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5 California Hiking Trails You Need to Add to Your Bucket List

From Northern California to Southern California.
California is filled with various landscapes that are great for hiking trails. If a traveler wanted to, they could hike the coast, the desert, and the mountains all in one day.

With an influx of outdoor enthusiasts, many locations are becoming heavily populated, and some require reserving a permit ahead of time. It’s beneficial to know of other spots worth visiting in case you are unable to get a permit.

California is gorgeous and offers various hikes. To simplify your life, we’ve narrowed it down to five. Because California is so vast, we wanted the list to encompass all that it has to offer.

We’ll start in Northern California and make our way down to Southern California, ending in San Diego.

What are trail route types?

In this hiking guide, the only trail route types are loop and out-and-back. A loop trail means the hike will start and end at the same point, forming a big circle. By doing a loop trail, you won't see the same scenery twice.

An out-and-back trail is a one-way trail, meaning you will start and end at different points. However, if you park where you started, you will have to walk the same way back, seeing the same scenery twice.

For any hike, you have the freedom to choose to do the whole hike or half of it. The mileage listed for each hike is for completing the entire hike. If it says two miles for a loop, that means one loop is two miles. However, for an out-and-back, if it says two miles, you will want to divide it by two, since it is one mile going out and one mile coming back.

1. Fern Canyon Loop Trail

Six hours north of San Francisco located in Orick, California is the Fern Canyon Loop Trail. Fern Canyon is home to the tallest tree on earth, the redwood. Be amazed as you hike through a forest of redwood trees towering 300 to 350 feet above you, making your way to the fern-covered canyon.

Water once rushed through Fern Canyon as a part of the Klamath river. Overtime the water eroded the soil into the canyon we know today as Fern Canyon. Another fun fact about Fern Canyon is that the well known film, Jurassic Park was filmed there.

Know before you go: Be sure to wear water-proof shoes, as the trail can be wet and there are times you may be walking in knee deep water.

Miles: 11 Loop

*The Prairie Creek Visitor Center to Fern Canyon route does not require a permit.
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2. Emerald Bay via Lighthouse and Rubicon Trail

Located in South Lake Tahoe, enjoy a hike through the Aspen and Pine tree filled trails with the lake as your backdrop. As you make your way, catch a glimpse of the Lower Falls waterfall that cascades over the rocky mountainside.

This trail should not be confused with the famous Rubicon Trail, known for off-roading, after which the Jeep Rubicon is named. The off-roading trail is also in South Lake Tahoe, but follow this route and the signage to ensure you are on the correct trail.

Know before you go: The weather or campground closures can heavily impact this trail by closing parking lots or parts of the hiking routes. Be sure to check the weather report and the AllTrails app for the latest updates.

Miles: 16.4 Out-and-Back
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3. Tokopah Falls

Tokopah Falls is a canyon hike in Sequoia National Park. Sequoia trees are native to California and originated in the area of Sequoia National Forest, hence the name. This hike will take you on a journey through the Sequoias and give you the opportunity to cross running streams of water and gorgeous waterfalls.

Know before you go: Early bird gets the worm! Beat the crowds by showing up as early as 9:00 AM for easy parking and empty trails.

Miles: 3.8 Out-and-Back
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4. The Hidden Valley Nature Trail

California has ocean views, lakes, and greenery, but it is also known for its desert scenery. The Hidden Valley Nature Trail is located in Joshua Tree National Park, about three hours east of San Diego. Venture through the desert landscape among the Joshua trees, cactus, and yuccas. Joshua tree will prove to you that the desert can be filled with life.

Know before you go: It's important to stay on the trails in Joshua Tree. People often get lost assuming they'll find their way back, but the terrain can be repetitive, making it hard to mark which way you are going.

Miles: 1 Loop
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5. Torrey Pines Beach Trail Loop

Located on the coastal bluffs of San Diego, the Torrey Pines hike embodies all that San Diego has to offer when it comes to coastal views. Start at the bottom of the bluff and make your way up to breathtaking views of the San Diego coastline. The trail will lead you back down the bluff to the beach, offering a perfect opportunity for swimming.

Know before you go: Although this hike is easy, it is best to make sure your shoes have a good grip. You will be walking on rocks and climbing steps that are covered with thin layers of sand, making it very easy to slip.

Miles: 2.3 Loop
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*Be sure to download the AllTrails app for reviews and insights on all trails.

Gear Recommendations:

It's not recommended to hike these trails at night, but for emergencies it is good to have a headlamp on hand. 
Binoculars are great for exploring, and sighting wildlife in the distance. 

These five hikes are sure to wow you as you explore different parts of California. Be sure to check out all the links provided for more information to ensure an amazing hiking experience.

Happy exploring!