With its great range of scenery, California is a hiker’s dream. The spectacular, glacier-carved valley of Yosemite; a gorgeous, mountainous coastline in Big Sur; the serenely desolate Mojave Desert; the majestic, snowcapped Mount Shasta; and a harsh, untamed wilderness in Solstice Canyon are just a few of the natural wonders.
Several of California’s national parks have set records in terms of visitor numbers. The longest waterfall in North America may be found in Yosemite National Park, while Mount Whitney in Sequoia National Park has the highest summit in the continental United States, and the tallest trees in the world can be found in Redwood National and State Parks.
This list of top-rated walks covers the highlights of California’s nature trails, with treks ranging from moderate to tough in well-known locations such as Yosemite and Mount Shasta. For those looking for a more severe challenge, the list includes two epic walks at iconic natural places, Mount Whitney and the Lost Coast, which should only be undertaken by experienced hikers.
With this selection of the best hiking trails in California, you can find some peace and quiet in the countryside.
This path, one of the greatest in Yosemite National Park, offers close-up views of Yosemite’s most dramatic cascade as well as sweeping panoramas of the valley floor. The route is divided into two sections. The Yosemite Falls Trail is a nine-mile round-trip trek when both portions are combined.
The one-mile segment to Columbia Rock on the Yosemite Falls Track is a strenuous climb that ascends 1,000 feet over a switchback trail. Views from Columbia Rock stretch all the way across Yosemite Valley to Half Dome in the distance. If you don’t want to do the rest of the Yosemite Falls Trails, this stretch is a two-mile round-trip trek that takes around two to three hours.
The second section of the route leading up to Yosemite Falls is more strenuous. This hard seven-mile round-trip climb includes an elevation gain of 2,700 feet, as well as ascents and descents up rough terrain and steep mountain stairs. This round-trip walk from Colombia Rock takes another six to eight hours.
The Yosemite Falls Trail takes you dangerously near to Yosemite Falls. Hikers frequently experience mist from the waterfalls as they climb the trek. Hikers are astonished by vast perspectives of the whole Yosemite Valley after reaching the peak of this difficult trek.
When to Visit Yosemite Falls: The greatest time to visit Yosemite Falls is in the spring, when the waterfalls are in full flow. By August, the water levels had dropped and the falls have become less dramatic.
In the summer, start early because the route may be quite hot by midday, and the higher half is exposed, with no cover by late afternoon.
Consider the length of the round-trip trek and the time of sunset in spring and fall; set off early enough to accomplish the round-trip in daylight.
Wear hiking shoes with strong treads because this path might be treacherous. Bring bottled water; there is no drinking water on the trek.
Stay on the trail at all times. Wandering off the route might lead to deadly steep drop-offs close to the trail.
Keep an eye out for treacherous spots of loose sand and uneven ground. Do not deviate from the path; several sections lead to deadly, steep waterfalls.
During the winter, ice and snow can make trekking on the top half of the path dangerous. In freezing or snowy weather, do not trek the second portion of the route up to the top of Yosemite Falls.
Mount Shasta, with its spectacular snow-capped peaks, is one of California’s most inspiring hiking destinations. Many travellers come to Mount Shasta in search of a spiritual experience in the midst of nature. Adventurous outdoor enthusiasts gather to take on the task of climbing to the pinnacle of the mountain. Mount Shasta, on the other hand, provides a plethora of hiking paths ideal for the ordinary hiker.
The Gray Butte Trail is a popular walk on Mount Shasta. This moderate, 3.5-mile round-trip hike adds 750 feet and takes about three hours to finish from a trailhead over 7,000 feet in elevation.
The path begins at the Panther Meadows Campground parking lot, traverses the huge Lower Panther Meadow, then ascends through a magnificent forest of old-growth Red Fir trees.
The right side of the route ascends through a grove of aromatic Mountain Hemlock Trees at the split in the trail. The route continues past the Lower Peak of Gray Butte to the Upper Peak, providing spectacular panoramic views at various vantage spots along the way.
This hike in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park leads to Big Sur’s most photographed vista. The park, named for a female pioneer who had a ranch in Big Sur region in the early 1900s, spans along the rocky Big Sur coastline, with its wooded 3,000-foot slopes that plunge abruptly into the Pacific Ocean. Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park includes two walk-in campsites that are among the nicest in Big Sur.
The McWay Waterfall Trail is a short trek that leads to a vantage point for the McWay Waterfall. Despite its magnificence, this trek is surprisingly easy and quick. The 0.6-mile round-trip track is more of a stroll than a trek, taking only around 30 minutes to complete.
The overlook offers a breathtaking view of the 80-foot McWay Waterfall, which cascades down a steep granite cliff into a hidden cove below. Hikers could spend more time appreciating the waterfalls and seaside vistas than trekking. During the migration season, the viewpoint is also a wonderful place to see whales.
The McWay Waterfall Trail does not provide access to the beach. Hiking down to the shore is highly hazardous and totally forbidden.
Nature enthusiasts who enjoy marine fauna and ocean views will enjoy the Sea Lion Point Trail. The 0.6-mile loop route is a short and easy trek through a very gorgeous section of Point Lobos State Reserve near Carmel. Carmel, a picturesque beach resort, is a one-hour drive south of Santa Cruz, another region with beautiful hiking paths.
