Top 8 Backpacking Trips in California

Top 8 Backpacking Trips in California

California is full of natural treasures. It's home to the tallest trees in the world, tons of mountain ranges, and an expansive coastline waiting to be explored. California also boasts the highest and lowest points in the contiguous U.S. Even more interesting, they are less than 90 miles apart!

That said, a hiking adventure is never far away in the Golden State. We've compiled some of the best backpacking trips in the state below. So, grab your gear and get planning!

Featured photo: Rae Lakes Loop

Trans-Catalina Trail

How does an island adventure sound? You can do just that on Santa Catalina Island. Located 25 miles off the southern coast of California, you'll find a 40-mile trek. This point-to-point offers a surprising amount of diversity, from mountaintops to open fields to secluded harbors. There are designated campsites with water along the way. So, even able-bodied beginners could give this trail a go. Just keep in mind that it is rated as strenuous. For all of the details on this adventurous hike, read the full write-up here.

Onion Valley to Mt.Whitney

Love a good challenge? If so, you need to add Mt.Whitney to your backpacking bucket list! Being the highest point in the lower 48 states, this is one of the most iconic hikes in the country. That said, it can also be hard to get permits. Be sure to plan well ahead of time!

The trail travels 44 miles and passes scenic lakes and ponds. Hop in for some renewed energy! You'll also tackle Forrester Pass, which is the highest on the Pacific Crest Trail. Finally, you'll be rewarded with the amazing views that Mt.Whitney has to offer.

For more logistics, head to the blog post.

Onion Valley to Mt.Whitney

Lake Aloha Trail

Not quite ready to tackle a long trail? Or, maybe you're looking for a quick weekend trip. If that's the case, head out on the Lake Aloha Trail. It's located just south of Lake Tahoe. So, while it's still popular, it should be less crowded. The trail itself is a doable 12.5 miles, out and back. The elevation gain isn't too bad either at 1,000ft.

The Aloha Trail is listed as strenuous. But, the majority of the trail is fairly flat. The main highlight is spending the night near the namesake of the trail. If you love swimming, you're in luck. There are several other ponds and lakes you'll pass along the way too. Plus, you can't beat the great views of the surrounding mountains.

Rae Lakes Loop

The Rae Lakes Loop is a great alternative if you don't have time to do the famous John Muir Trail. Plus, you can still see a lot of the highlights of the JMT in 5 days instead of 3 weeks! Some of these include Glen Pass, Mist Falls, Vidette Meadows, and several alpine lakes.

Be prepared for plenty of elevation gain on this 42-mile loop. Fortunately, there are plenty of campsites and water along the way when you need a rest. If you do have some extra time to explore, there are plenty of side trails in the area.

For all of the details, read our full write-up here.

Thousand Island Lake Loop

Who doesn't love loop trails? Here's another, shorter, one if you're pressed for time. Don't worry, though. It's just as scenic as some of the longer ones!

The Thousand Island Lake Loop runs 21 miles. It has quite a bit of elevation gain. But, it isn't quite as difficult as some of the other hikes on our list. As you can gather from the name, the trail passes many alpine lakes. Not only are the lakes inviting for a dip, but they're known to be good for backcountry fishing too. Not just the lakes are stunning. You'll also enjoy views of the Minarets, Banner Peak, and Mt.Ritter.

To start planning your own trip, check out our blog post.

Thousand Island Lake Loop

Snow Mountain via Deafy Glade

If you're looking for a challenging weekend trip, look into this route up Snow Mountain. It's about 15 miles there and back, making it a perfect overnight trip. The most challenging part is near the beginning with lots of elevation gain. You'll be rewarded with some nice views afterward, though. These include the west peak of Snow Mountain (you're ascending the east one) and Mt.Shasta in the distance.

The Snow Mountain Wilderness is very remote. In other words, you can actually enjoy some solitude here. Water sources can be few and far between, though. Make sure to check conditions ahead of time and plan accordingly.

Lost Coast Trail

There are plenty of coastal hikes in California. Arguably, one of the best ones is the Lost Coast Trail. Located in the northern part of the state, it's a manageable 25 miles. It is rated as moderate to strenuous. The beach offers amazing views of the Pacific. But, walking in sand can quickly become taxing!

Only those who have good wayfinding skills and know how to read tide tables should attempt this hike. Being on the beach, there isn't much signage. You will enjoy some old lighthouses, breathtaking bluffs, and sea lions. And, of course, you can't beat the amazing sunsets over the ocean!

For more details on this trip, head to the full write-up.

Lost Coast Trail

Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail

If you want to experience just about everything California has to offer, check out the Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail. It has a little bit of everything, traveling from mountains to redwood forests to the Pacific coastline. Don't pass up the side trip to 70ft Berry Creek Falls too! Another perk of this trip is that it's mostly downhill.

The trail itself is 28 miles from point to point. That said, you'll need to arrange some transportation. It's worth noting that dispersed camping isn't allowed. You'll need to reserve campsites ahead of time. For more information, head to our blog post here.


Which is your favorite hike on our list? Know of some other great trails in the Golden State? We'd love to hear about them in the comments section below!

Read Next

If you're looking for more hike ideas, read our “Best Backpacking Hikes in Sequoia National Forest” round-up post. Also, the following Hike of the Week articles cover other great trails in the region.

Hike of the Week: Toiyabe Crest Trail
Hike of the Week: Rogue River Trail
Hike of the Week: White Rock Springs

For even more amazing backpacking trips, visit The Trailhead, our interactive hike map. It contains a curated list of dozens of hikes, each with a detailed write-up like this one.

The Trailhead - Interactive Map of Backpacking Trips

Finally, check out our comprehensive list of backpacking articles that cover just about everything there is to know about backpacking. If you're just starting out, our Backpacking 101 section covers all the basics. If you already have a few trips under your belt, you can find more advanced topics covered in our Expert Articles.

Hike Roundup USA West

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