Best National Parks Near San Francisco (Map, Distances, Driving Time)

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If you want to know the best National Parks near San Francisco you’ve come to the right place.

Best National Parks Near San Francisco

San Francisco is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, but did you know that it is also within driving distance of some of the best National Parks in the country? While this amazing city is well known for its sights and tourist attractions like the Golden Gate Bridge, many people don’t realize that it is the perfect place to see several national parks near San Francisco!

For those traveling to California, the city of San Francisco can be a great starting point for exploring much more than just big cities. It is strategically placed very close to many breathtaking locations to see, all within an easy day’s drive!

National Parks Near San Francisco

Aside from the few great national parks found within driving distance of San Francisco, there are also plenty of National Recreational Areas, National Monuments, National Preserves, and State Parks to explore. All of these places put together to give you a giant list of locations to visit and almost unlimited options!

Golden Gate National Recreation Area

Distance: 10 miles, Driving time: 20 minutes

Golden Gate National Recreation Area is perhaps the most popular tourist destination in San Francisco, and easily the most recognizable and iconic. This park encompasses over 80,000 acres and includes scenic views, different biospheres, and even historical sites. 

View on San Francisco from Golden Gate National Recreation Area

Some of the more prominent and popular of these sites include a museum commemorating the building of the Golden Gate Bridge, Point Bonita Lighthouse, and the infamous Alcatraz Island. 

Aside from these attractions, this park has plenty of scenic hiking trails where you can enjoy seeing the plentiful wildlife. This is one park you do not want to miss, as it is much more than just seeing this historic landmark!

Golden Gate National Recreation Area across the bay.

Muir Woods National Monument

Distance: 20 miles, Driving time: 40 minutes

Found only 40 minutes from San Francisco, Muir Woods National Monument has grown in popularity over the years and is now one of the Bay area’s biggest attractions. It is the perfect destination for nature and forest lovers. 

Established in 1908, this park gives visitors the opportunity to hike among coastal redwoods, which are some of the tallest trees found anywhere in the world. 

Muir Woods National Monument

With multiple hiking trails and surreal forest groves, this place can be very popular depending on the time of year. Be sure to arrive early to ensure a parking spot, this is one park you will not want to miss!

Point Reyes National Seashore

Distance: 40 miles, Driving time: 1 hour

Being in California means some beautiful ocean sights, and one of the best ones is Point Reyes National Seashore. This place is home to some amazing cliffs and rocks with an ocean backdrop that provides some of the most stunning views in the whole state.

Point Reyes also acts as a giant coastal wildlife preserve, protecting over 1,500 different animal and plant species with its unique and beautiful shorelines.

Point Reyes National Seashore

If you love animals, Point Reyes is the place to visit. Home to the rare Tule elk, seal colonies, and migrating grey whales, you never know what kind of wildlife you might see!

Pinnacles National Park

Distance: 125 miles, Driving time: 2.10 hours

If exploring and climbing big cliffs, caves, and rocks sound like your idea of fun, then Pinnacles National Park would be a great national park to visit. Located in the heart of the Salinas Valley, this park is full of cliffs, caves, and structures formed by an ancient volcano that erupted 23 million years ago.

While famous for its rock climbing and hiking, this park is also famous for being one of the four places where critically endangered California condors are bred and released into the wild.

Pinnacles National Park. Bear Gulch

Visitors to this park will easily get their fill of natural wonders, great hiking trails, and abundant wildlife. And only a little over a two-hour drive from the city, this park makes for an excellent day trip!

Point Lobos State Reserve

Distance: 120 miles, Driving time: 2 hours

Point Lobos State Reserve has been called one of the greatest shorelines in the world, and is referred to as “the crown jewel of Califonia’s state parks.” People flock here from all over the world to enjoy its diving, hiking trails, and scenic ocean vistas.

Point Lobos

The wildlife found at Point Lobos is world-class, and here you will find sea lions, sea otters, elephant seals, harbor seals, and even killer whales!

From migrating whales, abundant wildlife, and coastal overlooks, there is almost no end of beautiful things to see at Point Lobos State Reserve, and it is only a short two-hour drive from San Fransisco!

Point Lobos. Cypress Cove.

Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park

Distance: 150 miles, Driving time: 2.30 hours

This amazing state park is found right where California’s famous redwoods meet their southernmost habitat, and the coastal scenery is world renowned because of the Big Sur coastal drive that winds through it. 

Pfeiffer Beach

Some of the more popular attractions at this park, aside from the coastal drive, is Pfeiffer Beach and McWay Falls. Both offer some amazing scenery and photography opportunities!

Still only a little over 2 hours away, Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park is plenty close enough to San Francisco for a quick day or even half a day trip to visit. You will not regret visiting this beautiful state park!

McWay Falls

Yosemite National Park

Distance: 170 miles, Driving time: 3 hours

Yosemite National Park is one of the most well-known parks in the United States, and many are surprised to learn that San Francisco is located only 3 short hours away. Home to huge amounts of wilderness and granite cliffs, it is some of the most rugged terrains in California.

Yosemite National Park. Cooks Meadow.

Yosemite has many great places to visit within the park, including some amazing rivers and waterfalls. Just be prepared, as this park can be very busy from April to November. 

It is easy to see why hikers and photographers fall in love with a place like Yosemite, and San Francisco could be the perfect staging point to visit this popular national park.

Yosemite National Park. Half Dome.

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Distance: 240 miles, Driving time: 3.30 hours

Lassen Volcanic National Park is another national park close to San Francisco, and the highway that runs through it is one of the most breathtaking and scenic drives in the entire national park system. 

This highway passes two beautiful alpine lakes, and both Emerald Lake and Lake Helen will blow you away. For hikers, Bumpass Hell Trail is infamous for being a great hike with some steaming sulfur pools as a reward to see!

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Hikers will love this amazing park, and the scenery is some of the best mountain and alpine views that California has to offer. 

Kings Canyon National Park

Distance: 240 miles, Driving time: 3.30 hours

Kings Canyon National Park sits right next to Sequoia National Park, but because they are so close together, most people will visit them on the same trip. 

Entering Kings Canyon

Kings offer views of the amazing Kings Canyon, one of the deepest canyons in the country, as well as plenty of different mountains, waterfalls, lakes, and hiking trails to explore. 

The terrain here is very similar to Yosemite National Park, with a lot fewer people to have to contend with. It also has plenty of camping and horseback riding adventures for people who want to explore it even further!

Kings Canon

Sequoia National Park

Distance: 260 miles, Driving time: 4 hours

Like we mentioned with Kings Canyon National Park, these two parks sit so close together that they are often visited on the same trip. But while Kings Canyon has its trademark canyon, Sequoia is famous for its giant trees. 

Sequoia National Park is the land full of giant redwood trees, including the world’s largest tree (by volume) named General Sherman. 

Sequoia National Park. Crescent Meadow

Visitors to this park can wander around groves of these giant trees, explore hiking trails, and enjoy scenic meadows and canyons. There are also some underground sights to explore called Crystal Cave. Sequoia is well worth the drive from the city, as every location here is breathtaking.

Sequoia National Park

Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve

Distance: 250 miles, Driving time: 4.30 hours

This reserve was created to preserve the popular “tufa towers,” which are naturally occurring spires and knobs that were formed by the area’s freshwater springs and alkaline lake water. It also protects all the native wildlife, including the millions of birds that travel to Mono Lake each year. 

Mono Lake itself covers over 65 square miles and is over a million years old. This makes it one of the oldest lakes in North America!

Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve

Because of how old it is, all of the salt and minerals have built up in the lake and it is very salty. These have contributed to all of the amazing towers and formations that are seen here.

Redwood National and State Parks

Distance: 320 miles, Driving time: 5.30 hours

While this is one of the furthest drives from San Franciso, it might be the one that is the most worth it! These parks are in a league of their own, and the giant redwood trees are something that everyone should see at least once in their lifetime.

While Sequoia National Park has the biggest (per volume) trees in the world, Redwood has the tallest trees in the world. 

Redwood National and State Parks

With so much wilderness and trails to explore, you could spend an infinite amount of time here and it still wouldn’t be enough. It might be a stretch for a day driving trip, but it is well worth it!

Conclusion

When visiting national and state parks, it can sometimes be a challenge to find the perfect city to fly or travel to in order to start your adventure. Luckily there are places like San Francisco that are in close proximity to so many different and amazing natural wonders!