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11 (BEST) West Coast National Parks to Visit 2021

We’ve ranked the best west coast national parks from the wild and rugged Olympic coastline to the misty forests of Redwood and beyond.

To many, the phrase west coast national parks could evoke different magical landscapes. From the wild and rugged Olympic coastline to the misty forests of Redwood or the remote island beauty of Channel Islands. Here we’ll take a look at the top 11 west coast national parks and help you plan your next west coast vacation.

For those of you thinking the western United States get an awful lot of love when it comes to the national parks – we agree, but it’s hard to argue with the facts on the ground. If you’re still in need of some eastern national park content head on over to our write-up on the 8 Best East Coast National Parks (where we had to be a little more liberal with the term coast!).


Why Listen to Us?

You should probably know that we didn’t just make this list up out of thin air. We’ve spent our entire adult lives exploring and filming America’s national parks and public lands. We’ve worked with the National Park Service, the Department of Interior, and the U.S. Forest Service for years creating films on important places and issues. Our work has been featured in leading publications all over the world and even some people outside of our immediate family call us experts on the national parks.

pattiz brothers
Jim (left) and Will (right) of More Than Just Parks

We’re Jim Pattiz and Will Pattiz, collectively known as the Pattiz Brothers. Our goal here at More Than Just Parks is to share the beauty of America’s national parks and public lands through stunning short films in an effort to get Americans and the world to see the true value in land conservation.


Things to Know Before You Visit

Entrance Fees: You can expect $20-$30 per vehicle but we suggest you go ahead and purchase the America the Beautiful Pass (which can be found at the entrance gates to most national parks). This pass gets you into all National Parks, Forests, Monuments, and more including 2,000 sites for free after a one time $79 fee.

Sunscreen: For many of us visiting national parks in the summer means lots of sun. Seriously, some of these parks can zap you if you don’t wear sunscreen. We happen to like this one because it works AND it’s not full of a bunch of chemicals.

Leave No Trace: We’re big fans of Leave No Trace, here at MTJP. Want to learn more? Read about the seven principals of Leave No Trace here.

Insect Repellent: You hope not to need it, but you want to have it. We typically bring an Eco-Friendly Insect Repellent with us just in case.

Dogs are not allowed on trails in most national parks due to their potentially disruptive presence with the natural ecosystem. The basic rule is they are allowed where cars can go so be sure to check the rules before bringing along your furry friend.


West Coast National Parks

olympic national park washington
Olympic National Park, Washington | Best West Coast National Parks

1. Olympic National Park

Location: Washington, USA

Description

Olympic National Park is the most diverse national park in America, hands down. This park has everything from lowland forests, striking mountain ranges, pristine alpine lakes, sparkling rivers, temperate rainforests (the largest in North America), iconic wildlife, and over 50 miles of wild coastline! Oh, and it’s a stones throw from Seattle! Olympic National Park truly has it all and without the crowds that have become so insidious in other US national parks in recent years.

Best Time to Visit

The best time to visit Olympic is in the summer when the roads and trails are open and the park’s beaches, mountains, and valleys are at their most beautiful. Try to avoid holiday weekends if you can as the park sees increased visitation then. Make sure to make camping reservations in advance if possible or plan ahead where you’ll be staying overnight.

Best Things to Do

Hoh Rainforest is a spectacular mossy, old-growth forest wonderland where you’re sure to be amazed. You may even see beautiful Roosevelt Elk wandering the woods. Please make sure to stay on the marked trails, the rainforest is extremely fragile and has seen increased visitation over the past few years causing some damage to the forest.

Realto Beach provides breathtaking views of the rugged Olympic coast and the Pacific Ocean. Seagulls and eagles soar and large rocks protrude from the surface of the ocean and are relentlessly battered by waves.

Where to Stay
Relevant Links

stout grove sunset redwood national park
Redwood National Park, California | West Coast National Parks

2. Redwood National Park

Location: California, USA

Description

Redwood National Park’s misty forests, wild coastline, pristine streams, and valleys teeming with wildlife are one of the best kept “secrets” in the national park system. 40 scenic miles of wild and rugged coastline where whales swim and elk roam are enough to take your breath away.

Waterfalls and clear blue streams rush against a backdrop of vivid green ferns. The tallest trees in the world soar to unimaginable heights all around you and command your awed gaze. Yes, here in Redwood National Park you’ll be forgiven if you start to think you’re another planet, like say Endor.

