The author McKenna Mobley sitting on a boulder during her hike in Big Pine Lakes, one of the most popular hikes in California, at winter surrounded by snow

17 Best Hikes in California in 2023 (By a Local)

With desert, mountain, forest, and coastline landscapes, there are endless opportunities for spectacular hikes in California.

In fact, as a California local, I’d have to say that California is one of the best places for hiking in the U.S. (I’m totally not biased). Sure, visiting big cities like Los Angeles is great, but exploring the Sierra Nevada and lower Cascade Mountains are highlights for nature lovers.

There are so many trail options in the golden state, so I’ve created this epic list of the best hiking trails in California to help get you started.

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17 Best Hikes in California

Mt. Baldy

Climb Los Angeles’s tallest mountain.

The author admiring the view from the summit of Mt. Baldy
I’m enjoying the view from the Mt. Baldy summit

🥾 Difficult | 4 miles | 4,000 feet elevation gain | 📍 Google Maps | Drive Time from Los Angeles: 1 hour | Cost: Free

Mt. Baldy is the highest mountain in Los Angeles County at 10,064 feet. There are four popular trails to the top but the most frequented trail is the Ski Hut/Baldy Bowl Trail. 

The Baldy Bowl trail starts on a fire road but steeply cuts left into the side of the mountain. This trail is shaded by pine trees ⅔ of the time as opposed to the Baldy Backbone trail which is exposed the whole way. You can also take the 3-mile, 3,000-foot gain Register Ridge trail but be prepared for a very hard hike.

Another hard ascent trail is the Bear Canyon trail to the summit, which starts from Mt. Baldy village and gains 6,000 feet in 6 miles. This is a long and grueling Los Angeles hike but you are almost guaranteed to see bighorn sheep.

⛰️ Up for a Winter Hike? Mt. Baldy is also a popular mountaineers route in the winter with a thousand-foot alpine climb up the bowl. You must have mountaineering experience to attempt this route in the winter.

San Gorgonio

The highest mountain in SoCal has amazing views.

View from the San Gorgonio in California
The thawing San Gorgonio stands tall behind a meadow

🥾 Difficult | 19 miles | 5,400 feet elevation gain | 📍 Google Maps | Drive Time from San Bernardino: 40 minutes | Cost: Free

Welcome to the highest peak in SoCal! At 11,503 feet, San Gorgonio has some of the best summit views of all the hikes in California. 

The Vivian Creek trail is 19 miles long and there are no shortcuts, so only attempt this mountain if you are okay with endurance hiking. You may also summit via the South Forks trail, a less crowded, yet longer, 22-mile trail. The South Forks trail also makes a great winter mountaineering and ski mountaineering route.

​​👉Pro Tip: Bring at least 3 liters of water on this 19-mile hike because natural water sources are limited. I recommend using this water bladder for hiking to carry it along.

San Jacinto

The mountains in Idyllwild are welcoming any time of the year.

The author posing for a photo at the Mt. San Jacinto peak during winter season
I snowshoed to the top of San Jacinto in the winter

🥾 Difficult | 11.5 miles | 4,600 feet elevation gain | 📍 Google Maps | Drive Time from Riverside: 1 hour, 5 minutes | Cost: Free

Located in Idyllwild, this beautiful California hike takes first-timers around 8-10 hours to complete. A great day trip from San Diego, The San Jacinto Mountains heat up fast so you should plan on starting before 8 am.

The Marion Mountain trail to San Jacinto’s 10,834-foot summit is a beautiful trek through the quiet of the forest. You will see awe-inspiring sunrises and sunsets and, if you’re lucky, some deer too.

You can also hike to the summit via the Palm Springs Tram, which makes for a much easier 2,620-ft trek. However, The Palm Springs Tram is $29.95 for adults and $17.95 for children, plus $12 for parking. 

I recommend the Marion Mountain trail to San Jacinto’s summit because it’s free, less crowded, and in my opinion, more beautiful.

Deep Creek Hot Springs

Take a soak for ultimate relaxation in these high desert hot springs.

