California is an epic state that’s filled with loads of places to see. You see, it has a little something for everyone! From the stunning beaches, beautiful islands to a heap of national parks, there’s a shed load of places to experience some of the best hikes in California.
Of course, you’ve got the glossy lights of tinsel town, the incredible things to see and do in San Francisco. Plus, to the south, you’ve got spots like Salvation Mountain that is just something else. Honestly, California is one of my favourite states in the US to explore.
Now, if you’re looking to head out into the wilderness, or take a little break from city life, then California is the place to go. You’ll be spoilt for choice with all the best hikes in California that are dotted all across the state. Just make sure to pack your walking shoes and a water bottle!
With that in mind, take a look at some of the best hikes in California to experience when you arrive. Have the best time.
1.) John Muir Trail
At 211 miles (340 km) long, the John Muir Trail is certainly not your average day hike.
In fact, I’d go as far as saying it’s a once in a lifetime kinda hike. Though, don’t feel like you have to complete the whole route; most don’t.
Part of the Pacific Crest Trail, the JMT is found east of Fresno, stretching from Yosemite National Park, through Kings Canyon, and ending in Sequoia National Park; you’ll get to see them all.
It’s easily one of the best hikes in California that have some epic spots to see. Honestly, the scenery is some of the best in all the national parks in California. This is especially true, as you will find yourself surrounded by 14,000 foot (4260 m) tall mountains, many mirror-like lakes, deep canyons, and sparkly granite cliffs.
Speaking of which, don’t forget to thee the Painted Lady at Rae Lakes, too. It’s situated in King’s Canyon National Park and is gorgeous. plus, you get to finish in by seeing General Sherman (the tree) in Sequoia National Park, too.
Top tip: Be sure to look for Mt. Whitney along the hike: at 14,505 feet (4,421 m), it is the tallest mountain in the lower 48 states of the U.S.
2.) San Andreas Fault Line Trail (Wallace Creek)
Perched within the Carrizo Plain National Monument, the San Andreas Fault Line Trail is easily one of the best hikes in California to experience.
Best of all, this hike isn’t a back-breaker and it’s a relatively easy hike for most abilities. Now, the trail itself is about 3-km and should take around 2-3 hours to complete.
Perched near Mc Kittrick, it’s totally easy to follow and is perfect to say you’ve seen the San Andreas Fault line. Oh yeah, and for me, I’d recommend a visit in spring (to see all the blooms).
3.) Joshua Tree Short-Loop And Canyon View Trail
A little more strenuous than the likes of Wallace Creek, the Short Loop Trail is one of the best hikes in California to explore the Yucca Valley region.
Now, the distance is around 10-km in total but the elevation is only around 300-metres. This means that there’s not too many steep slopes to scale.
Though be warned, you can get caught up in some snow flurries if you visit in the winter months; so plan your hike and equipment accordingly.
4.) Pacific Crest Trail
Running from Mexico all the way into Canada, the Pacific Crest Trail is a stunning, 2,650 mile (4,265 km) trail well known to many hikers. Now, obviously, this is no day trip activity but you can hop on certain sections (like you would a freeway) and explore some of the best hikes in California.
For most of the time, hikers tend to do more manageable sections, though, there’s certainly an option to complete it all if you have plenty of time, the legs of an ox and a passport!
In California, the trail starts at the border of Mexico near Tijuana, and goes up near Los Angeles before heading slightly east of Fresno and Sacramento and then further north into Oregon. You can see more of which routes to follow, here.
Top tip: Take your camera, you’ll pass through some of the most famous national parks in the country, including Sequoia, Yosemite, and Klamath.
5.) Black Hill Trail, Morro Bay
Located in northern California, this (1 km) easy trail is found on the Pacific Coast and a total dream to follow for a relatively leisurely hike.
Now, the trail is mostly flat and is bordered by some incredible views, especially to the north-west over Morro Rock.
It’s a beautiful hike that is perfect for all ages to enjoy, especially on a sunny summer day. You can also make the hike that bit longer (around 5km) if you fancy a longer stroll, too.
Top tip: To get there, look out for Parkview Drive and you’ll find the trailhead, here. Alternatively, if you’re a little stuck, check out the Google Maps route, here.
6.) Eaton Canyon Trail
For those who like a well-known and familiar hike, head just north of Pasadena to the Eaton Canyon Trail. Once here, you’ll come across one of the best hikes in California that are relatively easy for an experienced hiker. Plus, the (6-km) is fairly close to civilisation (so you’re never too far from home).
You can enjoy beautiful views of the city Altadena below; which is incredible at sundown.
