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20 Trails for The Best Hiking in California

When it comes to the best hiking in California, you are spoiled with choices. There’s everything from rugged coastline, the Sierra Nevada mountains, ancient forests, desolate deserts, and everything in-between!

HIking in California during sunset
Man, woman, and dog hike in Big Sur, CA as the sun sets over the ocean.

California offers such a diverse range of outdoor experiences it can take a lifetime to hike every trail! This is why we decided to put together a list of 20 of the best hiking trails in California that are certain to ignite your spirit of adventure!

The Best Hiking In California

Here are some of the most amazing hiking trails in California. We’ve listed them by region and included ratings based on the difficulty, ranging between easy, moderate, and hard. We also share a few unique features that include activities and sights you can see while on the trail. Also, dog owners should keep in mind that not every path is dog-friendly. It may be a good idea to contact the park or local visitor center to confirm their current policy before bringing your pet.

The Best Hiking in Northern California

Sunset California Hike

Devil’s Punchbowl Trail

Difficulty Level: Hard

First on our list for the best hiking in California is Devil’s Punchbowl Trail.

The Devil’s Punchbowl features massive silver cliffs enclosing beautiful deep emerald waters. However, reaching this prize is no easy feat as this 10-mile trail ranges from difficult to extremely difficult for many hikers. However, this is by far the premier destination when visiting the Siskiyou Wilderness.

Along the trail are also some gorgeous, clear streams, and it cuts through an old-growth forest filled with Douglas-fir. Brewer spruce and white fir. The last mile takes you into an alpine valley made of silver-gray stone that’s polished by a glacier. The trap encloses a smaller lake before you reach the Devil’s Punchbowl.

Phantom Falls Trail

difficulty Level: Moderate

Phantom Falls, also known as Coal Canyon Falls, is a small secret treasure of startling beauty found on North Table Mountain in the township of Oroville, California.

This 4.2-mile trail features a 135-foot cliff that contains a hidden waterfall. However, there are no trails that lead directly to this locale, so if you’re lucky enough to find it, you’ll experience an epic natural wonder few hikers even know about. The best time to visit is during the winter months, especially after a good rain. However, the gorgeous sight of spring wildflowers is also a sight to behold!

Moore Creek Trail

Difficulty Level: Moderate

The Moore Creek trail within Moore Creek Park takes you through some beautifully scenic terrain, including Douglas Fir, Oak woodlands, grasslands, Madrone forest, and chaparral. You can also spot a lot of wildlife, such as mountain lions, black bears, gray foxes, bobcats, and coyotes.

The trail itself is 7.1 miles and isn’t too steep, which offers lots of opportunities to traverse at a leisurely pace and enjoy the creak, trailside, fauna and flora, and incredible views from the top of steep slopes of the sky on either side of the canyon. The trail’s end even has a “Top Secret” swimming hole easily making it one of the best hiking trails in California.

Hiouchi Trail

Difficulty Level: Easy

Hiouchi Trail covers 4.7 miles along the Smith River, starting from Lohse Grove and ending at Stout Grove. From Stout Grove, there is a beautiful grove just across the creek. And along the route, there are a couple of small pockets of tall redwoods along the way. The path also passes through a charming forest home to several wildlife species, and in the summer, the Jed Smith Campground offers easy access to the trail by way of a footbridge that crosses the Smith River.

The trail’s eastern end is relatively small but has a magnificent alluvial-flat redwood grove, arguably the most scenic aspect of the path.

Tomales Point Trail

Difficulty Level: Moderate

The 9.4-mile Tomales Point Trail does not only have great views of local wildlife, but at five miles away from the nearest road, it’s also one of the most peaceful and quiet trails in Point Reyes. Squeezed in on three sides by water, the only sounds you will hear are surf, wind, and birds.

There’s a bluff that overlooks the ocean where you can spy seagulls, cormorants, elk, and pelicans below. It’s best to visit Tomales Point during the autumn and spring when the weather’s gentle and clear. However, it’s reasonably cool in the summer.

Burney Falls Trail Loop

Difficulty Level: Easy

The spectacular Burney Falls Loop Trail should be at or near the top of your itinerary while visiting beautiful Shasta County. While California is known for its gorgeous waterfalls, Burney Falls is a proper stand-out. Located in the scenic Cascades Range, the waterfall was named after Samuel Burney, a settler who lived in the area during the 1800s.