The author carrying her backpack during their hike in Deep Creek Hot Springs
I backpacked to the hot springs to spend the night

🥾 Easy | 5 miles | 📍 Google Maps | Park Website | Drive Time from Los Angeles: 2 hours | Cost: $10

One of the best hikes in California for relaxation, Deep Creek Hot Springs in Southern California isn’t your typical hike. As the name suggests, the trail leads you to a series of hot springs.

The hike is 2.5 miles one way and you have to cross the Mojave River at one point, so wear something that can get wet, such as these water shoes. I recommend going during the weekday to avoid the many weekend campers and thru-hikers and have the most relaxing hot spring soak.

To get to the hot springs, you can either pay $10 to park at the Bonita Ranch parking lot area or you can hike 7 miles in (one way) from the Pacific Crest Trail. 

👉 Pro Tip: Keep yourself hydrated by purifying your water on the go. The Grayl Geopress is a great water bottle for dipping into California’s lakes and streams and having an endless supply.

Ryan Mountain, Joshua Tree National Park 

Experience views of the Mojave and Colorado deserts from this Joshua Tree mountain summit.

The Mojave desert view from the summit of Ryan Mountain
Views of the Mojave desert from the Ryan Mountain summit

🥾 Moderate | 3 miles | 1,050 feet elevation gain | 📍 Google Maps | Park Website | Drive Time from San Bernardino: 1.5 hours | Cost: $30 National Park entrance fee/ $55 annual pass

Joshua Tree National Park in southern California is an outdoor oasis with hundreds of hikes, including the famous Lost Palms Oasis trail and Ryan Mountain. You are guaranteed to view rock climbers during your visit to the park and perhaps bighorn sheep and jackrabbits too. 

Ryan Mountain is the highest peak in the park. This moderate 3-mile roundtrip hike is only 5,457 feet tall but the views from the top are immaculate. This is one of the only hikes in California where you can see the Mojave desert on one side and the Colorado desert on the other. 

If you plan on visiting Joshua Tree National Park, then time your visit to California carefully. I recommend going in the spring, fall, or winter because the summers are over 100 degrees Fahrenheit every day. See our guide to staying in Joshua Tree for more tips on picking the ideal places.

Mt. Baden Powell

Hike the most popular mountain in Wrightwood, California.

The author at the summit of Mt. Baden Powell during winter
Me standing in front of the Mt. Baden Powell summit in the winter

🥾 Moderate | 8.3 miles | 2,800 feet elevation gain | 📍 Google Maps | Drive Time from Los Angeles: 1.5 hours | Cost: Free

Mt. Baden Powell is a beautiful wooded forest trail in Wrightwood, California. The trail was named after the founder of the Boy Scouts of America, Lord Baden-Powell, and crosses the Pacific Crest Trail on the way to the 9,399-foot summit.

Like many other SoCal hikes, this trail heats up quickly in the summertime. Hike early in the day or plan your visit in a season other than summer.

For more adventurous hikers, you can turn Mt. Baden Powell into a multi-peak hike. To do this, take a long but fun traverse from the summit to the neighboring Dawson or Pine peaks. You can even trek all the way to Mt. Baldy but be prepared for a very long hiking day if you do.

Lost Coast Trail

Camp on the beach while hiking this 25.5-mile trail on the pacific ocean.

A woman backpacker walking in Lost Coast Trail
A backpacker hikes the Lost Coast Trail

🥾 Difficult | 25.5 miles | 1,000 feet elevation gain | 📍 Google Maps | Park Website | Drive Time from San Francisco: 5 hours | Cost: Free

The Lost Coast Trail is in the remote King Range National Conservation Area of Northern California. It takes 1-5 days to complete and you must have a permit to hike it, available through

This classic, beautiful beach hike is usually done from Mattole Beach to Shelter Cove so the wind is at your back. You’ll want to arrange a ride beforehand or take the shuttle back because the trail is one way.

Most of the Lost Coast Trail is on soft sand and rocky terrain, which makes the going a bit slower and tougher. Take your time, relax, and breathe in the fresh pacific ocean breeze. Most people hike this trail from April to September when the weather is warm and storm-free. 