The Sea Lion Point Trail winds past calm coves and steep seaside bluffs that meet with pounding waves, giving hikers the opportunity to observe barking sea lions on offshore rocks. The walk also goes past Headland Cove and Sea Lion Cove, both of which are calm coves where seals swim and sea otters relax in the sheltered waters.
Hikers may get a closer look at the creatures by walking down a stairway that leads to the coves. When walking the steps down to the coves, keep an eye out for unexpected waves and stay away from the edges.
Hikers may enjoy some of the world’s tallest and oldest trees in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, one of the Redwood National and State Parks in northern California that are cooperatively managed. This grove of old-growth coastal redwoods is descended from a prehistoric forest that flourished when dinosaurs roamed the Earth.
The 10-mile round-trip James Irvine Trail near Prairie Creek is the greatest hiking in the Redwood National and State Parks. The scenery at Redwoods State Park is diverse and spectacular. This easy walk travels through lush redwood forest, around hillsides, ridges, and valleys.
Even if you do not do the full trek, it is definitely worth heading out and back for a mile or two. At the very least, you’ll be able to appreciate the beauty of towering redwoods and the refreshing sense of their leafy canopies shadowing the walkway.
The James Irvine Trail ends at the junction of the short (0.6-mile) Fern Canyon Trail, which goes to the beach. The canyon is covered in seven distinct varieties of ferns. The lush greenery absorbs noises, creating a sense of calm. Except for the chirping of birds, the rushing (or trickling) of a freshwater brook, and the crashing of ocean waves in the distance, it’s entirely silent here.
Fern Canyon is so beautiful that Hollywood producers used it as a setting for sequences in the Jurassic Park film. Indeed, cousins of today’s coastal redwoods lived 160 million years ago, during the Jurassic Period.
The Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park is one of the Redwood National and State Parks, located in northern California near the Oregon border. Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park’s hiking sections provide tourists with a magnificent sense of being far off from the metropolitan surroundings.
The 5.6-mile round-trip Boy Scout Tree Walk, a moderate trail through an old-growth redwood forest, is one of the greatest treks in the Redwood National and State Parks. Except for a few switchback twists and high hills, the terrain is typically simple. Allow roughly a half-day to stroll the trek and enjoy the lush canopy of gigantic trees.
A side route about 2.5 miles from the trailhead climbs up to the Boy Scout Tree, a 2,000-year-old twin redwood tree named after a Boy Scout unit commander who discovered it. The walk ends with the beautiful Fern Falls before looping back to the beginning.
Joshua National Park is situated in the rough and desolate Mojave Desert, an unique section of the California desert region. Although this national park is most known for the Joshua tree, it also includes numerous excellent paths that wind through palm oasis.
The Lost Palms Oasis Trail is a 7.2-mile round-trip journey through a canyon studded with green palms and pleasant springs of water. Cottonwood Campground, which includes a picnic area and drinking water, is where the path finishes.
The 49 Palms Oasis Trek is a three-mile round-trip fairly hard trail that rewards hikers with palm-shaded springs of pure water. This trip features a 300-foot elevation rise, so hikers must be in good shape, since the ascent is particularly arduous in the desert heat.
Hiking Tip: Bring plenty of water to stay hydrated when hiking in the heat. Hiking should be avoided during the summer, when temperatures might reach 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
Nearby Campsites: Joshua Tree National Park contains nine campgrounds, the majority of which are first-come, first-served. However, during the peak season, supply is restricted (October to May). A few of the campsites accept bookings. The best way to explore Joshua Tree National Park is to stay overnight in one of the park’s campsites.
The Runyon Canyon Park is a hidden jewel in the heart of Los Angeles, a city where citizens rarely wander. The 130-acre park is located only two blocks from Hollywood Boulevard. Most tourists, however, are unaware of its existence. Locals visit to catch some fresh air, exercise, and walk their pets.
Runyon Canyon Park has a variety of routes, all of which provide breathtaking views of the rough nature and the Los Angeles skyline. The Pacific Ocean and Catalina Island may be seen in the distance from some viewing points. Tourists could also visit Griffith Park for other wonderful hiking routes in Los Angeles.
The Solstice Canyon Trail is an area of tranquil beauty along the shore in Malibu, a perfect day excursion from Los Angeles. The route is located inside the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, which was historically significant to the Chumash people.
The Solstice Canyon Trail is one of Southern California’s most popular hiking paths, as well as one of the greatest places to explore and observe nature in the Santa Monica Mountains. This two-mile round-trip journey begins at the parking lot and winds through oak trees and coastal shrub as it meanders alongside a creek. The walk offers breathtaking views of deep blue Pacific Ocean, steep gorges, and sagebrush-covered mountains.
The route is popular on weekends due to its proximity to the Malibu beaches. Despite this, the Solstice Canyon Trail manages to maintain a sense of remoteness and offers a tranquil respite from the hectic metropolitan life of Southern California.
Hiking Tips: Be aware of poison oak, bees, and rattlesnakes. To keep ticks at bay, use appropriate footwear and apparel.
Bring drinking water or a water bottle to fill. The parking lot has a drinking fountain.