The trail to get to the falls is pretty easy for beginners, making it an ideal trip for the entire family.

Best Hiking in Central California

Hiking at Yosemite National Park
Standing on an overhanging rock at Glacier Point enjoying the breathtaking view towards famous Half Dome, Yosemite National Park, California

Garland Ranch Waterfall and Siesta Point via Lupine Loop Trail

Difficulty Level: Moderate

Garland Ranch Waterfall and Siesta Point via Lupine Loop Trail covers a 2-mile trail outside Carmel Valley Village, California. The heavily trafficked trail features a waterfall and is mainly used for walking, running, hiking, and horseback riding. Visitors can access the path year-round, and dogs are welcome.

Bluffs and Panorama Trail via Creamery Meadow

Difficulty Level: Moderate

One of the most extended hikes in Big Sur, the Bluffs and Panorama Trail via Creamery Meadow, is a 7.9-mile path. This trail features a beautiful river and vast meadows with lovely wildflowers. There are also stunning panoramic views of the Santa Lucia Mountains and the Pacific Ocean along the bluffs.

The trail is lovely to hike in all seasons, with winter being the one exception because it might be inaccessible. If you love beautiful cliffside ocean views, this trail is a can’t miss!

Mobius Arch Loop Trail

Difficulty Level: Easy

Mobius Arch Loop Trail is a light .06-mile hike located in the Alabama Hills Recreation Area. It offers some of the best photo opportunities you’ll find in the Eastern Sierras, featuring incredible rock formations. Visitors can even perfectly frame the Sierras and Mt. Whitney within a beautiful rock arch formation. This captivating area was also featured in films such as “Gladiator,” “Django Unchained,” and “Iron Man.”

Partington Cove Trail

Difficulty Level: Moderate

A fun way to explore the Big Sur Coasts’ dramatic waterfront is hiking down the all-ways exciting Partington Cove Trail. This 1.5-mile trail might not be very long, but it is packed with fantastic scenery!

There’s also a beautiful isolated beach just after the bridge to Partington Cove, a fantastic stop. The trail leading to the cove crosses a creek that turns right before you reach a tunnel carved into the rock leading to another long cove on the other side. The tunnel was constructed at the behest of John Partington in the 1880s. He would transport oaks from the mountainous Tanbark forests to ships docked in the eponymous cove.

Moses Spring and Rim Trail Loop

Difficulty Level: Moderate

The Moses Spring and Rim Trail Loop is an amazing hike that offers some of the best sights Pinnacles National Park offers. The hike is 2.5 miles round trip, and you begin from Bear Gulch Day Use Area following the Bear Gulch Stream to Bear Gulch Cave and Lower Bear Gulch Cave. There are also a few other Talus caves to explore. Just be on the watch out for bats!

Telescope Peak Trail

Difficulty Level: Hard

Telescope Peak. Highest Point of Death Valley National Park, California
Telescope Peak. Highest Point of Death Valley National Park, California, USA

Telescope Peak represents the highest summit in Death Valley National Park and is a fantastic reward for committed, experienced hikers. The peak is snowcapped for most of the year and can be seen from the Death Valley floor and canyons on the eastern side. This demanding 12.7-mile trek has an almost 3,000-foot elevation gain, providing breathtaking (figuratively and literally) views of Death Valley.

And if you’re looking for geologic drama, you won’t be disappointed. Telescope Peak also features the Badwater basin, which at 282 feet below sea level, is the lowest point in North America.

Olancha Peak

Difficulty Level: Hard

The 22-mile Olancha Peak trail takes you to California’s highest peak, south of Florence Peak. The track commands a breathtaking view of many Death Valley ranges towards the east. This rugged, rustic, and gorgeously scenic country offers a big challenge with greater rewards for experienced hikers.

Ubehebe and Little Hebe Crater Trail

Difficulty Level: Moderate

Pronounced “You-bee-hee-bee,” Ubehebe and little hebe trail takes you to a giant crater found on the northside of Death Valley National Park. The starting point is a dirt road that brings you to a few of the best spots in Death Valley, such as the lost burro mine, the racetrack, and the teakettle junction. However, the crater by itself is well worth the 1.8-mile journey.

