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Best Hiking Trails in California – USA

Overview

You’re spoiled for choice in the Golden State, as the mountain hiking in California ranges from arid desert to lush forests to rocky coastlines, all involving stunning mountain scenery.  Some of the main areas for hiking include Yosemite National Park, Death Valley National Park, Cleveland National Forest, San Jacinto and Santa Rosa Mountains, Joshua Tree National Park, San Bernardino Mountains, Santa Monica Mountains, Los Padres National Forest, Big Sur, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park, Sequoia National Forest, Inyo National Forest, Sierra National Forest, Tahoe National Forest, Shasta-Trinity National Forest, and so much more. The best months to hike in California vary according to the region but the state is a year round hiking destination. Read on for more information on where and when to hike in California. 

Capital: Sacramento

When To Hike in California – USA?

Year Round: There is an ideal place to hike for every month of the year, in California.  In general, the summer months are best in the higher altitude areas for most of the state, and spring and autumn months are best for the southern and lower altitude areas
Varies 
Varies: Winter months are too cold in some regions but could be optimal in the southern areas, and summer months are too hot in many of the southern areas, particularly in desert parks.
Climate: Diverse range of climates, from subarctic to desert, depending on altitude, latitude, and proximity to the Pacific coast.  Mediterranean climate (hot summers, rainy winters) in southern and coastal regions, and continental (warm/hot summers and cold, snowy winters) as you go further inland.  Desert in the southeast, such as in Death Valley NP and Joshua Tree NP.  The ideal months shown here refer to the higher elevations for that area.
The start of 2023 has seen a record number of storms in California which is bringing an end to the state’s long-running drought.  But the unusual weather means hikers should take extra caution and read about local weather events prior to undertaking any hikes.

Accessibility of Hiking

Easy – Medium: There are thousands of miles of well-marked trails with good maps and guidebooks and plenty of resources available for hiking trip planning.  There are just as many trails in the backcountry that are better hiked by experienced hikers with good navigational skills. 

Find a Hiking Trail – Sortable by length, difficulty and location

Transportation required: Public transit to many trailheads (particularly close to cities); car needed for many other hikes

Where to stay in California for hiking:

  • Bishop
  • Mariposa
  • Tahoe City
  • Los Angeles
  • Palm Springs
  • San Francisco
  • Stovepipe Wells
  • King City
  • Big Sur
  • San Luis Obispo
  • Santa Barbara
  • Santa Monica

 

Top Places to Hike in California – USA

There are essentially two large mountain ranges running parallel to each other, the length of the state. The coastal mountains are generally lower in altitude than the more interior eastern mountains. There are thousands of places to hike from the top of the state to the bottom, the map highlights the largest and most popular areas. Highest Mountain: Mount Whitney (4421 m) in the Sierra Nevada.

Filter out hiking places of California – USA by month

Click on the red map pointers to see more info.

Channel Islands

Otay Mountain Wilderness

Cuyamaca Mountains

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Cleveland National Forest

San Jacinto Mountains and Santa Rosa Mountains

Joshua Tree National Park

San Bernardino Mountains

Around Los Angeles

Los Padres National Forest

  • Apr – Oct
  • Santa Barbara, Ojai, Ventura are all bases; encompasses many mountain ranges (ie. San Rafael, Sierra Madre, Santa Lucia, Santa Ynez) – Los Padres National Forest – Home – more than 1200 miles of trails

Big Sur

Death Valley National Park

Sequoia National Forest

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park

Inyo National Forest

Around San Francisco and San Jose

Sierra National Forest

Yosemite National Park

Stanislaus National Forest

El Dorado National Forest

Tahoe National Forest

Plumas National Forest

King Range Wilderness

Lassen National Forest

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Mendocino National Forest

Shasta-Trinity National Forest

Six Rivers National Forest

Klamath National Forest

California – USA's Long Distance Trails

California – USA's Walking & Hiking Resources

California Hiking Books: SO many books, just a small sample below.  Falcon Guides in particular has many books on specific topics (ie. hiking in wine country, hiking with dogs, etc)

