modern sophistication is the perfect complement to a day hiking in the desert. If you have kids, make sure to see the aptly named Skull Rock, near Jumbo Rocks campground. Make an adventure out of it by taking the 1.7 mile trail from the campground instead of just parking in a nearby lot.
Sequoia National Park
3 hours, 33 minutes (203 miles) via Interstate 5 North and CA-65 North
Sequoia is officially Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park, although we never quite made it into Kings Canyon. If you have time, consider completing the beautiful Majestic Mountain Loop drive, which includes Sequoia, Kings Canyon and Yosemite national parks. We found plenty to see in Sequoia, including the General Sherman Tree, reportedly the world’s largest tree. In the gateway town of Three Rivers, we discovered the Ol’ Buckaroo, a food truck with picnic tables, fire pit and plenty of space for kids to run around. The food was so good we kept coming back. Now, apparently, there’s an actual indoor restaurant.
Yosemite National Park
4 hours, 45 minutes (281 miles) via CA-99 North and Interstate 5 North
Yosemite, one of the most beautiful places in the world, was especially magical in early winter, with snow and diminished crowds. We stayed inside the park at a Yosemite West loft condo. (Be forewarned: The development is at a higher elevation than Yosemite Valley, and the snow that year was quite deep; chains were required for the car.) This is where we perfected our slow cooker dinner routines.
Zion National Park
6 hours, 35 minutes (433 miles) via Interstate 15 North
Normally, I prefer, if possible, staying within the national park. But not at Zion. The charming town of Springdale is right smack at the park’s entrance. If possible, drop by the Bit and Spur restaurant for tasty Southwestern fare. A convenient shuttle from Springdale takes visitors into and around the park, where they can hike everything from the easy Emerald Pools Trail to the difficult Angels Landing Trail.
Grand Canyon National Park
7 hours, 10 minutes (486 miles) via Interstate 40 West
Our group expanded this year, with my sister and brother-in-law joining in. We rented a house in Williams, about an hour’s straight shot south of the Grand Canyon. Williams is an appealing Route 66 town, with a retro main street, full of neon signs, classic cars and souvenir shops.
Next year? Who knows? We may push the limits. We’re talking Bryce Canyon. That’s 7 hours and 42 minutes, 527 miles. But who’s counting?
RelatedView all articles
Read more stories about national parks.
National Park Tradition Renews Family Ties
After suffering loss, a lifelong traveler reconnects with relatives and creates lasting memories.
The Loneliest Road in America
The 409-mile drive across Nevada features sand dunes, hot springs and plenty of social distancing.
Mountain Road Trips for Every Season
Drive scenic routes to snowy slopes and popular peaks.
Road Trip to New River Gorge National Park and Preserve
The iconic bridge is stunning, and our newest national park offers much more.
Washington’s North Cascades National Park - Washington and Oregon
Outdoor enthusiasts revel in this remote park’s opportunities for adventure.
Quality Time at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
A western Colorado gem remains almost hidden until you’re there.
Exploring Isle Royale National Park, “The Good Place”
Minnesota’s North Shore All-American Scenic Drive leads to a prime wilderness experience.
Plan a Road Trip to a National Park Near You
Exploring wide-open spaces now makes perfect sense.
Family Fun Along California’s Majestic Mountain Loop
Three national parks in three days makes a great getaway.
Visiting Washington's Olympic National Park in the Offseason
An autumn camping trip offers serenity and easy social distancing.
Bryce Canyon National Park
Utah's national parks are beautiful during the day and turn to a magnificent spectacle at night.
Cruising Washington’s Scenic Cascade Loop
The 440-mile drive pays homage to the state’s diverse landscape.
Big Bend National Park
Solitude and stunning vistas prevail in one of America’s least visited parks.
A Traveler's Tribute to Trees
The drive from Olympic National Park to San Francisco features spectacular views of towering forests.