Best Time to Visit

Redwood is a great park to visit just about any time of year. If you don’t like crowds try the spring or fall. If you want optimal weather try the summer. If you hate mosquitoes try the winter. If you want vivid greenery and wildflowers try the spring. See what we mean!

Best Things to Do
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Stout Grove, Redwood National Park | West Coast National Parks

Stout Grove is one of the most magnificent and highly photographed groves of old-growth Redwoods in Redwood National Park. Located in Jedediah Smith Redwoods North of Crescent City, the Stout Grove features a relatively small grove of giant, 300ft tall redwoods.

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Jedediah Smith Redwood State Park | West Coast National Parks

Jedediah Smith Redwoods Named for the famous mountain man, Jedediah Smith State Park is often many visitors first experience in Redwood National Park. This area is located on the stunning Wild & Scenic Smith River on the north side of the park near Crescent City.

Where to Stay
Redwood National Park Guide

Interested in learning more about Redwood National Park? We made a beautiful and easy to use guide with helpful tips, photos, video, & more! Click here for the guide.


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Mt Rainier National Park | West Coast National Parks

3. Mount Rainier National Park

Location: Washington, USA

Description

John Muir very aptly called Mount Rainier, “The most luxuriant and the most extravagantly beautiful of all the alpine gardens I ever beheld in all my mountain-top wanderings”.

This most heavily glaciated peak in the contiguous US is downright mesmerizing. Similar to the feeling one gets when looking into the Grand Canyon, you can gaze upon this mountain for hours without fathoming what exactly you’re looking at.

This park has so much more to offer than the magnificently glaciated mountain surrounded by carpets of the most beautiful wildflowers you’ve ever seen. It has vast old growth forests, clear blue rivers, abundant wildlife, countless vistas, and so many wonderful hiking opportunities. Summer crowds can be troublesome and wildfires seem to be more present with each passing year, but plan accordingly and you’ll be amazed by this immensely beautiful national park.

Check out these 13 EPIC hikes at Mount Rainier National Park.

Highlights

Paradise is aptly named for its abundance of wildflowers and views of the grand mountain. There are numerous hiking trails here for hikers of all abilities.

Sunrise is the highest driveable part of the park. Here you’ll find breathtaking views of the mountain and the valleys below this is a perfect spot to take in the sunrise or sunset.

Grove of the Patriarchs is a short 1.3 mile trail through a forest of 1,000+ year old red cedars and douglas firs surrounded by the rushing Ohanapecosh River. Need any more convincing?

Where to Stay

us national parks ranked, yosemite valley
Yosemite National Park, California | Best West Coast National Parks

4. Yosemite National Park

Location: California, USA

Description

Yosemite National Park is a breathtakingly beautiful place with spectacular wonders that defy belief. But alas, it’s the 21st century and John Muir’s “grandest of all temples of nature” is bursting at the seams with tourists in search of their latest social media trophy. But at the end of the day it’s still Yosemite National Park. Once there you’ll realize just why the park is one of the most popular in the US.

Despite the summer crowds, the valley and the park is truly one of the natural wonders of the world. The immense beauty found here is overwhelming and has a tendency to make one feel small in the most humbling way. We recommend visiting in the off-season for the best experience.

Highlights

Yosemite Valley is one of the most breathtaking and iconic natural destinations in the world. John Muir had this to say about it “It is by far the grandest of all the special temples of Nature I was ever permitted to enter.”

Glacier Point is another incredibly scenic viewpoint of Yosemite Valley and one of the most heavily photographed spots in the park.

Mariposa Grove is the largest grove of Giant Sequoias in Yosemite National Park with several hundred ancient trees on display.

Where to Stay

sequioa national park california
Sequoia National Park, California – Best West Coast National Parks

5. Sequoia National Park

Location: California, USA

Description

The beauty of the ancient Sequoia trees found in Sequoia National Park defy any attempt to describe them as John Muir so aptly wrote, “The Big Tree is Nature’s forest masterpiece, and, so far as I know, the greatest of living things. No description can give any adequate idea of their singular majesty, much less their beauty. ” 

Here, amongst groves of the largest trees in the world, one can’t possibly avoid being humbled and awed by the power of of nature. In addition to it’s namesake trees, the park has abundant amenities and outside of peak summer crowding isn’t too bad. We highly recommend adding this national park to your list.

