Redwood grove in Redwood National Park

According to the California Protected Areas Database (CPAD), in the state of California, United States, there are over 14,000 inventoried protected areas administered by public agencies and non-profits. In addition, there are private conservation areas and other easements.[1] They include almost one-third of California's scenic coastline, including coastal wetlands, estuaries, beaches, and dune systems. The California State Parks system alone has 270 units and covers 1.3 million acres (5,300 km2), with over 280 miles (450 km) of coastline, 625 miles (1,006 km) of lake and river frontage, nearly 18,000 campsites, and 3,000 miles (5,000 km) of hiking, biking, and equestrian trails.

Obtaining an accurate total of all protected land in California and elsewhere is a complex task. Many parcels have inholdings, private lands within the protected areas, which may or may not be accounted for when calculating total area. Also, occasionally one parcel of land is included in two or more inventories. Over 90% of Yosemite National Park for example, is listed both as wilderness by the National Wilderness Preservation System, and as national park land by the National Park Service. The Cosumnes River Preserve is an extreme example, owned and managed by a handful of public agencies and private landowners, including the Bureau of Land Management, the County of Sacramento and The Nature Conservancy. Despite the difficulties, the CPAD gives the total area of protected land at 49,294,000 acres (199,490 km2), or 47.05% of the state (not including easements); a considerable amount for the most populous state in the country.

National Park System

Main articles: List of areas in the National Park System of the United States, List of National Parks of the United States, and List of National Monuments of the United States

The U.S. National Park System controls a large and diverse group of California parks, monuments, recreation areas and other units which in total exceed 6,240,000 acres (25,300 km2).[2] The best known is Yosemite National Park, noted for several iconic natural features including Yosemite Falls, El Capitan and Half Dome, which is displayed on the reverse side of the California state quarter. Other prominent parks are the Kings Canyon-Sequoia National Park complex, Redwood National Park, Channel Islands National Park, Joshua Tree National Park and the largest, Death Valley National Park. The NPS also administers the Manzanar National Historic Site in Inyo County.

National parks[edit]

Yosemite Valley in Yosemite National Park

National monuments[edit]

(administered by the NPS)

Old-growth forest at Muir Woods National Monument

National recreation areas[edit]

Yucca plant near coast of Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area

National seashores[edit]

Palomarin Beach at Point Reyes National Seashore

National preserves[edit]

Castle Peaks in Mojave National Preserve

National Landscape Conservation System

Main article: National Landscape Conservation System

The Bureau of Land Management’s National Landscape Conservation System (NLCS) includes over 850 federally recognized areas and in California, manages 15,500,000 acres (63,000 km2) of public lands, nearly 15% of the state's land area.[3] The National Landscape Conservation System is composed of several types of units: national monuments (distinct from the same-named units within the National Park System), national conservation areas, forest reserves, outstanding natural areas, national scenic and historic trails, wilderness, wilderness study areas, and others.

National monuments[edit]

(administered by the BLM)

Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains

National conservation areas[edit]

King Range Wilderness

Forest reserves[edit]

Headwaters Forest

Outstanding natural areas[edit]

Piedras Blancas Historic Light Station

National scenic and historic trails[edit]

Golden Trout Wilderness along the Pacific Crest Trail

Wilderness and wilderness study areas[edit]

Total BLM-managed wilderness land in California is 3,725,230 acres (15,075.5 km2).[4]

Bigelow Cholla Garden Wilderness

National Marine Sanctuaries

Main article: United States National Marine Sanctuary

Sanderlings at the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary

The National Marine Sanctuary System is managed by the Office of Marine Sanctuaries, of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
California has four of the thirteen U.S. National Marine Sanctuaries:

National Wildlife Refuges

Main article: National Wildlife Refuge

National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) is a designation for certain protected areas of the United States managed by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. The National Wildlife Refuge System is an extensive system of public lands and waters set aside to conserve America's fish, wildlife and plants. Many of the state's refuges are important stops and destinations for millions of migrating birds along the Pacific Flyway corridor. One, the Butte Sink Wildlife Management Area, has the highest density of waterfowl in the world.[6] There are 38 units in the refuge system in California, including both wildlife refuges and wildlife management areas, divided into 9 different regional areas. Combined the areas equal about 440,000 acres (1,800 km2).