Celebrate the Seasons at Yosemite National Park
From roaring waterfalls to colorful trees, the park is a year-round spectacle.
Explore Dry Tortugas National Park on a Day Trip from Key West
The remote area in the Gulf of Mexico is a prime spot for snorkeling and diving.
Blown Away by Oregon’s Volcanic Legacy
Mount Hood, Smith Rock and Crater Lake are high spots of the state’s interior.
Road Trip from Denver to Glacier National Park
A trip from Denver to Montana shows off the vast and varied scenery in the U.S.
Road Trip to New Mexico’s White Sands National Park
Visit the Southwest’s most otherworldly natural attraction.
Cades Cove Drive is a Trip Back in Time
Visit log homes, churches and other buildings from the early 1800s on a relaxing 11-mile road trip.
Saguaro National Park Drive Features Unique Beauty
The iconic saguaro cactus is a symbol of the Southwest.
Road Trip to Indiana Dunes National Park
Just a 50-mile drive from Chicago, America’s 61st National Park has much to offer.
Hot Springs, Arkansas, is a Relaxing Getaway
Hot Springs National Park features Bathhouse Row and the first brewery in a national park.
Road Trip to Dark Sky Parks in Utah
A father and daughter bond while photographing the Milky Way.
Driving California’s Majestic Mountain Loop
Two Californians explore three national parks in their home state.
Winter Wonderlands: 7 Road Trips in Our National Parks
From A (Acadia) to Z (Zion), national parks offer ideal destinations for a weekend trip or longer vacation.
A Different Side of Mount Rainier National Park
For the first time, a professional climber chooses to explore the lower elevations.
Utah's Scenic Byway 12 is a Masterpiece
The All-American road traverses slickrock and features a petrified forest, a beautiful waterfall and gourmet dining.
A Road Trip Through the Great Smoky Mountains
A national park and nearby parkway offer stunning views of the ancient Appalachians.
Acadia National Park Fuels Photography Passion
The only national park in the Northeast has stunning fall scenery and unique carriage roads.
Colorado’s Great Sand Dunes National Park
A road trip through the San Luis Valley promises otherworldly experiences.
Visiting Glacier National Park in Winter
Montana’s gem offers different rewards during the season of stillness.
San Francisco: A Gateway to Yosemite National Park
An easy road trip takes you from a world-class city to a top national park.
Zion National Park: The Intersection of Inspiration and Art
Utah's first national park spawns creativity in visitors.
Hiking to the Bottom of the Grand Canyon
Six family members immerse themselves in nature and attempt to bond.
Road Trip to Death Valley National Park
Beginning in Las Vegas, the ‘Death Valley Rally’ includes beautiful vistas and unique stops.
Petrified Forest National Park Keeps Its Secrets
Geologists, paleontologists and other riddle-solvers will enjoy spending time at this Arizona treasure.
Road Trip to See Waterfalls in Tennessee
A loose travel itinerary allows discoveries around every turn.
Chasing the Light in Joshua Tree National Park
College friends reunite in a desert wonderland with a deepened appreciation for each other.
Cold Weather Photography Tips
Protect your gear and yourself from freezing temperatures.
Road Trip Through Northern California
A world traveler reconnects with her California roots.
Yellowstone National Park in Winter
During the cold-weather months, the park offers spectacular scenes of wildlife.
Five National Parks Near Los Angeles
All the destinations are beautiful and within a day’s drive.
Grand Teton National Park – The Ultimate Summer Getaway
Sharing one of Wyoming’s scenic gems is particularly satisfying.
Snowshoeing in Rocky Mountain National Park
The Love family embraces winter in Colorado to experience a new adventure.
Start A Reservation
Enjoy fast and easy car rental bookings from Enterprise Rent-A-Car at one of our 7,200 branches in cities, airports and neighborhoods near you.Reserve Now
Don't miss an excuse to hit the road: our latest offers delivered to your inbox.Sign Up