Highlights
general sherman tree sequoia national park california
The General Sherman Tree, Sequoia National Park | Best Parks of the West

The General Sherman Tree is the largest tree in the world and for that reason alone is a must-see. The tree is 275 feet tall, around 2,200 years old and weighs more than 2.5 million pounds!

The Congress Trail is a favorite trail in the park winding through stunning groves of ancient Sequoias. For an especially beautiful trip, visit this trail in winter with snowshoes.

The Big Trees Trail is another favorite trail in the park which loops around a large meadow and gives visitors a grand view of the giant sequoias.

Where to Stay

zabriskie point best things to do death valley national park, california

6. Death Valley National Park

Location: California, USA

Description

The largest park in the contiguous United States at over 1.6 million acres, Death Valley embodies every aspect of epic. Sci-fi landscapes fill the mind with wonder as superlatives are the name of the game here. Death Valley features the lowest point in North America, the hottest ever recorded air temperature on the planet, and the driest place in the United States.

Despite the morbid name Death Valley has an abundance of life and incredible sights. So long as you don’t visit during the summer when temperatures can soar into the 130s you’re bound to have a great time here.

Video

Highlights
eureka dunes death valley national park
Eureka Dunes, Death Valley National Park | West Coast National Parks

Eureka Dunes Located in the remote Eureka Valley and situated at 3000ft elevation, Eureka Dunes is the most stunning dune field (we think) of the five in Death Valley National Park. These dunes are the tallest in California and some of the tallest in North America.

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Badwater Basin, Death Valley National Park | Best West Coast National Parks

Badwater Basin is the lowest point in North America at 282ft below sea level. This salty wonderland features dazzling geometric shapes and record temperatures in the Summer.

Zabriskie Point, Death Valley National Park | West Coast National Parks

Zabriskie Point is one of the most iconic locations in all of Death Valley National Park and perhaps the park’s best place in to watch a sunrise. This popular location features panoramic views of Death Valley and stunning rock formations.

Where to Stay

Manzanita Lake, Lassen Volcanic National Park California
Lassen Volcanic National Park, California | West Coast National Parks

7. Lassen Volcanic National Park

Location: California, USA

Description

We liken Lassen to a Yosemite meets Yellowstone. Situated just below the mighty volcanic Cascade Range and at the northern tip of the Sierra Nevada mountains, this park features some otherworldly scenery. Thermal works here in an area known as Bumpass Hell rival some of those you can find in Yellowstone. 

Throw in some stunning alpine lakes, sugar pine forests, and purple mountain majesty and you’ve got a general feeling for the place. The catch here is proximity to a major airport and other popular destinations. It’s a bit out there.

Highlights

Bumpass Hell is an otherworldly landscape reminiscent of some of the thermal areas found in Yellowstone National Park. Boardwalks here wind through sulfurous, boiling, steaming pools.

kings creek falls lassen volcanic national park california
Kings Creek Falls, Lassen Volcanic National Park | West Coast National Parks

Kings Creek Falls is a 30ft waterfall located in Lassen Volcanic National Park that is part of a scenic 2 mile hike.

Where to Stay

joshua tree national park california
Joshua Tree National Park, California | West Coast National Parks

8. Joshua Tree National Park

Location: California

Description

Oh Joshua Tree. Has any park been more idolized by musicians and pop-culture? What was once thought of as an interesting other-worldly filming location for old Hollywood television productions like Star Trek, is now every budding artist’s pilgrimage for photo shoots and experimental…well, anyway.

Alas, Joshua Tree has not lost any of its beauty, and despite its crowds still provides plenty of space to explore it’s magical desert landscapes.

Video

Highlights

wall street mill joshua tree national park
Wall Street Mill, Joshua Tree National Park | National Parks West

Wall Street Mill is an abandoned gold mill site built in 1933 the ruins of which are located in Joshua Tree National Park. The mill was built by Bill Keys, whose handy work can be seen in various other sections of the park including Keys Ranch.

arch rock joshua tree national park california
Arch Rock, Joshua Tree National Park | National Parks West Coast

Arch Rock is a roughly 30ft natural arch located near the White Tank Campground. The hike to the arch leads visitors through a labyrinth of cool rock formations along the way.

skull rock joshua tree national park
Skull Rock, Joshua Tree National Park | West Coast National Parks

Skull Rock is pretty much exactly what it sounds like – a really cool looking skull-shaped rock that’s actually located right off the main road in Joshua Tree National Park.