Mt. Whitney

The highest mountain in the lower 48 states is located in Central California.

View at the top of Mt. Whitney
The view from 13,800 feet on Mt. Whitney

🥾 Expert | 21.5 miles | 📍 Google Maps | Park Website | Drive Time from Los Angeles: 3.5 hours | Cost: Permit $15

Mt. Whitney is the tallest mountain in the lower 48 U.S. States, and is one of the most beautiful hikes in California.

The views from Mt. Whitney are unlike anything else you will see in the state and this hike will definitely be the highlight of your central California trip. But, to do so, you must apply for a climbing wilderness permit in March from

Because the hike is so long, I recommend camping on the mountain overnight and packing for your hiking trip appropriately. This is a great way to adjust to the high 14,508-foot altitude and witness some incredible sunrises and sunsets. Just keep in mind that Mt. Whitney receives a lot of traffic in the summer months when it is safer to climb without snow.

👉 Pro Tip: Marmots are very common at the campsites and they love human food. Don’t leave any unattended food in your tent because they will claw their way in if they smell it.

Mt. Langley

One of the most scenic mountain landscapes in the Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains.

View from the Mt. Langley in California
I captured this photo on Mt. Langley because it looked like another planet

🥾 Difficult | 22 miles | 4,000 feet elevation gain | 📍 Google Maps | Drive Time from Los Angeles: 3.5 hours | Cost: $15 permit

Neighboring Mt. Whitney, 14,032-foot Mt. Langley is one of the highest mountains in the Eastern Sierra Mountains. It’s less crowded than Whitney but still a challenging endurance hike.

Many hikers camp overnight to break up the 22 miles and help acclimatize to the elevation. Cottonwood Campground or the base of New Army Pass are perfect spots to camp on the mountain.

You’ll also need a permit to hike this mountain from The lottery starts in March and, the sooner you apply, the more likely you are to snag a spot.

Big Pine Lakes- Second Lake

Experience one of the most gorgeous hiking trails in central California.

The author sitting on a boulder during her hike in Big Pine Lakes at winter
Second Lake in the winter is absolutely stunning

🥾 Moderate | 10.5 miles | 3,000 feet elevation gain | 📍 Google Maps | Drive Time from Los Angeles: 4 hours | Cost: $15 permit

The Big Pine Lakes trail is one of the most beautiful hikes in California. This hike is still somewhat of a hidden gem and not nearly as crowded as the high mountain peaks in the Sierra Nevada.

There are many places to stop along the Big Pine Lakes trail, but the beauty and crystal-clear color of Second Lake is worth the break. 

Just beyond Second Lake, you have the options of a day hike to the 3rd, 4th, and 5th lakes loop, or to continue straight to the Palisade Glacier trail. From the Glacier, there are even more difficult mountains to climb such as Mt. Sill and Middle Palisade Mountain.

For a true pristine mountain experience, visit Second Lake in the winter. You’ll need good winter gear like this winter-rated sleeping pad, but the views are breathtaking and you’re almost guaranteed to have it to yourself.

John Muir Trail

211 miles of pure wilderness, from Yosemite to Mt. Whitney.

The author sitting on a boulder during sunrise in John Muir Trail
Sunrise over Mt. Whitney- the highest point on the John Muir Trail

🥾 Difficult | 211 miles | 📍 Google Maps | Park Website | Drive Time from Los Angeles: 4.5 hours | Cost: $11 in permit fees

The John Muir Trail is a thru-hike that starts in Yosemite Valley and ends on Mt. Whitney (or vice versa). It usually takes hikers 10-14 days to complete this enjoyable hike but many others simply section-hike the trail if they don’t have that much time.

The John Muir Trail is a great opportunity to experience the remote wilderness of the park and escape the summertime crowds. However, you must apply ahead of time to hike the 211-mile trail with a $10 non-refundable fee, and then pay another $5 if you are granted the permit. 

Good re-supply stops on the trail to stock up on food and toiletries is either Tuolumne Meadows or Kearsarge Pass.

