10 Best Hiking Trails in California
If we have to name one U.S. state that has an incredible diversity of landscapes, that would definitely be ‘California’. With its sky-high peaks, gorgeous lakes, stunning waterfalls, glacier-carved valleys, and tall trees, the American state is truly a hiker’s paradise. California is also home to record-breaking national parks that are great to embrace if you want to embark on an adventurous journey. Plus, the nature trails sprawling throughout the mountains of Yosemite, Big Sur, and San Gabriel can never disappoint serious hikers. Given below is a list of California’s top-rated hiking trails for all novice as well as advanced hikers out there. You can check it and pick a destination for your next hiking trip.
- Yosemite Falls Trail: Hike to North America’s Tallest Waterfall
Yosemite Falls Trail is one of the most stunning hikes in Yosemite National Park, offering picturesque views of North America’s most spectacular waterfalls called Yosemite Falls. The trail is split into two sections, the total of which is a nine-mile round-trip hike. If you are a beginner, you can opt to hike through the first section which is a one-mile section to Columbia Rock. Elite hikers may choose to hike to the top of the Upper Fall whose summit offers striking views of the Half Dome, the Yosemite Valley, and Sentinel Rock. If you want to challenge your hiking potential, you can continue to Eagle Peak.
Distance: 7.6 miles (12 km) round trip
Known for: Best waterfall hike
Elevation: 3,967 feet (1,347m)
Difficulty: Easy to difficult
Duration: 6-10 hours
Best time to go: Spring
Safety Tips: Wear hiking shoes, carry enough water, and always stay on the trail. Do not hike the second section during snowy or freezing weather.
Image Credit: yosemite
- Lost Coast Trail: Best Backpacking Hike
The Lost Coast Trail in the King Range National Conservation Area is a perfect space to indulge in some escapism and total seclusion. Offering a unique glimpse of Northern California’s remote coastline wilderness, the trail is a 25-mile hike from Mattole to Black Sands on the northern side. This part has some tide pools, waterfalls, and ocean bluffs along with some great vantage points to cherish coastal views. The south part, the 9-mile hike from Hidden Valley to Sinkyone Wilderness State Park’s Needle Rock traverses redwood forests, vibrant wildflowers, and meadows.
Distance: 25 miles
Known for: Best backpacking hike
Elevation: 875 ft. climb, 2600 ft. descent.
Difficulty: Moderate to difficult
Duration: 3-4 days
Best time to go: May-October
Safety Tips: This trail is only suited to expert backpacking hikers. Follow the tide chart as some areas of the trail are prone to high tides. Request a permit in advance if you wish to stay overnight at the campground.
Image Credit: rei
- Boy Scout Tree Trail: Best Redwood Hike
The 5.6-mile round-trip Boy Scout Tree in the Redwood National and State Parks is a pristine trail covered with the world’s oldest redwoods. The trail to the dense canopy of giant trees is fairly easy except for some areas with steep grades. Start from the trailhead and follow the trail leading up to a 2,000-year-old redwood tree, named the Boy Scout. Expect to hear sounds of the wind rustling high in the canopy at regular intervals on your way. You can also face high traffic during the first mile of the trailhead.
Distance: 5.5 miles (8.8km) round trip
Known for: Best redwood hike
Elevation: 750 ft climb
Duration: 3-4 hours
Best time to go: spring, fall, and winter
Safety Tips: Try to start your hiking journey before 8 am or after 5 pm. Carry a good map and seek help from a trail guide for safety.
Image Credit: redwoodhikes
- Big Sur Trails: Best Coastal Hike
From their dramatic ocean views, and beaches to hilltops and redwood forests, California’s Big Sur trails have it all. One of the world’s most beautiful & dreamy hiking trails is just a short trip high from the Ragged Point gift shop and offers both short and long paths of varying difficulties. Novice hikers can opt for the popular Salmon Creek Trail which is just 3.6 miles north of Ragged Point. Those interested in coastal views can hike through the Ridge Trail and Panorama Trail. There is also Pacific Valley Bluff Trail, a 1.6-mile loop just a few miles away from Gorda. This trail is known for its unique plant life and panoramic oceans. Big Sur State Park, Ragged Point Cliffside Trail, and McWay Waterfall Trail are other popular trails in the region.
Distance: 2.3-mile loop to the beach and 8.7-mile loop on ridge
Known for: Best coastal hike
Elevation: 42 to 9,583 feet in elevation gain
Difficulty: Easy to moderate
Duration: 2-3 days
Best time to go: April-October
Safety Tips: Do not go off-roading and bring reusable water bottles. Keep kids close to you if you are hiking with them. Also, keep your dogs on a small leash.