Where to Stay


general grant tree kings canyon national park california
Kings Canyon National Park, California | West Coast National Parks

9. Kings Canyon National Park

Location: California

Description

Located directly adjacent to Sequoia National Park and featuring similar scenery (the second largest tree on the planet lives here) and even a similar lodge, this is a park to behold. The only downside here is accessibility, burned areas, crowds, and the sequoia groves here aren’t quite as gorgeous as those you’ll find down the road at Sequoia. Call it national park snobbery, spoiled with a wealth of natural splendor, but here we are.

Highlights

General Grant Tree Clocking in at the second largest tree on the planet, the General Grant Tree is a sight to behold.

Grant Grove The Grant Grove is home to the General Grant Tree along with many other massive sequoias sure to impress any visitor to Kings Canyon.

Where to Stay

crater lake national park oregon, west coast
Crater Lake National Park, Oregon | West Coast National Parks

10. Crater Lake National Park

Location: Oregon

Description

The deepest lake in America is one of the seven wonders of Oregon and is surprisingly the state’s only national park. The kind of blue water that exists here is unlike any other in the world and is sure to captivate you. While the park itself is fairly remote and requires quite a drive to get to, trust us, it’s worth it.

In the summer a ferry runs to and from Wizard island where folks can get a unique view of the surrounding area and swimming is a popular activity. In the winter, cross country skiing, snowshoeing, and backcountry camping are popular among the hardy outdoors enthusiast. Crater Lake actually sees more snowfall than most other parks in the lower 48.

Highlights

Crater Rim Road The Rim Road is the main event and the bare minimum of what you do at Crater Lake. AS its name suggests the road takes you around the entire lake offering countless overlooks and trailheads to explore.

Vidae Falls A 100ft waterfall that cascades through wildflowers in the summer. A great spot to stop and take in the view along the main road.

Where to Stay

channel islands national park california, west coast
Channel Islands National Park, California (courtesy NPS) | West Coast Parks

11. Channel Islands National Park

Location: California

Description

Deemed “the American Galapagos”, Channel Islands feature an unbelievable amount of biodiversity. Located just off the coast of Southern California, this eight island chain is another bucket-lister for park-lovers.

Getting to the islands themselves presents a bit of difficulty as visitors have to take a ferry and usually make reservations well in advance. Once arriving to the islands activities including hiking, kayaking, diving, and relaxing. Amenities are a bit limited so make sure to pack water and food for your trip.

Highlights

The Ferry Ride to the Channel Islands from mainland California is one of the coolest parts of the adventure. The ride itself is about 1 hour each way and costs about $65 per person for a round trip ticket.

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Inspiration Point Channel Islands (courtesy NPS) | Best Parks West Coast

Inspiration Point Trail is a short trail that features a breathtaking overlook on Anacapa Island.


Map of West Coast National Parks

See the map below with the locations of all 11 West Coast National Parks.


List of the Best West Coast National Parks (Top 11)

  1. Olympic National Park
  2. Redwood National Park
  3. Mount Rainier National Park
  4. Yosemite National Park
  5. Sequoia National Park
  6. Death Valley National Park
  7. Lassen Volcanic National Park
  8. Joshua Tree National Park
  9. Kings Canyon National Park
  10. Crater Lake National Park
  11. Channel Islands National Park

Top Ten List – More Best National Parks of the West

  1. Grand Teton National Park
  2. Rocky Mountain National Park
  3. Glacier National Park
  4. Grand Canyon National Park
  5. Yellowstone National Park
  6. Zion National Park
  7. Great Sand Dunes National Park
  8. Arche National Park
  9. Capitol Reef National Park
  10. Canyonlands National Park

Leave us a comment below!

What’s your favorite West Coast National Park? Did we miss one? Let us know!


See Our Full National Park Rankings

We actually ranked ALL 63 National Parks from best to worst using the same point system featured in this article here. Curious to see how California’s parks stack up against the rest of the parks nationwide? Click here!


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Catch up on all the latest posts from the crew at More Than Just Parks.

Jim Pattiz

Co-Founder of More Than Just Parks. Filmmaker, Conservationist, Public Lands Enthusiast

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