12 Best Hiking Trails in California

Hikers looking for the best trails in California are spoiled for choices. I mean, with over 3,000 miles of coastline and more than 280 state parks, there are endless options for where to lace up your boots and hit the trails. I have toured this state severally and hiked many of its trails. And to be honest, it is quite difficult to choose just twelve. However, after much deliberation, I have compiled a list of what I believe are the Best Hiking Trails in California. So pack your bag, lace up your shoes, and get ready for an adventure.

Best Hiking Trails in California

1. Yosemite Falls Trail; Hard

The Yosemite Falls Trail is a must-do for anyone visiting Yosemite National Park. In fact, this is one of the best hikes in California for anyone who loves a challenge. The trail is 7.2 miles round trip with an elevation gain of 2,700 feet.

The trail starts at Camp 4 parking area and immediately begins to climb, switchbacking up the granite walls of the canyon. After about a mile, you’ll reach Columbia Rock, where you’ll get your first glimpse of Yosemite Falls. From there, the trail continues to climb, reaching the top of Yosemite Falls after about 2.5 miles. The views from the top are incredible, and you can even see all the way to Half Dome in the distance.

For me, the hike back down was the most challenging part, as my legs were already quite tired from the climb up. But the views of Yosemite Valley from the trail were worth it, and I even got to see a few deer along the way.

The hike took me around 10 hours to complete, including breaks for lunch and to rest my legs. I would, therefore, recommend starting early in the day to give yourself plenty of time to complete the hike.

Hiking Tips:

• Be sure to bring plenty of water and snacks,

• Start early in the day to give yourself plenty of time to complete the hike.

• Wear hiking boots or shoes with good traction, as the trail can be slippery in places.

Safety Tips:

• Bring a map and compass, as cell phone service is spotty.

• Stay on the trail and be aware of your surroundings.

• Don’t hike in snowy or icy conditions, as the trail can be dangerous.

2. Lost Coast Trail; Moderate

I took a backpacking trip on the Lost Coast Trail with a group of friends, and it was an incredible experience. The trail is located in Humboldt County, California, and it runs for about 25 miles along the coast.

We hiked the Lost Coast Trail for four days, starting from the north end of the trail at Mattole Beach. The first day was by far the most challenging, with a steep and strenuous hike up and over several ridges. But the views from the top of the ridge were incredible, and the sense of accomplishment was well worth the effort.

The second day was a bit easier, with more gradual elevation changes and some nice flat sections along the coastline. We even had time to stop and enjoy a picnic lunch at one of the many scenic overlooks.

On the third day, we hiked through the King Range National Conservation Area, home to some of the tallest peaks in California. The scenery here was truly breathtaking, and we even got to see some wildlife, including a family of deer.

The fourth and final day was shorter and less challenging than the previous three but no less beautiful. We ended our hike at Black Sands Beach, where I watched the sunset over the Pacific Ocean.

All in all, hiking this trail was an incredible experience. The scenery was breathtaking, and I got to bond with my friends. This is definitely one of the best hiking trails in California for anyone looking for an adventure. 

Hiking Tips:

• Bring plenty of water and food, as there are no water sources or restaurants along the trail.

• Be sure to hike with a partner or group, as the trail can be remote and challenging in places.

• Bring a map and compass, as cell phone service is spotty.

Safety tips:

• Be aware of your surroundings and watch for wildlife.

• Don’t hike alone; be sure to hike with a partner or group.

3. Eaton Canyon Trail; Moderate

Nature-lovers rejoice! The Eaton Canyon Trail is an easy to moderate 4.4-mile hike that’s perfect for a day trip. Located in the Angeles National Forest, this trail is only about an hour’s drive from Los Angeles, making it one of the best places to hike in California.

The trailhead starts at the Eaton Canyon Nature Center, where you can pick up a map of the area. The first mile or so of the trail is pretty easy, with a gradual incline and plenty of shade from the trees. You’ll start to get into some steeper areas after the first mile, but nothing too strenuous. 

The payoff for this moderate hike is the stunning views of the Eaton Canyon waterfall. The waterfall is about 40 feet tall and is one of the tallest in Southern California. After taking some time to enjoy the views and maybe have a snack, head back.

Hiking Tips:

• Wear comfortable shoes with good tread.

• Bring plenty of water and snacks, as there are no amenities on the trail.

