California is one of the nation’s best places to hike. Known for its unique landscape comprising deserts, mountains, ocean and nine national parks, more than any other state - California is a must for any hiker. Whether you’re interested in planning a hiking trip in California or you’re a resident looking to try something new, this article is going to cover some of the best hikes in California and provide some top tips to enjoy your trip.
California’s national parks
California is home to more national parks than any other state, each with a diverse terrain and climate. These are the names of the nine national parks in California and some information about each:
- Death Valley
Death Valley is the hottest, largest and driest national park. It’s officially the lowest point in North America, positioned at 282 feet below sea level, which makes for a striking landscape. Many people have the idea that Death Valley is a desert, but interestingly, it is surrounded by snow-capped mountains and has salt flats, creating a powerful contrast.
- Joshua Tree
Joshua Tree is a national park in the Mojave desert, characterized by Joshua trees - the largest Yucca trees in the world. Joshua Tree is a dry, hot landscape with sparse vegetation.
Yosemite is the third national park to be established in the U.S., dating back to 1890. It is home to waterfalls, mountains and an abundance of colorful trees that support more than 400 species. The waterfalls of Yosemite are one of the tallest in the world, at 2,425 feet.
Redwood is known for the Redwood trees, the tallest in the world, standing at nearly 400 feet. To put that into perspective, that’s as tall as a 35 story building! This fact alone makes this national park a must-see.
- Channel Islands
Channel Islands national park includes five islands located off the coast of southern California, including Santa Cruz island, Anacapa island, Santa Barbara island, San Miguel island, and Santa Rosa island.
- Sequoia and Kings Canyon
These two national parks are next to each other and for this reason are grouped together. Located in Fresno, this national park is home to sequoia trees, among the largest in the world.
Located in Central California, Pinnacles national park has 26,000 acres of the remnants of an extinct volcano, believed to be 23 million-years old.
- Lassen Volcanic
This beautiful national park has clear mountain lakes, volcanoes, fumaroles, meadows and more than 150 miles of hiking trails. Located in northeast California, this national park is known for Lassen Peak, the largest dome volcano in the world.
- Point Reyes
Point Reyes of northern California is known for its historic lighthouse, dating back to 1870, and breathtaking seashore with multiple beaches. Due to its proximity to San Francisco, Point Reyes is a popular place to hike.
Best hikes in California’s national parks
Now that we’ve established the major national parks, we can cover the specific hikes they offer that are considered some of the best hikes in California.
- Death Valley -Badwater Basin Salt Flats Trail
This easy hike is perfect for beginners at only 1.8 miles long and only 9ft elevation, making it suitable for all experience levels. The best time to see the salt flats are between October and March; this is also a better temperature to hike compared to the summer which gets extremely hot.
- Joshua Tree - Discovery Trail
According to this professional hiker, the best Joshua tree hike is the discovery trail. This trail is full of information placards designed by students at the local high school, to help you discover everything that Joshua Tree national park has to offer.
- Yosemite - Yosemite Falls Trail
This hike brings you to the tallest waterfall in the U.S., in the Yosemite national park. This is a nine-mile hike that is only advisable for “very experienced” hikers, according to AllTrails. You’ll reach a 3,231 ft elevation gain, allowing you to enjoy unforgettable views of the waterfall and wider landscape.
- Redwood - James Irvine Trail
The James Irvine Trail is located within Prairie Creek of the Redwoods national park. You will be hiking directly through the dense redwood forest for 10-miles, finishing up at the ocean - a hike that will leave you truly awestruck.
- Channel Islands - Potato Harbor Trail
This 4.9 mile hike will take you just under two and a half hours, located on Santa Cruz island. It’s arguably the best way to explore the island and everything it has to offer, including beautiful wildlife and views of the pacific ocean.
- Sequoia and Kings Canyon - Mist Falls
Mist Falls gets its name from the waterfall that this hike offers. This hike is heavily trafficked, 8.7 miles long and has a moderate incline - making it suitable for intermediate to advanced hikers. But be careful, this hike is known for black bears!
- Pinnacles - Condor Gulch Trail to High Peaks Trail
Voted number one in the Pinnacles national park, this trail is considered hard, spanning 5.4 miles and taking over three hours for the average hiker. According to Hike Speak, this hike provides a “a one-of-a-kind collection of sky-pointed spires” and is a must-see.
- Lassen Volcanic - Lassen Peak Trail
This national park is home to 57 trails ranging in intensity. Lassen Peak is the most popular, but is not for the faint-hearted. This advanced hike includes a 2000 ft steep elevation gain on uneven terrain, leading you to a 10,457 feet summit elevation. This is one of the most popular volcano hikes in the U.S. and is worth every second.
- Point Reyes -Alamere Falls via Coast Trail from Palomarin Trailhead
This 12.2 mile long hike will lead you to a 40-foot waterfall that goes into the ocean. Not only will the sound of the waterfall be heard throughout the hike, it also offers a fun opportunity to take a little dive into the basin, especially in the summer when the water is warmer.
If you’re thinking about planning a trip to California, make sure you factor in some time for hiking. These are some of the best hikes in the state’s nine national parks – give them a go!