Sometimes, an afternoon hike is just what you need to blow off some steam and regroup with nature. Other times, a few days out in the wilderness is the perfect reset. When you find yourself needing a solid weekend trip in the Golden State, check out these various hiking locations, based on California’s vastly varying climates. And remember, wherever you’re hiking, safety and preparedness are key — check out our list on what to bring with you on any hike.
1. Redwoods: Redwood National and State Parks
Northern California is known for its giant redwoods, the biggest trees in the world. The Redwood National and State Parks boast four developed campgrounds, and numerous free (but permitted) rugged campsites. It’s possibly the best place in the state to stay the night amongst the redwoods and take in the nature all around you. Sleep under the stars (the light pollution is minimal here, so you’ll be privy to plenty of stargazing), and spend your afternoons on any number of hikes within the parks. With 40 miles of coastline, expansive prairies, towering clusters of redwoods, and rushing rivers, you will definitely have your pick of scenery and hiking opportunities. And keep an eye out for the enormous Roosevelt Elk, the largest of the North American elk.
2. Lakes: Sky High Lakes, Marble Mountains
For glittering lakeside views and fresh mountain air, consider a trip to Sky High Lakes in the Marble Mountains, close to the Oregon-California border. There are numerous trails to take, starting at Lover’s Camp Trailhead. Four miles in you’ll reach a fork in the road, and that’s where you can choose to explore two paths; the right leading to the base of the Marble Basin, and the left leading to the Sky High Lakes Basin. For the best camping experience, head left and camp along the lake’s shore. Make sure to head over in the spring to catch the wildflower blooms along the lake’s edge. There are various meadows at the base of the Marble Rim, a looming wall of white marble that juts vividly out of the forest.
3. Coastline: The Lost Coast, Mendocino County
A day at the beach is a wonderful way to spend an afternoon, but camping in the natural, rugged, California coastline is its own unique adventure on the Lost Coast Trail. No major roads access this stretch of coast, leaving it singularly untouched and undeveloped. You’ll be graced with views of the fir-tree covered King Range, the mountain range stretching 35 miles across the coast, and a main contributor to the solitary nature of the Lost Coast (building highways in this rugged landscape is nearly impossible). There’s a lot of Native American history to explore in this area. You’ll also be in the company of tons of wildlife, from elephant seals and sea lions to deer and bobcats. For the best camping experience, allot three days to explore the region.
4. Hot Springs: Ventana Wilderness, Los Padres National Forest
Nestled in the Santa Lucia Mountains and trailing along the Big Sur coast lies a stretch of wilderness full of craggy mountain peaks, deep valleys, and 197 miles of trails within 240, 026 acres. Oh, and thermal hot springs to boot! The Ventana Wilderness, dedicated as an official wilderness in 1978, is a boon of hot springs thanks to the Big Sur river that streams down deep V-shaped valleys. Settle in at Sykes Camp, located about 11 miles in from the trailhead. Keep in mind that campfires are prohibited between May and November. Be sure to check on closure status, as this area is prone to wildfires.
5. Desert: Panamint Dunes, Death Valley
If sand and sun are more your speed, there’s still plenty of camping options in the vast California climate. For a more remote and solitary trip, check out the Panamint Dunes, the least visited of the dunes in Death Valley. Make sure to fill up on plenty of water at the visitor’s center, as there won’t be any sources once you head out to the dunes. Some campers recommend simply tossing down a sleeping bag and roughing it under the stars, as there’s not much hold for tent stakes in the soft sand. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch a streak of shooting stars above your head, with the bright moon and twinkling stars the only sights other than the seemingly endless warm, soft sand keeping you company.