California Wildlife Guide

California state parks include diverse landscapes and some of the best open spaces to see a variety of wildlife. Our state parks are home to elk, bears, coyote, sea lions, marmots, whales, and many more. Be on the lookout for these wildlife species as you explore California’s parklands! But remember, always be respectful of animals and their habitats – and observe wild animals from a safe distance and NEVER feed wild animals.

Northern California

Año Nuevo State Park – elephant seals

Marvel at northern elephant seals during a guided tour inside the Año Nuevo Coast Natural Preserve. Up to 10,000 elephant seals return to the shores each winter to breed and give birth along the scenic dunes and beaches. Don’t forget your camera!

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Portola Redwoods State Park – marbled murrelets

Look high into the redwoods and you may spot one of these endangered seabirds. The murrelet nests high in the redwood canopy, hundreds of feet above ground. Old-growth trees in Portola provide an important habitat for the marbled murrelet.

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Humboldt Lagoons State Park – Roosevelt elk

Park your car and catch a glimpse of majestic Roosevelt elk from afar. Once nearly extinct, herds of Roosevelt elk can frequently be spotted on the prairie or grazing south of Stone Lagoon. If you visit in May and June, you may even see newborn calves!

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Mount Diablo State Park – black-tailed deer

A “keystone” species in the native California coastal ecosystem, black-tailed deer bound through the 20,000-acre park. If you visit during the summer, these beauties will be reddish-brown, and brownish-gray during the winter.

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Southern California

Salton Sea State Recreation Area – brown and white pelicans

Bring your binoculars! The Salton Sea is a bird watcher’s delight. From brown and white pelicans to herons, kingfishers and more, the Salton Sea has long-provided sanctuary to a diverse collection of wildlife and the critical habitats that nurture them.

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Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve – gray whales

You won’t soon forget the sight of a gray whale migration. High above the sea, the bluffs offer excellent vantage points to watch the graceful sea mammals. To see females with their calves, go late in the season as they take their babies back north with them.

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Silverwood Lake State Recreation Area – bald eagles

Winter is the perfect time to take a Bald Eagle Barge Tour here, while bald eagles glide silently above the lake, fishing for their next meal. This bird of prey winters on the lake shores, and water-oriented birds such as snowy egrets and loons are plentiful.

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Cuyamaca Rancho State Park – Pacific tree frogs

You’ll know this small amphibian by its dark “mask”— but you’ll have to look closely! Smaller than a chicken egg, the Pacific treefrog also has the ability to change its color based on the air temperature to avoid being spotted by predators.

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Summer fun in California state parks

Summer is peak season for California’s 280 incredible state parks, and there is no shortage of fun! We asked our staff to share their favorite photos and ways to spend this sunny seasons in state parks.

Randy Summer

“For the past 20 years, our band — the 5M’s — has played music at Wilder Ranch State Park‘s Old Fashioned Independence Day. It is a great way to spend time with your family enjoying the feel of the 4th of July as if it was 1919. With hand-cranked ice cream, wagon rides, and a cake walk, we look forward to it every year. Even now as our boys are all teenagers.”

– Randy Widera, Director of Philanthropy

Castle Rock State Park Laura

Hiking at Castle Rock State Park is my favorite summer activity. It’s mostly shaded and cool and has rock scrambles and picturesque views. Perfect for a hot summer day!

–Laura Bernstein, Executive Assistant

Emerald Bay 1 Kathleen

Emerald Bay State Park is such a great place to camp with friends in the summertime. By day, you can hike, swim, picnic, and breathe in the fresh alpine air. At night, cook yourself a well-deserved dinner and drink in the starry skies. I bet you’ll even see a shooting star.

– Kathleen McCurdy, Membership Marketing Coordinator


Camp under the redwoods and swim in the magnificent swimming hole at Standish-Hickey State Recreation Area!

– Rachel Norton, Executive Director

McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial SP Ashley

McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park has it all! The park’s centerpiece is the 129-foot Burney Falls, which is a must while visiting. There are 5 miles of hiking trails winding through the park’s evergreen forests, including part of the Pacific Crest Trail passing through the park. There is an exceptional visitor center and you are able to rent boats, kayaks, canoes, and more to explore Lake Britton.

– Ashley Tittle, Director of Engagement

Sam summer 2

Picking up oysters and picnicking with friends at Tomales Bay State Park!

– Sam Joseph, Grants Manager


“When I’m not in forests or on mountains, I’m near the ocean. There’s always something so blissful that comes with seeing the expansiveness of the pacific. It puts problems and solutions into perspective. Seeing the ocean and awesome breeze meet the rocky coast at Mendocino Headlands State Park never lets me down during the summer. Plus, great paddling if you’re into that.”

– Luis Jimenez, Advocacy Coordinator


“Every summer, our family – husband Mike, son Alex, and daughter Allison – camp at Donner Memorial State Park and fill our days with fishing, kayaking, biking, swimming (mostly the kids, burr!!), cooking, and roasting marshmallows around the camp fire all the while surrounded by the fresh smell of pine trees, chipmunks (all of who’ve been named Carlos) scurrying around the campsite for left overs, and the occasional thunderstorm rolling in to make a brief appearance just enough to soak the kids with excitement in a downpour of rain.

– Holly Martinez, Director of Programs and Advocacy

Millerton Rhody

Grilling out and spending a night under the stars at Millerton Lake State Recreation Area! The lake is the perfect spot to cool off after a long hike through the surrounding hills. Plus, leashed dogs are allowed in the campgrounds!

– Sydney Little, Communications Manager

Which state park is your favorite during the summer season? Share yours by commenting below or posting tagging us on social media at @calparks on Instagram and Twitter and California State Parks Foundation on Facebook.