Hopper Mountain NWR Complex[edit]

Bobcat at the Blue Ridge National Wildlife Refuge

San Diego NWR Complex[edit]

Arroyo toad at the San Diego National Wildlife Refuge

Humboldt Bay NWR Complex[edit]

San Francisco Bay NWR Complex[edit]

Don Edwards San Francisco Bay NWR

Kern NWR Complex[edit]

Black-necked stilt at the Kern National Wildlife Refuge

San Luis NWR Complex[edit]

San Luis National Wildlife Refuge

Klamath Basin NWR Complex[edit]

Ross's geese at the Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge

Sonny Bono Salton Sea NWR Complex[edit]

Coachella Valley National Wildlife Refuge

Sacramento NWR Complex[edit]

Snow geese at the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge

Other refuges[edit]

American badger at the Modoc National Wildlife Refuge

Wild and Scenic rivers

Main article: List of National Wild and Scenic Rivers

Rivers designated as Wild and Scenic are administered by one of four federal land management agencies: The Bureau of Land Management, The National Park Service, The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or The U.S. Forest Service.[7] There are 22 rivers in California with portions designated as Wild and Scenic, with 23 designations in all (the American River has two separate designations, one for the North Fork, and one for the Lower section).[8] Listed in miles.

River Designated Wild Designated Scenic Designated Recreational Total Protected
Amargosa River 7.9 12.1 6.3 26.3
American River (Lower) 23 23
American River (North Fork) 38.3 38.3
Bautista Creek 9.8 9.8
Big Sur 19.5 19.5
Black Butte River 17.5 3.5 21
Cottonwood Creek 17.4 4.1 21.5
Eel River 97 28 273 398
Feather River 32.9 9.7 35 77.6
Fuller Mill Creek 2.6 0.9 3.5
Kern River 123.1 7 20.9 151
Kings River 65.5 15.5 81
Klamath River 11.7 23.5 250.8 286
Merced River 71 16 35.5 122.5
Owens River 6.3 6.6 6.2 19.1
Palm Canyon Creek 8.1 8.1
Piru Creek 4.3 3 7.3
San Jacinto River (North Fork) 7.2 2.3 0.7 10.2
Sisquoc River 33 33
Smith River 78 31 216.4 325.4
Trinity River 44 39 120 203
Tuolumne River 47 23 13 83

National Wilderness Preservation System

Main articles: National Wilderness Preservation System and List of U.S. Wilderness Areas § California

There are 149 wilderness areas in California totaling just over 15,000,000 acres (61,000 km2).[9] The largest is Death Valley Wilderness at 3,055,413 acres (12,364.82 km2), the largest federally designated wilderness in the continental United States, and the smallest is the Rocks and Islands Wilderness at 19 acres (77,000 m2). The wilderness areas are managed by the US Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, US Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service. Rarely, if ever, are designated wilderness areas stand alone protected areas, and thus their areas are, in all likelihood, already accounted for in the various agencies' inventories.
Emerald Lake in the Trinity Alps Wilderness

National Forests

Main article: List of U.S. National Forests

California has 17 U.S. National Forests, one special management unit (Lake Tahoe) and parts of 3 other National Forests. Total combined area of the forests is 20,061,888 acres (81,187.58 km2) and covers over 19% of the state. The largest forest entirely within the state is Shasta-Trinity National Forest, at 2,209,832 acres (8,942.87 km2), the smallest is Cleveland National Forest at 460,000 acres (1,900 km2). The Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit is not precisely a national forest in the conventional sense. Instead the Forest Service manages the land with particular attention paid to Lake Tahoe and its relationship with the forests surrounding it, with emphasis on erosion control management and watershed restoration, among other more conventional forest management activities. It is the smallest of the Forest Service units in California, with 191,000 acres (770 km2) in its jurisdiction split between California and Nevada.

