4 Top-Rated Hiking Routes in California
By: Rebecca Brown
With its amazing diversity of landscapes, the Golden State is a true hiker’s paradise. It is home to the tallest trees in the world and the tallest waterfall in North America.
And the best way to explore the highlights of California’s nature is on your feet. Whether you are an experienced hiker who likes strenuous adventures or a beginner who prefers moderate trails, California has the perfect hiking route for you.
Yosemite Falls Trail
The Yosemite Falls Trails is arguably the best route in Yosemite National Park and just a 4-hour drive from our Monterey hotel. The trail offers breathtaking views of the valley floor as well as North America’s tallest waterfall.
The route is a 9-mile round-trip hike and includes two sections. The first section is moderate and takes about 3 hours to complete. The switchback trail leads to Columbia Rock, where you can enjoy gorgeous vistas of the Half Dome and the Yosemite Valley.
If you are up for a challenge, the second section of the route is more strenuous. It will take you up steep hillside staircases, across rugged terrain.
Adventurers can feel the mist from the waterfall while climbing the trail. Once you reach the summit, the expansive view of the entire Yosemite Valley will leave you speechless.
Keep in mind that the route includes an elevation of gain of 2,700 ft, so you will indeed have to work for those breathtaking vistas. Moreover, since this train can be slippery, be sure to wear hiking shoes with good threads.
The Lost Coast Trail
California’s Lost Coast is marked by pounding surf, secluded beaches, and towering cliffs. Located far away from cliff-hanging mansions, noisy roads, and cell sites, it is the most pristine stretch of coastline in the state.
The LCT is perfect for those who love to explore untamed nature on foot. The undeveloped shoreline is 80 miles long, but the trail is 25 miles. The trail starts from Mattole Beach (a 5 h drive from San Francisco) and leads to Shelter Cove.
The trail is mostly flat, but it is still a bit challenging, so it will take you 3 to 4 days to complete it. Although the weather can be unpredictable, the Lost Coast Trail is a great year-round hiking destination.
The route will lead you through a diverse coastal environment of black sand beaches, flower-laden prairies, rolling sand dunes, and rocky headlands.
Do know that a large part of the trail disappears underwater twice a day at high tide. If you decide to take on the LCT, make sure to bring a copy of the tide timetable. This will help you avoid tide troubles. In case you find yourself behind schedule, there are many campsite options along the trail.
Gray Butte Trail, Mount Shasta
If you are seeking a spiritual experience in the wilderness, the majestic Mount Shasta is the place to be. It is one of the most inspiring places in the state, if not the whole country.
You will find plenty of hiking trails here, but the Gray Butte Trail may be the most popular one. It is a moderate 3.5-mile round-trip hike with a trailhead above 7,000 ft in elevation.
The hike starts at the Panther Meadows and goes all the way to the Upper Peak of Gray Butte. It will lead you through a pristine forest of Red Fir Trees and the expansive Lower Panther Meadow.
Further down the trail, you’ll come across a stand of fragrant Mountain Hemlock Trees. Along the way, the trail offers magnificent panoramic views at several vantage points. If you decide to hike the Gray Butte Trail, keep in mind that it’s only accessible in summer and early fall.
James Irvine Trail, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park
Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park is the place to be if you want to hike among some of the oldest and tallest trees in the world. The primeval forest of the Redwood State Park has stood there since the times of dinosaurs.
If you want to explore the majestic and varied scenery of this gorgeous state park, the James Irvine Trail may be your best bet. It is a 10-mile round trip.
The James Irvine Trail winds through valleys, ridges, hillsides, and, naturally, a dense redwood forest. If you think that the entire trail may be a bit too much for you, hiking just a mile or two out and back will allow you to capture the magnificence of the trail.
This is enough to witness the beauty of the ancient towering trees, and to experience the refreshing feel of their leafy canopies. However, completing the whole hike is well worth it because the end of the route is connected to the Fern Canyon Trail.
This is a short path that will lead you to the beach, so going the extra mile (0.6 miles to be more precise) will definitely be worth it. Once you reach Fern Canyon, you will be able to enjoy the mesmerizing sounds of a rushing creek and chirping birds.