4. Trans-Catalina Trail; Hard

It’s hard to talk about the best hiking trails in California without mentioning the Trans-Catalina Trail. This trail spans the entire length of Catalina Island, from Avalon to Two Harbors, and is a challenging hike with breathtaking views. 

The Trans-Catalina Trail is a 32-mile long point-to-point hike that generally takes three to five days to complete. I completed the trail in four days, and it was one of the most memorable hiking experiences I’ve ever had. Every day brought new scenery, from forests of eucalyptus trees to rocky cliffs overlooking the ocean. This is a great way to explore the island and get some exercise, but it’s not for the faint of heart. The trail includes over 8,000 feet of elevation gain and can be challenging at times.

But if you’re up for the challenge, the Trans-Catalina Trail is an unforgettable experience. However, the only downside of this trail is that there is little-to-no shade along the entire length of the trail. So be sure to bring plenty of sunscreen and water.

Hiking tips: 

• Be sure to wear sunscreen and bring plenty of water.

• Bring hiking poles for the steep sections.

• Pack light, as you will be carrying your belongings with you for the entire hike.

Safety tips: 

• Although the trail is well marked, it’s always good to carry a map and compass with you.

5. San Andreas Fault Line Trail; Easy

If you’re hiking in California, you can’t miss the San Andreas Fault Line Trail. This trail runs along the famous San Andreas Fault, and it’s a great way to see some of California’s amazing geological features.

The San Andreas Fault is a major geological feature, and it runs for about 800 miles through California. The San Andreas Fault Line Trail is a great way to see some of the features created by this fault.

The trail is about 1.4 miles long, and it’s an easy hike with no major elevation changes. Many people consider this one of the best hikes in California because it takes you through some of the state’s most beautiful scenery. Plus, it’s a great way to see some of California’s amazing geological features.

It took me about one hour to hike the whole trail, and I stopped a few times to take pictures and enjoy the views. The trail is very well-marked, and there are plenty of signs that explain the geological features you’re seeing. Plus, if you want to learn more about the San Andreas Fault, you can take a guided tour of the trail.

The best time to hike the San Andreas Fault Line Trail is in the spring or fall. The trail can be very hot in the summer, and in the winter, it can be wet and muddy. Just make sure to wear comfortable shoes and bring plenty of water. 

Overall, I loved hiking the San Andreas Fault Line Trail. It’s a great way to see some of California’s amazing geological features, and it’s a great workout. I would definitely recommend this trail to anyone looking for a good hike in California.

6. James Irvine Trail; Moderate

Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park is truly a one-of-a-kind place I had the honor of visiting. And during my time there, I hiked the James Irvine Trail. This moderate trail is a 10-mile roundtrip that takes you through some of the tallest trees on the planet.

The first thing I noticed when starting the hike was the dense fog that hovered over the forest. The James Irvine Trail is located in a Coastal Redwood forest, which means that the terrain is hilly. The trail itself is well maintained and easy to follow.

I was able to see a variety of different animals on the hike, including deer, squirrels, and even an owl! The James Irvine Trail is also home to a variety of plant life, including redwoods, ferns, and moss. What I found most amazing about this trail was the sheer size of the redwoods. These trees are absolutely massive, and it’s truly breathtaking to hike among them.

The James Irvine Trail is a moderate hike, and I would recommend it to anyone who is looking for a challenge. It took me about four hours to complete the loop, and I was definitely tired by the end. But overall, I had an amazing time, and I would definitely do it again.

Hiking tips:

• Wear comfortable shoes, as the trail is hilly and can be slippery.

• Bring a map, as the trail can be easy to lose if you’re not paying attention.

• Pack a lunch, as there are no food options along the trail.

• Be aware of your surroundings, as the forest can be dense, and it’s easy to get turned around.

Safety tips:

• Watch out for wildlife, as they can be unpredictable.

• Don’t hike alone.

7. Hike up Half Dome via the Mist Trail; Hard

Yosemite National Park is known as one of the best places to hike in California, and for a good reason. With over 800 miles of trails to choose from, there’s something for everyone.

One of the most popular hikes in Yosemite is up Half Dome, a granite dome that rises more than 4,500 feet above the Yosemite Valley floor. The hike to the summit of Half Dome is not for the faint of heart; it’s a strenuous, 17-mile roundtrip hike with an elevation gain of 4,800 feet.

