A hiker’s paradise, is a state of diverse landscapes. The carved valley of Yosemite, the glossy lights of San Francisco, the coastline of Big Sur, snow-clad Mount Shasta, the wild Solstice Canyon offer a sneak peek into the state’s naturally diverse landscape. From oceans and desert palms to snow-covered peaks, lush forests, and rugged, untamed wildernesses there is something for everyone in this marvelous state.
Not to forget the historic mountain town of Julian that lies between the desert and the coast, an hour’s drive from east of San Diego. Situated at an elevation of 1,228 meters in the Cuyamaca mountains, this East Country is a visitor’s delight. Initially a gold mining town, this quaint and picturesque town is now known for its apple orchards and its mouthwatering selection of apple pies.
To help narrow down the possibilities, here are the top 10 best hiking destinations in California.
Editor’s note: Before venturing on a trip please check the latest travel advisories and restrictions surrounding COVID-19. Also, check for any advisory on the California wildfires.
Yosemite National Park
The Yosemite National Park trail is considered one of the best hikes in California. The best time for a hike is in the spring when the falls are flowing abundantly. The first part of the trail is a one-mile hike that leads to Columbia Rock. It is a moderate hike and a two-mile round trip if you decide not to go ahead with the second part of the trail.
The second part of the trail leading up to Yosemite Falls is more arduous and perfect for seasoned hikers. With steep staircases and rugged routes, this seven-mile hike (round trip) from Colombia Rock takes about 8 hours to complete and includes 2,700 feet elevation.
When you reach the summit you are greeted by a breathtaking view of the Yosemite Valley.
The highest mountain in the Sierra Nevada range, Mount Whitney falls in Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks and marks the southernmost end of the John Muir Trail. This hike is extremely challenging and requires high fitness levels as well as good conditioning to high altitudes. If you plan on completing the hike to the summit and back in one day, it is advisable to set out before sunrise.
Overnight backpackers need to obtain a wilderness permit before entering the zone around Mount Whitney. These are available with Ranger stations, Permit stations in Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks, and visitor centres too.
This hike is an absolute butt-kicker but the view from the icy summit makes it all well worth it.
The Lost Coast Trail
The Lost Coast Trail is a rare glimpse of Northern California’s unexplored coastline. The trail gets its name from the parts of the trail that disappear and submerge during high tide. Only the most adventurous backpackers are spotted here. As the trail requires a backpacking expedition that lasts a minimum of 3 days.
The Pacific along the Lost Coast is a haze of deep turquoise. That brings to mind images of a tropical island. With hidden coves that are home to sea lions and seals. The picturesque scenes of the pools, beaches, meadows, and canyons leave hikers awestruck. In early spring and the winters, spotting gray whales during their annual migration is popular.
A two-hour drive from San Francisco, the moderately challenging 3.5-mile Pomo Canyon Trail exhibits remarkable coastal scenery. The trail goes through redwood forests, grasslands, patches of colorful seasonal wildflowers, and creeks. The sandy shores of Shell Beach are a short walk from the end of the trail.
Marin County and Sonoma County in Northern San Francisco are especially known for their natural scenery and easy going and fun hiking trails.
Solstice Canyon Trail
A great day trip away from Los Angeles, the Solstice Canyon Trail near the Malibu Coast is a serene beauty in itself. It is part of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area and is among the most popular hiking trails in Southern California. This two-mile round-trip hike features thrilling views of sagebrush covered mountains, deep canyons, and the Pacific Ocean.
The trail tends to overcrowd on weekends as it is located on the prime of Malibu’s beaches. It is the perfect escape from the hectic Southern California urban life. Bees, poison oak, and rattlesnakes are common along the trail.
Green Valley Falls Trail
The easiest hike near the town of Julian is the Green Valley Falls Trail. With a total distance of half a mile, it is great for children and amateur hikers as well. To get the best experience of the Valley and the Falls, make sure you go in the early summer or spring when the water is abundant and flowing.
In these seasons, it is easily the most recommended hike in the San Diego backcountry.
The Runyon Canyon Park
A hidden gem right in the middle of the city of Angels, this 130-acre park is undiscovered by most tourists. Located two blocks from Hollywood Boulevard, it is frequented by tourists who visit to blow off some steam and walk their dogs.
Runyon Canyon Park offers several different trails, all with amazing views of the rugged landscape and the Los Angeles cityscape. It is also possible to see the Pacific Ocean and Catalina Island in the distance from certain spots on the trail. Tourists should also check out Griffith Park for other excellent hiking trails within the city of Los Angeles.
Joshua National Park
Located in the barren Mojave Desert, this national park has a variety of interesting trails that travel through palm oases. The Lost Palms Oasis Trail and the 49 Palms Oasis Trail are the main attractions here. With 9 campgrounds available, staying overnight is the best way to experience the park in its entirety.
As it is a dessert, an adequate supply of drinking water is essential. As a precautionary measure, avoid hiking during the summers as the temperatures flare to 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
Jedediah Smith Redwoods
The Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park is one of the Redwood National and State Parks, north of California near the Oregon border. A 5.6 mile round trip moderate trail through redwood forests, this trail is generally very easy going and makes for a leisurely day of fun. It is perfect for families with children.
For lovers of the ocean and the marine wildlife, the Sea Lion Point Trail at the Park is a must-visit. Peaceful coves lined with rocky ocean bluffs give glimpses of swimming seals, barking sea lions, and sea otters basking in the sun.
One of the most inspiring places to hike in California is the majestic Mount Shasta. This trail is heavily favored by people seeking a spiritual experience and by extreme outdoor enthusiasts. The Panther Meadows Campground parking lot is the starting point that leads to various hiking trails that are great for beginners and advanced hikers alike.
Mount Shasta’s trail passes the Lower Peak of Gray Butte and goes right up to the Upper Peak, taking you through a thicket of fragrant Mountain Hemlock Trees. It offers spectacular views from strategic points along the trail.
The best part about these landscapes is that one need not venture too far from home to experience them. From expansive national parks to golden stunning beaches, California has it all!