The Inyo National Forest contains Mount Whitney, the highest point in California.
State Forest Land area (in acres)
Angeles National Forest 655,387
Cleveland National Forest 460,000
Eldorado National Forest 596,724
Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest 6,289,821
Inyo National Forest 1,903,381
Klamath National Forest 1,737,774
Lassen National Forest 1,070,344
Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit 150,000
Los Padres National Forest 1,950,000
Mendocino National Forest 913,306
Modoc National Forest 1,654,392
Plumas National Forest 1,146,000
San Bernardino National Forest 823,816
Sequoia National Forest 1,193,315
Shasta–Trinity National Forest 2,209,832
Sierra National Forest 1,300,000
Six Rivers National Forest 957,590
Stanislaus National Forest 898,099

State Forests

Main article: List of California state forests

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) operates eight Demonstration State Forests totaling 71,000 acres. The forests represent the most common forest types in the state. The State Forests grow approximately 75 million board feet of timber annually and harvest an average of 30 million board feet each year, enough to build 3,000 single-family homes. Revenue from these harvests fund the management of the State Forests. In addition, the forests provide research and demonstration opportunities for natural resource management, while providing public recreation opportunities, fish and wildlife habitat, and watershed protection. Activities include: experimental timber harvesting techniques, watershed restoration, mushroom collecting, hunting, firewood gathering, cone collecting for seed, a variety of university research projects, horseback riding, camping, mountain biking, and hiking.[10]

Entrance to Boggs Mountain Demonstration State Forest.
State Forest Land area (in acres) County City
Boggs Mountain Demonstration State Forest 3,493 Lake Cobb
Ellen Pickett State Forest 160 Trinity
Jackson Demonstration State Forest 50,195 Mendocino Fort Bragg
Las Posadas State Forest 796 Napa Angwin
LaTour Demonstration State Forest 9,003 Shasta Redding
Mountain Home Demonstration State Forest 4,807 Tulare Springville
Mount Zion Demonstration State Forest 164 Amador
Soquel Demonstration State Forest 2,681 Santa Cruz Soquel

State parks

Main article: List of California state parks

The California Department of Parks and Recreation maintains over 270 protected areas, which include almost one-third of California's scenic coastline, including coastal wetlands, estuaries, beaches, and dune systems. The state parks system covers 1.3 million acres (5,300 km2), with over 280 miles (450 km) of coastline, 625 miles (1,006 km) of lake and river frontage, nearly 18,000 campsites; and 3,000 miles (5,000 km) of hiking, biking, and equestrian trails.[11] The largest is Anza-Borrego State Park at 600,000 acres (2,400 km2), making it one of the largest state parks in the country. The smallest, Watts Towers, owned by the State Park system but managed by the Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department,[12] is a mere 0.1-acre (400 m2).
Sunset at Bolsa Chica State Beach

State wilderness areas

Main article: List of U.S. state and tribal wilderness areas

Additionally, 386,000 acres (1,560 km2) of Anza-Borrego State Park have been designated as wilderness.[14]

Hunting Hollow in Henry W. Coe State Park

Department of Fish and Wildlife Protected Areas

Main article: List of California Department of Fish and Wildlife protected areas

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW), through its seven regional divisions,[15] manages more than 700 protected areas statewide, totaling 1,177,180 acres (4,763.9 km2).[16] They are broadly categorized as:

  • 110 wildlife areas,[17] designed to give the public easier access to wildlife while preserving habitats.
  • 135 ecological reserves,[18] which protect rare terrestrial and ocean species and habitats.
  • 319 undesignated lands.
  • 108 public access lands.
  • 21 fish hatcheries.
  • 37 miscellaneous lands.
Rain-soaked wetlands at the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area

Municipal parks

Main article: Urban park

Most cities and counties in California, as in elsewhere, own and operate open spaces of various types, the most recognizable being the city and county park. By far the largest inventory of protected land held by a municipal agency belongs to the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, with just over 400,000 acres (1,600 km2) in its jurisdiction.[19] The largest city park in the state is Mission Trails Regional Park in San Diego at 5,800 acres (23 km2), although there are several county and regional parks that are larger. Total land owned by municipal agencies is roughly 1,500,000 acres (6,100 km2) acres.
Griffith Park in the city of Los Angeles

See also: List of parks in Los Angeles County, California; List of parks in Los Angeles; List of parks in San Francisco; List of parks in San Diego; and List of parks in Oakland, California