Oh, and don’t forget a hike to Eaton Canyon Falls too; it’s totally beautiful. Though, be prepared to cross shallow streams and manoeuvre around bulky boulders, so pack some waterproof shoes. No one likes soggy feet!
Top tip: The most crowded times are on the weekends when it might be difficult to find parking. Try and hike on a weekday if crowds are not really your thing.
7.) Black Star Canyon Trail
For a trail with less traffic and a lot more tranquillity, get yourself over to Black Star Canyon, located north-west of Silverado.
This 25-km trail is rated as moderate by some; though, I’d say this is a much harder hike due to the length itself.
Just make sure to plan your hike well in advance and give yourself enough time and resources to finish the hike. After all, no one likes a careless hiker.
Top tip: Oh, and don’t forget to see Black Star Canyon Falls, too.
8.) California Coastal Trail
If you’re hiking in California, make sure to experience stunning California’s Coastal Trail. For me, it’s easily one of the best hikes in California to join or complete as part of a big challenge.
You see, In an effort to preserve California’s coasts, as well as create easy access to them, environmental groups have been working to create the 1,200 miles (1931 km) trail that runs north to south along the Pacific Coast.
Anyone that enjoys the sea and beaches will quickly be a fan of this fantastic coastal project.
Top tip: It’s a beach lovers dream hike. Make sure to pack your swimming gear and sunblock!
9.) Canyon Hoegee’s Campground Loop (Sierra Madre)
Located just east of Pasadena, near the Sierra Madre, is a relatively easy, 4.7 mile (7.5 km) loop trail that will take you to the 50 foot (15 m) tall Sturtevant Falls.
Found in Hoegee’s Campground, the trail is open from January through September, and dogs and horses are allowed too. Mt. Wilson, Chantry Flat, and Mt. Zion Junction are sights you’ll find along the way. It’s easily one of the best hikes in California to visit.
Top tip: The trail is considered moderate, and you’ll need to grab an adventure pass to access it.
10.) Simpson-Reed Trail (Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park)
This 1 mile (1.6 km) easy loop trail through Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park in northern California is sure totally easy but gorgeous, too.
You’ll ramble on through an ancient forest that’s home to 1,000-year-old redwood trees that are some of the oldest in the world. It’s one of the best hikes in California that’s easily accessible to most.
Top tip: To find this somewhat ‘hidden’ trailhead, exit off of U.S. 199 onto Walker Road and head north for about one mile (1.6 km) to a marked trailhead on the east/right side of the road.
11.) Mist Trail and Half Dome (Yosemite National Park)
For a real thrill, you can grab yourself a permit to hike up Half Dome via the Mist Trail in Yosemite National Park that’s not for the faint-hearted.
Half Dome is the famous rock-face found in the park, with plenty of people taking pictures of it, but only a few brave and lucky souls able to climb it each year. Since the hike is so popular, the park limits how many people are allowed to climb, so it’s best to grab your tickets in advance.
If you do, expect a 14.2 mile (22.9 km) round-trip hike that begins near Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls on the Mist Trail. From there, the trail ascends to the summit of Half Dome, with cables installed due to how steep the top is.
This hike is definitely not for those with a fear of heights. Even when I got halfway there, I ended up with little vertigo!
Top tip: Book your permit well in advance to avoid disappointment. Spaces fill up and there is always more demand than there are permits.
12.) Yosemite Falls Trail (Yosemite National Park)
I know, another Yosemite trail; but you know what, they have some of the best hikes in California that I’m sure you’ll love.
In case you didn’t manage to get to hike Half Dome, then fear not! There are still plenty of other hikes in Yosemite, including the Falls Trail.
This 7.2 miles (11.5km) difficult hike leads to the top of the continent’s tallest waterfall! The hike is also one of the oldest in Yosemite, having been built between 1873-1877.
Top tip: For the best views of the waterfall, plan to hike in spring and early summer. I went in June and the weather was perfect.
13.) Hollyridge Trail (Los Angeles)
What could be more iconic than the Hollywood sign in Los Angeles?
The Hollyridge Trail offers both amazing views of the sign and surrounding areas as you hike to the top. Now, the car park for the trail does fill up fast, so you might be the best parking on North Canyon Drive Parking area (but that does result in a longer hike).
It’s likely you will find many visitors on this 1.2 mile (1.93 km) hike, all hoping to snap a famous photo of the sign. Horses and dogs are allowed on the trail, and it is open from October to February. Though be warned, you’ll step in lots of horse poop along the way!
Top tip: Visit in the early morning, when crowds are less.