The mist trail will take you through Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls. From there, it’s a steep climb up the summit of Half Dome. Cables are installed at the final 400-foot section to help hikers get to the top.

We started the hike at around 6 am, and even then, the parking lot was already filling up fast. I would definitely recommend getting an early start if you want to finish the hike in a reasonable amount of time. The hike was tough but adventurous as we made our way up Half Dome. The views from the top were absolutely incredible, and we could see for miles in every direction.

The hike down was just as tough as the hike up, but we were motivated by the thought of a cold beer waiting for us at the bottom.

Since this is one of the best hikes in California, the park limits the number of hikers who want to hike and climb Half Dome. Therefore, I recommend getting a permit in advance.

All in all, the hike up Half Dome was an amazing experience. It’s definitely not for the faint of heart, but it’s totally worth it for the views. I recommend this hike to anyone looking for a challenge and some incredible views of Yosemite National Park.

Hiking tips:

• Wear hiking shoes with good treads.

• Bring plenty of water.

• Come with your gloves.

• Be patient and look out for your fellow climbers.

• Get a permit in advance if you want to hike Half Dome.

• Be prepared for a tough hike.

Security tips:

• Test the poles holding up the cables before you put your weight on them.

• Don’t try to climb the cables if it’s been raining.

• If there are thunderclouds around, get back below tree level.

8. Boy Scout Tree Trail; Moderate

Anybody who’s looking for an adventure in the woods needs to check out the Boy Scout Tree Trail. This moderate trail is located in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, and it’s definitely a hike that’s worth taking.

The Boy Scout Tree Trail is a 5.6-mile roundtrip that takes you through some of the most beautiful redwood forests that California has to offer. I consider this trail moderate because there is about 425 feet of elevation gain, and some parts of the trail are a bit steep. But even though the Boy Scout Tree Trail is a moderate hike, it’s still an easy trail to follow. The path is well-marked, and there are plenty of places to rest along the way.

During my hike, I was able to see the Boy Scout tree, which is a giant redwood located about 2.5 miles from the trailhead. The tree got its name from a Boy Scout troop leader. This tree is definitely worth seeing, and it’s just one of the many highlights that this trail has to offer.

The trail ends at the fern falls, which is a beautiful 20-foot waterfall. This was definitely my favorite part of the hike, and it’s the perfect spot to take a break and have a snack.

Overall, this is one of the best hiking trails in California that you’re sure to come away with some great memories.

Hiking tips:

• Wear comfortable shoes with good traction.

• Bring plenty of water and snacks.

• Rest as often as you need to.

• Enjoy the views.

Safety Tips:

• Stay on the trail at all times.

• Be aware of your surroundings.

9. McWay Waterfall Trail; Easy

The McWay Waterfall Trail is a short, easy hike that leads to one of the most impressive waterfalls in California. The 0.6-mile roundtrip hike is relatively flat, with only a few small hills.

The trailhead for the McWay Waterfall Trail is located in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, about 37 miles south of Carmel. From the trailhead, the trail winds through a dense forest of redwoods and cypress trees. After a few minutes of walking, the trail opens up to reveal sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean.

The highlight of the hike is McWay Falls, an 80-foot waterfall that cascades over a cliff into the ocean. The falls are best seen from the overlook, which is located just a few minutes from the trailhead.

The McWay Waterfall Trail is open year-round, but the best time to hike it is in the spring when the waterfall is flowing at its peak. The trail can be crowded on weekends, so it’s best to hike during the week if possible.

Hiking Tips:

• Wear comfortable shoes.

• Bring plenty of water. The trail is short, but it can be hot in the summer, so staying hydrated is important.

Safety Tips:

• Be sure to stay on the trail at all times.

• There are no guardrails at the overlook, so it’s important to keep a safe distance from the edge.

The McWay Waterfall Trail is one of the best hikes in California for those looking for an easy hike with beautiful scenery. The falls are an impressive sight, and the views of the ocean are unbeatable.

10. Solstice Canyon Trail; Easy

This is a great trail for those who want to get out and hike but don’t want to commit to an all-day affair. The Solstice Canyon Trail is a 2.6-mile roundtrip hike that takes about two hours to complete.

