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Best Places to Go Hiking in California

Updated on October 21, 2010

California is not only a gorgeous state but also a state which offers the hiking fan a terrific range of different scenic opportunities. Hiking along the coast offers fabulous vistas of the Pacific Ocean whether you are in the shorts-and-a-tank climate of San Diego or the warm-weather-hiking area of Northern California. Further inland are deserts and valleys which change in design from south to north and provide people with a multitude of opportunities for experiencing different nature and wildlife.

There are places within California for hikers of every single skill level to enjoy a trail. Here are some of the top hiking spots in the state by region:

San Francisco Bay Area Hiking. The San Francisco Bay Area itself offers a diverse range of hiking opportunities. Just north of the city (across the famous Golden Gate Bridge) hikers will find well-maintained trails through Muir Woods and harder-to-get-to climbs up Mount Tam. Over in the East Bay are trails that alternately offer views of the city and getaways from urban life. Here's a closer look:

  • Muir Woods. Muir Woods is an area north of San Francisco that draws in numerous tourists who want to see the redwoods of Northern California. Although these aren't quite the towering trees that you'll see further north up the coast, they're certainly impressive enough to warrant some pictures. Lazy hikers and even people in wheelchairs can enjoy these trails, many of which are paved with wooden walkways. Hikers with a higher skill level can follow the several loops up the mountain here to get in a good workout.
  • Mount Tam. People who are interested in a more difficult climb north of San Francisco will want to choose one of the trails of Mount Tam. Get all the way up there and then look out at the Pacific Ocean below.
  • Lake Chabot Trails. There is a massive lake and trail system in the East Bay that many people aren't aware of. Lake Chabot is part of the East Bay Regional Park system and offers a beautiful escape from the urban areas that are surrounding it. There are easy trails that let you just walk casually along the lake (dogs are welcome) as well as harder trails for experienced hikers.
  • Mount Diablo. This is one of the few big mountains that you can see piercing the East Bay sky when you're standing in San Francisco. If climbing it doesn't put you out of breath, the breath-taking view from above likely will.

San Diego Hiking. Let's head down south along the coast and get to San Diego. People think of this area as being a lazy place for lounging on the beaches but there are some great trails to be explored. Here's a few of them:

  • Cuyamaca Peak. This is one of the highest peaks in the San Diego area and it takes some skill to climb it but the view is worth the walk. Those people who are less skilled can take other trails in the Cuyamaca Ranch State Park.
  • Cleveland National Forest. There are several areas to this forest some of which are well-maintained and others that run wild. Go where your heart takes you!

Los Angeles Area Hiking. Not everyone in Los Angeles spends their time walking along the star-studded streets in search of celebrities. Some people like to get out and enjoy the Southern California sunshine by hiking throughout the area. Here are some of the places they go:

  • Tujunga Wash. People who really want to get out into nature and away from a lot of nice amenities will go to this rugged hiking area.
  • Baldwin Hills. If you're in Los Angeles and don't have a lot of time to get away from the city for a hike, a short walk like this one which is part of the Kenneth B. Hahn State Park can be a great way to get in some communing with nature.

Other prominent California hiking trails: You could talk forever about the hiking located throughout California. From the sweltering trails of Death Valley to the jagged coastal hikes near the Oregon border, California never fails to impress its hikers. Here are some of the top not-to-miss spots in parts of California other than its three major urban areas:

  • Mount Whitney. Located in Sequoia National Park is situated between San Francisco and Yosemite Park, this is not only the highest mountain you can climb in California but also offers the highest peak in the whole contiguous United States.
  • Half Dome. Speaking of Yosemite, there are some amazing hiking trails there that shouldn't be missed, the most famous of which is Half Dome. This is no easy hike and you have to be experienced with long stretches and many switchbacks if you're going to do it but it's well worth the effort that you exert.
  • Pacific Crest Trail. There are some people who are interested in serious long-distance hikes that take months to complete. Most of them are highly familiar with the Appalachian Trail but there's a similar trail on the West Coast that offers a more challenging opportunity to prove yourself as a hiker. You can get all the way through the length of California on this trail if you try although you'll be challenged with various levels of difficulty and a constantly changing elevation. Most people do just a piece of this trail and every piece is stunning.
  • Corkscrew Peak. This is one of the trails that's located in Death Valley, a part of California that hikers often say earned its name. The trail itself is only four miles long but it's one of the more challenging trails that you'll find because of the conditions that you're facing when you climb here. Don't go in the summer!
  • Curtain Falls. Hike to this stunning waterfall along the Feather River and you're going to feel like you've walked to the place where magic was made. There are many different waterfalls throughout California that are all worth taking the trek to but this is one in Northeastern California that deserves special recognition.


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