At 750 feet deep and a half-mile wide, the Ubehebe is a stunning geological wonder that scientists believe to be at least 2,000 years old!

Best Hiking in Southern California

hiking on top of hill in california over looking san diego
Man hiking on top of hill in california over looking san diego at sunset

Smugglers Cove Trail

Difficulty Level: Moderate

One of the best examples of “the road less traveled” is the Smuggler’s Cover trail, a 9-mile roundtrip path that’s as tough as it is rewarding, featuring stunning panoramic island and ocean views. Untouched by the modern world, this trail challenges even the most experienced hikers with abrupt altitude changes and uneven rock.

There’s a winding path that leads hikers through Santa Cruz Island’s beautiful rolling hills, some featuring peaks over 1,400 feet high. While this challenging trail can be punishing on the legs, by the time you reach the beautiful private beach cove, it’s all worth the effort!

Little Harbor and Shark Harbor Trail

Difficulty Level: Hard

The Little Harbor and Shark Harbor Trail feature a fascinating contrast. On the southwest side of Catalina Island, you have Shark Harbor, a small beach with churning waters far too dangerous to swim in but ideal for surfers. On the other side, separated by a rock known as the “whale tail,” lies Little Harbor, a beach with calm waters protected from the big waves found in Shark Harbor.

Both beaches have their charm, and the point-to-point trail in between has some gorgeous panoramic views of the ocean and island.

Chiquito Trail to Chiquito Falls

Difficulty Level: Moderate

When you think about hiking in Orange County, California, maybe you picture spotting Disney Land, but you probably never imagine coming across tropical-looking dramatic waterfalls. However, the 9.1-mile Chiquito Trail to Chiquito Falls trail features impressive waterfalls during the spring season, one of which being Chiquito falls.

The out-and-back trail can be a bit challenging with a 1,409-foot vertical elevation gain, but you are rewarded with not just one but two waterfalls. You can take a lunch break at the San Juan Waterfall en route before finishing your enchanting journey.

Barker Valley Spur Trail

Difficulty Level: Moderate

The Barker Valley Spur Trail is a fun 3.5-mile path tucked away in an isolated and dry corner of Cleveland National Forest, a true rugged outdoor paradise. Visitors who reach Baker Valley’s oak-rimmed oasis are in for the surprise of a lifetime. There are live oaks that are centuries old, casting pools of shade over peaceful open grassy meadows that bleach from green to gold in the California sunshine.

The trail also has a dry waterfall, and the narrow valley floor also features lovely sycamores and willows along its banks. You can really spend all day just exploring the river and valley area.

Hollenbeck Canyon Trail

Difficulty Level: Moderate

Hollenbeck Canyon represents a huge 3,200-acre area teeming with desert wildlife with a 4.6-mile trail that takes you through open grassy fields, rolling hills of dried buckwheat and grass before taking you up a gentle incline where you’ll begin to see the green beltway alongside the creek ahead. The narrow trail then branches off left, leading you to a small hill. The right branch will take you on a smaller trail to the creek.

While both paths end up at the same place, the right is a more direct route that leads you through the shade of some beautiful oak and sycamore trees that grow along the creek. This trail is a must-see trail for dessert lovers.

Spooners Mesa Trail Loop

Difficulty Level: Moderate

Last but not least on our list of the best hiking in California is Spooners Mesa Trail Loop.

Spooner’s mesa was part of an area home to the Native American Kumeyaay tribe, who lived in the Tijuana River Valley for several centuries and used it as part of their fishing grounds. You will begin your hike along the 3.4-mile trail by going up a steep dirt road that rises from the river valley. As you hike up the hill, you’ll pass several sage scrub flora such as wild buckwheat, coyote brush, jimson weed, and laurel sumac.

The Jimson weed or “Datura wightil” blooms large exotic lavender and white-tinted trumpet-shaped flowers that are a favorite food source for butterflies, moths, hummingbirds, and long-tongued bees. However, be careful because every part of this plant is poisonous to humans.

You’ll also come across a fantastic overlook partway up the mess that shows you sweeping views of the estuary and river valley, and to the north, you can make out parts of Downtown San Diego.

Finals Thoughts on the Best Hiking in California

The best hiking trails in California have something for everyone. You can find everything from waterfalls, to mountains, to beautiful beaches. Or if you prefer tranquil desert landscapes. California is a hiker’s paradise.

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