Privately owned preserves

In addition to the many public lands are about 550,000 acres (2,200 km2) of privately owned preserves. The Wildlands Conservancy is the largest owner of protected lands with 180,686 acres (731.21 km2). The Nature Conservancy has been involved in over 100 projects in the state since 1958.[20] Many are eventually transferred to public agencies, but the Conservancy still owns and maintains several substantial preserves, including the Gray Davis/Dye Creek Preserve, Vina Plains Preserve, McCloud River Preserve, Cosumnes River Preserve, Santa Cruz Island, Irvine Ranch Wildlands and the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve. The largest private preserve is the 93,000 acres (380 km2) Wind Wolves Preserve owned by the aforementioned Wildlands Conservancy.[21] In total, there are many dozens of land trust and conservation organizations active in California, with thousands of acres preserved on public and private lands through their efforts.[22] A few that operate entirely or substantially in the state are the Peninsula Open Space Trust, the Northern Sierra Partnership, the Sempervirens Fund, the Sacramento Valley Conservancy and the Wilderness Land Trust.

Santa Cruz Island

Largest land owners of protected lands

The 20 largest landholders, according to the CPAD 2018a Statistics Report:

Agency Total lands owned
(in acres)*

U.S. Forest Service
U.S. Bureau of Land Management
U.S. National Park Service
California Department of Parks and Recreation
California Department of Fish and Wildlife
California State Lands Commission
City of Los Angeles - Dept. of Water and Power
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
U.S. Bureau of Reclamation
The Wildlands Conservancy
The Nature Conservancy
Imperial Irrigation District
East Bay Regional Park District
California Department of Water Resources
The Conservation Fund - California
California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection
City of San Diego
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
City and County of San Francisco Public Utilities Commission
County of Orange


*These numbers may not correspond exactly with those reported directly from the agencies.


  1. ^ "California Protected Areas Data Portal". Retrieved 8 April 2018.
  2. ^ "NPS Public Use Statistics Office: Acreage Reports". National Park Service. Retrieved 2010-04-22.
  3. ^ BLM-California website.
  4. ^ BLM California data page. Archived 2009-01-11 at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ Administration, US Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric. "NOAA's National Ocean Service: National Marine Sanctuaries". Retrieved 8 April 2018.((cite web)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  6. ^ "Butte Sink Wildlife Management Area". U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Archived from the original on 2010-05-22. Retrieved 2010-04-24.
  7. ^ "Interagency Wild & Scenic Rivers Council". Wild & Scenic Rivers Council. Archived from the original on 2010-06-10. Retrieved 2010-04-21.
  8. ^ "California". National Wild and Scenic River System. Retrieved 2017-05-07.
  9. ^ "Wilderness areas in California". Archived from the original on 2010-06-12. Retrieved 2009-10-03.
  10. ^ "Cal Fire Demonstration State Forests".
  11. ^ "A State Park System is Born". California State Parks. Retrieved 2007-10-07.
  12. ^ "Watts Towers of Simon Rodia SHP". California State Parks. Retrieved 2010-05-17.
  13. ^ "State Parks Along California's North Coast Redwoods and History" (PDF). California Department of Parks and Recreation.
  14. ^ "State Designated Wilderness Programs in the United States" (PDF). International Journal of Wilderness. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-07-10. Retrieved 2010-04-24.
  15. ^ "DFW Regions". California Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFG) website. Retrieved 2008-02-19.
  16. ^ "Lands Inventory Fact Sheet". California DFG website. Retrieved 2008-02-19.
  17. ^ "Wildlife Areas". California DFW website. Retrieved 2008-02-19.
  18. ^ "Ecological Reserves". California DFW website. Retrieved 2008-02-19.
  19. ^ "CPAD Release notes". GreenInfo Network. Archived from the original on 2010-05-14. Retrieved 2010-05-17.
  20. ^ "The Nature Conservancy in California". The Nature Conservancy. Archived from the original on 2011-03-01. Retrieved 2010-04-24.
  21. ^ "Wind Wolves Preserve". Wildlands Conservancy. Archived from the original on 2016-03-02. Retrieved 2016-09-07.
  22. ^ "California Member Land Trusts". The California Council of Land Trusts. Retrieved 2016-09-07.