🛎️ Looking for cheap accommodation along the trail? Take a rest day at The Hostel California before continuing with your thru-hike.

Tokopah Falls, Sequoia National Park

Cool off on a hot day in Sequoia’s Tokopah Falls.

View of the Tokopah Falls from afar
A view of the falls from far away

🥾 Moderate | 3.8 miles | 📍 Google Maps | Park Website | Drive Time from Los Angeles: 4 hours, 45 minutes | Cost: $35 National Park entrance, $70 annual pass

Visit the refreshing Tokopah Falls in Sequoia National Park to cool off from the summer heat. Only 3.8 miles, this is one of the best hikes in California that is suited for the whole family.

The moderate trail typically takes less than 2 hours but I recommend spending some time at the falls or going swimming in the nearby river.

This is a very popular hiking and California camping spot in one of the most popular national parks in California, so prepare to share it with others. And keep in mind that dogs aren’t allowed on the trail.

Half Dome Cables

This Yosemite National Park trail is filled with steep, high-adrenaline fun.

View of the Half Dome Cables during a wildfire in California
Half Dome during a big California wildfire

🥾 Expert | 17 miles | 5,200 feet elevation gain | 📍 Google Maps | Park Website | Drive Time from Los Angeles: 5.5 hours | Cost: $35 National Park Entrance

Want to hike Half Dome but not a rock climber? Then you’re in luck! The Half Dome Cables hike in northern California is one of the hardest hikes I’ve ever done, but the views from the top are absolutely worth it.

The out-and-back trail is about 17 miles long and starts at the Mist Trail Trailhead. This is the same trailhead for the Yosemite Falls trails, two other popular hikes in Yosemite, and so the parking lot fills up quickly.

The approach to the base of the cables is long and moderately steep. Climbing the cables, however, is one of the hardest and steepest hikes in California. Because of this, it’s recommended to bring gardening gloves or other grippy rubber gloves so you can grasp the cables better. 

There are fatalities every year on this hike and you may want to bring a hiking harness to clip into the cables for extra protection.

👉 Pro Tip: Like most other Sierra Nevada hikes, you’ll need a permit to climb Half Dome, so don’t forget to apply in early March!

Vernal and Nevada Falls 

Get a good workout on the Yosemite falls trail steps.

The author with her bestfriend in Yosemite National Park
My best friend and I at the start of the falls trail in Yosemite National Park

🥾 Difficult | 7 miles | 1,840 feet elevation gain | 📍 Google Maps | Park Website | Drive Time from Los Angeles: 5.5 hours | Cost: $35 National Park Entrance

This Yosemite falls trail is incredibly popular and insanely steep. It is also a great workout and you can see the entire Yosemite Valley from the top. 

Starting at the Mist Trail Trailhead, this tough 7-mile out and back hike climbs almost 2,000 feet. After the first Vernal Falls, the crowds thin out as only a few people hike to Nevada Falls. I recommend hiking this Yosemite falls trail in the early fall when all the leaves are changing colors.

This will be a Yosemite National Park trip that you won’t forget, but good hiking shoes make all the difference on the trail. These are my favorite hiking shoes and one of the most popular shoes on the market today.  

Tahoe Rim Trail

Thru-hike 165 miles around the stunning Lake Tahoe.

View of the Lake Tahoe during summer in California
Lake Tahoe in the summer

🥾 Difficult | 165 miles | 24,400 feet elevation gain | 📍 Google Maps | Park Website | Drive Time from San Francisco: 3 hours, 40 minutes | Cost: Free

The Tahoe Rim Trail is a thru-hike around the entire circumference of Lake Tahoe. It’s 165 miles in total, but many people section-hike the trail if they don’t have that much time.

The trail takes an average of 2 weeks to complete, with one resupply stop in the middle. Most thru-hikers will resupply in Tahoe City. Of course, if you want to hike around Lake Tahoe but don’t have 2 weeks, then I recommend day hiking the tallest mountains in Lake Tahoe – Sonora Peak, Freel Peak, or Rose Peak.