The trailhead for the Solstice Canyon Trail is located in the Santa Monica Mountains, just a short drive from Los Angeles. The trail is well-maintained and relatively easy to follow. Picnic tables are scattered along the first mile of the trail, providing a perfect spot to stop and enjoy a snack.

The Solstice Canyon Trail meanders through a lush canyon, following the creek bed upstream. The trail ends at the ruins of a stone house that was built in 1952. A fire destroyed the house in 1982, but the stone foundation and some walls are still standing.

The Solstice Canyon Trail is a great option for those looking for a short and easy hike with some history thrown in.

Hiking tips:

• Wear comfortable shoes and bring plenty of water.

• The trail is popular, so start early to avoid the crowds.

• Dogs are welcome on the trail but must be kept on a leash.

• The trail is open year-round but can be hot in the summer months.

Safety tips:

• Watch out for snakes, which are common in the area.

• Be aware of your surroundings and hike with a buddy if possible.

11. Hike to the Summit of Mount Whitney; Hard

I did not think that I was going to like this hike. I am not a huge fan of heights, and the idea of scaling a 14,000-foot mountain did not sound appealing to me. But I decided to give it a shot, as this is one of the best hiking trails in California.

The Hike to the Summit of Mount Whitney is a 22-mile roundtrip hike that can take about two days to complete. However, if you’re up for the challenge, it can be done in one day. The trail starts at the Whitney Portal, which is about an hour’s drive from the town of Lone Pine. From there, the trail steadily climbs for about 11 miles until you reach the summit of Mount Whitney.

I planned to hike the trail in one day, and I started hiking at 5 am. The first few miles of the hike are relatively easy, but the last few miles are quite strenuous. And the last mile is known as the “99 Switchbacks” because it consists of a series of 99 switchbacks that lead to the summit.

The trail takes you through beautiful scenery, including forests, meadows, and rocky areas. I reached the summit of Mount Whitney at 11:30 am and was rewarded with stunning views of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

I was amazed by the variety of landscapes I encountered on the trail. And the views from the summit are absolutely incredible. You can see for miles and miles in every direction. And after enjoying the views from the summit, I started the long hike back down to the Whitney Portal. I reached at 6:30 pm, tired but satisfied.

Hiking Tips

• Start early in the day

• Wear hiking shoes with good treads

• Be prepared for the change in altitudes,

• Pack lunch and snacks to eat along the way.

Safety tips: 

• Don’t hike off the trail, as there are some dangerous drop-offs.

• In winter, the trail can be icy and dangerous, so use caution if hiking in those conditions.

Permit info:

A wilderness permit is required to hike to the summit of Mount Whitney. You can obtain a permit from the visitors’ center, ranger stations, or online at recreation.gov.

Hiking the Mount Whitney trail is an amazing experience. However, it is not for the faint of heart. I would not recommend it to someone who is not in good shape or does not have a lot of hiking experience.

12. Vernal Falls Trail; Hard

Last on my list of the best places to hike in California is Vernal Falls. This 6.4-mile out-and-back hike is located in Yosemite National Park and includes an elevation gain of 300 feet. The trail is pretty easy, but the last half-mile is a bit more challenging as it’s steep and slippery.

I started the hike early in the morning, and I’m glad I did because it got pretty crowded later on in the day. The first part of the trail is pretty flat and easy to follow. The last half-mile is where the real challenge begins. It’s a pretty steep incline, and the rocks can be pretty slippery, so make sure you’re wearing proper shoes.

At the end of the trail, the vernal footbridge offers gorgeous views of the Vernal Falls. The waterfall is about 320 feet tall, and it’s absolutely beautiful. And if you want to get closer to the fall, there is a short dirt trail, and finally, a steep rock stair set up to the falls themselves. The stairs are slippery, so be careful!

All in all, this was a great hike. It was challenging but not too difficult, and the views were absolutely stunning.

Hiking tips:

• Carry light rain ponchos as the mist from the waterfall can make you wet.

• Wear water-resisting hiking boots

• Bring lots of water and snacks

Safety Tips:

• Wear proper shoes with a good grip as the rocks can be slippery.

In summary

Hiking is not all about the destination; it is about the journey. And this list of the best hiking trails in California will take you on some amazing journeys. Plan ahead, be prepared, and most importantly, have fun! And when you’re done, be sure to reward yourself with a cold beer. Cheers!