California's State Parks system contains close to 300 parks with beaches, forests, mountains and deserts included in the inventory, as well as over one million artifacts in a collection of items. The notion of state parks and protected lands managed by state government agencies arose in the late 19th century in states such as New York, which set up the Adirondack and Catskill Preserves, as well as Niagara State Park Reservation, in 1885.
Alaska has the most state park acreage with 3.4 million acres. California and New York have the second and third most acreage at 1.6 million and 1.4 million acres, respectively. These three states account for 45% of all U.S. state park acreage.
To say that state parks operations are huge would be an understatement at best. The system divides parks into regions and types of park attractions--off road vehicles, beaches, parks, camping, etc. Pictured is a waterfalls you'll find in the Shasta Cascade region at McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park.
Here are the major designations by region:
North Coast: Located along the California coast between Bodega Bay and the Oregon border, this are includes coastal parks and the world-famous attraction, the redwood forests that span many counties but are especially prominent in Humboldt County.
San Francisco Bay Area: Known for the largest national recreation area in an urban setting, the region also has many state parks and beaches. The drives are stunning and the populations of the region outside San Francisco are sparse, making visits incredibly appealing and enjoyable.
Central Coast: With perhaps the greatest number of state parks and beaches, the Central Coast stretches in the premier sand dune area. From Oxnard to Monterey Bay, this region has countless parks and beaches providing hikes, camping, kayaking, and the only state recreational area where you can drive vehicles on the beach.
Los Angeles County: The most populated county in California sometimes seems to tax the state beach resources during the summer, but the mountain state parks provide less populated camping & hiking experiences, even in the summer. It amazes tourists who can't believe there are stunning mountain escapes at California State Parks in Los Angeles County.
Orange County: The state parks and beaches in Orange County are few, but attendance includes some of the highest concentrations of visitors, especially in the summer months. The northern area includes broad sand expanses ideal for families. As you head south from Corona del Mar, through Laguna Beach, and south to San Clemente, there are cliffs, smaller areas of sandy coves and breath-taking scenery.
Inland Empire: The diverse Inland Empire state parks include mountain resorts and desert escapes, and when you stand in Joshua Tree National Park and see both (desert and snow-capped mountains) there is no experience that grabs you quite so much.
San Diego County: San Diego County is the land of parks. There are many city & county parks in the county, but the state parks and beaches are the gems of this Southern California region.
Shasta Cascade: From the McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park to the Shasta mountains and Cascade mountain range, the landscape is lush, thick and provides some of the best camping, fishing and kayaking to be had!
Gold Country: The state parks in California Gold Country are most often historic buildings, cemeteries, and cities where you can feel the history just by being there. World travelers are compelled to visit these parks because there's nothing like them on earth.
Central Valley: State parks in the Central Valley include diverse parks with lakes, wildlife, caves, rivers and foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Central Valley State Parks provide so much opportunity to enjoy the great outdoors, you'll quickly understand why locals keep their parks a secret when they can.
High Sierra: If you're looking for some of the most beautiful mountains in the U.S., do head for the Sierra Nevada mountains with state parks that include the world's biggest trees, the giant sequoias. There's wildlife, forests, skiing, hiking, mountain biking... it's the ultimate challenge!
Deserts: California deserts include miles upon miles of open space and public state parks to drive through and explore. Summers can be quite unbearable, but 7 - 8 months out of the year the weather is fantastic--dry and seldom rains. Rock climbing, hiking, biking, desert duning, and camping are a few of the outdoor activities to look forward to in California's vast deserts.
There are 278 units in the California State Park System. They include: State Park 87
State Beach 63
State Historic Park 51
State Recreation Area 32
State Natural Reserve 16
State Vehicular Recreation Area 8
State Historical Monument 1
State Seashore 1
Wayside Campground 1