Image Credit: cnn
- Sea Lion Point Trail – For Easy Hiking
The most popular hiking trail in Point Lobos, Sea Lion Point Trail is great for families with kids. This 0.6-mile loop trail offers a great opportunity to spot sea lions while they wind around quiet and rocky ocean bluffs. Just miles south of Carmel-by-the-Sea, this trail set along the gorgeous Pacific Ocean is also known for its lush flora and fauna. See sea lions and ocean wildlife on rocky beaches on this easy to moderate challenging route. Other highlights of this area include Whalers Cove, Headland Cove, Sealion Cove, Bluefish Cove, and China Cove.
Distance: 0.6-mile loop trail
Known for: hiking with kids, marine wildlife, and ocean views
Elevation: Less than 20 feet of elevation change
Difficulty: Generally easy
Duration: 3 h 12 min
Best time to go: Spring
Safety Tips: Bring your food and water. Watch out for waves while getting a closer view of the sea lions.
Image Credit: pinterest
- James Irvine Trail at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park
This 10.40-mile trail in the Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park traverses the region covered with some of the world’s oldest and tallest trees. Offering majestic scenery, this moderately challenging route winds through valleys along hillsides. The James Irvine Trail runs northwest and winds around a base of a 16 feet tall redwood. This path leads to the summit of the trail, at an elevation of 300 feet. At the end of the trail, you will also find a short Fern Canyon Trail that leads to the beach.
Distance: 10.40 miles
Known for: redwood forest and beach
Elevation: 300 feet
Duration: 5 h 8 min
Best time to go: Spring
Safety Tips: Don’t walk off-trail. Avoid entry to closed areas. Do not feed wildlife.
Image Credit: statesmanjournal
- Potato Chip Rock & Mt Woodson Trail: Best Hike in San Diego
The best hike among San Diego’s trails, this trail offers gorgeous views of the Pacific Ocean in Southern California. The Mount Woodson Trailhead begins at Lake Poway Road and leads to a famous boulder-shaped rock formation that resembles a potato chip. This 6.8 miles out and back trail is great for new to advanced hikes as well as for families with dogs or kids. It is moderately challenging and can take 4-5 hours for a round trip.
Distance: 6.8 miles
Known for: potato chip-shaped boulder
Elevation: Between 2700 and 2800 ft
Duration: 4-5 hours
Best time to go: Spring and fall
Safety Tips: Bring water and snacks. The summit gets overcrowded sometimes so wait for your turn to take photos.
Image Credit: amazingamerica
- East Fork Trail to the Bridge to Nowhere
The 15.7 mile East Fork Trail located in the San Gabriel Mountains is not just for hikers but for horseback riders alike. This moderately challenging route leading to the Bridge to Nowhere offers hikers the most memorable hiking experiences. Start at the Angeles National Forest and take the route that reaches the Flat Tops Wilderness boundary and then to the Little Causeway Lake. You will also witness multiple river crossings and washed-out sections on the way. Your final destination will be a 130-foot concrete span bridge. You can take photos of the bridge and spend some time near it but you won’t be able to cross it since it’s leftover.
Distance: 15.7 mile
Known for: Nowhere bridge
Elevation: 170 m elevation gain
Duration: 4-5 hours
Best time to go: March-October
Safety Tips: Make sure your dog is wearing booties if you choose to hike in summer. Also, they must be on a leash.
Image Credit: azcentral
- Murray Canyon Trail: Wonderful Hike in Southern California
Residing at the foot of the San Jacinto Mountains near Palm Springs, this 3.7 miles trail is one of the best hikes in Southern California. This moderately difficult trail offers an elevation gain of 450 feet and spans 2 to 6 miles depending on how far the hikers go. The Murray Canyon comprises the Agua Caliente Indian Canyons and also shares the trailhead with Andreas Canyon. However, it is the most peaceful hike of all. To make the most of your trip, travel far up to the Seven Sisters Waterfall. After catching the glimpse of the waterfall, you can follow the Coffman Trail loop before returning to Murray Canyon.
Distance: 3.7 miles
Known for: Best hiking trail in Southern California
Elevation: 183 m elevation gain
Difficulty: Easy to moderate
Duration: 1 h 54 min
Best time to go: October-March
Safety Tips: Carry enough food and water. Make sure to wear appropriate hiking gear.
Image Credit: palmspringslife
- Runyon Canyon Park: Enjoy Great Views over Hollywood
Tucked in the middle of Hollywood on the east end of the Santa Monica Mountains, Runyon Canyon Park is a hidden gem. This 130-acre dog park offers a chance to see Hollywood celebrities from a distance while enjoying views of the Los Angeles cityscape. Hikers can also access certain vantage points to embrace views of Catalina Island and the Pacific Ocean. You can also visit the park for a walk with your dogs or simply for working out and enjoying the scenery.
Distance: 3.5 miles
Known for: Views over Hollywood
Elevation: Highest elevation of 1,295 feet
Duration: 1 h 30 min
Best time to go: Spring, fall, and winter
Safety Tips: Invest in a good-quality leash for your dog.
Image Credit: colorsandcoordinates
These are some of the moderate to treacherous hiking trails of California. Choose your destination from the list and embark on your hiking journey.