California has some of the best hiking in the US thanks to its diverse landscape. However, the thousands of miles of trails can make it overwhelming to choose what hikes to do. That’s where we come in to help! We’ve selected our top 8 hikes covering the towering redwoods of Northern California to beautiful beaches of Southern California.
John Muir Trail
Photo Credit: Donna Elliot
If you’re looking for a place to go trail hopping, this is the place for you! The John Muir Trail is 211 miles long. You can do multiple day trips of separate sections of trails or make an adventure out of it by doing the whole thing. This trail takes you through some of the country’s most iconic national parks: Yosemite, Sequoia, and Kings Canyon. The end of the 211 miles takes you to Mount Whitney, the tallest mountain in the continental US. No matter how much of the trail you do you’ll get to see crystal clear lakes, lush hidden valleys, and stunning alpine views. Many argue that this is the greatest backpacking trip in America but it’s not for the faint of heart. Plan carefully and enjoy the stunning views!
Photo Credit: Jeremy Iwanga
See the best of Yosemite National Park with the Yosemite Falls Trail! This 9 mile (split into 2 parts) has panoramic views of Yosemite Valley. The first part of the trail is a 1 mile hike to Columbia Rock. It’s a steep 1,000 foot climb but you’ll be rewarded with views of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, and Sentinel Rock. The second part is 8 miles with steep elevation gain and a hillside staircase. You’ll be able to feel the mist from the waterfall while climbing up the trail before finally seeing the jaw-dropping view of Yosemite Falls. The best time to visit is spring when the waterfall is at its fullest. Make sure to pack sunscreen and start early because there’s no shade on the trail.
Hidden Valley Nature Trail
Photo Credit: Cedric Letsch
Joshua Tree National Park is huge and would take a couple days to explore, but for a quick day trip you should check out Hidden Valley Nature Trail. This 1 mile loop gives you a sample of the best Joshua Tree has to offer. You’ll have stunning desert views and be surrounded by peach and pink boulders. You’ll also catch a glimpse of people climbing the Giant Burrito. This is an easy hike that’s great for families with young children. There are even stations that educate you about the area’s history, biodiversity, and geology. Who said hiking can’t be educational too?
McWay Waterfall Trail
Photo Credit: Jason Hogan
McWay Waterfall Trail leads you to Big Sur’s most iconic view point. This 1.2 mile loop is located in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. It’s a nice, easy, and short trail with stunning views of the 80-foot McWay Waterfall. We guess that you’ll probably spend a lot more time admiring the view than doing the actual hike. An added bonus is that this is a great spot for whale watching during migration season! Don’t attempt to access the beach from the trail. There are very steep drop offs.
High Peaks Trail
Photo Credit: Ben Guernsey
Come visit California’s newest national park, Pinnacles National Park! The best trail at the park is the High Peaks Trail. You’ll get to see the outstanding rock spires that formed from ancient volcanic eruptions. The trail is a 7.7 mile loop that’s a steep climb with a few footholds chiseled out of the rocks. The trail is extremely hot during the summer so get there early to beat the heat.
McCloud River Trail
Photo Credit: Dave B
Located in Northern California, the McCloud River Trail is home to several stunning waterfalls. You can experience all 3 waterfalls on this easy 4 mile trail. For those wanting some extra miles, you can take an additional steep trail that leads to a lookout spot for a better view of the falls. The hardest part of the hike is getting to the Upper Falls. The trail goes from relatively flat to a steep incline. Many say that the Upper Falls is the best of the 3 waterfalls so it’s well worth the effort! During summer days the Middle Falls is a popular swimming spot so pack a swimsuit. The water is cold but so refreshing on a hot day.
Lost Coast Trail
Looking for the ultimate California adventure? Lost Coast Trail is the perfect hike for you! Get a first hand experience of Northern California’s most remote coastlines during this 34 mile trail. Prepping for this backpacking trip is necessary, especially tracking the tides as parts of this trail become inaccessible during high tide. The first part of the trail is a 25 mile hike from Mattel Beach to Black Sands beach. It’s long but there are many viewpoints to stop and take a rest while enjoying coastal views. The second part is a 9 mile hike from Hidden Valley to Needle Rock. You’ll be nestled between old-growth redwood forests and mountain ridges. This trail is also home to Sea Lions and Seals, and during the winter and spring you can spot gray whales.
James Irvine Tail
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Get lost among old-growth redwoods on the James Irvine Trail at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. The old-growth coastal redwood forest descends from a primeval forest that existed when the dinosaurs roamed the earth. This 10.4 mile trail offers scenery like no other. You’ll wind through a dense redwood forest, hillside ridges, and beautiful valleys. The thick vegetation absorbs outside sounds which will make you feel like the only person around for miles. The only sounds are chirping birds, the running creek, and ocean waves. If you want some extra miles, the trail connects to Fern Canyon Trail which leads to the beach. This hike crosses through creeks and wet areas so wear shoes that can get wet and muddy. This is not the trail to wear your brand new hiking boots!