California offers hikers, climbers, skiers, and swimmers plenty to do. The hiking trails listed below run from easy to intense and offer great views of the beautiful vistas available. Make sure you pack for sun, heat, rain, and cold, and always carry water.
5 Amazing Hiking Spots In California
1. Yosemite Falls Trail
The Yosemite Falls Trail was built in 1870 and is at the heart of Yosemite National Park, straight east of San Francisco. The trail offers a stop at Columbia rock, which is about a mile from Camp 4. This is a moderate climb that passes through an oak forest. As you leave the forest behind, you’ll find plateaus that offer wonderful views of Yosemite Valley. Continue climbing for a more intense workout, and you’ll find Upper Yosemite Fall and may even feel the spray. Once you reach the top of the trail, you’re actually above the falls.
Depending on the time of year, you should prepare for ice and snow. The spring season offers the fullest waterfall to enjoy, but if you’re climbing in the morning, be aware that the trail may be icy. This trail is open year-round. Be aware that water levels are low in the summer, and hiking the upper portion in full sun can get very hot; bring a hat, sunscreen, and plenty of water. Finally, during the hottest part of the year, you may find loose gravel on the path. Watch your footing.
2. McWay Waterfall Trail
The McWay Waterfall Trail is in the Big Sur region, in the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. Bring your camera and your binoculars; being a little gear heavy on this trail will work out fine because this trail is quite simple and family-friendly. Be aware that it will also be crowded; try to get here early if you need peaceful trail time.
As you leave the parking area for this state park, you will pass through a large culvert that marks the start of the trail. The start of the trail also offers a magnificent view of the ocean, so if you’re there a bit later, try to time your climb down so you can enjoy the sunset. From the culvert, you can go in either direction to the winding paths that surround McWay Falls. Be sure to stay on the path as there are some sheer drops. You may see crews digging up plants. This was once a home and was landscaped with invasive species that have become a problem.
3. Desolation Wilderness
The Desolation Wilderness is just south of Lake Tahoe. You’ll find remarkable hiking in these high elevations, and camping is also an option. Take care to study up on the permitting rules before planning a trip to the Desolation Wilderness, and check the weather. It can get quite cold up there and, while cookstoves are permitted, campfires are not.
Consider the Echo Lake Trail for a dog-friendly hike if you have pets. This moderate trail will take less than three miles to enjoy and offers terrific views. If you’re looking to push harder, consider the six-hour hike up the Lake Aloha Trail. It’s fairly flat, but when it’s not, you will feel it. The views will be worth it. This whole wilderness is quite high in elevation and isolated. While there isn’t any poison oak at this elevation, make sure that you prepare well for your trip into this region.
4. Lassen Peak
Lassen Peak is a challenging trail on an old volcano. You may still get a whiff of hydrogen sulfide at the top. This trail starts at 8,500 feet and crests at over 10,000. If you are not accustomed to moving at high elevations, bring plenty of water and allow for lots of time to get to the top. From the top, you can not only enjoy the amazing views of the California wilderness, but you’ll also get to study the devastation left by the eruptions of the early 20th century.
While the distance is only 5 miles, you will gain 2000 feet during your 3-5 hour hike. The Lassen Volcanic National Park offers many places to hike, as well as camping near the many lakes. Allow plenty of time to get to the parking lot for this trail, and make sure you check on closures before heading to this park.
5. Cataract Falls Trail
Cataract Falls Trail is a 5-mile hiking trail near San Francisco that offers many views of several different waterfalls. If you can get here after a rainfall, the falls will be fuller, and the creek will be more interesting; the hiking path will take you over the creek many times.
Dogs on leashes are allowed, and there’s a picnic area where you can stop and enjoy a break. While this isn’t a hard trail, you can extend it by starting at the Rock Spring Trailhead.