For an easy hike around Lake Tahoe with the whole family, the Spooner Lake Loop is a great hike to start with. It is 2.1 miles round-trip and follows an easy, maintained trail the whole time. There are opportunities for the perfect Tahoe Rim Trail photo everywhere along the lake.

👉 Need a Pack? Check out Abigail’s hands-on review of 8 top hiking backpacks.

Matterhorn Peak

Exercise your route-finding skills on this hard-to-find trail in Northern California.

View of the author during a morning hike in Matterhorn Peak
Matterhorn Peak rises above the center trees during my early morning hike

🥾 Expert | 14 miles | 5,100 feet elevation gain | 📍 Google Maps | Drive Time from San Francisco: 4 hours, 45 minutes | Cost: $15 overnight parking, free day parking

You don’t have to travel to the European Alps to climb the Matterhorn! California has its very own Matterhorn Peak. It’s rated as expert and is for experienced climbers only.

Made famous by Jack Kerouac’s book The Dharma Bums, Matterhorn Peak in Bridgeport, CA is a steep rock scramble with no trail. The trail follows a maintained path for about 2 miles, leads you up steep boulder fields, and eventually leaves you to your own devices to find the route.

This incredibly challenging climb appeals to seasoned climbers because it’s a great mountain for practicing remote climbing skills before attempting bigger international mountains.

There are class 2, 3, and 4 scrambling routes, gear-required rock climbing routes, and winter mountaineering routes. 

👉 Pro Tip: Never attempt a winter climbing route without an ice axe and crampons. For more, see my guide to rock climbing in California.

Mt. Shasta

Put your mountaineer skills to the test on this Cascade mountain.

Scenic view from the Mt. Shasta under the clear blue sky

🥾 Expert | 11 miles | 📍 Google Maps | Drive Time from San Francisco: 4 hours, 30 minutes | Cost: Free

Mt. Shasta is an active volcano in the southern Cascade mountains that gives mountaineers an adrenaline fix. 

Due to the Avalanche Gulch Trail, this mountain is rated as expert and should only be attempted by experienced climbers. It encompasses a 3,000-foot vertical snow and ice climb that requires winter mountaineering equipment.

For those wanting to day hike the mountain, however, it’s possible in the later summer months. Start at the same Bunny Flats trailhead and follow the Clear Creek trail through scree and boulder fields to the top.

There are also some great California hiking trails around the base of the mountain, or you can hike to the Clear Creek Hut – approximately two miles into the trail.

🥾 Read Next: Best Hikes Near San Francisco

FAQs About Hiking Trails in California

What is the best hike in California?

Mt. Whitney is the best and most popular hike in California because it is the highest mountain in the contiguous U.S.

What is the hardest hike in California?

Mt. Whitney and Iron Mountain are the hardest hikes in California. Both of these hikes have 6,000 feet of gain and are very steep.

Is California good for hiking?

California is great for hiking. There are hundreds of hiking trails in the state, including mountain hikes, beach hikes, and hiking in the desert.

What is the best hike in Southern California?

Mt. Baldy is the best hike in Southern California. It is one of the highest mountains and is only a quick 4 miles to get to 10,000 feet.

What is the famous hike in LA?

Mt. Baldy is a famous hike in LA because it is the highest mountain in Los Angeles county. 


Thanks for reading my picks for the best hikes in California! Up next, check out this great list of the best beaches in Southern California. Have fun on the trails!

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  1. Great info on the many great hikes in Calif.But you made the same error that lots of people make.They say hike the Sierras instead of hike the Sierra Nevada.When you use Sierras you are talking plural.But in fact t the proper word is Sierra (as it is 1 range)Other than that keep up the good work& keep on hiking!

    1. Hi Michael,

      as a local climber, hiker, and backpacker in the Sierras, we nickname the Sierra Nevadas “the Sierras” as a shortcut instead of saying the Eastern Sierras or the Sierra Nevadas. Same with the San Gabriel mountains, of which I am deeply involved in the community. We say “the San Gabriels” to curb saying the whole “the San Gabriel Mountains.” It’s just local vernacular! Have fun out there on the trails!

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