  • Moon California Hiking: The Complete Guide to 1000 of the Best Hikes in the Golden State, by Tom Stienstra and Ann Marie Brown, 2020, Avalon Publishing
  • Hiking Northern California: A Guide to the Region’s Greatest Hiking Adventures, by Bubba Suess, 2017, Falcon Guides
  • Moon Northern California Hiking: The Complete Guide to the Best Hikes, by Tom Stienstra and Ann Marie Brown, 2020, Avalon Publishing
  • Walkabout Northern California: Hiking Inn to Inn, by Tom Courtney, 2019, Wilderness Press 
  • 100 Classic Hikes: Northern California: Sierra Nevada, etc., 4th Edition, by John Soares, 2018, Mountaineers Books
  • Hiking Yosemite National Park: A Guide to 62 of the Park’s Greatest Hiking Adventures  by Suzanne Swedo, 2020, Falcon Guides
  • Hiking California’s Trinity Alps Wilderness: A Guide to the Area’s Greatest Hiking Adventures, by Dennis Lewon, 2014, Falcon Guides
  • Urban Hikes Southern California: A Guide to the Area’s Greatest Urban Hiking Adventures, by Robert Inman, 2021, Falcon Guides
  • Hiking the Sierra Nevada: A Guide to the Area’s Greatest Hiking Adventures, by Barry Parr, 2022, Falcon Guides
  • 50 Hikes in the Sierra Nevada (Explorer’s 50 Hikes), by Julie Smith, 2019, Countryman Press
  • 101 Hikes in Southern California: Exploring Mountains, Seashore and Desert, 3rd Edition, by Jerry Schad and David Money Harris, 2013, published by Wilderness Press
  • Backpacking California: Mountain, Foothill, Coastal & Desert Adventures in the Golden State, by Wilderness Press
  • Best Backpacking Trips in California and Nevada, by Michael C. White, Mike White, Douglas Lorain, 2015, University of Nevada Press
  • Hiking Southern California: A Guide to Southern California’s Greatest Hiking Adventures, by Roddy Scheer, 2019, Falcon Guides
  • Trails of the Angeles: 100 Hikes in the San Gabriels
  • The Pacific Crest Trail: Hiking the PCT from Mexico to Canada by Brian Johnson, 2022, Cicerone Press
  • Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail: Northern California: Section Hiking from Tuolumne Meadows to Donomore Pass, by Philip Kramer, 2018, Mountaineers Books 
  • Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail: Southern California, by Shawnté Salabert, 2017, Mountaineers Books
  • Urban Hikes Southern California: A Guide to the State’s Greatest Urban Hiking Adventures, by Robert Inman, 2021, Falcon Guides
  • Hiking Anza-Borrego Desert State Park: 25 Day and Overnight Hikes, by Bill Cunningham and Polly Cunningham, 2007, Falcon Guides
  • Day Hiking Trails of Palm Springs & Coachella Valley, Vol II, by Rob Bignell, 2023, Atiswinic Press

 

California Hiking Associations/Clubs: WAY too many to list, just a sample

 

Best Hiking Trails in California:

It is impossible to choose just a handful of best hikes from the thousands available in California, but here is a small sampling. You can find more details on hiking these trails from hiking guidebooks, official park websites, trail maps/apps, other websites, and tourist offices:

  • Yosemite Falls Trail – Yosemite National Park
  • John Muir Trail
  • Pacific Crest Trail
  • Mount Whitney – Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park
  • Mist Trail – Yosemite National Park
  • Mount Tallac – Lake Tahoe area
  • Four Mile Trail – Yosemite National Park
  • Mount Baldy – Angeles National Forest
  • Backbone Trail – Santa Monica Mountains
  • San Jacinto Peak – Mount San Jacinto State Park
  • Lassen Peak – Lassen Volcanic National Park

 

Easy Hiking Trails in California:

  • Gray Butte Trail – Mount Shasta
  • McWay Waterfall Trail – Big Sur
  • Land’s End Trail – San Francisco

 

California Hiking Websites:

 

California Weather Website: 

 

California Official Tourism Site:  

 

California Hiking Apps: 

 

California Hiking Maps: 

What Else To Do

It’s impossible to list all the other things to do in California besides hike in the mountains, but here’s a sample:

Other Important Points

  • Pay attention to alerts for whatever area you are hiking in as there could be closure of trails due to wildfires, excessive heat warnings, landslides, mating, hunting, etc.